Tag Archives: Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality: Exploring the Gold-Foil Experiment

This summer I stepped up the Augmented Reality aspect of my classroom by making a few more models that I thought would help with understanding Chemistry. One of these models I haven’t written about but may be my most fun yet is my model of the Rutherford Gold Foil experiment. Here’s a link to the model, and the slow-motion version of the model.

Below is an image which acts as a marker AND the item you can scan to get the model (pretty awesome, if you ask me!). I tried to make one for the slow-motion version, but it wasn’t distinct enough, so I’m going to have to work on that if I still want to use the slow-mo version.


To use this tool, just download the augment app (iOS or Android), click “scan”, and view the image above.

My gut reaction was to show the cool model and have students figure out what the model meant. But that would be too open-ended and would focus too much on the model, which shouldn’t be the point of the lesson. On the opposite end is the lame idea of explaining everything and then showing the model as an afterthought.

The best would be to use the model at the appropriate time and present it as the experiment. (“What do you expect to happen according to the last model?” and “What do you notice happening to some of the protons as they collide with the gold foil?” and “What could explain why this is happening?”) The tough thing will be making it so it doesn’t take too long.

I haven’t videotaped myself viewing this model (hope to get some footage of students soon), so I’ll just include the rendered video from Blender below (this is the slow-motion video).

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Augmented Reality: States of Matter

A while back I discovered that the awesome Augment company included animations in their models. I’ve been wanting to try this for a while, but didn’t have enough time during the school year to work out the kinks.

Well, I finally have time this summer, and so I created three trackers which link to what particles look like in the three states of matter. Or at least as well as I could animate particles with my limited abilities. There’s plenty more than I want to animate, but for now this is something that should help my class and anyone with an iOS device or Android device can use. Just download the augment app (iOS or Android), click “scan” and scan the images below. It works much better if they’re printed out, but it will work on the screen if you want to try it out. I hope the images are self-explanatory for which image links with which type of matter.

gas-zoom liquid-zoom solid-zoom


Here are some videos of the 3D objects. Note: I’m using the standard augment tracker for the videos just cause I haven’t printed the above images yet, but the images above double as the image to scan and the tracker.

Now that I have discovered/understand the animation feature of the augmented reality app, how else could you or I use this in class?!?

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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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Using Sketchfab to view 3D Orbital Clouds

Go here to view the orbital clouds that I describe below.


I didn’t really learn about Blender until about this time last year, and so I was still very new at creating 3D objects.  Since then, I’ve been able to apply my hobby of creating 3D objects to my math and science classes just a handful of times.  The two ways in which I’ve been able to share my work with students is through an Augmented Reality App on the iPad and through Sketchfab, a website that will use OpenGL to render 3D images.  Both are very cool ways to view 3D objects, with the Augmented reality app being a little more hands-on for the students with a little more “wow” factor, and SketchFab being a little easier for me to upload my blender files and for students to access (doesn’t work as well on iPads because of Apple’s restrictions, but we got Chromebooks this year from grant, wohoo!).

The highlights have been:

Using 3D & Sketchfab

I used to stand up at the board and lecture on the Quantum Numbers.  I’d draw the 3D objects which wasn’t terrible, but definitely didn’t help students picture things in 3D. [1] It was teacher-centered, lecture-based, and (no matter how excited I made it sound) boring.

So I decided to spice things up with Augmented reality.  Unfortunately our network was being stupid and blocking everything related to the app, so I had to change gears and go with Sketchfab.  I created several of the orbital shapes, orientations at multiple energy levels.

After uploading them, I embeded them on my website.  Unfortunately you can’t embed iframes into wordpress.com websites, so you’ll have to go to my website to check them out.  There are 5 pages of them, so don’t miss the other ones.

I gave my students a packet to work through (see below), which worked better than I had hoped!  It involved students sketching various pictures, in addition to answer questions at checkpoints and requiring that they check with me before moving on.  I was worried I’d be swamped, but the checkpoints are so easy to glance and say “yes” or “no”, that there wasn’t a big backlog.  Students developed a sense of what the atom looks like, in addition to how electrons behave within the atom.  The activity was student-centered and hands-on: much better than how I used to teach it. I overhead students struggling with and debating on the problems, asking each other what an “energy level” was and what “orientation” means.  At one point students even sketched what they thought three different shapes, when put together, should look like in 3D, and could immediately check themselves by going to the next web-page.

I could definitely improve it in little ways, such as explaining that an orbital cloud at a given orientation means both sides of the p-orbital.  Or I could better explain what an energy level is.  And I didn’t like how I phrase the question where they’re supposed to “discover” where the numbers 2, 6, 10, and 14 are on the periodic table.  But those were minor hitches that went over fine because I was constantly walking around answering questions.

The following day, we even had a great discussion from some of the students about a way to provide a “house address” for the electrons.  A few students presented how they would give students a location, and I followed up with showing students the quantum numbers.  Even when I was lecturing (for only 10 minutes or so), students were much more engaged and invested in what I was saying because they had, in the back of their mind, the system they created to locate the electrons.

