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.

Smart and not-so-smart college majors

Statistic Brain’s IQ Estimates by College Major put education majors — including elementary, early childhood and special education — at the bottom. Student counseling also comes low on the list.

Physics and astronomy, philosophy and math top the list.

IQ is estimated by looking at SAT scores. So, for example, the average elementary education major has SATs of 968 and an estimated IQ of 108. The average physicist hits 1269 and 133. And I’m a genius. Which I’m not.

Emotional intelligence may be more valuable than “academic intelligence” in some fields, points out The Richest.

Physicists — and painters — score well on Pantheon‘s list of “cultural production.” Politicians are even more influential.

Basketball-spinning physics teacher

To demonstrate angular momentum, AP physics teacher Dave Hovan showed students how to spin a basketball on the end of a pen while writing with the pen. A student’s video went viral.

Hovan, 31, teaches physics and astronomy at St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.) High School. He learned the trick from his high school English teacher, a former Harvard basketball player named Patrick Smith.

Harlem Globetrotters star Handles Franklin will visit Hovan’s AP physics class on Thursday. The teacher has been invited to demonstrate his spinning skills at a Globetrotters’ game on March 15.

Teaching the physics of ‘Angry Birds’

Video games have become teaching tools, reports the Wall Street Journal.

At a private school in Houston, eighth-graders slingshot angry red birds across a video screen for a lesson on Newton’s law of motion. High-school students in Los Angeles create the “Zombie Apocalypse” computer game to master character development. And elementary students in Hampstead, N.C., build a virtual city to understand spatial reasoning.

Teachers are using games such as “Minecraft,” “SimCity” and “World of Warcraft” to teach “math, science, writing, teamwork and even compassion,” reports the Journal.

In Chicago and New York, entire schools have been created that use the principles of game design in curriculum development.

Video games let students try, fail, reassess and try again, says Joey J. Lee, an assistant professor who runs the Games Research Lab at Columbia University’s Teachers College, “This creates a positive relationship with failure, especially because the stakes are so low.”

Games “provide rapid feedback that forces students to rethink and alter strategies,” advocates say.


Geovany Villasenor, a senior at East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy, uses “Minecraft” to build virtual cities. He learned the game in an after-school club but it’s now used in his architecture class. The game lets his “imagination run wild,” says Villasenor.

Not everyone is happy to see video games in the classroom. “Some parents worry that children already spend too much time in front of glowing screens, while others argue that the games are based on rewards, corrupting the idea of learning,” reports the Journal.

The newest games are “aligned” with Common Core standards — or so the makers claim.

Teaching physics — and the power of love

As a physics teacher at a Kentucky high school, Jeffrey Wright is known for exploding pumpkins and lying under a nailed board as students use a sledgehammer to break cinderblocks above him. Most of all, he’s known for his annual lecture on raising a severely disabled son who taught him “the meaning of life, love and family,” reports a New York Times blog.

A former student of Wright’s at Louisville Male Traditional High School in Kentucky (it’s been coed for nearly 60 years) made an award-winning video, Wright’s Law.

“When you start talking about physics, you start to wonder, ‘What is the purpose of it all?’ ” he said in an interview. “Kids started coming to me and asking me those ultimate questions. I wanted them to look at their life in a little different way — as opposed to just through the laws of physics — and give themselves more purpose in life.”

One day, Wright realized his son could see, play and think, he tells students. He and his wife, Nancy, began teaching Adam simple sign language. One day, his son signed “I love you.”

In the lecture, Mr. Wright signs it for the class: “Daddy, I love you.” “. . . “There is something a lot greater than energy. There’s something a lot greater than entropy. What’s the greatest thing?”

“Love,” his students whisper.

Students are looking for purpose, “the purpose in your heart,” to answer the question, “who cares?” Wright believes.

He hopes to inspire students to pursue careers in science and genetic research. “We might be able to come up with something we can use to help Adam out one day.”