Thursday, 7 February 2019

PASCO MatchGraph! and Wireless Motion Sensor Review

Note: WeAreTeachers and PASCO asked me to review the Wireless Motion Sensor and MatchGraph! Software. This sponsored post contains my own opinions.

Early in my Physics teacher career I wasted far too many hours graphing position-time graphs on a tiny graphing calculator screen to lackluster results. I had abandoned this activity for years until this small and mighty motion sensor found its way to me.

This is the PASCO PS-3219 Wireless Motion Sensor. Combined with the (free) PASCO MatchGraph! software, you can track the position, velocity, and acceleration of objects, showing the graphed results in real-time on your screen.

What intrigued me is how much more engaging this would be than what I had previously tried.  Students try to match the graph on the screen (hence MatchGraph!) by moving their own bodies closer or farther from the motion sensor.  

The icing on the cake is that the software is constantly scoring the students’ accuracy and even includes a leaderboard to add a level of competition into the Physics class.

Setup was quick and easy. First, I used the included USB cable to charge the sensor’s battery. Charging only takes a few hours and from what I’ve read it lasts up to 4 months before needing to charge again.  I can handle charging three times a year!

Next, I downloaded the MatchGraph! software onto my iPad and Windows laptop (note: MatchGraph! also works on Mac and Android tablets).  You only need one device to use the software but I wanted to test if there was a difference between the two. In both cases MatchGraph! was simple to install and only took a few minutes.  I used my iPad to test the wireless (Bluetooth) option and my Windows laptop to test the wired (USB cable) option.

The software was very intuitive to use. After starting MatchGraph! and selecting the motion sensor, it was just a matter of clicking/tapping the graph I wanted to use and clicking Record. MatchGraph! begins a 3-2-1 countdown and you're off!  

Each wireless motion sensor has a unique code printed on it, so if you are using more than one in your classroom just make sure you check the code before connecting via Bluetooth.  

So far, so good!

After using the motion sensor wired and wirelessly I didn’t notice a difference in the speed or quality of the data.  Using a laptop or iPad didn’t matter either, both were very easy to use. I also tested holding a clipboard versus a larger piece of foam-core board. The larger board was a clear winner because I didn’t need to be as precise while holding it.

After having a blast testing these myself, I used MatchGraph! and the motion sensor with my seniors as a review activity.  I explained how the motion sensor uses ultrasonic echolocation to determine the person’s position and velocity. It did not take me long, just a few minutes, to show the students how they can easily enter their names, switch between position-time and velocity-time graphs, and change the shape of the graph.  Groups of 3-5 students took turns and challenged each other to get better scores (the software tracks the accuracy of the motion to the shape of the graph).

This was amazing!  Not only were the students smiling and laughing - they were learning!  As the students were moving and examining one another’s motion, they were getting review better than any homework, and in much less time.  The feedback is instantaneous, so students quickly adapted their motion to match the graph. The competitive piece - a leaderboard of top scores for each graph - was a motivator for many of these teens.

Fun spin - duplicate and project MatchGraph! on your classroom projector screen!

I’ll use this again (and again, and again) with my Grade 11 students when they are introduced to graphing position-time and velocity-time graphs.  Most students struggle with this concept, so I’m excited to see the improvement in their understanding after getting to physically experience the motion.

The motion sensor has many more uses I’m excited to use with my Physics students.  It is so easy to use the MatchGraph! Software to track the position and velocity of objects moving in one-dimension.  Perfect for my Grade 11 students!

Look at that nice data!

Because the PASCO motion sensor can be used wirelessly it can even be mounted on the ceiling!  I’m envisioning using that feature when students perform terminal velocity inquiry labs. We can also bring the motion sensor on field trips.  I’m excited to take my students curling during our Energy and Momentum unit. In the past we used slow-motion video to estimate the speed of the curling rocks but using the wireless motion sensor will be far more accurate.

MatchGraph! feels like it was designed by a classroom teacher.  PASCO gets teachers. They realize that moving the student is more effective than moving a toy, and that competition will breed excitement and engagement.  I couldn’t have designed this better myself. Seriously… I looked for something missing, but there are even worksheets available on the PASCO site.  All the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.

