Category Archives: Teaching

Technology Showcase

Tomorrow I’m very excited to be a part of Brock’s Technology Showcase. I was fortunate enough to have taken Brock’s 8y59 course this past semester which opened my eyes to the amazing ways technology can be incorporated into the classroom. The Technology Showcase is an opportunity for teachers/teacher candidates to find out all about these amazing technologies. Here’s the summary from their website:

The intent of the fourth annual Brock Teaching with Technology Showcase is to provide a unique opportunity for teacher education candidates, practicing teachers, school administrators and university faculty members to become acquainted with the latest technological innovations available to the education community.

I’ll be running the Blogging station at the Google in the Classroom information session. I decided to start a Google doc, open to the public, that we can edit as the session progresses (since it’s a ‘Google in the Classroom’ session and all). I’ve really benefitted from reading some amazing teaching blogs, so it’s great to have to opportunity to share that experience with others.

Here’s the link to the Google doc all about blogging: Blogging Google Doc. Please feel free to contribute!

Tagged ,

Diffraction on a Budget

In physics class at Brock, we’re always talking about demonstrations that are good to do in front of a class that explain the concepts that are being discussed. The problem is, sometimes these demos require equipment that is hard to come by. The trick is, coming up with MacGyver alternatives that (sometimes) work just as well.

For example, the other day, Mark and I were talking about interference patterns created by light. (Sadly, this is a fairly typical Friday night for us.) After discussing this for a while, we took a look at what we had lying around the house and decided that we would make a diffraction pattern for ourselves.

What is a diffraction pattern, you may ask? Why, it’s just light interfering with other light, much like ripples on a pond interfere with each other and make overlapping patterns. We just capture these patterns from the light on a surface.

So, all you need is a business card (or other thick paper), a pin and a cheap laser pointer. Use the pin to poke two teeny tiny holes on the business card as close together as you can make them, and then shine the laser pointer through both the holes. (You might need to play around with the spacing of your holes before you can see anything.) You’ll need to stand about 20 feet from a wall and make sure that you’re in a dark room.

You should see this:

Diffraction Pattern

Ordinarily, the laser pointer would just create a red circle on the wall. But when you shine the laser pointer through the holes on the business card, the light (which travels like a wave) goes through ones of the holes, spreads out and interferes with the light spreading out from the other hole. These waves overlap – just like the waves-on-a-pond analogy. We’re just capturing that overlapping pattern on the surface of the wall, which ends up looking like a bunch of bright lines.

Pretty cool right? Science. It works.


Digital Storytelling

Last week, we were fortunate enough to have Alan Levine talk to our class about digital storytelling. It was a really interesting discussion all about engaging students using storytelling. This could either be done by presenting the lesson in a storytelling format, having the students present something about themselves in a storytelling format, or even, have the entire class collaborate in a shared story.

The big takeaway message from this discussion was: storytelling is a way of creating a conversation with students in order to engage the class in a learning experience. My initial thought was: Great! But is this something I could realistically use in a physics/math classroom?

The answer: totally.

To a smaller extent, this was something that I stumbled upon during my block. During the momentum unit in physics, I gave a presentation about my experiences at SNO. The presentation contained information that was part of the curriculum, but – and I didn’t realize it at the time – I ended up presenting it as a story. I noticed that they were really engaged in the story as I was telling it – although I didn’t actually realize why until Alan talked about the power of storytelling.

Here’s another example that Alan shared with us on how storytelling can be used in a math/science class.

What I really liked about this ‘story’ is that it has no words! A narrative with a strong inquiry element for students to fill in the blanks. After showing something like this to a science class, we could have a great discussion about how her setup worked.

During the background chat, people were also talking about using storytelling in a science class to present the history of some discovery. Totally. Those lessons about the history of something are usually pretty dry. But spice it up with a story format, maybe add some side notes about the eccentric scientists involved, and it suddenly becomes engaging.

Alan also gave us some great resources. I recommend bookmarking his wiki page dedicated to digital storytelling, and his wiki page dedicated to 50 web 2.0 ways to tell a story (inspired, of course, by Paul Simon’s 50 ways to leave your lover).

