September 27, 2014 10:44 AM   Subscribe

I need help thinking of cool ways to spend $30k or more for high school physics equipment! If you're a physics teacher, or had a great physics teacher in high school (or college), tell me what equipment makes for inspiring and effective physics education.

I am a new physics teacher at a career technical high school. I have suddenly been told that my school has won a grant for $100k in science equipment, roughly a third of which can be used for physics equipment. And I have to come up with a list of equipment to buy by Tuesday. This is awesome, but also slightly stressful!

The school has very little physics equipment to start with (really, even standard physics stuff is very limited or nonexistent). I'm so used to teaching physics with mismatched pieces of old curriculum kits and rubber bands and stopwatches and whatever else I can scrounge up or buy from the hardware store, that it's a bit daunting to imagine what I could do with roughly $30k. I don't want to waste this opportunity, so I need help thinking both inside and outside the box.

My questions:

1. Please help me think of cool things to buy for physics class. It could be basic stuff, or crazy, fun, exciting stuff. Extra points if you know of a particular brand/product that is good.

2. Please look below at my list of ideas so far and tell me if you know of a particularly good supplier for any of my items.

My ideas so far:

1. I should probably get a full set of curriculum equipment from an educational supplier - maybe a full set of CPO physics supplies? I especially want advice about which full physics equipment set is best.

2. A really nice set of tracks and physics carts - these would probably come with an comprehensive physics kit, but if the kit I chose didn't have a nice one, I can afford to get a separate nice one.

3. Physics measuring tools that would normally not be in a physics equipment kit, like:
- Geiger counters
- Infrared video cameras
- Digital oscilloscopes w/ builtin frequency generator
- Photomultiplier tubes

4. Full class set of Vernier LabQuests and a comprehensive set of physics sensors

5. Large vacuum chamber / vacuum pump, with electrical feedthrough.

6. Long wave tank, or at least fiberglass panels to construct one?

7. Large spools of enameled copper wire to construct electromagnets

8. Document camera (I've used a hovercam in the past and it worked ok)

9. Weather balloon and helium tank for stratospheric balloon project for my Physics II students

10. One or more nice optical telescopes (this school is relatively far away from the nearest large city)

11. A steerable radio dish telescope? No idea how much that would cost.

12. Solar panels? Kits for constructing wind turbines

13. RC planes or helicopters? Because...reasons??

14. Lots of strips of polarizing film

15. Arduinos to facilitate potential robotics type stuff? Although the vocational program in engineering already does a lot of robotics.

Thank you!!

NB: Since this is a vocational school, there are already a lot of power tools and heavy equipment around and semi-available, so that sort of thing probably isn't a good choice. Also note that the school is already planning on rolling out an initiative to give a chromebook to every student, so computers are relatively taken care of (although, yes, eyeroll, chromebooks).
posted by Salvor Hardin to Education (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Those choices seem pretty great. I think anything you can get that lets you do simple experiments that relate directly to contemporary physics (rather than just newtonian stuff) will help keep your students' enthusiasm up. I know someone whose high school had a (used, tabletop-scale) SEM that they used to teach all kinds of cool material science and nanotech, but I haven't been able to find good prices online for that kind of thing so far.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:57 AM on September 27, 2014

In high school physics, we made holograms. Sand tables, lasers, lenses, film, etc. Though I think our teacher developed the film himself? But it was super-fun (and maybe not that expensive, now that I think about it).
posted by unknowncommand at 11:18 AM on September 27, 2014

Oh, one more question: I've used Vernier LabQuests before (#4 on my list), but I thought they were kind of clunky, and the interface was not very easy to use. Does anyone know if the newest version are any better? Or is there a better product that fills the handheld data collector niche? Or does anyone know if there is any software for Chromebook for collecting data from something like a Vernier probe?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 11:30 AM on September 27, 2014

My son's HS physics lab used some kind of electronic gadgets for automated measurements. They didn't work well and wasted a huge amount of lab time. So get stuff that works.

I don't see mention of software for the Chromebooks. Perhaps you don't need to buy it.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:03 PM on September 27, 2014

Well, for ten thousand dollars you can launch your own satellite. Several ambitious high-school physics teams have already done it, so it is not impossible, although maybe not your first year there.
posted by seasparrow at 5:50 PM on September 27, 2014

If it were me, I would want to invest in things that really help young students experience the wonder of science. The Vernier Labquests for example may (or may not) be nice gadgets to use for the few years before they become obsolete, but will they really help your students learn more or enjoy science at a deeper level?

Instead, I really like the idea of getting some nice telescopes, especially if you are in a low light pollution area. I remember seeing Saturn through a scope the first time, and being struck with the fact that it is really out there! I think if you can give your high-school students a handful of visceral experiences like that where the scientific world seems amazing and they can't wait to learn more that will be well worth the investment.
posted by jpdoane at 6:45 PM on September 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wave tank, for one. Use it to motivate the two-slit experiment.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:31 AM on September 28, 2014

This maybe isn't high-school level, but a Millikan oil drop experiment apparatus would be really cool. The ability to see individual electrons' influence really grabbed me, at least.
posted by Makwa at 1:01 PM on September 28, 2014

The Milikan oil drop experiment is one of the most tedious and difficult experiments out there - avoid it if you can. I think your choices all sound good; the only thing I can think that's missing is getting an air track instead of / as well as some normal carts.
posted by Ned G at 2:51 AM on October 1, 2014

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