Tag Archives: iPads

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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Classkick — Cool New (Free) App

Dan Meyer usually rails against apps & website rather than for them[1], so when I read that he was saying how good an app is, I thought I should check it out.

And it looks awesome. I had high hopes of Nearpod, but the I didn’t like a few things: (1) The entire class had to stay on the same slide, (2) students could only write on some of the slides, (3) teachers couldn’t really give individual feedback, and (4) students (on our network) were often kicked out and had to log back in, which was an arduous process.

By comparison, Classkick is very fast to get students logged in: just a 6-digit/letter class code to type, which is unique to the class period and the lesson, so I guess you could have students in the same class on different lessons if necessary. To reinforce how fast and easy it is to setup, I heard about it during my planning period, and was using it in class (with a lesson I had created) 50 minutes later. Was it the best lesson in the world? Probably not, but then again I was just planning on lecturing/doing practice problems, so this was so much more interesting.

Students’ Interaction & Usability

I felt really comfortable using the interface and creating a lesson was super-quick. Dan has a good point about the writing taking up so much space, but since you can scroll down, as well as make one page per problem if necessary, space doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem. Space-management seems to be more of a problem as some students just thought to write/answer on top of the prompt (see below).

photo 2


I was missing a good chunk of my class to extracurricular activities, so I decided to not tell my students how to do stuff and instead see if they could figure out little things, like being able to ask for help, help each other, hide teacher/helping student comments, scroll down, etc. These are “advanced” juniors in math class so I was hopeful, but ultimately some things weren’t as intuitive as I thought they would be for the students and this disappointed me. Many of the students didn’t take time on each slide as I thought they would and just went “fast-forward” to go to the next one. I had to ask them “why are you skipping slides” to which they responded “oh, you wanted us to do each one?”  *Face-palm*

Here are some specific examples of students interacting with the features:

  • The “scroll down with two fingers” function isn’t intuitive, but it does allow for much more white-space on which to work (certainly not infinite, though).
  • The “ask for help” is a great idea, and I love that students can help each other, but with this small class (6 students at any one time because of extracurriculars), nobody really helped anyone else. I could see this working if the class was larger or if students had more time to get use to the program (which I plan on using again!).
  • One student changed the colors of her pen, which I didn’t notice that you could do the first time around (I played with this for maybe 15 minutes before using it in class!). I thought that was awesome that she found out something that I hadn’t discovered yet. She even wisely used color coding.
photo 1

The question at the bottom that you can’t see asks “What do you notice?”

Pros and Cons

Writing on iPads is a pain, as you can see from my horrible handwriting, and my students’ worse handwriting. But I would say that hand-writing for equations for students is infinitely better than typing into notes or something foolish like that on the iPad.

I like how easy it is to insert images, though I had to really blow up some images and their was quite a loss in quality of the image when I did that (I blame the iPad more than the app for low resolution screenshots).

Students being able to move at their own pace is a huge plus.


Each page could only scroll down so far. One student decided to combat horrible handwriting by using huge handwriting, which I was fine with, but he ran out of space before finishing his answer to “What do you notice?”, which is a bummer. If pages could go farther (or on “forever”) that would be nice.

It would be nice to give teachers an option to type prompts. Yes, I can record my voice (which would be annoying to hear 20-30 times in a classroom), and yes I can type, save it in Dropbox, screen shot it, and then use it, but that seems a bit excessive for typing a simple sentence like “What do you notice?”

Along with the last one, it would be nice to be able to create content through the computer. I much prefer using a computer over an iPad, and I was frankly surprised that you had to create the content on the iPad. Fortunately the experience was much better than I feared it would be, but in the end I’d still rather create content on the computer.

I’ve gotten used to Doceri on the iPad for content creation, so I kept finding myself wanting to zoom in and out so my handwriting would look better. I think if this would be added, it would overcome a lot of the problems mentioned above. I know you want to strike a delicate balance between simplicity for students’ sake and power of an application, but I think this is one item that could add tremendous value to this app.


This is an app I would highly recommend that you check out–it’s the kind of thing I had hoped Nearpod was when I first found it. I think students will use the features more fluently as we doing this a few more times, and next time I’ll go ahead and jump in and explain features I think that are important. Also, I’ll spend more time preparing the assignment so it’s more interesting to students. I’m excited to think of the possibilities! I will definitely report more on using this in the future.

[1] In his defense, most apps & websites are garbage and I agree with the vast majority of his assessments of them.


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Stop-Motion Parametrics: Post-lesson Analysis

I posted recently about a lesson where students created stop-motion videos to model parametric functions.  Last year I did a similar lesson, but this year it went so much better because the activity was more structured, and I had them create presentations (on Google Drive so they could embed videos) rather than just creating a video. Here are just a few of the videos (in case they don’t work in the embedded presentations).

