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Responding Better to Student Bashing

November 5, 2017

I have become pretty emotionally sensitive to instructor dialogue that is explicitly geared toward bashing students, whether it be about a specific student or students in general. It sort of feels like I’m being attacked when I’m around this kind of talk, and my body prepares for “fight or flight”. While I do think it’s important to call out student bashing, the emotional state I get into often drives me into an unproductive attack mode. Instead of drawing attention to the behavior, I respond by attacking the person before me, usually by redirecting the attack toward something they hold dear. 

I’m writing about this because I’d like to 

(1) be more explicit about calling out of student bashing behavior when it is done in a casual manner or in a vicious / callous manner. I think in these cases directly calling it out is a decent option. I should try to remain calm but firm, while trying not to sound holier than thou. Maybe an impossible balance, but I have and probably will engage in some form of student bashing, so I need to learn to callout the behavior, not the person.

(2) on the flip side, be more accepting of the big feelings that can behind student bashing. These can include feelings of powerlessness, vulnerability, despair, resignation, self-loathing, and culpability as much as they can also be about frustration, anger, indignation, and resentment.
I’d like to be better at redirecting the student bashing toward a recognition and acceptance of those feelings, rather than my normal response which is to redirect the bashing toward another victim. 

Student bashing can, I think, be a cry out for sympathy or assurance. I can be a better colleague by responding with sympathy and assurance about these feelings without sympathizing with nor assuring the student bashing.

I can say, “I too am a teacher. I too am powerless.”


Impulse Momentum Brain Dump

November 4, 2017

Curriculum development has moved me in a direction of teaching momentum in following order.

First: impulsive forces 

Investigating impulsive forces–factors that effect peak force and duration. We us force sensors and change factors like mass, speed, bumper stiffness in collisions with a wall.

We then introduce and practice with impulse and change in momentum, both with sensors and logger pro and by hand. Clicker questions, ranking tasks, and a problem to determine the impulse and peak force of a baseball bat on a base ball.

Second: Collisions

Investigating elastic collisions comes first. Doing this helps conceptualize the process as momentum transfer. We start with equal masses. All the momentum is transferred. We then look at cases where some but not all of the momentum is transferred, and finally when more momentum is transferred than one had to begin with. 

After observing and discussing qualitatively, we get quantitative, but I don’t have students predict anything. We observe and analyze it in terms of momentum, for the purpose of determining how much momentum was transferred. We draw before during after diagrams.

At end, we see that the momentum of each system is constant, and I introduce concept of an isolated system We look at explosions next as another example of isolated systems that starts with zero momentum. Students analyze mock explosion data and sort them into possible and impossble explosions. A little bit of neutrino history gets sprinkled in here. 

Finally we look at Inelastic collisions, and this is the first time students use momentum conservation to make predictions. Studnets  predict final velocity, but then must also determine how much momentum was transferred. Doing so involved practice shifting perspective, from system to individual objects.  

Many times people start with Inelastic collisions, but I think that’s a mistake. While you can calculate easily, it obscures transfer. Elastic better promotes transfer idea I think.

What students find confusing and interesting

October 25, 2017

Here are snippets from students’ writing about what is confusing and interesting during the semester. Enjoy!


The most confusing thing about Newtons’ third law is that action and reaction forces occur simultaneously at the same time. How do they happen at the same time?


It is interesting how static friction is greater than kinetic friction. Thus, explaining why it is easier to keep a box moving than it is to start it moving.


I like seeing that the problems build off things we already learned. We have to incorporate kinematics into force problems so it keeps me from forgetting things and also shows me the big picture of why we learned it in the first place.


The topic I found most interesting the acceleration on an inclined plane as its interesting in splitting up the weight into two forces and being able to calculate the acceleration with trigonometry. I like to be able to really see how trigonometry can work in real situations such as calculating acceleration as in Figure 3.23.


The most interesting to me is Newton’s Second Law and I think the reason why is because it makes sense and I understand it!


The interesting part of the reading and the example problems and sections is how all of what we have learned in the reading before is found in almost every problem in order to work it out.I think its interesting how there is always a Free body diagram used in almost all problems and how there is always acceleration and velocity in every problem. Its interesting to see Newtons laws applied to every problem done in class and seen in the examples.


