Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Lessons of Phyz Advantages - Crosswords

CROSSWORD PUZZLES EDITION · [video question sets edition here]

Crossword puzzles in an academic core or AP lab class? Yes!
Crossword puzzles are a simple exercise in matching clues to words. Except the word, itself, is not given. The number of letters is given. And as the grid is filled in, letters of the words become apparent. By the time students ere sitting in the high school science class, they know how to work crossword puzzles without any instruction.

Does the puzzle engage students in the highest reaches of Bloom's taxonomy? No. But that's okay. Lower level retrieval has a place in the curriculum, too. And sometimes, spelling could benefit from this kind of reenforcement. In any case, students are involved in academic vocabulary.

My AP students would tear into crossword puzzles with no promise of a reward. They couldn't resist the challenge. Among grade-level Physics students, the ones who seemed most engaged in the crossword puzzles tended to be the students who were otherwise least engaged in the course as a whole. Compared to challenging conceptual questions or mathematical problems, knocking out answers on the crossword seemed much more manageable. 

And then there were the words that were not on the chapter's vocabulary list. For my original Physics crossword series, I leaned into a list of "100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know" I found on the Internet. My English-teaching colleagues always appreciated this. Some even offered a few terms that weren't on the Internet's list.

For subsequent series (AP Physics, Chemistry, etc.), I loosened up a bit. Taylor Swift references? K-pop? Star Wars? Why not? Each puzzle's description on TPT includes the complete word list. There you can see that I did work Metallica, Megadeth, and Judas Priest into the chemistry crossword about metals. Because of course I did. Meco snuck into that puzzle, too. But that's a story of other galactic funk.

Filling the grid in The Age of Search
I use a crossword creator program (Puzzle Maker for Mac by Hokua Software LLC) to produce a puzzle grid that includes all (or virtually all) the core terms I'm hoping to get into a puzzle. The program builds several grids and allows me to choose. Computers are good at constructing a grid with lots of crossed words. Still though, it spends a few minutes concocting the options. That initial puzzle, with about 50 terms on a 28 x 28 grid, has too much empty space for my liking.

I'm no Will Shortz. (There's only one Will Shortz and he's a national treasure.) But I do feel a compulsion to fill in that grid with additional words. With an initial puzzle already built, the words I add have to fit specific places on the grid. Second letter E and fifth letter L, and so on.

There are web pages designed to find words that match the criteria. Sometimes the criteria are too tough: no matches. Sometimes they're too easy: 672 matches. This is the process that consumes the bulk of the puzzle-building time.

I usually begin scoping out the puzzle to see if I can add planet names. Or terms from previous chapters. Or math. When the going gets tough (near the end) and only two-letter "words" will do, state abbreviations and chemical symbols come in handy. As do Roman numerals, to be honest.

Sometimes a three-letter term is needed to bridge a gap. Government agencies are useful there. And some of the word-clue combos are essentially giveaways: three-letter term for Universal Serial Bus. Is it still instructive? Not everybody knows what USB or URL stands for. So there's that. Initialism are handy. Acronyms are nice, too: SCUBA and LASER come to mind. (Not everybody knows initialisms and acronyms are different things.)

In the end, I usually and up with a puzzle that has more than a hundred words that cross in over 150 places. Compare that to all the other puzzles you see for use in the classroom. Honestly: any of them! They might have two dozen words that cross in three dozen places. But they'll nearly always have enough open space to grow crops in. That was understandable in the 1970s. But now we have computers and the Internet. Machines are great at coming up with busy grids and words that will fill the spaces.

Would AI come up with a better puzzle? Maybe. I'm sure it could fill more of the 28 x 28 grid than I do. But would the words be appropriate for high school science students? Would those gap-filler words be matched to the intended audience? I haven't tried any AI crossword puzzle generators.

I design puzzles that take time to solve completely. Collaboration may be helpful. The Internet knows the answer to each individual clue (I think). But it's going to take a while, no matter how you solve it.

Fun use case: give a puzzle to students with no Internet access and see how it goes. Let them collaborate. I'm confident that a room full of high school science students could solve any of my puzzles. Eventually.

More standard use case: give the next unit's puzzle to students as they turn in unit tests with time to spare. My unit tests tended to be short enough that average students would have time left in the hour. They had to work quietly on something. My crosswords were a nice way to spend this minutes. And even though they weren't yet familiar with the next unit's academic vocabulary, half the terms in the crossword were terms they might already know. And the exercise gave them a preview of the new words to be learned soon.

Print or Online: Whatever Works for You
I used crossword puzzles in class in The Before Times, so I printed and photocopied them. When lockdowns hit, the importance of online options became apparent. The Before Times aren't coming back, so my crossword puzzles are printable and uploadable for use online. To implement the online option, you need to upload the HTML folder to your server space, then share the resulting web address (URL) with students. I uploaded a few to my own server space so you can see how they play online. They work well on laptops and tablets; not so well on phones.