[1] How important is it, in the grand scheme of Chemistry to know what the electron orbitals look like? Meh. You’d be able to understand most of Chemistry without it, but I like to do it because (1) it helps students with their spatial understanding (which is often sorely lacking), (2) it’s quite beautiful the way that these orbital clouds exist in every atom, and (3) it reinforces ideas about electrons and “where they want to be” as I put it.  This idea of “where electrons want to be” comes up more in chemical bonding.

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My Hobby: Blending Things

I know I made this blog to be a teaching blog, but I’d like to throw in some other things I’m doing from time to time.  School just ended recently and one of the first things I did on a free day was play and learn more about Blender.

For those who don’t know, Blender is a free 3D computer graphics program.  Sorta like Trimble (formerly Google) Sketchup, but with animation capabilities, and way more powerful, especially in terms of materials and physics. I got hooked on Google Sketchup back when, well, it was Google Sketchup, and had a blast. I then discovered Blender and thought “oh cool, I’ll open it up and start using it just like I did with Sketchup”. Did not happen.  The learning curve is pretty steep, and I’m still learning tons of things. It’s sorta like trying to fly a jet engine when your only experience is driving cars–they’re nothing alike.

I took some time to play around with it throughout this school year, and have been having a blast ever since, when time allows. Here’s one of my most recent creations (still looks unfinished, but this is mostly just me playing around to learn more about the program).

Blender is not related to my classes at all, right?  Wrong!!  As much as I’d love to teach a class full of students how to use this program, it would be too tangential and take way too much time for me to justify, even in Physics class. However that doesn’t mean that I can’t still use this program–in fact, I have a few times to help “augment” my classes (Get it? If you don’t yet, read the articles I’m about to link, and you will.) I’ve used Blender to help Physics students better see and understand a cool video, help Chemistry students see and recognize 3D molecule shapes, and help Precalculus students get creative with making probability review problems.  Lastly, I’ve also submitted some 3D patterns to Fawn Nguyen‘s Visual Patterns website, all created using Blender (and uploaded using a cool website called Sketchfab).

I’m fortunate in that this hobby of mine has helped me in my classroom. I’m reminded of a good graduation speech by the late Steve Jobs, which I’ll add below and you should watch if you haven’t yet.


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[Augment] Probability Review

I did this lesson with Precalculus students, but it would work easily in any subject that studies probability.

We just had spring break, and the week prior to that was an “Alternative Curriculum” week, where teachers get to teach things other than their typical classes and students sign up for what they’re most interested in. Great idea, and was really good this year. Maybe I’ll write a blog post about it sometime. Prior to that, we let out school after Wednesday due to parent/teacher conferences.

Anyways, all that to say, my students have been 2 and a half weeks away from school, and I needed something to kick-start their memory concerning the probability unit we left off half-way through. So here’s my plan for review.

The Plan

  1. The students will use the augmented reality to view one of many objects I have created for them. The objects include: a glass with various colored marbles, a group of colorful stick-figures, or a deck of cards, among other things.
  2. They must write a question concerning that item. Example: “What are the chances of drawing an Ace?”
  3. Everyone will rotate to the next station and view the object, as well as answering the question the previous group left behind. The new group must now create a different question, and turn in their answer (with the question) into a box I will have in the middle of the room.
  4. Later, I’ll sort through the questions and choose good ones to re-use when assessing, as well as check for understanding and comprehension.

I will explain to them that the purpose of this activity is review, so they shouldn’t make the questions too hard or too easy. The perfect question is a challenging question that makes the next group think, but they can still answer it.

EDIT: Here are the QR Codes you can scan to view the Augmented Objects.  Below that is the question/answer template I used.  Feel free to take them and use them yourself.

Note: when moving the students, I wanted to shift them around in a unique pattern so that they were not always following the same students, and thus always answering the same classmates’ questions.

The Result

Students enjoyed this activity, in part because of Augment, in part because they got to walk around the room. Here are some photos and video of their interaction.

Augmented Reality in Use

Augmented Reality in Use

Augmented Reality in Use

Pros and Cons

One pro of this activity are that students are actively engaged in the creation process as well as the answering process. They have to think critically to make the question at just the right level, and yet they have room to think creatively. I had a question or two in mind for each augmented object as I created them, but I was hopeful that some students would come up with creative and interesting questions for each other.

The activity got the students asking the right questions and had them discussing important points, but it didn’t quite push them as much as I had hoped.

This was also a very quick activity (about 15-20 minutes), which was good because we had a lot more administrative-classroom stuff to do (like starting our blogs).

One con is that students couldn’t always read (legibility) what other students wrote.  You got to see that in one of the videos above.

Another con is that students didn’t always ask the best questions.  Even when the questions weren’t 100% clear, students just tried to answer “as best as they could” instead of asking for clarity and helping each other perfect their questions.

Advantages of Using Augment

You could argue that this could be done just as easily with real objects. However, I think that the surprise of “oh, this is what we’re looking at now” adds a level of focus and intimacy with the creation of the questions. Otherwise, each student would be able to see the other stations from across the room and know “what was coming”, reducing interest and letting them perhaps feel like “well, the next group knows what’s coming, so what’s the use?”