I still find it fascinating how the concepts all come together like a big puzzle. I understand why some higher level math is important to learn before getting involved in the concepts in physics. It is like building a car engine. Without all the pieces the engine may not make the car run, but with all the pieces perfectly aligned the engine will be amazing for the car.


The most interesting thing that I found in the assigned reading was the fact if a cart was going down a ramp and suddenly the incline vanished, the cart would experience free fall. I guess I just never genuinely thought about what would happen if you were to take away that angle.


I find it interesting that when an object is on an incline, we can change the x and y axis to match the incline.


The topic that I found that was most interesting was the use of trigonometry in physics. I find it interesting that all of this stuff go well together and that 3 +4 can equal 5.


Realizing that the combine force of the tension force and the normal needed to equal the weight force. For the group problem in class on Thursday, I initially thought that we could find normal force by using the Pythagorean theorem to find the numerical value for normal force. However, one of the group members explained that since the normal force arrow and the tension force arrow would not form a triangle therefore the Pythagorean theorem could not be used to find normal force. To calculate normal force we had to subtract the tension force from the weight force.


The topic that I found most interesting was one of the topics I found to be most confusing, which was the elevator scenario and its sensations. It is interesting to see why we feel the way we do when riding an elevator, whether that being we feel lighter or heavier during our elevator ride. It is also interesting to see and think about scale measurements on an elevator, and how we can apply our knowledge of forces to justify these happenings.


I think it is very interesting that scales measure apparent weight and not your actual weight. The fact that you can change a reading on a scale or that you are weightless in free fall is very interesting.


The most confusing part of class so far for me is the velocity vs time graphs and the position vs time graph. I have a hard time with graphs in general, so in class I am getting them confused and putting/drawing the wrong things down. Nothing else is confusing to me about the lecture, but I do need more practice with graphs.


The sign of acceleration can be confusing, since it is natural to think that speeding up would mean positive acceleration, and slowing down would mean negative acceleration. Since that is not necessarily the case, I would like to talk about the way direction affects the sign of acceleration, in a way that makes it easily understandable.


I am having a hard time understand acceleration with velocity-versus-time graphs. Also understanding the whole concept behind the slope of the velocity-versus-time graph regarding acceleration. Understanding that acceleration as the slope of the velocity graph forces us to pay careful attention to the sign of acceleration. An object undergoing constant acceleration has a straight line. However, a straight line can be towards the positive or negative direction so it then changes the whole interpretation of the graph in assessing acceleration. Reading velocity-versus-time graphs and applying that information to the concept of acceleration.


I found it very interesting that all of the areas under the velocity vs time graphs can be divided into triangles and rectangles to find the total area underneath. This really simplifies the process and takes a concept that seems scary and breaks it down into simple geometry.


Acceleration in general in interesting to me. It is nature to thing when an object is speeding up with would automatically have positive acceleration and negative acceleration when slowing down. After class I now realize that this is not the case and that direction is actually a very important concept. Knowing rather an object is speeding up or slowing down and which direction it is traveling in will in fact lead you to rather the acceleration is positive or negative.


The topic that I found most interesting was honestly how much information you could get from a velocity vs. time graph. I mean, ultimately, you can find the position, distance, displacement, acceleration–pretty much everything we have talked about so far.


The topic that I had enjoyed the most would be that the velocity is the slope of the position versus time graph and that the acceleration is the slope of the velocity versus time graph. I find that interesting that those three go hand in hand. I also find it interesting that you can find the acceleration, velocity and the displacement just by looking at the velocity versus time graph. There are so many ways to acquire data by just one or two graphs.


The topic that I found to be most interesting was the concept of constant acceleration in the example of the rocket as the rocket has a constant velocity but the acceleration is zero, so the relationship is similar to the position and time graphs to velocity and time graphs. I like looking at similar relationships and this made my understanding of acceleration better.


I found interesting how the acceleration vector has an easy way to remember in which direction it goes. When the velocity is speeding up the vectors of acceleration and velocity are in the same direction and when the velocity vectors are slowing down the acceleration and velocity vectors are going in different directions.