Word List And Partially Solved Options
Each puzzle includes a Word List text file and PDF that can be printed and photocopied or shared electronically. Additionally, I included PDFs of "partially solved" puzzles. Grade-level puzzles include student documents with 10% and 20% of the letters filled in in advance. For AP Physics, the pre-solves are 5% and 10%.

Me? I didn't give students the word list or partially solved puzzles. But the options are there for you. Your students; your call!

Monday, December 11, 2023

Chemistry Crossword Puzzles [OpenStax-aligned]

I finished sets of crossword puzzles for Physics and AP Physics (1 & 2). But creating crossword puzzles is so much much fun, I wandered the Internet over to OpenStax and found their Chemistry textbook. The first chapter had an end-of-chapter vocabulary list. So away I went. This post will be updated as new chemistry crosswords are added to the collection.

The Lessons of Phyz crossword advantage? At least 100 words that cross at least 150 times. Not those mostly empty grids with a handful of words and two dozen crosses. I'm no Will Shortz, but I am putting in some effort. And while the majority of the terms are chemistry, science, and math-related, the occasional Taylor Swift, Disney, or other pop culture references work to engage students that might be otherwise less engaged in the course. My own students used to gobble up crossword puzzles even without any promise of reward. Conquering the grid was all the incentive they needed.

Word Count: 103 · Puzzle Score (word crosses): 158

Core terms:Accuracy, Atom, Celsius, Centimeter, Change, Chemical, Chemistry, Compound, Conservation, Conversion, Cubic, Density, Element, Exact, Extensive, Fahrenheit, Gas, Heterogeneous, Homogeneous, Hypothesis, Intensive, Kelvin, Kilogram, Law, Length, Liquid, Liter, Macroscopic, Mass, Matter, Meter, Microscopic, Milliliter, Mixture, Molecule, Physical, Plasma, Precision, Property, Pure, Rounding, Second, SI, Significant, Solid, Temperature, Theory, Uncertainty, Unit, Volume, Weight

Selected additional terms: Acute, Amber, Andromeda, cc, Cone, cos, Divide, Echo, Etna, GMO, Gram, HIV, Hue, Inch, Neptune, Odor, Parallel, Perpendicular, sin, Sodium, Spine, TNT, Venus

Words: 103 · Puzzle Score: 159

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Battle to Beat Malaria

As good as we've been at developing and improving vaccines for the past century, an inoculation against malaria has eluded us. There are reasons that 142 potential malaria vaccines have failed. Malaria is not a virus or a bacteria, it's a parasite. And a pernicious one at that.

In recent years, two vaccines have proven successful. This is the story of R21. And it's as "ripped from the headlines"/"hot off the press" as an episode of NOVA can be. Some of the principal footage was shot in October, 2023.

This one packs a bit of hard-to-watch footage as a population of mosquitoes are "blood fed" on the arm of a researcher. I winced. It also shows a fairly powerful emotional moment when a researcher learns the results of a clinical trial. I confess that I go along for the ride such vignettes take us on.

The picture for a malaria vaccine is improving. I won't miss it if we can relegate it to the history books. The photo I used for the cover really is from Africa—I shot it in Botswana in 2014.

Malaria is one of humanity’s oldest and most devastating plagues. In many parts of the world, it remains an ever-present scourge that sickens or kills millions of people each year. What if it could finally be defeated? Now, scientists may be on the verge of a breakthrough with a promising vaccine in the final stages of testing and approval. Follow researchers on a quest to deliver humankind from one of the world’s deadliest diseases. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Inside China's Tech Boom

This is a story of how we came to be in a tech war with China. It might be a bit jarring to some as it's not told from a populist or conservative political perspective. Some may cast it as Chinese propaganda promoting Huawei or some such. It's not that.

My own takeaway is that the US is hoping to slow China's technological world dominance, and current techniques could be effective in the short term. But when China overcomes the US speed bumps, we're going to find ourselves in a situation. A situation not of our liking, and with little to bargain with. We've got a head start, but I fear we won't make the best if it. Who knows? I've been wrong before.

In the span of just a few decades, China has transformed into a science and technology superpower. But how did it get here and where is it headed? Take an insider’s tour of high-profile tech companies and labs that are driving China’s meteoric rise to the forefront of global innovation. How does China innovate? What drives its bid for technological supremacy? And what does its rise mean for the future of the global economy?

Monday, October 23, 2023

Evolution Earth

It's not always clear to me why certain documentary properties are picked up by NOVA while others run "independently" on PBS. In the end, I'm not sure it's critically important.

In autumn, 2023, two series are running on PBS that constitute a popular social media meme.

How it started : How it's going. The it here is Life on Earth. 

How it started is documented in Ancient Earth (BBC/NOVA). It chronicles the events that transpired to bring Earth from a lifeless rock to planet bustling with living organisms. And yes, I have questions!

How it's going is documented in Evolution Earth (PBS). It details contemporary evolution in progress, often spurred by human impact on the environment. 

Both series tell their stories across five episodes.

Evolution Earth embarks on a global expedition to reveal the animals keeping pace with a planet changing at superspeed. Heading out across the globe to distant wilds and modern urban environments, five episodes track how animals are moving, using ingenuity to adapt their behavior, and even evolving in unexpected ways.

