Monthly Archives: June 2011

Physics Extra Credit: Rube Goldberg Machines 2011

Just like last year, I decided to offer a year-end extra credit assignment for my students, an option for which was to make a Rube Goldberg machine. I’m sure you know what it is even if you haven’t heard the name – they are those machines where dominoes fall over which hits a boot which knocks over a bucket, which pours water on a cat, which then wakes up and screeches, hitting into a ball perched on a ramp, which goes down the ramp…. etc etc until it performs a simple task in the end like lighting a match or pressing the button to make toast. My two favorite ones that you may have seen are the Honda Cog and OKGO’s video for the song This Too Shall Pass (same band who did the badass treadmill video too). The ones my students made last year were also pretty amazing (check out this one, this one, or this one).

Well, quite unsurprisingly, this was a big hit this year too and I got even more student made machines than last year. Check out my compilation of the five projects I got (below). Each one plays once normal speed and then once half speed.

A few notes:

  • One of the machines is designed to spray some perfume in our Physics classroom because, due to some unfortunate engineering flaw that runs some piping underneath only one small part of the building, the room often smelled like raw sewage. On some days it was just a faint reminder that something wasn’t right, and on others it was wander-the-halls-to-find-a-new-classroom worthy, and then other days it would flare up right in the middle of a test or quiz and we would be stuck to live with the smell until the period was over.
  • The first video ends with a light shining on a sign that says “What Baby?!” The student that made it is quite a space cadet sometimes. One time in class, someone was joking (and I can’t recall why they would be joking about this) that I was pregnant and we were witty bantering back and forth. After like 2 minutes of this, the student looks up from what he was doing (which should have been nothing, class hadn’t started yet) and said “What Baby!?” Kind of hard to explain, but it was absolutely hilarious. That became his tagline for the rest of the year. I would say it whenever he would do anything ridiculous, so I was pretty pumped to see him include it in his video.
  • We have finals starting today, so while the students should have been poring through their Physic book, they were spending hours setting up dominoes so that they could knock their Physics book over.
This project is one of the things that I will miss when I transfer fully over to the math department next year. Maybe I could find a way to relate it to Calculus…

End of the Year Projects

I have found that my best lessons and assignments arise from the shortest questions. To end the year in both Calculus and Physics I had the students do an open ended, investigative project, which is really how I would ideally like to teach my whole class. It’s fun because the students have a lot of choice, it’s much less stressful during class and, in my humble opinion, much more learning happens because they are forced to think and pick out what they think is important rather than have me do it for them. The only problem is that it’s a lot slower and really hard to ensure that all the kids are on task and actually doing something useful with their time.

I thought I’d share some of the various topics that my students did in both classes along with a video montage of the Physics projects…

Assignment: Do an investigation using Calculus of any topic that you find interesting. Your project must include real data, real video, or real images; you must use some sort of math that you learned this year; and last you must use some sort of technology.

Sample Projects (the ideas for which the students came up after a bit of brainstorming together):

  • Start a rumor that Justin Bieber is coming to Amman and track via a Facebook group how quickly the rumor spreads. Apparently it was pandemonium in the Freshman Girls’ dorm the night this project started.
  • Write Mr. Bowman a letter from his ex-girlfriend who now works at NASA and needs help calculating how long a meteor is going to take to hit the Earth using Related Rates. My favorite lines: “It’s Armageddon all over again… I still remember that was our favorite movie.” And then “Your country needs you, I need you, make us all proud. Lot’s of love, Catherine, Head of NASA Space Operations. P.S. I love you so much….” Oh yeah, and he had a girl from class record her voice reading the letter. I think I was bright red the whole time it was playing in front of the class.
  • Write a film a courtroom drama, Newton vs. Leibniz, who invented Calculus.
  • Use a math program we have called Geogebra to revolve functions around the x-axis in order to find the volume of a Coke Bottle (calculated volume: 547 mL, Actual volume: 500 mL).
  • Investigate land percentage usage for housing as a function of the size of the land area using Google Earth. This one was great – so random, but actually pretty interesting. Not surprisingly, the smaller your plot of land, the greater percentage you use for your house.
Assignment: Analyze the motion of something that moves unusually using LoggerPro (a computer program where you can mark where an object is in each frame of a movie and it will graph position and velocity for time for you, so cool) and tell me something interesting about the object’s motion in terms of position, velocity, acceleration, energy, or ______________ (insert any Physics term from the entire year).

Sample Projects:

  • Investigate the acceleration of a frisbee when thrown with three different methods. Compare these methods to each other and to simple projectile motion with no air resistance.
  • Try to determine if it is true that when a driver begins accelerating, a woman will accelerate very fast and then slow down and a man will accelerate slowly at first, then speed up. My response to that was “I didn’t know that was a thing.” They went for it and stood out at an intersection filming cars. In the end, thankfully for anyone who has a problem with gender stereotypes, it didn’t work, so they changed their project to something else.
  • While someone is Karate kicking, analyze the motion of their center of mass, their hands, their feet, and their head separately.
  • Blow a balloon up, then let it go and let it fly around the room. See what you can tell is going on from the data
Overall, I had a wonderful two weeks (one in each class) and felt like I got to know a lot of my students so much better. Below is a video montage of all of the Physics projects, showing the program that tracks the object’s motions. It’s actually pretty cool…

Cheers to free thinking and creativity!

And the [Arabic] Oscar Goes To…

As a wonderful way to begin to close out the year, those of us that do not speak Arabic as a first language and are taking Arabic lessons put on a play for the students… in Arabic.

We wrote the play with our wonderful Arabic teacher, Lina (who is younger than I am!), who actually wrote most of it and put many hilarious cultural jokes that we did not know were hilarious until we performed them. The play consists of four scenes of Americans getting into tricky situations because of language difficulties (like accidentally paying a cabbie 3000 JD instead of 30 JD, confusing everyday words in a conversation between students with words for drugs and smoking, and accidentally ordering a pigeon at the grocery store instead of getting directions to the bathroom – the Arabic words for the two are “Hamam” and “Hammam” respectively). I got the lucky role of being the old-man narrator who also sings a short song after every scene with the moral of the story, an Arab Oompa Loopma. Earlier in the year, I danced in front of the school, and now I can add “Sing in Arabic to an entire school in Jordan” to my running list of things I never could have conceptualized I would be doing in the future.

For 10 minutes of glory, the room itself was just bursting with laughter and applause. I was really not expecting the reaction to be quite so enthusiastic, but they absolutely loved it. I have been fending off compliments left and right from students and faculty, and some have suggested that they stop speaking to a lot of us in English because they were so impressed with our Arabic accents.

Though you wont be able to understand the dialogue, its worth checking out the video on the play (posted on my Facebook wall) just to see the students’ reactions to everything. There’s a girl in the background of the video straight up belly laughing the whole time, which in turn made me laugh a lot when I saw the video. [UPDATE: the friend who posted it has privacy settings so you can’t see it unless you work at King’s…. working on getting a different version posted]

I have really noticed a marked improvement in my Arabic over the course of the year. Last year, at the end of the year, a few students made a Rube Goldberg machine as an extra credit project and including a lengthy dialogue in Arabic. I remember watching the video and understanding the gist of it but not really the details. I showed the same video to my classes this year and I was shocked at how much more I could understand now. Guess those Arabic classes are going to good use!

P.S. I know that theoretically you would win a Tony not an Oscar for a play, especially a musical (I was singing), but I’d rather have an Oscar.