barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
Today I met a bunch of new (to me) students and talked with them for most of an hour about temperature and heat flow and conservation of energy and graphs and equations. Afterwards three of them independently came up to me to tell me that my teaching style is "outstanding." I'd call that a successful first day of class.

Later, in office hours, a familiar-looking student came in for some help with the same subject matter, and to get my advice and opinions in general on physics classes, learning about logic, a possible philosophy minor, and how to apply all of this towards an eventual career in emergency medicine.

He then told me that three years ago he was in the summer orientation algebra review class I taught, and apparently what I wrote on his final exam had had a huge impact on him. It seems he hadn't really applied himself much during the summer orientation program, and during the final he felt totally lost and wrote a rather emotional note to me on the back apologizing to me, the instructor, for doing so badly. He tells me I wrote a very long and thoughtful response (I just barely remember this myself) telling him that he doesn't need to apologize to me; that the only person harmed or helped by his studying habits is himself; and that it's going to be okay--that a big part of the reason for this summer program is to give him a chance to make mistakes and learn from them in a safe space without huge negative consequences. I didn't fully realize it at the time, but apparently this was exactly what he needed to hear.

It's always nice to find out, even years later, that what I've done has made the world a little better for somebody.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
This evening I went to the awards ceremony that concludes a summer orientation program that my department offers for incoming first-year students. I was primarily there to give out balsa wood gliders as trophies to the teams that had scored the most points in a Physics of Paper Airplanes workshop a few weeks ago... but after doing so, I realized that I had a moment in the spotlight with a captive audience of over 200 cheerful students who already think I'm pretty cool. I launched into an impromptu speech (because it turns out that what I'm really best at is making stuff up on the spot) about science, technology, and social responsibility. I'm going to try to type up as much of it as I can remember while it's still fresh in my mind...

----------

I'm a firm believer in the idea of salvation through technology; salvation through knowledge; the notion that we can make our lives and our world better by understanding the universe and finding ways to manipulate it.

It is amazing how powerful technology is in the modern world. We can communicate with people all over the globe instantly. We can travel to the other side of the continent in mere hours. We can survive injuries and illnesses that, a century ago, would have been assumed invariably fatal. We can produce enough food by having 1% of our population working on farms instead of 90%. Amazing advances.

But technology comes with dangers as well. We can kill each other with a twitch of a finger. We can destroy entire cities in the blink of an eye. We can poison our own air without even trying.

We need the technology, but we also need to learn how to use it responsibly, and how NOT to use it. The advances in what we CAN do must be paired with careful thought about what we SHOULD do.

So by the power vested in me by nobody in particular, here is what I wish for all of you, whether you're going into the sciences or not:
the perception to learn about the world around you,
the cleverness to design amazing new things,
and the wisdom to use them to make the world a better place for everyone.

And if you EVER need any help in ANY math or science class... you know where to find us.

----------

That's it as near as I can remember. It seemed to go over remarkably well with the students. (And no, I didn't actually say "With great power comes great responsibility," but I was thinking it pretty hard.)

See, I've been thinking a lot recently about my own responsibilities as a physics teacher who strongly believes in peace and social justice. I've known for years that it is my responsibility to teach physics to all who request it... but I also feel a need to be a paragon of pacifism. I have often worried "what if I teach physics to some students and then they use what I've taught them to design weapons?" Now I realize what I must do: pair my direct teaching of physics with some subtler teaching of ethics, using my mythic reputation as leverage. Good to know.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Summer session: ten weeks' worth of physics material packed into only five. Every support workshop is a rush; every day I find that students are studying material about a week ahead of what I would expect. So often in the past few weeks I've been reminded of Feynman's footnote:

"How I'm rushing through this! How much each sentence in this brief story contains. 'The stars are made of the same atoms as the earth.' I usually pick one small topic like this to give a lecture on."

So much marvel and wonder in the universe; so little time to discuss it in detail. Such is life.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Just had a thoroughly invigorating shouting match with a hellfire-and-homosexuality street preacher out on the quad. I started by trying to counter and/or question the claims he was shouting about God's attitude towards sex, marijuana, and modern sinful college students; realized I wasn't getting anywhere; noticed that there was actually a sizable audience; and decided to fight fire with fire by shouting right back.

I paced around him while shouting (louder than he could; thank you projection workshops) that he was a terrible preacher because he's only shouting and not listening; that the first thing any teacher, preacher, actor, or politician MUST learn is LISTEN TO YOUR AUDIENCE; that he just seems to walk onto a college campus thinking he knows everything about the students already and yells at them without listening; then I turned to the audience, gestured broadly, and shouted "Here's your audience, so listen! Audience! What do you want to tell this fellow?"