At the front lines of this rapid change are the scientists, filmmakers and local communities recording the animals’ stories. We follow heart-warming tales of resilience that redefine our understanding of evolution, and hint at how nature can show us a path towards a sustainable future for Planet Earth.

The series is narrated by Dr. Shane Campbell-Staton, who guides us through each episode in an intimate narrative style, drawing on his background as an evolutionary biologist.
At Earth’s extremes, animals are reacting in surprising ways. Animal homes are changing around them at superspeed. Follow remarkable stories of resilience and hope. From humpback whales to tiny butterflies to ingenious savanna chimpanzees.
Segments: Savanna Chimpanzees · Coastal Humpback Whales · Edith’s Checkerspot Butterflies · Mountain Pine Beetles · Marine Iguanas

Cover Photo: Marine iguanas and a finch enjoying each others' company on a beach in the Galápagos islands, August 2008.

Islands are like miniature simplified Earths, where evolution is playing out at super speed right before our eyes. Journey from the Galapagos to the edge of Antarctica to seek out animals responding to our changing planet in extraordinary ways.
Segments: Sea Lions · Finches · Silver Key Anoles · Pacific Field Crickets · South Georgia Pipits · Red Colobus Monkeys · Mangrove Forests

Cover Photo: Fur seal eyes a Galápagos lava lizard. Galápagos islands, August 2008. [I confess to the faux pas of representing the sea lion and and Silver Key anole with a fur seal and lava lizard, but the photo was too much fun not to use.]

Travel to the hottest and driest extremes to see animals go to extraordinary lengths to survive. From the Sahara Desert to Australia, animals provide new clues about our changing planet and what it will mean for the future of our heating world.
Segments: Savanna Chimpanzees II · Nubian Ibex · Saharan Silver Ants · Zebra Finches · Atomic Camels · People of the Sahara 

Cover Photo: Death Valley, December 2005. The desert locations used in the episode are a bit more far-flung (Sahara and Gobi, for example.) But I like what I captured in Death Valley years ago. I'll only go there from November through March.

At the planet’s frozen extremes, shifts in animal movement and behavior reveal vital information about our future world. Examine polar bears in the Arctic, penguins in Antarctica and other animals surviving in icy worlds.
Segments: Polar Bears · Mountain Hares · Gentoos and Adélies · Billy Barr · Wandering Albatross Winds · Lemmings and Foxes · The Sámi and Their Reindeer Herds

Cover Photo: A Polar Bear in the Pack Ice, July 2018. We had to sail to 83°N to find polar bears north of Svalbard. Once you spot one, you plow your boat into the ice and stop the engines. The bear will come to you. They're curious as to this new thing in their desolate environment, and must investigate.

Grasslands are one of the planet’s most important, yet most overlooked habitats. Follow scientists as they discover animal species with the power to transform and restore our grasslands, turning them into carbon sinks that could slow climate change.
Segments: The Serengeti: Wildebeest and Dung Beetles · Patagonia: Guanacos, Pumas · American Prairies: Butterflies, Bison, Prairie Dogs, Oaks, Grasshoppers, and Roots

Cover Photo: The Sun Sets on Theodore Roosevelt National Park, July 2022. This North Dakota national park includes acres and acres of grasslands.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Advanced Placement Crossword Puzzles

That's right. Physics crosswords suitable for AP Physics students. Topical terms constitute the core of the word list. Unlike the first series, there are no “words all high school students should know” vocabulary terms. Fill-in terms lean toward physics and science, but sometimes wander into pop culture or randomness. 

One nice thing about crosswords is that students know what to do with them without any instructions. They take to the challenge right away. The students who enjoy them most are often students who don't seem to enjoy the class the most. 

Note: the "puzzle score" stat listed in each puzzle's description indicates the number of word crosses/intersections. If you look at other crosswords at TPT or elsewhere, they typically involve a few dozen (sometimes one dozen) words with a few dozen crosses. Lessons of Phyz crosswords tend to involve more than 100 words with 150+ crosses. I begin each puzzle with core typical words, then fill in the gaps with terms from, physics, science, pop culture, and randomness. I intend to fill the grid without making something that will require more than two pages.

An AP1 Physics Crossword Puzzle Bundle includes all three of the following.

110 words with a puzzle score of 171. This is the first crossword of the year for the AP Physics 1 class. It covers kinematics, Newton's laws, circular motion and gravity. Core terms: Acceleration, Arc, Aristotle, Average, Body, Brahe, Brake, Centripetal, Change, Circular, Copernicus, Deceleration, Distance, Drag, Earth, Ellipse, Force, Friction, Galileo, Gas, Gravitational, Inclined, Inertia, Instantaneous, Interval, Kepler, Kilogram, Launch, Laws, Mass, Meter, Mu, Newton, Normal, Opposite, Pairs, Plane, Position, Projectile, Ptolemy, Pulley, Rate, Rest, Scalar, Speed, Steering, Sum, Tangential, Tension, Terminal, Uniform, Unit, Vector, Velocity, Weight.

