MacGyver Season 4 Episode 3 Science Notes: Kid + Plane + Cable + Truck

Can you hear a radio transmission through a fan?

Answer: it’s possible.

So, here’s the deal. MacGyver needs to communicate with this kid on a nearby plane—but he doesn’t have the radio speaker turned on. How do you tell someone to turn on the speaker if they don’t turn on the speaker?

There are two parts to this answer. First, you need to build an AM radio transmitter. This isn’t too difficult—especially for MacGyver and all the stuff he has in the Phoenix jet. Here is a build similar to the one in the show.

Fine. But what about hearing it in a fan? The short answer is that the fan can act like a foxhole radio. Yes, that’s a real thing. It’s a type of radio that soldiers could build using some basic items. But the key to all of this is the diode. A diode is basically a one-way valve for electric current (I said “basically”—so, don’t freak out about that definition). Why do you need a diode? It’s because you can’t “hear” radio frequencies.

Let’s look at AM radios (because FM is a bit more complicated). AM radio stations broadcast at different frequencies for different channels. These frequencies range from 500 kHz to about 1500 kHz. But if you just convert these electromagnetic waves into sound, you wouldn’t hear anything. Humans can only detect frequencies up to about 20 kHz. So, how do you fix this?

The answer is amplitude modulation (the A and M of AM radio). Here is an example of how this would work. Suppose I have a radio frequency of 3333 Hz (I just mostly randomly picked that value to make a pretty graph). Imagine this radio signal is just a cosine function that oscillates with that frequency. Now suppose that I constantly change the amplitude of this radio signal. The amplitude ALSO changes with some frequency—let’s say this amplitude frequency is 150 Hz (typical human voice frequency). Here’s what that would look like (here is the code if you want it).

But this won’t work. You can’t “hear” the 150 Hz signal—the problem is that the average of the AM signal is zero. It goes up as much as it goes down. It won’t work. That’s where you need a diode. This diode only allows the receiving signal to go “one way”. Here’s what that same AM signal looks like when you put a diode in.

Now for that diode. You could use a diode—or an LED light (which is a diode). Old crystal radios use a crystal mineral. If you don’t have that, you could use a pencil with a razor blade. Apparently, this kind of connection acts like a diode. Oh, you could also do this with the metal connection in the brushes of an electric motor—like in a fan.

Here is a story about a guy that thinks he’s crazy because he hears voices in his fan. I guess it’s true. Also, there is the famous (but maybe not true) story of Lucille Ball hearing Japanese spy radios through the fillings in her teeth. Here is the Snopes link for that.

One last comment. If you think “oh, this is awesome—I’m going to go listen to a radio station with my fan.” Nope. It’s probably not going to happen. You need a fairly strong AM radio signal that is tuned to your untunable fan. On top of that—the brushes in the motor of the fan have to be JUST RIGHT for it to work. It’s still plausible.

Defibrillator

A defibrillator uses electrical currents to do something with the electrical nerve signals to the heart. I guess they can trick the heart into restarting if it has stopped. Fine—but how do you build one (note: don’t build one)?

Of course as with most things (especially dealing with living humans) this can get tricky. You want to run electrical current through the heart area, but not too high. Also, it’s probably best to have an alternating current—it’s complicated.

The simplest (and oldest) designs use a DC battery along with an inductor and a capacitor to make an oscillating electric current. MacGyver should be able to use the DC power from the plane as the “battery”. If you want to start with a higher voltage, you could charge up some capacitors and then reconnect them in series to pretty much get whatever voltage you want. The inductor shouldn’t be too hard to find either.

Landing electromagnet

Electromagnets are real. I guess you already knew that. The basic idea is that an electric current creates a magnetic field. If you make the wire into a coil, the magnetic field due to each loop will add together to make an even stronger overall field. Oh, more current is better.

But would this work in real life? Of course it depends on many things. The most important thing is the current. How much electrical current could you get out of an airplane?

I’ll be honest—calculating the current needed for an electromagnet is really tough. The magnetic force depends on the type of material being attracted (probably steel), the distance, the size of the coil, and the current. But still, I think you could get at least something like 1000 Newtons (a little bit more than the weight of a person). This might be enough to help a small airplane stick to the top of a truck. It’s plausible.

