Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ethical Dilemma, Part 1

  1. Suppose you are a passenger in a car driven by a friend. As you are about to set out on a lengthy trip, you notice that the driver is not wearing a seat belt. Should you say something to the driver about this? If so, what should you say?
  2. Suppose you do remind the driver about the seat belt, but the driver replies,
    I just don't feel safe wearing a seat belt. I've heard about some accidents in which people were killed because they couldn't get out of their belts. Besides, I don't really see the point. If the car goes forward, I go with it; if it stops, I stop. What can a seat belt do about that? Nothing. Isn't this a free country? We should be able to choose--and I've made my choice.
    What, if anything, should you say now?
Please respond to these questions in the comments here, using your first name and last initial as your screen name, not your full name please! You'll be graded on the originality of your response, its clarity, and how you use science to support your response.

Adapted from Ethics in the Science Classroom, Part II.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What kind of reader are you?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Literate Good Citizen

You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Dedicated Reader

Book Snob

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

Fad Reader


What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Darn. I was hoping for the "Book Snob" classification. Oh well.

One of my grad school professors pointed out that our society isn't illiterate; most of us know how to read. Rather, we're aliterate - we just choose not to read.

One reason you have to be here in school - aka "widespread public education" - is that our country needs informed voters who know how to gather information and use it to make decisions.

For most of the history of our country, reading was the only way to learn what was happening in the rest of the country or in the world. So, readin' and writin' and 'rithmetic - the 3R's - made up the core of what pioneer kids learned out here in the late 1800's.

With the advent of radio in the early 1900's, though, one didn't need to know how to read to satisfy that curiosity about the outside world. When network/cable/satellite TV became common, we could see actual pictures of what the radio announcers could only describe.

Now, we have the internet, and it's more important than ever that you learn to read early in school. That's because the rest of your schooling should teach you how to weigh what you read/see/hear, how to tell the difference between reliable sources and biased ones, and to reach logical decisions based on solid information.

Kinda like science; what evidence is important? what experiment can be carried out to test a given hypothesis? how do we know whether a given conclusion is supported or refuted by the data?

Learning to read, to decode those squiggly lines and symbols, is just the first step.

Take the quiz, see how you do!

hattip - Thoughts from Kansas

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Scientist Friday

The ineffable Isaac Newton had a lot more going on than just formulating a few laws of motion. He was able to show that an apple falls to the earth for the same reason that the moon orbits the earth.

"Whoopee," you might think. But picture it . . . Newton had the sheer audacity to propose that heavenly objects and earthly objects follow the same rules.

In the late 1600's, this was unheard of. It was one thing for Galileo to have shown that the sun wasn't perfect, with its ever-changing spots. But to call into question the seemingly inherent separation of the mundane and the celestial? Breathtaking.

Newton expressed his laws of motion in mathematical terms. This made it possible to use measurements of what's happening now to predict what will happen in the future.

This predictability, this testability, this reliance on natural laws to explain the workings of the universe was at the heart of the scientific revolution. Three hundred years later, astronauts relied on Newton's physics to guide their journeys to the moon and back.

He also laid bare the essence of sunlight, as shown above.

Thanks to Newton, we've seen the Dark Side of the Moon.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It wasn't a win . . . it was annihilation!


Our varsity team took *first place* at the FHSU Science Bowl today! Kudos to team captain Ben and teammates Andrew, Mallory, Brendon, and Henrik for an overwhelming victory in the 12-team varsity field.

Overwhelming, as in all of the opponents together scored less than 100 points against the Hays High team. (Consider that 200 points can be scored during each round.)

The competition was organized by the Society of Physics Students at FHSU, and they did a phenomenally professional job of running the event.

Our JV team was composed of four females (Megan, Ellie, Amanda, and Anna) and four males (Jared, Jordan, Ben, and Tanner), all freshmen. Although they didn't place today, they're all winners in my eyes for volunteering to go up against older, more experienced JV teams.

Freshmen, don't be overwhelmed by our varsity team's performance. Each of them was once a freshman, too; you will continue to grow, and learn, and you'll be just as impressive when you are seniors.

I'm proud of you all for bucking the trend, and not being afraid to show that you are intelligent, hard-working young adults. Anti-intellectualism runs rampant in our society today, and these kinds of competitions are a great reminder that being smart isn't something you should be punished for.

More pics here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

All about you

Scholarship deadlines are quickly approaching, and many scholarship applications require a reference from your senior math or science teacher.

Of course, I like writing these letters! The only problem is . . . time and aging.

Time, because I need a one-week lead time to write a worthwhile letter for you. My challenge is to capture the essence of you-as-a-citizen, or you-as-a-scholar, using words and phrases that haven't been read hundreds of times before by the scholarship committees. Your reference letter should contain specific examples of the qualities the committee thinks are important, and should be concise yet coherent.

A long-winded rant saying that "Jane is the best student I've ever had" won't receive serious consideration. On the other hand, "Jane was the only student in our high school's history to simultaneously score 100% in all of her classes, receive perfect scores on the ACT and SAT, and win the state lutefisk-baking championship" carries much more weight.

