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.

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