But let me just leave you with the BEST use of an electromagnet. Allen Pan made this AWESOME version of Thor’s hammer. It uses an electromagnet and a thumb sensor so that only Allen (who is obviously worthy) can pick it up.

Just Enough Physics Video Update

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but I’ve been trying to make a bunch of physics videos. Oh, sure—I already have a ton of stuff on youtube, but it’s not linear. For my old stuff, I will solve a problem on work-energy and then do electric field stuff and then go back to kinematics. It was just whatever topic came up in class or online or whatever.

I figured I should start over and do a whole physics course—well, not EVERYTHING. No, I would do just enough to get you through the course. I hope you get the title now. Also, this is the title of that self published ebook I wrote a long time ago—since it really is the video version (but updated).

So, where am I now? I’ve got 4 chapters completed. I think it’s a pretty good start. Here are the chapters (as playlists) along with descriptions.

Chapter 1: Kinematics

Notice that I started off by making a title screen and all that cool stuff. I will end up dropping this so that I can make videos faster. Also, in my previous videos I was in front of a whiteboard. In this case, I’m writing on paper. Still not sure which way is better.

In this chapter:

  • Introduction.
  • Constant velocity in 1D.
  • Example of constant velocity.
  • Introduction to numerical calculations (1D constant velocity).
  • Constant acceleration in 1D.
  • Numerical calculations with constant acceleration (in 1D).
  • Solving the “cop chasing a speeder” problem.

Chapter 2: Forces and Motion

It’s tough to start in physics with forces. There are so many things to cover. This is a shorter chapter that looks at the fundamental ideas of force and motion.

  • Introduction to forces and motion. I really like this first video. It’s a conceptual look at the forces, the momentum principle and “Newton’s 2nd Law”. Guest appearances by Galileo, Aristotle, Newton.
  • Forces in 1D – falling objects.
  • Modeling the motion of a mass on a spring (and finding the model of a spring force). This one is long (but pretty nice).

Chapter 3: Vectors—2D and 3D Stuff.

The goal here is to expand kinematics into using vectors—but then you need to know about vectors.

  • Intro to vectors.
  • Kinematic equations with vectors.
  • Example of constant velocity and position update formula in 3D.
  • Intro to projectile motion.
  • Finding the range for projectile motion.
  • Numerical calculations for projectile motion.
  • Acceleration of a block on an inclined frictionless plane. This is an example of forces in 3D.
  • The physics of flying R2-D2. Using forces and air resistance.

Chapter 4: Calculated Forces

There are really two kinds of forces. There are forces that have an equation to determine the vector value (these are calculated forces). Then there are forces that don’t have an explicit equation (forces of constraint). This chapter just focuses on calculated forces.

  • Universal gravity.
  • Example of gravity—calculating the net force on the Apollo 13 spacecraft.
  • Introduction to visual objects in VPython. This is a setup for the next video.
  • Modeling the motion of an object near the Earth.
  • Modeling the Earth-moon system.
  • Mass on a spring (again) – but this time with visuals AND 3D motion.

MacGyver Season 4 Episode 2 Science Notes: Red Cell + Quantum + Cold + Committed

Let’s do this.

Metamaterials and Invisible Cloaks

Of course, this is not a MacGyver hack—but it is some science stuff. So, what is a metamaterial? It sounds cool—and it is, but it’s a very broad term. Usually when we say “metamaterial”, we mean some type of engineered structure that’s made of more than one thing.

What about invisible cloaks? The idea here is to use some type of metamaterial to interact with light using a negative index of refraction. Normally, when light interacts with materials there will be an apparent bend in the light ray as it makes a transition between materials. This bend in light is called refraction.

You see refraction all the time. Here’s an example of a pencil in a glass of water.

When light goes into the water, it bends a bit towards a line that’s perpendicular to the surface of the interface. That’s normal. If you had a negative index of refraction then the light would bend PAST this normal line. You don’t normally see that except with special materials—in fact we can really only get this to work with light in the microwave wavelengths (not for visible light).

But what does this have to do with invisibility cloaks? There’s a bunch of stuff to explain here—so, I’m just going to go with a very basic idea. First, in order to see something light has to reflect off that object and then enter your eye. That’s why you can see anything in a room with no light—there’s no reflection.

