Rio Americano High School Physics
Info for High School Physics Teachers
Top 10 Resource Books
No Physics Teacher Should be Without
Updated November 2003
Physics High School Edition by Paul G. Hewitt (Text and
Prentice Hall 2002 (or latest edition)
Textbooks written by committees are often like soup prepared by
too many cooks. They're bland and lack vision. Hewitt has a vision.
And it's one that--until the relatively recent meteoric rise of
his texts--was woefully absent in the physics textbook market.
I don't care what kind of physics you want to teach, do not pass
go without this text in your personal library!
Introductory Physics by Arnold Arons
John Wiley & Sons, 1996. ISBN: 0-471-13707-3. Amazon
Just when you thought you had a clue, Arons sets you straight.
He picks apart what we do when we teach physics, especially what
we do wrong. He also offers ideas on how to do a better job of
it. Beware physics pedagogy fans, this text is like chocolate
mousse: tasty but dense.
Physics by Lewis Epstein
Insight Press, ISBN: 0-935218-06-8 Amazon
You think you're hot because you can work physics equations backwards
and forwards? Open this volume to nearly any page and prepare
to be schooled (as my students would say). Page by page, this
cartoon-laden book asks deceptively simple questions in the form
of (heaven forbid) multiple choice and true/false questions. The
next page has the answer and explains why you should have selected
it. It also tells you why the answer you chose is wrong.
(Algebra/Trig and/or Calculus) by Eugene Hecht
Brooks/Cole, 2003 (or latest edition) Amazon
How Eugene Hecht got to be so smart is beyond my feeble imagination,
but finding useful information and rare photos of cool phenomena
in his text are well within my capacity. Historical insights,
meticulous graphics, and non-standard problems abound in this
text. Own it.
of Physics by Halliday, Resnick, and Walker
John Wiley & Sons, 2002 (or latest edition) Amazon
My first choice among calculus-based physics texts. Jearl Walker's
addition to the author list has improved a solid text to new heights.
Great photos and graphics. The mysteries that introduce each chapter
are must-haves. Full disclosure: I suffered through the second
edition in college.
World of Physics: Mystery, Magic, and Myth by John W.
Brooks Cole, 2001 - Amazon
formerly Physics Begins with an M: Mysteries, Magic & Myth
by John Jewett, Jr.
Jewett has amassed a collection of stand-alone mysteries (cool
stuff most folks don't understand), magic (simple demos), and
myths (stuff presented as fact that just aren't right) in all
areas covered in introductory physics. Great way to create hooks
at the beginning of each unit. Use selected M's for your "first
day of school" presentation.
Flying Circus of Physics with Answers by Jearl Walker
John Wiley & Sons, 1977. ISBN: 0-471-02984-X. Amazon
Yeah, it's long in the tooth and is long overdue for a second
edition, but you still shouldn't be without this book. The pages
are filled with questions. Some easy, some hard, some impossible.
That "With Answers" part of the title is important;
the first printing was without.
by Inquiry by Lillian McDermott and the Physics
Education Group at The University of Washington
John Wiley & Sons, 1995. ISBN: 0-471-14440-1 (vol.1) and 0-471-14441-X
If you thought Arons could be fleshed out a little better, buy
these volumes. The material is intended for ed school students
preparing to teach science, but much can be adapted to other levels.
Volume 3 is due any time now... Any time...
Physics by Isaac Asimov
1993 Barnes & Noble (1966 Isaac Asimov) ISBN:0-88029-251-2
and Noble Link
When you need to know the history, names, and explanations you
haven't seen in all the textbooks, look here. It is a bit dated
with extensive use of old-style British units and CGS, but that
stuff isn't what you're using this book for, anyway.
Exploratorium Science Snackbook (Online)
Museum, 1991. ISBN: 0-943451-25-6 (out of print)
The bummer here is that you can't get this outstanding resourse
any longer because the Exploratorium sold it to a publisher who
hacked it to bits and reassembled the mess into less useful volumes.
Bad mistake! Still hoping to see the long-promised Son of The
Exploratorium Science Snackbook. The good news is that they've
posted many of the recipes in their original format along with
newly developed recipes on the web.
