Tag Archives: technology

Formative Assessment Tools for Peer Instruction and Peer Critque of Written Responses

This past year, as my AP Physics 2 cases piloted Chromebooks, we used a couple of formative assessment tools frequently in class. For Peer Instruction, we used [InfuseLearning](http://www.infuselearning.com). InfuseLearning’s stand-out feature was their support for draw-response questions. Having students sketch graphs and draw diagrams is very valuable as a formative assessment in physics class. Throughout the year as I shared InfuseLearning with other teachers participating in the pilot, the draw-response feature was the most popular everyone, from elementary through high school.

The second formative assessment activity was focused on preparation for the new paragraph-length responses on the AP Physics 2 exam. To practice these types of responses, students responded to a prompt using [Socrative](http://www.socrative.com). Socrative allows me to share all the responses with students, and students can vote for the best one. We can then, as a class, discuss the elements of the best responses.

Unfortunately, InfuseLearning [closed their doors in April](http://www.infuselearning.com/?page_id=35). In preparation for sharing resources with teachers this summer before we deploy 1:1 Chromebooks for all high school students this fall, I surveyed the current tools available with a focus specifically on Peer Instruction that supports drawing and peer-critique of written responses.

I evaluated the following features.

* **Cost**: Is there a free version? What are the limitations of the free version? Can teachers upgrade to a paid version on an as-needed basis?
* **Account Creation**: How easy is it for students to create accounts? Can they login with their Google account?
* **Prepared Questions**: Does the tool support preparing questions in advance?
* **Spontaneous Questions**: Does the tool support creating a question on-the-fly without preparation ahead of time?
* **Supported Question Types**: What types of questions do the tool support?
* **Multiple Choice Questions**: Since Peer Instruction often uses multiple choice questions, how flexible are these questions? Can the answer choices be customized (e.g., A-D or 1-4)? Can the number of answer choices be customized?
* **Draw Response Questions**: Are draw response questions supported by the tool? How rich are the drawing tools?
* **Sharing Student Responses with Students**: Does the tool support sharing sample student responses with all students?
* **Capturing Student Responses**: Does the tool support capturing student responses for later analysis? What can and cannot be captured?
* **Reporting**: Does the tool support reporting of sessions? What is captured and reported?


* **Cost**: free
* **Account Creation**: integrated with Google accounts
* **Prepared Questions**: yes
* **Spontaneous Questions**: yes
* **Supported Question Types**: multiple choice, true/false, short answer
* **Multiple Choice Questions**: limited options (exactly 5, A-E)
* **Draw Response Questions**: no
* **Sharing Student Responses with Students**: sharing short answer allows student to vote on best peer answer
* **Capturing Student Responses**: yes
* **Reporting**: for prepared questions and short answer only (not spontaneous multiple choice or true/false)

[The Answer Pad](http://theanswerpad.com)

* **Cost**: free and paid; free is limited (limited templates, question types, creation of own images, capture student responses)
* **Account Creation**: students have to create accounts (doesn’t support Google accounts) if you want to track student responses
* **Prepared Questions**: yes, but not draw response
* **Spontaneous Questions**: yes
* **Supported Question Types**: multiple choice, true/false, yes/no, up/down, fill-in, Likert scale, drawing
* **Multiple Choice Questions**: limited options (exactly 4, A-D)
* **Draw Response Questions**: yes, decent drawing tools
* **Sharing Student Responses with Students**: no
* **Capturing Student Responses**: limited in free version
* **Reporting**: only for prepared questions


* **Cost**: free
* **Account Creation**: integrated with Google accounts
* **Prepared Questions**: yes
* **Spontaneous Questions**: no (maybe have some standard templates?)
* **Supported Question Types**: multiple choice, show your work (draw response), short answer, true/false
* **Multiple Choice Questions**: flexible response choices
* **Draw Response Questions**: yes, but limited (no colors)
* **Sharing Student Responses with Students**: no
* **Capturing Student Responses**: automatic
* **Reporting**: yes

[Pear Deck](http://www.peardeck.com/)

