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Volume VII: Reading Richard Greene


A Matter of Scale
Jim Charlton
Carrick High School

This unit is intended to enhance the students’ understanding of the nature of music by using ideas conventionally thought of as associated with physics, specifically particle physics and superstring theory, as a metaphor for the dynamic processes by which music lives as an expressive, affective art. But, reciprocally, the same assertion could be made in the reverse; that musical processes are the most vital metaphor for the concepts that are recently evolving.


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An Introduction to Modern Topics in Physics
Mario D. Iasella
Schenley High School

A three week unit of study for high school physics students is proposed herein. This unit’s main objective is to introduce the most current scientific theories concerning relativity, quantum mechanics, and the search for a unifying theory in a first year high school physics course. To many people this may appear to be an ambitious and even an unrealistic challenge for first year physics students. In fact, it is traditional not to discuss any of these topics except in upper-level college courses. The following rationale sets the stage for what is intended to be an enjoyable unit for first year physics students and sets reasonable expectations of achievement for the students. Exploring the deepest mysteries of the universe can be fun for anyone who has ever contemplated how the universe began and what is “behind it all”.  Aristotle knew much less about the physics behind the world he saw than present day high school students. Yet, many of the questions he contemplated are the same as those physicists are still asking today.


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String Theory: A Unification of Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity and an Explanation of the Big Bang?
Eric Laurenson
Peabody High School

The unit is intended for high school physics classes ranging from Mainstream to Advance Placement. The unit can be adapted to the different levels by increasing or decreasing the difficulty of the mathematical explanation that is presented. The Advanced Placement course incorporates an intensive mathematical explanation of relativity and quantum mechanics, whereas the course for CAS, Scholars and Mainstream would have successively less mathematical explanations and the focus would shift to the implication of string theory. The conceptual level is made appropriate for all physics classes by adjusting the depth of the explanation. Simplifying the conceptual level makes the material accessible for all physics classes. This unit can also be adapted for General Science by presenting the material as a survey of modern physics and cosmology and by utilizing the video resources to supplement the conceptual ideas presented.


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Mathematics of The Elegant Universe
Jeff Laurenson
Brashear High School

Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe, in an interview with National Public Radio, aired on May 29, 2005, stated: “I am distressed when I meet students who approach science and math with drudgery…. When science is presented as a collection of facts that need to memorized, when math is taught as a series of abstract calculations without revealing its power to unravel the mysteries of the universe, it can all seem pointless and boring.” With this in mind I constructed a unit designed to capture the imagination of students with far-out examples of mathematics in the universe. I decided to focus on three areas which I felt were both within the ability of my students and scope of my curriculum, namely time dilation, diffraction grating of visible light, and non-Euclidean geometry. Many people are incredulous when they first hear of time dilation. It seems nonsensical to suggest that a person riding on an airplane around the earth ages less during the trip than a person who stayed put in one city, but scientists have detected an actual miniscule difference in elapsed time. The calculations utilize some of the most difficult mathematics known to man, but some of the basic calculations can be done by Elementary Functions students. When light passes through a diffraction grating, the different beams interact in interesting ways. Students in Elementary Functions study sine waves abstractly, but diffraction gratings provide additional rigor. The triangles formed are not easy to visualize, so the application of this theory forces students to apply their understanding of trigonometry in a novel and challenging realm. Students of geometry usually draw their triangles on a flat sheet of paper, but non-Euclidean geometry is a branch of geometry which is done on curved surfaces. Imagine measuring the angles of a triangle drawn on a beach ball. Would the interior angles add up to 180 degrees? This topic briefly explores how geometry can be done on the surface of a sphere.


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The Design of Theory
Kellie Malone
Oliver High School

This year's seminar series that I attended was based on the book written by Brian Green, The Elegant Universe, Thus the title of the seminar. The book revolved around the String Theory. The book was well written encompassing the history of String Theory, the basic building blocks from which it was constructed including Einstein's theory of Relativity and Quantum Physics and the continued quest for the Theory of Everything and the experiments and hypothesis still in progress in the attempt to prove it.

