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.



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.

More teaching ideas from teachers tv

My friend Dee Maguire reminded me recently of some very useful videos on teachers tv of physics teacher David Robinson in action. Some of these are also on youtube:

The magnetic gun is also referred to as a ‘Gaussian gun’.
We had a bit of fun puting a basic one together at the end of class the other day.



Other video clips of David demonstrating can be found here on teachers tv; the radioactivity clip is particularly impressive.

You can also enter his name into the youtube seachbox for other demonstrations.

Thanks Dee

Questioning Science Education

Starting with four basic questions (that you may be surprised to find you can’t answer), Jonathan Drori looks at the gaps in our knowledge — and specifically, what we don’t know about science that we might think we do.


So goes the blurb for the one of the latest talks on TED.  Drori asks four basic questions:
1. Where does the “stuff” in trees come from?
2. Can you light a torch bulb with a bulb, battery and a single piece of wire?
3. Why is it hotter in Summer than in Winter?
4. What is the shape of the planets’ orbits?

How many can you answer correctly?

Drori then refers to a couple of videos he was involved in producing a few years ago where graduates of MIT were recorded giving their answers to some of these questions, and surprise surprise, almost all were unable to answer any question correctly. There is a nice moment when one young woman, on finding that she is incapable of puting the electric circuit together, justifies her lack of knowledge by saying “I’m not an electrical engineer, I’m a mechanical engineer”.
Drori wasn’t able to use the clips in his presentation due to a technical hiccup, but I am assuming that these are the videos he is referring to. The first is entitled “Can we believe our eyes?”, while the second is “Lessons from thin air”.

I referred to these videos in a post last year, and mentioned that the answers given by graduates were very similar to those given by six year olds. What I didn’t realise is that, according to Drori, research shows that concepts like Magnetism and Gravity are better understood by children before they go to school than afterwards!

This is stunning, and a little difficult to believe. I would like to find out where he got his information here, but then again, just because it goes against common sense isn’t reason enough to disregard it.

Another question asked in the “Can we believe our eyes?” video goes something like this;
Imagine you are facing a mirror. If you want to see more of your body should you move towards the mirror, away from the mirror, or does it not make any difference?
The point being made here is that ‘hands-on’ experience is not necessarily very educational. They even received incorrect answers from the barbers who work with mirrors every day. It reminded me of the recent fascinating discovery that cattle and wild deer tend to align their bodies in a North-South direction when standing in a field (link). How could we not have noticed that before?

I guess if we are not directly interested in something (almost at an emotional level) then we are rather unlikely to notice or form a deep understanding of it, and the traditional teaching approach of simply repeating the class lesson is of little use in changing that.

I know myself that I learned bugger-all physics in six years of secondary school or four years of college. I did however learn more in one year of teaching Leaving Cert Physics than I did in all the others combined. This was obviously because I was no longer ‘learning’ to pass an exam, but rather I was learning to survive in a classroom where I knew  I would be taking questions from students who were expecting nothing less than an A1 in their Leaving Cert. I had taught in a previous school but had spent too many lessons ‘winging it’ and getting caught out, so for me this was a fresh start and therefore there was certainly an emotional motivation.

Which is why, if I find out that my students know less about magnetism and gravity now than they did before I taught them, I may just have to find a cold, dark room and lock myself in it for a long time.

Do you teach a modern language? If so subscribe to Joe Dale now!



There are a whole lot of education blogs out there, but one of the very best has to be Joe Dale’s “Integrating ICT into the MFL classroom“. He gave a presentation at the CESI conference this year and people had to be turned away at the door.

Every subject needs to have a Joe Dale; someone to keep us up to date on best practice in relation to ICT issues, and who you know is a full-time teacher who practices what he preaches.

Here’s my contibution to the ‘Modern Language’ database:
Eddie Izzard – Learning French

‘Course you can’t show this wonderful clip unless you have Youtube.
Don’t mention the war

Is there an equivalent Science / Physics Teacher blog out there?
Patricia Donaghy has done her part; is a registration page for educational blogs where you can go and search by topic.

I guess over time more teachers will get the hang of this sharing lark.