# A physics lesson in speed and velocity – Part 1

Let me walk you thru a session with my children on (un) teaching them basic concepts of speed and velocity… thru a series of posts.

At the end of the posts I will deconstruct the method behind this approach.

Scene 1: Luke Skywalker gets on his pod. He needs to get to the Sand Dunes on the planet of Tatooine. He travels north for 3 Kms. At the Dulcos pass he takes a left turn to go west. He then travels 5 Kms. At that point he suspects that the sand people may be stalking the area ahead. So he turns north again and travels for 7 Kms. He then reaches the Sand Dunes of Tatooine.

1. Can you draw the journey? Make sure you draw the pod, sand people and the mountains. Any other aliens and planetary images get extra points 🙂
2. How much did Luke travel in all?
3. How much did Luke travel North? West?

Luke traveled a ‘distance‘ of 15 Kms in all. In the direction of North he only traveled 10 Kms. So the ‘displacement‘ is 10 Kms North. Similarly, his ‘displacement‘ west is 5 Kms.

Here is the picture from Star Wars on the two suns setting in the planet of Tatooine.

A shot of Luke Skywalker and his pod.

As the text book definition [2] goes:

Distance and displacement are two quantities that may seem to mean the same thing yet have distinctly different definitions and meanings.

• Distance is a scalar quantity that refers to “how much ground an object has covered” during its motion.
• Displacement is a vector quantity that refers to “how far out of place an object is“; it is the object’s overall change in position.

Displacement has a value and direction (called vector in physics). Distance just has value (called scalar). As we go along we will see why the distinction is needed.

References:

# Absolutely nothing about the bird

You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing — that’s what counts” – Richard Feynman

# Meeting interesting people

Path to excellence is about finding your passion and expressing yourself in a voice that is your own. Meeting interesting people who do that can be a great way to (un) teach children how to do that. But, life of a middle class family is pretty predictable. Most people make safe choices out of fear than love or passion.

The social network around a middle class family is very homogeneous. You encounter a very predictable class of people. So how do your break out of that band and get your kids to meet interesting people?

I think the online world comes to the rescue here. I recommend the following shows that give us a peak into the world of interesting people. You can watch them and introspect on the takeaways from the stories. I always ask them to synthesize back the human thinking behind the stories. Why did he/she do what they did. The struggles. The choices.

Emphasize the choices and what it takes to live with those.

# Start unfocused

I often try to carve out a time for my kids to learn and for me to teach on the weekend. I go in all excited and focused.

I am often faced with a lot of ‘avoiding’  techniques.Looks of distraction/boredom, bouts of silly laughter, hunger pangs, extreme body itching or rubbery spine.

I started getting irritated and pushed for greater focus. How can they not see the plans I am making?? That always lead to bouts of crying or complaining.

I then tried a very different tack. Go with the flow. Crack a joke  or two. Defuse the situation.  Then slowly nudge the conversation towards the current topic. Tell stories. Arouse curiosity. Create a sense of intrigue.

Let them ease into it. Don’t force  it. Kids don’t turn on immediately. The insight was to let them be. Let them be playful. That’s what kids do. Play.

Let’s start unfocused. Focus follows curiosity and fun for kids. May be for everyone!!

# Why programming is not just about programming computers…

Kids should be taught programming. But not with the purpose of writing computer programs.

Instead they should learn programming to develop a new way of thinking – concepts such as iterations,  use of variables,  reusable blocks,  error handling to refine the solution. To give them a powerful tool to simulate real life and refine their mental models. To allow them to visualize outputs in interesting ways than just drab equations.

Can we unteach physics or math or biology or even languages thru programming?

Does programming offer a safe and a low cost way to fail in the journey of solving a problem?

Will programming develop abstraction of ideas and their implementation?

# Understanding Constructionism

Seymour Papert defined a concept he called Constructionism [1], [2] in his proposal [3] to the National Science Foundation. This concept can be a very powerful learning model to rethink how you can unteach to kids.

The word constructionism is a mnemonic for two aspects of the theory of science education underlying this project. From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a meaningful product. [4]

Constructionist learning is when learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. Constructionism advocates student-centered, discovery learning where students use information they already know to acquire more knowledge. Students learn through participation in project-based learning where they make connections between different ideas and areas of knowledge facilitated by the teacher through coaching rather than using lectures or step-by-step guidance. Further, constructionism holds that learning can happen most effectively when people are active in making tangible objects in the real world. In this sense, constructionism is connected with experiential learning and builds on Jean Piaget’s epistemological theory of constructivism. [1]

This can be translated into 3 key ideas as we think of a new way of learning and teaching:

1. Learners need to reconstruct what they learned … assemble the pieces like building Lego models … and they finally assemble a mental model of how things work in their own mind
2. This activity of recontructing is more effective if the end product is a tangible real life meaningful object
3. The role of the teacher is to facilitate that reconstruction and call out the reusable pieces as you go along (Interestingly this is very closely related to the concept of learning thru Chunking and connecting the chunks, Barbara Oakley talks at length in these videos on Chunking [5])