Monthly Archives: February 2014

Fitting Periodic Functions Presentations

It’s been a while since we did presentations in Precalculus, so I figured it was time for a mini-project again. Learning from my past, I quickly doctored up an example presentation, mostly as a guide to how the format their presentations should take.

The students got really into the presentations. They had a bunch of ideas as to what “periodic” meant and they explored a lot of possibilities before deciding on one to study. I think the good thing about this project was my requirements were so open-ended that they were able to find one that interested them.

Here are some examples of presentations (with the names removed).

In this next one, the students actually got a jump-rope & meter-stick and measured where the jump-rope was as if they were jumping rope.

In this last example, the students really wanted to do something with square-dancing, but couldn’t find any videos of square-dancing that they could measure. So the first part of their presentation was slides showing where people (represented by circles and squares) would be.  Then their function is pretty nifty (they ended up fixing the “undefined” parts of their table, which was a great talking point in the class).

In the past I had the students come up with questions to ask their classmates. This time I honestly forgot about that aspect if I had to redo it, I’d ask them to include that in their presentations. Instead, I decided to pose questions to the class based on the presentations (which intimated the presenters a little, until they realized that they didn’t need to answer the question: they were supposed to help their classmates solve the questions). It wasn’t too difficult to ask a question of the students that really required that they understand what the graphs and equations represent.



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Speed Dating: Chemistry Style

Others have posted about various “speed dating” review games, but I just wanted to share one I did recently in Chemistry which went better than I could have expected!

We’ve been working on Chemical equations, and I want them to (1) write the formulas from the Chemical names, (2) predict the products, (3) predict whether the reaction would take place, and (4) balance the equation. For many of my students, that process is overwhelming because there is a lot more to do on each of those steps, depending on the reaction.

We had a block period this day (1 hr 30 min class), so we started with the students making their own chemical equations with their lab partner and doing all 4 steps above to them. This took about 30-50 minutes depending on the class, especially as I wanted to make sure that (a) they got all the steps correct and (b) they understood how to get the right answer for their equation.

After all groups had equations ready, I had them go to the lab (so they were standing up) and pair up with another lab group. There were whiteboards at the lab tables and I had them divide the boards in half. They wrote their equation along the top of their half of the board, and then flipped the board around so that they were working on each other’s equations. See the pictures below.

photo 1

photo 2

photo 3


What’s great about this setup is that the students immediately become tutors of “their” equations. I give them a set amount of time to work, and when the time runs out, even if they’re not done, they’ve got some work and the people across from them can check their work right away.  If they get stuck, they have immediate help. Students rotate so that they are working on a different equation, but “their” equation is still across from them and they’re still available to help.

We were only able to work on this for a relatively short while (about 40-50 minutes depending on the class) because it took students so long to come up with their own equation, but it was essential for them to come to the table with the right equation and it gave them a confidence booster to help others on “their” equation. They also got faster each time they were doing different equations, which was another goal of this activity.

It also gave them ownership over their work to have an equation that they created and that they know the in’s and out’s of. They actually surprised me with how into this activity they were. It was probably partly that they were working on whiteboards (where mistakes are okay), and partly a combination of the things I mentioned above.

I could have handed out worksheets[1], but this was so much more fun and exciting for them.


[1] Not all worksheets are created equal. Some would be highly engaging, but the ones I had in mind were boring as anything.


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Augmented Reality and Possibilities

As a Chemistry teacher wanting students to view 3D models of molecules and understanding their VSEPR shapes, there are a handful of options when it comes to this. I’ll list the things I’ve used below:

  1. The free (& open-source) molecule building program Avogadro.  It is great because students can build any molecule and then the program will “optimize” the molecule and students can visualize the atoms pushing to get away from each other while in the bond.
  2. Good old plastic ball-and-stick models. It’s hard to beat getting to put together and pull apart the molecules yourself.  Unfortunately, there are incorrect ways to assemble them, and they’re not much good if I want to put them on an assessment unless the whole class is looking at the same thing at the same time. I love my students, but I only trust them as far as I can throw them, and that’s not very far!
  3. Sketchfab is a free website where you can upload 3D files and students can view them from all angles very easily. I can even embed them into my website, so on a single webpage, students can compare and contrast multiple views (the links are actually to orbital diagrams, but you get the idea).
  4. Perhaps the coolest way to view 3D stuff, that I’ve blogged about before, is using a program simply called Augment. Recently I had some trouble getting to their servers, but the problem turned out to be on our side: our firewall was blocking an essential server for some reason. Once our IT cleared it, it worked perfectly. Since this is the title of the blog, I’ll explain why it’s so cool below.

Last time I used Augment, a little less than a year ago, you would scan a QR code, and then direct the camera at a “marker” where your 3D model would show up. Recently, however, they brilliantly combined these two things so that you can have “custom markers”.[1] That means that you point your iPad’s camera (from withing the Augment app) at the “background” and then the model will automatically begin uploading and then show up right where you’re pointing it once it’s uploaded.

Here’s a student demonstrating that:

If you’re not in education, I’m not sure what kinds of limitations Augment puts on how many you can have, but they were very kind to me once they found out that I am a teacher and now I’m pretty sure I have the ability to make more custom markers than I’ll ever fill up. What’s great about this is that the markers don’t give away to the students which molecule is which. That makes cheating much more difficult, in addition to “memorizing answers” or other such nonsense as that. Just check out my quizzes below:

The 4 images you see represent 4 different molecules for the students to examine. If you’ve got a device and have the Augmented app downloaded, go ahead and scan them: they should work for you. Now here’s another version of a quiz on the same topic.

It’s very easy to make different quizzes simply by rearranging the images.

Here’s a student demonstrating scanning the quiz.

Other Notes

The images were taken from Creative Commons (perhaps the only legal thing I’ve done all year…), so feel free to take them and use them. Yes, they’re the same few images rearranged, and yes, the Augment app recognizes their different arrangement, so it produces a different 3D image for each. The images are originally in color, and I believe that it would help the Augment app if the images were in color, but like most teachers, I don’t have (easy) access to a color printer (nor would I want to make 80 color copies for a final exam).  Fortunately, the scanner still worked very well on black and white copies, but you should be careful about a few things:

  • Don’t make the copies too small. Then your print quality would be too low and it is harder for the app to pickup the right information.
  • Be careful about copying copies of copies. As a teacher, you probably know this reduces the quality of the images each step it is copied. If possible, simply print and don’t copy (fortunately our xerox doubles as a printer, and apparently uses the same resources either way!).
  • Make sure to test it out before you make 100 copies and especially before you hand it out to students. (Is that one too obvious?)
  • If you’re making your own, choose more complex images, as it gives the Augmented app more information to use when trying to pick up an image. No, you can’t use a QR code as your marker cause those squares stand for something else.

Perhaps one of the best things about this is that I don’t feel that I’m “using technology for technology’s sake.” The students grab the iPads, which they’re used to, and simply open the app, click “scan”, and point.  Within a total of 10-20 seconds, they’re viewing multiple 3D images, something which would take longer, whether using laptop/desktop computers or even just the physical models. This is definitely a case where the technology has improved the educational experience: both with the “wow” factor and the ease of accessibility by the students. Below are the 5 custom trackers I made for viewing VSEPR shapes. Feel free to use them! tracker_1 tracker_2 tracker_3 tracker_4 tracker_5

[1] The Augment team has wonderful customer service, and they were very generous with their time and in helping me figure out what was best for my students.



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