We’ve made it through the first quarter of the academic year! We started the course by exploring Growth vs Fixed Mindset, including research by Dr. Carol Dweck, and videos such as the TED Talk below, “The Power of Belief”:

We learned that the view someone has of themselves can have a lot to do with how successful they become. In particular, we are more successful when we realize that intelligence is not fixed, but changeable. Talent and intelligence do exist, and they do differ between people. But they are the product of practice and intentional effort, not something inherent.

(As a demonstration, Mr. Ratnayake is practicing basketball every Friday after school for three hours. He started with airballs in September, now he is looking forward to the student-teacher basketball game at the Homecoming pep rally. Bring it.)

We then began our exploration of physics content by exploring the idea of Energy, what it is, how it changes forms, and how it moves through the universe. As part of this unit, we designed Rube Goldberg Machines, in part inspired by awesome chain reactions such as the one found in OK Go’s music video for “This Too Shall Pass”.

Along the way, we developed skills in setting up scientific experiments, forming testable questions, identifying experimental variables, graphing data and identifying deceptive graphing practices, and writing good scientific reports of our findings.

The remainder of the term was spent on Electricity and Magnetism. This unit included a study of electric charges, Coulomb’s Law and electrostatic force, as well as the two main modes of charging objects. Some of us have better Physics hair than others.

Moving charges create electricity, which we can manipulate into simple circuits — these simple circuits can be combined and recombined into ever more complex circuits. We learned Ohm’s Law and the rules of series and parallel circuits, and used physical enactments, analogies of flowing water, and mathematical analysis to deepen our understanding what voltage, current, resistance, and power really mean.

A project on electrical power consumption asked students to examine electrical appliances in their homes and devices they use everyday to determine power consumption, estimate monthly usage, and calculate an itemized energy cost based on Boston-area electricity prices.

Our work on electricity and its connection to magnetism culminated in our Term 1 comprehensive vehicle, building and analyzing a brushless DC electric motor from a plastic cup, steel wire, magnet wire, and basic circuit equipment. The project required a lot of delicate tinkering with the solenoid coil in order to get it to be appropriately balanced and sanded.

But patience won out! Below is the working operation of Makiah and Daneya’s electric motor (the first one operational for 9th Honors Physics).

Up next in Term 2: Mechanical Energy, Thermal Energy, and a look at the future of energy sustainability and climate change.

Welcome students and families to another exciting year of Science at New Mission! This year I will be sharing the Physics courses with Mr. Gene Lee, who has just joined our staff. Mr. Lee will be teaching College Prep Physics, Chemistry, and Math. I’m excited to have Mr. Lee on board as a colleague and have already learned much from his experience.

This year, I will be teaching 9th and 11th grade Honors Physics, as well as a section each of 9th and 11th grade Biology, so despite the title of the blog, be prepared from some life science updates as well.

A preliminary course description for 2014-15 Honors Physics has been posted to it’s own page. Two additions to the curriculum this year include the Toshiba Exploravision competition for 11th grade Physics students, and the Dupont Challenge science essay competition for 9th grade Physics students. Both of these national competitions allow students to engage with the future of technology while developing critical scientific, research, and literacy 21st century skills. We will also be continuing last year’s Museum of Science experience to explore global challenges in renewable energy and energy sustainability.


The scope and sequence of topics in Physics this year is expected to be:

  1. Science Skills
  2. Energy
    1. Electrical Energy
    2. Mechanical Energy
    3. Thermal Energy
    4. Energy Sustainability
  3. Kinematics (the study of objects in motion)
  4. Dynamics (the study of forces and changing motion)
  5. Gravitation and Circular Motion (orbital motion if we get time)
  6. Mechanical and Electromagnetic Waves
  7. Light and Optics

The scope and sequence for Biology is expected to be:

  1. Living Systems & the Chemistry of Life
  2. Ecology
  3. Evolution and Biodiversity
  4. Anatomy and Physiology
  5. Cell Biology
  6. Genetics

More updates as we approach the first day of school!

Students and teachers have been extraordinarily busy these last few weeks, finishing up major projects and exams for the end of the first semester on top of putting together comprehensive portfolio reviews. When things get this busy and every day seems exhausting, sometimes it’s hard to remember the big picture of how far we’ve come.