* **Cost**: free and paid; free is limited (draw response in prepared decks, capturing, and reporting are paid features)
* **Account Creation**: integrated with Google accounts
* **Prepared Questions**: yes
* **Spontaneous Questions**: kind of (can ask a quick question in the context of an existing deck)
* **Supported Question Types**: agree/disagree, draw on grid, draw on blank, yes/no, true/false, multiple choice, long text answer, short text answer, numeric answer
* **Multiple Choice Questions**: flexible response choices
* **Draw Response Questions**: yes (quick question only for free version)
* **Sharing Student Responses with Students**: no
* **Capturing Student Responses**: paid only
* **Reporting**: paid only


* **Cost**: free and paid (free has limited storage space and reporting export options)
* **Account Creation**: integrated with Google accounts
* **Prepared Questions**: yes
* **Spontaneous Questions**: no (maybe have some standard templates?)
* **Supported Question Types**: open-ended question, poll, quiz, draw it
* **Multiple Choice Questions**: flexible response choices
* **Draw Response Questions**: yes, decent drawing tools
* **Sharing Student Responses with Students**: yes
* **Capturing Student Responses**: yes
* **Reporting**: yes (PDF only in free version)


At our summer professional learning sessions, we will be featuring Socrative. It is easy to use and applies to a wide variety of disciplines. The significant drawback of Socrative is the lack of draw-response questions. For those teachers that need that feature, I’m recommending they use NearPod. I used to use NearPod a couple of years ago when piloting classroom iPads. At that time, NearPod was an iPad-only app. I was thrilled to discover that it now supports all major platforms.

For my physics classroom, I’m going to use NearPod for Peer Instruction because draw-response questions are so important. While I’d rather be able to create spontaneous questions, I’m also interested in capturing student answers to provide me more insight into their learning, which necessitates creating a set of questions ahead of time. I will create a few slides in each deck that can serve as general-purpose placeholders for spontaneous questions.

I’ll still use Socrative for peer-critique of written responses. The ability to share student responses with students and have students vote for the best response is very effective at developing their writing. These two classroom activities – Peer Instruction and peer-critique of written responses are done independently; so, using two different tools should not be inconvenient.

If I’ve missed a tool that would work well for either of these classroom activities, please leave a comment to let me know!


I put *[Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas](http://www.amazon.com/Mindstorms-Children-Computers-Powerful-Ideas/dp/0465046746)* by Seymour Papert on my reading list when I started teaching AP Computer Science. Being unfamiliar with how best to teach high school students computer science, I figured I needed all the help I could get and heard that *Mindstorms* was the seminal text on how kids learn computing. If I had better understood what *Mindstorms* was about, I would have read it six years ago when I started teaching.

*Mindstorms* isn’t just about teaching kids about computer science. I was surprised at how frequently learning physics was a topic. Papert shared insights on everything from of what does “learning physics” consist (hint: it is not plugging numbers in equations) to how to support learners’ conceptual intuitions rather than attack their “misconceptions.” I was reminded of everything from Modeling Instruction to computational thinking using VPython as I read those sections.

I was also surprised at how useful *Mindstorms* was as a guide, and a cautionary tale, of the role that technology should play in education. I would recommend it to every teacher interested in leveraging technology to improve learning, every technology integrator, and every administrator who may otherwise approve a purchase order for an interactive whiteboard. It clearly presents how the focus needs to be on the student, on her learning, and not on the technology. A reminder that echnology enables us to do better things not do things better.

*Mindstorms* was written at the advent of the personal computer revolution. Papert was advocating for a revolution in education. While Logo continues to appear in classrooms (my nine-year-old used Logo some in Math class this year), unfortunately, the ideals of *Mindstorms* haven’t been realized and, with few exceptions, technology hasn’t been used to change the culture of education. It is sad to reflect on this history and the opportunity that has been lost. I feel that now thirty-three years later, we are at the advent of another technological revolution. Instead of a personal computer in every home, we have a personal computer in every pocket. However, how we will choose to leverage this technology in the educational sphere remains to be seen. With the proliferation and prominence of MOOCs, flipping, gamification, and Khan Academy, I worry that we will once again fail to seize this opportunity. There are beacons of hope: hackerspaces, [FIRST Lego League](http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/fll), and [The Big Ideas School](http://www.shawncornally.com/BIG/). Personally, I’m reinvigorated to revolutionize my small sphere of influence through [FIRST Robotics](http://team3061.org), [Physics Club](https://pedagoguepadawan.net/191/inspiring-younger-students-with-near-space-balloons/), and improving physics instruction.