I am a huge fan of PASCO’s line of sensors and probes.  Earlier this year my Science department was able to refresh ALL of our dynamics carts (we had the PAScars and upgraded to PASCO Smart Carts... swoon!).  With the new addition of the wireless motion sensor and the MatchGraph! Software I feel like my Physics teaching has leveled up. The labs are higher-quality and the data is much more accurate leading to better learning for my students.  

PASCO’s MatchGraph! + Wireless Motion Sensor is:
-better than homework, students receive instant feedback comparing their motion with the position-time or velocity-time graphs.  
-low cost with high value.
-versatile. These can be used in many applications, even outside of the classroom.
-easily implemented and the free software is intuitive
-really fun for students and teachers!  The competitive leaderboard was a hit with my Physics students.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Increase Engagement with Pear Deck

As Google Slides became most robust in its ability to compete with PowerPoint, the add-on Pear Deck sealed the deal for me.  I am convert!  All hail Pear Deck!

Pear Deck is an easy add-on to use on Google Slides that allows you to
1) have students follow along with the presentation on their own devices (it's web-based so it works on both smart phones, Chromebooks and laptops).
2) have students answer questions throughout the lesson.

In order to ask a question to the class, it is as easy an adding a new slide and typing your question.  Pear Deck allows you to ask multiple choice, text or number questions.  You can even use the add-on to send students to a website of your choice to research something during the lesson.  There are a couple of premium types of questions (draw and draggables) that require a paid membership.

Here is a great tutorial on how to set up a Pear Deck:

When I create the presentation, I think of what I would normally ask throughout that lesson and add those questions as Pear Deck slides.  I love that students are able to answer by drawing a picture.  This was incredible when we reviewed position-time and velocity-time graphs.  I could even see their responses in real time, and so can the rest of the class.  It was very effective to display the answers and discuss any inaccuracies we saw - all without identifying the student.

I asked my students (as a Pear Deck question, of course) whether they liked this presentation software.  It was an overwhelmingly positive response.  If you already use Google Slides, it will be very quick to add Pear Deck questions to your presentation.  If you are a PowerPoint convert, like me, there is an option to export your PowerPoint slides into Google Slides, but it's not 100% perfect if you have interactive pieces (like animations or transitions).

All in all, here is an innovative technology that will help increase student engagement and improve student learning.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Making Connections between Math & Science units in Grade 9 Applied

In my previous posts about this topic, I asked the question "should Math and Science be taught together?" and presented my Experimental Design for how this might look.

Below in an analysis of the connections between the Grade 9 Applied Math Number Sense & Algebra Unit and the 5 units of the Grade 9 Applied Science course:
A - Scientific Investigation and Career Exploration
B - Biology (Ecosystems)
C - Chemistry
D - Earth & Space Science (Astronomy)
E - Physics (Electricity)

Number Sense & Algebra
Solving Problems Involving Proportional Reasoning
Illustrate equivalent ratios using a variety of tools
Represent, using equivalent ratios and proportions, directly proportional relationships arising from realistic situations
Solve for the unknown value in proportion, using a variety of methods
Make comparisons using unit rates
Solve problems involving ratios, rates, and directly proportional relationships in various contexts using a variety of methods
Solve problems requiring the expression of percents, fractions, decimals in their equivalent forms

This is just some of the preliminary work anticipated with this type of interdisciplinary model of teaching Math and Science.  Designing units that connect the courses in a logical manner, as well as designing holistic assessments that are comparable to those in the individual Math and Science courses would be a next step.

I would be really excited to try this!  The Math department at my school had made huge gains and this plan was not enacted.  Another avenue I would be curious to explore is teaching a combined Grade 12 University Physics course with the Advanced Functions and the Calculus and Vectors course.  There are many commonalities between these courses.  I have found many students from my Physics course tell me that their vector work is simple because they have so much experience with vectors in my class. The time savings could be used to delve deeper into concepts, spend more time on difficult concepts and apply these to real-life scenarios.

What do you think of this model?  Do you think students would benefit from Math and Science being taught together?  

