Freshmen Get A Jump On Honors Physics

About 15 freshmen who will be in Honors Physics class this year got a sense of the course when they participated in five two-hour classes this summer.

The social distance physics class was taught by Dr. Frank DiCapua, who had about 15 students. Most were in the classroom, seated in every other chair, but at least one each day logged in from home.

Xavier is starting the school year with students in the building. Still, in every class this year, a laptop is set up for those who might need to view the class from home.

“That worked well,” DiCapua said. “I could address the student, talk to him; he could speak up or send me a note that I would see.”

The two-hour block each of the five days is split between a lesson and a hands-on lab. This year, things were a bit different with COVID-19. When the students are in the class this school year, they will wear both a mask and a shield for double protection during lab time. The shields were not available for the summer course, so the labs were on line.

DiCapua used the PhET (Physics Education Technology) online program out of the University of Colorado Boulder. While that acronym is still used, there are interactive simulations on many more subjects that just physics.

“They have a whole bunch of labs,” DiCapua said. “You basically log in and can run a lab like you would in class. In class, for instance, we might have hot wheel cars; we set up a slope and record the speeds when the cars starts and the car ends, and find out such things as the acceleration, the velocity, how much time did it take. 

You can go to PhET, and they have the same thing, only it’s theoretical, so you can choose the ramp, change the angle. I came up with five labs, one for each day.

“The kids still worked together, if not in groups, but they would speak out loud or call across the room to each other. Once the students were comfortable I had some in the front of the room, I turned on the projector, and they would run their modeling experiment with other kids watching. The kids are great that way. They participate, they give suggestions, they point things out.”

Because the online simulations were theoretical, DiCapua said students could experiment more so than if they were in class. “Yet doing something on a computer is never the same as actually doing it yourself,” DiCapua said.            

The first day of school for all Xavier students is Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day.