127 words with a puzzle score of 182. The core words come from these conserved quantities. Additional words begin from motion and forces before going to other fields. Core terms: Bounce, Bullet, Collision, Conservation, Daughter, Elastic, Energy, Explosion, Fd,  Flex, Force,  GW, Half, Height, Impact, Impulse, Inelastic, Joule, kgms, Kinetic, Mass, mgh, Momentum, mv, Potential, Power, Speed, Speed, Square, Stable, Target, Time, Unstable, Velocity, Watt, Work. 

Additional terms include Acceleration, Apex, Areas, Atom, Axis, Centripetal, Deceleration, Drag, Earth, Ellipse, Equal, Friction, Galileo, Gravity, Hot, Ideal, Inertia, Kelvin, Kepler, Kilogram, Kinematics, Lab, Laser, Log, Mercury, Meter, Nano, Newton, Normal, Nu, Opposite, Orbs, Ovum, Pair, Pattern, Petri, Pi, Rest, Rev, Second, Solid, Star, Tension, Tera, Tesla, Uniform, Universal, Waves, Weight.

121 words with a puzzle score of 189. The core words come from harmonic motion and rotational mechanics. Additional terms come from force, motion, energy, and momentum. Core terms: Acceleration, Alpha, Amplitude, Angular, Arm, Axis, Balance, Conservation, Constant, Cylinder, Degrees, Displacement, Elastic, Energy,  Force, Frequency, Fulcrum, Harmonic, Hollow, Hooke, Hoop, Inertia, Kinetic, kx, Length, Lever, Mass, Maximum, Minimum, Momentum, Omega, Parallel, Pendulum, Period, Potential, Radian, Ratio, Resonance, Restoring, Revolutions, Rotational, sin, Solid, Sphere, Spring, Standing, Tau, Top, Torque, Velocity. 

Selected additional terms: Centripetal, Collision, Deceleration, Earth, Ellipse, Fusion, Gram, Gravitational, Impact, Kilo, Luna, ma, Meter, mgh, Nano, nm, N/m, Nrg, Opposite, Peta, Pi, Pluto,  RGB,  Saturn, Slow, Tension, Uranus, Venus, vt.

An AP2 Physics Crossword Puzzle Bundle includes all five of the following.

113 words with a puzzle score of 166. At the beginning of the year of AP Physics 2, we spend time reviewing the common mechanics topics covered in grade-level Physics and AP Physics 1. AP2 presumes knowledge of these topics, but we won't cover them formally in AP2. This crossword is part of this review process. Core terms: Acceleration, Action, Arc, Centripetal, Collision, Components, Conserved, Direction, Drag, Earth, Elastic, Ellipse, Energy, Equal, Explosion, External, Force, Friction, Fun, Galileo, Gravity, Horizontal, Impact, Inelastic, Inertia, Interaction, Inversely, Joule, Js, kg, kgms, Kilo, Kilogram, Kinetic, Mass, Mechanical, Meter, Momentum, ms, Mu, Net, Newton, Nm, Normal, Opposite, Orbit, Parabola, Power, Projectile, Relative, rev, Run, Second, Speed, Spring, Square, Tangential, Tension, Uniform, Unit, Universal, Velocity, Watt, Weight, Work.

105 words with a puzzle score of 150. The core words come from fluid mechanics and thermodynamics. Core terms: Absolute, Adiabatic, Archimedes, Area, Bernoulli, Buoyant, Carnot, Cold, Conductivity, Continuity, Cycle, Density, Depth, Displacement, Efficiency, Energy, Engine, Entropy, Float, Fluid, Force, Gauge, Heat, Hot, Impulse, Isobaric, Isothermal, Isovolumic, Joule, Kelvin, kPa, Law, Pascal, Pressure, Sink, Temperature, Thermal, Torricelli, Volume, Wind, Work.

Selected additional terms: Amplitude, Charge, cos, Cyan, Deceleration, Dipole, Ear, Echo, Elements, Gravity, Hertz, Inertia, Luna, Node, Omega, Orca, Oxygen, Petals, Radical, Rate, Rougher, Senses, Series, sin, Sleep, Sound, Spectrum, Tesla, Test, Tnt, Torque, USB, Velocity, Wavelength, Zinc.

114 words with a puzzle score of 174.  The core terms come from electrostatics, circuits, and magnetism. Core terms: Ampere, As, Attract, BA, Battery, Capacitor, Charge, Circuit, Conduction, Conductor, Coulomb, Current, Destructive, Dipole, Domain, Electrons, Electrostatic, Energizes, Energy, Faraday, Field, Flux, Force, Franklin, Generator, Glass, Induction, Insulator, IR, Kirchhoff, Magnet, Motor, Negative, Neutral, Oersted, Ohm, Open, Parallel, Polarized, Pole, Positive, Potential, Power, Proton, Repel, Resistance, Resistor, Semiconductor, Series, Short, Silk, Superconductor, Tesla, Volt, Voltage, Watt, Weber.