So, one way to make an object invisible is to bend the light around it. Suppose I have an apple with an invisible cloak around it. If I could trace a light ray around it, it might look like this.

But how do you make light do that? That’s the tough part—the idea is that you can do this with some type of special material (a metamaterial). You might not have that stuff, but you can make something similar with some mirrors. Check this out.

Quantum Computing

Here is my super short description of quantum computing. Current computers use binary numbers. Essentially, these are voltage signals. It’s either some positive voltage (1) or zero voltage (0). From this you can make logic gates and store data and play cat videos on the internet.

A quantum computer uses qubits that can be 1, 0 or a combination of 1 and 0 (that’s the quantum part). OK, now here’s a much better explanation.

Cold Containment Unit

How do you keep cold stuff cold? Really, you just need some type of thermal insulator. Yes, your jacket would work—so would a cooler for your drinks. But for super cold stuff, you need something a little more. One of the most common methods is to use a vacuum. If you have two containers with a space in between them (with no air), then it makes a great insulator.

What about making some cold stuff? It turns out that you can get really cold liquid from a can of compressed air (the kind you use to clean your keyboard).

Check this out.

Picture of an eye for a retinal scan

Can you take a picture of someone’s eye and then use that to fool a retina scan? Probably not, but it might be plausible. https://www.telesign.com/blog/post/can-biometrics-be-fooled/

Lojack Emulator

In order to throw some baddies off their track, MacGyver makes a lojack emulator and puts it in a teddy bear. It’s plausible. But what is Lojack? Here—this is good. https://www.lifewire.com/what-is-lojack-534878

Drilling tool

MacGyver needs to drill through some rock. They don’t show the build, but there are plenty of parts around. Really, he would just need some type of electric motor—after that, pretty much any thing could work as a drill bit.

Rebreather

In order to get through a super old tunnel, Mac needs to breath (there’s not really any fresh air there). The answer is a rebreather. The basic idea is to use a chemical carbon dioxide scrubber that pulls the CO2 out of his exhaled air. You just need some tubes and stuff as well as the scrubber. I bet he could find the scrubber stuff near by.

MacGyver Season 4 Episode 1 Science Notes: Fire + Ashes + Legacy = Phoenix

Wow. It’s back. Finally, season 4 has started. I’m actually more pumped up than I thought I would be. Also, I’m ready to get back to my science notes.

Oh, one non-science comment. I think the Russ Taylor (played by Henry Ian Cusik) character turned out really nice. It was difficult for me to picture this guy just from the script. Henry did a great job.

Now for some science.

Professor MacGyver

At the beginning of the episode, we see MacGyver teaching a university class. At least once, they say that he is “professor” MacGyver. Is this possible? Could he be a professor? Could he even teach a university class?

OK, some background. Remember that Angus was a student at MIT before he dropped out to do bomb stuff in the Army. So, he probably doesn’t have a college degree—but it’s not clear. It’s also possible that he picked up some extra courses here and there to finish and graduate. It’s also very plausible that someone in the Phoenix Foundation just said “poof”—now you have an engineering degree. You know, they seem like the type that would do that stuff.

But what about the “professor” part. Oh, I guess I should add (in case you didn’t know) that I have a PhD in physics from North Carolina State University (Go Wolfpack). I’m also an Associate Professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana University. So, I kind of know some stuff about this.

There are actually multiple uses of “professor”. It can be used fairly generically to just mean some type of educator—this is common at the university level. But in terms of academic rank, you have the following titles (there are variations in these from place to place).

  • Instructor. This is a primarily teaching position. Most instructors have either a Master’s degree or a PhD.
  • Visiting Assistant Professor. This is almost always a PhD position for a faculty to come in and work on some research project temporarily. It can sometimes lead to a permanent position.
  • Assistant Professor. This is the first step in “tenure track”. When a person gets this rank, they will work for 5-6 years and then apply for tenure (and usually promotion to the next rank).
  • Associate Professor. This is the rank obtained after tenure. Oh, just to be clear—tenure is a method to give faculty the job security so that they can take chances on research and teaching that might not work out so well. Yes, sometimes that means the faculty just does nothing. No, they are not fire-proof. You can fire someone with tenure, it’s just not very easy.
  • Full Professor. This is just a rank higher than the two Ass-profs (I like to say that).