The String theory is on a set of mathematical data and equations that have been designed by today's physicist to explain the origin of our universe and how everything in it works. Although this may be a different field of study than I am accustomed to, being I teach Biology. I did find a window through which the information gained from the seminars could be incorporated into my curriculum.

In all fields of science we design theories based on predictions and experimentation. The field of biology is based on life and the origin thereof. Physics is based on the forces of nature and how the universe arose to the point of sustaining life; this is where I have found the introduction of String Theory best suited.

The rationale for my unit is covered in the prospectus, and the unit itself contains activities, lectures and journal entries that align with the current standardized curriculum for Biology 1 in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The unit also reaches the standards set by the Board of Education.

Bringing bright new ideas into the classroom and stimulating students to think beyond what they already know or believe is what the field of science, in all forms of study, is all about and I hope that this unit achieves that objective.


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Researching the Unseen
Sally Martin
Taylor Allderdice High School

This unit is designed as an enrichment to a Chemistry I course for gifted students. It is designed to supplement the units on atomic structure and electronic configuration. The usual chemistry course does not include particles any smaller than protons, neutrons and electrons. Quarks have been identified since 1968, and students should be familiar with the standard model and string theory. String theory in particular is very complex for a 10th grade student so the focus of this unit is to examine how research is done in this field while becoming familiar with the basic ideas of string theory.

Through this unit I hope that students will appreciate the efforts of the kind of research which requires a belief, strong mathematical skills and less direct experimental evidence. The development of string theory is an example of the development of a new mathematics, which only partially helps to solve the difficult equations; an ability to conceptualize something that can’t be seen; and experimental data obtained from the furthest reaches of the universe and expensive, controversial particle accelerators. By tracing the history of these developments students will have a better understanding of these incredibly small basic particles of matter, as well as an appreciation of the difficult task of researching in this area. Since this unit is designed for gifted students it is appropriate to expose them to the challenges of this type of research and provide insight into the skills needed to be a researcher. These students are taking first level chemistry in high school and have had biology in 9th grade and are taking at least algebra II concurrently with the chemistry course. They will not have taken any physics and so have limited knowledge of electricity and magnetism.


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Exobiology: A Biologist View of the Universe
Mark M. Murphy
Schenley High School

This unit is designed to compliment the gifted ninth grade syllabus in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The connection between a first year biology course and cosmology may seem tenuous at first; however there is mention of the Big Bang in the mainstream Biology I curriculum.

There is no mention of either the origin of the universe or, more incredibly, the origin of man in the current text (Biology by Miller and Levine) adopted by the Pittsburgh Public Schools for the gifted biology students. In light of the current wording of the state objectives concerning evolution, it is perhaps even more critical that some such unit be included in the science curriculum.


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The Elegant Universe
Maria Orton
David B. Oliver High School

This unit is meant to interconnect the scientific method, cosmology, chemistry, and physics together. The use of the scientific method has been instrumental to the development of sciences across the curriculum. Scientists based their theories on what they observed, then created theories to make sense of those observations in their heads. Not only did scientists use the scientific method to create the founding theories of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics but this was also the same method we use today to solve both scientific and everyday problems.


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The Nature of Science
F. Michael Real
Taylor Allderdice High School

This unit will introduce students taking Earth and Space Science to the philosophy of science. Recent controversies on the issue of what science is seems to indicate that the population of the nation is confused on what is and isn’t science. They don’t know the rules that are to be applied when labeling something science. This has become readily apparent in nation wide attempts to include creationism and intelligent design into biology curricula. Those people involved, believe that these world views have equal validity as the theory of evolution.

The historical precursors to this controversy can be traced far back in the history of science. However, the philosophic basis for modern attacks on science appears to come equally from religious fundamentalism and post-modern deconstructionism. Within the unit, examples of what science is will be examined within the historical context of the development of science. After tracing the development of science, the rules of science will be taught. The students will examine different questions and world views and determine which are amenable to scientific study, and which are not. The proposed curriculum will be applicable to 9th through 12th grade science courses. It would be appropriate for the beginning of the year as an introduction to science methods or within the context of any controversial theory such as the Theory of Evolution or the Paleontology.


