Archive for the ‘Thoughts and ideas’ Category

Who said you need a class set of iPads to have a bit of fun in the classroom? In fact, with just two iPads, iPhones, or iPod Touches, or any Android tables, or smartphones by that matter, you could run a simple and fun game with an Olympic feel.

Yesterday I used two iPads and the App TestMaker to run a relay quiz. I sat fourty learners in two rows of ten pairs each and from the back of the rows I started the quiz and handed the iPads to the last pairs. Then, I let them pass their iPads to the pair in front once they’d answered their question. At the end the team that finished first and with the most correct answers won the relay quiz!

The children really enjoyed the quiz and I then projected all the questions on the screen with a data projector, so that we could go through the answers and consolidate learning. So, if you want to run a classroom quiz and give it an Olympic taste this could be a simple way to do it!

I was privileged to be at the ASE Conference last week and meet so many great Science Educators in the flesh! In particular it was lovely to meet so many who regularly tweet at the #ASEChat.

It was also great to run, for the third consecutive year, my Modulated Laser Pen workshop which is always very well received and attended. This year, as usual there were quite a lot Norwegians and several from other parts of Europe, which shows again how good the conference is to attract educators from so many parts of Europe!

Coming back to the workshop, it consists in building a modulating circuit to add in series to the laser diode in a laser pointer and the whole kit costs less than £20, but the IoP provides it for all participants free of charge! The receiver is simply a small photovoltaic cell plugged into a Radio Shack mini-amp through a Jack lead. You can find the instructions to make your own and some teaching ideas in this resource I uploaded on TES (just click here). Most parts can be found from Rapid Electronics and the mini-amp from Amazon.

Another cause for celebration and enjoyment was the 10th Anniversary of the Institute of Physics Teacher Network, which has run very successfully for all that time and of which I have the privilege to be part as the Network Coordinator for the area of Gloucestershire!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 21,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Last night we had our first TeachMeet entirely dedicated to the teaching of Physics in Gloucestershire and despite the inclement weather and illnesses a few teachers from the region managed to come and give some great presentations! A particular thank you goes to Helen Rogerson (@hrogerson) who took the time to record two videos for us to watch. And that’s what we did! In fact, the TeachMeet began with Helen’s 7 minutes video which showed some great stuff she does wit their learners and parents with revision. Of particular interest to the participants was the part on Electromagnetic Induction, which sparked a series of interesting discussions and caused us to go back and watch the lovely demonstrations several times. This was indeed a lovely part of our TeachMeet that I believe stood out from others I have attended and organised in the past. In fact, it is quite easy to rush through all the presentations trying to fit everyone in and forget about allowing the participants time for discussion and to network. But last night ideas on alternative ways to use the equipment and extensions to the demos were freely flowing and created a very relaxed atmosphere from the very beginning.

Next, IoP award winner Kevin Betts showed a great demo of “Dancing Waves” on custard on the cone of a speaker. You can see his Magic in the video below.

Steve Rice was up next showing us how he uses  a sparkler attached to a drill to simulate the gravitational attraction between the earth and the moon. As the sparkler spins around the drill, the sparks fly along the tangent to the circle drawn by the sparkling tip, which helps the learners visualise what would happen if the gravitational pull between the two heavenly bodies suddenly disappeared. I liked this demonstration because it allows the learners to think outside the box and stretch their understanding in the realm of the abstract.

Below is a video of these two lovely demonstrations.

After that it was my turn to talk about how I used one of the best iPhone/iPad apps I have ever come across, the Vernier Video Physics, with my learners. You can find this resources on the TES website here. It was also the first time I publicly announced my new role as Science Lead at TES commencing in January and I explained that, although I occasionally use it already, I will actively interact with the Twitter sphere using @TESScience from then.

We closed the TeachMeet with our sponsors’ raffle, which included a very generous box full of Nelson Thornes books, ranging from GCSE revision guides to a Muncaster tome 4th edition. ThinkBuzan also offered a free copy of their Mind Mapping software iMindMap 5 Ultimate (the last two links are affiliate links, so Google iMindMap 5 instead, if you are bothered by this sort of thing).

