Don’t be surprised if you see Batman flying through Todd Leif’s physics lab. Of course, it’s not really the Caped Crusader himself. Instead, Leif’s students regularly measure the forces created by a flying, rotating, superhero action figure. Supported by Vernier data collection tools, such innovative experiments are just a normal part of the curriculum at Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kansas.
Leif has been teaching both high school and college-level science for nearly 20 years. From the very first, he has made Vernier sensors, probes, and data collection software the centerpiece of his classes. He credits his early exposure to Vernier’s How to Build a Better Mousetrap and 13 Other Science Projects Using the Apple II package with getting him started.
“… I started using as many of the Vernier tools as I could get my hands on.”
“As a senior in college, I did a great deal of work with the Mousetrap book,” Leif recalls. “That stuff was so exciting to me! Then during my first year of high school physics teaching, I had my students work on projects from the book. Eventually, I started using as many of the Vernier tools as I could get my hands on.”
The switch to Vernier technologies was a welcome one for Leif. He remembers many long, frustrating hours in the physics lab during his own high school career. The classic Hook’s Law lab was particularly painful. “We’d have weights, springs, rubber bands, a ruler, and this big apparatus for force measurements,” notes Leif. “We’d try to do the experiment, read the numbers, and hand-plot our results. If it didn’t come out right – and quite often it didn’t – we’d have to repeat it again. But since the process took so long, we rarely got a second chance.
“Vernier has made my physics labs simpler and faster. As a result, I can expose my students to more learning opportunities.”
“Now, with the Vernier Dual-Range Force Sensor and Logger Pro software, my students can collect the data, and if it doesn’t look good, they can do it again in about one-fifth the amount of time,” Leif continues. “I can have the class do one lab, then ten minutes later they can do another one. And plotting a graph is so much slicker and easier. Vernier has made my physics labs simpler and faster. As a result, I can expose my students to more learning opportunities.”
Currently a doctoral candidate in Science Education at Kansas State, Leif is also a former photojournalist. The latter discipline makes him especially appreciative of the experiments his students can perform using the new video capture and analysis capabilities of Logger Pro software.
Says Leif, “My students can go into the gym and videotape each other shooting free throws, or head out to the field and gather footage of someone throwing fast balls. Then they can come back to the lab and study projectile motion and speed by doing video analysis with Logger Pro. They can set the scale, define an origin, and track the positions of up to three objects. And, they can see graphs being plotted instantly.”
Leif regularly challenges his engineering students to invent the most creative way to use Vernier products. In the past, this contest has seen students using Vernier sensors to measure the force generated by everything from rocket engines to flowing water. After two decades of using Vernier technologies in his classes, Leif believes they foster enthusiasm for learning. He is hesitant to consider any other approach to teaching science.
“Each new innovation from the company has somehow impacted my teaching in some way.”
“Teaching with Vernier has been a lifelong thing with me; I’ve never taught a physics class without using Vernier data-collection technology,” Leif states. “Each new innovation from the company has somehow impacted my teaching in some way. My students have always enjoyed the easy, user-friendly interfaces of the products, and Vernier continues to make everything extremely affordable. Every day my students have neat new experiences with Vernier products. No other innovation in science education has made that possible.”