A “heads-up” for teachers who like to plan ahead

by Ellen H. Showell and Fred M. B. Amram

Women Invent in America

Related issues packaged with a teacher’s guide


Teacher’s Guide

Teaching Suggestions for
Fantastic Feynman

      Article, Page

"A Fine Man," pg. 6
This issue’s consulting editor introduces ODYSSEY readers to the genius and personality of Richard Feynman: Nobel Prize recipient, physics professor, and celebrity scientist.
Vocabulary, Making Inferences

"No Ordinary Mind," pg. 9
Richard Feynman’s approach to problem-solving and his dedication to rigorous self-learning propelled him into the field of quantum electrodynamics (QED), which eventually led to his Nobel Prize.
Vocabulary, Critical Thinking

"One Strange World: QED," pg. 14
The theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED) explains how electrically charged particles can exert electric and magnetic forces on one another by exchanging a "virtual photon." Feynman developed ways of calculating such properties of nature, which have since helped physicists solve other problems.
Vocabulary, Inductive Reasoning

"Feynman and the Rainbow," pg. 16
Feynman’s "two-slit experiment" demonstrates how photons interfere with each other. A sidebar (pg. 19) tells how Feynman reacted to winning the Nobel Prize for physics in 1965.
Vocabulary, Inductive Reasoning

"Fun with Feynman Diagrams" (Activity to Discover), pg. 20
Richard Feynman’s diagrams depict the interaction of energy and matter at a subatomic level. Write a story to accompany a Feynman diagram and send it to ODYSSEY’s Quantum Story Contest.
Following Directions, Applications

"The Charming, Disarming, and Sometimes Alarming Mr. Feynman," pg. 22
Richard Feynman preferred his own questions and experiments to reading what someone else had done. Get inspiration from some of Feynman’s wackier exploits, and then design a serious investigation of your own.
Making Inferences, Experimental Design

"A ‘Small’ Contribution" (Activity to Discover), pg. 25
In 1959, Richard Feynman "invented" nanotechnology for a dinner speech. Follow the instructions given here to build your own "micromover." A sidebar (pg. 27) describes "the smallest synthetic motor ever."
Process Analysis, Following Directions

"The Challenge of Challenger," pg. 28
A simple experiment led Feynman to discover what caused the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. This article explains the physics of rubber and suggests Web sites for further inquiry.
Critical Thinking, Inductive Reasoning

"For the Fun of It," pg. 32
Fantastic facts about Richard Feynman – including his favorite musical instrument and the job he might have taken – reveal the great man’s personality.
Drawing Conclusions

"Scientists at the Round Table," pg. 34
Merlin, magician and counselor to the legendary King Arthur, hosts a fictional discussion on physics, the natural world, and mathematics among Richard Feynman, Sir Isaac Newton, Archimedes, and Albert Einstein.
Drawing Conclusions, Making Inferences

"The Square Root of Genius," pg. 37
Does genius arise from genetics, childhood experiences, or hard work? Probably all three! This portrait describes how Feynman became a "magician of the highest caliber."
Critical Thinking, Deductive Reasoning

"Crack the Code" (Brain Strain), pg. 41
Feynman is shooting darts, and your job is to figure out how likely he is to hit his target.
Computation, Inductive Reasoning

"The Dazzling Autumn Night Sky" (WHAT’S UP including PLANET WATCH), pg. 43
Check out Mercury and Saturn in the evening sky, and get up early for a predawn view of Venus, Jupiter, and Mars. If you know where to look, you can locate other galaxies.
Observation, Following Directions

Think Tank (Discussion Starters to Use Before Reading the Magazine):

