January 31, 2012

All of physics in one diagram - via Creative Commons

Today, this came across my twitter stream:
I thought it was really cool that Ian had encapsulated many of the connections between the various branches of physics.

I couldn't help but notice, however, that one branch of physics which is near and dear to my heart was missing: acoustics.

I'm not sure why acoustics tends to not be taken seriously by some physicists.  Waves are fundamental to our study of physics, and sound is one example of a type of wave that we can study. Acoustics is a highly interdisciplinary field.  Scientists who use acoustics include biologists, physicists, medical doctors, medical physicists, neurologists, psychologists, geologists and astrophysicists. Astrophysics?  Fields like helioseismology and astroseismology look at the vibrations of the Sun and stars to study their interiors.  Acoustics tells us about the beginning of the the Universe.  And some planetary scientists have even proposed studying the subsurface ocean on Europa with acoustics.

Acoustics isn't easy, either. (Equations for the vibrations of thin plates involve fourth-order differentials.)  It's not like we've stopped learning about how sound behaves or how humans perceive sound.

So, I was thrilled to see that Ian released his diagram under a Creative Commons license.  I have given him appropriate attribution, and am releasing my revision of his Prezi under the same license.

Enjoy in full-screen mode.

January 23, 2012

Time for active reading in my class

Last week, Apple made a major announcement about their entry into the textbook market. The best criticism of Apple's plans was given by Audrey Watters.  I'm not going to recap what she said. You must read it for yourself.

And, if you are a believer that all textbooks are crap, you probably won't have much use for what I have to say here, either.  I'm often surprised by the number of teachers (college and high school) who have no use for the textbook. And, sorry Frank, building ramps doesn't count:

(Although, Frank does have some good ideas of what a physics ibook could look like.)

I do believe that it is my responsibility to (as much as possible) choose relevant and well-written texts for use in my classes. I also believe that there is no perfect textbook.

I have introduced to my calculus-based class what I am calling active reading.  The class has already been assigned readings from the text to complete before coming to class.  They complete short reading reviews online before the class starts that I look at before class starts.

But this is not enough.  Active reading requires:

  1. Note taking while reading. Both in the margins and in their notebooks. Underlining and judicious highlighting are also encouraged.
  2. Access to other reference materials, such as dictionaries or the web for looking things up.
  3. Repeated reading. My class knows that their first time reading through the material I don't expect them to become experts.  I do expect mastery of the concepts we cover in class before the next quiz or exam.
I don't think we do enough in the sciences to teach our students how to be active readers. I don't know how we can correct this deficit, but I think it's something that is long overdue.