Some nice Quantum Physics resources

I may have mentioned previously that one simple way of seeing which science concepts appeal to the general population is to look at popular science programs and note what they are concentrating on; chances are there won’t be much of an overlap between this and the school syllabus. Quantum theory is a case in point – the BBC aired a wonderful Horizon documentary a couple of weeks back entitled “How long is a piece of string?” and while I didn’t catch it when it first went out I figured it was just a matter of time before it appeared on YouTube. Broken up into six ten-minute slots there is a lot of potentially useful material there for the physics class if you’re prepared to drift off syllabus.

The Beeb is understandably a little finicky about their programs appearing on YouTube so you might like to download it while you can.

Hat-tip to my colleague Jerome Devitt for reminding me about this – why is it that our colleagues in the humanities seem to be more comfortable discussing the philosophical implications of modern science than we are?
Have the rest of us really tested and tasted too much?

While I’m at it, probably the most popular YouTube clip on the weirdness of the quantum world has got to be the following clip taken from “What the bleep do we know?”.

It really is a wonderful crazy world out there.



Colours from black and white? Say it ain’t so!

We had half a class the other day so we just played around with some equipment left lying about.

One such piece was a cardboard disc with black circles and shapes on a white background. If you spin it quickly you get to see coloured circles! It’s mad I tell you.

Only thing is, because it’s got to be a psychological effect it doesn’t get picked up on the camera.

Hates that.

Trainee teachers get a raw deal



Does a medical student get to work on a patient/diagnose a patient for the first time unsupervised?

Does a trainee mechanic get to work on the brakes of a car for the first time unsupervised?

So why is a trainee teacher who is on teacher practice in a classroom, usually unsupervised?

Because the main teacher has buggered off, that’s why.
Sooner or later the Department of Education will have to clamp down on this, and we as professional teachers will have to toe the line. Now some of us spend this time productively, while more of us use it to have an extended coffee break, or if we get lucky we can even leave the school early or arrive late in the morning.

In fact if we plan it out properly in advance we can even give ourselves the day off.

Point is, this shouldn’t happen. In a training hospital there is an understanding that the ‘master’ doctor (isn’t ‘master’ a horrible term – or am I just too PC?) assumes responsibility for the trainee; shows him (or her) the ropes, and gradually exposes the trainee to a greater level of responsibility. Why do we get away with not doing this?
Yes of course I am generalising, but does anybody even know to what extent? Do some schools have a policy on this?

The temptation is often to give the trainee teacher a transition-year class and the rationale may be publicly that it is unfair to an exam class to expose them to a new teacher, which certainly seems reasonable, but then a transition-year class is always going to be more difficult to motivate – and discipline (could this add to the attraction of ‘fobbing it off’ onto a hidip?). So if we are sticking a new teacher with this class, the onus should be on me as the main teacher to remain in the class at all times.

It does create a slightly artificial atmosphere, but what I have found is that most of the time the students quickly forget about the teacher at the back, and just get on with on it. If the trainee-teacher has problems controling the class this will soon become obvious, with or without another teacher at the back.

Isn’t there also an insurance issue with leaving an unqualified teacher to run a practical session in a lab?

This brings up a second issue.
Why are these trainee teachers teaching classes at all?
Wouldn’t they be better off observing as many teachers as possible to critique the different teaching styles? After all, they can be ‘blooded’ at any stage but chances are they will never again have the opportunity to sit in on a colleague’s classes. I’m arrogant enough to think that a new teacher could learn something from observing my teaching style; maybe it’s only how not to teach a class – but that’s still a valuable lesson that otherwise may never be learnt.
A colleague of mine is hoping to initiate a group of like-minded teachers who are prepared to let colleagues sit in on their classes, but purely from a timetable point of view it may prove unfeasible.

At least it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

It’s almost 40 years since we first put a man on the moon.
Is it possible to create a space/forum/platform for teachers to discuss these issues?
How would we respond?

It’s been a pretty cool few days

After a number of months  of trying (off and on, mind), I finally managed to get the url for the blog changed to
Thanks to my colleagues at St. Columba’s College English department for the idea.

After putting in quite a bit of work into Young Scientist Projects for the first time this year, we have had four out of the eight submitted accepted for presentation next January. Busy times ahead. They’re almost all in Second Year, and when we spend time on it in class, those not preparing for the Young Scientist Exhibition will be preparing for the Scifest equivalent next May.

Then I got a phonecall on Saturday from Aoife O’Donoghue, who is the Tyndall Outreach Officer, to inform me that one of my leaving cert students won first prize in the senior category of Science Snaps, their Science Photography competition (Shhh . . . Shane doesn’t know yet).
Not that I that anything to do with it mind; I tried to promote an internal Science-Photo competition at the beginning of the year and had the grand total of three entries. So at least this should help in promoting it if it runs again next year. And Mary Mulvihill over at Science@Culture might even be impressed with the quality of the entries.

And then I came across this on Youtube, and I don’t know why but I cried. My wife thinks it might have been the beautiful music in the background.

Unusual resource for explaining Joule’s Law

An offshoot of Joules’ Law is that when transmitting electrical power, the current is kept as low as  possible in order to reduce energy losses associated with heat of the electrical cables. Because the power being transferred is the product of the voltage and the current, we can still get the same power transferred if we halve the current and double the voltage, or; make the current very, very small and make the voltage very, very big.

So power -lines transmit power at a voltage of up to 400,000 volts. Then, as the power gets closer to the home, the voltage is reduced in stages, and correspondingly the current gets increased. This occurs in appiances called transformers.

I came across a lovely interactive explanation of this when in honeymoon in Hong Kong.
I couldn’t resist.

Another Physics teacher shares resources on Youtube

Tom Healy teaches Physics in Cabinteely Community School and for quite a while now has been uploading revision videos on Leaving Cert Physics to youtube. He has almost 50 up there by now and has divided them into Mandatory and Non-mandatory experiments.

A wonderful way to revise, but also a wonderful resource for any new teachers.
Why couldn’t this have been available when I was starting out?

Mr Devitt teaches us about Light

Jerome Devitt (History Teacher) runs a transition-year module on Light and Sound for theatres, and kindly agreed to allow us in to watch him teach one of his lessons.

Not all of it comes out great on video, but it should still prove very usefull for Senior Phyics classes.

If you would like to play with a virtual version of this, where you can control the postion and intensity of the lights, click here.

Thanks Jerome