Two other teachers emailed me apologising they couldn’t attend due to illness, but they sent links to interesting stuff that they would have shared in person, if they had been there. The first is the YouTube video below about mixing colours with glow sticks shared by Bernadette Willey.

The other tool is Poll Everywhere shared by Lewis Matheson, which seems a really neat tool to use with mobile devices!

I thoroughly enjoyed myself last night and I learnt a lot (as usual) from innovative colleagues in the Gloucestershire Network. I hope to see many more at our next events in the new year.

After a long period of hybernation the Croesy Physics online channel is about to become active again with a very exciting project that will see Croesyceiliog Yr13 Physics Students collaborating with learners at John Cabot Academy in Bristol to create and broadcast live online revision clubs!

Helen Rogerson (@hrogerson) is John Cabot’s Head of Physics and she will support her students once a forenight in creating and broadcasting their sessions from Bristol, and I (@asober) will do the same with my students from Cwmbran. We will take it in turn to broadcast on our Croesy Physics Livestream channel and we would love to see many of you watching live and engaging with our students. In fact, there will be a 10 minutes Q&A session at the end of each event for the people who are watching from other schools, or from home. People can ask questions using the Livestream chat on the online channel, or by using the twitter hash tag #croesybot.

Our live revision clubs will be broadcast live every Tuesday between 15.15 and 15.45 and our first event will be on the 15th November with the topic “The Motor Effect”

Each session will also be available on demand after the event and we hope that our service will become a really useful revision tool for our learners as well as for students in other schools across the world!

Please support our efforts by watching, chatting, sharing, tweeting, etc…

For help on setting up a similar activity see these resources I have uploaded on the TES website.

Last week I finally got round doing something I had wanted to do with my Yr11 classes for a long time. We acted a Displacement – Time graph. This might not sound amazing to you and I have done a similar activity in the past, but this time the difference was that my learners could actually check their outcomes very quickly and without having to guess if their movements reflected the D-T graph faithfully, as they could use what I think is one of the best iPhone/iPad App for Physics, the Vernier Video Physics app!

Indeed, we could have used cameras to record the videos and upload the videos on our laptops to use with Tracker, but the versatility of an iPad and the simplicity of the Vernier Video Physics app made things very easy and intuitive.

So, what’s this activity about? Well, the learners split into groups of 3-4 and analyse the graph below.

Then, they organise themselves to act the graph. So, one person will walk along a straight line to mimic the graph, whilst the others in the group could help signposting important parts of the graph, as well as keeping the time.

You can see how the Vernier Video Physics app renders the video after tracking the object in each photogram. The images at the end are the displacement and velocity analysis after the tracking has been completed!

What do you think? Is this group representing the graph well?

I am finally finding literally 5 minutes to catch up with a few things I have been doing since the beginning of the term and I wanted to share with you how I am using kidblog.org to create collaborative feedback between different schools and cross-phase. Our Yr12 Blog is here.

I believe allowing our learners to Blog is a powerful learning strategies for a number of reasons. Firstly, our students get a real audience and are more likely to take their assignments seriously and be enthused by the thought of communicating their work to the world. That is why it is so important for them to see comments appearing on their posts, as they get the feeling that their efforts are appreciated by others! Also, comments are a powerful and simple means to peer assess each other’s work, as well as, obviously, for the teacher to leave some feedback too.

So, I introduced my Yr12 to our CroesyPhysics Blog and set a couple of assignments for them. The first is something I have been doing for the last couple of years and it is about the learners writing poems to describe the Photoelectric Effect, more about it on this previous Blog post. But the second was a collaboration between our Yr12 learners and a Yr6 class  at Highlawn Primary School. In these Blog posts our learners had to explain energy levels and photon absorption and emission to an audience of 10 year old pupils. You can read the Blog post to set the assignment here. Our Yr12 students could present this Physics topic in whatever form they wanted, but it was very clear to the majority of the Bloggers that they needed to find a way to get their message across in a simple and coherent way, and that they could not assume anything, not even that the Yr6 learners would know what an electron, or an atom is!

