Archive for May, 2011

This is my fourth post on the ASUS Transformer, but I will mainly focus on free Android Apps that can be used on any Android Tablet, or smartphone. The apps I will look at are all to do with Education (especially Physics), or at least ways to apply them to a classroom situation.

The first one is a nice mind mapping app called Thinking Space. There is a Pro version that costs £2.95, but I can’t really see why anybody wouldn’t be happy with just the free version which I found really intuitive and easy to use. I used it today for the first time at a conference to take notes and it was very simple to add branches, change colours, etc. It doesn’t give you the feel of a hand drawn mind map as branches are very linear and you cannot add graphics to branches, but it is a useful tool to create quick fire mind maps to revisit later. Thanks to this app I also discovered how increadibly accurate the touch keyboard on the Transformer is. In fact, I could write almost as quickly as with the docking keyboard, but with just the tablet to hold it was much easier to hold take photos of the speakers and presentations, like this one.

Another nice app is My Solar System for Free. This app is quite simple, but useful to show some interesting features of the Solar System. You can tilt the plane of the Solar System to see the planets orbiting around the Sun from different angles and, although the sizes and distances of the planets are not to scale you can make estimates on the relative orbital period of different planets with respect to each other. This could be an interesting way to develop Numeracy in young learners, e.g. “How many Mars’ years does it take Jupiter to go around the sun?”, etc… There is also a nice info “button” that brings up general information about the planes, and if you need more information you have a direct link to Google web and image searches. Ah, by the way, Pluto does not appear in this app, so you no longer have to explain to them that that tiny planet on the last orbit is no longer classed as a planet.

Angular Velocity is a nice Physics game that can be used to develop understanding of various concepts, like resonance, forces, etc. You can “tilt gravity” by tilting your Transformer and that can be a bit confusing for the learners, but you could use this new way of interacting with video games (i.e. using the accelerometer) to simulate real situations, like, for example, the effects of an earthquake, or a toy hanging off the rearview mirror inside a car as it breaks, or accelerates, etc…

Atomic Bomber is quite an addictive game that allows you to control a bomber with movements of your finger while various elements are moving on the ground underneath you. The aim is to destroy these tanks, vans, buildings, etc by dropping bombs. It is a fun way to learn about independence of vertical and horizontal components of velocity. It is also a nice way to show the importance of relative motion when an object below you is moving towards, or away from your moving plane.

Clever Contraptions is another fun Physics problem solving game that gives a good feel for motion and gravity.

These are just five interesting apps that could be used in the classroom and I have only downloaded the free versions because I believe they are perfectly adequate to illustrate some important points about Physics in a different way that could add to the engagement and understanding of some learners. There are thousands more apps in the Android Market that I am sure are very good and I would be very interested in hearing what your experience of them has been so far. What are your favourite apps for Education?

Topic – Reporting: What do you tell parents and when?

I had the really nice role of moderating the #addcym discussion group on Twitter tonight. If you don’t know what #addcym is, you should try to spare the hour between 8-9 on a Tuesday evening and search for the hash tag #addcym on twitter! To join the discussion keep following the hash tag and, if you want to contribute, simply send a tweet with #addcym somewhere in you 140 letters tweet. In this way, everyone else who is following the discussion can connect with what you are saying! #addcym is the Welsh discussion group for Education and we would love to see more people joining in and sharing their views and experiences with other Educators to form their PLN (Personal Learning Network). Many on #addcym have never met in person, but many others have and connect with each other through a wide range of tools, e.g. Twitter, Emails, TeachMeets, face to face meetings, collaborative projects, etc… So I am not saying that the Twitter hash tag is the only way you can connect with other Educators and create your PLN, but that Twitter is an enabler that could help you getting started and link with a wider community than your department, or school, or LEA, etc… In fact, quite a few people who took part to #addcym tonight have a PLN that stretches beyond Wales and U.K. and are part of a worldwide PLN and for many Twitter was not how these PLNs started.

On #addcym we are trying to discuss about topics that are relevant to Education in Wales, so if you are interested in some of these topics, join in. You can even vote the topic you would like to discuss with the weekly Tweet Poll, that gives you a choice of different topics to choose from.

Sorry for the digression, but I thought you would find it helpful to have a bit of an introduction to the concepts of Twitter, hash tags and #addcym, if you have not use these tools before. But this post is supposed to be about a summary of the #addcym discussion from tonight, so read below to find out what came up!

