Contributed Talks Abstracts

Contributed Talks:

Room A

8:00 AM  Room A

Elizabeth Cavicchi

Exploring Space Together – with Galileo!

Edgerton Center, MIT

Physics lore makes Galileo into such a “giant” as to efface his personal experiences of curiosity, uncertainty, doubt, and wonder.  For participants in my recent “Galileo” seminar, Galileo’s ability to say “I don’t know” opened space for our own deepening wonderings. Galileo’s perspective stirred up confusion, unexpected observations and far-reaching realizations about physics, history, teaching and learning, and ourselves.  Encounters with Galileo in physical space included:  his – and our! – thrilling first telescopic observations; pennies, clay and weights that in our hands came into balance like that held by a youthful Galileo; debates about evidence for Earth’s motion that echoed those of Galileo’s Dialogue and precipitated our experiments; sensitivity to his anguish in being stopped from voicing understandings he knew to be so.  We stepped into historical space by viewing:  Archimedes’ medieval palimpsest (Walters Museum, Baltimore); Berenice Abbott’s PSSC photography (MIT Museum); Galileo’s handwriting (Houghton, Harvard).  In evolving these experiences, we employed the research pedagogy of critical exploration developed by Eleanor Duckworth from origins in Jean Piaget, Bärbel Inhelder and the 1960s Elementary Science Study.  Critical exploration fosters an environment where learners’ curiosity provokes explorative, collaborative developments in understanding the world and themselves.  Hear next from Galileo’s colleagues in my classroom!



8:15  Room A

Amanda Pillsbury, Madhuvanti Anantharajan, Stephen Ray, Yang Yang, Laura Scher


Harvard Graduate School of Education

Recreating experiments from history provides a powerful platform for learners to engage with experiments from the past and to understand firsthand the origins of the scientific method that now forms the basis of all scientific work. Simply recreating a step-by-step process from the seventeenth century, however, can oftentimes feel no different than carrying out a procedure from a current scientific text. The wonder, confusion, and conviction of the experimenter—the conditions that ultimately contributed to discovery—are obscured. Learners are robbed of the complexity of the experiment and also of the opportunity to forge their own connections to the results from diverse cognitive and disciplinary entry points. In Elizabeth Cavicchi’s course, “Recreate Experiments from History: Inform the Future from the Past,” we had the opportunity to recreate experiments already performed by Galileo, such as the little balance and nighttime observation. Yet, at the same time, we were sure to always maintain space to explore on our own and devise our own investigations inspired by his work. Having grown out of our own wonder, confusion, and conviction, the knowledge that arose from this second category of experiments belongs so completely and totally to us.

8:30  Room A

Amanda Pillsbury, Madhuvanti Anantharajan, , Stephen Ray, Laura Scher, Yan Yang


Harvard Graduate School of Education
In 1586, Galileo published La Bilancetta in which he proposed an alternative method to Archimedes’ almost mythical determination of the mineral composition of King Hiero II’s crown. In this text, Galileo explains how he recreates Archimedes’s experiment. When he published his seminal work Dialogue of Two World Systems in 1632 however, the details of his experiments were not explicitly stated. The evolution of Galileo’s publications mirrors his ever-changing relationship with the Vatican . A warning by the Church to only speak theoretically of the Copernican model is reflected by his rhetorical style in the Dialogue. In Elizabeth Cavicchi’s course, “Recreate Experiments from History: Inform the Future from the Past,” we too constructed our experimental procedure from our interpretation of Galileo’s words, with a greater emphasis on our own ideas and understandings. Our investigation of falling bodies (captured on high speed video), while inspired by passages from Galileo’s Dialogue, was undeniably our own work. Consequently, our experience reached beyond the physical science we explored. Through Galileo’s story, we explored the effects of censorship and the relationship between science and society. For any teacher of physics, his is unquestionably a story worth exploring.


8:45 Room A

Madhuvanti Anantharajan, Amanda PillsburyStephen Ray, Laura Scher, Yan Yang

Studying Children’s Investigation of Balance

Piaget, a developmental epidemiologist, studied how people come to learn things. He used his understanding of science history to inform his study of tracing the development in children’s thinking, and thus shed light on the question of how people know. Children’s evolving thinking served as living fossils of those thinking that developed in history. It is no surprise then that we looked into Piaget’s study on children’s understanding of balance; it is a natural component in our journey to the past and the future. In class we were given excerpts written by Piaget and Inhelder based on their experiments which revealed how children make sense of balance. Our effort to decipher children’s thinking resembles and deepens our understanding of Galileo and Archimedes’ study on balance.

