Linear data sets (for your enjoyment)

Kicking off the year in my modeling physics course means practicing working with and interpreting linear data. Some students quickly pick up the modeling method of describing slope and intercept, while other students just need more practice for the data to speak to them in the same way.

I use the spaghetti bridge lab to introduce graphing linear relationships and have a pretty good handout1 with a few more linear data sets as practice.

However, my experience has taught me two things:

  1. There will be students that just need a bit more practice to really nail down the skill.
  2. It's deceptively hard coming up with linear data sets.

So, I sat down earlier and surfed the internet, found some real data sets, cleaned them up a bit, and imported them into Excel & Google Sheets (from whence they are easily copyable and paste-able). I might as well share them, because I know you'd prefer to avoid converting .txt data files to .xlsx. In fact, I'll make the Google Sheets version editable, so you can add your own awesome data sets).

Download the data sets

The Excel version includes graphs with the equation for best fit lines. Google Sheets doesn't do best-fit lines yet, so those have the graphs (as interpreted by the Google Sheets converter), but no equations.

Enjoy!

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  1. from the AMTA Modeling Physics curricular materials, which is why I'm not sharing them here. But, seriously, you should just join the AMTA so you can access the huge wealth of resources they provide. Here's the link. Do it. (back)

3 Quick- Subjectives, grading stinks, and modeling with Kelly O'Shea

Fairly often I find things online that I think are either terribly interesting, awesome, or thought-provoking, but don't have either the time or the will or write anything in depth about how or why they're interesting, awesome, or thought-provoking. I'd still like to share these items, so I've decided to make the 3 Quick a semi-irregular feature1 here at Re:Thinking. Offered with little to no editorialization. Feel free to kick off a conversation in the comments.

Subjects or Subjectives (Michael Wesch)


Dr. Wesch says:

As an alternative to the idea that we teach “subjects,” I’ve been playing with the idea that what we really teach are “subjectivities”: ways of approaching, understanding, and interacting with the world. Subjectivities cannot be “taught” – only practiced. They involve an introspective intellectual throw-down in the minds of students.

I agree. I think this is something discussed fairly often in the scientific spectrum (though through different terminology). For me it boils down to the statement, "I'm not concerned if my students can't remember specific scientific content if they have learned to think scientifically."



The Case Against Grades (Alfie Kohn)


Alfie Kohn has never been a supporter of giving out grades, and this article goes into detail on the three big effects of grading:

  • Grades tend to diminish students’ interest in whatever they’re learning.
  • Grades create a preference for the easiest possible task.
  • Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking.

Even better, he gives some examples of assessment done right. My only beef with the article is the seeming lack of acknowledgement that many (probably most) teachers are working in situations where they would simply not be able to get rid of grades due to the requirements of their schools and districts.



Model Building (Kelly O'Shea)


If you're interested in using the well-researched and effective Modeling Instruction with physics, let me recommend Kelly O'Shea's series explaining how her classes build the models. It gives an excellent peek inside a classroom using modeling to those (like myself) who are interested in implementing it in the near future. As of this posting, she's written up explanations for the Balanced Force Particle Model and Constant Acceleration Particle Model, but it looks like she'll have six in total when she's done.

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  1. "Semi-irregular" as in however long it takes me to come across 3 items to share and have the time to write up a post. (back)

Learning new things: LaTeX

I can usually get programs like Microsoft Word to format my documents so the way I envision the document in my head matches up pretty close to what I end up with on the screen. You know, however, that sometimes getting the document to look right can often take as much time as it takes to type the document in the first place.  If you add to that the hassle of trying to get equations for physics or chemistry to show up correctly, it's pretty easy to such down a lot of time simply knocking out a short and simple handout.

Last July, I caught John Burk's post on a new LaTeX1 package that makes writing physics equations much easier. Although I had been peripherally aware of LaTeX in the past, I really didn't know much. Since I had some extra time in the summer (and since I'm not teaching this year, freeing up more time), I decided to jump in and try to figure LaTeX out.

What is LaTeX?

Don't be fooled. LaTeX is not a word processor. It took me awhile to figure that one out. While you type in the text that you want to show up in your final document, you're also adding some code telling it exactly how you want your final document to look. Want a new section in your document? Type section{Section Title}. This automatically creates a section title with a larger bold font, and automatically adds it to your table of contents (if you have one).

Why bother?

Since I'm sciencey (is that how you spell sciencey?), I tend to use more formulas, symbols, and other weird notations in my documents than the average bear. As previously mentioned, getting these to work in pretty much any standard word processing software sucks. It's a major pain. Especially if there are special characters all over it. Even more so if you want the formulas to actually look right. LaTeX provides simple codes that allow you to make equations and symbols look exactly how you envisioned them in your head.

For example, typing
a=\dfrac{2(\Delta y)}{t^2}

will tell LaTeX to do this:
a=\dfrac{2(\Delta y)}{t^2}

If you'd like to see a full document in LaTeX, here's a plain text file that I wrote in a LaTeX editor. Here's the finished typeset product (pdf warning).

What I've learned

  • There's a learning curve. It takes awhile to figure (and remember) how to write in LaTeX as well as the different codes for symbols, parentheses, etc. If you're writing a document that's on a tight deadline it's not a good time to decide to experiment with LaTeX. When I started I sat down for a couple hours on a lazy Saturday afternoon and tried to figure it out. I've also committed myself to writing up all the lab reports I have to do this semester using LaTeX so I'll get the hang of things.
  • There's a lot of information online about LaTeX. If you don't know a command, you'll be able to find it by searching. As a bonus, you occasionally get some "interesting" search results due to LaTeX (the program) being spelled the same as latex (the rubbery material).
  • Once you get the hang of it, it's faster than messing about with Word. I've only been using LaTeX for a month and I'm already past the break even point. As a bonus, my documents have beautiful formulas that display correctly. I can only imagine things will get faster from here.
  • I doubt I'll use LaTeX as a teacher to create entire documents. I will use LaTeX as a teacher to insert formulas and symbols into documents and slides. I'll do a follow up post explaining specifically how I envision I'll use LaTeX as a teacher.
  • The "official" way to write it is \LaTeX, which of course, requires \LaTeX to make.

Resources

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  1. pronounced "lay-tech," which of course makes total sense.     (back)

LHC Day!

Today marks the first time the Large Hadron Collider will attempt to circulate a particle beam. This new tool in the belt of particle physicists should help prove/disprove some current grand unified theories, including the existence of the Higgs Boson, thought to be responsible for giving mass to particles.

While some people have been worried the LHC will cause some crazy reaction that will end in the destruction of the Earth (say, via a black hole), Cory Doctorow in a post at Boing Boing quoted a physics who said of the chances of the LHC destroying the Earth: "Look, it's a 10^-19 chance, and you've got a 10^-11 chance of suddenly evaporating while shaving."

In honor of this grand event, I post below the LHC Rap, which is a surprisingly good song about the LHC. If you weren't listening too closely, you could almost mistake it for a Digable Planets song (almost).

To learn more, check out CERN's home for the Large Hadron Collider.