*(I had a slow start reading this book. If you encounter the same, I would recommend skipping the two forewords and the two introductions. In addition, the paperback that I purchased was visually awful. It looked like a printout of a poor scan. If you can find an older copy, your eyes will thank you.)*

STEM Talk at NI

Yesterday, I had the honor of presenting my experiences this past summer working on the Fermilab Holometer as well as my perspectives on STEM education at the high school level at National Instruments. Since my contribution to the Holometer project used National Instruments products and my family was vacationing in Austin, Texas, I offered to visit and share my experiences. I was a bit surprised when I was also asked to share my perspectives on STEM education in high school.

My presentation about the Holometer was pretty much the same as the one I gave the [Global Physics Department](http://globalphysicsdept.posterous.com/geoff-schmit-on-research-for-hs-teachers). (I’ve [written several posts](https://pedagoguepadawan.net/holometer) about the Holometer.) I added more technical details on the NI products involved and how the signal analysis was performed to better match the audience.

At first, I didn’t feel qualified to address National Instruments employees, who work for a company that are amazing supporters of STEM in K-12 with their efforts with FIRST and LEGO. As a result, I started my presentation with disclaimers:

* I do not have a master’s degree in STEM education
* I am not a STEM education expert
* I have not attended conferences and workshops in STEM education
* I have taught at a one high school for five years

However, once I sat down and started thinking about what I would share, I realized that I, like most physics teachers, am qualified to at least share my perspective because:

every morning I get up and try to inspire students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by leveraging my experience as an engineer, an interviewer, a supervisor, and a teacher.

In my case, I specifically left National Instruments and software development to become a physics teacher to make some small contribution by inspiring students to pursue studies and careers in STEM-related fields.

I structured my presentation around three high-level themes which I elaborated with photos, videos, and stories:

**Inspire Students with Experiences**

I shared that few students are inspired because of something they only read or hear or see; they are inspired by their experience doing it. I shared the experiences of my FIRST Robotics Team, Science Olympiad Team, and Physics Club. Physics Club is an after school, student-driven, low-commitment group that allows all students opportunities to play, inquire, create, share, and explore. I shared our past experiences with [near-space ballooning](https://pedagoguepadawan.net/60/nearspaceballoon/) and the [ping pong ball cannon](https://pedagoguepadawan.net/157/pingpongballcannon/). The second theme is:

**Inspire Younger Students with Older Students**

The main ideas for this theme are that students respond best to other students and students can loose interest in science during middle school. To address this, Physics Club and the FIRST Robotics Team perform outreach activities where younger students see projects done by the older students and build their own smaller-scale projects with the assistance of older students. The third theme is:

**Inspire the other 98% in the Classroom**

I was somewhat disappointed when I realized that all my efforts with FIRST Robotics, Science Olympiad, and Physics Club only involve 2% of the students at my school. I shared that this is a significant challenge but the most important theme. Many changes to a traditional classroom are required to inspire students about STEM:

* Change Perceptions
* Change Mindset
* Change Pedagogy
* Change Culture

I shared the importance of bring professionals into the classroom to share their experience and helping students appreciate that science is an active process done by real people. Despite significant local press about standards-based assessment and reporting, I shared how critical it is in my classrooms. I talked about Modeling Instruction, guided inquiry, project-based learning, and Project Lead the Way.

At the end, I felt compelled to take advantage of this opportunity to encourage those in attendance to help inspire students about STEM. I charged them to:

* Be Aware
* Promote Reform
* Provide Support

I was honestly surprised at the level of interest in my presentation based on the attendance and the number of positive comments afterward. So, for those of you like me who are career changers, if the opportunity presents itself, share your experiences as a teacher with your former colleagues. We may gain more allies in the challenges that we face everyday.

