The physics lab lets us base individual learning on shared interests. 

We have been laying the preliminary groundwork to understand the language of motion, or kinematics, both graphically and analytically. The students get to think about one-dimensional motion, their representation using vectors, and using motion sensors to get a kinesthetic idea about velocity and acceleration. The ensuing hectic running around could possibly earn students PE points! Our first lab activity was to design an experiment to simulate constant velocity motion by overcoming the hurdle of friction, using it to their advantage instead. Based upon a suggestion from a student who drew an analogy to parachutes, we build our experiment around dropping paper cones and measuring their velocity.

Our first Flex Friday was used to customize student learning and exploring extensions. We divided our class into an experimental group and a theoretical group, broadly based on the lines of student interest and needs. Some students wished to solve challenging problems in kinematics while others wanted to discuss particular difficulties they were facing and dive into introductory calculus. Our theoretical group got started on problems which explored deeper relations between the math and its physical interpretation: what does a double root on a quadratic mean in terms of interpreting simultaneous events, for example?

The experimental group constructed accurate paper cones which served a dual purpose. They were used to measure both the terminal velocities as they were dropped from various heights, as well as lead a discussion on experimental errors. In the coming weeks, the cones will also serve the purpose of motivating a powerful method in the physicist’s toolbox, dimensional analysis, as we investigate drag force on the cones. We used the interesting spaces in the classroom and school for performing our cone drops, including the string sculpture well. It even involved Mr. Basu climbing up the fire escape to launch the cones to get more accurate data!

We will be spending the rest of the block developing a conceptual understanding of the conservation of energy and momentum. The plan for the next Flex Friday is to see a physics movie from the ‘60s developed by the Physical Science Study Committee at MIT and have it inspire the design of an experiment where we will study the conservation of momentum, blending the ancient (the ’60s, that is) and the modern. We also hoping the results of two-dimensional collisions will greatly benefit the pool players in our class!

-Kaushik Basu