Contributed Papers, Spring 2009 Conference

The following papers were presented at the conference.

We hope to have links to author’s web resources soon.

What is an electron?

Richard Kidd, Diablo Valley College (retired), Pleasant Hill, CA
A student once asked me this question and appeared very dissatisfied when I replied that we have many precise
measurements of its properties but no knowledge as to the electron’s structure, leading it to be often considered to be a point
particle. Recently, my interest in the question was rekindled by a plausible suggestion as to electron structure in a science fiction
story. I calculated its feasibility along with those of some historical models, including several suggested by A. H. Compton, in terms
of what we do know.

A Proof of the Maximal Efficiency of the Carnot Cycle

Duygu Demirlioğlu, Holy Names University, Oakland, CA
When discussing heat engines, standard physics textbooks state that the most efficient cycle operating between two reservoirs at fixed temperature is the Carnot cycle. On a PV diagram the Carnot cycle appears to be a peculiar figure bounded by two isotherms and two adiabats. How do we show students that this cycle is indeed the most efficient one? How do we prove Carnot’s theorem in an elementary course? We will present a simple, visually elegant proof, a transformation of the oddly shaped Carnot cycle into a simple geometric figure, and a calculation of the efficiency of the cycle by essentially reading it off a diagram.

Orbiting Satellites and Elevators Through the Center of Earth

Paul Robinson, San Mateo High School, San Mateo, CA
Suppose you could bore a tunnel through the center of the earth. Further suppose you could pump all the air out of this tunnel to eliminate air friction. What would happen if you devised an elevator that dropped all the through to the other side? This would be one heck of ride–such an elevator would be like an 8,000-mile Drop Zone at Great America! How long would it take for you to reach the other side of the earth? How long would a round trip be? And how fast would you end up going at the center of the earth? It turns out the round trip time of the elevator is exactly the same time it takes a satellite to orbit the earth—about 90 minutes! This means it would take the elevator 45 minutes to reach the other side of the earth—an impressive feat considering it required no fuel! Why is the time (or period) of the elevator the same as an orbiting satellite? The solution to this problem makes an excellent review problem for either introductory college or AP students.

Using YouTube Video in the Classroom

CJ Chretien, Leadership Public Schools, Richmond, CA
YouTube can be a great, and free, educational tool for the classroom as well as for your own professional development. I will give you some ideas of how you can use YouTube videos in your classroom as well as how to download YouTube videos since it is blocked at many schools. Lastly I will introduce the new NCNAAPT YouTube channel, which is a great way to share teaching ideas within our community:

IceCube, Bringing Cutting-Edge Science into the Classroom

Casey O’Hara, Carlmont High School, Belmont, CA
In December-January of 2009-2010, I will be going to the South Pole to work with researchers from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, in conjunction with PolarTREC and the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF). The IceCube telescope is the largest research project ever attempted in Antarctica, being built to map out the universe by detecting high-energy neutrinos and cosmic rays. I will be traveling as a PolarTREC teacher to the South Pole in December of 2009 to help work on the IceCube project, while working with five other KSTF Teaching Fellows to bring the IceCube project into our classrooms by following the expedition via an online journal and webinars. This collaboration is being used as a means of exciting students about current polar research and will allow students insight into what “real” scientists do. This presentation will focus on an overview of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, and the nature of collaboration between IceCube, PolarTREC, and the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation.

One Year With a $1000 High-Speed Video Camera

Dean Baird, Rio Americano High School, Sacramento, CA
The Casio EX-F1 is a digital still camera with first-in-its-class high-speed video capabilities. In addition to being able to capture full-resolution still images at 60 frames per second, it can capture video at 300, 600, and even 1200 fps. Since the standard video playback rate is 30 fps, the EX-F1 can “slow down” events to 1/10th, 1/20th, or 1/40th of their natural speed. For $1000, you can be Harold Edgerton! One year later, no other consumer camera competes with the EX-F1 for high-speed captures. I’ll show some clips and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this breakthrough camera.

Concept Mapping Software in a High School Physics Class

Lee Trampleasure, Carondelet High School, Concord, CA
Concept maps, or graphic organizers, are a means to organize concepts to form a visual representation of the relationships between these concepts. Research shows that some students gain a better understanding by ‘mapping’ concepts in a spatial manner rather than the more traditional outline format. In my academically-diverse high school physics class, many students struggle to grasp the relationships between the words we use. I will present the software CmapTools, examples of concept maps created by my students (including handdrawn maps), and results of a survey of these students on their perception of the value of CmapTools. CmapTools is free software that runs on Windows, Macs, and Linux. It is both robust and easy to learn. CmapTools was developed by the Institute for Machine and Human Cognition (of which I am not affiliated). IMHC also provides CmapServer, a free program that allows people to share maps over the internet.