The Danger of Misapplying Powerful Tools

When I was a software engineer, I frequently used powerful tools such as C++ and techniques such as object-oriented analysis and design to implement software that performed complex operations in an efficient and effective manner. I also spent a lot of time sharing these with others. However, I learned to provide a caveat: if misapplied, these tools and techniques can result in a much more significant problem than would result when applying less powerful ones. That is, if you are not skilled in the deployment of these tools and techniques, the risk is much larger than the benefit.

Other engineers didn’t always appreciate this caveat. So, I would try to communicate with an analogy. You can build a desk with a saw, hammer, screwdriver, and drill. You can build a desk more efficiently using a table saw, drill press, and nail gun. If you make a mistake with the hammer, you may loose a fingernail. If you make a mistake with the table saw, you may loose a finger. If you are not adept at deploying the tools and techniques, maybe you should stick with the hand tools until you are.

In reality, the risk of misapplying these tools and techniques is more significant than the impact on the immediate project. The broader risk is that others who observe the troubled project associate the failure with the tools and techniques instead of the application of those tools and techniques. People get the impression, and share their impression, that “C++ and object-oriented analysis and design is a load of crap. Did you see what happened to project X?” Rarely do people, especially people not skilled with these tools and techniques, have the impression that the problem is the application of the tools and techniques rather than the tools and techniques themselves. This, in fact, is a much more serious risk that threatens future applications of the tools and techniques in a proficient manner due to their now tarnished reputation.

A series of articles and posts recently reminded me of my experience writing software and this analogy. I feel compelled to start with a disclaimer since this post has the potential to come across as arrogant, which is certainly not my intention. I have not performed any longitudinal studies that support my conclusions. My conclusions are based on few observations and my gut instinct. I tend to trust my gut instinct since it has served me well in the past. So, if you find this post arrogant, before you write me off, see if these ideas resonate with your experience.


Let’s start with Standards-Based Reporting and Assessment (SBAR) (a.k.a., Standards-Based Grading (SBG)). Last year, my school started [adapting SBAR school-wide](https://pedagoguepadawan.net/23/growingsbarschoolwide/). SBAR is a powerful methodology that requires proficient deployment. It is not easy to adapt and effectively apply SBAR to a classroom in an effective way that resonates with parents, students, teachers, and administrators. Proper deployment requires a fundamental change in the teacher’s and students’ philosophy of learning. While the effect of a failed deployment on the individual classes is unfortunate, the larger problem is that teachers and parents attribute the problems to SBAR and not its application. It takes much less effort to convince a parent confused about SBAR of its value than it does to convince a parent livid about SBAR due to a poor experience in another class. At my school, one early SBAR adopter stopped referencing SBAR or SBG at all in his class to distance his methodology from the problematic applications. Fortunately, my school has pulled back a bit this year. This is the risk of mandating application of a powerful tool by those not proficient in its deployment. This is not [a unique experience](http://t-cubed-teaching.blogspot.com/2011/10/sbg-goes-up-in-smoke.html).

Two years ago, another teacher and I decided to try to apply SBAR to our Honors Physics class. We mitigated the risk by limiting deployment to six sections of a single class taught just by the two of us. We sent letters to parents, talked to parent groups, discussed the system with students during class. Only after gaining a year of experience, did we attempt to adapt SBAR to our General Physics class which contained ten sections and was taught by four different teachers. The risk of trying to deploy SBAR on this scale initially was too great given our proficiency.


Someone recently shared [this New York Times article](http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/technology/technology-in-schools-faces-questions-on-value.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all) that questions the value of technology in the classroom. In general, a given piece of technology on its own isn’t effective or not effective. Whether technology is effective or not depends as much on its application as the technology itself. It depends on the teacher and the students and the class. Personally, I’ll stick with my [$2 interactive whiteboards](http://fnoschese.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/the-2-interactive-whiteboard/). This isn’t because SMART Boards are inherently ineffective. It is because they aren’t effective for me and my students given my classroom and my expertise. I expect there are teachers out there who use SMART Boards quite effectively. They are probably sick of hearing how they are a complete waste of money.

I hope to have a class set of iPads at some point this year. My school isn’t going to buy iPads for every student. Instead, we’ll put iPad in the hands of 25 General Physics students in my classroom and see what we can do together. Start small, reflect, adjust, expand.