So, in this episode—it’s probably the generic sense of “professor” that is being used. It’s not very likely that MacGyver has the rank of Full Professor.

But what about teaching a class? Can anyone do that? Probably—yes. Most universities have a minimum requirement of 15 hours of graduate course credit in the field of the class. So, if you want to teach introductory physics you would need probably 5 graduate level courses that you had passed. This is about the same number of courses required to get a Master’s degree in physics (some variations apply).

Some universities also make exceptions for temporary faculty to teach courses. Either in an emergency situation (need some one the day before classes start) or to bring in an expert. Non-qualified experts are often used in fields like journalism (by non-qualified I mean they don’t have the degree requirements).

Now back to MacGyver. I’m going to say that at the end of Season 3, Phoenix Foundation just fixed his transcript. Boom. Easy.

Equations on the boards

Again, not really a MacGyver-hack, but I want to at least mention these equations. The first board is in the lecture hall. There’s a bunch of stuff on there—and it’s not all related.

The one part that I like the most is the stuff on the lower right. These are the tree physics representations of a ball moving vertically with a gravitational force. These three methods are:

  • Newtonian Mechanics
  • Lagrangian Mechanics
  • Hamiltonian Mechanics

Here’s an older post describing these three methods.

What about the other board? There are a bunch of equations on a white board in MacGyver’s place. Russ quickly just erases them—because that’s what he does. But what are these equations? If you look carefully, you can see the Greek symbol \psi (pronounced psi). This is used to represent the wave function in quantum mechanics.

Potassium in Water

Wow. We are still in the first few minutes of the episode. I think I was just excited to write about MacGyver and science such that I got a little out of control. I’m sorry about that.

For this “hack”, Professor MacGyver is trying to get the attention of his students. Simple solution—put some potassium in water. Seriously, don’t ever do this. The stuff on the left side of the periodic table does bad stuff in water. That means Lithium, Sodium, Potassium…they all make fire and then explode. Check it out.

It would be a lot louder and quicker than you saw in the show. Something would break.

Low tech photocopier

How do you copy someone’s hand written notes without a phone camera or an actual photocopier? How about using something hot? If you put a blank piece of paper next to the paper with ink on it, you could be able to partially make an impression on the blank paper. It would be something like this.

Let’s assume that the heat thing doesn’t fully work (it didn’t work perfectly in the video above). Maybe MacGyver needs to add a little something extra to make the copy readable. It’s plausible that he would need some acid to interact with the tiny bits of ink on the paper to make it readable. That’s what the lemon was for.

Hack a car to make it drive

Oh, this is sadly real. You know—we like to assume that we can add cool features to our cars and they will be safe. Apparently, this is not the case. Here’s a video showing a remote car hack.

I guess that 1985 Honda Civic looks like a pretty good choice now. Right?

Rocket fuel

Yes, you can get rocket fuel from liquid oxygen and kerosene – it’s called RP-1.

DIY Nitrous Oxide

Seriously—don’t do this. Here’s how to make it.

https://www.thoughtco.com/make-nitrous-oxide-or-laughing-gas-608280

Stopping a torpedo

I know it’s a stretch—but’s also fun. There’s a torpedo traveling through the water system. MacGyver finds a “diaper factory”—I love that line and then he gets a bunch of sodium polyacrylate. It’s that stuff they put in diapers. When liquids get into this stuff, it gels up. So, putting it in the water will gel it up. The torpedo will hit the gel and slow down and stop. Save the day.

Actually, in a previous episode MacGyver used this stuff to make fake snow.

OK—one more thing. Why can’t MacGyver get out of the gel? Why is he in the gel? You will have to watch the episode to find out.

But here’s the deal. He’s stuck because of the atmosphere. Yes, there is a bunch of air above him pushing down. The air pressure is 10^5 Newtons per square meter. If you try to lift him up, air can’t get in below him so there’s just the atmosphere pushing down. You are going to either have to pull up REAL hard or get some air down into the gel.

Don’t worry, Mac survives. SPOILER ALERT.

Numerical Calculations in Class

You are probably tired of hearing me talk about numerical calculations. Sorry about that—I just get super pumped up.

This week, I did my “Intro to Numerical Calculations” in physics lab. I think it went pretty well. In case you haven’t seen my stuff (here is a quick start guide), here are the important deets.

