Quantum Mechanic

Content tagged Education

Bill Nye to Visit Creation Museum for Debate - ABC News

posted on 2014-01-04 01:46:27

It's a trap!

Let's Try Anyway

posted on 2013-11-12 15:49:00

A great problem in any job is orthodoxy. I see it everyday in myriad ways at the University where, despite nominally being all about the future (students, research, etc.), we really do the same things, uniformly, over and over.

A few moments ago, I head a colleague talking about a class she is a teaching assistant for. All I head was someone asking if it "would work with three people," and her saying, "Well… probably not." This particular conversation is not important, but it's an example of something that happens a thousand times a day in this building alone. I'm certain of it!

We make many snap-judgments in our hectic, university lives. How to grade, how to teach, how to assemble experiments in vacuum environments. A good deal of these things are simply based on prior experience; things which haven't necessarily been taught, just picked up. A lot of these things have never been thought through. Some of them don't even make any sort of sense when thought through. Some of them make sense but don't hold up to scrutiny.

I would like to work in a place where people say, "I don't think that will work, but let's try it anyway."

I think it implies that people have enough time to explore, that they are supportive enough to want to explore your ideas, and that they are open to the possibility that they are wrong.

I dislike the capitulations that seem to be required of any statement today, but I do concede that these moments of support and understanding happen – but only occasionally. They should happen in far greater numbers, though.

My First Appearence in the Media

posted on 2013-03-16 21:41:50

A friend sent me a link today to something I took part in and had nearly forgotten about.  Nearly two years ago, my undergraduate adviser Kiko Galvez invited me back to Colgate because he had two people from Scientific American coming to make a short film about quantum entanglement, which we studied in the lab there.  They finally published that video today on their website.

I'm in the video only when they come to Colgate, where they shot Kiko and I shaking their hands and saying hello.  I'm nowhere near the educator and scientist that Kiko is yet, so I didn't manage to say anything as clearly as he did, and I seem to have ended up on the editing room floor, as they say.  Despite that, it's my experimental setup that I built and debugged that gets showed off, although it's set up with a nicer laser than I got to use.

If you're interested in entanglement and quantum physics, give it a watch.  Kiko's great at explaining things, and does a wonderful job in the video!

Science as told by comedians

posted on 2013-02-22 20:37:08

Lately, I've had the good luck to find a number of science shows trying to bring modern research and understanding to a wider public than the scientific communities.  I've been suffering through a long dearth of employment that I'd like to write about as soon as I understand it better myself.  Yesterday, I went on a search for new podcasts to fill my copious free time and found this! It's sort of in the same vein as Dara O'Brien's Science Club, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson's Star Talk.  Like Science Club, it's out of Britain, but has a tone more like Star Talk.

The format that all of these shows have in common is that some scientists and comedians try to make science more accessible and present. Billy Bragg, a legendary British punk who wrote many songs about labor movements and sexual politics, was in an episode I just listened to, which was exciting for me, as a fan of his music.  Unfortunately, part of his contribution to the episode was making the science as a type of faith argument, which I find very dull and not at all worthwhile.  That said, I hope to sort my feelings on that out into words sometime soon and put it up here.  Some of the episodes of these shows are naturally better than others, and I am grateful to the astronauts and scientists who take the time to go on them and be excited about their present work.  Getting to hear the cutting edge of science from the people who do it makes it all the more real.



This is, I think the greatest thing these shows can bring.  Even if you don't understand Quantum Chromodynamics, or Cosmology, or Computational Biology, you can always relate to someone who is excited about what they're talking about.  I know I certainly wouldn't know nearly as much as I do about the revolutionary-era history of southern New York if it weren't for my father's devouring of books on the subject and consequent sharing of plentiful facts on family trips, or even while driving around Westchester County, where I grew up.

Then, we come to the other part of these shows which, I think, is the biggest difference between the three examples above: The comedic foil.

This is where The Infinite Monkey Cage stands out more from the others, in that its comedic personality, Robin Ince, is willing to further conversation much more so than, say, the comedians who frequent Star Talk.  In saying so, I don't mean to slight Eugene Mirman, or the others on Star Talk any more than to say I think TIMC is doing it better.  Their jokes are much more on topic, keep moving, and don't have the feeling that I'm in the back room of a bar in Brooklyn somewhere.  This is probably a particularly unfair comparison, since I think most of them are comedians out of Brooklyn, but there is a certain style of disconnected exposition I've seen in such places that definitely comes out in their work on the show.

TIMC is also willing to make science jokes, which has been pretty refreshing in a way.  I think it also reflects the different attitude of the comedy they do, in that the comedian is in on the jokes.  In comparison, Star Talk's banter often has a slightly confrontational edge.  It's often as though the comics feel like they need to one up the scientists somehow, and I think Dr. Tyson's personality as both an enthusiastic scientist and public speaker only confounds the problem further.

Despite any criticisms I might have of aspects of these shows, I'm very happy to see them all popping up, and look forward to seeing how they grow and evolve over time.  I worry that some of them remain niche entertainment and don't make it to a wider public that doesn't have friends who are scientists and might force a new podcast on them, but it certainly won't get out to people if the shows didn't exist at all.  Go check some out and let me know which you like and why, I would really like to know!

My First Magnetism Lesson

posted on 2011-04-24 22:51:30

So, I'm taking a class on science and math education this semester because I think they're important things for people to know, because so much of our modern world depends on them, and they often run so counter to our intuition.  Even as someone who has been taking physics courses for the last six years, I often find myself not completely sure of how things work, or at least unable to explain them to people when the chance arises.  For this class, I've been visiting a local high school and sitting in on their physics class.  I get to help out a little, and I'm slowly learning a bit about the craft of teaching.  While the part I'm most afraid of is classroom management (Not necessarily the best and handling conflict) I can only learn that from experience, and to get experience I have to plan some lessons...

The first lesson I've been given to teach is magnetism.  Specifically, I chose to deal with magnetic fields, which are something really strange to people because they float invisibly in the air around us, and we don't usually think about them so much as the effect of the things that cause them.  As far as I was concerned, I had two real examples to work with: The Earth's magnetic field and the magnetic field of bar magnets.

The best method I could find or come up with for introducing magnetic field lines was to take a compass and a bar magnet and trace one out.  I think that actually got things across pretty well, because you have the compass needle pointing in the direction that the field points at any given spot around the magnet, and you can go from there, talking about the direction of the field (from north to south, which I taught backwards once) and then on to field strength.

I then fell back on iron filings and different shaped magnets for a lab section, which went pretty well, too.  The Magnets Lab was supposed to teach about the loops of magnetic fields by showing, using the paramagnetism of iron filings.

Most of what I took away from the lesson, though, was organizational.  The students needed me to write down the important things I was saying so they could take notes.  I also needed to demonstrate the lab, and other things that I'd long since forgotten about, while being in college.

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