Some other really amazing ideas he left us with: he used voicethread to record his mom’s voice talking about a family picture (great way to record voices/experiences from the past). Beyond teaching, he also introduced us to Pechaflickr (which he invented!) as a fun game to play with a class or with friends – creating a story based on random flickr images.

Thanks, Alan! It was a really great talk that I’m definitely going to use in my future classes.

Tagged ,


In Zoe‘s tech class at Brock, it’s pretty common to hear people talking about their VATs. It’s only when I’m met by cryptic stares from people who aren’t in our class that I realize that saying ‘VAT’ all the time confuses people.

Well, in 8y59 lingo, our VAT is our Virtual Associate Teacher; someone who has a strong online presence and who is an expert at incorporating technology into the classroom. We’ve been following our VATs blogs and twitter feeds and seeking advice from our VATs since September. It’s been a really great experience.

My VAT is Danika Barker, and here is a little screencast I made taking you through a mini tour of her blog and some of the neat things she’s done.


Pretty cool VAT, right? Here is a link to her blog, and here is one to her video from unplugd where she shares a story about one of her students. Oh and don’t forget to follow her on twitter: @danikabarker.

(If you’re interested in making your own screen cast, I used the free resource at Screencast-o-matic.)

Tagged ,

The Google Site Resource

Well, block 1 is all wrapped up now, and I’m kinda bummed. I had a great time with it and I just want it to keep going. I’m walking away with a bunch of resources to stash in my toolbox, along with some tips and tricks that I will definitely pull out the next time I’m teaching a class.

One of the tools that ended up being a fantastic resource was the google site that I made for my grade 9 math class. I posted all of the handouts from each lesson as well as solutions to the homework problems. That way, when I ran out of time to take up homework problems in class, I could just say, ‘check the class website for the rest of the homework solutions.’

Was it extra work to write out and upload the homework everyday? Yes. But it was worth it knowing that the students weren’t going to be panicking when they got stuck on some homework.

The math classroom ended up being somewhat low on technology. But you know what? It wasn’t such a bad thing at all. I think a teacher should be able to teach an effective class using nothing but a paper clip and some duct tape. Anything else is just icing on the cake. So I ended up busting out a few colourful overheads … where the screen was held in place using a mangled coat hanger. MacGyver has nothing on me.

Some things I’d change for next time:

As much as I liked the google site as a resource, I would’ve loved to incorporate the web 2.0 aspect to the class site as well (like with edmodo or ning). I’d also really like to be able to easily contact the whole class without using their school emails – another benefit of edmodo/ning. Side note: Of the school emails, I found that a) they were always crashing and b) students couldn’t access them easily from computers outside of the school. Um, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?

So, in conclusion, I miss teaching. Would it be weird if I started delivering lessons to my cats?


Tagged , ,

Momentum and SNO

These past two weeks, I’ve been teaching a grade 12 physics class. And I’ve been reminded of how much I love physics: So much.

I’ve been teaching the momentum unit, which is pretty straight forward as far as units go. 1D momentum, 2D momentum, some impulse and elasticity … and that’s about it. So I thought I might as well sneak some fun physics stuff in.

One of the nifty outcomes from conservation of momentum was the discovery of the neutrino. One of the nifty outcomes of the discovery of the neutrino is the existence of SNO (the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory), which detects neutrinos. So, I made a little presentation about it.

2D Momentum 2 slide 1

Wolfgang Pauli, back in 1930, compared the momentum before and after a neutron decayed into a proton and electron – but he came up a little short. He concluded that there must be some tiny, undetectable particle carrying away some of the final momentum from the system. That particle was called the neutrino.

Pauli, an enjoyably eccentric physicist, said, “I have done a terrible thing, I have postulated a particle that cannot be detected.” Well, it turns out, you can detect neutrinos. The only problem is, it’s really hard to do, since neutrinos are teeny tiny. (Think of a neutrino going through an atom like a fly going through the skydome.)

