Making Rainbows, Shooting Monkeys, and Crossing Running Rivers.

(10 geek points if you already know what this post is going to be about)

There are certain things that you take for granted as a physics student in America. The first three that came to my mind are rainbows, monkeys, and rivers.

(5 geek points if you now know what this post is going to be about)

These three examples are staples of the American physics classroom. When you learn about optics, you learn about how rainbows are made. When you learn about projectile motion, you "shoot the monkey," and when you learn about vector addition, you paddle across a running river. Every general physics book I have laid my hands on has covered these three examples in some form*.

But there are so many differenced between the German and the American physics system. Do these children, bright as they are, know about rainbows? Do they know about shooting the monkey? I'm making it my mission to find out.

What spurred this? I was sitting at home with Andi earlier today - outside the front window, the sun was setting behind a light rain. Because I've taken physics from Terry Johnson, and I've played in my fair share of lawn sprinklers, I knew that if the sun was setting in front of the house, and it was raining, there must be a rainbow out back. I didn't have to look first - I just knew. I wonder if this kind of thing gets taught in the German classroom.

For example, today was the third or fourth time I've sat in on the "here's how a transformer works" demonstration. I've heard it from three different teachers for two different grades, and not a one of them has (as far as I have heard) mentioned all the transformer steps between a power station and your house. Transformers allow us to move electrical power through miles and miles of electrical lines, with very little loss. It may not sound like life-changing information, but to me, it's like not getting to hear the end of a favorite song.

This is not to say that the teachers didn't have great demonstrations of the usefulness of transformers - all of them showed off the step-up transformer hooked to a Jacob's Ladder, and one of them even melted wax with a step-down transformer and a ring-shaped wax holder.

I just worry that the students, bright as they are, aren't getting the whole picture. Physics isn't just whizz-bang neat-o demonstrations in a classroom, or a set of beautiful equations - it's the most accurate explanation of the inner workings of the universe known to humans.

Maybe the magic is getting lost in translation.

*the one exception being my university physics book. Apparently, to be more sensitive to... monkeys, I guess... the example involved shooting a coconut. A coconut. Who shoots at a coconut? What possible reason is there to shoot a coconut? I swear...