Aging . . . okay, y'all know how forgetful I am. Just keep after me about getting the task done; really, I don't mind nagging reminders!

Be safe out there, and take care of yourself.


Our regular webpage is back up and running. Please visit it for scheduling updates.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Freshman Reminder #483.5

Here's what you need to have done before you get to class today:
The rest of the conceptual problems that weren't completed in class.
The math problems, #1-9.

That's it! See you soon.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What we need more of

This image of a freshly-fallen snowflake was captured with Environmental Scanning Electron Microscopy.

As snowflakes form, air is trapped within the lattices of the crystal. If the snow doesn't melt, and instead accumulates and packs down, the structure of the snowflakes changes in all kinds of interesting ways.

By drilling into Arctic & Antarctic glaciers and examining the ice cores brought up, researchers can look at snow that has built up over tens of thousands of years. The air that was trapped can be analyzed to help figure out what the climate was like at the time the snow fell.

Here, we don't have to worry about that much snow. In fact, we're grateful for whatever precipitation we get - except for ice.

Attention Seniors

As discussed last class period, you're not ready for a test on Friday 1/19 - Monday 1/22.

Plan on struttin' your (academic) stuff Tuesday 1/23 - Wednesday 1/24.

If you want a study session, let me know. It would have to occur Sunday evening, as my Monday is booked solid.

Remember . . . don't reach for those equations like they're a life raft. Visualize the situation. Make a sketch that shows all of the forces on the object. Break the non-perpendicular/non-parallel forces into components. Then, and only then, should you reach for an equation.

More on this in class.

Academy for Friday, January 19, 2007

Good morning!

Today's activity starts here and is fairly intense. But you'll learn a couple of tricks in Excel, and discover some cool features of hominids along the way.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

In class today - Senior version 1/17,18

Thanks to either software gremlins or hardware ID-ten-T errors, you'll need to get your class information here until further notice.


  1. Review the homework from last time. (my solutions here)
  2. A quick homework quiz.
  3. A review of Newton's 2nd Law in preparation for the test next class period - Friday 1/19 for G4, Monday 1/22 for M1.
Be ready for some good old-fashioned tough brain work today!

In class today - Freshman version

Well, wonderful.

The program I use to keep up our usual webpage is not cooperating today. Here's the scoop for G3 & M4 for Wednesday/Thursday, January 17/18:

  • First, a brief review of your homework assignment. You have access to the key and should have checked your work already to see how well you're doing.
  • Second, a 3-question homework quiz over that assignment. The key will be available to you after you turn in your attempt.
  • Third, an acceleration reprise. We'll go through the concepts first, then the math.
Your homework is to complete the pages at the links above. You'll be quizzed over that homework next class period.

By the way . . . if your laptop crashed and is now in a Better PlaceTM, please have me - or somebody else in class - print off some hard copies of those documents for you.

For HHS Science Academy students

Please go here to download the file "Data for Students" that you'll need for Friday's academy.

The file is also available at our Moodle site; as a last resort, have your academy teacher email the file to you.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Freshmen Rock!

Hey, freshmen -

Today in class, you're to finish up your lab [warning: PDF] and turn it in as described at the bottom of page 4:

  1. This page [page 4] with all questions answered, hard copy either printed off or by hand on your own paper.
  2. Your Excel file, emailed to me: (a) Subject = falling; (b) Filename = username
When your Excel file is received in the proper mailbox, you should receive an acknowledgment message.

After that . . . feel the need for some speed!

Keep in mind that (distance) = (rate) x (time). Use your magnificent algebra I skills to solve this equation for rate (speed) and time.

The tricky part of this assignment [another PDF] is that the units aren't consistent. For instance, you might be give a speed in miles per hour, and asked to calculate distance in feet or time in minutes. Look at your notes from the first couple of weeks of school for help, too.

Check your work here, and don't forget those sig figs.

Monday, January 15, 2007

On Newton's 2nd

Seniors, you're having issues with the Fnet = ma concept.

That is, you're facing difficulties applying the mathematics to the concept. Please don't beat yourself over this issue; your frustration is normal so don't stress about this - yet.

Just start with the concept: No acceleration (velocity is either constant or nonexistent) implies no NET force.

You know the chant:

  • NO acceleration!
  • NO net force!
  • NO acceleration!
  • NO net force!

On the other hand, if there IS an acceleration, in any direction, there's an unbalanced force acting on the object somewhere, somehow.

That net force is just (the object's mass) x (the object's acceleration).

The net force and the acceleration always point in the same direction, too; they're both vector quantities.

Now if I can figure out how to enter mathematical formulas . . .

Learning the Ropes

This is a test. This is only a test.

For the next few (days? weeks? years?) I thought we'd give this mode of interaction a try. I'm told some teachers have used blogging successfully with their students, as a source of feedback.

So let's give it a try, eh? I'll try to post a short summary of today's activities in class, my opinion of how the activities went, then you can give your perspective.