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Saturday, April 6th, 2013 10:33 am
Every time I start teaching quantum mechanics in intro physics, I wind up feeling a little disappointed. To most students it's just another set of equations to memorize; they don't understand how much of a radical departure it is from everything we knew before. I suppose that's inevitable to some degree, since modern kids are raised on a diet of atoms and electrons and what seemed radical a century ago is familiar today. But I'd still like them to understand that this is something New, and Important.

So I spent entirely too much of the past week writing something akin to a live-action role playing game. In class on Friday (and continuing into at least part of this coming Monday), the students became world class scientists trying to figure out the "newly discovered" photoelectric effect. They're each a supporter of one of two competing theories of how light (classical electromagnetic waves) interacts with a metal surface to eject electrons and cause current to flow. On Friday, I welcomed them to the conference in the role of the physics department chair at the host institution:

[I stole this picture from a student's public Facebook post, by the way: thanks David T!] In their two big groups and then in six smaller lab groups, the students assembled a set of graphs illustrating their competing predictions, and then the leader of each main group presented their results to the conference.

And after that, the experimental data came in ("from the experimental conference down the hall"). Both groups got some things right, but fundamentally, everyone was wrong! So on Monday we reconvene to see if we can puzzle out the true story. I have absolutely no idea how that's going to go. I've tried to seed elements of the real (quantum!) explanation among them, and if anyone is particular clever or eager to get it right they might think to actually read the textbook. (On their own!) We'll find out! If nothing else, it was clear that they had a lot of fun with the activity, and they really were thinking hard about what their predictions should look like. I feel good about it.

In case you're curious, I'm including a glimpse of one character sheet here. I'll stick it behind a cut:

Five internet points to the first person to identify the sources of all the names used here. :)
Saturday, April 6th, 2013 06:21 pm (UTC)
That looks totally awesome!! Your students are so lucky! I imagine "Tinco" is for the element Tin, is Turgon for the element Argon? I have no idea where Parma comes from and can't remember the names of any of our old professors.

I hope you put "Copyright Alma College" on your papers as marketing material, because those are totally going to be posted to the internet by your students, and you might as well get the credit for them.

Saturday, April 6th, 2013 07:13 pm (UTC)
Professors Calma and Quessa must be in the other group. ;)

(No, I didn't know that off the top of my head. Had an inkling, though.)

((That pun was honestly unintentional but awesome.))
Saturday, April 6th, 2013 07:28 pm (UTC)
1. Professors Calma and Quesse are indeed in the other group. (The next four professors are a little less accurate: there were some variant choices depending on the reference source, so I picked the ones that sounded most natural as names. I tweaked a few of them to be more distinct or less weird, too.) For the record, the other main group is headed by Professor Felagund; that's a not-unreasonable pairing. [I didn't make any attempt to name the grad students: the same source couldn't give me *that* many names, I didn't have time, and I couldn't figure out any way to give just a last name without using a gender-specific title. Thank goodness for "Dr." and "Prof."!]

2. That was indeed a fantastic pun, doubly so for being unintentional. :)
[identity profile] troels forchhammer (from livejournal.com)
Sunday, April 7th, 2013 01:35 am (UTC)
I bet the good professor is a true book-lover ... ;-)