They all shouted as one: "GO HOME!" Couldn't have said it better myself. That stunned the preacher just long enough for me to step in front of him, face the assembled students, and give a one-minute impromptu sermon on the Gospel of Fred Rogers, a far better Christian than this so-called preacher, telling the students that today is a better day because they are here, that nobody should tell them they are bad for being themselves, that Mr Rogers and I love them just the way they are, and that it is indeed a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Walked off just in time to be out of sight before the adrenaline wore off. It's not so great to nearly collapse when the audience is watching.
barnabas_truman: (math)
I just received perhaps the best compliment ever from a student:
"The thing about you is: you not only seem smart, you also seem wise; you know what I mean?"

Reputation

Jun. 13th, 2014 03:59 pm
barnabas_truman: (army)
One of the group activities at today's end-of-the-year staff meeting involved writing about an individual accomplishment from the past year. I struggled to think of something specific and eventually wrote

"Became a character of mythic reputation within the campus community, rumored to be a wizard, a demigod, an omen of good fortune, whose very presence causes bystanders to understand math and physics better, whose music on the quad can tame wild beasts, whose mystic prowess can calm or drive off angry bigots. This raises student morale and improves publicity for the department."
barnabas_truman: (math)
(cross-posted from Storytelling Physics)

This evening I spent nearly 2.5 hours running the final review session for the differential equations students (their final is tomorrow morning). There were 46 students there! They ran out of chairs, so they sat on the floor; they ran out of floor, so they stood in the hallway. I gave them general tips on test-taking, I gave them specific tips on this particular professor’s tests, and I walked them through long and complicated problems on weighted strings, vibrating membranes, eigenvectors, and quantum oscillators. I told them that no matter what happens tomorrow, they’ve survived a full quarter of the toughest lower-division math class that this university offers, and that no matter what classes in math or physics or engineering they take from now on they’re always welcome to come to my office hours for help. When we finally called it quits so I could catch the bus I got a hearty round of applause and a bunch of handshakes. Good times and a satisfying end to the quarter.
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
Here's a nice solid in-your-face depiction of what big numbers actually mean.

http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/what-does-quadrillion-sour-patch-kids.html
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
Notes for a reference sheet I'll be making for my physics students later this summer:

-20°C: inside a freezer
0°C: water freezes/ice melts
4°C: inside a refrigerator
10°C: winter in Davis
20°C: comfortable and a bit cool
25°C: comfortable and a bit warm
30°C: time to hit the pool

37°C: inside your mouth
40°C: summer in Davis
50°C: a very hot day in Death Valley
100°C: water boils/steam condenses

175°C: baking cookies
205°C: baking frozen pizza
barnabas_truman: (math)
Responses from a couple of students...




What did you like about this workshop?

AH-MAY-ZING! Barnabas is such a great math lecturer. I love his idea of teaching the concepts behind the math & not just basic problem solving techniques. These workshops have helped me sooooo much. I clearly understand everything!

What suggestions do you have for improving this workshop?

None. This workshop is damn perfect!




What did you like about this workshop?

Barnabas is the best tutor I've ever met. If I never came to his workshop, I would probably be failing this course. He explains material incredibly well and I would definitely take another of his workshops if it pertains to my class!!!

What suggestions do you have for improving this workshop?

I wish there was more of Barnabas so he can help everyone.





Well that's reassuring. :-)
barnabas_truman: (kimiko)
Today's staff meeting was more exciting than usual: a group discussion with administrators about recent occupations of Dutton Hall and the plans they're developing to deal with future protests.

While I am glad that they are putting a great deal of thought into the issue, I am concerned about a couple of things. First, I'm not convinced that the administrators truly understand the mindset of the "new protester"--at one point in the meeting it seemed that one administrator was under the impression that the first Occupy Dutton (which was obnoxious but allowed classes to continue) and the recent pro-Palestine takeover (which chained the doors closed and allowed no-one to enter the building) were the same group.

Second, it sounds like all of the plans are *reactive* measures ("What can we do WHEN Dutton is occupied again?") rather than *preventative* measures ("What can we do to make it less likely that Dutton is occupied again?"). I'd love to see more communication with student groups to send the message that this sort of protest is NOT effective. It does not sway the opinions of policymakers, it does not provide good publicity to anyone, it disrupts education, and it makes students and staff angry--not angry at the subject of the protest, but angry at the protesters themselves.

