Archive for the ‘school’ Category


18 May 2009

I have so many posts to write, and I keep not writing them.  In the meantime, you can see the videos I made at Hershey Park at our annual physics field trip.  I put them on YouTube, where I now have my own “channel” at

Here is one of my videos:

Make it yourself

12 April 2009

Today I published my first instructable, on how to make rubber stamps!  Check it out at this link:

I had to make a new stamp for the 4th marking period so I could stamp homework tomorrow, so I was not actually procrastinating by working on this project…not really, anyway.




8 March 2009

Yesterday I got up at 3 AM, and went to bed at 11 PM, so the title is the number of hours I was awake yesterday.  In my opinion, 20 hours is too many.

My team got all the way to the second semifinal round of the National Science Bowl, but wound up in third place.  It was pretty amazing to watch the competition.  My team was very good, but they lost to another VERY good team, from Brooklyn Tech.  The questions got progressively harder, and at the end were very challenging.  The kids were pretty disappointed at first, but perked up later after a spicy Mexican dinner in a hole-in-the-wall place.


Most of us ate the mole, either green mole or red mole.  It came with rice and black beans, and was very spicy.  I didn’t eat most of the sauce, which was very spicy, until I tried dipping the fresh-out-of-the-fryer tortilla chips in the mole.  WOW.  It was a delicious burst of spicy happiness in my mouth each time I ate another chip with mole.  Seriously yummy.

I can’t believe I have another mega-day tomorrow.  I need some down time!  I think I will have to settle for early bedtimes on Tuesday and Wednesday, however.  I just need to finish tomorrow’s lesson plans for the substitute and take care of the last of the laundry, and I can go to bed tonight.

Waaaaay too much.

5 March 2009

Tomorrow I will be checking things off lists very carefully, and getting a bunch of stuff ready for action of various sorts.  I expect to be at school late.

Saturday I am driving to NYC with four kids and a mom for a National Science Bowl competition.  We are leaving at 5 AM, which means I have to leave my house at about 4:20 AM.  I have no idea what time I will get home.

Then I have to switch my clock forward an hour, and you should too!

Monday I am taking a team to the Science Olympiad regional competition.  When I get them back to school and the last one goes home with a parent, I will hop into my car and zip home, change into something nice and professional for going out (including lipstick, probably), and hop back in my car so I can go present some awards at the Delaware Valley Science Council Awards Dinner.  I expect to be late to that.

I am co-supervising an event at Science Olympiad, and I have tomorrow after school and Sunday to put together my piece of it.  I’m finalizing exactly what that will be tonight over the phone.

Also tomorrow I have to put together my lesson plans for the sub for Monday, make sure all the Science Olympiad kids have goggles, aprons, calculators, and whatever else they need, and clean off my desk at school for the sub.  Plus fax the medical forms for the Science Bowl, and go grocery shopping.

And oh yeah, I still have a pile of labs to grade.  Surprise.

I will be incommunicado for a few days while I cope with the “doing waaaaay too much” mode that I’ll be in.

To Sir, With Love

8 February 2009

Warning: there are spoilers in this post.  If you plan to watch this movie and don’t want to know what happens, stop reading at the break.

tosirwithloveI watched To Sir, With Love last night, the movie starring Sidney Poitier.  I had gotten it from Netflix a couple of months ago, and finally got around to watching it.  It is a teacher movie, like Stand and Deliver or Dangerous Minds, in which an inexperienced teacher is put in a classroom with a group of ne’er-do-wells.

In Stand and Deliver, Edward James Olmos stars as the man who teaches math to hispanic kids in LA.  Ultimately, he teaches them calculus.  In Dangerous Minds, Michelle Pfeiffer stars as an ex-marine who teaches English to tough kids.  Both are based on true stories.

In To Sir, With Love, Sidney Poitier is an engineer, and he doesn’t teach any particular school subject to his kids.  He promises himself he will not lose his temper with the kids, but their shenanigans get to him.  If there is one thing kids don’t need to be taught, it is how to push an adult’s buttons!  That, I have experience with.  My personal strategy is not to have any buttons, but sometimes they pop up unexpectedly. (more…)

Another one

23 January 2009

It’s going to be another one of those weeks.  The end of another marking period, grades are due on Friday next, I have a backlog of grading to do.  Well, at least I am not taking any online graduate courses right now!  And I finished reading C. J. Cherryh’s latest: Regenesis (I shouldn’t have started it, but I love Cherryh and it is a sequel to her novel Cyteen) so that won’t be bugging me.  I don’t HAVE to do any Japanese lessons, since I am my own taskmaster in that.

