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Programmable Calculators and more

Hi Physics Phriends,

Recently, Bruce Esser responded to one of my posts with the following:

Had you tried to erase my programs, which i programmed myself, you would
have had a fight on your hands and quite possibly a lawsuit for
destruction of intellectual private property.

Depending on the calculator you are wrong. I am sure a clever student
will be laughing at your crude attempts to eliminate the powere of the
calculator. I envisage a professor ..... burning books....... damning
that upstart Gutenberg for the printing press.... ruining for all time the
sanctity of the mind...
oh that's right .... the universities and some high schools are still the
one place where books
are banned during evaluations.........
and you wonder why there is no correlation between university grades and
success in later careers..

and Bruce repsonded to someone else's post with:

Some of us find it disheartening when a fossil continues to waste
processor capacity and memory space to do these types of calculations when
a little instruction could teach them how to use 20th century tools like
the calculator.

I've always enjoyed and appreciated Bruce's posts to this list but perhaps
this week he has a thorn in his paw or simply needs a night with a good
woman (always seems to take the edge off for me).

Bruce, you did not read my post carefully enough. I wrote:

I don't worry too much about formulas plugged into calculators because I
try to give conceptually based exams rather than plug and chug type.


I'm going to come around and check your calculator for
watched with a smirk on my face while at least one-half of the class
started playing with buttons on their TI-XX's.

Please notice the word CHECK. I have never ERASED someone's programs
whether he/she wrote them him/herself or whether they received them from
someone else. I've written enough calculator programs to know that I would
not appreciate someone erasing mine.

I realized too late that I should have explained the background for my
checking the calculators for formulas and I appreciate Doug Craigen's
response when he wrote:

This depends of course on what was announced prior to your coming to the
exam with a programmable calculator.

My RULES are that students may use a 20.8 cm by 12.6 cm note card on the
FINAL exam with anything written on it they wish (including solutions to
problems) and it must be in their own handwriting, not typed or printed.
This takes the pressure off memorizing formulas and concepts. Making up
the notecard in an organized and readable form is good study in and of
itself AND it is worth 10% of their exam grade.

On unit tests during the semester, the rules are that they do not get to
use a note card AND I reserve the right to check their calculators for
stored formulas any time I want to check with no advanced warning.
Unannounced in advance is that if I find such formulas stored, they simply
have to use one of my TI-XX calculators or a simple TI-30 calculators. I
do not acuse them of cheating or erase either stored programs or stored

BACKGROUND for my announced check last week: One of the "physics jocks"
who hangs out in my room during a lunch period told me during the day of
the test. "Mr. T, you haven't had a calculator check since first quarter
and those kids you complain about *getting too much help from each other*
are storing all the formulas for the test in their calculator and when you
turn it on, their screen will say *Mem Cleared* but it won't really be
cleared but all you have to do is press the PRGM button to see the
programs." That was the background for my announced check which became
unnecessary as I watch many of the class clear their calculators. I did
check the calculators of the GROUP that works together *too much*.

NOT ONE student uttered a peep about me erasing their precious programs,
NOT ONE. Which I wouldn't do anyway (but they don't know that yet).

AND I know why. They don't write their own programs. They get them from
others and if I erased them, they would just get them again.

How many of your physics students know how to program their fancy calculators?

EXAMPLE: When we did the elastic and inelastic collisions lab with
magnetic and steel pucks on the air table, I told them that this was a
perfect lab to write a program to calculate the data since they had to
measure Delta X for each puck for at least 20 intervals, calculate V for
each puck, then calculate K for each puck and the total kinetic energy.
Then I showed them how well my TI-85 analyzed sample data on the overhead.
So I said, "With our double lab period, we have time to write such a
program right now. So write a program where you input M1 and M2 and Delta
T and then start a loop where you enter pairs of Delta X's and then hit
enter to run the program to get V1. V2, K1, K2, and Kt. Make sure you
label your output like you've just seen. Get busy, when you're done we'll
check it with my sample data. It should take you about 5 minutes. HA !!

What happened?? 4 out of 24 Honors physics students in 1st hour started
programming their calculators and the rest sat their because they did not
know how to program their calculator and they can't learn it from the
manual because they don't understand the manual.

I asked where they got all their programs (such as the Quadratic Equation)
and they said from someone else. So we programmed the calculators together
as a class. The only problem with that. The later classes already had the
program for the lab when they entered the classroom (and I knew they


I encourage students to work together and learn from each other as long as
it is legit. They are not to copy information from another student's paper
onto their paper and they are to each do the calculations in order to check
each other's work. And yet this is hard to control:

EXAMPLE: Now that we are studying Thermodynamics, I gave them a worksheet
on heat exchange. This 7th period GROUP who "work together too much" the
period before class everyday had the following two examples of "not
catching each other's mistakes:

On a simple hot water-cold water mixture, 8 students set the
problem up to find the final temperature of the mixture when that was GIVEN
and they were suppose to find the initial temperature of the hot water
which, of course, they had assumed was equal to the given final temperature
of the mixture. I told them: "Why didn't more than one person read the
problem so that someone could say, "Hey guys, we are given the final
temperature, we are suppose to find the initial temperature of the hot

