The Modeling Approach to Physics:
An Interview with Mr. Ferreri
Mr. Ferreri is a new teacher at Canton High School who specializes in physics and astronomy. He has introduced an unconventional method of teaching, as well as a unique way to warm up the minds of his students at the beginning of class.
Q: How do you like the school so far?
A: It’s been great. I’m finding that everybody here is really friendly and nice and very supportive. All of the other teachers have welcomed me very, very easily. And I just love the environment. The kids are great and it’s just a great place to work.
Q: Why were you drawn to physics and astronomy?
A: I’ve always been a very science, math, geeky kind of person ever since I was little. One thing that always really peaked my interest was astronomy, space, and all that jazz. The universe is so vast and complex, I just wanted to understand it all. So I decided to study astronomy in college, and I decided to become a physics teacher because I just love to share that knowledge with everybody. And it’s how the universe works, so it’s kind of cool to be able to let everybody in on the secrets.
Q: Describe your new method of teaching.
A: So I what I use is called the modeling method. It is very, very focused on students and how you learn. It’s easiest to learn something when you kind of build up the knowledge yourself. So we do lots of inquiry labs where we’re investigating a problem without too much prior knowledge just to kind of see what we get. And then from there we’ll see what we can learn about the underlying physics. So it’s very hands on; it’s very interactive. We use whiteboards all the time for lab results and worksheet problems, and we just share it out and we have lots of discussions so we can kind of go on this journey of building our physics knowledge together.
Q: How do you warm up your students’ minds in the morning?
A: We usually do a “what if” question, which comes from Randall Monroe’s book What If. He’s the creator of the webcomic XKCD. They’re just some really absurd questions that he tries to answer using math and science. And so every day when kids come in, I’ll have one up on the board and just ask them what they think about it, what questions they have, what thoughts they have in terms of how you might solve it, and things like that. They’re pretty crazy, so everybody enjoys hearing some of the insane things that people ask.
Q: What’s your favorite example of one of these what-if questions?
A: Out of the ones we’ve done so far, I think my favorite was the periodic table of elements – just because it’s so crazy. Yes, let’s build the periodic table out of elements and watch it explode in a massive fireball. That’s one of my favorites.