You could also argue that I could just as easily have used QR codes, link to Dropbox, and shown an image instead. This would be fun, but somewhat removes the “wow” factor. I really think that viewing the objects in 3-D amps up the interest just enough to make the task more than worthwhile. Furthermore, with pictures, I would be limited in certain situations. For example with the glass holding the marbles, students would simply be counting a 2-D image. Instead, students had to consider “do I really need to know how many of each there are here?” and then attempt to count in 3-D, which improves their spatial reasoning, however slightly. It also generates discussion and the need to check each other on the results.

Summary & Improvements

I was glad the students got to experience this, but it perhaps wasn’t the best activity to do after such a long break because the students weren’t able to challenge each other enough to recall the questions.  My warm-up asked them “what’s the difference between a combination and a permutation”, and I was hoping to get more questions oriented in that direction, but there wasn’t a whole lot of that happening.  Next year I might do it as a review activity just before a test, so students will be more prepared to ask (and answer) tougher questions.

I had a TA type up the questions and answers into a Google spreadsheet, so you can see the level of engagement and the depth and  creativity of their questions (or lack thereof) by clicking on that link.  We might do something with those in Precal soon.

Ideally I would use something like Google Forms so students are entirely using the iPads, and we can review the questions afterwards (without requiring that the TA type up the questions).  However, I couldn’t figure out a way for the students to only see the latest question & answer exactly that one.  If you find a program or website for that OR can get Google Forms to behave in that way, let me know.


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Augmented Reality, Used!

When I first discovered Augmented Reality, my mind was blown.  And yet, I couldn’t think of a good way to incorporate it into any of my 3 classes that couldn’t already be done with other materials.

The other week, however, I think I successfully used the Augment app for the iPad, and I’d like to show what I did.

First off, I saw this awesome video:

I asked my students to watch it for HW.  Of course I had 2 out of 13 watch it. *smacks forehead*

So I showed them all the way up until the guy pulls the feather off the balanced sticks and I ask “okay, so what happens?”

I then have them pull out the iPads and look at a model I created (didn’t take too long, but then again, I’ve been playing with Blender a lot) so they could visualize all of the sticks being balanced with the feather at the end.  If you have an iOS or Android device with a camera, download the Augment app and scan this QR code through the app:

If you don’t have an iPad and your browser, OS, & graphics card all support WebGL (My broswer, OS, & graphics card all supported WebGL, just not together (doh!).  So I had to reboot into Windows 7.  Yay for dual boot.) then click the link below (I’ve been trying to make it interactive?).

Balancing Sticks — Realistic (click to view in 3D)

Balancing Sticks -- Realistic

My students examined the model, went “ooh” and “ahh” as they moved their iPads around to see all the sides of it, and proceeded to look profoundly confused.  At that point, I hinted at things such as “center of mass” and “let’s draw force diagrams on these spots”, and I gave them the following, nearly identical 3D structure, except with red balls at points that I thought they should examine in more detail.  Yes, there are a lot of red balls.  Here’s the QR code and 3D image:

Balancing Sticks — Marked (click to view in 3D)

Balancing Sticks -- Marked

After this, my students drew force diagrams and were able to predict where each of the remaining sticks fell very accurately.  Reflecting on it, I suppose you don’t need a force diagram to figure that out, but the AR sure helped them visualize it, and it was good practice for them sketching force diagrams.

Furthermore, I had initially thought that this was a break from what we had been working on–momentum–but after some reflection, I realized that “Center of Mass” connected the two concepts, and we hadn’t yet talked about Center of Mass in our class!

This lesson turned out to be “eh”, but only because I didn’t spend enough time on what I wanted to be their “end result”.  That and I’m not entirely sure how to teach about center of mass when all we’ve talked about in class are point masses.  On day I’ll feel sufficient as a physics teacher.

I think the AR definitely augmented the lesson (sorry for the pun), but as you noticed, it wasn’t central to the lesson, nor should it have been.  If I required students to create their own, or somehow interact with the AR I created, the students would have missed the point of the lesson.  Instead, I was glad that I stumbled upon this video and then only after much of the lesson was thought out did I realize “hey, I could totally use AR here!”

I’m still going to be on the look-out for better ways to use AR, and hope, one day, to involve students in the creation of the 3D models!

I’d like to thank Jim Pai and Brian Kolins for their fellow nerdy enthusiasm over discovering Augmented Reality.

Notes about technology used:

1. I used this Augmented Reality app to allow students to view these models in “augmented 3D”.

2. I used Blender to create the models, which I then exported to wavefront (.obj) to be able to import into the Augment website in #1. (Actually, I now forget whether I used COLLADE (.dae) or wavefront (.obj) but either should do the trick.)

3. I used Sketchfab to import the 3D model and show it on the blog.  Unfortunately, it seems that wordpress.com does not allow “iframes” which is what is required for it to look like this (simply embedded in the post, rather than just a link).


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