Introduction to Physics

About me

My name is Gary Garber, and I have been teaching physics at Boston University Academy since 1999.  I had my start in teaching, presenting shows at a local planetarium in 1987 while attending the Loomis Chaffee School in Connecticut.  I then studied Astronomy at Haverford and Optics and Chaotic Dynamics at Bryn Mawr College.  After teaching physics and math at the Germantown Friends School, I studied photonics and biophysics at Boston University.  At BUA I have taught physics, math, and engineering.  I have supervised the science research and senior thesis programs, coached the Science Team and the Robotics Team for several years.

This year I am teaching physics, senior thesis, and the 11th grade STEM seminar.

Five years ago, I spent a sabbatical year at Tufts University working in the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach.  The CEEO is known for pioneering work with LEGO Mindstorms Robots and LabView Educational Software products.   At the CEEO I was the Design Team lead focused on developing software to allow students to engage in collaborative sense making for inquiry based science.  I am also actively involved in the physics teacher community and I am the past-president of the New England Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers.  Outside of the classroom I enjoy running, robotics, model trains, rockets, and airplanes.  In a former life I was a private pilot and while on sabbatical I also led a team of BUA faculty to fly an experiment on a NASA Reduced Gravity flight.   My wife, Catalina, teaches math at East Boston High School, and I have two sons Alejandro who is 13, and Leonardo, who is 9. I have written two books on the new LEGO Mindstorm EV3 kit which are available from Packt Publishing and on Amazon.  I am currently developing robotics curriculum for companies such as Mathworks and Intellitek.

Physics at BUA

In the traditional physics class, the Sage on the Stage would give dynamics lectures filled with riveting demonstrations.  Although exciting and effective for a certain number of students, educational research has shown this is as a whole one of the least effective methods for students to learn and retain a thorough understanding of physics.  All students will have different learning styles.  Although I love to give dynamic lectures I am one of those students for whom lectures are ineffective.

New Media, Collaboration, and Mentorship

The future of education lies on using the New Media in combination with collaboration and mentorship.  New Media Implies a combination of online videos integrated into interactive digital ‘texts.’   In your spare time, you can watch Woody Flower’s great ‘introduction’ on this topic.  I, and Madeline Hickman, the Teaching Fellow (TF) are the mentors to help you explore the physical universe.  Before my sabbatical, I used to lecture and students might absorb content as individuals.  In the Socratic tradition, I might ask a question and a student would answer and I would give affirmation or condemnation.  Only one of you might offer a comment at a time or ask a question to which I respond.  This is the Teacher-centric classroom.   You are entering a student-centric classroom.  You will work together in collaborative group sense making to understand the universe.  I and your TF are your Guides on the Side to help you learn.  Our classes will be discussion and inquiry based.  You are probably used to there being only one right answer in science.  In this class we will focus on the evolution of your thinking about the physical universe and not on “knowing the right answer.”  Often in our explorations there will not be a “right answer.”  You might be asked to design the experiment to test an idea.  Although this is easy to accomplish in the literature and history classroom, this is non-standard in a science classroom.   However, when read scientists work, they collaborate, discuss, explore, and engage in a variety of scientific processes to expand their understanding of world.  They are not following a recipe, and often they do not know the answers in advance.  If a scientist knew the right answer, there would be nothing to explore!

Visual Classrooms

To enable this model, my colleagues and I at Tufts University have pioneered an innovative technology called Visual Classrooms. Every small group of 2-4 students will have a laptop. I will pose questions to which you will have the opportunity to respond (or pose your own questions). You will be able to respond or comment on each other’s postings. Sometimes our discussions will take unexpected turns.  Some previous physics students have made the observation that we are combining learning with a Social Network such as Facebook. When investigating new scientific ideas through complex experiments and modeling, each group in the Social Network might approach from a different point of view. Some groups might use computer simulations or models.  Some groups will employ various technologies from stopwatches to ultrasonic motion sensors to video image analysis to help you probe the depths of the physical world.  By collaborating to understand the universe using different techniques and methodologies, we will gain a powerful understanding which I hope you will retain for the rest of your lives.

Educational Research

I must confess, to a degree, this is an experiment.  We are just on the cusp of understanding how the human mind learns.  We are at a stage in understanding human learning akin to where medicine was in the early 19th century, in the days of leaches and mercury pills.  We know that lecturing is an outdated and ineffective method of teaching.  To understand what is effective we must experiment and try new things.  So you are participants is a great educational experiment into the world of the human mind.  As a responsible researcher, I want your parents to understand this, and that I am observing how well you learn.  Not just to teach you, but to improve the state of physics education as a whole.

Learning at home and in class

We will be making extensive use of the New Media in this course.  Some of you may have teacher’s who have “Flipped” the classroom.  In the common usage, this means the teacher puts their lectures onto YouTube and the students spend their in-school doing “homework” assignments (sans discussion).  Since Visual Classrooms does slow the pace of content absorption down, you will be responsible for learning a certain amount of content outside of the classroom.   Given the different learning styles for students, you will have a choice of reading the textbook, surfing hypertext physics web pages, or watching videos from YouTUBE.  Whichever method you choose, you should learn, take notes, write down questions you have, or points you disagree with.   You can discuss these points in the online forums or in class. Visual Classrooms will be used as a tool for your online discussions as homework and in the classroom.   The way you learn the presented content is up to you, and you may need to experiment as to which method works best for you.  There may come times when only one of these methods is available.  Having said that, you will find I will in turn offer great flexibility when I cannot accommodate all learning styles.  I will periodically be checking to make sure you actually do take reading (or watching) notes.

Please review the following materials you will need for this class.

Also review the following types of assignments you will complete and will be evaluated on in this class.

There is also a description of additional resources. This link has information on extra credit, the Science Team, the Robotics Team, and other science related contests.