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Innovative Sibley Physics Teacher's Video Used in TED Initiative

The process of animating Sibley teacher Peter Bohacek's video on the physics principle of work took almost a year.

A video made by Henry Sibley teacher Peter Bohacek that uses a grandfather clock to demonstrate the physics principles of work and power was recently chosen by the non-profit TED-Ed to be professionally animated for other teachers to use in classroom lesson plans.

It’s one of only 149 such videos produced by TED, the group famous for its 18-minute Big Picture lectures, and so far 20 teachers from around the country have made lesson plans from Bohacek’s video.

It’s not Bohacek’s first foray into using videos in the classroom. The former electrical engineer has partnered with Carleton College and University of Wisconsin-River Falls on a series of what he calls Direct Measurement Videos.

The videos each show a creative take on a “classic physics problem”—a Toyota Prius sliding on an ice rink, a disk accelerated by rocket propulsion—and superimpose the images with a ruler and a frame counter, allowing students to extrapolate the physics problem from what they see on the screen.

“Video brings right to the fore the fact that you’re talking about a thing moving in the world, that’s what you’re doing the physics on,” he said.

We spoke with Bohacek about TED, his videos and how Sibley science teachers use the Internet in their classrooms:

How did you get involved with TED?

They had a thing on their website when they started the TED-Ed project that said, “Nominate an instructor.” I had just finished making a video of a grandfather clock, a time-lapse video that I took of a real life grandfather clock—it’s a fascinating video and I thought, ‘Well, this is the kind of thing that I think they would like.’

So I sent a submission in and they sent a note back saying, ‘We get so many responses, don’t expect us to get back to you,’ but then they did, and it started this almost year-long process where I wrote a script, sent them a script, and they wrote back and said, ‘We liked it,’ and they worked on editing it. Once the editing was done, they sent a little portable sound recording studio, a really slick little set-up. They kind of coached me on how to narrate it, and then they sent it to an animator. It was a neat, interactive process, where my idea, we went back and forth and they kind of shaped it into how they like it to be, and then the animation completely brought it to life.

Why did you want to work with video?

I’d been working on another related project, using video to teach physics—it’s something I’ve been working really hard on for the last three or four years. The idea is to go through the physics curriculum and find all those classic problems and film a video of them in such a way that rather than reading, ‘Oh, the ball is going this velocity in this direction,’ you can actually see and make measurements off the video. You’re actually solving a problem by measuring things.

One of the things that’s kind of cool is that in a word problem they always tell you what values you’re going to need—‘the car is going this fast and it’s going this long’ but in a video problem it doesn’t say that. Students’ first step has to be: What do I actually need to solve this?

These videos are absolutely essential to how I teach because physics is about real life events. The traditional way of teaching physics is to turn real life events into a text description, and then you begin the analysis, and I’ve always thought that that’s artificial. What you really want is to be analyzing the event without the text in between. Video brings right to the fore the fact that you’re talking about a thing moving in the world, that’s what you’re doing the physics on, and I think the videos make that much more obvious.

How did you decide to teach science?

I studied electrical engineering, and I worked in industry for about 15 years before I decided to teach. About 12 years ago I quit my previous job and went back to get my teaching license and got my teaching license and got a job at Sibley and loved every day of it—best choice I ever made.

What else is new with the physics curriculum at Sibley?

The other type of major part of our curriculum is using online instruction and online assessment. Most of the work that my students do—the problems or the information, whether it’s video or texts or images or graphs—are presented to them on the computer, and then there are questions that are written. When they answer the questions, they type their answers into a box on the computer, it’s all on a web-based system. As soon as they hit enter, it tells them whether their answer is right or wrong.

There’re two things about that that revolutionize how we teach. One, the fact that the student gets feedback right away: Before they go to the next part, they know (and I know) whether they got that part right. The second thing is that it’s randomized so that two students that are working side-by-side have the same problem but with none of the same information given to them on the problem. I can go into class and say, ‘I’m not going to do anything today. You have the whole class period to work on things that are online.’ And they immediately say to the other students, ‘How did you do that? How did you figure that out?’ because they can’t just say, ‘Well, what did you get?’  It immediately drives them to collaborate, share ideas and teach each other. We started that about five years with just one AP Physics class and now we have five separate classes that are using that.

The school district has been incredibly supportive of our efforts to innovate. Since I’ve been there, they’ve been incredibly important. They’ve completely backed us in time and money.

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