Monthly Archives: November 2010

Electronic Whiteboards

Yesterday, I finally had the opportunity to try something that I have been wanting to do for over a year: electronic whiteboards.

Last year, we were the fortunate recipients an an HP Innovation in Education grant which included a classroom set of tablets (we never had tablets before). I immediately thought of having students prepare traditional Modeling whiteboards on the tablets and project their “whiteboards” on a screen as they present them. I encountered two roadblocks. One, my classroom has a front “lecture” area with individual student desks and a screen and LCD projector and a back “lab” area with lab tables. We prepare and present whiteboards in the lab area and hang the whiteboards from two S-hooks tied to the ceiling. I wanted to continue to prepare and present electronic whiteboards in this lab area which would require obtaining a new projector. We found an extra projector which was installed near the end of last year. The second roadblock was that I didn’t want to incur the overhead of students physically connecting a VGA cable to their group’s tablet in order to present. I wanted to seamlessly be able to switch between laptops. This just recently become a reality as the projector was connected to the network.

Electronic whiteboards were fantastic. Especially considering that we had never attempted them before and the process was new to the students and me. We noted several advantages to electronic whiteboards over traditional whiteboards:

  • We’re not as tempted to rush through presentations as we near the end of class. If we don’t get to a whiteboard in one class, we can display it the next day. Today, we quickly picked up where we left off at the end of class yesterday. This is significant since I only have ten whiteboards in my classroom in which eight classes are taught every day. It is not always feasible to save a whiteboard from one day to the next. (Yes, the irony of having a classroom set of tablets but not a whiteboard per group is not lost on me.)
  • Whiteboards are exported as PDF files and uploaded to the class website on Schoology. Students can view whiteboards outside of class if they are absent or if they want to review them again. Students can also comment on whiteboards posted on the website so the conversation can extend beyond the classroom. Students commented on this advantage much more than the others.
  • Whiteboards appear to have more detail and yet are easier to read than traditional whiteboards. If more room is required, OneNote (which is the application in which we’re drawing our whiteboards) simply grows the page. This encourages groups not to artificially limit themselves to a 2′x3′ whiteboard. Furthermore, the whiteboard is projected on a large screen. If a group writes too small, they can zoom in and scroll around during the presentation. In addition, none of the lines look like they are drawn with dried out whiteboard markers!

I’ve only noticed one potential disadvantage. The physical tablet screen is smaller than a physical whiteboard. Groups still huddled around the tablet like they would a whiteboard, but it is not as large an object around which to gather. Also, only one student can write on the tablet at a time while occasionally two students will be writing on the same whiteboard at the same time. So, I’ll have to keep an eye on this and make sure that the group collaboration during whiteboard preparation doesn’t suffer.

We’ll definitely try this again. I expect that it will even go smoother since students are now familiar with the tablets, OneNote, and how to connect wirelessly to the projector. If anyone has tried something similar and can offer some tips, please share!

Halloween Physics

There is a tradition at my school of physics and chemistry classes having a day of science-related demos on Halloween (or the closest school day). We share and discuss a wide variety of demonstrations with the students that relate to topics they have already studied, topics they will be studying, or just cool stuff that, for whatever reason, we won’t study.

One of my favorite demonstrations involves a PVC pipe, a ping pong ball, a soda can, and a vacuum pump. The ping pong ball is inserted into the PVC pipe and both ends of the PVC pipe are sealed with mylar (the shiny material of some helium balloons) and PVC couplings. The vacuum pump then evacuates the PVC pipe. Once evacuated as much as possible, a knife tip breaks the seal at one end of the PVC pipe and the ping pong ball is pushed out the other end at an incredible high speed. Last year, we captured the result with a high-speed video camera (1000 fps):

This demo provides a great shared experience to later relate to almost any area of mechanics. I can use it as an example for the work-energy theorem with my regular physics class, fluids with my advanced physics class, or challenge the AP C class to solve for the force on the ping pong ball given the pressure applied to the hemisphere. Plus, we now have a whole collection of decimated soda cans on display!