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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)


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 123

Not your grandfathers physics class !


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.

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


Contrast this with the K-4 National

Q:Where will the teachers learn all this stuff ?


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.

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

* 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


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.

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.

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

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…



  • 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 


Weight of air

    • glass of water
    • crush can
    • video


    • 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…