So, I gave them a link to the PowerPoint I would have normally shown them on the topic and told them to use that and their text books to gather the information they needed to support their creations. I was pretty confident they would not copy and paste, because if they had, they would have failed to be understood by the Yr6 learners, who are reading our Blog posts and leaving comments to feedback on our students’ presentation, clarity and accuracy. It must be said that the comments we have had so far are really thorough and very well written for learners of that age! Learners at Highlawn Primary certainly know what it means to reflect on learning.

I think we’ve had some really good Blog post so far and this excercise has been useful for our learners, but I would love to hear your opinions and if you can spare a couple of minutes, please read through some of our learners’ work and leave a comment for them here! They will be thrilled to see others value their work.

I have the great pleasure of introducing my first Guest Blogger, Zvi Schreiber, who is a really interesting Author. He looks at the teaching and learning of Physics from a very different angle with his brand new book Fizz: Nothing as it seems.

Thanks Alessio for inviting me to Alessio’s Blog, to talk about why I chose to present the history and principles of physics in a non-traditional way: through a fictional novel, named “Fizz”.

Years ago I learned physics in the traditional way – text books, equations, lots of exercises. I loved it. But coming back to physics after years in the world of business, I found that my high school and college education had completely neglected other aspects of physics – and that those other aspects are fascinating to a wider audience who perhaps don’t like equations.

Firstly the physicists. Revisiting physics I learned more about Galileo’s mortal struggle with the Pope who had previously been a personal friend, and his battle against the entrenched two-thousand-year-old ideas of Aristotle. As the first physicist, Galileo showed incredible flare for presenting his ideas to a hostile public and willingness to risk his life.

I learned that Isaac Newton spent more time on alchemy than physics, and that his unpleasant personality may have been amplified by mercury poisoning. Michael Faraday, inventor of the electric motor and generator, was an apprentice bookbinder, the uneducated son of a blacksmith. William Herschel’s sister, overcame dwarfism and family prejudice to become an important astronomer in her own right.

These are just a few of the inspiring stories I had missed in school. The great physicists were real people and I wanted to present them as such.

Secondly many concepts in physics evoke an emotional as well as rational response. The vastness of the universe. The strange idea of action at a distance – introduced by Newton, eliminated by Einstein, reintroduced in quantum mechanics. The idea of an orderly deterministic universe attacked with the successive discoveries of entropy, chaos, and eventually random quantum fluctuations. Some hints at a possible multiverse. A novel allows me to explore Fizz’s response, as a young woman, to these weird revelations about the universe we call home.

There was an important precedent for an edu-novel – Sophie’s World – which helped me and millions of others to learn about philosophy in the 90s. I hope that now Fizz will take her turn alongside Sophie, and help a few people to learn more about our universe and about the bizarre series of people who explored it.

Zvi Schreiber is author of Fizz: Nothing is as it seems a new edu-novel about physics – see http://www.fizz-book.com

 

Back to me now, Alessio :-), because I would like to give you my impressions about the book. I read it during the summer holidays and it was a really enjoyable and easy read. The book reads very well and it always leaves you with the need to read and learn more at the end of every chapter. I am sure it is partly thanks to Physics, but the way Fizz explores and discovers the laws of Physics is truly fascinating and a great way to learn something about the History of Physics, as well as getting a coherent overview of the laws of Physics which are all connected to each other and not a “modular exam” 🙂

I also like the fact that there are virtually no formulae, not because I don’t like equations, but because it helps the learners to focus on the processes and it reinforces Physics concepts without distracting too much from the narration. Moreover, the situations Zvi built in the novel are memorable and give you that sense of awe and amazement the Scientists mentioned in the novel must have felt in those great moments of discovery!

Another really nice aspect of the book is that the main character is a school age girl who has a genuine passion for how the universe works and she is ready to risk everything to satisfy her thirst for knowledge. This will hopefully encourage and inspire girls to pursue a Physics career!