There's now a second Snackbook! It's called Square
Wheels. More snacks, more fun, more cleverness from Don
Rathjen and Paul Doherty (the Lennon and McCartney of physics
My Favorite Video
Updated November 2003
1. The Mechanical
Solid, bedrock physics content presented with high production
values. Produced at Caltech with funding from NSF and Annenberg
CPB. The computer-generated graphics are well-done and pedagogically
powerful. The historical visual backdrops featuring Kepler, Galileo,
Newton, and others helps connect students to these otherwise distant
figures. The animated equation manipulations are cute, but they
don't do much for me. There are two versions of The Mechanical
Universe videotapes available.
College Edition is the full, original version. Each episode
is about 30 minutes and begins and ends in Dr. David Goodstein's
physics lecture at Caltech. The calculus is shown where appropriate.
These episodes are often played on educational channels of cable
High School Adaptation is edited for use in the high school
curriculum. Not all topics are covered. Those that are are edited.
Goodstein is sometimes there, sometimes not. Calculus is not shown.
The episode list itself is different. Look into it and see which
version you think you'll prefer.
Kinetic Karnival with Jearl Walker
After the first Kinetic Karnival tape you show, your students
will ask, "Is it Jearl?" every time you put a tape in
the VCR. Cleveland State University's Professor Walker comes across
as a dorky Woody Allen look-alike who enjoys pain. Don't doubt
for a moment that this guy's a top-notch pro. (He's the "new"
author of Halliday & Resnick's Fundamentals of Physics
as well as on his own Flying Circus of Physics WITH ANSWERS.)
Warning for the acutely sensitive: he does smoke a cigarette and
drink a beer on screen (all tastefully done and required for the
plotline). He also makes an uncalled for gaff about Chinese laundromats.
Let these be springboards for classroom discussion rather than
obstacles to adoption.
If you have only one laserdisc for your laserdisc player,
let it be this one. It's an archive of only the best snippets
from post-Sputnik era instructional films. Sources include
PSSC and Encyclopedia Britannica. I like the HyperCard stack I
can use to cue up the desired segment.
Runner & Wile E. Coyote cartoons.
Yes, you can ue cartoons to teach physics. Road Runner cartoons
are filled with physics gone awry. Your students should be able
to tell which parts are right, which are wrong, why they're wrong,
and what should have happened. I've gone to the trouble of cataloging
the physics of the vignettes comprising the cartoons of two video
collections. Click here to see it!
If you join only
one organization this year...
Every physics teacher should be a member of the American
Association of Physics Teachers at the local and national
level. Except those who have it all figured out. Local activities
include periodic meetings that include outstanding "show
& tell" sessions of demonstration and instructional ideas.
National membership entitles you to a subscription to The Physics Teacher
, AAPT's journal of physics education. And, as they say, there's
"much much more." Join and find out!
My Favorite Vendors
1. PASCO Scientific Pros:
quality stuff, especially the stuff they make themselves. Love
the dynamics carts and tracks (Introductory Dynamics System).
Cons: Expensive, but you get what you pay for at PASCO. Stay away
from their analog ammeters and voltmeters, the scale is uneven
and unreasonably small.
2. Central Scientific (CENCO)-
Now a subsidiary of Sargent-Welch Pros: huge selection (some
physics stuff that's hard to find elsewhere) I love the general
purpose stuff: drilled balls, slotted masses, clamps, etc. It
ain't sexy, but you can't do much without it. Cons: not cheap
(but who is?). Stay away from the bicycle wheel gyroscope (it's
advertised as a solid wheel but ships with an air-filled innertube).
3. Radio Shack. You know 'em, you love 'em, you do business with
them because they've got the goods (resistors, connecting wire,
etc.) and you can get them now. I want a class set of their "Underliner"
laser: it's bright and it can make a line as well as a spot.
Advanced Topics in
High School Physics Pedagogy
1. Mastery or Survey? UPDATE
High school physics has traditionally been a survey course, covering
topics from vectors to kinematics to dynamics (force, momentum,
energy) to gravity to waves to heat to electricity to circuits
to magnetism to light to the many facets of modern physics (nuclear,
relativity, photoelectric effect and Bohr atom, etc.). Recently
many teachers (and curriculum projects) have adopted a mastery
approach, in which topic coverage is sacrificed in favor of mastery
attainment. "Less is more." Call me "old-school,"
but until I have a two-year program or an epiphany of some sort,
I'm sticking with more of a survey approach. I see my course as
a first exposure to physics coursework. So I cringe at the thought
of not exposing my students to the wonders of electricity and
magnetism as well as Newton's laws. UPDATE: I now have a two-year
program! One year (Physics I) for students who want high school
physics, a second year (AP Physics II) for those who want to take
the AP Physics B exam. What do you think?