On another problem where an ice cube was put into hot water, the same 8
forgot to include the heat energy needed to melt the ice cube having set
the problem up as a cold water - hot water mixture. I told them, "Couldn't
at least one of you say, Hey guys, the ice at 0 degrees C has to melt to
water at 0 degrees C before the water starts heating up to a final

Of course there is the surprise problem where the hot water doesn't have
enough heat energy to melt all the ice. No matter, many students end up
with a final temperature which is colder than the 0 degree C ice (- 15.7
degrees C) and it doesn't occur to them that this is a non-sensical answer.
I always stress the need to ask themself, "Myself, is this answer

After the test last week, I've confronted serveral students on the
following issue: On your homework, you successfully for found V for both
carts at mininum separation and how much the spring was compressed at
minimum separation and yet on the test, you had NO CLUE as to what to do to
find V at minimum separation and to find the potential energy in the
spring. WHY?? "Well, uh, uh, uh, I got help on that problem but I didn't
really understand it." My response, "I think you are getting too much help
on your homework since your test grades don't correlate very well with your
homework grades. Look up what correlate means."

Is Cliff Swartz on target when he states in a TPT editorial (can't give
Chapter and Verse) that he is convinced that at least half the students in
his Introductory Physics courses have no real interest in actually learning
physics but rather are there to get the credit and grade they want with the
minimum amount of effort? I also remember Cliff saying that "only the A
and B students have the foggiest notion of what is going on." (Ch.?? Verse
??) And yet the C and D students (maybe your doctor) still get credit for
Intro Physics.

Back to Bruce Esser again when he writes:

oh that's right .... the universities and some high schools are still the
one place where books
are banned during evaluations.........
and you wonder why there is no correlation between university grades and
success in later careers..

I bet another reason is that college (and high school) students figure out
ways to get the grades they want by hook or by crook with no real effort to
maximize their learning. What did someone on this list say last year?
Something like:

"Education is the one commodity in America where people try to get as
little for their money as possible." source ??

and another one I saw recently on this list:

"There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real
labor of thinking." Sir Joshua Reynolds (posted by ???)

Please do not think I'm turned off on teaching or that I'm hung up on
cheating. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have plenty of
students who daily inspire me and continually renew my enthusiam. I've
mentioned some of the work they've been doing for me on this list (Einstein
Domino Mapping, putting the Einstein Red Eye picture on student homepage,
trying to put my Hale-Bopp files on student homepage for your downloading
pleasure (still unsuccessful), student drawing motorcycle counter-steering
pictures for me to post eventually). I just can't reach all of them with
the joys of real learning. And I accept the fact that I never will.

As far as cheating is concerned, my main effort is prevention rather than
catching. Just as a doctor doesn't let a patient who smokes too much,
drinks too much, eats too much, gets too little exercise and too little
sleep affect his own personal happiness (actually probably means more
business), I refuse to let students who work so hard to cheat themselves
out of a good education affect my own personal happiness. So I'm not as
hung up on students having formulas in their calculator as my initial post
might imply.

After 33 years of teaching, I can even clue you in on whom to watch for
cheating: First, on the first test when they come in an see the desks
spread and then see two versions of the test and another two versions for
the afternoon test (prevention, remember?), the kid who says, "What's the
matter, don't you trust us?" is one to watch carefully.

Then near the beginning of the year, give them a little survey on several
topics including questions about how much cheating they think goes on in
the school on (1) homework, (2) impulsive test cheating, i.e. wandering
eyes, (3) conspiracy test cheating, i.e. consciously trying in advance to
find a way to cheat.

If a student thinks that about 50% of the student body cheats, then that is
very likely a very honest student. If a student thinks that at least 80%
of the students cheat, then that's the student to keep an eye on. WHY?
Students who cheat often justify it to themselves by believing that almost
all the other kids are cheating too. Most people like to think of
themselves are normal and if they cheat and that's normal, then almost all
the other normal kids are cheating too.

WARNING: Never tell them why you give the survey and also, the correlation
here is not ONE. So be careful.

Hey, Deerfield is a Presidential Award Winning school and yet cheating goes
on here just as it does everywhere else. Here, cheating on their National
Honor Society application was so rampant on listing activities, service,
and leadership that the NHS committee went to requiring sponsor signatures
for each listed item. Now they are into forged signatures.

Well, it time to go. Take a deep breath Bruce ! And keep on with your
contributions to this list.

Bye, DiRT

David R. Thiessen FUN + PHYSICS = PHUN
Science Department PHYSICS IS PHUN !!
Deerfield High School
1959 North Waukegan Road Education increases your freedom
Deerfield, IL 60015 Because It Increases Your Options !!
Home phone (815) 337-2883
School phone (708) 405-8488 Education will enrich your life
Voice Mail (708) 374-3811 then *610 Even if it doesn't enhance your income !!
School Fax (708) 945-0970
Remember when students brought teachers
Apples instead of driving them bananas ?? (Quote sources long forgotten)