High School Mathematics-Physics SMILE Meeting
1997-2006 Academic Years
Miscellaneous Teaching Ideas

24 November SMILE: Sandra Broomes [Sherman School]
She distributed a hand-out concerning a problem involving sewers, which probably happens to some unfortunate person, somewhere, every day.

06 November 2001: Gerard Voland (Dean, Undergraduate College, IIT) and with two IIT Undergraduates; Mike Janowiak (International Engineering Consortium) Interprofessional Project (IPRO) on Engineering and Science Careers
They spoke to us about a website under development to promote careers in science and engineering, aimed at high school teachers and their students.  Mike represents the corporate sponsor of that project, which will operate for several semesters at IIT.  The objective of the website is to have interesting and accurate information on career options, as well as a broad spectrum of "fun projects in technology".

In the IPRO program, which has been operating at IIT for over 5 years,  all IIT undergraduates are required to complete two interprofessional projects in order to graduate. There have been about 500 IPRO projects at IIT during this period, with around 90 faculty members serving as project directors.  They passed out a survey for high school students and one for  high school teachers and guidance counselors, which we could freely share with colleagues.  The IPRO  Program maintains a website at http://ipro.iit.edu/.  One of the teachers mentioned an interdisciplinary program at South Suburban College in building and then flying an airplane.

Gerard  is seeking affiliations with regional high schools for this program to promote careers in engineering and science, and has already made arrangements with the Orland Park secondary school system.  If you would like more information, you may contact him [Tel: (312) 567-3036; Email: voland@.iit.edu ]

Gerard described the impetus for the IPRO project as being similar to the growth of the Moso [Chinese Bamboo] Plant:  [http://www.tytyga.com/product/Moso+Bamboo+Plants]

The moso is a bamboo plant that grows in China and other regions of the Far East. After the moso is planted, no visible growth occurs for up to five years--even under ideal conditions! Then, as if by magic, it suddenly begins growing at the rate of nearly two-and-one-half feet per day, reaching a full height of 90 feet within six weeks!

But it's not magic. The moso's rapid growth is due to the miles of [unseen] roots it develops during those first five years, five years of getting ready.

Source: http://www.appleseeds.org/Art_min.htm.

02 April 2002: Roy Coleman (Morgan Park HS Physics) -- CPS Restroom Policy Memo
handed out copies of the following memo that was recently passed out in his school:

Date: 01 April 2002

In the past, faculty and staff were permitted to make trips to the restroom under informal guidelines. Effective April 1, 2002, a new Restroom Trip Policy (RTP) will be established to provide a consistent method of accounting for each employee's restroom time and ensuring equal treatment of all CPS employees. This action is necessitated by a marked increase in restroom privilege abuse.

Under this policy, a Restroom Trip Bank (RTB) will be established for each employee. On the first day of the month, employees will be given a Restroom Trip Credit (RTC) of 20. Each time an employee uses the restroom, one trip credit will be deducted from his/her balance. Unused restroom trip credits (URTC) can be accumulated from month to month. However, this balance may not exceed 30.

Currently, the entrances to all restrooms are being equipped with Personnel Identification Stations and Computer-linked Voice Print Recognition. During the next two weeks, each employee must provide two voice prints (one normal, one under stress) to the main office. The Voice Print Recognition System (VPRS) will be operational, but not restrictive, for the month of April. Faculty and staff should acquaint themselves with the stations during that period.  Effective May 1, 2002, all VPRS will be fully activated and those potential restroom users without voice prints on file will be restricted from restroom use.

If an employee's restroom trip bank (RTB) balance reaches zero, the doors to all restrooms will not unlock to that employee's voice until the first day of the next month.

In addition, all restroom stalls are being equipped with timed paper roll retractors. If the stall is occupied for more than three minutes, an alarm will sound. Thirty seconds after the alarm sounds, the toilet paper in the stall will retract, the toilet will flush, and the stall door will automatically spring open.  Enjoy your April 1..

