Brian Finn teaches physics at Wellesley High School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, at levels from an introductory course for the 9th grade through Advanced Placement Physics C.
What are you most proud of in your work?
When I first taught physics, my classes were predominately male, but last year I had my first AP physics class with more girls than boys. A couple of years ago, I discussed the issue of promoting women in science. At the suggestion of my students, I began a lunch group where girls could meet with women working in science, inviting some of my former students who are now scientists and engineers.
Share a story from your past that led to your choosing your field of work.
My favorite high school teacher, Mrs. Warburton, taught physics using a bizarre sense of humor. For example, she said friction was caused by gremlins. Her proof of the existence of gremlins: they were also constantly hiding her coffee mug.
What topic do you find hardest for students? How do you teach it?
The most challenging topic in classical physics is Newton’s laws since many students come in with Aristotelian notions. I try to get students to directly confront these misconceptions by discussing conceptual problems, devoid of any math.
Is there a book you’re dying to tell your peers about? Give us a brief summary and why you love it.
A little known but fascinating book is Zvi Schreiber’s Fizz. It is about a young girl who is in a future overtaken by environmental disasters. She lives in an eco-community that scorned science, but her father is a scientist who built a time machine that allowed his daughter to learn physics from leading figures in history. But what makes the book worth reading is that the main character decides who to meet by keeping a notebook of the important questions she wants to answer.
If you could pick one scientist to come speak to your class, who would it be and why?
Galileo—because it all essentially began with him!