Next MeetingNewsletterPast NewslettersAmusement Park Related
In 2004 members of the VIP news group where asked the questions below in an effort to give some sage(?) advice to a first year physics or physical science teacher. Below is a collection of responses.
General advice...
  • My first bit of advice to a new physics teacher would be to strive to make his/her class as hands on as possible! As many have stated many labs and demos can be done with ordinary materials.  To accomplish the first bit of advice spend some time, and maybe some money, finding good resources that show you how to teach with labs and demos. (A. Jackson)
What book resources would buy?
  • A couple years ago, Eric Rhodes (secondary science supervisor at DOE) asked me to compile a Physics Lab Start Up sheet. A school that had never had a physics lab had a benefactor who was going to pay. Attached is the equipment I suggested with some comments. Click here to download an Acrobat file version of this document. ----- Click here to download an Excel version of this file. (A. Jackson)
  • Paul Hewitt's Conceptual Physics; Barron's EZ-101 Physics Study Key, by Patrick C. Gibbons; the most recent Barron's Physics Regents Exams and Answers; A Guidebook for Teaching Physics, by William Yurkewicz, Jr., Allyn & Bacon; AAPT's Active Physics; see demo resources below; Mechanical Universe video series and resource binder. (D. Smith)
  • Carpenter, D. Rae and Richard B. Minnix "The Dick and Rae Physics Demo Notebook" (Dick and Rae Inc 1993) Published by DICK and RAE, Inc, Lexington, Va 24450-0304
    Robert Ehrlich, "Turning the World Inside Out and 174 Other Simple Demonstrations" (Princeton University Press, 1990) [Ehrlich1] -Okay it not a book but it is a good resource -Search 28 online demo sources (T. Wayne)
What equipment would you buy or make?
  • See budget below. I pick one set of equipment to buy each year for a lab I want to do and don't have equipment for. Sometimes, I get half of what I need twice over two years. (D. Smith)
What is your favorite demo?
  • My favorite resources: A Demonstration Handbook for Physics, published by AAPT; Labs with String and Sticky Tape, published by AAPT; Mechanical Universe resource binder. (D. Smith)
  • Everything having to do with a Van de Graaff generator. (T. Wayne)
What advice to you have about labs? Why?
  • It is important to strike a balance between having students do experimental design from scratch (which would be great to do all the time) and more cookbook labs (which I do as a survival technique since I teach three different science courses and desire to return labs quickly). Have students do at least one lab where they come up with everything: the hypothesis, the procedure, etc. I do this with my first lab, which involves density (they are familiar with this topic, so it is less threatening to them). Depending on their previous preparation, this may require extensive training. Steal labs from colleagues, lab manuals, anywhere you can find them. Look online: there is quite a bit out there. (D. Smith)
  • Don't limit yourself to cookbook -fill in the blank - labs. Do some labs that require an complete write up. (T. Wayne)
What do you do about testing?
  • I like to make an equal balance between multiple choice questions and problems where they have to show all work. I give partial credit for work shown on MC questions. I feel strongly that students should be given partial credit on problems - it should not be all right or all wrong. I also think it is important to allow students to have a formula sheet. A good physics test tests whether the student can use physics - NOT whether they have memorized a bunch of things. 
    I steal questions anywhere I can find them. Paul Hewitt's book and test bank are fantastic for conceptual questions and essays. I also use NYS Regents questions on my tests. They are very well written and can be downloaded from their website these days: (D. Smith)
  • How many students you have and how many preps. If you have 140 + and three preps consider a mix of multiple choice and discussion. Do not make up a test that is entirely multiple choice if at all possible. Life is not multiple choice. (T. Wayne)
What general advice would you give?
  • Teach for thinking. Don't teach for memorization. Make sure you and the students are having fun. (D. Smith)
  • Most importantly... Just say, "No ...thank you."
    Can you coach ____. .."No thank you. Not during my first year."
    Can you sponsor _____ . .."No thank you. Not during my first year."
    Would you organizer the year long _____. .."No thank you. Not during my first year."
    Would you mind taking on _____ extra this year. .."No thank you. Not during my first year."

    Let the good teachers you've experienced serve as a model and the bad ones a warning. Be the good teacher.

    For everybody. It is you (fill in number) year. You will make mistakes. Admit to and correct them -then move on. With experience the number of mistakes you make will dramatically decrease.

    Find fun, friendly, support by joining the V.I.P. e-mail list group. (T. Wayne)

What would you do with a budget of $250 per year?
  • Here's a low-cost lab exercise:  I use water balloon launchers for my projectiles lab.  We have a bigger budget than high schools, and I have a full set of the spring-loaded metal ball launchers, but the students enjoy launching water balloons more than metal balls, and if the weather is nice they appreciate being outside.  You can't do momentum/energy conservation with the water balloons, and there's LOTS of sources of error, so it's not nearly as accurate, but they get the same experience in using the equations of motion.  They go through the same calculations to estimate the initial speed of the balloons. You have to make sure the balloons are roughly the same mass, and that they always stretch the tubing by the same amount, and measure launch angles carefully, as well as take care to observe where the balloon is released from the launcher.  Also, they can't do the "level launch" because you can't easily launch from ground level.  The advantage is that the launchers are under $20 each, and the kids really enjoy the lab. The fact that there are so many sources of error can be taken advantage of - it's a good way to introduce repeatability issues and to get them thinking about experimental error and sig figs. (P. Perozzo)
  • I used to teach at a school where I was given a budget of $500 per year. I had to make sure the equipment I bought could be used for more than one lab and could be used from year to year. I would also have the students bring in lab equipment, for example, when teaching projectile motion I would have the students bring in either tennis balls or softballs to complete a lab outside. I generally didn't have a problem with students forgetting to bring materials, because they always wanted to do labs. I would also ask the students if they would like to donate the equipment. Most of the time they were willing to do this. It wasn't easy on this type of budget but I learned how to get lab equipment that could be used from year to
    year. Hope this helps. (M. Ewing)
  • I seem to spend the most on batteries for calculators, stopwatches and CBL's. I have labs that use bricks, pieces of wood, molding for ramps, Al cans, Al foil, etc. I have also purchased marbles and lots of different balls at the dollar store for mechanics; hot wheel cars and track for velocity and acceleration labs. I actually look at the catalogs for ideas and then build it myself or adapt it somehow - for much less money. I have a conceptual resistance lab that uses straws. Electricity stuff is relatively cheap at Radio Shack. (D. Smith)
  • #1 ask for more money as you are teaching a hands-on class.
    I would buy aluminum channel -6 foot length and stop watches. This is the stuff used for making, permanently mounted, adjustable shelving. When flipped up-side down, it provides a great track for balls. If mounted in pairs on a piece of wood they make great HowWheels track. (Space them the width of a HotWheels track.) (T. Wayne)

A special thanks to VASTfor hosting our web site.