Physics for everyone
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Physics For Everyone . Mats Selen, UIUC Nov/4/04. UIUC Physics Outreach: Be Proud!. Saturday Physics Honors 12 th year ! Very popular; high attendance. Physics Van 11 th year ! Over 62,000 people have seen a show Big presence on web (

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Physics for everyone

Physics For Everyone

Mats Selen, UIUCNov/4/04

Uiuc physics outreach be proud

UIUC Physics Outreach: Be Proud!

  • Saturday Physics Honors

    • 12th year !

    • Very popular; high attendance.

  • Physics Van

    • 11th year !

    • Over 62,000 people have seen a show

    • Big presence on web (

      • Top-ranked Google “Outreach & Entertainment” page.

(Go there)

(Go there)

(Go there)

Physics for everyone

Two Other Efforts (i.e. this talk):

  • Physics 123: “Physics Made Easy”

    • Physics for future elementary school teachers.

    • Brand new - spring/05 will be 2nd offering.

  • The Whys Guy

    • Two live spots every Wednesday morning on

    • In 3rd year (or 5th – depends on how you count.)

    • Seems to have a pretty good following

      • Biggest ratings of any regular Morning Show segment (even though its rather stupid.)

(Go there)


Physics for everyone

Physics 123

Not your grandfathers physics class !

Physics for everyone

  • The typical elementary education curriculum does not deal directly with this. The UIUC science & math requirements are shown below:



Why ?

  • Many (most) elementary school teachers are not confident in their knowledge of math & science, in particular physics.

    • This can’t help but rub off on their students.

    • This is particularly bad for girls since most elementary school teachers are women.

Physics for everyone

So, what counts as a “Physical Science” ??

In addition to the obvious (Physics, Astronomy, and Chemistry), these do:

Elementary Ed students typically take Food Science and Nutrition and Geography(or Geology) to satisfy their PS requirement

Physics for everyone

Contrast this with the K-4 National

Q:Where will the teachers learn all this stuff ?

Physics for everyone

Our Idea

  • Create a class that will give students confidence in their ability to understand physics concepts.

    • Should come out with a positive “I can do this” attitude.

    • When their own students ask them a science question their response should be one of two things:

      • “Great question. Let me explain the answer…”

      • “Great question. I don’t know the answer, but I know we can find out what it is…”

  • Considerations:

    • Students must be attracted to the class.

    • Methods used in this class should be consistent with the way they will ultimately teach their own classes.

      • No point making it if no-ones takes it.

    • Must have appropriate scope.

      • Can’t cover all of the materials in the national standards.

    • Must give students appreciation for concepts without math.

Physics for everyone

Methods used are consistent with the way they will ultimately teach their own classes.

  • Hands on labs:

  • Have them use materials and do activities that they can replicate in their own classrooms.

    • Students keep inexpensive “equipment” – build teaching kit.

      • Washers from Farm & Fleet ($1.09/lb),

      • Cheap thermometers, stopwatches etc

        • Mystery Tube, States of Matter, Oobleck

Physics for everyone

* Student projects

Appropriate Scope (?)

  • There are 11 full 3 hour labs in a semester (14 weeks – 3 special*).

  • We can cover at most 11 topics.

  • We need to choose the right ones:

    1.Uncertainty and the Nature of Science

    2.Atoms and the States of Matter

    3.Heat and Temperature

    4.Mass, Weight and Balance

    5. Volume, Density, Floating, & Sinking

    6.Measuring and Graphing Motion

    7.Simple Forces & Newton's Laws

    8.Investigating Gravity

    9.Simple Machines

    10.Simple Circuits

    11.Magnets & Motors

Our picks for now

Physics for everyone

Class Structure

  • A different topic is covered each week.

  • Each week has the following structure:

  • Students come into Monday lab “cold”.

  • The web based homework and preflights probes conceptual understanding and feed me info for the lecture.

  • “Lecture” ties up loose ends and has lots of demos.

Physics for everyone

Who are the students?

  • Mostly women (all 24 last semester, in fact)

  • Almost all had physics in high school.

    • Most liked their high school physics class !

  • They are all very smart but lack confidence.

    • Especially true in math & physics.

  • They socialize extremely well and enjoy working in groups.

    • Took me a while to really appreciate how nice this is.

      • Not true for all physics and engineering majors

  • They love getting their hands on stuff and playing.

  • They love to learn.

Physics for everyone

Appreciation for concepts without math.

  • Examples:

    • F = ma (well, a = F/m actually)

    • Torque

    • Heat Capacity

    • Temperature (& Mittens)

    • Density, Floating & Sinking

    • Light the bulb

    • Motor

Physics for everyone

Got this idea about half way through the semester…

Physics for everyone

This question always gets very interesting results:

This is a great opportunity to show students “how to figure out”the answer to questions they will get from their class some day.

Click here to see web page…

Physics for everyone


Physics for everyone


Physics for everyone


  • I am delighted with the way the course went.

    • We covered quite a bit of physics !

    • The students loved it and I know they are saying good things about it to their friends. This is really very important.

    • Expect big enrollment in Spring/05 (100-200).

Whys guy

Whys Guy

OK – I admit this is a bit stupid - but it’s a good excuse to do cool demos 

Physics for everyone

  • Weight of air

    • glass of water

    • crush can

    • video

Physics for everyone

  • Some R & D

Physics for everyone

  • Favorites:

    • kinematics

    • microwave

    • kaboom

In conclusion

In Conclusion:

  • Physics 123 may not have high-end content, but I think it’s a very important thing to do.

    • Big impact (100-200 teachers per year)!

  • Our department is supporting some pretty interesting outreach programs.

    • Wide appeal

    • Great PR

  • Sorry if you’re deaf…

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