Sunday, January 22, 2023

Earth Revealed

Full megabundle coming February 2023
It seems there was a wee Golden Age of college telecourses that preceded the explosive dawn of the World Wide Web. In physics, we had The Mechanical Universe. In chemistry, there was The World of Chemistry, and in geology, there was Earth Revealed. They had been preceded by more multidisciplinary documentary series such as Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man, James Burke's Connections, and Carl Sagan's Cosmos.

These telecourses ran 26 half-hour episodes, and were intended to be fairly comprehensive. The Mechanical Universe actually got a second season, for a total of 52 episodes. If there are programs with matching ambition produced in The Age of Search (21st century), I am unaware of them. Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions (2014) does a great job, but tells its story in 13 episodes.

The Buggles proclaimed that Video Killed the Radio Star in the first song played by the VJs of MTV. Did the web kill broadcast college telecourses? My guess is that the web allowed colleges to conduct their own telecourses, albeit less slickly produced, so that demand for these more broadly-targeted telecourses went extinct.

In any case, I am in the midst of crafting question sets to accompany each episode of Earth Revealed. I'll update this post as progress continues.

EARTH REVEALED at TPT [Complete series megabundle coming February 2023]

Earth Revealed shows the physical processes and human activities that shape

Monday, January 2, 2023

Leave a review, get a TPT credit

I only became aware of this recently; it seems like a pretty good deal. A post that details the craft that goes into the creating of the Lessons of Phyz video question sets is directly below this post, if you're looking for inspiration for leaving positive reviews. And you can still write a better review than Open AI's ChatGPT can.

TPT credits are points that can be applied to future TPT purchases. The amount you can apply is displayed in U.S. Dollars (USD) on your account balance page. 

The primary way you can earn TPT Credits is by leaving ratings and reviews on your purchased resources. You may also receive TPT Credits on your account because they're added by Team TPT, for example as reimbursement — those will be listed "Credits added to your account by TPT Staff."

When you leave a review, you'll earn 1 credit for every $1 you spent on TPT for that resource. Each credit has a value of 5 cents, so every 20 credits earned equals $1 you can apply to future TPT purchases. We'll round up from 50¢ for you! If you provide a review on a resource priced at $4.75, you'll earn 5 credits.

TPT credits are only earned for reviews left on active, paid resources. Credits are not earned on gift card purchases, inactive resources, or free downloads.

After using a resource, you can leave a rating and review by following these steps:

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To redeem your credits, look for "Use Account Balance" located under the "Checkout" button in your cart. Enter the amount you'd like to apply toward your order, and click "Apply."

If you've purchased any resources at The Lessons of Phyz, go get some credits! 

Crafting video question sets

Why question sets at all?
I was never comfortable showing a video in class without an accompanying question set. Casting students as passive observers didn't seem like a path for learning. And it's asking a lot of students: to actively engage with an inherently passive exercise.

Depth of the questions
My first significant experience as a teacher using video lessons was via The Mechanical Universe: High School Adaptation. I was able to get my school to buy me the set, and it came with a binder of resources. Among the resources was a set of questions for students to answer while watching the video.

But the prompts called for extended, written answers. Not quick, "bang-bang" responses. More reflective, analytical responses. It didn't seem like students could answer these while the video played. Rather, the video would have to be paused while students drafted and composed responses.

I didn't want to spend that much time in the video.

Further experience with such things led me to the conclusion that the producers of video content hoped their content would occupy more of your calendar than you intended.

That did not suit my needs.

So I developed shorter, tighter question sets, with questions that could be answered while the video played without pause.

The video is not my primary curriculum resource; it's a supplement. In my class, the video will play through once, and that's it. Students complete the question set while the video plays. If you're hoping for a deeper analysis and reflective responses, my video question sets are not the way to go.

Page design: print-friendly Google Docs
This topic is so important, I wrote a separate post about it: One document to rule them all. The TL;DR version is this: My question sets are Google Docs files that candy assigned to students in Google Classroom, for example, if remote teaching/distance learning is in effect. They can also be printed and used in an in-person setting. Maximum flexibility is the objective.

Because the print versions might be used in a darkened room, I chose to use a heavy sans=serif text font for increased legibility.

Question variety
Most video question sets that have been put into the world are "word-drop" questions—one-word fill in the blank. I use them, but not exclusively. Word-drops don't really work for exotic words that are unfamiliar to students, or whose spelling is challenging. For those, I prefer a multiple-choice format.