116 words with a puzzle score of 177. The core terms come from geometric (ray) optics and physical (wave) optics.mCore terms: Angle, Blue, Center, Central, Chartreuse, Concave, Cone, Constructive, Converging, Convex, Critical, Destructive, Diffraction, Diffuse, Dispersion, Diverging, Enlarged, Focus, Frequency, Glare, Height, Image, Incident, Index, Interference, Internal, Inverted, IR, Iridescence, Laser, Lens, Light, Magnification, Maxima, Minima, Mirror, Nano, Nitrogen, nm, Normal, Object, Optics, Order, Plane, Polarization, Radius, Rainbow, Ray, Real, Red, Reduced, Reflection, Refraction, Rod,  Screen, Slit, Snell, Specular, Ultraviolet, Upright, Violet, Virtual, Wavelength, Xray.
121 words with a puzzle score of 177. The core terms come from atomic and nuclear physics. Additional terms come from mechanics, fluids, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, and optics. Core terms: Absorption, Atomic, Beta, Bohr, Chain, Charge, Critical, Curie, Dating, DeBroglie, Defect, Duality, Effect, Einstein, Electron, Emission, Energy, eV, Fission, Frequency, Function, Fusion, Gamma, Ground, Half, Hertz, hf, Ionize, Kinetic, Light, Momentum, Neutron, Nucleon, Nucleus, Number, Phi, Photoelectric, Photon, Planck, Proton, Quantum, Strong, Tension, Time, TOE, UV, Wavelength.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Ancient Earth

NOVA opened the the second half of its 50th season with a 5-part partnership with BBC called Ancient Earth. Previous such collaborations produced two spectacular series, The Planets and Universe Revealed. In any case, I have questions.

Ancient Earth BUNDLE on TPT 
Witness the dramatic history of Earth, from its birth to the emergence of humanity. Dive into the most dramatic events in Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history, from its birth to the emergence of humanity. How did a hellscape of molten lava transform into a lush, green, watery planet filled with life? With dazzlingly realistic animation based on the latest research, each of these five episodes brings to life long-lost worlds that ultimately led to the one we know today.
I have had the good fortune of seeing many excellent documentaries on Earth's atmosphere. This is the best one I've ever seen. [I used a photograph I took on Floreana Island in the Galápagos for the cover.]
Today, Earth is enveloped by a thin veil of gas, a narrow band of atmosphere that protects a world covered in lush green vegetation, deep blue oceans, and abundant life. But 4.5 billion years ago, Earth was a very different place: a hellscape of molten lava and barren rock, under relentless bombardment from meteors, and with no atmosphere whatsoever. So how did our familiar blue sky come to be? Breathtakingly realistic animations and a chorus of science experts reveal how the primordial inferno first gave rise to an orange-hued cauldron of toxic gasses that would be deadly to us today. Witness how the first drops of rain splashed down on the searing planet, setting the stage for the evolution of life. And discover how life itself helped create the air we all breathe today.

Cover photo: Baroness viewpoint on Floreana Island in the Galápagos, when I was there in 2008 during The Amazing Adventure 3 with James (The Amazing Randi).

This is the story of Snowball Earth, Rodinia, eukaryotic life, plate tectonics, silicate weathering, the fall and rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and the intertwined nature of biology and geology.
700 million years ago, Earth was a giant snowball cloaked in ice from pole to pole – a global deep freeze that held the planet in a stranglehold, threatening the survival of the earliest complex life. How did life manage to hold on in this forbidding world? Leading scientists investigate how this catastrophe may have become a catalyst for life to evolve in creative new ways as it bounced back from the brink – setting the stage for the astonishing complexity we see today.

Cover photo: The pack ice in the Arctic Ocean from the M/S Origo, summer 2018. 

This is the story of how plant life emerged from the ocean and populated the land. It was not a trivial matter. It required plate tectonics (which was apparently triggered by asteroid bombardment) for granite and carbon dioxide from volcanoes. And it required a symbiotic relationship with fungi to get from water onto land. "Prototaxites" was a new word for me.
For billions of years, life teemed in the oceans of planet Earth while the land was desolate and inhospitable. So how did life make the leap to land? Scientists explore how some of the earliest life emerged and invaded a barren, rocky landscape, eventually transforming it into a verdant, green world. Gripping visual effects reveal an alien landscape dominated by towering fungi before the arrival of plants. Witness how the first plants made landfall and partnered with fungi to create soil that would sustain them. And discover how, once life emerged on land, it fundamentally altered the very ground it grew on.

Cover photo: A riparian landscape taken while looking for jaguars in the Pantanal of Brazil's wild west, summer 2016. 

