This fall, PCD's Conceptual Physics class is completing labs in person — for the first time since March. "One of our recent labs was really cool," says Mathematics and Science Teacher Emet Schartz. "We took a wooden dowel and a weight which were supported by tension in a string. What we saw was that the tension in the string was at an angle and it was composed of two different forces: horizontal force by the dowel and vertical force provided by the weight. So we took those two separate components and saw how they resolved into a net force and how everything related to that."
Since the lab required that multiple measurements be simultaneously taken from a distance closer than six feet, everyone in the room wore masks and face shields. This presented a unique challenge as face shields fogged up while students tried to read data points. The current situation, says Schwartz, "comes with challenges, but it's nothing that's insurmountable."
This can-do attitude has helped Schwartz adapt his classes to the current climate and even design his labs to allow in-person and virtual students to work side-by-screen. The communication and coordination required for these hybrid groups "really does help with group project collaborative work," says Schwartz, "which is a challenging aspect both of the college experience and working in engineering." In these situations, Schwartz points out, you're often working in groups and communicating critical information to one another as the work progresses.
As the school year continues, Schwartz is remaining flexible and open to adapting his labs to better fit evolving situations. When one of his virtual students requested video closeups to better view in-progress labs, Schwartz readily accepted the idea. "This whole lab experience is something that will be changing throughout the year," he says. "As new information arises and new situations take place, I think the trick is to be as fluid and malleable as possible."
At the end of the day, however, these labs are all about enjoying and exploring physics. "Physics is awesome," says Schwartz. "It's that simple. And everyone already knows physics. Everything we already do is physics. Every day we walk, breathe, and balance, and that's what we're learning about."
This excitement for physics is even more evident towards the end of the conversation when Schwartz mentions one of his favorite Advanced Physics labs. "We take carts and smash them into bricks," he grins, "which is always a good time." And, it seems, a highly effective way to learn about f=ma.