Video Story Problem – Foucault’s Pendulum

I hesitated to share this video story problem that I created at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Although poking fun at myself, it does concern me that I ask the right questions to at least get learners headed in a direction with vocabulary and a frame of reference that will actually lead them to success. I haven’t been in the classroom for a few years now (teaching full time that is; I still visit and work with students on a weekly basis), so I had to ask some of my well respected friends in the world of science education if my video story problem about Foucault’s Pendulum even made sense.

I’ve never been great at higher math and mathematics-based physics (I earned a solid C in my advanced calculus-based physics course in college). So I was nervous to ask what seemed to be far too simple a question (possible a naive one) about the conceptual workings of Foucault’s famous pendulum designed to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. I had no idea how this pendulum would work (in theory) unless if was directly above one of the two poles on the planet. So I asked some educators with much larger brains than I have when it comes to science:

Frank gave me encouragement that I was at least thinking about it in right way, and helped me better understand that there actually would be many points on the Earth on which this pendulum just would not work the way Foucault intended. Thanks, Frank! One of the questions I’m left with then is whether or not we should have educators that would be willing to appear genuinely confused/curious about scientific concepts?

Ira Flatow, the host of NPR’s Science Friday, does a masterful job of asking innocent questions that often make me wonder whether he truly knows what he’s talking about. It makes me wonder if parents and students would support the same type of activities, or at least guiding questions, in which the educator displays a sense of wonderment, curiosity, and perhaps a bit of naivety in hopes of generating interest in the topic by learners. Or would they rather prefer to have content experts doling out the information that learners need, exactly when they need it?


  1. Hey Ben,

    Sorry I didn’t respond at the time. I was I a MACUL Board Meeting that day and then Frank seemed to have you covered…

    I’ve heard interviews with Ira Flatow and he does ask questions he knows the answers to because he knows many audience members do not. In this way he can ensure his guest will give answered full enough to satisfy all of his listeners.

    I also do this in class, but for different reasons. I learned it from another amazing educator, @mr_pata. Personally it is more important to me that I teach my students to think than that I teach them physics. If they always look to me for the answers to questions they don’t know then they will be stuck always trying to find an expert. Instead I say, “I don’t know,” to virtually every question I’m asked. When students are really stuck I try to model habits of thinking that will ultimately lead them to the answers they crave.

    A side benefit of this strategy is they never truly know when I’m honest in my lack of knowledge, so they assume I really do know everything!

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