So if you don’t hear from me again until February, now you know why.

In the meantime, here is a photo of the hard disk from my parents’ old computer, that I took apart and ran a strong magnet over a bunch of times so nobody can steal their data.  And then I hung the disk itself in the dining room by the sliding glass door, in hope that it will discourage wood doves from flinging themselves at it.


5 homework points for you

19 January 2009

I do not collect and grade homework.  It takes me long enough to grade tests, quizzes, and lab reports without putting more into the mix.  What I do instead is a walk around the classroom with a rubber stamp and an ink pad and I stamp completed homework.  Then, when it’s time to take the test, I collect all the homework and enter the grades into the computer:  5 points for a stamped assignment, 4 points for an unstamped assignment that was completed after I stamped papers, and 3, 2, 1, or 0 points for unstamped, partially completed assignments.

It is important that the stamps I use are unique—students must not be able to simply go to the craft store and buy an identical stamp and use it to gain points they didn’t earn.  Or worse, they might sell their stamping services to other students!

While in the past I have relied on commercial stamps that I acquired long enough ago for them to be hard to find, this year I decided to customize.  I bought two stamps to start with: a flower shape and a spiral.  The flower petals got the letters P-H-Y-S-I-C-S carved into them, while I carved out the “negative space” around those letters in the spiral, so they show up with the ink color rather than as the paper color.

For the upcoming third marking period, I wanted to make my own stamp.  I looked for information on the internet, but I was unhappy with what I found.  Either I would need to use a polymer set by a UV light (like some dental fillings) or one site recommended cutting up rubber bands.  Or there was eraser carving, or linoleum block carving, neither of which fit what I wanted.  So I decided to wing it.  I spent some time wandering through a couple of craft stores, and came home with two pieces of foam rubber, some glue, and some wood bits, from which I made a working rubber stamp!  The foam worked well, and I think I might make an instructable on this technique…though until further testing I do not know how long this stamp will hold up.

Here are my stamp images, in the same colors I have been using at school:


The orange-colored one is the one I just made from foam rubber.  Here are the two most recent stamps, with the newly-made foam stamp on the right:



17 January 2009

As in much of the Northern USA, it is cold here too this weekend, though when I checked the thermometer when I got up today it read 10 degrees (F) which is not that cold compared to say, Maine or Vermont.  I told my students that they should go out at night when it is coldest and blow bubbles, to see if they could get them to freeze, another tip picked up from the prolific Swans on Tea.  I hope some of them got it to work!  There are some awesome photos of frozen bubbles (they look like moons from Saturn!) on the site Swans on Tea linked to.

December catch-up and a lesson

26 December 2008

Wow, I sure haven’t posted much this month.  It’ll be the worst month in the short history of this blog if I don’t work hard to catch up.

What do you know…I’ve been busy!  We had another Physics Olympics meet in December, but I did not host it at my school.  I just had to get a team of kids ready to compete!  Also, my online graduate course ended, and I had to take a final exam.  I’ve started a team of 7 kids on a competition called Real World Design Challenge, which is sponsored by the Department of Energy, and I spent a bunch of time on e-mailing and setting up accounts and installing software, etc.  Plus there was all that shopping and wrapping to do, and I even managed to go out twice!

Unfortunately, I have also wasted an inordinate amount of time on Facebook, updating my status and checking up on former students who spent much of December using their Facebook status to count down the days until they were on break (generally about a week before I was going to be on break, of course).  Several of them came to visit at school during the last three days before my break began, and I got to explain to some of my former AP physics students what I learned this semester about Newton’s 3rd Law of motion.  Namely, that it isn’t true.

(This is where you gasp.  Or gape.  Now shut your mouth and keep reading.)

I’m not kidding.  That whole thing about “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction…”  you know what I mean, right?  What it is supposed to mean is that when one object exerts a force on another object by interacting with it, the object exerting a force also experiences a force, and it’s the same amount of force but in the opposite direction.  So if I run into the wall, the wall runs into me.  If I push down on the floor, the floor pushes up on me.  These forces are electrical in nature: the electrons in me are repelled by the electrons in the wall, to such an extent that my atoms never even get close to the wall’s atoms (on the atomic scale) and I just bounce right off the wall.  If I am injured and the wall isn’t, that’s simply because I am squishier than the wall.  That’s an example of Newton’s 3rd Law working as expected.