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Making Analogies: The Power and Limitations of Models when Exploring Advanced Physics Topics
Steven Scoville
Brashear High School

Scientists use conceptual and mathematical models to make sense of or predict the behavior of the natural world. These models can take the form of images that portray the interactions between objects or systems (as when atoms are imagined to be small, moving balls), or the symbolic representations of certain quantities expressed as mathematical relationships (as when a formula is written for the energy of a system). In order to be successful citizens or scientists, high school students should be able to interact with conceptual and mathematical models in a number of ways. They should be able to use the models to explain and predict, (which is the focus of much of high school science instruction), but they should also be able to generate their own models and recognize the limitations of models. A conscious attempt to correlate the important aspects of one model to another is often referred to as an analogy. This unit presents specific implementation of educational science research concerning the key elements used in teaching analogical reasoning. Students are made aware of the role of models in human cognition, how analogies are a tool in understanding models, and how the analogy is sometimes the only way to “get” a model. This unit is designed for use in an advanced physics class, ideally towards the beginning of instruction. Throughout the year students can continue to practice building and modifying conceptual and mathematical models, continue to create analogies to aid their comprehension and recall, and continue to probe the limits of analogies when analyzing reality.

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The Elegant Universe: How Do We Learn about What We Cannot See?
Elaine A. Miller-Wilson
Knoxville Middle School

The primary purpose of this unit is to instill in my sixth graders an appreciation for the magnificent concepts found in quantum mechanics, relativity, and string theory. Since they are six graders this will of course limit the way in which these theories can be approached. The mathematics inherent in the structure of these theories is completely beyond the capabilities of these students and no attempt will be made to approach these theories in that manner. I will however, inform them that all of these theories can be expressed mathematically and that when they are advanced enough in their studies they may wish to look at them from this aspect. I believe that the best way to communicate the ideas in science is not just to teach facts, but instead the whole story. Great theories and ideas do not arise in a vacuum, but rather come from the minds of men and women of science. These people are not single dimensional individuals, whose whole lives are spent in laboratories and white coats. Helping my students to understand the context in which theories and discoveries are made will I believe, make them better able to remember “facts” because the people who produce them are more real. It is in relating the personalities and lives of these great people that I hope to stimulate the imagination and curiosity of my six graders, making them want to know about the science of the scientists.


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Looking for Bohr and Einstein in “The Elegant Universe”
John R. Wilson
Schenley High School

The purpose of this unit that was created as an outgrowth of my participation in “The Elegant Universe” seminar is not to make a stand-alone addition to the existing curriculum but rather to integrate the ideas in quantum mechanics, relativity, and string theory, into the existing curriculum. The course that I teach to the incoming ninth graders, who are in the tech magnet program, is called tech science. As one would expect this course goes in some depth into both physics and chemistry. Because of this, there is ample opportunity to introduce quantum mechanics when studying the structure of the atom, and relativity when working on motion and gravity. When we study electricity and magnetism much is made of the fact that James C. Maxwell unified these two forces of nature and showed that they were simply two manifestations of the same thing. It would be natural at this point to bring up the subject of string theory as a means of unifying what appeared to be two mutually contradictory theories that being quantum mechanics and relativity. By introducing the concepts found in the aforementioned three theories at times and in ways appropriate for the structure of the course and curriculum I believe a seamless integration of these concepts is possible. The one caveat I would mention here is that all three of these theories involve exceedingly complex mathematics far beyond the capabilities of the ninth grade students that I teach and so rather than using a mathematical approach, a conceptual one will be the focus here. I am convinced that even at the ninth grade level students are capable of grasping basic ideas found in quantum mechanics, relativity and string theory and that the wonderful weirdness of these will capture their imaginations and enrich their learning experience.


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Chatham University
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Jointly sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
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