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.


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.
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.

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

Diversion into Refraction [Lab Springboard]

This activity acts as an introduction to refraction. Prior knowledge: sound travels faster in solids (like steel) than it does in air. So what about light? Does it travel faster in transparent solids (like glass) than it does in air? Isaac Newton thought so.

We use the classic "car on carpet" model to explore the question. A toy car is rolled at an oblique angle down a ramp. There are hard surfaces, and there are carpeted surfaces. The direction of the car's path is affected by moving through the different surfaces.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

New Electromagnetism Lessons Added

Right hand rules in high school physics do not bring me great joy. I cringed when The Physics Teacher ran a photoessay from an instructor who photographed students contorting hands during an exam. (A cursory search for this article was unsuccessful. I hope it was expunged.) 

Nevertheless, 3-D geometry cannot be avoided when studying magnetic fields and forces. In the ├śrsted's discovery lab, students develop a right hand rule relating to current and the magnetic field it produces. That was Right Hand Rule #1.

This activity relates current, external magnetic field, and magnetic force. Right Hand Rule #2.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Picture a Scientist

I thought this needed a question set, so I wrote one. It's now the featured free resource at The Lessons of Phyz store on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

The Secrets of Quantum Physics

Professor of physics Jim Al-Khalili investigates the most accurate and yet perplexing scientific theory ever - quantum physics. The program's two episodes
stream on Amazon Prime. YouTube links have also been embedded in the text below and the titles in the student documents.

The history of and battle over quantum entanglement. Albert Einstein hated the idea that nature, at its most fundamental level, is governed by chance. Professor Jim Al-Khalili reveals how, in the 1930s, Einstein thought he'd found a fatal flaw in quantum physics because it implies that subatomic particles can communicate faster than light in defiance of the theory of relativity. Delightful bonus: "Tangled Up With You" by Eliza's Uncertainty, a perfect addition to your modern physics playlist.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Switch Wars [Design Lab]

Design Challenge:
Using only a battery, bulb, wires, and two single pole double throw switches, make a “three-way” switch. A three-way switch involves 2 two-position switches (like common light switches in houses). Either switch can be used to turn a light on or off. Such two-switch systems are often used for lights in stairways, long hallways, or for outdoor structures. Children (of varying ages) sometimes battle each other by stationing themselves at opposite switches; one tries to keep the light on while the other tries to keep it off.


Student document (print-friendly Google Docs file on Google Drive)

Answer key

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Logic Gates [Lab + Job]

When I began the patient siege of outfitting my lab at Rio Americano High School (c. 1990), I leveled up on batteries (C- and D-cells), bulbs (various incandescent flashlight "mini bulbs"), connecting wires (alligator clip "jumpers") and switches (single throw, single and double pole ceramic and copper). 

My wish/shopping list came from Paul Robinson's Conceptual Physics: A High School Program by Paul Hewitt 1/e Lab Manual. I had tagged each lab I hoped to do, then assembled a spreadsheet list of the apparatus I would need.

And as was the case with my mechanics apparatus and materials, I began developing other labs for my students to conduct with those materials.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022


Much can be made of spherical mirrors and thin lenses in the geometric optics curriculum. Here are a few.

Is the image upright or inverted? Enlarged or reduced? In "Image Characterization," students are tasked with such determinations.

In "Mirror Experience," students gaze upon their reflections in a hand-held spherical mirror at various distances and characterize their own images.

"Ray Tracing 1 and 2" are exercises in drawing principal rays to construct images in spherical mirrors.

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Fringe of Optics [PhET]

PhET's Wave Interference sim to construct the mathematical relation describing interference patterns

The modern study of light began in the late 1600s and early 1700s with Isaac Newton in England and Christiaan Huygens in the Netherlands. Newton theorized that light consisted of particles. Huygens theorized that light consisted of waves. In 1801, Thomas Young offered convincing evidence for the wave model of light when he demonstrated that light could produce an interference pattern. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022


The bundle opens with a PhET-fueled exploration of Hooke's law. "Spring to Another World" utilizes the
Masses and Springs simulation.

Then its on to a guided classroom discussion on elastic potential energy which works through a side-by-side compare and contrast with gravitational potential energy. Practice the equation developed in the springboard on a few toy gun number puzzles.

"Springs and Swings" provides a PhET-fueled introduction to simple harmonic motion, while also delving gently into Google Sheets and linearization. This one leverages Masses and Springs: Basics and Pendulum Lab.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

A Bundle of Phyz: FLUIDS

When the College Board added fluids to the AP Physics B exam, I felt like I needed to create a new unit from whole cloth. This bundle includes most of what I subsequently produced over the years.

We begin with pressure and its idiosyncrasies, addressed in a springboard (guided classroom discussion) and a job (independent homework). Next we dive into PhET's Density pool in our first sink-or-float lab activity, "Pool Cubes 1 - Density."

Conceptual Physics Alive's telling of fluids begins with "Liquids I," in which he demonstrates principles using Pascal's vases, among other things.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

A Bundle of Phyz: ROTATION

The bundle opens with a guided classroom discussion on "A New Kind of Motion": rotation. It's fundamentally different from linear motion.

"A Question of Balance" is a PhET-fueled lab activity that sets and applies the conditions for balance using the Balancing Act sim. It's a nice precursor to an in-class, hands-on balanced torques lab.

"Torque" is a guided classroom discussion that builds toward an equation for torque by examining various factors one at a time.