The main points from the discussion were:

– More personal comments are needed and we should get rid of statements banks, reports software, mail merging, etc… some thought those are useful as long as you spend time personalizing the reports.

– Too often reports are impersonal and full of ticks and comments on academic progress alone, with reference to levels and the curriculum, which for some parents can have little meaning. So, comments on how to help child improve skills and performance would be more helpful for parents, i.e. know how they can support their child.

– Not enough parent involvement in feedback on reports and pupils’ work is not celebrated enough. Some thought we should have more opportunities to send pupils’ work at home so parents can support and encourage their children. Some suggested that blogging and other ways of making pupils’ work available online could be a good way to engage parents. Parents’ who comment on Blog posts from their children’s class Blogs seem to have a positive effect on their child’s motivation! Other forms of sharing pupils’ work online suggested were broadcasting work live, or recorded. Getting pupils to present their work to the parents in a sort of Open Evening was another suggestion!

– Many thought that comments on reports should include social and pastoral aspects of the child’s life in school as well as academic progress and the first should be a responsibility of the classroom teacher and not only the Form Tutor, or the Head of Year (in a Secondary setting).

– A well established and confident School Council can make a real difference and voice their views very well and maturely. That could be used to gain feedback from learners on what they want reports to include. Some would like to see an “Unschoolcouncil”, where learners who are often not given the opportunity to voice their concerns are listened to. Also, feedback from parents should be taken into consideration.

– In Secondary schools often reports are disjointed and teachers from different departments haven’t got much opportunity to discuss the overall progress of a learner (both from a pastoral and academic point).

The above is a fairly poor summary of the many contributions we had tonight and my best attempt at summarizing clusters of tweets in single bullet points. But I think in conclusion we could say that it sounds like more involvement from parents and learners was felt as a need in reporting by many tonight and that less impersonal comments, but real personal knowledge of the child and their achievement would be enough to justify less reports per year, i.e. quality, not quantity is what parents would appreciate more. That applies to written reports, because maintaining a good relationship with parents is also very important! I am sure I have left something out, so if you can think of something else I should have added, please add it as a comment to the Blog post.

Buzan's iMindMap

If you really want a free copy of the best mind mapping software ever created (iMindMap 5), you can take part to this simple competition. There are two ways in which you can participate and they both involve sharing.

Option 1

– Download your free trial of iMindMap 5 here (after the trial period your copy becomes the Basic version which you get to keep for free forever)

– Create a mind map with iMindMap 5 on any topic you like. You could also create a collaborative mind maps with your classes, family, or colleagues and describe your experience

– Upload your mind map on Biggerplate

– Post the link to your mind map as a comment at the bottom of this Blog post

Option 2

– Think of a creative and innovative way to use iMindMap 5 in Education

– Explain your fab idea as a comment to this Blog post

You can obviously contribute more than one mind map and/or ideas and priority will be given to the most active contributors, e.g. creating a mind map is obviously more demanding than writing a comment (or you could mind map your idea using iMindMap 5). You have time until the 7th July to submit your entries.

The rest of this Blog post is about some of the rules of mind mapping and why I love the idea of Biggerplate! Yes, you heard correctly, there are rules to mind mapping and you might be pleased to hear that I have not made them, but the creator of mind mapping himself, Tony Buzan!

“But I though mind mapping was a creative and free process that should reflect the way in which your brain works!” you might say and I would agree with you. In fact, that is precisely why there are rules to follow in order to achieve good and effective results in mind mapping. Our brain works in very efficient and creative ways which we don’t easily realize because we have been trained for years to use tools and strategies that are limiting the potential of our brains. Our mind thinks in a radial way, pretty much like a mind map does. From a central idea a series of associations and connections radiate to derive greater understanding of that idea and that often are used to solve problems related to that idea. This often leads to another important idea that also radiates into multiple associations and connections between ideas into a complex, but very coherent network of associations interrelated to each other which derive and construct meaning. Neuroscience has shown that both sides of our brain work together in any task we tackle and different areas of the two sides of our brains are activated constantly and intermittently as we think and process information. This complex process of information exchange and processing is mirrored very well by a mind map, and even better by multiple mind maps (which is now a feature of iMindMap 5 which I find really useful), you can find an example of this here. I guess what I am trying to say, is that what we need in order to improve the efficiency of our brains is not necessarily freedom to develop “our way to learn”, but to learn a way that is proven to mirror the way our brain works!