252 million years ago, the most devastating mass extinction of all time abruptly wiped out around 90% of all species on Earth. The culprits were the biggest volcanic eruptions the world has ever seen, emitting some 700 thousand cubic miles of magma and rock. Volcanic gasses permeated the atmosphere and acidified the oceans while toxic gasses destroyed the ozone layer, bathing the planet in destructive UV radiation. The event–now called “The Great Dying”–came close to wiping out all life on the planet. Follow scientists as they piece together geologic evidence from the deep past and clues from today’s ecosystems to discover how life made it through and evolved into the astonishing variety we see around us today.
The story of Earth can only be told because now, 4.5 billion years into its existence, a technological and self-aware animal species roams its surface, able to study the very planet that gave rise to it. But how exactly did Earth give rise to humans? Through stunningly realistic animation, witness the cataclysmic asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs, the tumultuous changing climates that allowed early primates to spread across the planet, and the geologic events that created the conditions for the evolution of an animal that walks upright on two legs. Explore the power and paradox of humanity’s profound impact on our planet, and ponder the question of how we may shape its future.

Cover photo: Newspaper Rock in southeast Utah, as I saw it in April, 2004.  

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Human Nature

Human Nature is a Wonder Collaborative documentary that was picked up by PBS NOVA. And I have questions.

It's the story of CRISPR: the challenges that were insurmountable prior to CRISPR, how CRISPR was discovered, how it's been implemented (so far), and what the future might hold. There are ethical concerns; they are explored. And this production was produced as a feature film. The production values are high, the soundtrack is not always subtle, and emotional punches are not always pulled. It's exceptionally well done.

After the introductory material (Preface), the film is divided into six chapters: Needle in a Haystack, CRISPR, The Gene Machine, Brave New World, Good Genes, and Playing God.

This is a 94-minute film, and I wrote 83 questions to accompany the viewing. That might seem like a lot of questions, but it is not. The questions maintain attention, but do not require reflection or analysis. And the question formats vary to prevent any potential fatigue. 

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Physics Crossword Puzzles [Conceptual Physics]

Once I gained access to crossword puzzle creation software, I plied computer power to generate physics-themed puzzles. The trouble with most academic crosswords is that they consist one or two dozen words, not that many crosses, and a whole lot of empty "zen space". 

I was determined to fill the gaps on my physics crosswords with other terms, preferably science terms. When you get deep into gap-filling, you appreciate the value of short words, acronyms, and initialisms. Later I got the idea using words from online lists of "words all high school students should know". I knew that would bring some joy to the hearts of my ELA colleagues.

The puzzle-creation software package I initially used did not survive the 2000s. The most recent program I used still operates in the current version of the macOS operating system. So now I'm preparing crosswords for posting at TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers).

Puzzle Maker by Hokua Software LLC allows the creation of printable crosswords. It also allows for the creation of HTML puzzles that can be uploaded to one's server space and solved online. It also lets you drop in an image for the grid's backdrop rather than just using black, white, or gray. 

And for the printable PDF versions, I've prepared one with an empty grid, another with 10% of the letters prefilled, and another with 20% of the letters prefilled. Users can determine which level of difficulty is best for their students. I include a separate Word List for instructors to deploy at their own discretion. Words like "rarefaction" and "specular" are likely to show up where appropriate, as will high school vocab words like "impetuous" and "evanescent," so hints can prove useful.

I've discovered that there is much more craft involved in the creation of a robust, "busy" crossword puzzle, even with computer power. This is why so many subject-matter crosswords are so sparse.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Making North America

Paleontologist Kirk Johnson certainly landed a trip of a lifetime with this series. I'm completely jealous. But he knew his way around these locations and had a compelling story to tell, so he was more deserving. We get the plate tectonics of how North America came to be, the genesis of life on the continent, and how humans made their way here from Africa, at least to the best of our understanding in 2015. 

Among other things, I learned that camels originated in North America. The continents of Laramidia and Appalachia are name checked, but for some reason, the Niobraran Sea is not.

My consolation prize is that I used my own photographs for the cover art on all episode question sets and the series bundle.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

What's the Universe Made Of?

Dark matter and dark energy: where cutting-edge physics and astronomy meet. In high school physics, we focus on 16th- through 19th-century physics. For some, the majority of the year is devoted to the study of motion, forces, mechanical energy, and momentum. Some make their way into electricity, magnetism, waves, and light. A few dabble lightly into 20th-century physics: atomic and nuclear physics, and relativity.

For those interested in peeking into 21st-century physics, dark matter and dark energy are appropriate topics. The science is still being sorted on these topics. I wrote question sets for episodes of Physics for the 21st Century devoted to dark matter and dark energy. NOVA Wonders produced a more recent episode devoted to both dark matter and dark energy. Much more slickly produced than the earlier Annenberg series, for what it's worth. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Great Electric Airplane Race

Miles O'Brien was our host for the popular NOVA episode, Chasing Carbon Zero. A few years ago, he put this episode together. O'Brien is a pilot who owns a plane he enjoys flying. Aviation presents an especially acute problem in our efforts to decarbonize transportation. This is the story of those who thrive on this acute engineering problem. Impressive innovations are being made. But progress is hard-earned, and there seems to be a long runway ahead of us before this technology can truly take flight. [You know I wouldn't be able to resist.]

Great Electric Airplane Race at TPT
Can new emission-free electric planes replace our polluting airliners and revolutionize personal transportation in our cities?

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Ending HIV in America

This is the story of the AIDS epidemic, from the early 1980s to the early 2020s. From when it was referred to as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency) to clinical studies of the most effective contemporary medicines.