Multiple choice question construction takes additional time and energy: now you need distractors to sit appealingly with the key. 

Ages ago, I served on the physics development committee for California's short-lived Golden State Exam. Because I complained to the California Department of Education about the statewide physics exams it was developing, the State Board of Education appointed me to its Assessment Review Panel. We vetted questions developed by Educational Testing Service for use on California's Content Standards Tests. All this work made me acutely aware of the importance of quality distractors.

I also like pick-from-a-list questions. And when the material calls for it, matching is good. On rare occasions, a tour/false works well.

The point is to mix it up where possible. I don't have research to show that that makes for a more engaging, less tedious question set, but I believe it. So that's what I do. 

And no student, even those who are well-read and intellectually sharp, should have much success completing the question set without watching the movie/episode.

Raised ceilings: space for writing
Sometimes a word-drop question has enough verbiage that the dropped word occurs in the second line of text. In those cases, I add some vertical space so that students have room to write (when the document is in print form); no need to scrunch the handwriting. Not all author-creators think of this.

No unnecessary art
Most of my question sets are pure text. The visuals and graphics are the domain of the video. If anything, the question sets represent a translation of the visual and auditory to text. I don't see any value in clip-art or screen grabs. On some (rare) occasions, there is value in interpretation of a graphic element or graph.

Non-breaking space
This one is weed-deep. When a question calls for selecting items from a list, often the list of items can be fit to a single lone of text. Sometimes items in the list consist of more than one word. When using the Google Docs file, it's convenient to be able to double-click an item on the list to select it. But if the item has more than one word, double-clicking only selects one word. I use a non-breaking space between the words so that both words are selected on the double-click. Like I said, this one is deep in the weeds.

Play to the buzzer
When you ask students to maintain attention throughout the video by using a question set, many will lose focus after the answer to the final question is revealed. So it's best to have that occur as close to the end of the video. If it's the last word of the video's narration, all the better.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions

A video-based instructional series in chemistry with accompanying website for high school and college classes. 13 half-hour programs, online text, course guide, interactive lessons, historical timeline and periodic table.

Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions teaches general chemistry concepts using real-life challenges in energy, materials development, biochemistry, and the environment.

The course zeroes in on essential topics that are generally taught in introductory chemistry, providing a strong foundation for learners to pursue further study in science or a liberal-arts education. Videos include dramatic demonstrations of key principles, interviews with scientists who are doing current research related to these fields, animations, and clear explanations. Each video is hosted by a different working chemist – together, they show a diversity of chemistry professionals and the challenges chemistry is addressing for society. The on-line text covers key concepts with clear text and illustrations, while interactive labs provide simulations of chemical processes online.

Series produced in 2014 by the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. As of the time of publication, episodes stream at the Annenberg Learner website.


Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Teachers Pay Teachers is now TPT

Once upon a time there were Digital Video Discs (or was it Disks?) and/or Digital Versatile Discs. No more. Now there are DVDs. What do the apparent initials stand for? They don't stand for anything. The discs are simply DVDs.

I believe that once upon a time, there was Physics Education Technology. Now there is PhET.

I'm sure more examples abound. Now we can pour one out for Teachers Pay Teachers. The service isn't going away. It's now simply TPT. The initialism had been in common use for years, and the company's leaning into it.

The rebranding is not universally welcome in the physics teaching community. The American Association of Physics Teachers' official journal, The Physics Teacher, has been published since 1963, and is often referred to as TPT.

I do not foresee either institution changing their practices out of deference to the other. We've survived multiple meanings for ATM, CD, CRT, EMT, etc.. We'll power through this duplication.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Human: The World Within

The Lessons of Phyz materials I've posted to TPT started in the realm of physics. That's been my primary teaching assignment since 1986. So it's what I know the best. But I have also taught earth science, and I've always loved astronomy. So I have video question sets in that realm, too. Once I retired from the classroom, I dipped a toe into chemistry, and found some groovy documentaries there, too. More recently, I've come across two video telecourse series and have posted question sets for them. 

But biology. Biology is the most heavily enrolled high school science course there is. But if there's a 13-part, 26-part, or (like The Mechanical Universe) 28-part or 52-part telecourse covering high school or introductory college biology, it eludes me.

I recently discovered this miniseries, though. And it seems to cover many of the basics through a contemporary lens. It's hosted by Jad Abumrad of Radiolab fame. So I ran with it. Some vignettes chaffed against my skeptical sensibilities, but I decided the judges will allow it. Each of the six episodes runs 53 minutes. As is sometimes the case in documentaries produced by one network then acquired by another, the PBS sequence and the Netflix sequence do not align. Which is to say the episodes stand on their own well enough.