However, let’s look at when this doesn’t work: in certain cases of the magnetic force between moving charged particles.  First, you need to understand a few things.  Magnetic fields are created by moving charged particles (like electrons moving inside atoms) and only interact with moving charged particles.  Any moving charged particle makes a magnetic field.  The earth’s magnetic field is created by moving charged particles in the earth’s core.  The magnetic field of a refrigerator magnet is caused by electrons in large clumps of atoms that are all moving in similar ways, so that their tiny magnetic fields all add up to make one strong enough to defy gravity and hold bits of paper to your refrigerator.

So if a moving charged particle gets into a magnetic field, it experiences a magnetic force that happens to be perpendicular to both the direction the particle is moving in and the direction the magnetic field is pointing.  Direction the field is pointing?  Yep, if you have a bar magnet filled with electrons moving in atoms such that they are adding up all their fields, the field has a direction.  It points away from the magnet at the “North” pole and it points toward the magnet at the “South” pole and alongside the magnet it points in the opposite direction from the way it points at the ends.  It is this directionality of the field that allows a compass needle to point toward the North pole of the earth, enabling you to do your orienteering or navigating or whatever.

So, the moving charged particle moves into the field, and it experiences a force to the side (compared to the way it was moving) because of that perpendicular business.  The field was created by another moving charged particle.  Does that particle experience an equal and opposite force?


In this example, the positive particle is moving to the left and the negative charged particle is moving down.  At a certain instant in time, the two particles are exactly above one another as shown.  The negative charged particle is in the field produced by the moving positive particle, and experiences a force to the right.  The positive charged particle is directly behind the negative charged particle, and in this location there is no magnetic field from the moving negative particle.  No magnetic field, no magnetic force on the positive particle, and goodbye Newton’s 3rd Law!


So I hope you enjoyed this little physics lesson, and maybe I will treat you to another one sometime!

Not a normal day

22 November 2008

When I got up yesterday, it seemed like a normal day.  When I walked out the door, it still seemed pretty normal.  As I drove to school, it was clear that normalcy was no longer the state of the day.

As I drove to school, first, a few flakes of snow started falling.  The snowflakes got fluffier, quickly, and I enjoyed the Millenium-Falcon-transistions-to-hyperspace effect of the snowflakes in my headlights.  I don’t get to see that very often, and here it is still November!

Then, the snow started sticking to the ROAD.  whoa.

Traffic slowed a bit, and as I got closer to school the snow completely coated the road.  The main thoroughfare near school was merely wet, which was not surprising since there is a lot of traffic on it, but then I turned onto the road the school is on which is usually terrible in snowy weather.  The local salt crews leave it until late and it is moderately hilly.  Though it was snow-covered, it was fine.  Even when I pulled into the parking lot, I could see the lines well enough to pick a parking space and get in just fine.

I got into my classroom, pulled out some plasma demonstrations, found a big chart of the nuclides, and enjoyed watching the snow out the window, something I have ALWAYS enjoyed.  I happened to glance out the window at the parking lot at 7:20 AM, when teachers are required to be in school.  The faculty lot was still half empty, and my car looked like it had 2-3 inches of snow on it!


Homeroom wound up being held over for 25 minutes beyond our normal dismissal time, first period was really short, and I managed to do only one of my plasma demos with that class.  All morning, students kept trickling into the building.  I had started a lab experiment with my third period class and one more student came in with a pass, saying he had been on his bus for two and a half hours!  One of the guidance counselors had been involved in a fender-bender with a student and a school bus, lots of kids reported passing multiple accidents and cars in ditches, and one of my colleagues took two hours to get to school.

I love snow.  It is very very unusual to have snow like this here in November.  Apparently this narrow band of heavy snow only across the county I live in and the county I teach in caught a lot of people by surprise, in addition to starting too late for a delayed opening to be called.  Even the accuweather website called for merely a cloudy morning, while also posting a late-breaking weather advisory for my school’s zip code a little after 7 AM.

By the time it was time to leave school, the roads were merely wet and the snow had melted off my car, but the district still canceled all extra-curricular activities after school as a belated precaution.

Odd day!