The university ought to be saying "We know you have serious concerns. Taking over a student services building isn't going to help. Let's work together to find productive ways for you to voice your concerns."
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Long ago I stood on the balcony of a physics lecture hall, watched the leaves of a nearby tree shiver in the wind, and pondered the physics of their chaotic dance. Today I passed by the same building, watched the leaves dancing again, and thought:

Twelve generations of leaves have grown and fallen since I last paid them any mind, but the tree remains and each new leaf can still dance.

Twelve generations of students have passed through this hall since I learned physics in it, but the building remains and the class is still taught.

Twelve years of experience have shaped me since I first watched this tree, but I remain myself and I still think these thoughts.

These moments of clarity--these deep connections that grow between my memories, the land's memories, my future, and the land's future--are among the best things about returning to teach in the place where I once learned. Would that everyone had such opportunities.
barnabas_truman: (army)
Today in my physics workshop I taught about some water flow stuff, some electrical flow stuff, a lot of heat flow stuff, and an introduction to an equation that ties all of them together. I love covering topics like this because much of it is new ideas that the students are seeing for the first time, yet can be related directly to their everyday experiences.

In particular, I was discussing the idea of thermal conductivity--a measurement of how easily heat can pass through a material. "When would you want low conductivity?" I ask the class; "what's a situation where you want heat to flow very slowly?"

Silence. Somebody ventures "Chemical reactions?"

"Stop thinking about the lab for a minute," I say. "What's an *everyday* thing that you want to stay hot for a long time?"

Thoughtful silence for a second or two. Then, all at once, half the students in the room say "…Coffee!"

(Why yes, it is midterm season; how did you know?)

So this leads into a great discussion of the sorts of materials that are used for coffee containers and why they work well and others don't. Good times.

Even better: the heat transfer stuff lead to some examples with exponential decay, and investigation about why the energy vs time graph follows exponential patterns. After the workshop, two of the students asked for some clarification about exponential growth and decay--why does it do that? Why is the number "e" so important? It's not like the bacteria know about "e," do they? So I went into my usual explanation of what the derivative really means, how it relates to the basic prealgebra definition of slope, why it all works, how that applies to exponential functions, and why we use "e" as the base (short answer: it makes derivatives easier). The students just ate it up. One of them even showed up to my office hours later, asking if I could go over the meaning of a derivative again so she could think about it some more and make sure she's got it.

It took a while for that to really sink in: two students who have already been through calculus, and never need to take a math class again, voluntarily stuck around after an optional workshop because they wanted me to explain derivatives.

Sometimes I forget that my teaching skill really has improved quite a bit since I first started seven or eight years ago. It's nice to get a reminder of that every once in a while.
barnabas_truman: (math)
The whiteboard in my office is covered in stick figures named Alice and Bob who are riding fast trains and shooting lasers at clocks.

I like it when students come in for help with relativity!

Grading

Nov. 13th, 2012 12:54 am
barnabas_truman: (Default)
Some things never change. I spent the evening grading midterms while wearing a cape and listening to Flogging Molly.
barnabas_truman: (army)
I pulled off a really awesome teaching moment in drop-in tutoring today. Towards the end of the time slot, there were only two students still there; one in Physics 7B (which is currently covering vectors, forces, and momentum) and one in Physics 7C (which is currently covering electrical forces).

I spent some time helping the 7B student practice drawing free body diagrams, in which an object is represented by a single point and all forces acting on the object are drawn as vectors emanating from that point. She seemed to be picking it up pretty well, so I left her with a few more practice problems and moved on to the 7C student.

The 7C student had been in drop-in tutoring before to get an explanation of the forces charged objects exert on each other. He was currently being puzzled by a problem about a balloon sticking to a wall due to an electrical charge, and having trouble understanding what force was holding it up. I suggested that he draw a free body diagram on the chalkboard, and right away he filled in the force of gravity pulling the balloon down and the electrical force pulling the balloon into the wall, but couldn't think of any other forces acting on it, meaning the balloon "should" move diagonally downward and into the wall.

"So is the balloon going to move through the wall?" I asked. No, of course not. "Then what force is keeping it from doing that?" He couldn't remember. "Do you remember doing free body diagrams in Physics 7B?" He smiled sheepishly and shook his head. At that point I realized that the only difference between this and a typical 7B problem was that one of the forces is electrical, and that was already on the diagram anyway.

