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Trouble Learning Physics? Build a Trebuchet!

posted on February 2, 2012

Trouble Learning Physics? Build a Trebuchet!

If you're a science teacher, the chances are that you know about NOVA. In fact, you may have used either a NOVA program or one of its online resources at some point in your career. NOVA is about curious people exploring interesting questions. The best part about the series, however, is that it can take what can be an often difficult-to-explain topic and produce a film that is as entertaining as it is informative, using the tools of good pacing, clear writing, and crisp editing. Just as important, NOVA shows the human story behind the science story. Whether exploring a galaxy or an atom, breaking down the anatomy of a tsunami or of a living creature, the series delves into the personalities responsible for the discoveries and the social consequences of events in the lab. It’s a cross-curricular platform.

NOVA has been working with journalists and scientists around the world to create great content for teachers. There are thousands of resources covering everything from string theory to the evolution of flight to how the pyramids were built. NOVA provides great educational content, but how can teachers--all teachers including social studies, economics, and language arts teachers--use this program in their classroom? If you’re a new teacher, where do you go to find these resources? And most importantly, what can your students get out of it?

This one link is your gateway to thousands of resources from online interactives of the solar system to purpose-built video clips that will help deepen your students’ understanding. The website provides lesson plans and activities that encourage exploration and can spark student interest in science or engineering.

"The NOVA programs are fantastic because they show us something that we can't duplicate in the classroom," said Michael Blair, a physics teacher from Des Moines. “We can’t build a full-scale bridge, we can’t raise a stone obelisk, but we can see how it's done, and the kids can understand the physics behind it. The students can also get a perspective of how the historians are trying to piece bits of information together. They can see how architects, engineers, physicists, and historians are all working together to solve a common problem."

During Mr. Blair's unit on Projectile Motion, his students study the various formulas, work out problems on the white board, and complete other problems. Completing the problems out-of-context is not enough, however. "I really want the students to make this a real life, a real world situation, so we watch the NOVA program on catapults and trebuchets," said Mr. Blair.

PhysicsNot only do his students see how physics is applied to a medieval siege device, but they also get to physically use a trebuchet themselves. "We take a catapult that we constructed in physics class, and actually take measurements of how long the ball was in the air, the angle of the ball when it left the catapult, and the distance it traveled."

Mr. Blair says that NOVA helps makes class richer. "I want to turn kids on to physics--not necessarily being physicists or engineers, but understanding that whatever they get themselves into, whatever profession, whatever hobby, that they can apply physics. And I think that the NOVA series is a great way to show that we use physics in all walks of life."

Tags: education educators math NOVA online learning science teachers television

Subjects: MathScience & Technology


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