About physics and teaching

Summer Fun for Students

with 4 comments

I was recently asked by a student what kind of fun (but serious) science-y play he could do over the summer. He is bored, stuck at home, his summer camp experience having been unexpectedly canceled. This is a student who repeatedly did that little bit extra in physics class all year (he even completed the first two chapters of “SpaceTime Physics” by Taylor and Wheeler) . He is signed up for second year (calculus-based) physics next year. Thus he is going to be learning VPython over the summer anyway. And he will be doing video analysis as part of his physics class next year. So take a look at what I suggested to him, and let me know if there is more that I could suggest.

  1. Read The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle (ok, I tell everyone this).
  2. Get your parents to use that cash they saved on summer camp to buy a student license for Mathematica and start playing with it (I know his parents can afford this and I know that he already has the math chops and curiosity to make it worthwhile).
  3. Get started early on VPython and then dig a little deeper into lists, loops and conditional statements in Python.
  4. Go to and use Mathematica and/or Python to solve some problems.
  5. Buy an Arduino starter kit and start making your computer control something.
  6. Download Tracker and make it work with the sample files.
  7. Try to create a document using LaTeX.
Now there are things in here which build skills that are not necessary for high school or even college, and there is more than a kid could possibly do. I figure that if he does one or two of these things, he’ll stay out of trouble and be excited for at least part of the day (and play a video game or two fewer each day). Some of these items are things that students in the past have gotten a kick out of doing on their own (well, a certain type of student to be sure).
Further suggestions for the home-bound future scientist?

Written by Mark Hammond

2011/07/05 at 10:01

Posted in deep practice, mindset

4 Responses

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  1. I like a lot of these suggestions. One thought I have for the Mathematica, LaTeX, and Arduino ones is to maybe give him a problem to solve with one of those. The “playing around” stage for each of those only lasts so long, but if you’ve got a particular problem to solve with one, then you might stay more motivated. Joss Ives pseudo-experiment about figuring out which cup holds heat the longest is a good suggestion for the Arduino, but it requires a few more electrical components.

    Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist

    2011/07/05 at 10:21

  2. Mark, there are some free alternatives to Mathematica as well: scilab, python+scipy+matplotlib for example.

    I agree with Andy that a problem or project is ideal. With something like Arduino you can get him going on a book like “Getting Started with Arduino” and as he works through it and finds certain tasks more interesting than others, you come back to your friends on the internet and we can all try to cook up a good project together. There is also some great potential fun interfacing with vPython through the Arduino.

    Joss Ives

    2011/07/05 at 11:59

  3. HI Mark,

    I think these are great ideas. I am going to piggy-back off of Joss here and give one more free alternative to Mathematica: Sage ( Better yet: Sage is based on Python.

    Two birds, one stone.


    2011/07/05 at 15:20

  4. Thanks for the ideas. I was hoping to get this young man to use Python and Mathematica to solve some Project Euler problems first. But you are all right… having a goal problem to solve makes learning a tool go faster. I appreciate the free alternatives… I’ve see Sage before, it’s nice. There are three other students who will be in the same section as this kid who already use Mathematica, and if he can afford it (he can) it would be cool to have two thirds of that section cranking solutions to problems in Mathematica next year. I can’t wait to see what he jumped into first!

    Mark Hammond

    2011/07/05 at 17:11

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