The unit I am planning in YNHTI this year is for an elective physics class at Cooperative Arts and Humanities Magnet High School. The class is made up of mostly seniors, with a few juniors. Demographically, the school is diverse in race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, academic achievement, and artistic ability. Fifty eight percent of the student populous receives free or reduced-price lunch. Thirty-three percent of students are from suburban districts, 67% from the city of New Haven. Sixty-four percent of the students take at least 1 AP or college class prior to graduation, and 98% apply to college.
Most of the students in this physics class are taking it as a prerequisite for entrance into a college nursing program, or are genuinely interested in science. They all plan to graduate and attend four year programs at liberal arts colleges. This unit is designed to be interesting to science and non-science students alike, which is why I have decided to include the search for earthlike extrasolar planets and extraterrestrial life. Everyone thinks aliens are interesting, and everyone wonders if they are out there. It raises philosophical, rhetorical and existential questions, but also some theoretical and empirical science questions, like “How do we measure the properties of a planet 100 light years away?” The answer, as it turns out is with light: intensity, and color.
All my students are currently invested in a four year focused arts curriculum in one of the following disciplines: creative writing, visual art, theatre, music, or dance. As such, I often develop units that have a tie-in to one of the arts disciplines. This unit focuses on wave phenomena (for both light and sound), and has the best cross-curricular connection and real world applications with technical theater. It has many other connections to many other arts, but the core of technical theater is all about controlling various waves and their phenomena to enhance a dramatic performance. The ways in which light and sound technicians and engineers manipulate and use tools to change the way light and sound behave is a direct application of the properties of those waves. The decisions they make will have a huge impact on the environment experienced in the theater, and thusly on the ability of the audience to connect and engage with the performance and its message. These seem like creative choices, and they are, but they are grounded firmly in the soul of physics, in the business of wave mechanics and wave phenomena.