Usque Conabor

Posted in General on June 28th, 2007

Usque ConaborI was very happy to watch our new Prime Minister make his short speech with his wife, Sarah by his side outside No. 10 Downing Street this evening. Not only because I know him to be the kind of man who will make right, honest and robust choices for our country, but also because he made reference to the fact that he would not be where he is today were it not for the opportunities given to him when he was at Kirkcaldy High School.

The school may be a little different now compared to then but the motto to which the Prime Minister referred, Usque Conabor (I will strive to my utmost), is just as applicable to our people today - if not more so.

Here is Prime Minister Brown’s speech: Read the rest of this entry »

What does this tell me, actually?

Posted in Mathematics on June 27th, 2007

In this week’s Times Educational Supplement magazine, three facts are presented:

  • 25% of pupils achieved level 3 in key stage 1 reading tests in England in 2006
  • 21% of boys achieved level 3 in key stage 1 reading tests in England in 2006
  • 30% of girls achieved level 3 in key stage 1 reading tests in England in 2006

Interesting. If these figures are true, girls do better than boys in this assessment. There’s something else here, though: these statistics tell us the ratio of boys to girls who were assessed. For every 10 boys, how many girls are there?

Click here for the answer.

Measuring the speed of light in the kitchen

Posted in Physics on June 23rd, 2007

What does a physics teacher do on a rainy Saturday afternoon?
Why, some physics, of course.
We need a lab.
The lab
I know it looks like a kitchen. It is a kitchen. Let’s find something to do with physics. Read the rest of this entry »

i’m in ur fizx lab…

Posted in Physics on June 17th, 2007

…testn ur string therry

Scottish Education Awards 2007

Posted in General on May 26th, 2007

Those of you who attend my school, Kirkcaldy High School in Fife, will know that we work hard to get the best out of our opportunities. The Institute of Physics has this year recognised the Head of Physics, Mr. Cunningham, with a Teacher of the Year award.

Now the school is in the running for two of the top Education Awards in Scotland. On 15th June, the winners will be announced. The school itself is a finalist for the Best Employer Partnership award for Mrs. Kinghorn’s excellent links with MGt Plc. Mr. Duffy (Physics and Mathematics) is a finalist for Probationary Teacher of the Year.

Keep your eye on the news and the awards website to see how we get on. Win or not, this is great recognition for your school and your teachers and this site applauds the efforts made to get so far in this fierce competition.

Exam post-mortem

Posted in Physics on May 16th, 2007

Initial feedback from candidates is that all of the papers were fair: SG Physics General seemed harder than Credit (it’s about knowing your facts, folks) and the AH, H and I2 papers were reasonable. Some even said they enjoyed them!! Some good predictions coming out of these from those who have worked hard to prepare. If you are one of those, then well done!!!

Mr. Cunningham and I have had a quick look at the papers and think there may be some awkward or even unfair questions. I personally did not like some of the questions in the Intermediate 1 paper at all. Check back soon, we’re going to try and put up some answers for those just curious, and for those who still have exams in front of them.

Higher Still Notes

Posted in Higher Maths, Higher Physics on May 14th, 2007

If you’re still in full panic, go check out HSN - there are free notes and stuff and a forum for you if you are about to sit Higher Mathematics, Physics and other subjects. Access it here.

It sounds right but is it reasonable?

Posted in Physics, Mathematics on May 13th, 2007

OK, especially for those of you sitting Mathematics and Physics exams this week, here’s a little tip.

In my last post I set a problem about the cost of heating a bath of water. In class, I asked people to guess, before we worked out the answer, what they thought would be a reasonable cost for a bath. Estimates varied from 20p (well done, Billy) to £7.50 to £50.

It is very easy to get lost in the detail of a problem, especially one that involves several steps. As scientists, we rely on the facts to guide us as we develop models of the universe to test. Alongside these facts there has to be an element of common sense. “That student” made a brave and public attempt to show how the calculation was done, getting an answer of 0.025p. Is this reasonable? Well, maybe if you have never paid a gas or electric bill. The clue in her working that this might not have been right was the interim result of 0.21 litres she got for the volume of water in the bath. Pop into the kitchen or a nearby chemistry lab and find a measuring jug and take a look at what 0.21 litres of water would actually look like. Is this a reasonable amount of water to bathe in?

The point I am making is that as you work through a problem, ask yourself, “does that sound reasonable?”. At the end of each question, check:

  • Is that a reasonable answer?
  • Have I put the correct units?
  • Have I actually answered the question?

Good luck and I hope this helps you get the most out of the exams and your future approach to problem solving.

Bath problem

Posted in Physics, Mathematics on May 11th, 2007

Several of my classes this week were exposed to this problem, I thought I’d share it with you.

I was running late one morning this week so I didn’t have time to enjoy my normal 20 minutes of soaking in the bubbles with my copy of “New Scientist”. Instead, I had to quickly do my ablutions and dash about to get ready, letting the hot water run away. “What a waste of money heating up all that water”, I thought, feeling a little guilty about my wastefulness. The question posed itself: exactly how much money did I waste?

You can assume that my bath is rectangular (a cuboid, no round corners), 1.4 m long and 0.5 m wide.
The water in the bath (without me in it) was 0.3 m deep.
The water temperature was 28°C.
The outside temperature was 15°C.
1 litre of water has a mass of 1kg.
There are 1 000 cubic centimetres in a litre.
It takes 4 186 J of energy to heat 1 kg of water by 1°C.
1 J of energy = 1 Watt x 1 second
Energy costs about 8 pence per kilowatt hour (kWh).

See if you can work it out. If you really can’t be bothered to do the sum the answer is here.

Richard Feynman

Posted in Adv. Higher Physics, Higher Physics on May 10th, 2007

Friday of this week is the anniversary of the birth of Richard Feynman. Feynman was an American physicist who shared the Nobel Prize in 1965 for his work on Quantum Electrodynamics, which describes the interaction of charged particles by the exchange of photons.

Fat ManFeynman was also involved in the Manhattan Project which developed the first atomic weapons. The first of these, “Little Boy”, a Uranium bomb, brought an end to 200 000 lives at Hiroshima on August 6th 1945, followed 3 days later by “Fat man” (pictured), the Plutonium bomb over Nagasaki. The next day, the Emperor of Japan finally took the hint and overruled the military commanders and ordered a surrender to the allies.

You can argue all day about the merits of the bomb. At the time the decision was taken to deploy this lethal force, Germany had long surrendered in Europe, American forces were defeating the Japanese in the conventional war in the Pacific and the British had thrown Churchill out of office in the General Election. You might notice that a few weeks before the bombing of Hiroshima, Italy had declared war on Japan. You might think it excessive to use nuclear forces on civilians. You might think it was necessary to bring an end to the war that the Americans rushed to help us win 3 years after it started. Einstein did not work on the Manhattan Project: he didn’t get the security clearance needed. He did suggest it should progress because he thought it essential to beat the Germans to the nuclear bomb: he later regretted this when he realised how far off they were.

Feynman without doubt was a talented physicist and a great teacher. If you are planning any kind of physics study at Higher and beyond, you should get your own copy of the Feynman Lectures on Physics (or in audio form).