I often meet people who say they have tried mind mapping but that it is not for them, or others (and I used to be one of them) who think they are mind mapping, while they are actually still using linear note taking in a slightly more colourful way and linking whole sentences with other whole sentences, like this one I created a few years ago thinking I was helping my students learning about types of energy.

The problem with whole sentences is that they don’t really allow for associations and connections to be created, or they do so in a very limiting way. Take for example the concept of speed. If I am mind mapping about motion and use two words, say “constant speed”, in the same branch, I have limited that branch to develop into associations that are limited to the concept of constant speed. But if I had use the word speed in a branch and constant in a daughter branch, I can now make many more associations with the word speed, e.g. constant, increasing, decreasing, units –> m/s, formula –> Δd/Δt, etc… can all be daughters of the branch speed and lead to more associations and deeper meaning and retention of information. So, the types of energy “mind map” I created could turn into this (you can download it here).

I will let Tony Buzan explain the other rules and their importance in the video below and if you are convinced, please take part to this really exciting competition and share your mind maps on Biggerplate which is a fantastic community website for sharing mind maps and it now supports iMindMap 5! I love the idea of Biggerplate and one application I can see, especially now that iMindMap 5 Basic is free for all, is that a teacher can create a template with maybe just the main branches of a mind map on a particular topic and let their pupils download and complete the iMindMap as a learning activity. The learners can then upload their mind maps on their accounts and the teacher can leave feedback as comments and learners can also peer feedback on each other’s mind maps as an Assessment for Learning activity! In addition, parents are now able to interact with their children’s work in a more dynamic and engaging way. But the fun doesn’t end there! As a teacher you could let other teachers and classes use your templates and collaborate with other schools in your local area and, why not, worldwide!

So, iMindMap 5 is here and there has never been a better time to try it, as the Basic version is free, a word that teachers and skint schools are always very pleased to hear. And the Ultimate version, which is what you could win (if you take part to this simple competition), has some really amazing features, like 3D mind map view, which is a stunning way to navigate through your mind map, multimaps (fantastic for connecting multiple central ideas with each other), 3D presentation view which will blow your mind for the powerful visual effects that it creates, and many other great functions like the Smart Layout that spaces branches out for you and that is the most powerful and fastest way of drawing mind maps when combined with shortcut keys like TAB for new daughter branch and ENTER for sibling branch! Take a look at all the new features here and check this video out to see how iMindMap can transform the way you work and go about your day!

You can imagine the excitement when I said to my three boys that a Transformer would arrive to our house in a week! The ASUS Transformer, which such a cool name, became immediately the most awesome thing they could imagine (even before having seen it) 🙂

I have to say that, as well as being a very engaging tool for them, it was also a life saver in the airport and on the plane on our way to and back from Italy during the Easter holidays. In fact, the boys had their first chance to use this amazing tablet in these environments, and that kept them happy, engaged and, most importantly, quiet… well, relatively 😉

You can see their first experience at using the Transformer in the video below. They loved it from the start, and, although slightly disappointed to discover that it couldn’t actually transform into a 6 m tall robot, they fought and argued quite animatedly over who would use it first!

There are some really interesting things to notice in this video. In the first part you see Luca (2) who is playing his favourite game, “Pieces” as he calls it. At first he tries to pick up the pieces of the puzzle with two fingers as if they were real bits of a jigsaw puzzle, but he quickly realizes that you need a single touch to move these (quite a change, uh!). The second user in this video is Matteo (6) who seems to find his way around applications immediately and being able to select the ones he likes, check them out and move on. In the glowing Typhoon game he doesn’t immediately understand what he needs to do and loses a point, but the second score is his 🙂 The last boy is Stefano (4) and he’s having a go at some pre-school writing and letter recognition.

All the apps you have seen in the video are free and everyday I find more and better ones. There are some apps to purchase for a price, but there are thousands free that are really useful and well designed. One thing I haven’t worked out yet is how to distinguish those designed to work on a smart phone (like the one on the video to trace the numbers) and those that are suitable to run on my tablet!

I first saw the demonstration in the video below done by Clare Thomson at the “Best of PhysEd” lecture at the ASE Conference in 2010. Ever since I tried to make various versions of it, from using two very tall gas columns, filming it with high frame rate cameras, etc. But today I think I have made a really interesting variation of this really nice demo. The video below was made this morning in my kitchen.