2D Momentum 2 slide 2

Enter: the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory. A project designed to experimentally verify some important properties of the neutrino. In order for their detector to detect only neutrinos (and none of the other background radiation) they had to find a smart way of filtering out all of the extra radiation. The solution? Build the detector 2km underground in an active mine in Sudbury. Obviously.

SNO mine

This is picture that I took when I went to visit SNO back in 2007. You have to get up really early, get dressed in miner gear (coveralls, work boots, helmet with head lamp) and take a scary elevator ride 2km underground. You then walk a couple of kilometers through the mine before you hit the lab.

SNO lab

Once inside the lab, you have to shower and completely change into a new jumpsuit, hairnet, special shoes and safety glasses. They have to be very careful about any excess radiation that comes into the lab. (Side note: it turns out that coffee is nearly too radioactive for this place. Although, if you try to take coffee away from physicists they are likely to put up a fight. Which is what apparently happened in this case.)

The SNO lab itself looks a little like a James Bond villain lair. All of the outer walls are rough, since they were carved out of rock, so the whole effect is a little trippy.

Anyway, long story short, SNO was a success. They experimentally determined some spin properties of neutrinos, which apparently means they get cited everywhere nowadays. For me, it was a really cool trip. For my physics students, I think they thought that SNO looked like a pretty cool place.

Hopefully, it helped to bring some excitement and perspective to their momentum unit, too.

Tagged , ,

Cool Physics Problem

Whew! Let the teaching begin!

This week practicum has started. I’m teaching grade 9 math, and next week I’m going to expand to grade 12 physics as well. I feel like I’m finally getting a real taste of what it’s like to do this teaching thing day in and day out! So far, I’m definitely liking it.

I keep trying to think of some fun, technology related, inquiry based activities that can be done in math and/or physics class.

Next week, I’m going to start the momentum unit with the grade 12 physics class and, as I was looking up some cool youtube videos to share, I stumbled across this one.

1) I want to make this.

2) I would love to send this video out to students and say: based on the frequency of oscillations of each ball, what is the relationship between the lengths of the pendulums? It would be interesting to discuss how everyone came up with their answers.

Happy teaching!

Tagged ,

Technology in the classroom

Friday was a PD day at the high school that I’ve been placed at. And it ended up being super informative for me.

One of the best parts of the day involved a meeting with all of the grade 9 teachers. The school is starting a technology initiative wherein all grade 9 classes have to incorporate a technology related project. I sat in on the grade 9 math teachers’ brainstorming session.

One teacher shared her experience using wiki spaces with her class, and suggested that this would be a great idea for the grade 9s. She whipped out her laptop and showed everyone some examples from her class. She had started a wiki space and assigned the students their own pages, which link off of her home page. On each page, the students could put together a summary of a unit from the course, or a tutorial on how to solve equations, for example.

Everyone was impressed. Their response to this idea was: “I love it! I have never used a wiki space before. Let’s do this!” I was completely impressed by their enthusiasm.

For the next 20 minutes, all of the math teachers sat around computers in the library and worked together to start their own class wiki space. I mentioned that I was taking this technology course at Brock, so my associate teacher suggested that we have the grade 9 math class (which I am teaching) work on their wiki project during the time that I’m teaching. How cool is that?

So, when I got home, I decided to play with wiki spaces. If you’re an educator, you can create your own wiki space (with no ads) for free! If you’re interested in creating a wiki space for your class, just follow this link to sign up.

After you’ve completed the sign up, you automatically have a wiki home page. Here is the wiki space that I created just to test things out. If you want to change what it says on your home page, click ‘Edit’ at the top. If you want to add some pages (let’s say, add a page for each student to work on), click ‘New Page’ on the left. When you click ‘Manage Wiki’, on the left,  you will get this screen:

wiki space manage wiki

From this screen, you can change the look of your wiki space, invite students via email and change permissions as to who can edit what.

When you click on ‘Invite People’, you will get this screen. You have to input the email of every student that you want to add to your site. They will be sent a link and will be asked to create a user name and password.

wiki invite people

Once they’re in, they will be able to edit anything they want. It’s a good idea to click on ‘Permissions’ (under ‘Manage Wiki’) and lock the home page, so that you are the only one who can edit it. In order to prevent one student from messing around with another student’s wiki page, it’s probably a good idea to point out that, as the organizer of the wiki space, you are able to see who edits what.

