May 24, 2012

101qs in Physics Class

Ugh, what a grey, rainy day we've had in New York City today...

I spent a lot of time indoors at my computer, and stumbled across Dan Meyer's 101qs site, which I hadn't seen before. The idea behind the site is for teachers to upload pictures and videos in the style of Dan's Act One prompts, where other teachers give feedback on what questions might come out of the picture. In a classroom, it would be the students suggesting questions that might be answered using the data. Meyer uses the photos and videos to introduce elements of drama and storytelling to make problem-solving relevant to students who might otherwise feel an aversion to it.

One video in particular stood out to me, maybe because it's more "physicsy" than many others I saw:

There's lots of information in this video, and it brought up all kinds of interesting possibilities for questions that could be answered: Is the acceleration of the train constant? If so, what is it? Does the train reach a constant speed before it leaves the station? If so, what is this speed? If not, how long might it take for the train to reach its top speed? What is the instantaneous speed of the train exactly 10 seconds into the video?

Of course, to solve these problems you need information that's not available in the video, but most of what you might need is freely available on the web. For example, the length of a SF Bay Area BART car is about 70 feet, and the train can reach a top speed of about 80mph. (In some similar videos, all the information needed to make estimates is included in the video itself... This video might work that way if an adult of "average" height was simply standing in the foreground.)

I've been thinking a lot lately about video-based data collection, especially as a potential solution for students missing essential lab days in a Modeling-based class. What I find exciting about Dan's approach, though, is the power of an open-ended question. Not only do students get practice applying physics and math, but they also get practice using creativity to exploit the ubiquity of useful data in the world around them. High school science has the power to change how students think - everything they need to continue to answer these questions is around them all the time, as long as they stay curious.

(btw, the answers I got were: yes: ~1.2m/s/s, no: ~30s, ~10m/s)

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