Learning Physics with Help from Makers

How cool it would be to tutor physics in an environment like this

Most of the students I tutor live here in Victoria but meet with me online. Pre-calculus, calculus and physics are my specialties. In previous posts and elsewhere on this site I have described how I use some very appropriate technology to overcome the limitations of Skype so that my online math sessions are every bit as effective as the in-person ones of the past. Today I want to talk about online physics.

Physics is obviously about the physical world. When I have worked with students in-person at their homes I have frequently used common household objects like pencils, erasers, paper, coins, elastic bands, string, etc. to demonstrate key concepts. This is fine as far as it goes but far too limited. Now that I deliver most of my lessons from home I have more options because I can have, within easy reach, a much wider variety of props than I could carry with me or reasonably expect to find on someone’s dining table.

The little alcove from which I deliver my online lessons is gradually morphing into a combination of video studio and physics lab and I fear that I will soon outgrow the space because it’s getting increasingly crowded with solenoids, magnets, resistors, capacitors, speakers, graduated cylinders, test-equipment, lenses and too many other items that I have accumulated over decades of being what it is now fashionable to call a “maker”. I will not show a photo of my tutor space because it’s starting to look like the basement of my house. If I had known things would turn out this way I would probably have just set up an online studio down in my workshop. Fortunately, I have another online math and physics tutor coming to visit next week so I have an incentive to get organized and restore the space to the way I originally envisioned it, with an emphasis on good audio and video quality.

Regardless of how good I get at delivering physics tuition online, I will never be able to be as helpful as I could if I worked with students in an environment like the one shown in the photo above. It links to a wonderful article about a project-based-homeschooling student who, with some some help from a local maker guild, learned far more from a project of her own imagination than she would have from a standard school physics lab.

“One of the most popular things about her exhibit was the fact that she displayed all the failed versions of the collar. She is now working on improving the collar to get it to a point where she can sell it, and in the process she is learning all about what it takes to run your own business.”

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