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Oct 25, 2013

From Newton to Allison: The Laws of (Teaching) Physics

"With a good education, you get choices. I've been able to make choices in my life because of the education that I was given, and that is what we want for you."  Kena Allison

Dear Champions of Education,

It was in 1905 that Einstein first taught the world about Special Relativity. This week, it was Milken Family Foundation Co-Founder Mike Milken who brought a relatively special teacher into the Milken Educator family. Kena Allison is a physics teacher, department chair and instructional coach at Thurgood Marshall Academy. Kena is always looking for creative ways to teach her students the laws of physics, using everything from Red Light, Green Light to analysing sports to riding roller coasters. Today, we take a page out of her playbook and use physics to illustrate award-winning teaching. Let's call them the Milken Educators' Laws of Student Motion.


Newton's First Law of Motion: An object in motion stays in motion, an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an external force.

Milken Educators' First Law of Student Motion: A student in motion stays in motion; a student at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by a passionate teacher dedicated to their success.

Many students enter a classroom prepared with knowledge accumulated from prior years of studying the prescursors to that subject and, barring negative intervention, they will continue on that trajectory. But many other students don't enter that way. Whether they weren't sufficiently encouraged at home, in their previous schools or classes, or otherwise managed to just "get by" without getting the learning foundation they need, these students are likely to fall further behind unless a passionate educator takes a specific interest in their success. At Thurgood Marshall Academy, some students begin three-to-four years behind; luckily they have great educators like Kena there to meet them. Kena developed a program that catches students freshman year and puts them on an accelerated learning path—so that by the time they reach her 12th grade physics class, they are up to speed and ready for any challenge.

Newton's Second Law of Motion: The acceleration of an object depends on the net force acting upon the object and inversely upon the object's mass.

Milken Educators' Second Law of Student Motion: The acceleration of a student's education (and potential in life beyond school) depends on the force of an educator affecting the student, and inversely upon the student's resistence to learning.

Students jump for joy at Kena Allison's announcementIf every student came in ready and excited to learn every morning, teachers' jobs would be a lot simpler. The reality, however, is that students are often uninterested, distracted or downright resistant to learning. The success of an educator in getting a lesson through to the student will often, therefore, depend on finding a way to get past the resistance and cultivate an interest. Kena, like many of our teachers, uses subjects that students are already interested in (like rap music and sports) as a gateway to showing them how physics will help them understand their everyday lives and achieve their future dreams.

Newton's Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Milken Educators' Third Law of Student Motion: For every lesson a teacher imparts to a student, the student imparts an equal lesson to the teacher.

Unlike the transfer of energy, where the object imparting the energy winds up with less, the transfer of knowledge—especially in the hands of passionate educators—only increases Kena Allison and Mike Milken in front of mediaknowledge for both participants. The student learns the lesson and the fact that they can learn; the teacher learns what works or doesn't work, refining his or her craft. Both emerge from the interaction with more energy and passion for their roles in the equation.

Kena may not have been born an amazing teacher. In fact, she was in medical school, on track to be a doctor. It was only when she went to teach AIDS awareness Ghana, that she discovered a love of teaching. She learned something about herself through that experience. It inspired her and set off a chain reaction: the inspiration led to a passion, which led to a career, which has already impacted hundreds of lives, which drew the attention of the Milken Family Foundation, which led to the Award, which we hope will lead to even greater inspiration—including inspiring her students to follow in her footsteps—and start the cycle all over again.

That concludes our physics lesson for today. You can learn more about Kena Allison on her profile, where you'll also find more of the story in her photos and videos. There won't be a written test but for extra credit, we suggest joining us on Facebook, following us on Twitter and subscribing to our YouTube channel.

Yours truly,
Boris Kievsky
Newsletter Editor and Physics Geek
Manager, Online Communications and Engagement
Milken Family Foundation

In this newsletter:  Kena Allison (DC '13)
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