Category Archives: Physics

Shocking Students

Reason #85 that I’m excited to be teaching Physics instead of Math: The Van de Graaf generator. You’ve probably seen it before, but basically it’s this big thing that creates a large static charge with which you can do a lot of electricity demonstrations (see hair standing on end in the picture on the left as Case #1).

We had a lot of fun with this, but probably the most fun involved the fluorescent bulbs from our ceiling lights. If you bring it close to the person touching the Van de Graaf generator, it will light up very brightly due to electrons coming from the … but it also gives the person a nice little shock.

I didn’t tell my volunteers about this before they put their hands on the generator, so I surprised them all by shutting off the lights and giving them a nice little zap. Then they were all mad at me and decided they wanted to get me back, so I offered to let anyone zap me whom I zapped. To the left is someone coming at me with a bulb, ready to inflict physics torture on me. I have a very nice relationship with my students.

PS If you were expecting a post about Damascus, hold your camels, I wanted to get all my photos uploaded first!

Balloon Massages and Rodinkh/Gingikh

Today, for the second time this year, I had someone pull out a camera to take a picture of what was happening in class (see post about the Physics Dance Party). We started our unit on electricity and magnetism today, so we did some simple charge experiments – it’s pretty easy to transfer some electrons to a balloon by rubbing it on a wool sweater, and then that balloon will stick to your sweater, to the wall etc. After doing a quick demonstration and doing some actual physics (I swear my class isn’t just some weird crazyfest) we had a contest to see who could get a balloon to stick to the wall for the longest only using electrical charge. Their schools sweaters didn’t work too well (probably made of some fake synthetic crap) so the class bunched around me and gave me a 13-person balloon massage. Good times.

Earlier in the class, we were talking about electricity and how Benjamin Franklin named the charges  positive/negative and that this was completely arbitrary – I said he could have named them the opposite, or named them red and blue, really anything. At this point, one my strangest but funniest students – a kid who’s not fond of the idea of homework, doesn’t seem to care when he gets bad grades – piped up with ZERO hesitation and shouted “Yeah, or Rodinkh and Gingikh!” What? Yeah, sure I guess he could have named them rodinkh and gingikh. I thought that meant something in Arabic that I didn’t know (because he used some Arabic letters in there, like the “Kha”), but I saw the same look of befuddlement on the other students’ faces. Turns out he just decided to give positive and negative completely random names, and these rolled off his tongue as a pair like “salt and pepper” or “hugs and kisses” or “snakes and planes”. We wrote them up on the board and now that class has decided that we are going to use rodinkh (رودنخ) and gingikh (جنجخ) for the names of our charges.

We’ll see how long that lasts…. (someone who knows Arabic better than me please let me know if this is some filthy thing that I am saying in front of my students)


We have school-wide morning meetings 4 days a week (Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday). They aren’t all that exciting, but I like them because they wake the kids up. Unfortunately, I have this one class that meets at 8 am on Monday mornings, the day we don’t have morning meeting, so I have to wake them up myself. Yesterday, I decided to play really loud music and have a two minute dance party to wake them up.

I was the only one dancing, but I had so much fun that I decided to plan a lesson around a dance party. We are learning about heat, temperature and thermodynamics, so I decided to have a dance party today to talk about how heat is transferred between two objects of different temperature. It turned out to be a hit, and worked pretty well in teaching the material.

The only snag came when I was asked to host four visiting teachers from another school in Jordan. I didn’t really feel like changing my lesson, so I went forward with the dance party anyway. Turns out that they didn’t speak English, so there I was playing techno music and dancing with my students (the 3 or 4 that would volunteer to dance with me) and they really had no clue what I was doing. I wonder what they thought was going on and I wonder what they think of our school now…

I plan on having dance parties in class whenever they could even somewhat relate to Physics.

A Physics Teacher’s Shopping List

I’ve been teaching Fluid Mechanics lately, which has been a nice topic in terms of physical demonstrations that you can do. Here is my actual shopping list for the other day… oh how my life would have been different as a Math teacher (or a consultant).

