Last week, I got fed up and couldn’t take it anymore.
I’m fortunate that many of my students are really curious about science and ask fantastic questions.
Sometimes these questions are directly related to the topic that we are investigating, and we discuss them immediately.
Sometimes these questions are unrelated to the topic at hand but are of a limited scope and can be discussed and as a short tangent to the “plan” for the day.
Sometimes these questions are directly related to a topic that we will study in the future, and we table them until that time.
Sometimes these questions are unrelated to anything we study, are not quickly discussed, and are fantastically engaging. Often these questions are in the area of modern physics. Since we don’t study anything in my regular or honors physics courses that was discovered within the last century, these topics are not part of the curriculum. (Yes, I’m working to address this.) An answer of, “we study that in Advanced Physics” is unsatisfying since most of my students won’t take a third semester of physics. Our curriculum, especially in honors physics, is so aggressive that we really don’t have the flexibility to chase down these fantastic tangents.
So, last week, while discussing the doppler effect in the context of sound, a student asked what would happen if a car traveling at the speed of light turned on its headlights? Would the doppler effect apply in some way? Wow. The other students were immediately engaged and started proposing ideas and more questions. I couldn’t bring myself to once again say, “we study that in Advanced Physics.” Instead, I got a huge sticky note, slapped it on the wall, titled it, “Physics Questions,” and added the question. I declared that we would capture fantastic questions like this and dedicate time later in the semester to have a series of short presentations and discussions to explore them. Students can research questions in which they are interested and I’ll take a few too.
They asked when we would do this. I Googled for Einstein’s birthday. March 14th. Someone remarked, “hey, that’s pi day!” Serendipity.
Anyone care to join us?