It's the story of tireless caregivers and relentless researchers who have persevered across four decades: where we've been, where we are, and what we dare to hope for in the future. 

Almost 40 years after the discovery of HIV, could we be on the verge of ending the AIDS epidemic in America? As of 2019, in the US, there were only 34,000 new cases of the disease—a feat that once seemed near-impossible to achieve. How did scientists and the public health community tackle one of the most elusive deadly viruses to ever infect humans?

Monday, August 21, 2023

Petra: Lost City of Stone

You might remember Petra from its scenes in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Over the years I've seen pictures from time to time, but I never really knew the story. This episode of NOVA cured that. And it elevated my awareness of the non-gold gifts said to have been presented to Jesus upon the occasion of his birth. The once-nomadic Nabataeans became "the richest race on Earth" by trafficking in frankincense and myrrh while building this oasis deep in the desert of what is now Jordan. How they managed such enormous carvings and bringing water to the city of stone are the subjects of this episode.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Hagia Sophia: Istanbul's Ancient Mystery

Hagia Sophia is a Byzantine church that has survived a few tests of time across its 1500 years. It was a marvel of architecture when it opened in 537 CE in Constantinople, it now stands as a monument of resilience in Istanbul in a region subject to cultural change and seismic activity. Built in six years with no apparent budget restrictions, its novel innovations appear to make it a likely survivor of future earthquakes. Originally a Byzantine Christian church, it was repurposed as a Catholic church, then an Islamic mosque, and then a secular museum. Since this episode of NOVA was produced, it was once again repurposed as an Islamic mosque.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Can Psychedelics Cure?

I was half expecting a Michael Pollan How to Change Your Mind psychonaut or microdosing storyline here. That's not what this is. This episode delves into research into the careful use of psychedelics to treat alcoholism, depression, and PTSD.

These are not happy topics, and this episode of PBS's NOVA gets a content warning. It has a few rough moments, but it's working with treatments for difficult diagnoses. 

As an educator, I was part of a culture that cast anything that could be considered a recreational drug as public enemy number one. Just as Richard Nixon labeled them when he was president. The closest I've come to illicit drug use has been breathing the air at rock concerts, where the air can grow thick with marijuana smoke.

In any case, Can Psychedelics Cure? presents anecdotes and data suggesting that psychedelics have curative properties when administered appropriately. The FDA will have the final say. Here's where the FDA stood as of June, 2023.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Hidden Volcano Abyss appropriate description of a submarine volcano. This episode of NOVA tells the story of the massive Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai eruption that shocked the world in 2022. Earth science current events. 

We get accounts, video, and photographs from residents of Tonga who survived the tsunami and rain of debris and ash. It's a testament to their preparedness that only three people died. Still though, the human story is not without emotion.

We also get the forensic geology of the science team that determined why the eruption was 70 time more powerful than anything the volcano had previously produced, and how it produced a rare volcanic tsunami. Detective work and deduction. 

And research into the likelihood of another eruption in the near future. Right now on NOVA.

Monday, August 7, 2023

The Story of Maths

There are some apparent contradictions with this one. It's British. It's the history of mathematics. And it's a little bit... spicy.

Adults are shown enjoying adult beverages. The use of mathematics to schedule conjugal visits between a Chinese emperor and the 121 women in his hareem is illustrated. A prolific author of math texts who never actually existed. A mathematician who upended the field before losing a duel before his 21st birthday. The story of a nightclub dancer protecting a prestigious mathematician from Nazi thugs is told. And more.

Amid these spices is the history of math from before the invention of the number zero to recent attempts to prove the Riemann hypothesis. Host Marcus du Sautoy travels the world to visit key historical locations and talk to notable contemporary mathematical giants.

This is the human story of math.

We do math. We love math. And math coursework is devoted to the ideas and mechanics of math. Rightfully so. Here are four hours that humanize math. It might be a worthy diversion to contextualize high school or college mathematics.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Digital Remastering: The Summer Work of 2023

The Lessons of Phyz at TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers) began in 2018 with the publication of question sets for The Mechanical Universe (High School Adaptation) episodes. At the time, those episodes were not available for purchase, nor did they stream. [Now, all episodes of The Mechanical Universe stream freely.]

Other series and a variety of single-episode documentaries were added in 2019. When the pandemic hit in 2020, it became clear that the Google Docs format was the new PDF, so I began the work of transforming all my extant PDF resources into Google Docs. When remote teaching morphed into hybrid learning in 2021, I found I needed to post resources as "print-friendly Google Docs", files that could be assigned and collected in Google Classroom (or other LMSs) and could also be printed for use in the classroom for in-person instruction.

Hundreds of resources have since been added. The Lessons of Phyz offers 640 products as I write this post. But as the months and years have rolled by, I have discovered a few things about my resources.

I've solidified some formatting and style aesthetics that weren't always consistent in the early works. And I've notice a phenomenon that I can only refer to as "digital drift": a microscopic change in Google's fonts or kerning which—on rare occasions—altered the formatting in some documents, especially when printing them.

