'Angry Birds' and teaching physics

CorrespondentSeptember 26, 2011 

John Burk is a ninth-grade physics teacher at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta. On his blog Quantum Progress ( quantumprogress.wordpress.com), he writes about the best methods for communicating science in the classroom. Follow him on Twitter at @occam98. Questions and answers have been edited.

Q: What prompted you to start blogging?

I'd been following a number of teacher bloggers for quite a number of years, and I just thought it was time to start sharing some of what I was doing rather than reading and taking things from others.

Q: How effective have you found your use of video games like "Angry Birds" in your physics curriculum?

The awesome thing about video games is that they're a completely undiscovered world. As a student, you don't know what the laws of physics are governing why the birds fly through the sky. With software tools, you can analyze it. You can figure out how big those birds are, whether the laws of physics in "Angry Birds" land match the physics in our land. And it's very similar to what scientists have to do. Many times they're exploring something they can't go out and reach.

Q: What role does the blog community you've built have in your teaching?

It's been incredible, because we now have a community of something like 100 physics teachers who are really active in helping one another out. Every week now, we gather for something called the "Global Physics Department." Every Wednesday night, 20 to 30 teachers get together online and listen to a presentation. About five weeks ago, we had somebody from Australia speaking about his physics Ph.D. research. Ten years ago, if there was a problem I couldn't solve or I didn't know the best way to teach something, the chance of me figuring it out was very small. Now I can submit a blog post, go to bed and wake up the next morning and have feedback from two or three people.

Q: Have you used the blog as another venue for continuing education?

I teach with five other great physics teachers, but none of them are professors of physics. The insights I get from having professors say, "Well in my classroom, we're getting high school students who can't do this. This is what I'd like to see." That's really great feedback.


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