Active versus Modeling

July 28, 2009

First off, the title is more confrontational then it needs to be. Both curricula (Modeling Physics and Active Physics) are guided inquiry ways to teach high school physics. While there are some differences in approach they really have a very similar underlying philosophy.

The problem is that “high school physics” is a rather vague phrase; it covers approaches from no math to rigorous calculus and academic levels from the not as academic ninth graders to the most academic college prep seniors. Active Physics is aimed at the lower math, younger, and all inclusive end of the spectrum. Modeling is aimed as the upper end of high school ages with a more academic focus. Which explains why I am a little hesitant about my school’s* attempt to teach a college prep physics class to juniors and seniors using a combination of Active Physics and Conceptual Physics (I’m leaving out the fact that the other physics teacher wants to try out an independent study approach** and any possible problems caused by the mixing of two not necessarily compatible curricula).

* Really one of my two schools. The non-magnet physics class.

** More on this approach later. Conceptually its a good idea if the practical aspects work.


July 17, 2009

Just a quick note that my last post went through some major revisions. If you read it soon after it came out (ie prior to this message going out) you might want to revisit it. Or not.

The futures so bright I’ve got to wear …

July 17, 2009


I am very much in favor of both the increasing access to information and increasing indexing/searchability of information that digital data and an interconnected web provides. As I posted earlier I generally am in favor of moving away from physical books and towards electronic ones that can incorporate linking, media, and annotation as well as potential cost savings. Similarly, I’d have to say that the technological tool that I would buy in a heart beat is the child of a Kindle and a Fujitsu 6012 with 4G access. The wearable computer in its different incarnations (notably Dr. Mann’s always on computer and a computer aided sixth sense) as well as many others are also interesting. For various reasons I’m never going to be on the bleeding edge of technology but I certainly don’t oppose it. Yet some outside discussion has brought up the fact that this earlier post is a fairly pessimistic view of the future of electronic texts.. I have to agree that it is.

So I’m stuck trying to figure out my pessimism. Most likely its really just an overreaction to some of the memes floating around. The overload of “blogging is dead/journalism is dead” that I was running across last week. While its an interesting discussion it tends to focus on the news aspect of the web which is, naturally enough, a segment that is dominated by a quick turn around time, always on mentality. Add a healthy, or not, dose of sites conflating the ideas of blogs and marketing as if the only reason to blog is to make money on it (either currently through ads or by marketing your “brand” and attracting business). Finally season generously with edtech blogs with an almost religious fervor concerning the benefits of web2.0 in education without much of a concern about anything other than getting people using the web2.0.

Even if I don’t have a smartphone (or even a pda) I think the trend towards more and more accessible and indexed data is a very big win overall. But while I feel that the pessimism of my earlier post was rather a passing mood there are certainly questions. For right now I’m going to let this trail off with a list of thoughts and little commentary.

– Why has Wikipedia avoided the tragedy of the commons while others (smaller) wikis often seem to suffer from it and wither away do to no one really adding significant content?
– Digital sharecropping (and perhaps the related digital subsistence farming). What does the Freemium model bring to a discussion of education?
– I wish I could still find a reference to the data I saw that showed the rate of increase of YouTube content increasing over time even as it becomes harder to reach any specific level of exposure/fame/hits/ success. Plus the related idea of average quality going down while total content increases.

* – the idea for the title of this post and the intro picture popped into my head through the association with digital data and digital lives. I am well aware of the grim and ironic nature of the song. There is no intentional reference to any digital-media-is-the-end-of-the-world type of theme!

The only link to Krugman that I ever expect to make

July 16, 2009

I almost never read anything by Paul Krugman although I occasionally come across references to his writing that is generally less then favorable. On the other hand I’m glad a read this piece. Thanks go to elgorade for bringing it to my attention.

The jump

July 16, 2009

I missed this video when it when viral but I think it has now become my intro to projectile motion for the AP students next year. Is it real? How can we tell?

Recent Slowness

July 15, 2009

Blogging has been very slow recently. A one day workshop and a day camping with the Webelos are part of the problem but I’ve also been letting my son have the computer to work on his Java programs. The tablet is great for some things but I find that longer blog posts are a pain to write using the TIP.

On a not really related point, I am finding the Java class to be very frustrating. Its unclear if it is the fault of the specific class, the nature of an online programming class, or my sons nature but whatever it is I dislike the fact that he is mostly copying various examples and then modifying them. He doesn’t really seem to know the syntax. I’m sure then are loads of interesting diversions into learning styles and methods of instruction in this situation but I’m going to leave it as a comment for now.

Of online books

July 8, 2009

Uncertain Principles is having a little discussion of books and web publishing. Nothing really new; books have certain advantages because of the nonzero cost of creating them while web documents have different advantages due to their effectively zero cost to create. The comments bring up an interesting issue, why can’t you create a web site that mimics a book?

But your first argument that the book lays out the argument completely, coherently, contemporaneously, chiseled and channeled (great alliteration, huh?) isn’t a very good one. There’s no reason whatsoever why a web site – even a blog – couldn’t present this same thing.

You could write your book and when it’s done, post all of the chapters on your blog at once. How is this any different from writing a book and publishing it all at once?

You could have honed your arguments as you wrote just as with a trad. book. You could have consulted others as you wrote. You could have received editing advice as you wrote. It’s the same process right up until you either post the completed work online or you send it to be published. I see no difference.

Once published in either format, it’s the same book. It’s just as long online as it is published. It has just as many words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters. It has the same footnotes/end notes (except that they’re simply easier for the reader to track online than on a printed page). It can have an index and a glossary (although you sci-bloggers seem lamentably loathe to create such things!).

The problem is really one of expectations and technology. The web is currently a place of shorter pieces. It is a place of multi-tasking and short attention spans. The whole paradigm of the web fights against someone sitting down to digest a serious 200+ page manuscript. Even the best edited, well maintained and well thought out web book would tend to be swallowed up in the rapid pace of online discussion only to be dropped as a newer thing came along. Without the barrier to entry, and thus authority, built into the physical book there is little way or reason for a web book to stand against the noise.

Slow Loris Tool

July 4, 2009

J just found out about the Slow Loris Denial of Service tool. I suppose that most of my traffic is due to that. It explains a lot I guess.

There is also a Slow Loris shirt designer selling online. Again, no connection.

Have a great holiday

July 4, 2009

Happy 4th! Here are a couple of random things.

I love the spirit that is celebrated in The Human Powered Home but the physics teacher in me needs to point out that there is no free lunch. The enemy is coming from food in this case. Since most of us could stand the exercise it isn’t bad to use our calories doing something useful but I think the long logistics tail involved in getting our food to our tables casts some doubt on real claims of greenness at the moment.

Google Grader – It’s somewhat of an inside joke but anyone who is suffering with the SchoolMax system can appreciate it.

Google Grader - wouldn't it be nice?

Google Grader - wouldn't it be nice?

Finally I have to mention fireworks.

Honda presents Mr. Bonar’s Physics Class

July 2, 2009

Donors Chose is all well and good but perhaps I need to get sponsored by some real money. I really expect to see more of this type of budgetary trouble in public higher education in the near future.