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Teaching Physics Blog

The 64 Year Old Teacher Meets the iPod Touch

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Many teachers say "I've learned a lot from my students". If they are talking about course content, I think that is a travesty. If they are talking about learning from their students what common misconceptions are, or how to explain the material - fine.

While I usually don't make the claim that "I learned a lot from my students", one of my "most challenging to teach" students, because he wouldn't do his homework even though he had been accepted by MIT, did convince me I needed to get an iPod. This is the student I referred to in the Oct. 20, 2009 blog, and by the way he did email me back a couple of days after my post in the Nov. 2 blog where I indicated he hadn't emailed me back.

Now my need for an MP3 player is to listen to podcasts (I can listen to my music on my CD player). For the most part I like technology, in fact I had two MP3 players ahead of picking up my iPod Touch for Christmas this year. Very briefly, the first MP3 player I bought was in 1997, but it very soon became obsolete because they were still changing the MP3 formats. About half the material I would download wouldn't play on it, although the material was supposed to be MP3 content.

The second MP3 player was more of a name brand unit, a SanDisk with 1GB of memory, that was a lot of memory for the time. It cost me about $100. This MP3 player had four buttons on it and a small joystick type button. It also had a small screen that could display text. One button was for recording external sound, I didn't need that. One button was for going between point A and B in a song, and then repeating that section, I didn't need that. One button was "hold" to pause the music, I didn't need that either. That left one button and the joystick control to run the unit with, and this is where the problem begins.

I grew up with on-off switches that had two states: on, off! I've taken on-off switches apart, and there are contacts inside, either the contacts are open, or the contacts are closed, this is what on-off means. On this $100 MP3 player, sometimes the on-off button would turn it on, sometimes it would activate (start playing) the podcast that was in the display, sometimes it would pause the podcast mid-stream, sometimes it would shut the unit off. Sometimes (most of the time) it would take me out to an area where I could adjust the equalizer. Count them! That is six different things happening, and all happening with a single button that to me should simply be turning the unit on and off! A good on-off switch is up for on and down for off, or clockwise for on and counter-clockwise for off. This one had one direction of travel - down, and when you did that it did any of one of six or more tasks, and the motion for each task was essentially the same - push the button down.

Then there was the joystick, up-down, left-right, punch the center. Yes, I know it is supposed to choose the directory I'm in, choose which song in the directory I want to play, adjust the volume, fast forward or rewind. However, just like the on-off switch, the same motion would produce different results. Yes, I know that all of this depends on how long you hold the button down and what the player is already doing at the time you press the button. The manual was extensive, but pretty much incomprehensible, apparently written by somebody for whom English was a second language.

I was finally reduced to just punching buttons, observing what they did, and trying to write my own manual on a 3x5 index card about what this thumb size MP3 player was going to do when I pushed the two buttons I had to control it with. Need I tell you more about why my next player had a larger touch screen, the iPod Touch?

Again, I'm 64 years old. My late Dad had limited his out of town driving to distance he could reach on 1/2 a tank of gas because he couldn't figure out how to use the newfangled gas pumps to add more gas to get home on if he used more than 1/2 the tank on the way out.

When I opened the iPod Touch, I pealed off the paper that it was wrapped in, and then there was this piece of plastic over the screen. I expected it was a screen protector, as I pulled that plastic off, all of the approximately 20 icons I could see on the screen come off with the plastic. My initial thought was this must not have been a screen protector! It must have been the labeling for the buttons on the unit. I had now managed to remove all of the labeling. $380 down the tube in the first minute! At this point it is time for a 64 year old to get out the manual. The box wasn't that big, but I did find a manual. The manual for this $380 piece of equipment was a 3.75 inch by 12 inch strip of paper, folded over four times. The washing directions in the pocket of my new coat were more extensive than the directions to operate this iPod Touch.

This blog post is getting too long again, I'm going to have to wait for the next post to let you know how the iPod Touch is working out.

I do need to explain how this blog ties to the Physics. My student above had told me about the MIT open courses that include the MIT lectures on Physics by Walter Lewin . I have since learned that the Bill Gates has funded placing the Richard Feynman Lectures Online. In future blogs I expect to tie some of these lectures more directly to the specific topics in the HippoCampus online content.

Oh, and yes, I can learn some content from Walter Lewin and Richard Feynman.

How to Make a Playlist on HippoCampus:
A four-minute tutorial video
HippoCampus Physics Study Group on
NIST Reference on Constants, Units, and Uncertainty:
AP Physics B Site from Dolores Gende, AP Central's content advisor for physics since 2004:
College Board's AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism Course Home Page:
College Board's AP Physics C: Mechanics Course Home Page:
Table of Information and Equation Tables for the AP Physics Exams:

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