Monthly Archives: February 2011

Einstein Day

Last week, I got fed up and couldn’t take it anymore.

I’m fortunate that many of my students are really curious about science and ask fantastic questions.

Sometimes these questions are directly related to the topic that we are investigating, and we discuss them immediately.

Sometimes these questions are unrelated to the topic at hand but are of a limited scope and can be discussed and as a short tangent to the “plan” for the day.

Sometimes these questions are directly related to a topic that we will study in the future, and we table them until that time.

Sometimes these questions are unrelated to anything we study, are not quickly discussed, and are fantastically engaging. Often these questions are in the area of modern physics. Since we don’t study anything in my regular or honors physics courses that was discovered within the last century, these topics are not part of the curriculum. (Yes, I’m working to address this.) An answer of, “we study that in Advanced Physics” is unsatisfying since most of my students won’t take a third semester of physics. Our curriculum, especially in honors physics, is so aggressive that we really don’t have the flexibility to chase down these fantastic tangents.

So, last week, while discussing the doppler effect in the context of sound, a student asked what would happen if a car traveling at the speed of light turned on its headlights? Would the doppler effect apply in some way? Wow. The other students were immediately engaged and started proposing ideas and more questions. I couldn’t bring myself to once again say, “we study that in Advanced Physics.” Instead, I got a huge sticky note, slapped it on the wall, titled it, “Physics Questions,” and added the question. I declared that we would capture fantastic questions like this and dedicate time later in the semester to have a series of short presentations and discussions to explore them. Students can research questions in which they are interested and I’ll take a few too.

They asked when we would do this. I Googled for Einstein’s birthday. March 14th. Someone remarked, “hey, that’s pi day!” Serendipity.

Anyone care to join us?

How My iPad Replaced My Laptop

I started the fall semester with the intention to see if my iPad could replace my laptop during the school day. In short, it has. How was this possible? Before I elaborate, I want to be clear that I have an iMac at home that I use all the time and there are days that I use my school-issued tablet due to limitations of the iPad.

Key Features

I’ve been surprised by several of the features that I most appreciate about the iPad.

The best is that it turns on instantly. It takes my school-issued tablet several minutes to boot. Even if I wake it from sleep, it fails to connect the the wireless as often as not and requires at least a reboot. While this is an appreciated feature for me, I’ve recently realized that this is a killer feature for iPads in the classroom. When a student pulls a laptop out of the cart, boots it, logs in, and then later, shuts it down, a substantial fraction of class is spent with these worthless tasks.

The iPad battery is fantastic. I never charge it at school; I just plug it in every night. My bag is light and now there’s more room for lab reports.

VGA output is a critical feature. I need to display a variety of media via an LCD projector in my classroom. VGA output is not a universal feature; it has to be supported by individual applications. I’m surprised by how many people are unaware that an iPad can project slides via an LCD projector.

Key Applications

I rely on a number of important applications on the iPad in order for it to replace my laptop. Just as importantly, I rely on a number of applications on my Mac that interface with my iPad.


My life is manageable because of Omnifocus. I’ve followed the Getting Things Done methodology or something similar for years and Omnifocus; which is synchronized between my Mac, iPhone, and iPad; is the best implementation of it. Without Omnifocus, the iPad wouldn’t even be an option.


Yojimbo is my digital junk drawer. All of my bookmarks, notes, receipts, etc. are stored and tagged in Yojimbo. I don’t often need to create new items on my iPad but I definitely need to search and access them.


I often have slides to display in class. I’ve used Keynote on my Mac for years. Keynote on the iPad pretty much displays whatever I create on my Mac. The latest version of Keynote supports the display of presenter notes on the iPad while displaying slides via the LCD. This is a key feature for me as it allows me to scroll through my lesson plans while a slide is being displayed.


I used to copy Keynote files between my Mac and my iPad via iTunes. This is a huge pain. I now use Dropbox to have practically all of my files accessible from my iPad. I wish the iWord apps on the iPad would integrate seamlessly with Dropbox. No, I don’t want to use


Each of my logins is unique and relatively secure. I rely on 1Password on my Mac to manage this and it syncs with 1Password on my iPad. The 1Password iPad browser doesn’t work as well as Safari for some sights, but it works well enough for me to take attendance without having to type my log in information in every period.

Other Apps

PCalc: I teach physics, PCalc is the best calculator.

iBooks: I don’t read many books on my iPad, but I reference a ton of PDFs.

YouTube and Videos: These apps support VGA output so I can share videos with my classes.


I still use my school-issued tablet when I want to demonstrate how to solve physics problems. I was given an Acase iPad stylus for Christmas. It works better for writing equations than the Pogo Sketch, but I wish it had a finer point. The best note taking application that I’ve found so far that supports VGA output is PenUltimate. However, I plan to try Note Taker HD soon. If you have any recommendations for another stylus or app that would be well suited for writing equations as well as drawing diagrams, please let me know!

There are many excellent physics simulations available (PhET and OpenSource Physics). However, they require either Flash or Java. I’m tempted to compile my own Java interpreter so I can at least run some of the simulations but I really have better things to do. Hopefully, someone figures out a solution that is compatible with Apple’s application requirements regarding interpreters.

I occasionally wish I could display something via an LCD projector in an app that doesn’t suport VGA output. It would be great if the iPad supported universal VGA output (without jailbreaking it). It would be even better if it supported wireless LCD projectors (like the Epson one in my room).


Overall, I’m quite pleased with my iPad at school. I find that the benefits outweigh the limitations and I can go find my school-issued tablet when needed. Rather than replacing my first generation Intel-based MacBook Pro this winter, I bought a 27″ iMac instead. The price of my iPad plus an iMac is less than a new MacBook Pro. In case you are wondering, I really like the 27″ screen.