Each student just has to explore the wiki and learn how to add content to their page. So, I created a few pages on my test wiki space for me, Mark and Mom to play around with. So far, it’s really fun to explore and easy to add to it. I’m really looking forward to trying this out with the grade 9s in a month or so.

UPDATE: Dad hacked my Mom’s wiki space and added a fun math riddle. I think Dad is testing me to see how to handle students messing around with each other’s pages!

Tagged , ,

Another reason to love PBS

You don’t have to convince me that PBS is awesome. I totally knew that already. So, when I was reading a blog post about great online resources for teachers, I wasn’t at all surprised to find PBS on the list.

What did surprise me? The number of resources that PBS has compiled for teachers. There are hundreds of great in-class activity ideas for all subject areas and grade levels. Have a look over on PBS Teachers.

PBS Teachers Screenshot

For example, when I start my teaching placement in October, I will be with a Grade 9 Math class, probably working through the Measurement unit. PBS, of course, has some great ideas. After the concept of volume gets covered, how about having the students work through an activity that involves estimating the amount of money that can fit in a certain suitcase? Just provide the students with a stack of ‘$5 bills’ (ie. paper cut out in the correct dimensions), a ruler and a suitcase. Or, have the students pretend to be Archimedes and use an interactive app that lets you estimate an upper and lower bound on pi. There are tons of ideas. And, so far, I’ve only looked at the math section.

I highly recommend taking a look. Especially now that all of us teacher candidates are up to our eyeballs in lesson plans.

Tagged , ,

Interactive Learning = Advancing Science

I came across an interesting link the other day, and it reminded me a little bit of the benefits of gamification because:

1) It’s fun (it’s a game).
2) It involves learning through hands on activities.
3) It’s score based (so it has a bit of a competitive element).

But here’s the part that really made my eyes pop out of my head: by playing this game you are actually advancing science. Woah.

The game is called foldit. Have you heard of it?

The purpose of the game is to interactively move around protein molecules into a configuration that puts them in their lowest energy state. The lower the energy of your molecule, the higher your score in the game. Molecules in real life will tend to exist in their lowest energy state. Once scientists figure out the shapes of the bad proteins that are involved in diseases, they can create other proteins to combat the bad ones!

foldit Screenshot

The only problem is, proteins are really complicated. Devising a program that will systematically solve for all of the degrees of freedom in a really complicated protein would be extremely time consuming. The solution? Use people! People are great problem solvers. So, a bunch of scientists decided to set up a game where players can figure out the protein shapes just like a puzzle.

The craziest part of all: it actually worked. Recently, the people behind foldit released a journal article discussing how players of the game were able to discover the actual shape of a protein that causes AIDS in monkeys.

I think it might be neat to introduce this game in a biology class. Students could get a ‘hands on’ feel for hydrogen bonds, amino acids as building blocks, hydrophobic and hydrophilic portions of the molecule and how this all relates to the interactions with other parts of the molecule. The only issue I will say after spending some time with this game: it’s kind of hard. The intro puzzles would probably be useful to play within class and would generate some discussion, but working up to the really complicated puzzles might take a bit of time.

Here’s one that I’ve really caught on to: Moon Zoo. It’s not actually a competitive game, but it’s another one that relies on input from participants to advance science (cue Space Odyssey music). Basically, you are shown a bunch of zoomed in photos of the moon (taken by the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter) and you are asked to pick out craters (larger than a certain size) as well as other interesting features.

Moon Zoo Screenshot

This one might be neat to introduce to a science class after talking about the evolution of the solar system. By using the data from Moon Zoo, astronomers are going to get a really great picture of the moon’s history and age. A much better picture, it turns out, than if computers alone were used to pick out the features! It tickles me to my geeky core to think that I’m looking at a part of the moon – up close – that very few people have seen.

Oh, and it you’re really lucky you might get to spot a landing site, or one of the rocket stages from the Apollo missions that crashed on the moon.

Tagged , ,