9:00  Room A

Yan Yang
Ask a Question

Harvard Graduate School of Education

 What’s Galileo’s interpretation of Archimedes’ experiment?  What was Archimedes’ elegant way of telling the mineral composition of  the crown? We, a group of learners, relived the experience of a monumental figure like Galileo, by recreating his experiments.  Galileo’s interest was in Archimedes’ experiment, which he wanted to demystify, and we in turn, recreated Galileo’s replication of Archimedes’ experiment. As a fellow learner and a researcher, I struggled in the process of getting at the core of the experience, understanding what Galileo’s stipulation really was, and how that was more elegant than the view of Archimedes’  experiment held by Galileo’s contemporaries. At the same time, I struggled to understand other people’s thinking and try to make sense of their thoughts. I kept my own sense  of confusion separated from the effort of understanding others. With the encouragement from our teacher Elizabeth Cavicchi, I came to sense the shape of my confusion, brought it up in our class meetings, and asked a question that, as it turned out, belonged to us already.


Room B

8:00 Room B

Christopher Pilot

Turning with Centripetal Acceleration;  Examples with Ships Maine Maritime Academy

A common misconception among beginning students taking introductory physics is that in order for there to be acceleration, the speed of a particle must change.  This is, of course, not true; simple circular motion, for example, has constant speed but it is continuously accelerating due to the change in the direction of the velocity vector.  This acceleration can be shown to be directed inwards “seeking a center”; as such, it is always pointing perpendicular to the velocity vector and redirects the particle to curl in on itself.  What is also often not fully appreciated is the fact that the centripetal acceleration, is always an effect and never a cause; central forces are needed to cause such acceleration.  These principles can be demonstrated quite simply, and quite dramatically, using real-life ships as examples.  In this short note, we work out some typical examples involving aircraft carriers and supertankers, calculating among other quantities, turning times, requisite forces, and deflection distances.  The Titanic is also among the examples singled out for investigation in order to demonstrate the power of simple physical analysis.

8:15 Room B

Michael Schaab

Building A Lateral Classroom

Maine Maritime Academy
Questioning is a fundamental teaching skill that can stimulate thinking, assess and increase individual understanding, monitor class progress, and improve listening skills. This presentation discusses and models ways that seek to improve our questioning techniques as well as create dialog between students (the lateral classroom) rather than simply between teacher and student. We will also examine methods that stimulate student questions creating a more active learning environment. We will use the topic of electric fields to simulate a “classroom” in which we explore the use of these techniques. Participants should expect to come away with new ideas about the essential skill of asking questions.

8:30 Room B

William H. Waller

Citizen Science Earth and Space Explorations for High-School Students

Rockport Public Schools

NASA-RHS Students Exploring Earth and Space (SEES) is an after-school initiative that enables high-school students to actively investigate terrestrial and celestial phenomena.  By working with online citizen-science interfaces such as “Zooniverse,” students can classify galaxies, search for exoplanets, characterize star-blown bubbles in the Milky Way, track solar storms, and explore the surfaces of planetary bodies, including Earth.  These online investigations are complemented by hands-on observations with available telescopes and eyes-on observations with remotely-controlled telescopes.  Through the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium, participants will receive NASA certification after completing a minimum of 15 hours per semester.  This incentive has turned out to be very popular.  (See

8:45 Room B

Gary Garber: Boston University Academy

Reduced Gravity Pendulum
A simple pendulum experiment was flown on a NASA Reduced Gravity flight.  Data was gathered with a Vernier Wireless Dynamics System Sensor.  The period of the pendulum was measured as a function of the acceleration due to gravity.  Data was taken in lunar, martian, Earth, and hyper gravity.  

9:00 Room B

Laurence I. Gould

University of Hartford

BUT IS IT VALID SCIENCE? — Subjecting Claims about “Global Warming” to Critical Thinking in the Classroom


Abstract (200 words or less): Uncompleted as our theories may be, they all enjoy, in a sense, the benefits of due process of law. Dogmatism cannot enter, and unsupported demagoguery has a tough time with us. … [dogmatists and demagogues] could not survive in a society which demands evidence which can be subjected to examination, to reexamination, to doubt, to questions, to cross-examination.
—Jerrold Zacharias

[“the most significant scientist who initiated the effort to improve K-12 science education in the United States starting in the 1950s”; Hands On! A magazine for mathematics and science educators (TERC, Fall 2006), Vol. 29, Number 1, p. 4]

Not many science educators appear to know about the contradictory evidence and careful reasoning which refute the claim that human-produced carbon dioxide is causing dangerous “global warming/climate change” (AGW). This talk will explain how classroom interactions can include seldom-discussed scientific evidence contradicting claims about dangerous AGW.  It will also explain what are some of the little-known methodological flaws, in the promotion of AGW, that continue to threaten science education.*

*Handouts at talk.

