The Teaching Length Scale
Posted: Tuesday, May 6th, 2014
by Galen T. Pickett
Physics can be organized by the size and duration of events. When we teach Newton’s mechanics, the examples we use typically are on length scales of meters and on time scales of seconds (tossing a ball, sliding into second base) and run up to solar system scales (tens of millions of kilometers for an Astronomical Unit, and tens of millions of seconds for a year). But, unless your classroom is equipped with technology at the extreme ends of the sophistication scale (chalkboards at the primitive end, and SmartBoards at the super-fancy end), you probably use ordinary whiteboards and erasable marker to make sketches and calculations for your students. The marks you make on this surface meet some basic criteria: they have to be wide enough (half a centimeter or so) to be clearly seen from every vantage in your room and they have to strongly absorb visible light – making a visibly saturated mark. The width of the marks is controlled by the properties of the pen tip, and the saturation of the marks is controlled by the pigment in the marker, but there is another, often overlooked length scale in your markings.
What is the thickness of the marks? It can’t be zero, and it can’t be on the order of millimeters (you can easily feel roughness on the scale of tenths of millimeters with your fingertips, the width of a single human hair). What I have below can be organized into a demonstration or a full experiment supporting topics in waves and optics.
- Have a supply of “wet” whiteboard markers on hand. A couple of different colors if you are doing a demonstration, enough for each group to have one if this is a class-wide exploration.
- Make several marks (or have your kids make marks on their whiteboard slabs), different orientations, curly-cues, some nice cursive if you can manage it, ask for what length scales your students observe.
- Ask about the thickness of the marks … how far from the surface of the whiteboard do they jut?
- Use a web-camera and a second light source to show what the marks look like up-close. Make sure you can see the marks “through” the reflection of your light source.
- If you see other colors … and you will … ask your students if that reminds them of anything. Rainbows, and soap-bubbles, oily sheen are what comes to my mind.
- What happens when marks “cross” each other? If you press hard when writing, where do you expect the marks to be thinnest?
Here is what is happening. The “green” and “yellow” rays add up “constructively.” (See Figure 1.) That is, they are in constructive interference so you see this wavelength strongly reflected, even if this color were not present in the pigments of the oily marker layer.
The presence of this “rainbow” (see Figures 2 and 3) indicates that there is some interference going on, so the thickness of the marker layer has to be comparable to the wavelength of visible light.
Green light is in the neighborhood of 500 nanometers in wavelength, or 0.5 micrometer. A human red blood cell is approximately a disk of thickness 5 micron, and radius 15 micron, so the marks you use to teach physics are a factor of ten smaller than that cellular scale. When you teach physics, astrophysics, mathematics, history and poetry, you are using one of the great sub-micron teaching technologies of the twentieth century.
Dr. Galen T. Pickett is with the Department of Physics and Astronomy at CSU Long Beach and a member of CSTA.
Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…