  • It’s a workshop style presentation. I show something and then let the students do stuff.
  • Using python of course. Everything is on trinket.io (all the questions too—you can see that stuff here).
  • I start off with a super simple case of a cart moving with a constant velocity in 1D and then work my way up to free falling objects (with graphs).
  • There’s no 3D visualizations—even though VPython is awesome at this.
  • Even though this is the calculus-based physics lab, I used my material for the algebra-based lab. It’s a good place to start and I really didn’t have much time to make new stuff (I just picked up this lab on the first day of the semester—yay).

So, that’s that. But I really love this stuff. It’s great to see students that start off with little or no programming experience—heck, they even have trouble with the basic physics (and that’s OK). They really struggle modifying code to get things to work. They want to quit.

But they don’t quit. They start trying something. “Hey, can you make any color for this graph?” Yup, just use a vector color. Oh snap—you just used a vector.

I walk around the room and observe students. They start having discussions. It’s not about stuff like “how do you make a while loop?”—it’s more like “why is the velocity negative here?”. They are writing computer programs, but most of the talk is about physics. I’m always surprised about this aspect of their interactions.

At the end, they have some code. It solves a problem, it’s their code. They feel accomplished.

Mapping the Electric Field and Stuff

This is really a note for Future Rhett. You’re welcome, Future Rhett. If anyone else wants to read this, please have fun.

OK, here is the problem. How do you describe the electric field around some region? Maybe that region is a dipole, or parallel plates, or some other random charge distribution?

Here are some options:

  • Equipotential lines. I assume you know what these are.
  • Electric field lines.
  • Electric field vector plot.

Let’s talk about these three. I don’t think I’m going to make example plots because I’m not sure what I want to do. Yes, I will probably do something in the near future.

Electric Field Vector Plot

Imagine you have a dipole (a positive and negative charge separated by some distance). The electric field vector can be calculated at any position (x,y,z). So for every location, there’s a vector.

But how do you display this visually? Well, you could just pick some points and plot the electric field as an arrow. Actually, I’ve done this before so I have a picture.

Image result for rhett allain dipole

Another option is to just plot the E field every cm (or some other set distance). Of course, this too has problems:

  • What about 3D?
  • What if the electric field gets too big and you have giant arrows?
  • What if the arrows are too small?
  • Can you do this on paper?

Still, I think this is probably the best option. Historically, no one ever did it this way because you pretty much need a computer to draw all those tiny arrows.

Equipotential Lines

I want to draw a picture here. OK, this is just a rough sketch.

Each of these lines represents a series of points at the same electric potential (with respect to infinity). They are fairly easy to draw and they give a good representation of the field—even though they aren’t the field. It’s just like getting the idea of a the shape of a mountain by looking at a topographical map. It’s the same thing.

How would you create these with a computer? That’s really what I want—that will make it useful for some strange charge distribution that you would have to calculate the field using a numerical calculation. Here’s what I would do:

  • Decide on the voltage line values. Do I want to do every volt or every 0.1 volts?
  • Pick a point. I don’t know where you would start—maybe near one of the charges?
  • Calculate the electric potential. I assume it’s not an even value of the potential lines. If you get 5.5 volts, you want to move down to 5 volts.
  • Now move in some direction. Check the voltage again. Did it go down? Keep moving that way. If it goes up, go the other way. If it didn’t change, turn 90 degrees.
  • Once you get to 5 volts, plot a point.
  • Move again, but find another point that is at 5 volts. Plot it.
  • Keep doing this until you get some set distance away from the starting point or you get back to the starting point.

This seems unnecessarily complicated. There’s got to be a better way. Figure it out Future Rhett.

Oh! What about this method?

  • Calculate the electric field every dx, dy point (so like on a cm grid). If the potential is a whole number 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 volts – plot a point.
  • I like this method better. More brute force.

Electric Field Lines

I feel like electric field lines are dumb. Oh sure, they give a good sketch of the electric field, but what do they mean? From my intro physics course (many years ago), I remember the following:

  • Field lines are always perpendicular to equipotential lines.
  • When field lines are closer together, the value of the electric field is greater.
  • The electric field vector is tangent to the electric field lines.

That’s about it. But how do you create these with a computer?

