97 J o u r n e y s i n F i l m : H i d d e n F i g u r e s L e s s o n 6 (PHYSICS, PROGRAMMING) Computers Come of Age Enduring Understandings • A nonzero net force on an object causes a change in its momentum. (Newton’s second law) • Newton’s laws apply at vastly different scales. • Computer programs can simulate complex phenomena with relatively simple rules. • Automation has long played a deciding role in job market shifts, and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future. • Essential Questions • What quantitative effect do forces have on the motion of an object? • How did early NASA workers, including Katherine Johnson and her fellow “human computers” depicted in Hidden Figures , use repetitive (iterative) techniques to model the paths of rockets? • How has automation affected employment in the past, and how is it likely to affect it in the near future? Notes to the Teacher The programming problems in this lesson are designed to be done in the classroom under supervision, especially at the beginning. As the students get more comfortable with GlowScript, some programming problems may be done for homework. Calculation problems, on the other hand, are best assigned as homework problems. The students then present their own work and respond to the presentations of others. The role of the teacher is to guide the discussion and ask probing questions. Before the lesson, work through all programming exercises that you will use in the classroom, even if you are familiar with Python or VPython. Much of class time will be spent helping student identify minor typos, misplaced parentheses, and the like. Having the code fresh in your mind will make this process easier. Students who finish early or who have prior experience with coding can also help identify bugs in the work of their peers. Instead of having students watch the introductory videos independently in problem 2, you may wish to walk the students through each exercise in the videos in class on a projector or large screen. Then give them the challenge at the end of each video to do on their own, in class, or for homework. This gives you a chance to address the typical problems with typos, spaces, bad formatting, and so on that arise frequently with students new to programming. The 30-minute video Thinking Iteratively , at . youtube.com/watch?v=e-shsRZQsi4 , presented by Bruce Sherwood and Ruth Chabay, gives a good overview of the reasoning behind using iterative programming in teaching physics. (This video is a useful tool for you, rather than for
your students.) Sherwood and Chabay’s textbook, Matter and Interactions , uses VPython extensively in its presentation and exercises. Any modern computer with Internet access can run GlowScript. If GlowScript does not run for some reason, try a different Web browser; Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome usually work well. Tablets and even phones may be used, although the input interface is more awkward, especially for inserting tabs and copying and pasting code.
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