10 September 2002: Don Kanner (Lane Tech HS, Physics) Teaching of Reading of Physics Material
discussed how he uses selected passages from The Bard to teach the reading of Physics. As an example, consider this selection from Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1 [http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Macbeth/18.html]:

Thunder. Enter the three Witches
First Witch: Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.
Second Witch: Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.
Third Witch: Harpier cries 'Tis time, 'tis time.
First Witch: Round about the cauldron go; In the poison'd entrails throw. Toad, that under cold stone Days and nights has thirty-one Swelter'd venom sleeping got, Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.
ALL: Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Second Witch: Fillet of a fenny snake, In the cauldron boil and bake; Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog, Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting, Lizard's leg and owlet's wing, For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
ALL: Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Third Witch: Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf, Witches' mummy, maw and gulf Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark, Root of hemlock digg'd i' the dark, Liver of blaspheming Jew, Gall of goat, and slips of yew Silver'd in the moon's eclipse, Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips, Finger of birth-strangled babe Ditch-deliver'd by a drab, Make the gruel thick and slab: Add thereto a tiger's chaudron, For the ingredients of our cauldron.
ALL: Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Second Witch: Cool it with a baboon's blood, Then the charm is firm and good.
Don then asks the students to consider the following points:
  1. Draw a picture describing the situation. [visualization]
  2. Determine the meaning of any unknown words or phrases. [e.g., a brinded cat is not the same as a blinded cat or a branded cat, but rather a tawny or tabby cat] See the website http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com/macbeth/T41.html.
  3. List the items contained in the witches brew. [organize the information you have]
  4. Discuss the "higher level" meaning of the passage.  [e.g., Why are they making a potion and casting a spell?]

Don pointed out that one must carry out the same four steps in reading physics texts and laboratory manuals. He found that his Webster's International Unabridged Dictionary on CD was a big time-saver in class, and there are also web-based dictionaries, such as The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language http://www.bartleby.com/61/.

Don also mentioned the Peter Principle [source: http://www.bartleby.com/61/4/P0220400.html ]:

Peter Principle:  The theory that employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent. [After Laurence Johnston Peter (1919–1990).]

He discussed an extension of this idea as described in the book, The Running Dogs of Loyalty by Richard Gale Walker. For a review of the book, as well as information for obtaining it, see the website http://www.bookfinder4u.com/detail/0964797208.html. Very good, Don!

24 September 2002: Bill Colson (Morgan Park HS Mathematics) When Written Instructions Are Not Enough
challenged us by handing out copies of the following:

The Balloon Story
If the balloon popped, the sound wouldn't be able to carry since everything would be too far away from the correct floor.  A closed window would also prevent the sound from carrying, since most buildings tend to be well insulated.  Because the whole operation depends upon a steady flow of electricity, a break in the middle of the wire would also cause problems.  Of course, the fellow could shout, but the human voice is not loud enough to carry that far.  An additional problem is that a string could break on the instrument.  Then there could be no accompaniment to the message.  It is clear that the best situation would involve less distance.  Then there would be fewer potential problems.  With face-to-face contact, the least number of things could go wrong.
Your mission, if you should decide to accept it, is to draw a picture to describe what MIGHT BE under discussion.  Here is one possibility, which Bill had drawn:
. . . CAN YOU DO BETTER?? . . .

24 September 2002: Roy Coleman (Morgan Park HS, Physics) 1000 Thinks / Fermi Problems
asked us the following question: 
Q:  A gambler found dead at the race track had a $2 ticket that paid $20 in his pocket.  When/how did he die?  A:  Ten-to-one; a long shot!
Roy then showed us the following book
Title: 1000 PLAYTHINKS  Games of Science, Art, & Mathematics by Ivan Moscovich; Workman Publishing [http://www.workman.com/] 2002;  ISBN: 0-7611-1826-8 
Description: Games can help you change the way your students think. They can make your students more inventive, more creative, and can inspire them to tackle the unknowable - all in the name of fun. And fun (slyly mixed with educational challenges) abounds in the 1,000 full-color puzzles found in 1000 Play Thinks. Obsessive and head-scratching, this is a must-have collection of mental games, riddles, visual challenges, and puzzles, ranked in difficulty from 1 to 10. Complete with answer key. Grade Level: 3-12+ Information source: Zephyr Press [http://www.zephyrpress.com/]. A list of errata for that manuscript is maintained by Nick Baxter on the website 1000 Playthinks Errata [ http://www.baxterweb.com/puzzles/playthinks.htm].