And here are some of their presentations, with names edited out.

Thanks to the questions that students had to create as a part of their presentations, the discussions that occurred around these questions were very good: students brought up misconceptions, and other students helped them out.  I didn’t always stop them at every little thing that was wrong, but after everyone’s presentations, I think we covered all the topics where students got something wrong.

Because this (students presenting and then asking questions) was a new way of learning (at least in this class), I had to push them to ask their peers the questions, and then wait for a good discussion to evolve.  We had good discussions and some of them posed great questions, but it took too much of me asking them for it.  I hope to do something like this again, soon, so they can get accustomed to teaching each other.

It also took a full 3 days of class to get through all the presentations (only 8 presentations), but I think it was worth it with the great discussions that were taking place.

Part of the reason students payed close attention was the fact that they had to answer their peer’s questions during the presentation.  The other part is that I had them fill out peer evaluations on Google Forms, which I hope to use and share with them. Here are just some of the responses (spelling errors included).

Answers to the request for: “One thing this group did well.”

they knew how their function worked pretty well.

What they said made sense and they had a good presentation.

the video was cool

explanation of domain and range

Understood her project and graph really well.

She did very well in finding a very unique parametric equation.

I really liked their video. They did a very good job in thinking about their questions. The questions are very well thought.

They really explained what the independent and dependent variables were. They also explained domain and range.

she knew allot about how her equation worked and knew how she got it, [1]

Answers to the request for: “One thing this group could work on or do better.”

They confused me when when finding the distance horizontally. They didn’t find the distance instead they found the displacement.

Be more ready for their question maybe go over them more before they presented so they could catch their errors before their presentation.

they were a little bit scared which made them uncertain of the equation

I think that they had okay questions but i felt that there could have been a few better questions.

They did not explain there X&Y values.

Answers to the request for: “One thing you liked about the presentation.”

I liked the fact that they went BACK IN TIME!!! WITHOUT HAVING TO GO 88MPH!!!

It was smart to have the equation before the questions because it was then easier to answer them.

She thoroughly explained her equation and its domains and ranges.

I liked the way they explained their answers so that i understood.

they kept the presentation going, no awkward pauses.

i really like the graph it was creative.

cool video


This kind of reflection is great, both for students to see their own pro’s and con’s, and to think about other groups as they presented.  If students are “just supposed to watch” a presentation, then there’s much less incentive for them to pay attention to the details.

[1] That’s a new way to spell it that I haven’t seen from a student.


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Socrative to the Rescue?

I’m terrible at printing tests and quizzes before they’re due, and one day I’ll learn my lesson.  I thought that would be today because the printer jammed on me 4 times in a row.  I only had 45 minutes until the start of the day, and I was giving a test AND a quiz in two different classes.

All week, students had been using Socrative for the iPad, and so I thought “hey, I could probably copy and paste all the questions from Word to Socrative in time.”  So I did.  About 40 questions later, I was ready to go, and my thought was “whew, Socrative saved me!”, but I hadn’t quite thought through all the difficulties taking a quiz or a test like this might pose.


Saves paper (trees?).  Students still use scrap paper to show work, but I didn’t run 80 copies to be handed out.

All my math assessments are open-ended responses (not multiple choice).  Socrative has an open-ended (short answer) response option so it was actually pretty fast to transfer the quiz questions.

As students are working, they can’t cheat off each other because they’re only working on one question at a time.  Some students tried, but quickly gave up when their peers outpaced them because they hadn’t studied.

The Excel sheet it outputs gives me a nice overview of where the class stands.  Even the open-ended response, which I have to grade myself, I can use background colors on excel to mark wrong answers and see where everyone is at a glance.


I have to grade looking at paper (where they showed their work) and the computer (Excel).  I believe work is essential to understanding a student’s misconceptions and the simple input box format just isn’t good for showing math calculations.

Students may retake my quizzes, and I encourage them to use the quizzes to study for the retake (I try to make them very different).  However, unless I do something fancy with Google Spreadsheets, and/or print off a bunch of quiz results, students will not be walking home with a quiz that they can study.

Students also do “test corrections”, where they write down (on a separate sheet of paper) what they got wrong and why they got it wrong (reflection).  Again, figuring this out with a single Excel sheet for the class is difficult.

Student can only work on one question at a time.  They can’t “skip and come back” (good test-taking strategy) nor can they go back if they remembered a previous question.  Also, with my Tiered Assessments, students like to see “Okay, what’s worth an A?  What’ worth a B? etc.”  Here, they’re forced to take it one at a time.  I suppose one could argue that this is a good thing, but I don’t think so on these assessments.

