Friday, July 12, 2013

Video helpers in the mechanics classroom

This is the second post in a sequence about teaching the NSW (Australia) HSC Mathematics Extension 2 Mechanics topic. The first post looked at some initial challenges teaching mechanics and ways to use Felix Baumgartner's historic freefall jump in 2012.

How wonderful it is to be teaching in the age of the internet - being able to draw on the work of so many talented and inspirational teachers - and better yet, bring their insights and passion directly into your classroom to share with your students! Like hundreds of thousands of other people, I've been following the work of Derek Muller and his incredible Veritasium YouTube channel for some time, however it's only now that I'm planning lessons for a sequence on mechanics that I get to draw on his work for my mathematics classroom. As I designed my lesson sequence, I was stunned just how well the Veritasium videos fitted into my lesson design. Here are a few ways I think it's going to be a winner to have Derek in my classroom this term.

Misconceptions about falling objects
It's all too easy for students to agree with the statement that every object falls with acceleration g, but do they really believe it? The truth is they don't - not even some students who have studied physics at university. This engaging and challenging video will do the trick:

Introducing force concepts with an interesting problem : dropping a slinky
Choice: draw some boring static diagrams - or watch Derek's intriguing video about dropping a slinky?  No brainer! What I love about this sequence is the way it's designed for deeper teaching and learning: it's not just a passive "sit and watch" session - instead we are presented with an intriguing problem and challenged to decide on a response. I'm certain my students are going to respond enthusiastically - and provide me the perfect hook to introduce free body diagrams as a way to better understand the situation.

Then in the next video we get to watch what happens - and it is surprising!

And then extend the idea in several ways: What if we attached something to the slinky? What if we used a SUPER MASSIVE slinky?

As a side benefit, this video communicates positive messages to students about studying science at University. You'll get to do interesting work, and work with people like Rod Cross.

After the slinky videos, we'll take a look at this excellent discussion of reaction forces - which is also going to support understanding of how to work out free body diagrams:

The next video isn't Veritasium, but so powerful I have to share it. This high definition footage from a camera on the Space Shuttle booster rockets, tracking the rise and fall of the boosters is going to make for a exciting exploration of terminal velocity ( 2,900 mph at timestamp 5:15 down to 220 mph at 6:45)

Again - I want to inspire as well as educate. Maths and science is so much more than school work - it's an exciting and rewarding pursuit - with great career options.

So many videos to choose from. The challenge is to choose videos that serve both the needs of the teacher and the student - the video has to do much more than just entertain in order to justify taking time away from "the regular program". It has to serve the learning goals and promote specific outcomes - as well as being engaging and memorable - a gift that keeps on giving in the classroom.

What makes the Veritasium videos so good in the classroom? It's not just the sheer enthusiasm and fun of the presentations, or the fact they are short and sweet and fit nicely into a lesson segment, it's the fact Derek has grounded them in quality pedagogy. Presenting information in videos as a statement of facts turns out to have very little benefit - most definitely for science content, and quite possibly of limited value for mathematical understanding. If you're a fan of using video for teaching, definitely check out Derek's research work - you might be a little surprised at what he found:

Finally, back on topic, if you dare, this contradictory Veritasium video "Three Incorrect Laws of Motion" would be a wonderful basis for class discussion and perfectly demonstrates what makes a richer educational video - provided there is good support in the classroom (you better really understand the correct laws!).

So thanks Derek for your amazing work and generosity - and welcome into my classroom!

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