I participated in a [Modeling Instruction Physics](http://modeling.asu.edu/) workshop in the summer of 2008. I didn’t dare to really start modeling in my classroom until last fall. Why? I believed that the potential risk to my students due to a misapplication of the modeling methodology was tremendous. I decided that it was better for my students to learn what they could via more traditional instruction than what I foresaw as a potential disaster if I misapplied the deployment of modeling. Even more importantly, I was concerned that I could put Modeling Instruction at risk of never being adopted if my failed deployment was interpreted as a failure of Modeling Instruction itself. Only after more research, practice of Modeling Instruction techniques, and discussions with others, did I feel comfortable deploying Modeling in my class last fall. In an attempt to shield modeling from my potential deployment failures, this is the first year that I’ve associated the label “Modeling Instruction” to my class.

I used to be surprised at how adamantly some Modelers warned teachers not to do Modeling Instruction unless they had taken a workshop. I now believe they are worried about the same potential risk that I am. Modeling Instruction is a collection of powerful tools and techniques. Done well, by a skilled practitioner, Modeling Instruction can be incredibly effective. Applied ineffectively, Modeling Instruction can be a disaster and tarnish its reputation. I think students are better served by traditional instruction than by Modeling Instruction applied ineffectively. Traditional instruction may result in a lost fingernail. Ineffective modeling instruction may result in a lost finger. There, I said it. Disagree in the comments. Just don’t take that quote out of context.

While not directly related to modeling, I believe [this recent article](http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/schools/science-teachers-at-loxahatchee-middle-school-strike-back-1916851.html?viewAsSinglePage=true) supports my conclusions. The problem isn’t that hands-on labs are ineffective, it is that ineffective deployment of hands-on labs is ineffective.


I don’t want my thoughts that I’ve shared here to paralyze you into inaction. Rather, I hope that I’ve encouraged you to make sure that you have sufficient expertise so you can apply your powerful tools and techniques in an effective manner. Your students will benefit and the reputation of these powerful tools and techniques will benefit as well.

How do you do this?

* Attend professional development opportunities (e.g., [Modeling Instruction Workshops](http://modeling.asu.edu/MW_nation.html)) that increase your skill with these powerful tools and techniques.
* Apply these powerful tools and techniques in a limited manner as you gain experience and expertise.
* Participate on Twitter, start a blog, read a bunch of blogs, participate in online discussions (e.g., [Global Physics Department](http://globalphysicsdept.posterous.com/#!/)), and subscribe to email lists to accelerate your knowledge of these powerful tools and techniques.
* Observe [skilled practitioners](http://quantumprogress.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/my-grading-sales-pitch/) of these tools and techniques, [find a coach](http://quantumprogress.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/taking-my-pln-to-the-next-level—virtual-coaching/) to observe you, welcome feedback from everyone.

Physics Club and the Row-Bot Challenge

Three years ago my instructional coordinator encouraged myself and another physics teacher to start an after school club for students to “do cool physics stuff.” That first year, we focused on building small projects related to physics. We built candle-powered steam engines, homopolar motors, LED throwies, vibrobots, and styrofoam plate speakers. Two years ago, we started with the small projects, but then the students were inspired to launch a near-space balloon. Once the students set their minds to lauching their own near-space balloon, the club transitioned from a primarily teacher-led organization to a student-led one.

Last year, we started with a ping pong ball launcher challenge. After this kickoff, students decided to build a large hovercraft in the fall and then take it on tour to share with the community and excite people, especially younger students, about STEM. In the spring, we [launched our second near-space balloon](https://pedagoguepadawan.net/60/nearspaceballoon/).

While Physics Club has increased in popularity and size in the past three years, we were amazed when over fifty students stayed after school on Friday to join Physics Club. We’re still figuring out how to keep this many students engaged and what our big project will be for the fall. To keep everyone active while we figure this out, we introduced the 2011 Physics Club Row-Bot Challenge:

The club will document this project on [its web site](http://physicsclub.nnscience.net/rowbots). I’ll let you know how it goes.

Why the Row-bot Challenge? Well, we are considering building some sort of remote-controlled craft that can film video hundreds of feet underwater. This challenge may be a good precursor for that.