Take a deep-dive into the universe that’s inside each and every one of us, by exploring a shared biology that we often don't take the time to appreciate, or understand. Heart, brain, eyes, blood, tears; "Human" uncovers not only the science behind how our bodies work, but how what's inside powers every moment of what we do out in the world. Personal profiles of people from around the globe become entry points into deeper stories about how the body's many systems function.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Planets

When I was in 4th grade, our class would take trips to the school library. And we were allowed to check out books. I believe this might have been a privilege reserved for those of us in "upper elementary" (4th-6th grade). My teacher, Mrs. Murphy, noticed that I had become especially enamored of a book about the planets. I believe it was a small (maybe 6"x9") dark blue hardcover book titled The Planets.

And yes, I was transfixed. Other worlds that orbited the sun. Earth was not alone in the universe. There were other worlds! In the mid-1970s, the planets of our own solar system were the only planets we knew to exist. Maybe there were planets orbiting other stars, but maybe not. As far as we knew, there were nine planets (Pluto was a planet in those days).

I checked out the book, and checked it out again when it was due back, and checked it out again after that. Speed reading was not my thing. And I'm sure I just kept re-reading pages I had already read.

Mrs. Murphy suggested that I write a report on The Planets and I (the future physics teacher) readily agreed. Talk about pushing on an open door! 

Mrs. Murphy and Dean in 1973
Using dad's collection of Flair felt-tipped pens, my report devoted one page to each planet. Each page had a partial diagram of the solar system, showing the orbits of all the planets, but showing the specific page's planet in its orbit on that page. Graphics and art were important. The remainder of the page was a list of the planet's parameters: distance from the sun, diameter, mass, and such. The pages were bound by binding rings. Very polished. 

And it earned an A++ from Mrs. Murphy. Mind you, no one else in the class had been asked to do anything like this. I was flying solo on this project.

Mrs. Murphy and Dean in 2022
I recently reconnected with Mrs. Murphy and she's a total delight. Full of energy and as sweet as could be.

In any case, I thought of the report and Mrs. Murphy as I watched the BBC/PBS-NOVA miniseries, The Planets. It originally aired a few years ago, but somehow got past me. Now that I'm crafting question sets to accompany science documentaries, it was high on my priorities.

It turns out that post-Voyager and other probes, we know a whole bunch more about the  planets than we did in the early '70s. So I learned a bunch. 

Your students can learn a bunch, too. They live in a galaxy festooned with thousands of known planets orbiting stars far and farther. And in a solar system in which Saturn is not the only planet known to harbor rings.

THE PLANETS
Among the stars in the night sky wander the eight-plus worlds of our own solar system—each home to truly awe-inspiring sights. Volcanoes three times higher than Everest, geysers erupting with icy plumes, cyclones larger than Earth lasting hundreds of years. Each of our celestial neighbors has a distinct personality and a unique story. In this five-part series, NOVA will explore the awesome beauty of “The Planets,” including Saturn’s 175,000-mile-wide rings, Mars’ ancient waterfalls four times the size of any found on Earth, and Neptune’s winds—12 times stronger than any hurricane felt on our planet. Using unique special effects and extraordinary footage captured by orbiters, landers and rovers, we’ll treat viewers to an up-close look at these faraway worlds. We’ll stand on the dark side of Pluto, lit only by the reflected light of its moons, watch the sun set over an ancient Martian waterfall, and witness a storm twice the size of Earth from high above Saturn. And, we’ll reveal how each of them has affected our own planet: Earth.

As of the publication of this resource, The Planets was available via PBS streaming, Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV, and on DVD and Bluray.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Order and Disorder: The Forces that Drive the Universe

I was late to the Jim Al-Khalili party, so I'm working through the back catalog, scrambling to catch up. So far, I've authored question sets for Atom, Chemistry: A Volatile History, Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity, Gravity and Me, The Secrets of Quantum Physics, and Secrets of Size: Atoms to Supergalaxies.

I still have a few Al-Khalili gems to mine. For now, I'm adding this volume to my library.


In which Al-Khalili spins a thread that carries us from ancient Mesopotamia through

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Ladder to the Stars

My first course in physics was Project Physics, Harvard's post-Sputnik curriculum project that emphasized  the history of physics and human interest throughout the course. I loved Project Physics. And on Sunday, September 28, 1980, Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Voyage episode 1, "The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean" aired for the first time. Cosmos grabbed me and did not let go.