Teaching Physics with Multi-Station Activities, by Charles Hunt, American River College

Charles presented several stations for Newton’s Laws of Motion. His goal is to have his students spend more time with their hands on activities, and less time listening to lectures. He generally introduces the activities of the day with a mini lecture, then students have time to work the activities.

He does some preparation/manipulation of the apparatus to ensure students get the desired results.

Some of his activities/demos include:

  • A great demo he uses is a “fake rock” made of foam and painted black that he can throw to students and be surprised by how light it is.
  • Nice heavy chain that students try to pull horizontal in a tug of war.
  • Doppler effect with the flexible tube twirled overhead.

Hand outs were provided, and everyone had time to get their “hands on” the activities.

Charles always leaves a 5-10 minutes at the end to review what students were expected to see at each station. Tape down the station numbers or they will migrate!

“Seeing Radiation: Nuclear Science Experiments” A Teacher Workshop for high school science educators

Friday, April 3, 2009

8:00 am to 5:00 pm

University of California, Berkeley

This workshop will focus on using cloud chambers and Geiger counters to help teach the principles of radioactivity and radiation. Participants will receive a wealth of materials – a cloud chamber kit and
Geiger counter, workbooks, and classroom activities. This workshop will include a tour to the Advanced Light Source and lectures by leading scientists. The educational material is targeted for
high school science teachers, grades 9-12.

A review of the workshop is available online:

Preliminary Topics

  • What is radiation?
  • How is it measured?
  • Where does it come from?
  • What experiments can you do in your school?

Sponsors: The American Nuclear Society (ANS) and the Northern California Chapter of the Health Physics Society are proud to sponsor this workshop. Scientists and engineers from the Northern California Section of both professional societies (ANS-NCS and NCCHPS) are presenting the material. The UC Berkeley, Nuclear Engineering Department, is generously providing facilities for the event.

Funding for the workshop is provided in part by the Northern California Section of the American Nuclear Society, in part by the Northern California Chapter of the Health Physics Society, and through individual and organizational contributions to the American Nuclear Society (ANS).

Participate in a global light pollution campaign & make a world of difference!

Once again, the GLOBE community is invited to participate in the annual global sky observation known as GLOBE at Night. GLOBE at Night brings people outside to observe the constellation Orion from 16-28 March 2009. Participants simply choose a clear night on which stars are visible, take measurements of stars in this portion of the sky using GLOBE’s Magnitude Charts, and enter observations into the GLOBE at Night Web site. Students — alongside teachers, parents and community members– amass a data set from which they can begin to explore the concept of light pollution and to research the patterns of light pollution across the globe.

You can enter your observations on the GLOBE at Night Report web page from 16 March – 7 April.

Complete details at:

Speaker: Science Education in the 21st Century: Using the methods of science to teach science

Friday, March 20, 2009, 11:00 a.m.
Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman
Oak West, 2nd floor of Tresidder Union, Stanford University
Refreshments served at 10:45. Open to public.

The Physics department will host a special lecture on March 20, 2009 by Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman, Director of the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia.


Science Education in the 21st Century: Using the methods of science to teach science

Guided by experimental tests of theory and practice, science has advanced rapidly in the past 500 years. Guided primarily by tradition and dogma, science education meanwhile has remained largely medieval. Research on how people learn is now revealing how many teachers badly misinterpret what students are thinking and learning from traditional science classes and exams. However, research is also providing insights on how to do much better. The combination of this research with modern information technology is setting the stage for a new approach that can provide the relevant and effective science education for all students that is needed for the 21st century. I will discuss the failures of traditional educational practices, even as used by “very good” teachers, and the successes of some new practices and technology that characterize this more effective approach, and how these results are highly consistent with findings from cognitive science.

Speaker: Carl Wieman, U of British Columbia, U of Colorado,
Director of the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at University of British Columbia (
Director of the Science Education Initiative at University of Colorado

Kaye Storm
Director, Office of Science Outreach
Stanford University

Spring meeting at PASCO in Roseville

We’re excited to announce that PASCO will host our spring 2009 meeting at their facilities in Roseville, CA. The date of the meeting is Saturday, March 28, 2009. Mark your calendars!

In addition to great presentations by PASCO (not strictly focused on their equipment), we’ll also offer our ever popular Show ‘n’ Tell–everyone is invited to bring a five minute presentation of your favorite lab, handout, website, or other teaching resource.

More details will be posted here shortly.

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