The best new club for your school this fall

Photo by Hugh Han on Unsplash

This post is co-authored by Elissa Levy (teacher) and Rosemarie A. (student).

Rosemarie: I’m in high school. I’m nervous about becoming an adult. Adults need to know so many things that aren’t a part of the high school curriculum. History, biology, and algebra are important, but I also need to know how to get a good job and how to keep said job. I need to know what to do with my paychecks and how to file taxes. I need to know how to write emails that people will actually respond…

Let your students in on it.

Getting students to think about the connections between subjects

Interdisciplinary thinking is best done in a space of freedom and joy, which makes it a great summer activity. Whatever you find yourself doing this summer, take a moment to reflect on how it draws from various disciplines.

Disciplinary boundaries are arbitrary. We draw distinctions among subjects in order to organize our approach, to identify objectives, and to define success. But there are other ways to engage. This article motivates an interdiciplinary approach and then adds something new to the conversation: how to get students bought into it.

Here’s how I do it.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

On July 1, the high school where I teach will officially become The High School for Climate Justice. We’ll be the first public school in the nation with “climate” in our name (according to this site).

In preparation for the new name, our administration and staff have taught ourselves (a) the science and policy issues behind climate change and climate destabilization, (b) the injustice that occurs when underserved groups are disproportionately impacted by climate change, and (c ) how to lead our students toward deep understanding and productive action. I hope that this article will help you to embrace climate…

Structured skepticism in the everyday science classroom

Experiment with adding food coloring to hot and cold water
Experiment with adding food coloring to hot and cold water
My 3rd period class added food coloring to hot and cold water

I love the observational experiment where you put a drop of food coloring into hot and cold water. I first encountered this lab in 2017 at a STEMteachersNYC+AMTA computational modeling in a physics workshop with Joshua Rutberg and Emily Pontius. Why does the dye spread out so much slower in cold water than it does in the hot water?

When I asked my students this past week, they worked through various possibilities. Interestingly, their first guess (across all my class periods) was that the hot water was less dense, and the fact that…

A big upgrade to your science class’s conservation of energy lesson

Photo by Vitaly Taranov on Unsplash

In the fall of 2008, I was a senior in college. Lehman had just collapsed and financial havoc abounded. At the time I lacked a framework to understand what was breaking and why.

As a physicist, my mental models were always built on conservation laws — that is, quantities whose total amounts never change. The Law of Conservation of Energy says that the total energy in the universe is constant, although energy can transfer between different types. For example: when a plant photosynthesizes, the light energy from the sun is converted into chemical energy in the plant. …

New research on an old idea

co-author: Amanda Valenti

Typical force diagrams from our physics first classes, to predict and explain change in motion

Of the hundred or so physics teachers that we (Amanda and Elissa) have encountered over the years, almost every single one believes that physics should be the first science class that all high school students take. When we ask our biology, chemistry, and earth science teacher colleagues, they agree: physics concepts are foundational and set up ninth-grade students for success later in other scientific disciplines. This article discusses: (a) why physics should come first, (b) why more schools aren’t doing it yet, and (c ) what we can do about it.

So let’s begin with (a) why…

It’s imperative.

An old New York Regents Physics exam — but not the first! (Thanks to Keith Sheppard for sharing it.)

I chose to study physics in college because I wanted to explain the universe. I succeeded in the physics major because I was told — over and over, explicitly and implicitly — that I belonged. (I didn’t know at the time how rare this was for a woman in a university physics program.) But despite these boosts, the exclusionary social structures of academic physics still took their toll on my mental health. At the time, I didn’t know why.

A decade later, now a high school physics teacher (having left a successful hedge fund career to teach in…

Color perception is strange. For example: red light looks red and green light looks green, but when red and green light come into your eye from the same source — well, then it looks like yellow light. (This is called additive color.) When I teach physics, biology, and psychology, the textbooks all explain THAT it happens this way, but they don’t show HOW it works. So I constructed a lesson to help my students work it out for themselves. I couldn’t find this content anywhere online, but it’s pretty straightforward to derive. Here goes.

I love the idea of rock, water, tree. I will teach it to my 3-year old, who's only now getting the hang of rock, paper, scissors. I do think the directionality of what conquers what is really not that obvious, though, because it depends on so many factors. In the image at the top, you said: "Tree and Rock caught in an ongoing struggle. Though the eventual victor is clear." I honestly can't tell without a time-lapse which one is going to win.

When I was younger, my father asked me what's stronger: concrete or plants. In the short run, he said, newly poured concrete can impede a plant's growth, but in the long run, plants can find their way up through the cracks. It's a never-ending dance, as long as we can stop making so much concrete at some point.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I was trained to teach in the era of inquiry. In the science classroom, this meant that we couldn’t just tell students something was true. Instead, I was told, teachers created the circumstances that would inspire students to ask questions and construct their own understanding. In a nutshell: textbooks = bad; lecture = bad; hands-on = good; collaboration = good.

In my experience, though, it is much more nuanced. I’ve come to believe that all modes of knowledge acquisition are valid. Sometimes you need your students to play with lab supplies in order to generate testable predictions. Sometimes you need…

Elissa Levy

I teach physics and computer science in East Harlem, New York. I aim to engage.

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