I eventually became a high school physics teacher (the only career choice I specifically eliminated from my constellation of options while still in high school). And when California's state-mandated physics testing and reporting ended in the 2010s, I decided to weave Cosmos into my physics curriculum. 

By then, I had been implementing Skepticism in the Classroom, stand-alone lessons that could be dropped into the physics curriculum where appropriate. One theme of Cosmos was skepticism, so it aligned with my agenda. I wrote up question sets for each episode, and showed one episode the day after each unit test. I had to up the pace at the end of the year, and I showed episode 13, "Who Speak for Earth?" without a question set. Students were ready by then and remained engaged; it was like lifting hands off the moving bicycle's handlebars.

When Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey debuted in 2014, I added that series to my AP Physics 2 curriculum. AP Physics 1 got no Cosmos. But they did learn about waves and circuits back in those days.

In 1980's Cosmos, an existential threat that Sagan was overtly warning about was the nuclear arms race and the possibility of a life on Earth-ending nuclear war. In 2014's Cosmos, an existential threat that Ann Druyan (through Neil deGrasse Tyson) warned about was anthropogenic climate change.

The first episode of Cosmos: Possible Worlds aired on March 9, 2020. Four days later, I taught the last regular, in-person class of my 35-year high school teaching career. Druyan's third season of Cosmos got lost in the pandemic. And National Geographic made the series difficult to find and watch (especially for those dozen or two of us that don't subscribe to cable or have a dish).

Developing question sets for each episode of Possible Worlds has been on my to-do list since 2020. Forty-two years after the debut of Cosmos, I have begun my work on Possible Worlds

All seasons of Cosmos bring context and humanity to the work done in science. I think it's a valuable resource to fold into course curriculum. It is not tightly-focused content exposition, as one might find in The Mechanical Universe. But that's a feature, not a bug.


One down; 12 to go before I have a full set for Possible Worlds (Cosmos season 3). In the meantime, question sets for seasons 1 and 2 are available at The Lessons of Phyz. 



Will there be a season 4 of Cosmos? Ann Druyan has one envisioned. Time will tell.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Ultimate Space Telescope

Cue the Boston "It's been such a long time". But we have arrived at the moment when the James Webb Space Telescope has enough air underneath it to merit an episode of NOVA that includes images.

Delay after delay and budget overruns aplenty made us wonder if this beast was ever going to launch. And when it finally did launch, the reality of its 300+ single points of potential mission failure made us wonder if we were ever going to see images.

Spoiler alert: JWST had a successful launch and deployment. And those images!

So here we are: Chapter 1 is complete and the story can be told about what is now the ultimate space telescope. You and I may know the back story and drama, but our students do not. This hour-long introduction brings them up to speed with the details of this ambitious research tool. If Hubble is an indicator, JWST may become the most productive research instrument we have ever built.

Those chapters have yet to be written. This chapter is about how we got here.


Monday, September 12, 2022

Earth Science: The Bundles

Bundle 1: SCIENCE, MAPPING, AND WATER
NOVA: Secrets of the Psychics · NOVA: Longitude—Lost at Sea · BBC: Water | Water World · National Geographic: Earth Under Water

National Geographic: Our Atmosphere · Modern Marvels: Predicting Weather · BBC: Wind | The Skies Above

NOVA: Megastorm Aftermath · National Geographic: Before the Flood · BBC: Human Planet | The Human Era

National Geographic: Colliding Continents · BBC: Deep Earth | Beneath the Crust · NOVA: Deadliest Volcanoes · NOVA: Deadliest Earthquakes 

NOVA: Meteor Strike · NOVA: Life Beyond Earth 1. Are We Alone? · NOVA: Life Beyond Earth 2. Moons & Beyond · NOVA: Secrets of the Sun

The Universe: Life & Death of a Star · NOVA: Invisible Universe Revealed · NOVA: Alien Planets Revealed · The Universe: Alien Galaxies

After I crafted these bundles, I added many Earth Science / Astronomy lessons. For the complete list, click the link below.



Sunday, September 11, 2022

Biology lives here

As I built my Lessons of Phyz library over the years, I liked working in groovy biology content whenever I could.

As mentioned in the "Chemistry: we've got it" post below, physics teachers are spoiled with an abundance of course-covering video series. Chemistry doesn't seem to have such a thing, nor have I found one for biology.

