This semester, I am a lecture TA in Physics 100, a first year algebra based physics course for students who have not taken Physics 12 in high school. As a lecture TA, I spend my time in the lectures, supporting the students as they tackle worksheets and clicker questions (and sometimes getting to do a fun demonstration!). So far, I am enjoying this post, as it has allowed me to maximize my student contact time (and minimize my time spent marking). Also, it is interesting to see a first-year physics lecture from a different perspective and to think about the approaches being taken and how they compare to the physics education literature. Even though I am not delivering content, this position has brought me closer to the thought process that an instructor must go through while teaching a course. In addition, I have been keeping my eyes open for ways I can contribute to the lecture.
Then, when I saw this post from Peter Newbury, formerly of UBC (now at UCSD), I was intrigued. In it, Peter describes how you can more effectively use the time before the lecture begins by putting something on the overhead to grab the students’ attention. When I mentioned this idea to the professor in whose class I TA, he agreed that it could be great! So, for the rest of the semester, it is my task to find a relevant and interesting image, diagram, video or whatever to put up before class. So far the professor has quite nicely tied these images in with the upcoming lecture, so that at the very least they might help the students transition into ‘physics mode’. I have not been able to suitably observe the students during the pre-lecture time yet in order to see their response to the images.
We have used this strategy at the start of two lectures so far. As both lectures included Newton’s third law, I chose images for which Newton’s third law could fairly easily be applied and that were of things that may be relevant to students at UBC. First, we used an image of a SuperIronMan competitor in the Storm the Wall intramural event at UBC. In this division of this event, the competitor has to scale a 12′ wall with no help. In order to do this, they must use some sort of wall-kick. Newton’s third law is necessary to explain the friction force between the wall and the competitor’s foot that allows them to jump off the wall and reach the top. (A google of ‘UBC Storm the Wall SuperIronMan’ should get you a video of this.)
In the second class, we put up a photo of the Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft Siyay, based out of Richmond, BC. Newton’s third law is important for the hovercraft’s propulsion. The professor was able to insert some ‘wow’ factor for this image: he told of the interesting fact that if a hovercraft such as the Siyay were to run over you in the water, you would be able to come out the other side mostly unharmed. Plus, this photo has a nice rainbow near the front of the hovercraft. (Rainbows are described by physics also, of course!)
Throughout the term, I will be posting the images I choose for the pre-lecture overhead. In addition, I hope to report some anecdotal information as to what the students think of these.
(Image url: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACCG_Hovercraft_Siyay.jpg.)