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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Friday afternoon, I will be presenting for the first time at a national conference. I will be sharing some ideas for using Google to promote science and engineering practices. Preparing for it has kept me very busy lately.
I'm a bit nervous and very excited.
This week Google made two relevant announcements.
1. They are tripling the storage space on free accounts!
2. They have added the ability to add images to Google Forms.
Ed Tech is a fast moving and interesting field. Its like stepping onto a moving walk way. You just need to watch for a minute and jump on.
There is plenty of opportunity for everyone to try something new and let others know how it works. Be brave!
If you are in St. Louis, stop in and see my session.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Taking Square Roots by Hand - A Lesson for Teachers on Internet Learning

I have a lab notebook that a student from Ann Arbor, MI kept in a physical science class during the 1888-89 school year. The student's first name is Herbert, but I can't make out his last name. (Maybe I will try some other light sources to see if I can make it visible.) His handwriting is beautiful and his drawing are carefully made.

The first time I read it, I was surprised at how familiar it sounded. Many of the labs and problems the students did back then are the same as the ones we discuss today. More on that in a later post.

I wonder how old he was and what grade he was in. I wonder what his school was like. I wonder how much he knew about what was going on in the world.

The first lesson in the journal is adding vectors. Yes, we still add vectors. There are notes on "components" and "resultants" and several well drawn diagrams.

What caught my eye was the math on the right side of this page. At first I thought it was long division, but as I looked more closely I saw that it was something else. Herbert had some way to figure out square roots without a calculator or slide rule! What type of magic is this? I had to learn.

So off I went to the math teachers. Yes, they had heard of this ancient knowledge and some had even practiced it a time or two in college. But none of them remembered exactly how it went.

I Googled 'square roots by hand'. I thought once I found the information it would be snap to teach myself. I am pretty good at math and pretty often self taught. I was shocked at how difficult it was to figure this out and follow what Herbert had done.

There are several videos that try to explain this algorithm, but they were of little use (it is entirely possible that I did not find any of the good ones). Some of the web sites were pretty good after I had learned how to do it, but not before.

It dawned on me that this is how out students feel as they try to learn from internet resources. There may be good videos, but students are likely to find bad ones, too, and not be able to distinguish good from bad. There may be websites that explain things step-by-step, but kids can't ask questions along the way.

For example, one video told me to multiple the top number by 20. I didn't know if you ALWAYS multiplied by 20 or if 20 was specific to this example. And there was no way to ask. I had to watch several videos, each with a different example, before I could see what was common to all examples. I am afraid very few of our students would have this much intellectual persistence. 

Taking square roots by hand is a skill that we don't teach students today, they don't need it. Even when I don't have a calculator, I use guess and check. But.....I think this algorithm could be particularly useful for another reason. Many teachers don't know this method, so it would give you a change to see what students go through when we ask them to learn in this way. If you are preparing or collecting internet resources for your students, this would give you a change to put yourself in their place for a moment.

I know that I will look at this issue with increased understanding of how video and internet resources can and cannot be useful. I will ask the students often what they think is helpful and what they found a waste of time.

So, if you don't know how to take square roots by hand, give it a try. Go to the internet and see what resources are available. See if you can figure out what in the world Herbert was doing in 1888.

And take note of how it makes you feel. Are there lessons you can learn about how to make your instruction better?

As always, your helpful comments are welcome.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Student Bloggers

I have been writing this blog for about 4 months. During that time I have learned a great deal about writing, publishing, and thinking. Almost since the first moments, I thought this would be a good thing for students to do. But there were/are obstacles. Finally, this week, I think my students will begin.

There are many choices for adults who want to blog. Blogger by Google and WordPress are free and both very easy to use. Like Facebook and Twitter, they are public but have some choices that can make them more private. Adults are responsible for their own choices. It is up to individuals to learn about these things ahead of time, or learn the hard way.

But students are not adults. It is our responsibility to help keep them safe from their mistakes and from the ill intentions of others (adults and peers). After talking with district leaders and experienced teachers, these are the blogging choices I have made.

1. Which Software?
We will use blogger from Google. The district already has a Google domain. Every student from 4th grade on up has a Gmail account that can only be used on the district domain. The district does not allow access to all features of the service to all students. Blogger and Sites, for example, are restricted to those students whose teachers request them.

2. How to Set Up the Blogs
Rather than have the students set up a blog of their own, I have set up a blog for each section and invited students to be authors. In this way, I can moderate all comments. That means that when someone comments on a post that a student has written, the comment has to pass through me before it appears on the blog. This action helps alleviate the fear that students will bully each other in some way or try to get inappropriate content published.

I think this step is needed for our first blogging experience even if the threat of these activities is extremely low. It may offer me an opportunity to speak with students about issues that I cannot anticipate. Do they know how to phrase comments constructively? Do they know that comments that anger people can cause their message to be lost? Do they understand that written comments can have a life far longer than the feeling or thought that inspired them?

3. Assignments
Assignment will be quite open ended. Our first writing assignment is going to be "The Patent Office is Open". Students will be asked to think of something they have learned in physics this year and apply it to some device to make that device better. Like a regular patent office, once someone has submitted an idea, that idea is theirs and no one else may use it.

