In Physics, we're exploring electromagnetism through experiments, simulations, and problems.
Our focus this block has transitioned from waves to electromagnetism. To explore electrostatics, we charged aluminum pie pans using Styrofoam, which we had saved from last summer's move to 555 Post Street. The students found that they could use these charged pie pans to levitate small strips of aluminized film by dropping them on the pie pans so they acquired the same charge. Several students flew the film all the way from the lab to Dr. V’s desk upstairs! At one point, some students realized that the Styrofoam wasn't getting its fair share of glory. Having an opposite charge from the pan (and hence the film), it attracted the oppositely charged film. On touching, however, the film got the same charge and bounced off, and got attracted to the pan. And thus, electrostatic pickleball was born.
Besides discovering interesting games, we have also been exploring electric fields and representing them, doing calculations with them, and finding equivalent representations through potential. We have been drawing imaginary closed surfaces to conductors and insulators to see that Gauss’s law tells us really surprising things about charges inside conductors.
One of the challenges that we face is doing calculations using fields without the tools of vector calculus. We are learning the subject through a strong geometrical approach by visualizing the behavior of fields in 2D and 3D. When the students do calculus with vectors, they will make strong connections and use their physical intuition to augment symbolic methods. The students are exploring fields through flows and visualizations developed at the University of Colorado and at MIT. We are also looking at a resource called TIPERs, which stands for Tasks Inspired by Physics Education Research. These tasks have been used very effectively at universities and high schools to guide and assess conceptual thinking. The homework this block has been more focused on these tasks as well as experiments. We are looking forward to working on electric circuits at the end of the block.