In addition to kicking off the challenge, the students had a great time filming with the high-speed camera. They are still trimming the footage and preparing the website, but here’s one of my favorites:

We also borrowed a thermal imaging camera that is normally used to diagnose computer hardware issues. While we don’t let the students use this camera, we still found some interesting things to image. One of my favorite was this comparison of an incandescent, CFL, and LED light bulb:

thermal images of light bulbs

While not planned, we also debunked those ghost TV shows. One student noticed that the camera was picking up what appeared to be a thermal ghost inside the adjacent room. This was puzzling until another student realized that the “ghost” was simply my infrared reflection off the glass door in the adjacent room. Science for the win!

From Digital Junk Drawer to Online Exploration for Students

I’m not sure how many people will be interested in this post describing the tools and process I use to transform the bits in my digital junk drawer into online explorations for my students. However, I notice more and more educators using Macs, and, for those who don’t, they may be able to generalize these ideas using their own tools.

I create a topic page in [Schoology](http://schoology.com/) for every unit:

Topic page

This topic page contains a bunch of links at least somewhat related to the unit. Each topic page has categories for simulations, articles, videos, and projects to make. This topic page is from the first unit which is somewhat less focused than the others and, therefore, has subcategories as well. While some of this material will be referenced in class, most of it is just for students to explore and enjoy. When I introduce topic pages, I tell students that when they are procrastinating, they should click on these links rather than randomly browse the web.

Creating these topic pages takes very little effort because of the tools that I use.

Every time I encounter something that may be somewhat related to physics, or at least science, or maybe just education, I drop it in my digital junk drawer which is [Yojimbo](http://www.barebones.com/products/yojimbo/). To be more precise, I tag it as I drop it in Yojimbo. This is as simple as a clicking a button or hitting a keystroke in Safari or NetNewsWire and typing the tags. My tags are organized around the units that I teach, the main concepts that are covered, and the types of activities I perform as an educator. I keep a list of my tags in a text document that I can reference if I can’t remember which ones to use. My Yojimbo window looks like this:


Yes, I have over 4000 items in Yojimbo and most of them are related to education. Most of the time, I just keep tagging and adding items to Yojimbo. When we’re ready to start a new unit and its time to create or update the topic page, I use Yojimbo’s collections to organize the links that I want to feature:


It is easy to filter by tags in Yojimbo and sort by date. I review the new items that I’ve added since I last updated the topic page and drag them into these temporary collections corresponding to the topic page categories (the lessons/labs are for items that I want to incorporate into class rather than the topic page). Once I’ve reviewed all of the new items, I highlight all of the items in a category and use [FastScripts](http://www.red-sweater.com/fastscripts/) to run an AppleScript that generates HTML for all the items:

tell application "Yojimbo"
	set urlList to "<ul>
	set selectedItems to the selection
	repeat with bookmarkItem in selectedItems
		if the class of bookmarkItem is bookmark item then
			set urlList to urlList & "	<li><a href=\"" & (location of bookmarkItem) & "\">" & (name of bookmarkItem) & "</a></li>
		end if
	end repeat
	set urlList to urlList & "</ul>"
	set the clipboard to urlList
end tell

The script copies the HTML to the clipboard so all I have to do is paste it into the page editor in Schoology.

While I’ve focused on using Yojimbo to make it easy to create these topic pages, this is just one example. When I or another teacher vaguely remembers something, I can usually find it in Yojimbo in a matter of seconds. While I love [1Password](http://agilebits.com/products/1Password), Yojimbo keeps an encrypted record of all my passwords and serial numbers. I also encrypt weekly backups of my web-based grade book since I certainly don’t trust its security. Yojimbo can handle more than just bookmarks, I give it images, PDFs, and text notes referencing journal articles or books which aren’t available online.

And yes, if you are familiar with [Now, Discover Your Strengths](http://www.amazon.com/Discover-Your-Strengths-Marcus-Buckingham/dp/0743201140/) and are wondering, Input is one of mine.

Nuclear Physics Project Reflections

I have a few notes to share about the outcome of the [Nuclear Physics Project](https://pedagoguepadawan.net/45/nuclearphysicsproject/).

