Using Twitter with students has gotten easier

It’s been over two years since the last time I had my students send tweets during their field trip. The folks at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (one of our field trip stops) wrote a fun article about my students’ recent Twitter-filled visit.

Such may have been the disapproving sigh of an observer watching a busload of teenagers tour Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory last week. The 11th and 12th graders from Appleton, Wisconsin, spent an awful lot of time typing away on their cell phones. But be not dismayed, O horrified observer. They were just doing their homework. [read on…]

In two years, making this project work has gotten a lot easier. Here’s why:

  • a lot more students have cellphones with unlimited texting- and they all know how to text
  • many students have smart phones that allow easier tweeting via an app
  • students with iPod Touches just hopped on the public wifi they found available during the trip (we even had wifi on the bus!)
  • I didn’t have to explain Twitter to any of  the students- they all knew what it was and no one asked how to setup an account this time around
  • Twitter’s lists feature made grouping our field trip tweets super easy

This makes me think about what we’ll be able to do in two more years.

I do have two more things to add to my list of things that teachers should consider when using Twitter:

  • remind students that anyone will be able to read their tweets- they should never post about others unless they’re comfortable having that person read what they wrote
  • instruct the students to be discrete when they’re using their cellphone- ringers should be off and the activity of texting shouldn’t be any more disruptive than traditional note-taking

Lastly, check out the students’ tweets from this year’s trip.

Create a tabloid from the past

Washington's Secrets
Washington's Secrets

Here’s a great idea from Tom over at Bionic Teaching:

Basically, you research a historical hero, one of those unimpeachable people students have been forced to memorize facts about since kindergarten. Only this time you’re researching the figure as if you were a reporter for a semi-sleazy tabloid. Let’s keep it semi-sleazy so there’s a core of fact to anything reported.

I think this could work in several subject areas. I personally would like to see glossy covers with Newton, Einstein or Curie. You could also have students write exposés for famous fictional characters.

Don’t like the tabloids? Try wanted posters instead.

Using viral videos to spark learning

Cell phone pops popcorn videoHave you seen the video where they popped popcorn with cellphones? Seems hard to believe? Well, you’re right. It was created by a marketing company and it’s known as a viral video. Viral videos spread across the web so quickly that they often wind up on regular television news programs. Even the MythBusters have taken on a few of these online gems.

I’ve had some success using viral videos in the classroom. This past year I used two videos; one with my ninth grade physical science students and another with my 12th grade physics students.

Mountain Dew Glow StickWith the ninth graders, I showed a video that demonstrated a glow stick being made out of Mountain Dew, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. The students were thrilled to see the video and even more eager to give this claim a try. So we did! I provided the supplies and off they went. However, none of the students were able to light up their lab tables like the video suggested. With only a few minutes left in class, I told my students that their homework was to go online to find out what went wrong.

In my ten years of teaching, I’ve never had so many students come back the next day talking about yesterday’s lesson. Students rushed into class exclaiming, “I know how they did it” and “it’s fake, it’s fake!” Now that I had their attention, we explored how chemical reactions can give off light and made our own glows sticks that really worked.6 volt battery hack

In physics we investigated a video that claimed six volt lantern batteries contain 32 AA batteries. My students began to see if this was possible. I gave them the challenge of designing a circuit that used 32 AA (1.5 volt) batteries but still produced an output of six volts. With the help of an online circuit simulator, students were able to design the circuit. However, after measuring the volume of a lantern battery and a AA battery, students realized that the 32 AAs take up more space than one six volt lantern battery has to offer.

Viral video lessons do three important things:

  • use media that students find attention-grabbing and familiar
  • raise interest and give purpose to examinations and investigations
  • teach skepticism so students can spot rip-off artists and scammers

Viral videos are a perfect way to engage students. After all, the videos were designed to capture people’s attention. So the next time you see a video that makes you say, “no way” bring it into class.

What would be on Einstein’s Facebook?

Physicsbook ProfileMarch 14th was Albert Einstein’s birthday. I always like to do something Einstein related for the day. In the past, I’ve had students write short reports about his life but this year I decide to try something different.