  1. Science textbooks tell about many famous scientists of past centuries, but few contemporary scientists are mentioned. Must a lot of time pass before a scientist’s work can be recognized as significant? What areas of modern science do you think will produce the famous scientists of tomorrow?
  2. What is physics? What aspects of nature do physicists explore? In what ways does physics make headlines? What recent discoveries or controversies involve physics?
Classroom "Syzygy":     Talk, Connect, Assess
Pg. 9 – "No Ordinary Mind"
  • Talk It Over:
    1. What events in Richard Feynman’s life helped shape his character and set the stage for his future success? Why were those events important to him? How did he react to them?
    2. Was Feynman’s world truly different from ours? Would Feynman be successful in physics today? Do you think it is easier or more difficult for today’s young scientists to become famous and successful? Why?
  • Connections:
    1. Design: Set a problem for yourself, such as how you might tell time if you were lost without a watch. Then make a "map" of your thoughts to show how you solved the problem. Display your "mind map" on a poster and explain it to your classmates.
    2. Research and Communication: Read a biography of Albert Einstein. Identify similarities and differences between the lives and characters of Einstein and Feynman. Use a Venn diagram to communicate your conclusions.
    3. Language Arts: Take one incident from Feynman’s life and write it as a scene from a play, complete with setting and stage directions. Give your key characters convincing lines to deliver.
  • Student Assessment:
    1. Richard Feynman was a genius both in solving problems and in communicating his ideas to others. In a brief essay, cite three examples from Feynman’s life to support that assertion.
    2. You are a fortune teller. A young Richard Feynman enters your shop and asks to have his fortune told. Write in a conversational essay what you would reveal to him, knowing what you do about his life. What details would you include? Which would you leave out?
Pg. 37 – "The Square Root of Genius"
  • Talk It Over:
    1. What is a genius? What traits might you observe in the behavior or personality of a genius? Do you know someone you think is a genius? Why do you think so?
    2. The roots of genius are both inherited and learned. What genetic characteristics might be involved? What learning is involved? What other human traits can you think of that develop through the interaction of genetics and environment?
  • Connections:
    1. History: Identify two famous but unrelated events in history. Feel free to select from different times and locations. After reading about both, think creatively to identify as many connections as you can between the two events. Don’t reject any of your ideas, no matter how unlikely they may sound. Do any of your creative connections help you understand one or both of the events more clearly or in a different way?
    2. Graphic Art: In your library or on the Internet, research the topic of "multiple intelligences." Find a definition for each kind of intelligence, and select a famous person from the arts, politics, history, or science to represent each. Create a PowerPoint presentation or bulletin board display to teach your classmates about multiple intelligences.
    3. Mathematics: Pretend you are standing outside of a tall building on a sunny day. Your job is to measure the height of the building. All you have is a meter stick and a ball of string. How would you accomplish your task? Can you think of a second method for measuring the building? How many methods can you come up with? Make a list and see how creative you can become at solving this problem.
  • Student Assessment:
    1. Review the article and make a list of the key facts that show how Richard Feynman developed his extraordinary intellect. Organize your information into an essay titled "How to Be a Genius."
    2. You are presenting an award to Richard Feynman. Invent a name and a list of criteria for your award; then write and deliver a speech to present it to Feynman. Use information from the article in your speech.

Far Out!: Moving Beyond the Magazine (with genial comments from geniuses)

"I have nothing to declare except my genius." (Oscar Wilde at U.S. Customs, 1882)
Whole-Class Project: Write and publish The NanoTimes newspaper to report the news in nanotechnology. Write and publish articles about the use of nanotechnology in several different fields, including communication and medicine. Include a Q & A with a scientist, perhaps a college or university science professor or laboratory researcher. Review nonfiction and fiction books that involve nanotechnology (for example, Prey by Michael Crichton). Add a cartoon strip about Nano-Nut, a really, really, small genius.

"Genius is the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way." (William James in The Principles of Psychology)
Small-Group Presentations: Organize the class into teams of two or three students and hold a physics fair. Challenge each team to select a law of physics; then design, conduct, and explain an experiment that demonstrates it.

"With the stones we cast at them, geniuses build new roads for us." (Paul Eldridge in Maxims for a Modern Man)
Individual Extension Assignment: Read a novel or short story. Use symbols to represent the characters and draw Feynman-style diagrams of the plot. Present your ideas and diagrams in a poster and an oral report.

"Genius . . . is the capacity to see ten things where the ordinary man sees one." (Ezra Pound)  Community Connection: Invite a speaker from your local historical society to talk to the class about the "geniuses" who most influenced your town, city, or state. What made them special? How did they shape their times and the future of your region’s land, resources, and people?

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Last modified: November 1, 2004