Published: May 4, 2015

Ed KinneyLast fall, students nominated Physics Professor Ed Kinney for an ASSETT Award of Excellence for Outstanding Teacher for Technology in Teaching in Physics 1240 Sound and Music.  Students wrote that the PhET simulations and YouTube videos that Kinney showed in class supported their learning of complex Physics concepts.  In their nominations for Kinney to receive the award, students wrote that:

[Kinney's] use of online simulations like PhET to encourage understanding or to solidify complex concepts like wave movements of strings with or without fixed ends.  Also interesting YouTube videos to clarify how things work such as the inner machiantions of the ear.

Kinney stresses that the real credit should go to the creators of PhET simulations, a University of Colorado Boulder office that has created and shared hundreds of free science and mathematics simulations for K-12 and higher education learners.  "The PhET simulations are the backbone of what I use," says Kinney.

PhET logoWhat is Physics and Music?  Kinney says, "This is an elective class to teach the physics of sound and how that is coordinated with what happens when you make music."  In Physics and Music, students learn about sound and sound waves.  They learn what happens to the waves as they move through the air from a speaker or musical instrument into your ear and vibrate the parts of the inner ear.  Kinney sometimes brings musical instruments to class to show the students the Physics involved in how the instruments make different sounds.

Most of all, Kinney says that simulations are vital to demonstrating these concepts.  Kinney says:

If you don’t have some means of visualizing this thing that is happening in space and time all at once.  So the simulations are enormously helpful. ...  A lot of the resources I use have to do with getting a good understanding of what waves are like and how they work.  It’s quite an advanced topic.  Even Physics majors don’t get waves until a ways into their education.  The mathematics of waves is more advanced.

For example, Kinney asks students to use this PhET simulation to learn about waves.

Kinney says, "I can’t imagine teaching this course without these materials."  He says that the simulations show changes and movement of sound through time better than a still image: "There’s not a still picture in a book that you can get across what is happening in real time when sound waves come into your ear.  Still pictures don’t convey the understanding," says Kinney.

Additionally, Kinney's students use sound recording software like Audacity so that they can see the changes in frequencies as they make different sounds.  Kinney says, "The other thing we used was audio software.  It’s free and high quality, which allows students to record sounds and listen to it on their laptops."

Kinney says, "I see teaching as a very much mutual interaction."

Visit Kinney's course webpage