I had my physics students describe Einstein by creating his Facebook profile. Since we can’t access Facebook at school, I had my students create a mock-up of the profile using Microsoft Publisher. I provide the students with a Publisher template, some screenshots of actual Facebook profiles and links to Einstein information to get them started.

I also provide the following requirements:

  • interests, occupations, education and work information must be accurate
  • make up some Groups and Networks that Einstein is in
  • put 10 stories in his mini feed
  • change his status
  • add The Wall and put a few posts on it
  • add two more things to his profile… something he would have in it for fun

Most of my students had fun with the activity and it was a way for them to bring a little bit of their recreational world into the classroom. Here is an example profile.

It turns out that this activity can work for objects too. Right now my ninth graders are creating profiles for the element they’ve been assigned. A few students even realized that their element (a noble gas) can’t have any friends.

Journal via text messaging during field trip

Last week I took my physics students on a field trip to the Yerkes Observatory and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.  This is the forth year I’ve done this trip, and each year I offer the students a variety of assignments to pick from.

This year I added text messaging as one of the assignments.  Students used their cell phone to journal about things they saw while on the trip.

Students send their messages to an account they created at Twitter is a micro-blog that allows you to post messages (up to 140 characters long) from the web or from your cell phone. The site also allows you to follow other people’s posts; this makes Twitter an impressive networking tool. (Note: there are many teachers exchanging ideas on Twitter; you can find me at:

Twitter on field trip

I took advantage of the social networking side of Twitter by setting up an account that followed all my students as they posted messages during the trip.  The students who couldn’t go on the trip were able to watch their classmates add messages in real time.

Here is a sample of the messages posted by my students.

You should keep a few things in mind if you plan to use Twitter.

  • Students may incur fees when texting from a cell phone. My assignment wasn’t required; student could pick another assignment if they didn’t wish to send text messages.
  • Twitter is blocked at many schools.  My students had to set up their accounts at home.
  • Make sure your students set up and test the service. I had all my students get things working before the trip.
  • As always, remind your students to not disclose personal information online. For example, all my students used fake names for their username at Twitter.

Create stop-motion videos and learn physics

Inspired by the most recent Sony Bravia commercial, I decided to have my physics students create stop-motion videos for a Halloween themed project.

Students were asked to create a video that:

  • was at least ten seconds
  • contained at least two seconds of constant acceleration
  • had a Halloween theme

I gave the students a handout with guidelinesrubric and some suggestions for a successful project. Students created the videos using Windows Movie Maker and uploaded them to (YouTube is blocked at our school). I used Jing to provide students with screencasts that explained how to use Movie Maker and

After the videos were created, students used a video analysis program (LoggerPro) to analyze and confirm the acceleration.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I assigned this project but I was truly shocked by all of the amazing videos that my students produced.

Here is an example:

See all the videos here.

Bus routes and Google Maps help teach physics

Transit MapMy freshman have been learning about speed, velocity and displacement. I’ve also been trying help them brush up on their unit conversion skills. It’s tough because you run out of real-life examples. I can only do so many labs with toy cars.

To drive home the lesson, I had students use Google Maps to map out different bus routes in our area. Students were paired up and assigned a route. With help from our local transit system’s website, each pair had to:

  • map out the route with a line (this gave them the route’s distance)
  • find the average time needed for the bus to make a complete loop
  • calculate the average speed of the bus
  • display the results on the map

Bus StopsStudents with extra time could earn more points if they placed a pin at each stop and entered the arrival times in each stop’s description. They could also calculate the average speed from stop-to-stop.

The project was a success and the students seemed to enjoy it. The class was a full of discussions about things like: which bus goes by which landmark or which bus is always late. One group even brought in a paper map to use as a guide. It was fun to watch the students work.

All the maps were shared using the embed tags and students could see all the routes on one big map. The project made my lesson plan for the following week much simpler since I now established an example that everyone had an understanding of.

Here is an example map.