Here’s what I want to try:

  • Start at some point near a charge.
  • Calculate the value of the electric field vector.
  • Move in the direction of the electric field vector (some distance dr)
  • Again calculate E and make another move.
  • Keep doing this until either the electric field gets too big (in case you get near another charge) or the distance from the starting point gets over some distance.

I think this would work. I want to try it. That’s for you, Future Rhett.

Spring 2020 Class Update

Before I forget, I want to make some comments about my courses this semester.

Physics for Education Majors (PHYS 142)

I love this class. It’s one of my favorites. Just in case you aren’t familiar, it’s a course designed for elementary education majors (you could probably guess that from the title). We are using Next GEN Physics and Everyday Thinking (Next GEN PET). Oh—it’s awesome. Seriously, you should try this curriculum.

So, this semester things are going great so far. I normally teach this every semester, but last semester my section was cancelled. Apparently some particular college decided not to make this a required course (even though I made this course 12 years ago to satisfy their accreditation requirements). But by not teaching it last semester, I realize how much I enjoy it.

Oh sure, this semester it has much fewer students. However, I can have actual conversations with them as they work on the material. Also, the students have time to work on stuff. In the first unit they are building models of magnetism. It takes time to properly magnetize a nail. It’s slow process. I think more learning needs to take this slow process.

Special Topics: Numerical Calculations

Oh wait. This course was canceled. Damn.

Physical Science (PHSC 101)

I taught this class last semester. It went well enough.

This semester is a little different. Well, just one small difference. Instead of a large lecture class with desks and stuff, it’s a smaller room with tables. Here—take a look at this picture.

Surprisingly, this makes a HUGE difference. Now students can very easily have short discussion with other students. It makes a big difference. I like this room so far.

Intro Physics Lab 2 – Algebra-Based (PLAB 194)

I can’t just leave a lab alone. No, I have to change it every time I teach it. This semester, I want to focus more on building circuits. So far, they have only done the electric field mapping experiment. It seemed to be not too bad.

I don’t have anything else to see.

Intro Physics Lab 1 – Calc-Based (PLAB 223)

I picked this lab up at the last moment (because of the other canceled course)—so, I really didn’t get a chance to prepare ahead of time.

It’s a 3 hour lab (unlike the 2-hour algebra-based lab), so that’s kind of cool. My plan is to really focus on model building (with tons of python). It’s gonna be great. I hope.

Oh, even advanced students have problems making linear graphs.

That’s enough for now. I’ll keep you updated.

Just Enough Physics Chapter 1: Kinematics

Quick recap: I’m going through and redoing many of my physics videos. The idea is to put together a cohesive playlist that would work through the full physics course. I’m using the approach that skips over some of the more tedious topics—that’s why I’m using the “Just Enough Physics” title (yes, same as my ebook).

Well, I’ve got enough stuff for chapter 1. Here they are. Let me know if you think something should be added.

Introduction

Constant Velocity in 1D

Example with Constant Velocity

Introduction to Numerical Calculations for Constant Velocity

Constant Acceleration in 1D

Constant Acceleration with Numerical Calculations

Accelerating car catching a constant velocity car

Just Enough Physics Video Series

I think I need help. I’m not sure of the best way to proceed (or even to do it at all) with this new video project. Here is my idea:

  • Just Enough Physics – the video. Yes, a long time ago I put most of my physics explanations into a self-pub ebook on Amazon. I think it turned out OK. The book is in the KindleUnlimited program, so you might be able to get it for free – https://www.amazon.com/Just-Enough-Physics-Rhett-Allain-ebook/dp/B0052UKTDQ/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=just+enough+physics&qid=1578932997&sr=8-1
  • I’ve made a bunch of physics videos—but they aren’t well organized and they jump over to many different topics. I wanted to start over and make one series of videos that sort of go through the full intro (algebra-based) physics course.
  • In most of my previous physics videos, I used a white board with me in front of it. I think this works well, but I wanted to be able to make videos from home. With that, I decided to switch to a paper and pen method (with the camera just looking at the paper).
  • Also, I figured I would add a Patreon page. It would be nice to be able to work on this over the summer instead of teaching summer classes (which is always a financial gamble anyway). Oh, here is my Patreon page—https://www.patreon.com/justphysics

So, that’s the idea. Here you can check out what I have so far.

Now for the questions. Here’s where you can help.

