From the classroom, to the Universe

Teaching Physics

Debt, Deadlines and Death

The news about a student who has committed suicide has brought once again issues regarding a school’s policy on students financial obligations.  Different schools impose different policies  but one thing keeps me in question, which does provide greater importance, the schools measure to secure operations or students current financial capabilities? As isolated as this case maybe according to the officials, but this is only the tip on the iceberg on how a student feels every time tuition fees are pressed against their right to access education which for some is their ticket out of poverty.  While most students do not resort to suicide, many most would be in emotional torture dilemma since they have to think of a way out of it. How can one be at their best form in reviewing for their final exam if they are in the midst of the uncertainty of having be able to pay their tuition debts?

My school is implementing which what we call as  Examination Permit Policy, students are only allowed to take examination if they have either an examination permit, which means they had paid their dues or a provisional permit if they can’t settle their accounts on the agreed date.  It might look pretty convenient but I find it really difficult as a classroom teacher. Though it is true enough that the school does not also offer me a promissory note during paydays, however I believe that examination is still a part of teaching learning process. Examinations provides a feedback to teachers the gauge of a students understanding and barring them the right to take exam because of their parent’s lack of financial obligations is like also robbing them the right to learn. Assessments and evaluation is a vital part of teaching learning process, without it a teacher can not say that they have done their part of the bargain. Schools would always wave their grandeur vision and mission in developing children but they should also include that it comes with a price, no such thing as a free lunch after all! And students do not really have a choice in this and I believe that it poses a negative impact on students attitude in taking exams and coming to class. I am sure there can be ways to be strict and stern in fees and other financial matters that does not include barring exam or even attendance.

While I do well understand that the life blood of the school’s operation is based solely from its tuition and fees but let’s not forget the fundamental reason  why a school was founded  and that it to teach students.


Modeling Activity on the Law of Universal Gravitation

In my desperate effort to my an inch away from traditional lecture method,  I tried to let my students do a modeling  activity on the Universal Law of Gravitation. Good thing PhET Gravity Force lab was available and as well lots of teacher made inquiry / modeling based activity can be reviewed and modified to specific use in class.

Steve Banasiak’s activity on the gravity force lab is one best and I recommend its use. The link of the activity can be found here.

The activity allows them simulate force of gravity between two objects then find the relationships of masses ( mass 1 and 2) to the distance and force of gravity through tables and graphs. Student are asked to find the formula in the relationships and also calculate for the gravitational constant (G).

You can also do differentiated instruction by doing homogenous grouping. Let the advanced group do an activity with less instruction, challenging them to think how to go through with it while have the less advanced group with a more detailed instructions and guide them as they do their work. I find it difficult at first but it really pays off well in the end.

Having them find the formula themselves (and the gravitational constant) is more meaningful than posting it on the board.

I’ll post student responses soon!

Tracker in Teaching Physics

Tracker is an amazing program for physics. It is designed to analyze motion and do modeling from from video clips. It can be used in a bunch of topics in mechanics and the best thing about this program  is – its free.

One of the things you can use tracker is in teaching projectiles. Students can easily see how an object behaves as it moves through the air in the x and y component.

1.  Using a camera, (or a phone cam) ask them to record  the motion of the ball tossed on air, like this:

2.  Load the video on Tracker, create a point mass (the object that we need to investigate), track its movement either manually (by shift + click each frame) or autotrack it.

3.  Let them investigate the data at the right side of the panel, ask them to look at the x and y velocity of the ball.

4. The students can then discover that an object thrown in the air experiences different motion in the x and y component.

With this program, you can also do authentic assessments by letting them find if  a video is faked or not.  Here are some things that you can use in your class or have your student try for themselves.

Master Hung of Ip Man:

Kobe Bryant Jumps over a Pool of Snakes:

Angry Birds

and a lot of other stuff that you can get from movies (even you tube vids like Dude Perfect) to analyze it with the program.   This could be another way ( better and a lot cooler) to test students (which are digital natives by the way)  aside from conventional quiz that we give.

Inquiry Approach on Free Fall, Hang time – Kobe Over a Car

In our discussion about the concepts of free fall, we ventured on real problem students never thought nothing like possible to analyze. It was inspired by modeling instruction from educational blogger  Frank Nosche . The instruction was basically anchored on the Karplus inquiry cycle.

Initially, I let them watch at Kobe’s viral ad about jumping over an aston martin for his Hyper dunk shoes. The video itself is enough to attract and spark a conversation as well as initial ideas on the authenticity of the video itself – whether a human given a jumping ability of Kobe can possibly do the stunt , of course explaining through laws of physics!

It was rather difficult at start but it was never the less very productive since it authenticated understanding (and discovering for themselves) real life problem solving. Given “googleable” facts like height, car dimensions they were able to deduce jump height and as well as the hangtime of Kobe, which was needed to compare the time of the car passing in front of the frame thereby, giving them the chance to calculate the  velocity of the car.

 (Kobe’s height served and the video’s “ruler”)

 (Based from his height, one can deduce his jump height)

Students response on the problems are great. Hope I could post them soon!

Thoughts About The Use of Gadgets in School.

Since the 21st century Era, people has become attached to electronic devices.  Even a third world country like the Philippines has welcomed and embraced the digital culture. In fact electronic devices tops on the list of imported goods in the Philippines.  Consequently,  a typical student enjoys one or two gadgets within the reach of his or her pocket.  But the thing is, most schools prohibit bringing electronic devices – which I think  needs a revamp.