Our second assignment will be about nuclear physics. It will be a revision of a project I have been doing for several year. As technology has evolved, so has the project. Originally it was literally a poster about some aspect of nuclear physics that the students found interesting. Each student was given a set of comments on a page that they cut apart and distributed to posters. Comments included "I agree", "I would like to see more evidence", "I have strong feelings about this subject". This year, students will blog about their ideas, provide links to EVIDENCE for their claims and statements, leave comments on the posts of other students (perhaps again from a canned set).

We may have time for a third assignment involving student created videos. Perhaps video analysis of an event, student explanation of a concept that could be added to our video resource collection, amusing videos created to show off physics knowledge. I hope we have time for this one.

4. Assessment
At least one post is going to be in the form of an assessment. I am looking forward to exploring how student blogs can be used as assessment tools.

With so little time left this year, it will be a challenge to fit all this in. I will post later about how things go.

As always, your helpful comments are always welcome!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Modeling and the Photoelectric Effect

Hey modeling colleagues! The post I published today is about creating Google form quizzes as a formative assessment. It got me thinking about using modeling for this topic, something I have not done.

I searched a bit and found this apparatus that Rex Rice and others put together. Has anyone used modeling with the photoelectric effect? I would be very interested in hearing of your experience.

Action Research, Resources, Equipment for the Modeling Classroom

LED Photoelectric Effect Apparatus

designed by Wayne Garver, University of Missouri, St. Louis, templates by Rex Rice,
directions by Mark Schober, ver. 6/08

Google Forms and Formative Assessment

Google forms can be used for a quick "quiz" type of formative assessment. Quizzes are easy to create and the results are compiled in a convenient spreadsheet. There is no paper involved.

If you just want to download a .pdf of this post so you can use it to prepare your quiz: 

here is the link to click

Yesterday, we talked about the photoelectric effect. We listed what we would predict the results of changing color and brightness of light would be if light were a wave. We looked at the actual results of these tests and discovered that the wave model did not accurately predict the outcome. We discussed what scientists do when the model they are using fails. We then looked at Einstein's model of light as photons and saw how it correctly predicts the outcome of photoelectric experiments.

Pretty esoteric stuff. Students worked on some homework questions about the discussion. So today I decided to check and see how many students were still with me. I wrote a Google Forms quiz that the students took as soon as they came in. Each students only took about 2 minutes, so within 5 minutes of the start of class, everyone had a change to get on one of my 7 computers and take the quiz. Some students even had their own laptops which made it go even faster in that section.

Here is how the results show up in my Google documents.

And here is how the spreadsheet looks when opened. I have whited out the student names. Its pretty easy to identify the students who need some extra help.

It tells the time and date the quiz was taken. You could print this out, or just type the number score in the first blank column. You could enter the grades or keep the file to use to adjust your instruction.

If you are collecting data, or working on a portfolio, this type of record keeps track of how many questions students got correct, but ALSO what mistakes they made. Pair this document with notes on what you will do to correct these mistakes and you have a powerful piece of evidence for your instructional decisions.

If you don't have a Google account, see the previous posts about setting one up. To find the other posts, click on the label "Google" on this post and the other posts about Google will show up.

Here is how you make a quiz.

Creating a quiz is pretty easy. Here are the steps. I have lots of screen shots to help along.

1. Open Google Drive. Click CREATE.

 2. Rather than create a document or folder, select Form.

 3. The next screen will ask you to name the quiz. Make it a useful name, not just "quiz" in case you decide to make more (which I'm sure you will). Call it "Chapter 15 Quiz 1a" or some such thing. You will also be asked to select a "Theme" which is the background and font style. I like the default but try one of the others if you like.

4. Click OK when you are done typing the title and choosing a theme. The screen below will appear. You will have your choice of question types - multiple choice, text, etc.

5. Make the first question "Student Name" and select the Question Type as "Text". This lets students type in an answer (their name in this case) rather than selecting from choices. Click the "Required question" box and then click "Done".

 6. Click the Add Item button to add questions until you are done. Type the question in the Question Title Box and select the Question Type you want.

7. If you choose "Multiple choice" a place for the foils will appear.

 8. Type in the possible answers. Don't forget to check the Required question box!

9. Continue adding question in this way until you are done. Try some of the other question types to see which give you the most useful information. When you are done, consider the information in this box at the bottom of the screen. This is the default setting and I don't change anything here. You could change the confirmation message if there were additional instructions for the students as they completed the quiz. Click "Send Form".

10. At this point, there are two important ways you can get the quiz out to the students.

You can copy this link and direct students by providing it. It would be written on the board (old school), sent in an email, shared with students on Google docs, or shown as a link on a web page.

You could create a new web page that has the quiz on it. To do this, click the Embed Box.

 11. If you click the "Embed" box, a short bit of HTML code (instructions for a web page) is generated. Copy this text and paste in onto a web page that is in "Text" not "Visual" mode. You can adjust the size with the pixel boxes, but the default size seems very reasonable.

 12. Click "Done" and you are done. Two items appear in your Google docs, the quiz itself and the spreadsheet where the results will be recorded. I usually take the quiz myself, both to make sure it is working and so the first row of the spreadsheet show the correct answers and acts as the answer key.

Be brave!!! If you haven't tried a Google Form quiz, think of a short formative assessment, just a few questions. Try it out. See how it goes. Ask the students what they liked about it or what they might like better.

As always, your useful comments are welcome!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013