BERKELEY COSMOLOGY GROUP
July 7 - July 30, 2002
Last spring, at the UC Berkeley Science Coalition's initiative, the Physics Department had been invited by Emery Unified School District to help develop a physics curriculum unit for 8th-graders who had to attend a summer school program in Emeryville in order to enter 9th grade. The students needed to make significant progress in their mathematics and science understanding before graduating to high school.
Two research groups in the department—lead by Prof. Bernard Sadoulet and Prof. Adrian Lee—teamed up to form an Education Outreach Task Force. We were asked to prepare some hands-on activities that would introduce the students to the concepts of kinetics and dynamics in a fun and exciting way and reinforce their basic knowledge of mathematics. We organized the lessons in three three-day modules, using skateboards/scooters and rockets for demonstrations. The goal was to engage the students and emphasize connection between fundamental physics concepts and everyday life. The class of 25 was taught by two teachers; we provided the activity materials, conducted teacher training, and helped in the classroom instruction during the three weeks of school.
After the first three days of classroom activities, it was apparent that the students lacked basic math skills; continuing with lessons as planned would have been counterproductive. By incorporating more examples of simple arithmetic problems, the science concepts introduced in the lessons made suddenly more sense, and the excitement about this new comprehension was quite visible. The teachers observed that by the end of the program, the relationship between numbers and physical ideas started to form clearly in students’ minds, and their math skills significantly improved. Some students began to show genuine interest in learning more and stayed after school hours to play with TI distance meter devices trying to figure out the difference between constant speed and acceleration.
Working in close partnership with the teachers was essential to the success of the program, and the direct interaction with students was an exhilarating experience. The positive feedback from both teachers and students made our efforts worthwhile.
Last revised: 15 May 2003