Friction Problem

October 13, 2017

The problem that gripped students this week was this:

A car traveling at 20 m/s slows to a stop in 50 m. A 70 kg passenger rides with out a seat belt. The coefficients of static and kinetic friction between the seat and the passenger are equal to 0.3 and 0.2, respectively. 

Does the passenger slide in his seat? If so, how does the passenger’s acceleration compare to the car’s acceleration? 

Brian’s theory of teaching

October 13, 2017

1st order approximation: what you say and do doesn’t really matter and has no effect on student learning. 
2nd order: what you say and do strongly affects how students feel… how they feel about you, where they are, who else they are with, themselves, etc. 

3rd order: how students feel about all that stuff affects what they do, but also how they go about doing those things, and how the things they do at one moment relate to other moments and other things. 

4th: what there is to do depends on what an environment makes possible for doing. And since not all environments are equally good for all kinds of doing, a thoughtfully and carefully arranged environment is needed if you care about what it is students might do and how they might go about doing those things.

5th: every once a while students will be doing certain kinds of somethings and feeling certain kinds of ways, and what you say will matter. It will be consequential to what they do next…

Conclusion: spend most of your time on preparing that environment and on nurturing those feelings so as to create a few moments here and there where what you say matters. Try not to fuck it up. But you probably will, at least some the time, and that’s ok too. Just get back to working on the things that matter. 

Friction Stations 

October 12, 2017

Merit Pay as Wage Theft

October 12, 2017

One of the ways in which I see the coming of merit pay and the process we are engaging in differently than my colleagues is this:

I see merit pay through the lens of wage theft. We are basically being told from the administration and board that, soon, future earnings will be stolen from our non-tenure track colleagues and that this money will soon be up for grabs. To distract us from the scheme, the administration has asked us to come up with our own metrics for how we will redistribute these stolen wages amongst ourselves. This slight of hand works, in part, because we have already fallen into the trap of falling in line to make sure that only tenure track faculty are at the bargaining table. Not surprisingly, in a department of 16 full time employees, the bargaining table includes 9 men and 1 woman, and excludes 4 women and 2 men. 

And not surprisingly, the adminstarion has given us an excuse for why to not include them–they (probably) won’t be eligible for merit pay. Of course, you don’t invite the people you are stealing money from. Of course you don’t make it possible for the people you are stealing from to earn it back. Staff in our department I think make about half the salary as tenure track and about a third the amount of our chair. Instructors are not eligible for promotions. I’d rather not pretend that our merit raises dont come at suppressed earnings for our colleagues. 

I’m of mind to at least consider refusing to play the game as the boards wants us to play it. But it’s tempting for our group to “go along” with these changes as “inevitable”, and to see political dissidence on the matter as “unrealistic”, or as “causing trouble” … it’s also tempting for the group to position views like mine as “causing dischord”. Many don’t like idea of Merit pay and reasonably worry that merit pay will contribute to an unhealthy workplace, and with that worry fresh in mind, it’s tempting to let my controversial position slip into that bucket. “Oh can’t we all just accept this and move along… It would much easier if you could be a team player… your tactics would just make it worse for everyone” and of course, no one is explicitly saying those things, but that’s the power dynamic. It’s just easier to start debating the finer points of merit pay rubrics than it is to face the possibility of our complicity in wage theft. No one wants to hear that. 

Plus, the only reason I can even think of writing this in a public place is because I am tenured. That gives me some power to take politically risky positions, but still my power is pretty limited. 

Edit: here is some my current thinking about how to resist while playing the game.

– write rules for merit based pay, but do so in a way that blunts or prevents them from being implemented unless certain conditions are first met. Those conditions could include clauses like (1) all staff and faculty in department must have had cost of living of raises over the past few years at or above inflation, (2) the median salaries for department employees must be nationally competitive for similar institutions, (3) … clauses could address gender pay gaps, staff pay, adjunct pay, whatever. The idea this that merit pay would be distributed to address such short comings before they could be distributed according to merit.  Everyone in the department should be at the table to help us decide.