Roy next brought up Fermi Questions.  For example, how might we obtain estimates for the following questions to within a factor of 10:

  1. Q:  How many blades of grass are there in the city of Chicago?
  2. Q.  How many times does a tire rotate in going from Chicago to Miami?
  3. Q:  How many marbles does it take to fill a bathtub?  [Be sure to plug the drain hole first!]
  4. Q:  What is the mass of the most popular car in the US, in grams?  A:  10 grams --- Matchbox cars
For a more complete compilation of such questions, see his SMILE lesson, 10HUH? at website ph8804.html.

28 January 2003: Roy Coleman [Morgan Park HS, Physics]      Wearing Your ID around Your Neck 
struggled to make sense of a memo received from the central office, in which everybody was required to wear the school ID around the neck.  How is it possible to obey this directive? After a period of desperation, he hit upon the idea of cutting his ID in such a way that it would have a sufficiently large opening in the middle, but still  would remain in one piece.  After some experimentation, he came up with an appropriate cutting pattern, which can be seen by clicking here.

09 December 2003: Earl Zwicker obtained an email message from a former SMILE participant and colleague, Arnold Burkert, calling attention to a presentation of how a mathematician, engineer, or scientist might write the  equation, 1 + 1 = 2, in a more "clear, scientific form". The result, then, should be more comprehensible to all concerned, shouldn't it? You may view a Microsoft Power-Point® presentation that appears on the [bilingual Afrikaans-English] website of the Department of Electrical, Electronic, and Computer Engineering of the University of Pretoria, South Africa  [http://www.ee.up.ac.za/main/en/index]. Thanks, Arnold and Earl!

25 January 2005: Roy Coleman [Morgan Park HS, physics]           NCLB and Miscellaneous Stuff 
Roy distributed a refinement of the proposed NCLB (No Child Left Behind) program, which contained some humorous acronyms, such as the following:

SMELL  (Special Mastery Elective for Learning Language)
PRUNES  (Preparatory Reading for Unprepared Nationally Exempted Students)
This refinement should help clear the air for the program.

Very informative, Roy!

18 October 2005: Dianna Uchida (Morgan Park HS, computing)                        Science Fair Projects
shared an article by Emilie Le Beau that appeared in Kid News: (11 October 2005, Chicago Tribune).  It gave the following 10 tips for preparing science fair projects --- particularly for students who waited too long and were short on time:

  1. Don't grow anything.
  2. Don't pick a people project.
  3. Explore a basic scientific principle.
  4. Don't try to catalog something in nature.
  5. Expand upon a popular project, such as crushing a soda can in cold water; see http://www.scifair.org.
  6. Use stuff you have at home
  7. Allow time to work on your presentation.
  8. Focus on science, not art.
  9. Surprise yourself.
  10. Get directions, such as given in the website http://www.all-science-fair-projects.com.
Good tips! Thanks, Dianna.

29 November 2005: Charlotte Wood-Harrington (Gwendolyn Brooks HS)                National Boards
recently became a certified as a physics teacher by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standardshttp://www.nbpts.org. It was a long, hard process, but she felt it was worthwhile. The current out-of-pocket cost of the program is $300. Charlotte gets a stipend from the State of Illinois for $2500-3000 per year for ten years.  Charlotte used the Chicago Teachers Union as a sponsor to the process. It has a very high rate of passing, but it requires a 25 page application (there is also an entrance through the PHD (Professional Honor of Distinction) program. Charlotte said that the writing requirement for the board exam involved a new skill that had to be learned. There are 6 subject matter tests (30 minutes each) as well as submission of videos made in the classroom. It took 2 years to complete, and seemed to Charlotte to be a little harder than getting a masters degree. Regarding the material level in the process, it is probably most likely that one would have to be a high school teacher to be successful in the process.  Thanks for the encouragement and the information, Charlotte!