Nothing happens randomly in Zvi’s book and even the many truly unexpected twists that occur are used as analogies to explain Physics concepts and, believe me, one of these twists you will never guess until you get to those pages 😉

Our Yr12 and 13 will be part of a pilot project this year to test the effectiveness of Fizz’s great adventure in motivating students to learn about Physics and in raising standards. So, watch this space as I will post our learners progress and their impressions on the book.

If you have read, or are reading the book, please leave your impressions as comments to this post!

In my previous post I showed the first part of my boys’
story mind map, i.e. the mind map we designed together to tell the story they
were creating. We used iMindMap 5 because we wanted eventually to narrate their
story by recording audio comments on branches. That turned out to be a really
effective and creative process. Having the mind map as their main structure for
the story allowed the boys (4 and 6) to not only see the whole picture, but
also to break down the story in little chunks that they could narrate very
easily. In fact, on each branch they could record their voices narrating what
the branches represented. This was telling the story itself and by playing back
each branch’s audio comment they could listen to their story and show Mamma
(Italian for Mum) their creation and impress her!

We couldn’t upload the new version of their mind map (with
audio comments) on Biggerplate, because it is too big, but you can watch a video of their narrated story below.

I believe that this process could be extremely useful in
story writing, as it helps learners to design a coherent story and see how the
whole story unfolds in their mind map, as well as splitting the story into
branches that the learners can narrate. It will then become very easy to
transfer their story from their iMindMap 5 audio maps into paper, or a blog!

Please, leave a comment to my boys mind map, as they will be
very pleased to see others appreciate their work!

Thanks!!!

Today I had great fun with my four and six year old boys (my two year old was also helping) in creating a story using a mind map. The whole idea came from an inspiration I had earlier from the ThinkBuzan newsletter, which encouraged parents to do fun activities with iMindMap 5, one of them being creating a story. When I read their Blog post I though it was a lovely idea, but with none of my boys being a confident writer I though it wouldn’t really apply to us. Then, I started thinking straight and realised that in mind mapping little words and many images mean greated imaginative and associative power, especially with iMindMap 5, where all you need to do to add your images is Google for what you are looking for, copy and paste into your branch. And that’s exactly what we did!

We started off by thinking of a title for our story and that was a bit of a challenge in itself, because I realised Matteo (6) didn’t really know the meaning of “Title”, but once we got through the idea that it tell what the story is about he came up with a very suitable title for their Star Wars based story (and what else could it be about?). Then, we split our mind map into four main branches; Characters, Places, Weapons and Battles. I was very pleased to find out that Matteo (a very, very reluctant writer) was quite willing to write the words on the branches and that he was quite good too! It brought back to me the power of engagement and active learning… he was excited about writing his own story, about what really interests him, so writing all of a sudden became a pleasure and not a burden 🙂

The rest was easy, because all we had to do was to Google the images the boys were choosing to make their story and paste them in the relevant branches, as you can see from the mind map we created below.

A Mind Map Story by very young learners

With the battles I asked the boys to decide who was fighting who and in what places. Basically they were beginning to storyboard their story using the power of associations that this mind map gave them. We came up with some conventions. The double arrows show who is fighting in our story, but if the arrows are red, it means the villain wins, and if the arrows are blue, the heroes are prevailing 🙂 simple but effective. The battles will take place in the places linked to each battle by the dotted arrows!

As my first attempt to mind map with my little boys I was extremely pleased to see such interest and creativity going on. Mind mapping truly is the “Swiss Knife of the brain” as Tony Buzan often refers to, and I will try to transfer my passion for mind mapping to my children more actively in the future. iMindMap 5 is a really powerful tool for mind mapping, because it allows anyone, even bad Artists like me to create very visual and effective mind maps in very little time.

A feature that we will add in the next few days to our Mind Map Story is a narration of the story following branches and by adding audio comments, another great feature in iMindMap 5. If you want to download my boys’ mind map you can find it on my Biggerplate account.