Room C

8:00 Room C

Ed Deveney:

Bridgewater State University

Bridgewater State University’s revised MAT Program
Details of BSU’s revised MAT physics program that emphasizes a rigorous study of Modern Physics (theory, experiment and research) will be detailed.  The revised program is the result of feedback from MAT Physics students who have clamored for a workable schedule that they can plan for with courses that offer a high level of physics content.  The program is designed to cater to individualized levels of ability and assessment and the credits for the course can be used toward both the MAT in Physics and in General Sciences programs and for  professional development (earning PDPs) as well.  Highlights include;  

•        a 3 Year fixed rotation of courses students can plan on.  

•        courses offered each fall and spring semester in the evening, convenient for teachers, along with a one-week summer course.

•        offer the opportunity to do a realistic thesis to be done with one of the BSU faculty in new Science Building.


8:15 Room C

Andrew Duffy:

Boston University

An Electronic Physics Textbook for the iPad
In this talk, I will report  on an ongoing project involving turning an introductory physics textbook into an iPad app (actually two  apps, one for each volume of the book). As of the end of February 2012, 11 chapters are finished and available through the App Store, and chapters are being added at the rate of one every 3-4 weeks. Ultimately, the project will have about 30 chapters. The electronic version of the book includes some simulations and animations, as well as links to some movies I have posted on YouTube for the students in my algebra-based introductory physics  course to use as they prepare for class. I will demonstrate some of the features of the electronic book, and talk about features I would like to add in future. Attendees who are interested will also be given codes to download the apps for  free.

8:30 Room C

Gary Garber and Leslie Schneider:

Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach InterLACE: Interactive Learning and Collaboration Environment

The InterLACE Project seeks to design, develop, and test an innovative web-based learning environment to support high school students in carrying out collaborative inquiry-based physics lessons. The InterLACE toolkit will provide both content and features that encourage discussion, debate, self-assessment, reflection, and collective sense making. Our goal is to minimize barriers to the implementation of collaborative inquiry-based lessons, such as time, technology, student experience, etc.  This  past year,  a design team of five teachers participated in the project.  This coming year we are expanding to include 20 teachers.

8:45 Room C

Juliet Jenkins:

Boston University Physics Department

Boston University PhysTEC and Teacher in Residence Explained

Boston University (BU) is one of the nation’s largest private universities with over 31,000 students. BU is an urban school with a long history of partnerships with high need districts in the Greater Boston area. As the first Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) site in New England, and one of a small number of sites in a major urban center, BU intends to be a national model for projects aimed at improving physics instruction in high-need areas. The  Teacher in Residence is a linchpin of most successful teacher preparation programs around the country.  The Teacher-in-Residence  (TIR) acts as an agent of change who applies classroom wisdom to the tasks of identifying, training, and supporting teachers of physics.   Come learn the details of our first year with this program at BU!


9:00 Room C
Vandana Singh: Framingham State University

More than “Cool Science:” Science Fiction and Science Fact in the Classroom

Science fiction in the form of stories and film has sometimes been used in the classroom to enable learning of physics concepts, and to stimulate the imagination.  This presentation describes a pilot study in which a science fiction short story was assigned to a calculus-based college physics class in combination with a science news article on the same theme.  Not only did this double assignment enhance the learning experience of the majority of students, it also stimulated speculations on the intersection of science/technology and society.  Because the story was emotionally engaging and elegantly written as well as fascinating from the scientific perspective, it allowed students to engage with the material in a more complete way.  A few students who ordinarily did not take an active part in classroom discussions wrote with feeling and intelligence about the multiple dimensions of the exercise.  In anticipation of a more detailed study, the author hypothesizes that carefully selected combinations of science fiction stories and science news articles can serve to accomplish more than enhanced learning and interest — that it may be possible to use such exercises to create well- rounded scientific thinkers able to move easily between scientific/technological and human aspects of real-world science.