Aha, I thought, I have another untapped teaching resource right here in this room!

"Hey, 7B student!" I said. "You're doing free body diagrams right now; what's keeping this balloon from pushing through the wall?"

"The normal force from the wall on the balloon!" she replied cheerfully.

"Exactly! And if there's a normal force mashing the balloon and the wall together, what other force is holding the balloon up?"

They chewed on that one for a while, and finally both got "Oh! Friction!" when I re-drew the diagram sideways (they're not accustomed to thinking of friction on a vertical surface). After that everything fell into place and the rest, as usual, was just algebra.

Thus having saved the day, I donned my hat and cloak and flew home.

Anyway I thought it was really neat that I was able to simultaneously bring together students from two different classes to solve one problem, give the 7C student a review of 7B material, give the 7B student a preview of 7C material, and let them both feel like they had accomplished something. I love my job.
barnabas_truman: (army)
A while ago I custom-ordered a bunch of Lego parts online. I had been looking for some sort of building toy so I could build frameworks to hold together the demonstration circuits I use in physics workshops, and the Technic pieces with holes for axles seemed like they'd be just the thing for keeping wires in place. Here's the result:



(The stack on the right contains a 9V battery in the upper compartment and a bank of capacitors in the lower compartment. The switch allows toggling between charging and discharging the capacitor bank through a buzzer, demonstrating exponential decay of current.)


On a whim, I decided to get some axles and gears as well. Between workshops and office hours, I occasionally spend some time in my office messing around with these delightful clockwork building blocks, and this is what I've managed to build:







The cream-colored gears have 20 teeth each and the black ones have 12, so each axle rotates at a speed 20/12 times that of the previous one. That means the final axle rotates at (20/12)^6 times the speed of the first (hey! more exponential growth!), or about 21 times as fast. I've ordered a few more gears and axles (I ran out) so I can fill up the rest of the block and get a 60x speed multiplier!

See it in action here:

barnabas_truman: (army)
Here's all the stuff I have stored on my graphing calculator, in case you were wondering (and/or for my own reference). I wrote all of it myself over the past seven years or so.


AAA: a placeholder for small temporary programs, e.g. if I want to experiment with some sequence to look for patterns but don't need to keep the coding for later.

ABCSPRAC: Abacus Practice; generates two random numbers and an operation (+, -, x, ÷), waits for user to press Enter, and displays the answer.

ANT: checks if current pixel is black or white; if black, changes it to white, turns left, and moves forward; if white, changes it to black, turns right, and moves forward. Leads to some interesting designs, especially if there's already something on the screen. Based loosely on a discussion of emergent properties in Science of Discworld.

BAB3: uses the Babylonian Method to approximate cube roots (see below).

BABYLON: uses the Babylonian Method to approximate square roots. Suppose you want to find the square root of 12. Start by picking a guess; let's say 3. But 3*3 isn't 12; 3*4 is 12. This means that the square root of 12 must be between 3 and 4. The midpoint would be 3.5, so use 3.5 as a new guess and start the process over. But 3.5*3.5 isn't 12; 3.5*3.429 (approx.) is 12, so the square root of 12 must be between 3.5 and 3.429. The midpoint would be 3.4645, so we use 3.4645 as a new guess and start over... and so on. By hand it's tedious, but a calculator program can perform such repetitive tasks extremely quickly. I wrote this for a class in grad school called Topics in Analysis.

BALL: displays a single pixel bouncing off the walls of the screen (and tracing its path). Initial velocity is chosen randomly; velocity can be influenced using the arrow keys.

BALLGRAV: same, but with gravity.

BIRTHDAY: calculates the probability that at least two people have the same birthday in a group of n people.

BISECTIN: the Bisection Method; approximates the x-intercept of a function in a similar fashion to the Babylonian Method. The user picks two numbers as guesses (an upper bound and a lower bound between which the intercept must be); the program finds the midpoint between those guesses and uses that as either the new upper bound or the new lower bound (depending on whether the function's value there is positive or negative) and starts the process over again. Also for Topics in Analysis.

BOUNCE: displays the word "BOUNCE" bouncing around the screen. Rather silly, I'm afraid.

BRIKDRAW: an attempt to make a Breakout-style game. It kinda works but it's really boring and there's no way to lose.

BURNSHIP: an attempt to draw the Burning Ship, a fractal somewhat similar to the Mandelbrot Set. Way too slow. I should try it in LOGO instead.

