Day 129: A Small Air Gap Between Two Glass Plates

What causes the colors we see when we look at two plates of glass that are separated by a small air gap?

Before we could explain that, we had to talk about color. I wanted a short discussion about how we see color so we'd have some ability to say whether the colors of the two plates of glass looked more like rainbow colors or subtractive colors. We had so many questions about color. Color is so interesting, with tetrachromancy and bee vision being obvious tangents. We'd love to talk about it more, but I hurried everyone to looking at the plates of glass. So many students are gone Thursday and Friday for (another) robotics competition that I wanted to make sure all the new concepts were introduced today.

We saw the colors, and they were cool. They did not look like rainbow colors.

We then explained them by looking for a path length difference. But I didn't let them figure it out enough. Next year, I should make them do more of the thinking. 

Day 128: The Single Slit and the Pinhole

We started by working on lots of problems in class. I didn't give any homework at all last night. If we rush, we could finish the unit on Thursday, but why? Break is Friday, and if we take it slowly, we'll finish the unit on Friday and be ready to start the photon model of light refreshed after break. We'll need it; that model is weird.

We whiteboarded lots of diffraction grating and double slit questions, and it seemed that we were confused about when to use one equation and when another. It's a good idea to talk about the assumptions of each of the slit equations. The assumptions behind the slit equation are subtle, and I don't think I realized that until I was challenged so much this year. Thanks, class.

The last two questions we whiteboarded were about what we'd expect to see from one slit or from a small pinhole. We made predictions and then, of course, went to lab to see if we were right. We weren't. But when we talked about what was happening, it started to make sense.

Since so many students will be gone tomorrow, we'll learn the last part of the wave model tomorrow and then practice everything Thursday and Friday.

Day 127: Diffraction Grating with Different Wavelengths

We looked at diffraction gratings again. Since about 1/3 of my class was gone Thursday and Friday for various competitions (mostly robotics), we built on Thursday and Friday today in class to make sure everyone is at the same place. So we used the better diffraction gratings today and different laser colors. (I love blue lasers. So cool.) We also whiteboarded some of the fundamental questions about how double slit interference works. Today was a good day, but not a day packed with material. That's fine; we should finish the unit this week, right before going on Spring break, so we can start Modern Physics when we get back.

Day 126: Two Slits and Infinite Slits

We don't feel comfortable with slits yet. It's difficult to visualize the path length difference, and I think I spent too much time lecturing. I'll fix it next week. 

Still, we did get to see how two slits work in the real world. And, when we went to the diffraction grating, which is just an infinite number of slits to a physicist, we could predict what would happen. I'll take that.

It's interesting to watch the patterns, both good and bad, we've fallen into as a class. The patterns are mostly good; don't get me wrong. But I like hearing the shared language, the statements of "this fits with our model" or "wait, is this like.." as we tried to find connections between our models. It's a great feeling when you feel you've changed how students conceptualize science.

Day 125: Our Model of Two Sources Actually Works for Light?

We played with double slits today. We had a small class, with lots of students out for robotics competitions and Football Hall of Fame field trips. So we made some qualitative observations, and they fit with our model of two sources we talked about yesterday. One student was very surprised. "Wait, so that model actually works?"

Yes. Yes it does.

"It means that light is a wave," said another student.

"Well, this model works for now," I replied. "Don't be so sure."

Then we derived the path length difference equation for a double slit. I did it too soon. I should have waited until we had a better understanding of path length difference, with simpler questions, before going into the complicated double slit derivation.

Day 124: A Physical Demonstration of the Two Slits

Most of today was a test. But, the best part was whiteboarding our answers to the double-slit questions. We got confused about what would happen when the two sources were brought closer together. We couldn't really communicate, so I got the great idea to get two tape measures to act as the two sources. We could see the path length difference, and when the two people moved closer together, we could see how we had to change where we were measuring the path length difference to keep the "one wavelength" difference (of 25 centimeters). I recommend this demonstration.

To me, it was a reconfirmation. If a student asks a question, more and more, my gut says "let's try it out" rather than "let's reason it out" or "let me tell you." It's the best change in my teacher I've ever made.

Day 123: Wave Interference and the Double Slit Pattern

We whiteboarded our results from the diffraction experience yesterday and then saw what would happen if you had two very small openings. It seemed to make sense with sound, and then we tried it with light. It worked! The photo above is after we talked about what would happen at various points in the diagram—would we get constructive or destructive interference?

Day 122: Polarization, Diffraction, and Takatori

We had exchange students from Takatori, Japan today in class. It was an honor to show the students what my class was like. I hope they had fun. 

I planned the first part of the lesson to be something we could experience, so, even if they didn't understand all the words, they could get something out of it. I broke out the polarizers. We looked at the many things through a polarizer—the sky, glare, our old calculators, even the older iPhones. We saw some real differences. Then, with two polarizers, we came up with an idea of why polarizers give us evidence that light is a transverse wave.

Then we used this simulation we can use on a Chromebook to watch how waves deal with openings. We definitely saw a pattern with small versus large openings, so we ended up talking about diffraction.

Day 121: Geometric Proof of Snell's Law

I think I'm liking geometric proofs in physics! There's something powerful about these derivations. I think that model-building isn't always just trying it out in lab; sometimes it's about using our model and mathematics to come to new conclusions which we, of course, must check against reality.

I got the animation above from PHYSCLIPS, which I had never heard of before today. It was great for visualizing the wavefronts and rays, but then, when I right-clicked and hit rewind, it paused the animation so I could do some geometric magic. 

Next year, I have to figure out how to make the kids do more of the derivations. But I've done proofs like this a few times this year, and I like it.

We practiced our new understanding of reflection and refraction for the rest of the day.