  • balloons
  • straws
  • shaving cream
  • eggs
  • salt
  • lemons and limes
  • raisins
  • clear carbonated soda
  • a can of regular soda, a can of diet soda
  • marshmallows
  • tinfoil
  • candles
  • advil (but that was for me)

Dropping Heath Ledger in Physics Class

When I originally applied to teach at King’s, I applied to teach Math, but there were no openings. Well, the nice thing about private school is it really don’t matter what your official background is, you can teach whatever you want!

Reason #65 that I am glad there were no openings in Math and instead I’m teaching Physics – DROPPING EGGS!

The nice thing about being 22 is that I still have the attention span and similar “fun-o-meter” to my students, so whenever I think of something exciting I want to do with them that even tangentially relates to what we are talking about, we do it. Recently, we have been talking about momentum and impulse, and I decided that we needed to drop eggs to demonstrate the subject. We probably could have easily talked about it in the classroom quicker and more efficiently, but I wanted to see eggs explode, and the nice thing about teaching is that you do whatever the hell YOU want to do. We dropped them into water, Styrofoam, and on the ground to demonstrate that if it takes longer to slow something down (the Styrofoam) then less force is needed to do it (and perhaps the egg wont break). We dropped them from different heights to give the eggs more or less momentum when they hit the ground.

To add a bit of a twist, I spent the entire first period of the day decorating the eggs, drawing faces on them and naming them things like “Heath Ledger” and “Michael Jackson” (too soon? not soon enough?).

Another one of those moments where I thought “Really? You guys trusted me with this job… and your children?”

Drop It Like It’s Hot – Physics in Action

I originally applied to this school to be a Math teacher, but I am incredibly glad that they had filled all of their Math positions so that I could be a Physics teacher. This past week, our “lab” was dropping things off of our clock tower. We have been modeling 1-dimensional accelerated motion with equations, so basically they had to time how long their object (boxes filled with rocks – how have I not gotten fired already?) took to fall to the ground below, and use the aforementioned equations to calculate the height of the clock tower (it was a little more complicated than that, but I don’t want to bore you). The probability that this would end in broken bones was pretty high, but luckily the only thing that got hurt was the cement below the tower (oops!).


I don’t know if you can see in the picture above my sweet outfit, but on lab days I wear a nice white lab coat to look important, and this time I whipped out my UVa bow tie for the occasion, to really capture the look of mad scientist. I realized while wearing my bow tie around that day that they are quite a novelty here (one girl shouted as I walked by “Sir, I like your style!!” – I felt like a celebrity). Thus, I’ve decided to become the bow tie guy. I have already ordered a few off of eBay. Bow-man the Bow-tie-man.


Things that are difficult: Teaching

So I just finished my first full day of class. We had 10 minutes classes yesterday and had 30 minute classes today. I have so much more respect for all of my teachers than I ever did. Teaching is hard.

Some tidbits:

  • In Arab culture, teachers go by their first names, so I am Mr. Bowman to all of the kids, which I find hilarious!
  • In all of my classes, I had them guess my age, which was fun. One girl told me I looked 27 but I am actually 30. Thanks? I probably should have lied to them, but I told them straight up, I’m TWENTY TWO years old, only 5 years older than the oldest of you. I said: I know I look young, but you will treat me like you treat any other teacher in the school, especially the old crusty ones, and if you treat me like a student, I will treat you like you are 5 years younger than you are. BAM. Laying down the law! [it’s not helping though that we all wear blazers to class and with my blue blazer, I happen to look very student-like]
  • The kids are at the same time reaaallly smart, but don’t know enough so that I feel good about myself in front of the class, which is perfect. I hope they stay there, ha. I just need to make sure I learn physics faster than them. The question today on the board was “Estimate how many times the human heart beats in a lifetime.” The answer is about 2.5 billion and probably about half the class got a number in that range.
  • I am obsessed with Snakes on a Plane, and when I gave admissions tours at UVA, I would make a point to somehow mention it on every one. Well, I really hope to do this in my physics class, and I think it’s not going to be as hard as I thought. Check out this, I think it was invented with me and only me in mind. [Courtesy of]snakesonaninclinedplane