CIRCINV: displays a circle on the screen, allows user to select a point, and draws the circular inversion of that point (sort of like a reflection, but across the circle rather than across a line). It's useful in certain branches of geometry and I think it might be related to cylindrical mirror anamorphoses. M.C. Escher was probably into it too.

CTROFMAS: given two point masses and the distance between them, finds their center of mass. I wrote it for my own use when I was teaching high school algebra/physics as a quick way of checking students' answers.

DICE: prompts the user for number of dice and number of sides per die, then simulates rolling those dice and displays the total. A nice time-saver for RPGs.

DIRFIELD: given a differential equation, draws a direction field for it. The solution to a differential equation is a curve, or rather a family of curves; the direction field is a grid of small line segments whose direction shows which way a solution curve would be going if it passed through that point. A very useful visualization tool.

DRAWPTRN: fills in pixels on the screen based on a certain algorithm to see if interesting patterns result. Currently I have it set to "if the x-coordinate and y-coordinate are relatively prime, color the pixel black," which does indeed yield an interesting pattern. Might look nice on fabric. I am reminded of the bit in The Difference Engine about a fabric made by Ada Lovelace "feeding raw algebra into a Jacquard Loom."

DRAWRAND: same, but the algorithm is "flip a coin to decide whether to color the pixel black or white." Silly.

E: displays the values of (1+1/n)^n as n grows larger and larger, demonstrating that this gradually approaches 2.71828... or e.

EULER: uses Euler's Method to approximate the solution of a differential equation. It's essentially a numerical version of the direction field mentioned above.

EULERPAR: same, but for parametric equations.

FACTOR: given a whole number, lists all pairs of factors whose product is that number (e.g. given 45, it will list 1, 45, 3, 15, 5, 9).

FIBONACI: lists out as many Fibonacci numbers as the user requests.

GCDEUCLID: uses Euclid's Method to find the greatest common divisor of any two whole numbers.

GR8RACE: asks the user for the strength of gravity, the mass of the race car, the length of the race track, the coefficient of friction, the force the engine can provide, and the car's desired initial and final velocity, and tells the user where the driver should hit the brakes. I wrote this as a quick way to check students' answers for a project in the algebra/physics class.

JACOBI: I have no idea what this does. It appears to be an iterative method for approximating the solution to some sort of matrix equation, so I presume it was for Topics in Analysis. Probably something like the Bisection Method but with matrices?

LAUNCHV: given two numbers A and B and the strength of gravity, tells the user the initial speed and direction with which a projectile must be launched. I'm not quite sure what A and B represent; possibly the coefficients in the equation of the parabolic path the projectile is intended to follow. Another one for checking students' work in the algebra/physics class.

M47R1X: gradually fills the screen with random ones and zeroes. Silly.

MANDLBRT: draws the Mandelbrot Set by making a sequence of calculations for each pixel on the screen. Works well but is very very slow. I'm proud of it but I like my LOGO version better. Amusing trivia: I used the chorus of JoCo's song "Mandelbrot Set" song as my sole reference for programming this.

MANDLCHK: originally just checked if a single point, given by the user, is part of the Mandelbrot Set or not. Useful for checking students' work in the algebra/physics class. I later modified it to also display some neat graphs showing how exactly the aforementioned sequence of calculations converges.

NEWTON: uses Newton's Method to approximate the x-intercept of a function. It starts with a user's guess as usual, then treats the function as a straight line near that guess and figures out where that line would hit the x-axis (easy enough) and uses that x-value as a new guess to start the process over again. Very effective. Another one from Topics in Analysis.

ORANGE: did you ever see that old logic puzzle where you start with a cup of water and a cup of orange juice and you put a spoonful from cup A into cup B and stir, then put a spoonful from cup B into cup A and stir, and so on over and over again? No? Well anyway this program simulates that.

PASCAL: draws Pascal's Triangle with all multiples of n removed. Very neat patterns, especially for prime n. I wrote this while student-teaching Algebra II (and later used it in a presentation for Topics in Analysis) and I'm very proud of it.

PASCLROW: displays all the numbers in row n of Pascal's Triangle.

PASCNORM: displays some scatterplots that are probably intended to imply that the larger rows of Pascal's Triangle begin to approximate the normal distribution from stats? I'm not sure I remember writing this one, but it's definitely my style.

PASSWORD: this isn't a program; it's just where I store the password to the current level on a built-in puzzle game called Blockman. I haven't actually played it in years.