I just posted grades for the second quarter, and ran some numbers to give myself a big-picture view of the trends in the class. I was so impressed with how much students have improved, that I have to share!

midyear trends 9th honorsAbove is the overall data for my freshman advisory/physics class. The class average has risen from a 69% to a 78% since the first progress report. In October, less than half of students were passing the class… Today 80% of them are passing. And the proportion of students earning an A or B has gone up from only 23% to almost half the class.

As a class, our hard work is paying off! I’m looking forward to a strong Spring semester building off of these successes.

Students recently completed their second quarter vehicle to demonstrate their knowledge of wave physics. Working in collaborative teams, students took on the role of science investigators, with the goal of determining the physical properties of the earthquake and tsunami waves using simulated data from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the USGS (United States Geological Survey).

Sumatra Disaster Project – Overview

Waves are how the Universe transmits information and energy from one place to another. Sometimes this energy can be destructive to humans. In this project, you will take on the role of an investigative team that has been tasked with putting together an analysis about a major earthquake and tsunami.

This project is based on the 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami, caused by an earthquake just north of Sumatra. It was the third largest earthquake in the world since 1900. In total, 227,898 people were killed or were missing and presumed dead and about 1.7 million people were displaced by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 14 countries in South Asia and East Africa. The tsunami caused more casualties than any other in recorded history and was recorded nearly world-wide on tide gauges in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. (Source: USGS).

Your Task

A major earthquake and tsunami has just occurred in Southeast Asia. Governments, nonprofits, and private companies need scientifically accurate information fast, so that they know what happened and can decide how to move forward with responding to the disaster. One of the first things that needs to happen is to put together a team of scientists and engineers to analyze the situation.

You and your group are a science investigative team that has been assigned to analyze the wave physics of the earthquake and tsunami. You only have a few days, because resources need to be mobilized before it’s too late to help people. We also hope that by studying earthquakes and tsunamis, we can learn how to protect people in the future.

In addition to the general investigation, each team will be responsible for one of the following cities of interest: Banda Aceh (Indonesia), Padang (Indonesia), Chennai (India), Trincomalee (Sri Lanka), Mogadishu (Somalia), and Dar es Salaam, (Tanzania). Certain questions will ask you for information specific to your group’s city. The star in the map below represents the earthquake’s epicenter.

sumatra quake map


You will have access to several resources throughout the duration of this investigation.

Sources of Information

  • Readings from the textbook.
  • An earthquake data set from the United States Geological Survey
  • A tsunami data set from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Most important: your own notes, research, and reasoning!

Expert Consultant

An expert consultant has been hired: Professor Ekayantar. However, as a private contractor, he is very expensive and charges the government per question. In order to stay within the budget for this investigation as determined by Congress, each investigative team may only ask the consultant three questions for the whole duration of the investigation. Simple clarification questions don’t count, but he gets to decide!


At the end of the project, each member of the team will rate his or her teammates contributions to the final result. Your peer evaluation will be a portion of your individual grade on the project. A rubric will factor in the individual work in the handout, observed teamwork, team final poster, and the peer evaluation.

Teamwork counts! Excluding group members will count against you just as much as not contributing.

Vehicle Essential Question: Why is wave physics important to the study of natural disasters?

Course Essential Question: How is physics used to help people and society?

engineeringAre you creative?

Do you like to solve challenging problems?

Want to design the future of humanity?

Then attend an

Engineering Information Session

Mr. Ratnayake

NMHS physics teacher and former NASA engineer
will present on science and engineering careers,
what it takes, and how to get there.

Thurs 12/5 or Tues 12/10 at 2:45pm
Rm 225

End of the Term

Posted: December 4, 2013 in Class Updates
Tags: ,

We have made it through the first term, and I am very proud of many of the students. I think particularly for freshmen, it can be difficult to get used to the rigor of high school — especially a high school as rigorous as New Mission. But I have seen a tremendous amount of growth in my students over the course of the term as they adjust to the new year and new material.

Physics can be a hard subject, but with consistent effort and a desire to understand, it gets much easier. Staying on top of the work and keeping notes and readings organized are a great foundation for more focused studying later!