Recreating this demo is very simple and I strongly recommend you do it with your classes, because the colours in the video don’t really reflect what you can see with your naked eye. I used water beads that I previously immersed in water containing blue food colouring for the cold water beads and red food colouring for the hot water beads. You will need to leave them in dyed water for about 8 hours. Then, I put cold water in the glass with blue beads and boiling water in the glass with red beads. When you mix cold and hot water with the cold water at the top, the red bead (much hotter) will rush upwards and the blue beads (much colder) will fall downwards. As the two types of beads swap places you have a nice simulation of what happens to the particles from hot and cold water, i.e. with more or less kinetic energy, when they mix. You have a very visual representation of a convection current forming in the two glasses. There is a limitation though, in fact, you can see that after a while the red beads begin to fall and collect at the bottom on top of the blue beads, but this is still quite effective at making the point that they have swapped places.

I am very proud of my brother in law, not only because he has married my sister, and that alone is quite a challenge :-D, but also because he is very creative and a phenomenal Photographer.
His determination and patience, that have allowed him to live peacefully with my sister for so many years (something I never managed to achieve… I mean leave peacefully with her) was craftily developed and mastered in his photographic sessions. In fact, who could take so much time and care and persist until they captured the perfect drop?

I love this photo and I believe it could be a great asset in teaching Physics. The symmetry in this photo is simply unbelievable and he just captured the instant in which the drop reaches it’s highest point before separating from the rest of the water below, which has also a perfect symmetry. If the water drop were not still in this frame, you wouldn’t see a perfect sphere. I assumed he used a high frame per second camera to achieve this impressive effect, but he rightly pointed out that there wouldn’t be enough light to take many photos per second. He truly made many attempts until he got this!

Check out his website, because there are many more breath taking photos of drops, animals and landscapes. You can find him here and the drops series here.

This blog post has two aims. One is to continue the series of posts on my experience of the ASUS Transformer, which is becoming a really inseparable “friend” in my work, and the other aim is to give you an update of the Science on Stage Europe Conference held in Copenhagen last month. The reason I am marrying the two is because I used my Transformer to keep a sort of journal of the event…
So, my adventure in Copenhagen began by using my Tablet on the plane to read the Conference programme I had conveniently and easily downloaded beforehand as a pdf. Two stuarts on the plane asked me if I had broken my laptop in two pieces when they saw me holding the tablet detached from the docking station 🙂 and on this note I have to correct my earlier concerns about the locking system. I have to say that now that I got used to it, and that I have read the symbol on the lock properly ;-), attaching and detaching the keyboard is very easy and quick!
To take my notes I tried different tools, starting from evernote. It is a shame that iMindMap has not developed a version of their amazing software for Android platforms, or I would have certainly used that. However, Evernote didn’t seem to be the best option for the venue I was in. In fact, for problems with the filters in the network (I believe) Evernote would not allow me to sync my previous notes properly, so I had to abandon the app for Polaris Office, the built in Office equivalent for Android. I was very pleased with the choice and I cannot see any difference, and certainly nothing inferior, to the iPad versions. One of the best things was to be able to capture a photo directly inside the document I was writing from a workshop, or a talk. The integration between the front and back camera and the Polaris Office package is really neat and handy.
So, here is a short account of my favourite parts of the Science on Stage Conference in Copenhagen.
1) Meeting up with the Italian Contingency was a real treat, especially looking at the clever free fall experiments from Giovanni Pezzi (Palestra della Scienza del Comune di Faenza) who attached a wireless webcam inside a box which would contain some experiments (e.g. a mass on a scale) that would go crazy when he dropped the box from a 5 m staircase.
2) The gravitational lenses in teh calssroom workshop where Rosa Ros demonstrated how she uses the base of wine glasses to simulate the effects of gravitational lenses in her classes. Other really fascinating resources can be found on the EAAE’s website.
3) The amazing Mithosis Mamba that Richard Spencer got us all to dance in the “wake up session”. This was an hilarious and very clever way to memorize processes and I can’t wait to make my own dances to teach about physical processes to my classes 🙂
4) The awards ceremony where a number of inspiring projects were given the recognition they deserved:
– High Speed/slow motion –> Micheal Vollmer, Klaus-Perter Mollmann Germany
– Colourful Science –> Catherine Tattersall Ireland
– Thermoelectric Solar Energy –> Inma Abad, Pere Compte Spain
– Cosmi Wants to Know –> Ida Regl Austria
– Studying Chemistry with Pliny the Elder –> Gianluca Farusi Italy
– From Rainbows to the Chemistry of Colours –> Elias Kalogirou Greece
– See the sound, hear the light –> Jan Pavelka, Ondrej Pribyla Czech Republic