If you are interested in seeing the final projects, the entire [nnhsphysics wiki](http://nnhsphysics.wikispaces.com/) is available. If you don’t want to read every page, I created an [index that highlights](http://nnhsphysics.wikispaces.com/Sample+Projects) several project pages that cover a variety of topics in a variety of ways.

In terms of the quality of the projects, many students were very creative with their presentation methods. I strongly encouraged and pushed students to find creative ways to present their projects. I should have spent more effort encouraging students to have strong science, technology, and society-related content. In general, the content wasn’t as thorough, complete, and as accurate as I had hoped.

Overall, I think students learned a great deal about the history of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. I forget that events that I lived through (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl) are consigned to the last pages in my students’ U.S. History text that they never get to read.

In terms of technology, I was very impressed with [Wikispaces](http://wikispaces.com/). Wikispaces is ideal for classroom projects. I was able to easily create accounts for nearly 150 students very easily even though students don’t have school e-mail addresses. It is trivial to search by student name to see their recent edits to their pages and comments that they have made. The permissions model is sufficiently flexible to allow everyone to view content, yet only members to edit and comment on it.

I was also impressed with [Scribd](http://scribd.com/). It was very reliable and makes it easy to embed documents in Wikispaces. I found the ability to embed the document, either as individual pages to scroll through or as a slideshow, particularly useful.

A couple technologies were disappointing. [TeacherTube](http://teachertube.com/) was unreliable in terms of being accessible and successfully uploading videos. The 24-or-more-hour delay for approval, while understandable, was frustrating at times. The only reason I used it at all was that it wasn’t blocked by my school’s web filters.

Speaking of web filters, it goes without saying that they made these projects more cumbersome and frustrating than I would have liked. That said, the technology staff at my school was great about unblocking sites that were obstacles to students working on their projects.

Also disappointing was the wireless performance in my classroom. All students were able to connect via wireless but would frequently have difficulties logging into Wikispaces or posting comments on Wikispaces. They were particularly frustrated when they would compose a thoughtful comment only to lose it when the submission timed out. Reflecting back on this experience, I wonder if this was due to some sort of latency issue and Internet Explorer’s relatively short timeouts. I may try using Firefox to see if that mitigates the issue.

Overall, I would definitely try something similar to this again. Next time, I would like to plan a bit more ahead and have more time for the project so I could involve educators and students from other schools. If you have any tips for me for next time, please share!

Nuclear Physics Project

This year, after completing our four major units of second semester in regular physics, we planned on a project that would address Illinois Science Goal 13: “Understand the relationships among science, technology and society in historical and contemporary contexts.” This project has the potential to move beyond content and integrate perspectives from many other disciplines. I had some ideas in mind, but after the Fukushima disaster, my colleague and I decided that our final project would focus on nuclear physics. Here is the description of the project that we will distribute to students:

Download (PDF, 51KB)

One aspect of this project that I’m really excited about is that we will be publishing all of the projects on Wikispaces so that they can be viewed by other students and professional both within and outside of our school.

I’m also very excited about the manner in which students will present their projects online. In order to highlight how technology influences the communication of scientific ideas and events throughout our society and how that has changed throughout history, we’ve encouraged students to create a juxtaposition between the time period of the topic and the presentation method that they select. For example, if their topic is historical, choose a presentation method that is modern (e.g., Marie Curie and her Facebook status updates). Or, if their topic is modern, choose a presentation method that is historical (e.g., black-and-white news documentary of fusion reactor).

I’m very interested in your feedback or involvement. Do you know of other topics related to nuclear physics that we should add to our potential topics list? Do you have ideas for other engaging presentation methods? Are you or your students interested in viewing and commenting on these projects in late May? If so, please contact me either via Twitter (@gcschmit) or via e-mail (geoff at this domain). Regardless, when the projects are published, I’ll post the link here.

**Update: 20/6/11 11:09 PM**

All of the student projects are on [nnhsphysics](http://nnhsphysics.wikispaces.com/) wiki hosted by [Wikispaces](http://wikispaces.com/). I created an [index of sample projects](http://nnhsphysics.wikispaces.com/Sample+Projects) which contains projects on a variety of topics created in a variety of mediums.

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](http://schoology.com/). 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!