Term 2 will be our bridge between the major components of the year. We started with the study of motion (kinematics) and are in the process of finishing up change in motion (forces and dynamics). By the winter recess, we should also be complete with gravitation, circular motion, and momentum.

With the start of the new year in January, the plan is to spend roughly a month on Waves (light, sound, vibrations), then move to a couple weeks of portfolios. Then we will close the year with Energy, Electricity, and Heat Transfer by learning through project-based units around the theme of alternative energy and energy sustainability.


This week in Physics, juniors started a group project that explores the Kinematics of a car accident.

You are an analyst with the Boston Police, working to help detectives learn what happened in a serious car accident at Blue Hill Ave. and Morton St. in Boston.

Victor Velocidad was driving southbound on Blue Hill Ave when he failed to stop in time at a red light at Morton St.  His car collided with another car in the intersection. Everyone survived, but multiple serious injuries and vehicle damage occurred.

Mr. Velocidad claims that the light does not allow enough time to stop, even when driving within the speed limit. However, eyewitnesses report that Mr. Velocidad may have been driving irresponsibly at the time of the accident.

Either way, we need to know what happened. If Mr. Velocidad is at fault, the victims deserve justice. If Mr. Velocidad is not at fault, then highway safety engineers may need to redesign the intersection to keep people safe.

Your Task

There are two possible charges that prosecutors might bring against Mr. Velocidad:

  • Charge A: The defendant was speeding at the time the light turned yellow.
  • Charge B: The defendant was driving while distracted and did not apply the brakes in time.

In order to support the investigation, the main questions you must answer are:

  1. What was Mr. Velocidad’s speed at the time the light turned yellow?
  2. What was Mr. Velocidad’s reaction time between when the light turned yellow and when he started braking?

As part of the project’s background on distracted driving, we read a study from Texas A&M University that showed how drivers distracted by text messaging take on average twice as long to react. We also watched two videos about distracted driving, below.

This first one is more serious, to highlight the emotional reality of how close calls can happen while distracted.

This second one is a bit funnier and shows a driving school in Belgium that convinces teens not to text while driving by making them text while trying to avoid an obstacle in a closed course. The young drivers learn quickly how hard it is to both text and drive in a sudden obstacle situation.



Last week in class we watched and discussed the video “Kinematics of Football” from NBC Learns.


We asked ourselves the following questions about the video:

1. What is Kinematics?

Kinematics is the study of motion.


2. What are the three Kinematic concepts?

The three kinematic concepts are position (where an object is), velocity (how fast and it what direction the object is moving), and acceleration (how quickly and in what direction an object’s velocity is changing).


3. What two things make up velocity?

Velocity is made up speed and direction.


4. What is the difference between speed and velocity?

Speed and velocity are both measured in length per time. The difference is that speed uses a length for which direction does NOT matter (distance) and velocity uses a length for which direction DOES matter (displacement).


5. What is a change in velocity called?

            A change in velocity is called acceleration. This could be a change in speed, direction, or both.


Speed Practice – Answer Keys

Posted: September 18, 2013 in Assignments
Tags: , ,

E Block (Freshmen) have a quiz on speed tomorrow. You should already have the speed practice sheets with you. Use this answer key to help you study.

Speed Practice KEY [pdf]

Journals will be collected tomorrow September 12 for Freshmen and Monday September 16 for Juniors. The three topics to which all students should have responded are as follows:

  1. The Earth’s Roundness (9/5/13): How do you know that the Earth is round? How could you prove that the Earth is round?

    Be specific. Imagine the most stubborn person you know, and that you have to convince them when they don’t believe you.

  2. Time Keeping (9/10/13): Imagine that you are living before clocks or watches were invented. How would you keep track of time? What would you measure?
  3. Pendulum (9/12/13): Respond in your journal to ONE of the prompts below.
    • Why do you think a pendulum makes such a good time-keeping device? Compare the pendulum to one of the ways that you invented to keep time in your last journal entry. How are they similar? How are they different?
    • Why is it important to be able to measure time accurately? How do you think people and society were changed by the invention of the pendulum clock? Give at least one specific example.

Aside  —  Posted: September 12, 2013 in Assignments
Tags: , , ,