Last week, Ralph was kind enough to lend me a copy of Simply Physics, an introductory physics textbook that his father, Terry Hall, wrote in 1980, the year I was born.
As I fingered through it, I knew that this book was different than our text now. First, it’s small: less than 200 pages, as compared to our current book which is a order of magnitude greater. What also struck me were all the simple images of lab equipment and the ties to how you could test these fundamental physics ideas in the real world. Now it seems that texts are filled with these ridiculously long passages of text, complicated images, and almost no discussion of how you could design experiments. In fact, eye-tracking software has actually shown that students spend more time looking at the distractors in these complicated images than the relevant picture. For instance, if there’s a truck on an incline plane and the truck driver is standing near the truck, people divert their attention to the driver rather than the truck. Simply Physics keeps it simple. It’s about the physics, the experiments and practice problems for students to try on their own. Hmm..if Terry Hall wrote Simply Physics in the world of new media, what could his book do?
Last class, Janine and Nathan challenged us to create a metaphor for future new media, and Bob’s Dream Machine seemed to strike a chord within our group (Ralph mentioned guitars..I can’t help myself). This got me thinking…what if we could take a book like Simply Physics and make it an interactive simulation (go ComputerLib!) which anticipates our thoughts and reasoning processes in order to provide us with a targeted laboratory experience?
The screen opens with a virtual piece of lab equipment (let’s say it’s a pendulum bob) and shelves of tools/meters/watches/probes etc. You begin to play with the equipment while eye tracking software and mouse tracking software record how you observe and interact with the pendulum. It then asks you to state your observations and based on these inputs, it presents a few open ended questions to guide your thinking towards important relationships. What do you think would happen if the length of the string were longer? Like a good inquiry based teacher, it won’t let you try it until you give a prediction. You enter your prediction, then change the length of the pendulum and record your new observations. If there’s something that you notice (it swings faster at the bottom now than it did before) but you didn’t notice that the whole swing took a longer amount of time, it might say, “What do you think would happen to the period of the swing?” You give it your prediction. “How can you test this?” You have to realize what equipment to grab, get it from the virtual shelf, and try it…Students can create their own experiments (motivation!) and be prepared for a more elaborate lab experience in the classroom setting.
Could this be the future of pre-lectures? I think it would beat Khan Academy.