Teen wins $250K for film on relativity

A movie explaining Einstein’s theory of relativity won a $250,000 college scholarship for Ryan Chester, a Ohio 12th grader, reports the Washington Post.

Chester also won $100,000 for a new science lab at his school in the Cleveland suburbs, North Royalton High, and $50,000 for his physics teacher, Richard Nestoff.

“This is awesome,” Chester, 18, said in an interview. “Before, I was worried about graduating with debt, and I don’t have to worry about that now.”

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge asked young people between ages 13 and 18 to create short videos that communicated a big idea in science.

Google’s Sergey Brin, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs created Breakthrough Prizes to reward achievement in physics, life sciences and mathematics.

Baseball lessons


Juan Lagares scored twice in game 1 of the National League playoffs to help the Mets win. Photo: David J. Phillips, Associated Press

Edutopia links to baseball-themed activities for the World Series.

Statistics is a natural. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) offers Baseball Statistics Lesson Plans for grades 6-8,  a baseball statistics lesson for grades 3-5 and a geometry lesson for students in grades 6-8.

A star pitcher in the Negro Leagues, Satchel Paige was 43 when he started in the Major Leagues.

A star pitcher in the Negro Leagues, Satchel Paige was 43 when he started for the Cleveland Indians.

There are baseball-linked lessons in other subjects too. The Negro League eMuseum features primary sources, including a timeline and history modules covering various Negro League teams, as well as lesson plans for teachers.

Other lessons include: Narrative, Argumentative, and Informative Writing About BaseballBaseball Economics and The Physics of Baseball.

When I was in school, kids would sneak in transistor radios to follow the World Series, catching each other up during passing periods. Without weeks of playoffs first, the Series was more exciting.

Perplexing puzzles

Professor Povey’s Perplexing Problems include math and physics problems.

AP lessons are online, free

Free Advanced Placement courses in calculus, physics and macroeconomics are available on edX, reports Nick Anderson for the Washington Post.

Davidson, a private college in North Carolina, worked with high school teachers and the College Board, which oversees AP, to develop online lessons.

“Perhaps it is best to think of them not as MOOCs, but as massive open online lessons, or MOOLs,” writes Anderson. They’re meant to “supplement live teaching, not replace it.” However, the courses could help a motivated student with a weak teacher — or none at all.

Other MOOCs by edX partner universities target AP biology, computer science and chemistry, writes Anderson.

Philanthropist Steven B. Klinsky, is funding an MIT-Harvard venture to create a MOOC pathway to earning a year of college credit for free.

Nancy Moss, an edX spokeswoman, said some of the high school offerings have drawn 10,000 or more students. “The enrollment has been phenomenal,” she said.

Klinsky envisions “a freshman-year catalog of more than 30 introductory courses from top colleges in an array of subjects as diverse as calculus and Western civilization,” writes Anderson. “The MOOCs would include quizzes, tests and online discussion groups, with texts and other materials provided free online,” and a nonprofit partner could provide mentoring and tutoring.

A feather and a bowling ball are dropped …

At NASA’s Space Power Facility in Ohio, the world’s largest vacuum chamber, physicist Brian Cox dropped a feather and bowling ball in normal earth conditions and in a vacuum.

Here’s Apollo 15 astronaut Dave Scott dropping a feather and a hammer on the moon. “Mr. Galileo was right!”

Should everyone learn to code?

Should Schools Mandate Computer-Coding Classes? asks Fawn Johnson on National Journal.

Chicago Public Schools will offer introductory computer science at every high school by the end of next year. Soon, computer science will be a graduation requirement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at the Internet World of Things Forum.

Los Angeles also is expanding computer science classes in public high schools.

Both cities are following the lead of Code.org, a nonprofit bankrolled by tech giants such as Microsoft and Google, writes Johnson. In December, Code.org will launch a campaign to promote its “hour of code” tutorials.

She wonders if students will learn programming — or just keyboarding.

Second, what do the students think they are getting from these courses? Do they expect to go to Silicon Valley and find a job? Not everyone wants to grow up to be a computer programmer, which means that in Chicago, a sizable chunk of students who will be required to learn computer code may also need to understand why they should care. Do teachers have an answer?

Third, will students be able to get the full benefit of a computer-science course if they aren’t already up to speed on other core subjects like math and physics?

I’m very dubious about teaching coding to everyone, including the many students who’ve never mastered middle-school math.

Physics, ethics, zombies


Fighting zombies — and learning ethic?

Video games are used to teach everything from ethics to physics at a Norwegian high school, reports Tina Barseghian on Mind/Shift.

In a religious studies class, students watch a scene from The Walking Dead.

Supplies are running low and only four food items are left to ration, but there are 10 hungry mouths to feed. Who should eat? The grumpy old guy? The injured teen? The children? The leader?

Once the class reaches a consensus, they have to justify their choice with one of the concepts they’ve learned from moral philosophy. Was their decision guided by situational ethics, utilitarianism or consequentialism?

Games should be more than “chocolate-covered broccoli,” says teacher Tobias Staaby. He also uses Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a sword-and-and sorcery action role-playing game, to teach about Norwegian romantic nationalism.

Physics students play Portal 2, which requires solving puzzles to escape a labyrinthine lab complex. Players “manipulate cubes, redirect lasers and tractor beams, time jumps, and teleport through walls . . . ”

“Should we have a large mass and height? Drop 50 kilograms from 50 meters? Oh, the air resistance kicks in – let’s shorten the height,” said (teacher Jørgen) Kristofferson, illustrating how his students toyed with the power of gravity.

“Real world experiments are important and the game can’t replace them,” he said, “but the game gives students a different perspective on the laws of physics, where mechanics are simulated by a computer to create a realistic gaming environment. It can also be a great source of discussion when the laws of physics are broken!” Students think about how the simulation deviates from reality and transform what might be perceived as a game’s shortcoming into a critical thinking opportunity.

An avid gamer, teacher Aleksander Husoy pioneered the idea by using Civilization IV to teach a cross-curricular unit in Norwegian, English and social studies.

STEM split: Women choose bio, but not physics

Two-thirds of Princeton’s molecular biology majors are female, but 76.2 percent of physics majors are male, reports The Daily Princetonian.

The most female-dominated majors for the class of ’16 are art and archaeology at 92.9 percent, psychology at 87.3 percent and comparative literature at 81.3 percent.

The most male-dominated majors are mathematics at 86.7 percent, philosophy at 77.8 percent and computer science at 77.3 percent. History, politics, sociology, classics, music — and astrophysics — are roughly even.

The wobbliest bridge

Here’s a resource for physics teachers: The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse in 1940 is captured on film by British Pathé. Winds of only 35 mph set the bridge rippling.

It’s a learning game — and a test

Learning games are trying to “bridge the gap between instruction and assessment,” reports Education Week.

In SimCity’s Pollution Challenge game, students “must balance the growth of their cities with environmental impacts.” The game analyzes how well a student understands “systems thinking” and reports that to teachers.

“If a student builds one bus stop, then waits before strategically building other bus stops, he has an eye for problem-solving that I would not have gotten with a multiple-choice or written test,” said Matt Farber, a social studies teacher who beta-tested SimCityEDU with 6th graders at the 650-student Valleyview Middle School in Denville, N.J.

More assessment-embedded games are on the way, experts say.

“Stealth assessments” can measure “creativity, persistence and conceptual understanding during game play,” said Valerie J. Shute, a Florida State educational psychology professor. Shute co-developed Newton’s Playground, which uses simulations to teach about gravity, mass, and other physics concepts. Assessment is embedded in the game.