2. What to leave out.
We all have more or less 180 days to teach our students how the
universe works. I have yet to meet anyone who covers his or her
entire textbook in that time. Adding labs cuts into the 180, as
do the many staff development days many of us have in our calendars.
So what parts of the physics curriculum should be left out of
the high school curriculum? Here are a few I've already decided
to leave behind.
Fluids, Semiconductors, Nuclear, Relativity, Bohr Atom, Photoelectric
Effect, Quantum anything. I'm currently working on shaving Vectors
down to bare minimums. I don't want to spend a whole unit on the
ins and outs (and ups and downs) of vectors. I'm running out of
time at the end of the year when I'm trying to cover physical
optics, and vectors seem to take up more time than they're worth.
I always think about cutting Gravity since it's so hard to develop
meaningful labs for it. But it's also so fundamental and connected
to other parts of the physics story that I haven't been able to
One thing I haven't left out is Rotation. I know many of my colleagues
do, but I do Rotation at the end of the first semester and it
provides a context for a great review of kinematics and dynamics.
3. Gender Equity.
What's the male:female ratio in your classes? I've had years in
which it was 2:1. That ratio actually persists in my AP class
(with occassional exceptions). Why do you suppose that is? I challenge
anyone to offer research findings that conclude females are any
less capable in physics than males. Sorry boys, it just ain't
One thing research does seem to suggest is that it may be wise
to create single-gender lab groups. Remember that, in the words
of Oliver Wendell Holmes, "No generalization is wholly true,
not even this one." Having said that, high school males (by
and large) like to take over lab groups if given the opportunity,
and high school females will not fight them over it. (This is
what the research says.) Single-gender lab groups eliminate this
possibility. I use (mostly) single-gender lab groups more during
the first semester and less during the second semester.
If you want to read more, check out my Master's
4. AP: Is it Worth the Trouble? UPDATE
From 1986-1998, we had a single-year AP Physics B course. The
more I taught it and the more efficient I got at teaching it,
the less I liked it. A first-year exposure to high school physics
should not be an AP course. They wouldn't dream of doing that
in biology or chemistry, but it's almost expected in physics.
The result is usually one of the following:
a. A race through the AP syllabus with no time for laboratory
activities. The College
Board frowns on this, but it's done by AP Physics teachers
who lead AP Physics workshops for The College Board. (It should
be noted that The College Board assumes that AP Physics is a second
b. A lab course that omits sections of the syllabus (or covers
them in extra sessions after school, evenings, or weekends).
Neither of these is acceptable. I did (b) for years. And we had
a fairly "successful" program if scores are the final
word on success. Thankfully, we were able to change to a Physics
I and AP Physics II sequence, fully implemented as of Fall 1998.
In the San Juan Unified School District, we reward students for
taking Honors and AP classes by giving them an extra grade point.
Bad idea. Many students who do not need the extra challenge and
who are unwilling to do the extra work flock to the AP courses
for the extra grade point so as to inflate their GPA's. I would
prefer to see the extra grade point dropped. Anyone who wants
to should be able to take an AP course, but they should do so
because they want the "above and beyond" challenge,
not because it will leave them with a 4.5 GPA.
Here are some links I've
collected relating to these issues.
For hours of pedagogical pleasure, check out some of my
papers and presentations.
New Teachers Workshop
by Paul Robinson and Dean Baird, presented for the NCNAAPT.
Some papers and demonstrations
The Physics of Road Runner & Wile E.
DRAFT Performance Assessments in Physics.
American Association of Physics
American Association of Physics
Teachers - Northern California/Nevada Section
The Physics Teacher
PIRA - Physics Instructional Resource
PSRC - Physical Sciences Resource
(Great Britain), Institute of Physics
science museum in San Francisco
American Institue of
Curriculum Projects and Professional Development Links
Laser Applications in Science Education
by Inquiry and the Physics
Education Group at The University of Washington
and Standards Links (Alphabet Soup)
SCATS: Schools and Colleges for the Advancement of Teaching Science
SCORES: Schools of California
NSES: National Science Education Standards (Standards)
State of California
Academic Standards Commision
to Advanced Topics in High School Physics
Society of Women Engineers
The College Board and
Educational Testing Service
Physics B Exam and AP Physics C
to Other Teachers'/Experts' Pages
Bakken: Physics, Gunn High School, Palo Alto CA
This page contains many of my opinions;
I'd like to know yours. E-mail me at email@example.com
Revised November 2003 by Dean Baird