January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

For the Love of Physics

Posted: Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

by Katie Beck

Whether it is the end of the semester or the end of the year, time seems to sneak up on us and we are always asking our students to review for something. While is it easy to pull out a list of review problems for students to do, it doesn’t always mean that they understand the concepts that were taught; just that they can follow a set of procedures to get an answer. Please don’t misunderstand; there may be merit in students being able to answer a set of questions, to know the correct equation to use or to sludge through calculations. However, do they always understand why they are using that equation, or what their answers mean and how they fit into the bigger picture?

To help students reach these bigger goals, one review assignment that I always enjoy giving students shows their understanding of physics concepts while allowing them to be creative and express themselves as well. I am lucky that Valentine’s Day seems to fall right round the time that we end our first semester. I like to ask my students to reflect over the concepts that we learned and to express their understanding in the form of a love poem. While a lot of groans and “Are you kidding me?” comments usually accompany this review assignment, the students always get a kick out of it in the end. And I must admit that, I probably get the biggest chuckle out of us all.

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For the assignment, I ask the students to cover seven concepts within the poem and that the concepts make sense in terms of both the physics and how it relates to everyday life. They are allowed to write their poem in any form they choose so long as they cover seven concepts. We take one day to go over some of the basic forms of poetry (a nice way to collaborate with the English teachers) and examples from previous years are given to them. Not all of the concepts are always included in one poem; some choose to write a couple of different poems. One of my students chose to write seven different haikus. His haiku on potential energy follows:

The Rock by Kevin Nguyen

Lying on the ground
No potential energy
Just like my love life

While this poem seems rather simple in the physics that it covers, I feel that he was rather expressive with his understanding of how it relates to his love life. I believe it takes true creativity and physics understanding in order to compare your love life, or lack of one as he believes, to a rock.

Others choose to include all seven within one poem. In the stanzas below, the student describes the universal law of gravity (first stanza) and perfectly inelastic collisions (second stanza.)

Part of the poem The Hypothesis by Tyler Tran

Even if we were both planets put at the edges of space,
We would somehow attract and find each other’s embrace.
Even at greater distances, our attraction will stay strong.
We will move closer and closer, until our love is undefined, and our distance is gone.

However, I hope that collision will not be elastic.
Because no real change will occur, our love will remain static.
To me, a perfectly inelastic one would be better
Although some energy is lost, we would end up together.

I particularly like this student’s expression of the universal law of gravity. In the last line, he is able to express the concept of the distance between objects in creative terms for the poem, but also relates to a mathematical understanding of the equation as well.

Universal Law of Gravity

Universal Law of Gravity

When two bodies are in the same space their distance would be zero, and according to the equation for the universal law of gravity dividing any number by zero is an undefined number. I was also impressed with how he related that energy is lost in a perfectly inelastic collision in the last line of the second stanza and how he would rather lose energy in the perfectly inelastic collision as opposed to conservation of kinetic energy in an elastic one.

It is easy for us as physics teachers to forget that the students we teach everyday are creative beings. We are quick to be analytical and logical and expect that are students doing the same. Nevertheless, if we are able to take a step back and allow some creativity into our classrooms, it is amazing how our students can express their understanding of physics and hopefully a little more “love” for the subject.

Katie Beck teaches 11-12 grade math and physics at Bolsa Grande High School and is a member of CSTA.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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