So I've spent this summer "digitally remastering" the old documents so that they would behave better in general, and when particularly printed. It's important to me that these documents perform as I intended them to when I created them.

As I was finishing that work, news arrived that Paul Hewitt's Conceptual Physics Alive! video series had become available to stream or download for free. So I remastered all my CPA question sets to include clickable links to the corresponding video. Embedded video links were already incorporated in The Mechanical Universe, Kinetic Karnival, and other series and stand-alone episodes in which a video streamed freely. 

Any typos found in remastering were fixed. I suppose it was like weeding a garden.

In any case, the store's products have been polished and the shelves are handsomely stocked as we head into the 2023-24 school year. 

Oh, and TPT has a new logo, too. It combines the apple and document sharing elements of the legacy logo and the color scheme of the short-lived, newer logo. I like it. 

Sunday, July 2, 2023

The Lessons of Phyz Advantages

VIDEO QUESTION SET EDITION · [crossword puzzle edition here]

An abbreviated summary of "Lessons of Phyz Advantages" is provided in each video question set's product description. This post dives a bit deeper.

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 can be 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. Students might not be able to spell an exotic word, but they can pick it out of a line-up when they hear it. And having done so, they can see how that exotic word is spelled.

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.

That seems like a lot of questions!
Many question sets have nearly one question per minute of film. At first blush (and when comparing to competing products), that might see like a lot of questions. Maybe too many questions. It is not. The questions are low-level, intended to maintain student attention and focus on the content. They are not deep reflections or rich analysis. So the frequency is right for the task at hand. Teachers who initially found the load to be intimidating were surprised by how well it worked with students.

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 line 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.

Monday, June 26, 2023

The Brain

Neuroscientist David Eagleman explores the human brain in an epic series that reveals the ultimate story of us, why we feel and think the things we do. This ambitious project blends science with innovative visual effects and compelling personal stories, and addresses some big questions. By understanding the human brain, we can come close to understanding humanity.

The Brain at TPT

Monday, June 19, 2023

Our Planet II

Our Planet (2019) represented something new in the well-traveled wildlife documentary genre. It included stunning photography and footage acquired at considerable expense and difficulty; that's the price of admission. But David Attenborough's script did not shy away from revealing the less appealing facts of habitat and species decline. The realities of human impact were documented. Not heavy-handidly. But not ignored, either.

This follow-up miniseries centers on migrations and seasons. Well, months more than seasons as it trots the globe's northern and southern hemispheres throughout one calendar year. It's perhaps a bit gentler regarding the message of anthropogenic climate change, because that science is very settled. Our Planet II was designed with bingers in mind. Each of the first three episodes ends in a cliffhanger.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Colosseum: Roman Death Trap

Among the most hackneyed of tweet opening phrases is "I don't know who needs to hear this, but...". The author is attempting to signal an imminent dose of universal wisdom.

This episode of NOVA popped up as this week's summer rerun for NOVA. I visited the Colosseum in April and saw a lift made of lumber in the bowels (hypogeum) of the structure. This program tells its story, and much, much more. As the title implies, it was not a place of joy, mirth, or happiness for those who participated in the spectacles. 

But there was state-of-the-art engineering going on in there. So ... I don't know who needs to use this, but there is cromulent STEM content in this episode: mechanical and hydraulic engineering as well as emission spectroscopy and bone-strengthening nutritional supplements for gladiators. Gladiators were trained in fight schools and were provided with health care. Not all gladiator fights were allowed to end in a death (given the investments in these fighters). But releasing wild apex predators into the arena via lifts and trap doors kept audiences coming back for more.

Crypto Decoded

By early June, 2023, regulators were coming after cryptocurrencies. And NTFs had not really caught on fire. Maybe I've come to this episode of NOVA too late. And it's not that old. But 2022 was a long, difficult year for crypto. 

NOVA traces the origins of crypto and what some hoped it might be able to do. From the blockchain to Ethereum, this episode does what it can to decode crypto.

From Bitcoin to NFTs, crypto is making headlines. But what exactly is it, and how does it work? Experts go beyond the hype and skepticism to unravel the social and technological underpinnings of crypto – exploring how it came to be and why this new technology may change more than just money.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Honda Cog Ad

I always loved this two-minute ad from Honda UK. It merited an exhaustive Wikipedia entry. I showed it during our Energy units, since there were so many energy transfers and and transformations. Creating a student assignment around it was challenging, though. And doing so sat on the back-burner for some time.

Eventually I settled on a "phenomena-match" where I created a list of physics phenomena and broke the video into 33 distinct events, with titles!

Students are asked to read the list of phenomena and then watch the video. Then they're asked to watch the video again and label each event with at least one phenomenon shown. (Some events show multiple phenomena, and students are encouraged to label as many as they see.) 

But there are some restrictions. All 33 events need to tagged with at least one phenomenon, and each phenomenon must be assigned to at least one event by the end of the video. And no single phenomenon can be assigned to more than five events.

Fun, engaging, and with just a pinch of tension (as you come up on your fifth citation of "collision").