  • Should I start a NEW YouTube channel for these videos or just include them in my current channel. I’ll be honest—I thought it would be good to start a new channel, but I need a bunch of subscribers before I can put ads on the videos. Yes, that’s silly.
  • I started off with an intro to each video and included a title animation. Forget that—too much work. I don’t think people REALLY care about that stuff.
  • What about Patreon? What kinds of things should I put there? Should I include access to a discord group?
  • Titles. How should I title each video? Chapter 1 section 1 kinematics? Constant velocity? I’m not sure. What about homework videos (example problems).
  • I’m aiming for each video to be about 10 minutes long. Is that a good time length?

Finally, here is my tentative outline for videos.

  1. Kinematics in 1 Dimension (including numerical calculations).
  2. Forces and the Momentum Principle in 1D.
  3. Vectors
  4. Calculated Forces: gravity, springs, real gravity.
  5. Falling objects air resistance.
  6. Forces of Constraint: normal force, friction, tension
  7. 2D Motion: projectile motion, circular motion.
  8. Orbits.
  9. Work-Energy Principle.

That’s just a start.

Course Reflections: Physical Science (PHSC 101)

The Course:

This is a 3 hour lecture-based course for non-science majors. I used the super awesome Next GEN PET. I feel like I have talked about this curriculum a bunch (since it has content similar to PHYS 142—physics for education majors). Here are some key points.

  • Content based on the Next Generation Science Standards. For me, this isn’t such a big deal—but it can be for those adopting the curriculum.
  • This is an interactive lecture-based course. This semester, I started with 50 students.
  • Students are supposed to have a workbook that they write in. We have a textbook rental system though. In order to prevent the students from buying a book (which would be about the same price anyway), I had the bookstore make the workbook into a non-writable rental book.
  • The course covers: Energy, Forces, Waves, Light.
  • Students are presented with videos of experiments and then asked a series of multiple-choice “clicker” questions.

The Good:

Let’s be honest. Most courses for non-science majors don’t really help them understand the nature of science. Based on my own informal measurements in the past, students’ understanding of science decreases after the course. That’s bad. It’s probably because they just see science as a bunch of facts that need to be memorized.

This course focuses on the model building aspect of science. Students collect data (from the videos) and use that to justify a model—rather than just being told an idea.

The course also encourages critical thinking and uses student discussion during class. I feel like there were a good number of students that really got something out of the semester.

Oh, one more “good”. I am part of an FOLC (Faculty Online Learning Community) – https://nextgenpet.activatelearning.com/about/faculty-online-learning. My discussions with them were great.

Homework was better than I thought. I used the online activities that come with the curriculum and then I created “turn in” sheets for the students. These were simple questions based on the online stuff. Many students didn’t do it and some copied—but it helps them realize they need to do the HW.

The Bad:

Although the content is essentially the same as the studio-class version of the material, I don’t have much experience with the lecture version. Here are some other random notes about things that didn’t work out so great.

  • Clickers. I started off using the TurningPoint clickers (we already had these). For some reason, the receiver didn’t work on my macbook anymore (software update). Then later in the semester, they updated the PCs in the room and BOOM—clickers didn’t work there either. I eventually switched to plickers (https://www.plickers.com/library).
  • Student discussions. I need to get better at this part of the job (quote from Spider-Man: Homecoming). I just feel like there are small things in the class that can really throw off a class discussion. It’s tough. I need to start off with this more at the beginning and fight through the rough parts so that students get more accustomed to discussions.
  • Student participation. There are too many students that think they are watching a movie. They just sit there and play on their phone. I see them.
  • The workbook. I already mentioned that they didn’t really have a workbook. Towards the end of the semester, I started creating 1-2 page “notes” that had spots for them to write down the important stuff. A couple of students said they liked this.
  • Multiple-choice tests. I hate these.

The Future:

Here are the changes for the next time I will teach this course (next semester).

  • Change the content. I would like to cut out some of the activities and do more of the engineering-design activities.
  • Smaller room. Yes, I will be teaching the lecture-based course in the studio room. I would like to replace at least some of the videos with actual experiments.
  • One of my FOLC colleagues gives writing assignments. She tells the students to find some application of the content in real life. They have to submit a certain number of these and she just grades a few. I want to do this.
  • Plickers are better.