Day 16: 9 Thermal Physics Stations

Thursday, Sept 20

Physics: Continuing to practice projectile motion. Made definite sure to go over the monkey/ecologist problem (I’m not a fan of monkey hunters, but an ecologist temporarily tranquilizing a monkey for good, wholesome science reasons is ok in my book). I also flubbed up the explanation something terrible and started trying to use math and equations that aren’t in the book and confused myself and was unable to shift gears as quickly as necessary. I cut off my explanation and promised to do better the next day.

Honors Physics: Our first lab-y lab where students did things and observed things and played with stuff instead of researching effects of climate change! Researching the effects of climate change is super important and one of those real-life applications they asked for at the beginning of the year, so I felt it was a pretty good way to get the year started, but now we’re into DOING STUFF! Yaaaaaay! I promised them I would have their exams graded today, so that took precedence over getting the lab set up early (which would have been a bad idea, anyway, considering there was a class not taught by me in here before the lab). Speaking of the exam, they did SUPER well. I mentioned how well they did and said what this means is that I went too easy on them. They all instantly exclaimed that no, it means I’m a really good teacher and taught them so well and they learned so well and it’s at the perfect level and everything is fine.

Good try, kiddos. I’m taking things up a notch.

Anyway, for the lab, I worked on setting things up while they worked on the daily discussion questions, then we discussed those, and then I kept setting up while they looked over the exams I passed back, then we talked about a few more topics I wanted them to know before I introduced them to all the stations and got them started on six of them while I got the last three completely set up.


  1. Melting blocks. A metal and plastic block. Feel ’em. Predict where ice will melt faster. Throw an ice cube on each. Observe.
  2. Galilean Thermometer. This one didn’t work at all the way I wanted, but them’s the breaks. The goal was to watch the little bobbles inside the thermometer go around when you dip the thing in ice water and warm water, but it takes too long to reach thermal equilibrium and for the things to move. Not a short lab station type thing it turns out. NOW I KNOW.
  3. Air pressure 1. Using Rachel Ray bowl topper thingies to look at atmospheric pressure.
  4. Air pressure 2. Using some of those things where you pull a handle and it turns into a suction cup. Had them try it on the table, and then put two of them together and try to pull them apart.
  5. Syringes. Gave them three syringes. Had them stick their thumb over the end and try various things to feel how pressure and volume are related.
  6. Fizz Keeper and Marshmallows. Got an empty plastic  bottle and put inside marshmallows and an aquarium thermometer. Popped a fizz keeper on top. Students pump them up an watch the marshmallows shrink, feel the pressure increase, and observe the temperature increase. This one is pretty neat.
  7. Calorimetry. Put a hot hanging mass in a cup of water and measure change in temp. Find heat capacity of metal piece.
  8. Newton’s Law of Cooling. Had a couple flasks and some hot water. Had a couple beakers, one with ice water and one with room temp. Put hot water in the flask, dunk in the beakers, and observe the temperature change over time to compare rates of cooling.
  9. Heating and Cooling a Closed Vessel. Pop an empty, capped water bottle in really hot water. It goes POOFY. Pop it into some ice water. It becomes super sad. Very quickly showing the relationship between temp and pressure.

The assignment is to choose four of the 9 stations and explain them in excruciating detail using the physics we’ve learned and also the physics we will be learning tomorrow and in the early part of next week. I hope this satisfies their desires for a lab-y lab.

Some pictures:

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My room is now covered in water, and I broke one of our few 1L beakers by dropping a hanging mass on its rim while attempting to show the students what to do. I instead showed them what I very, very much wanted them not to do, please. Plus sides: Now I know where the broken glass container is, where they keep the good thermometers (mine were all either Hg which I try to avoid using or alcohol thermometers with bubbles in them from being stored on their sides), and where I can snag a couple hot plates when I need ’em. Educational for everyone!

AP Physics: Exam! Got feedback that the kids felt good about it. It may be the same problem as the Honors exam, but I already knew I needed to take things up a notch here, anyway. Next week lab time will be AP question practice so I can start upping the difficulty.

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