But here's the biology-related documentaries I have found.


Thursday, September 8, 2022

Chemistry: we've got it

When I retired from classroom teaching in 2021, one project I set out upon was increasing the chemistry content on The Lessons of Phyz at Teachers Pay Teachers.

Physics teachers were fortunate enough to have David Goodstein's The Mechanical Universe (College and High School) at their disposal, to be used at their discretion. Better yet, they had Paul Hewitt's Conceptual Physics Alive!. All of these were in-depth, course-long series that covered nearly all the topics in introductory physics.

Surely there must be similarly comprehensive series in chemistry. 

Or not. Somehow the Goodsteins and Hewitts of chemistry either don't exist or have not had such good fortune in getting any comprehensive series green-lit. Talk to me, my colleagues in chemistry: what went wrong? If there's something missing from the list that follows, let me know.

What we do have is a couple of chemistry mini-series and one-offs that are delightful and work well in the chemistry curriculum. Here's what I've found so far.


Wednesday, June 29, 2022

All the Bundles of Phyz - 2022

Each Bundle of Phyz is potentially a living organism. Lessons might be modified if I think of something, and new lessons might be added at any time. But for now, this is the state of the bundles. (I was assembling them one at a time, so looking back at the bundle of 21 bundles was a little surprising.)

When you're preparing your unit on any of these topics, take a peek and see if there's a lesson you can use. Or grab the complete bundle for maximum flexibility.

MOTIONINERTIA — FORCES — GRAVITY







Friday, June 10, 2022

Secrets of Size: Atoms to Supergalaxies

What would the universe look like if you were a billion times smaller or a billion times bigger? In this mind-bending series, Jim Al-Khalili will look at the universe across its vast range of size, ranging from the tiniest objects measuring just a few atoms, to vast structures consisting of hundreds of thousands of interconnected galaxies. Investigating these astonishing objects will reveal fundamental truths about our universe. At the end of each film, the audience will see the largest structures ever discovered in the universe and the smallest objects whose images scientists have managed to capture to date.

This series premiered on BBC Four in May, 2022. These question sets only have value if you can find and show the episodes. Until this miniseries makes it to, say, Amazon Prime via Spark or some such, you may need to be resourceful to access it. If you intend to assign it outside of class, make sure students will be able to access it.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Mirages [Lab Springboard]

This activity mixes a lab activity with a springboard lesson to explore the optics and perception of mirages and looming (inferior and superior images).

The recommended equipment is Arbor Scientific's Laser Viewing Tank.

To make this lesson work, you begin by setting up the "skinny fish tank" with water and corn syrup or sugar. Then you go through the "paper and pencil" lesson about the optics of mirages, and why they are perceived as bodies of water. Then it's time to hit the tank with the lasers to see how the index gradient causes the beam to curve. By then, the connection between curving light rays and mirages is understood.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Understanding Rainbows [Springboard]

Second only to "Why the Sky is Blue" in ambition, I would rank this as one of the best lessons I have authored. 

With rainbows, the physics is relatively simple (once you've covered refraction and dispersion) and the geometry is simple. Putting them together? Well, this is a four-page lesson. It takes a bit of time to work out the details.

The post-lesson "extras" in the presentation are amusing rewards. The "Double Rainbow" video has mostly faded from cultural awareness among students, so it's new to them! Is the dramatic interpretation over the top? Yes it is.
Includes
Student document (print-friendly Google Docs file on Google Drive)
Instructional presentation (link embedded in answer key)
Answer key

Diversion into Dispersion [Lab Springboard]

This is an exploration of differential refraction: white light is dispersed into a spectrum by a prism. The activity explores the physics behind dispersion before giving a name to the phenomenon. 

Pink Floyd's classic album cover for Dark Side of the Moon is evaluated: what's right and what's wrong with the illustration? [I painted a 10' x 30' mural of Storm Thorgerson's image outside my physics classroom.]

Student document (print-friendly Google Docs file on Google Drive)
Instructional presentation (link embedded in answer key)
Answer key

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Index of Refraction [Springboard]

Examples of vacuum, glass, and gallium phosphide are used as we define and apply the index of refraction. Ratios of speeds, wavelengths, and sines of angles are involved. Interesting graphical tangents are visited, and a numerical sample problem is included.


Includes
Student document (print-friendly Google Docs file on Google Drive)
Instructional presentation (link embedded in answer key)
Answer key