PCOUNT: not quite sure what this does. I think I was using it to count how many steps it takes for a certain p-series, specifically (10/11)^1 + (10/11)^2 + (10/11)^3 + ..., to reach 9, then 9.9, then 9.99, then 9.999, then 9.9999, etc. as it converges towards 10. I think I felt like I was on the verge of discovering something important but then realized that, when examined from a different point of view, is was pretty obvious and mundane so I gave up. I forget what exactly it was though.

PRFACTOR: similar to FACTOR, but instead of listing pairs of factors, it breaks the number down into its prime factors. I was rather proud of this one; it's not a very efficient algorithm but it's one I made up myself and it's a little faster than brute force.

PSERIES: similar to PCOUNT, but without a counter to keep track of how many steps it's taken.

PTRSBURG: simulates the so-called "St. Petersburg Lottery," a somewhat famous exercise in probability theory about a hypothetical gambling game set up in such a way that the only way it can be truly fair is if the cost to play is infinite.

PUNKED: another prank. When the program is running, it looks like the ordinary home screen, and allows the user to type in most simple calculations as normal, but multiplies each result by a random modifier between .99 and 1.01... leading to numbers close to the answer but with something wrong about them. Intended for use on students who rely too much on their calculators but never actually deployed.

PYRAMID: an attempt to extend Pascal's Triangle into three dimensions. Enter a number and the program will give you a square matrix representing a cross-section of Pascal's (Square) Pyramid that many layers down from the top. I've since realized that a pyramid whose cross-sections are equilateral triangles is actually more useful, but this one still has some neat patterns.

QUADFORM: uses the quadratic formula to solve a quadratic. Occasionally useful; mainly I keep it around as a quick and simple example to show students how programming works using a mathematical concept they already know.

QUADITER: uses an iterative method similar to the Babylonian Method to approximate the solutions of a quadratic--as usual, user picks a guess and program repeats some calculation to get a closer guess, and a closer guess, and a closer guess, and so on. Written for Topics in Analysis, of course.

ROCKET: given three numbers (acceleration of gravity, rocket's velocity when observed, and height at which it was observed, I think?), the program calculates when the rocket was launched, when the rocket will land, and how high it reaches. Another one for the physics/algebra class, of course.

ROCKET2: a prank on my co-teacher. I described it to him as "an improved version of the ROCKET program," but it exaggerates the launch time by a factor of 100, gives the land time as π seconds, and claims that the rocket will reach a height of "a shade of green" meters at time "fish" seconds. Silly.

ROT13: given a letter, converts to a number (A=1, B=2, C=3, etc.), then adds 13 and converts it back to a letter. A simple but classic way of encrypting a message. Fun fact: the process of decrypting this particular code is exactly the same as the process of encrypting it, because 13 is exactly half of 26.

SFBDICE: similar to DICE, but modified for use with the damage allocation chart in Star Fleet Battles.

SFBDSTNC: an attempt to create a program that could quickly calculate the distance between any two hexes on a hexgrid based on their coordinates using the hex-labeling system in Star Fleet Battles. Never figured out how to get it to work.

SFBSPEED: type in your ship's speed and this program will tell you when it should move during the turn. Very useful.

SIERPRND: uses a random-walk algorithm to generate, rather surprisingly, the Sierpinski Triangle. Fun to watch.

SLIDESHO: a quick way to display saved images without having to go through a bunch of menus each time. Nice shortcut for showing off related graphs, variations on Pascal's Triangle, zoom-ins of the Mandelbrot Set, etc.

SNOCRASH: creates some small files and makes them bigger and bigger until the calculator's memory is completely full. Silly.

STUDENTS: displays the name of a student, randomly chosen from a list. I used this when I was teaching high school to call on students randomly.

TEMP: converts temperature between celsius and fahrenheit. Another one I use to teach students the basics of programming.

TWENTY4: simulates an old French dice game called Twenty-Four (roll two dice 24 times; if you get double sixes at least once, you win; if not, you lose). Mainly of historical interest; apparently Pascal was inspired to invent modern probability theory when a friend asked him if this was a fair game or not. (Turns out that losing is more likely than winning, but only very slightly.)

TWENTY42: same, but runs the game many times and then displays how many wins vs. how many losses.

VECSPIN: user enters a 2x2 transformation matrix. Program simulates a vector of length 1 spinning around the origin, but displays the result of said vector multiplied by the transformation matrix instead.

VECTRAIL: same as above, but leaves a trail.
barnabas_truman: (dwarf)
Just spent a decent chunk of office hours playing with Lego gears... and using them to explain important principles of mechanics to some physics students. I love my job.

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