Lewis S. Mills High School 1995-1996  

3 May 2018 Version

I was hired three days before school started.  My predecessor had quit in a huff three weeks earlier, and had left nothing of use.  Moreover, I was the only staff member in the District qualified to teach Physics.   I had to develop demonstrations, lectures, labs, quizzes, tests, and exams, unaided and as we went. In hindsight, I should have recognized that to be a full-time job, but instead I foolishly agreed to also teach a section of Advanced Algebra.

The overload wore me down as the year progressed.

Determining the spring constant of vehicle suspensions:   I was amused to see that all the “test weights” were boys – no girls were willing to have their weights known.  Rather than use self-reported weights, I should have had the boys weighed on the Nurse’s Room scale.

Demonstrating 1 m/sec2 acceleration:  There were many creative ideas in evidence.  xxxxx’s group had the best science – a small trolley on an inclined wire.  Another group used helium-filled balloons to demonstrate vertical acceleration.  I thought the most dramatic was xxxxx on in-line skates crossing measured tape lines on the floor as a teammate counted seconds.

The Physics classes took a trip to see the Millstone II nuclear unit and the submarine USS Portland.  The Portland seemed more interesting to the students, perhaps because it was more “human-scaled” than Millstone.  One amusing incident occurred when my tour group was in the head area and a sailor walked out of the shower area.    No one said a word, and the girls barely reacted:  just another piece of submarine equipment, I guess.

The sledgehammer demonstration:  I lay between two beds of nails, with a cinder block on top, which a student then smashed. Years later, xxxxx told me that, “Any course where the survival of the instructor is in doubt is automatically interesting.”  That is my all-time favorite quote about me.


xxxxx told me that swinging the sledgehammer had motivated him to become a Science Teacher.  He is now the best science teacher at Avon Middle School.

xxxxx was so impressed – or perhaps so horrified – by the Period Two demonstration that during Period Three, she described it to her Guidance Counselor, who then told the Main Office.

Principal Ann O’Brian, Vice Principal Helen Donaher, and the School Nurse came to my classroom for the start of Fourth Period Physics.  Ann looked very nervous – like she intuitively wanted to stop the demonstration, but recognized that she logically couldn’t – after all, I was unharmed by the Second Period demonstration.

After xxxxx swung the sledgehammer and I was still unharmed, she smiled and happily led the other two out the door.  Later I overheard her say that I was the “best physics teacher in the state”. 

Mills bed of nails vs. Simsbury bed of nails:  The Simsbury bed used a one inch square nail pitch, which was mildly uncomfortable.  Mills boys made one for me using a three-quarter inch pitch, which was more comfortable.

Origin of the demonstration:  One small photo in a textbook I was evaluating.

I should have spent more time explaining energy flow and load spreading, but I was focused on the demonstration.

Another day I discussed the four cycle gasoline engine.  Formally:

1.   Intake   

2.   Compression   

3.   Power   

4.   Exhaust



But I added that the more common names are:

1.   Suck      

2.   Squeeze           

3.   Go         

4.   Blow

The boys liked those names better.

Course grades:   xxxxx earned the only “A+” I have ever awarded.  I had a few students at the U.S. Naval Nuclear Power School who probably had higher IQs than hers, but xxxxx’s dedication and determination soared above all others. 

Partially at my suggestion, she did her B.S. in Chemical Engineering at Cornell.  She told me that she was so worried about Physics there that she took it as a summer course so she could spend more time on it. 

She got an “A+” – something I never did.  Neither have I heard of anyone else getting an A+ there.

The course projects ranged from genuinely impressive to … one group observed Venus for a few minutes one night.  And then reported their results.  I decided that they at least learned from the process.  Indeed, xxxxx told me that his experience in Physics was useful in preparing his thesis oral presentation at MIT.

Of the 54 Physics students, I gave:

 8   A-range (A+, A, or A-) final grades;

       44   B-range final grades; and,

 2   C-range final grades.

At the time, that seemed reasonable, especially since there were neither Connecticut nor Mills guidelines.  In light of my later work on grades, however, it probably should have been more like: 

27   A-range final grades; and,

27   B-range final grades.

Sorry about that.

The day I left Mills and returned to Engineering, my income tripled.