Even if bringing these inside the campus is explicitly stipulated in the students’ handbook, they still would bring these in school whether for communication for their parents (which ironically that parents themselves give to their kids knowing it is a prohibited device)  or simply for their personal entertainment. In its simplest sense – every student who has one (hidden or in plain sight)  is an offender, well the parents of course is an accessory to the offense.

These devices a.k.a “gadgets” could be a great tool in learning. It could simply replace a simple dictionary, calculator, periodic table of elements , etc. It also can be used in Physics when analyzing motion of objects, conversion of units, table of physical constants, perhaps recording of one’s voice in an English class or music class, listening to audio books,  something to be used in copying lectures and notes then sharing it with the rest via social networking sites. There are hundreds of e-books around while some schools has actually substituted tablets for their textbooks.

In my opinion, the rule itself against these gadget is the reason they have a violation and we as an educational institution actually miss the opportunity to give an important, very important lesson to our students. Clearly, we have not  actually teach them how to responsibly use their gadget or to let them enjoy these things without forgetting etiquette that one must realize in owning one. Sure there are oceans of reasons why we do not allow them (like cheating etc.) to but  that is simply because we had not taught when or how to use it appropriately. If our education is really a preparation for the real world, what is stopping us from letting them use those things responsibly?

While some school that has adapted in this era in dealing with this issue  (you might want to check PSHS’  “fair use policy” ) , we just simply say “NO” to it.  Time has changed, it might also mean that some rules,  rules that may not seem anymore logical may not apply and therefore should change.

DISCLAIMER: Thoughts pointed out by the author does not necessarily reflect the views of its employer


I can’t help but be really frustrated in trying to do modeling instructions for my class. Are my students ready for this method? Are their mathematical skills adequate? I’ve got 40 students per class on the average, how can I be sure if everyone gets to work and understand it? Will I make it on time as prescribed by the scope and sequence for first quarter? Importantly – will they take the challenge of answering real life problems or are they contented in the traditional, static and pseudo-reality problems? More importantly – am I ready for this? can I do it? Should I halt? If not now, then when? Resistance to change is normal.  It takes more than a mountain of courage to change ideals and practice. I am not surprised after all, it took centuries for people to accept and believe that the earth is at the center of the solar system and matter is made up of smaller particles!

Teaching Physics? Really?

I learned physics through lectures.Through lectures I teach physics, logical isn’t?

But I am not happy with the instructional method of lecturing but it really felt like it was effective, simple and convenient. I deliver the lecture (ccompanied with a LCD projector, with some demos), students nod and smile, we do seat works, cheesy stuffs, – PERFECT!  I can tell I did a good job. But reflecting on reality of the exam I gave , which is based on conceptual reasoning on motions – I was surprised! Most failed and even the best students didn’t get the scores they expected to.  Was the test poorly constructed? Or perhaps the instructions was ineffective.

In the past few months, I’m trying to learn teaching the subject through modeling. Results according to proponents were promising. I am but ready to jump to the wagon but my schedule isn’t. I’ve got a month to teach half of the remaining topic for physics. I feel that I won’t make it in time, or I won’t cover as much as I need, again, an age old debate on quality vs quantity.

I just hope modeling instruction workshops are available on this side of the planet. For the mean time, thanks to teachers who blog and share their modelling experience, I’ll try to learn myself through for the benefit of my students learning.

St. La Salle, in comics and on trees.

My students had their recollection at Salikenta Farm in Bulacan. In this actvity, they were asked to get to know more about St. John Baptist through reading his life in a comic strip.

The Moon, The Bald and The Ugly.

(DISCLAIMER: Thoughts pointed out by the author does not neccesarily reflect the views of its employer)

Its been a while since I took a good look at the moon, while resting and enjoying the lunacy inducing object, something spherical slipped into my head. I started pondering why is that schools doesn’t allow a semi bald (shaved) head? It is something my belief-system couldn’t logically accept but I implement as part of my duty and the irony is, I do wear the same haircut.

Being bald, most of the time associated with evil. As depicted in movies, comics and etc., most of the villain and anti hero are bald. And according to top 100 villain of all time of AFI, Dr. Lecter which is a balding cannibal psychiatrist (Silence of the Lamb) gains the top spot and a quick google on top comic villain includes Ming the Merciless and Lex Luthor were present on the list. Who would of course forget recent movie villain like Voldemort, ooops! He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Nizam of Prince of Persia and the list goes on.

Locally, anyone within my generation knows “Anak ni Baby Ama” as portrayed by Robin Padilla which is undeniably an icon of anti-heroes. So wearing a bald head can give you a nick name “Baby Ama! Baby Ama!”. Talk about stereotypes eh?! Ever hear of the street saying “Kalbo masamang tao” (bald people are bad)? Guess what, top ten evil men wears a decent hair cut! HA!

So what else is in store for us shaved headed (or bald, intended or naturally) people?

In reality, being bald has its advantages over those suave so full of hair heads, and here are some it:

1. ECONOMY. Imagine how much shampoo will you save? You are free from using hair gels, polishers and wax which prices are not safe from fluctuations on the global stock market!

2. IT KEEPS YOU FROM GETTING LATE. While the rest of the students are sculpting their heads, you could just quickly put your uniform after taking a bath a viola! Your good to go and avoid the rush!

3. GIVES YOU MORE FOCUS ON STUDIES. While others are busy checking hair styles re-combing and reapplying wax, you could just sit back, relax, read more, and listen well to lectures since you won’t be so conscious if your hair is still neat and in place. You’ll be in honors list in no time! 😀

I do not have against so called “proper” haircuts or anything nor want to argue bout school policies, it’s just that we could focus more on things beyond the superficial hair styles but focus whats inside which would really show the true decency in them.

My two cents.

For the mean while, I’ll have to enjoy gazing at the moon!