If students hit the wrong button (“Submit” too early, or click the wrong answer), because there is no way to go back, then students could get a wrong answer even if they knew how to do it correctly and did it correctly.  I got around this by telling them to write on their “work” paper if they did this, and to tell me what the correct answer is, so I can override their accidental entry.  However, this is one more thing I have to check when comparing the Excel sheet and the paper.


You can decide for yourself whether this would be a good situation or not, but unless I can figure out some better way for students to record more information per question, in a nice mathematical format, I think I’ll be sticking to pen/pencil and paper.

I’ve also asked students to blog about their experience, so we’ll see what they say about that.  I’ve already gotten the obligatory “I like this” and “I hate this” responses, so we’ll see how well they can articulate those reactions.

Of course, right as I finished typing the final question, I heard the copier start up across the hall and roll of several dozen sheets without jamming.

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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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Failure Friday Fixed: A Better Logarithmic Application in Decibels

Here is my first success story from writing a “Failure Friday” post.  The “Failure Friday” idea is to give a lesson that failed and hopefully receive critical feedback on how to improve it, presumably for next year, although general suggestions could help one’s teaching throughout a year.  I am fortunate in that I teach 2 classes of Precalculus, one which is only a bit in front of the other in pacing, so I was able to use the suggestions and my improved lesson plan for the other Precal class.  Not only that, but my “failed” class, I was able to turn around and use the same lesson!

So the lesson is in this post if you care to read it.  The biggest problem that I had (even though I didn’t realize it at the time) was that I didn’t have a good way of visualizing loudness.  Thankfully, Kevin Laxton not only pointed this out for me, but also suggested the solution: Decibel Ultra on the iPads.  This was perfect because I have a class set of iPads, and I began brainstorming for a lab to do involving this app and students’ musical abilities (or lack thereof).

I started the with a very brief slide-show about sound.  Just enough to let them learn the basics, but not enough for them to lose interest yet.  Very soon after, I showed them the Decibel Ultra app.  All I did was hold it up.  My hope was that they would start yelling or slapping their desk in an attempt to make a loud enough sound.  What was funny was how self-conscious they became when they saw the meter move with their voice as they commented on it.

So I asked them an innocent question: “What different types of things could affect the decibel reader?”  They came up with the ones I was expecting, and a few neat other ones.  Included were distance to microphone, number of instruments/sources, pitch, as well as humidity, shape/size of room, number of other people in the room.  So I asked them if we could keep all of the variables the same except one of them (Oh, note: I did NOT use the word “variables”.  That’s one of those “Oh, you’re talking math, Mr. Newman, so I’m going to stop listening because it’s lame” words.  I said “things” and slipped in the word variables later when they were too into the project to notice.  Bwhahaha.).

Then I jumped into the hook and said “Okay, you guys are going to start a band!!”  You need a (1) Director (organizer and non-musical option), (2) “Sound Board” (Really just controls iPad and measure decibels), and (3) Musicians (really they could be slapping a stick on the ground to find decibels).

Here’s the powerpoint I went through with them during this.  Note: I did NOT show them the final slide, the one with the equations!! (It’s similar to my last slide with a few new edits).

After this, students broke up into groups, decided on a variable they were going to isolate and how they were going to “play” and measure the decibels.  Students had a blast going to different parts of the school (they couldn’t work in the same room as each other) and measuring their instruments.  Most of the data actually turned out really good!  Here are some pictures of them taking data:

CollectingData1 CollectingData2 CollectingData3

When they came back together, the next day, I showed them Desmos (again) and modeled “playing with a log function” by adding, multiplying, etc. different parts of the function.  I was actually impressed with how quickly they found a function to fit their data once I released them to hunt on their own!  Here are some pictures of their graphs:



At the very end, I had the students find the real equation by doing some research on their own.  A few of the groups found really good equations, and one group found one that essentially matched their Desmos equation!! They were excited, and so was I for them. (It’s actually the 2nd graph above: you see their function was y = 9.9 \log(x) + 70 while they found dB = 10 \log(x) + L_0 so they did an incredible job collecting data and matching their graph in Desmos!

All, in all, I believe this was a much better lesson than the “application” worksheets I handed out a week ago.  True, there is not as much calculation here, but there is a lot more function manipulation, which connect to earlier in the course, so yay for that.  My next step on this subject: find a natural flow for that function manipulation.  And it may just have to be the worksheets, but we’ll see.

Thanks to Kevin and Tina for their help both in mentioning ideas and helping me to reflect!

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