May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.