Friday, October 16, 2015

New York minute

In a discussion group about liberal education pedagogy which I'm participating in, a physics teacher described a brilliant thing he's started doing. Unlike in biology, he said, most key words in physics are also commonly used words in everyday life, often with quite different meanings. To make students aware of this, and reflective about it, he ends his online study questions on each new category with a prompt to use the term in a sentence about something in New York.

The corpus of statements thus generated show the students' world and wit - and also where the most common misunderstandings lie. He showed us some of the sentences students came up with for the category of "acceleration."

New York subways accelerate steadily until
they reach a velocity of 17 miles per hour.

To accelerate the speed of the people walking in times square, the governor is planning to decrease the seconds on every traffic light.

The bus driver accelerated quickly just as the stop light turned
red at 14th and 6th, barely clearing the intersection.

Every time the cab driver accelerates the car,
his passengers fly forward in their seats.

People in New York often accelerate when we walk
because we are often annoyed by the people who
are in front of us and walking very slow.

I had an amusing conversation with my discussion partners about the last one, in which it emerged that each of us was picturing a different situation. I wondered if the student was thinking of negative acceleration. One colleague thought of people speeding up to walk angrily around dawdlers. Another was sure the student was describing a sort of behavior whereby a New Yorker tries to force dawdling out-of-towners to speed up by a sort of tailgating, something I haven't tried.

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