September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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.



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.

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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.