Magazine article Techniques

Toying with Physics

Magazine article Techniques

Toying with Physics

Article excerpt

In a comprehensive high school, this physics teacher uses demonstrations and projects to pass on-knowledge. Are there opportunities to expand these lessons?

Editor's note: This is another in a series of articles about the techniques of outstanding teachers. In this case, our story of an award-winning science teacher also reveals possibilities for bringing career education opportunities to students within the school.

Teacher Fred Carrington says children who play with Legos and enjoy fixing bicycles inadvertently develop mechanical skills and a thirst for solving problems--the basics of math and science skills. "Physics is math with toys," he says. The mechanisms of math and science are play. It's not work."

A physics teacher at Grant High School in Van Nuys, California, Carrington was named 1996 American Teacher of the Year in science in the annual Walt Disney Company-McDonald's Corporation awards program. He was one of 12 subject category honorees from a pool of 1,500 applicants nationwide.

Carrington won the recognition for his ability to relate physics to everyday life. However, few of the examples he relates involve life experiences in jobs or career fields.

He acknowledges that students may be learning subjects without knowing how they might use the knowledge in careers, that teachers often do not make the connection between classroom learning and what students will eventually do in the world of work.

"Our big problem is we don't have teachers trained to do this. Unless this is top to bottom restructuring and teachers are trained, it looks pretty insurmountable.

"I don't have the facilities to build a car, but I do what I can with demonstrations and student projects. I go through how an internal combustion engine works. I do the projects I do so students can work with their hands and their minds," explains Carrington.

"One of the projects we do is to make a camera. The idea is for the students to do their own research on how to do it. I show them the principle of optics behind it, and they have to take apart a camera and see how it is made. They learn to become more inventive and more creative. My idea is not to train them to make a camera but to fall back on their own resources and adapt what they have to what's out there and make something."

Carrington thinks the idea of using vocational studies as a context for academics makes sense. "If you're a carpenter, you do have to know engineering," he says.

Since he came to Grant High School in 1966, he says the school has eliminated four vocational courses--"`We've lost the auto shop, metal, electronics, stained glass," he says. "It's a shame; students need to be able to work with their hands. Students who are very sound academically don't know anything about machining, for instance. A lot of people have to make things."

But he concedes it is expensive to maintain modern and effective courses. "When you reduce budgets, it's easier to teach math than auto shop."

The school currently has a "Perkins tech prep program" with five "clusters"--agriculture, business, careers with children, graphic communications and wood construction, says Alice Higginbothan, the programs coordinator. Seventeen teachers work with 220 ninth- to twelfth-graders to tie academic studies to career opportunities in the five fields. The six-year-old tech prep program also is considered Grant's school-to-work program, according to Higginbothan.

School-to-work as outlined by the U.S. Department of Education is a concept that centers on relating academics and career opportunities for all students in a school. At Grant, however, school-to-work is a voluntary program that serves 220 students in a student body of 3,400.

It starts with curiosity

The auditorium at Grant, a comprehensive high school, quickly fills as teenagers in shorts and T-shirts swarm in to set up their science fair displays. …

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