[Brain clip art from PhotoClipz]

The Interdisciplinary Math & Science Experimental Design

In my last post I described my reasoning for teaching Math and Science together in secondary school. If I were to take a scientific approach…

The purpose of creating the “Grade 9 Applied STEM” course is to close the gap and improve achievement, especially in the 60% of students not meeting provincial standard on the Grade 9 Applied EQAO Math test.  

Does integrating Math and Science improve achievement in Grade 9 Applied Math?

If the math and science curriculum expectations are integrated and taught together then the overall achievement of the students will improve because students will be have more opportunities to explore mathematical relationships through science and hands-on activities.

Experimental Design:
A sample of Grade 9 Applied students will be enrolled in SNC1P and MFM1P courses that are taught by the same teacher, in the same room in consecutive periods (1-2, or 2-3).  The course codes will remain SNC1P and MFM1P but the delivery will allow for flexibility in timing activities (e.g. conducting an experiment over two periods to determine whether or not a relationship is linear, and allowing for additional, uninterrupted time for students with IEPs to complete tests).  The delivery will be based on the components of focused instruction, project-based learning and the 5E model. 
To assess the effectiveness of the 1P STEM course, a diagnostic assessment will be administered to all 1P Math students at the beginning of the term and results will be recorded.  At the end of the term a common exam will be administered, as well as the EQAO Math test.  The scores from the beginning and end of term assessments will be analysed to determine the resulting difference in achievement.  In addition, a end-of-term survey will be administered to the 1P STEM students to gather feedback on the delivery of the course.   

Student Assessment:
Assessments will be provided throughout the semester from both the SNC1P and the MFM1P courses.  The types of assessments will include those that are strictly math, strictly science and a combination of both.  
Types of Assessment
Assessment FOR and AS Learning
Surveys, quizzes, entrance/exit cards,
worksheets, conversations, observations, puzzles, games, etc.
Surveys, quizzes, entrance/exit cards,
worksheets, conversations, observations, puzzles, games, etc.
Experiments, explorations, Breakout boxes
Assessment OF Learning
Tests, assignments
Tests, assignments (e.g. news report, inquiry projects)
Projects, experiments

The course mark for the math course will be calculated using the math assessments, and the portions of the combined projects and experiments that relate to the math curriculum expectations.  Likewise, the course mark for the science course will be based on the science assessments and the science curriculum expectations in the combined projects and experiments.  The mark breakdown for each course will follow the same guidelines as those set out by the Math and Science departments.  The final exams will be separate (one exam for math and one for science) and common amongst the other 1P Math and Science courses.

Teaching Strategies:
Many students in the applied program benefit from concrete examples and hands-on opportunities.  They may also have a difficult time sitting for long periods of time.  The intent of this course is to provide them an optimal learning experience.  
Opportunities to talk - through academic conversations and cooperative learning
Opportunities to move - through the use of experiments and rotational centers
Opportunities to manipulate - through experiments and physical puzzles
Opportunities for feedback - frequent checks will be embedded into the structure of each lesson.

What do you think of this plan?  Do you think it could work at your school?  Would the time investment be worth the potential benefit to the students?

My next post shows a model for examining connections between Math and Science curriculum expectations.

[Brain clip art from PhotoClipz]

Should Math & Science be Taught Together?

Last year I was reading through my school EQAO scores from the Grade 9 Math test from the previous year.  The Academic students were doing very well, however the Applied students were falling well behind provincial standard.  At the time I had been watching Michael Moore’s documentary Where to Invade Next.  Moore travels the world finding the best systems (education, employee benefits, prison, etc.) and discovers why these work so well.  A common theme was how the decisions seemed illogical at first (like allowing a criminal to live in a house as opposed to a maximum security prison), but upon further investigation these “illogical” decisions produce exceptional results for those countries.  What if we applied the same “illogic” to Math class?   

Math classes in high school have been taught in isolation for… ever?  As I pondered solutions to the underperformance of the students I thought of the root cause.  Were the students engaged? Were the challenged enough?  Did they recognize the value of what they were learning?

I also thought about my own experiences in Science (I am qualified to teach both Math and Science, but have taught mostly Sciences over my career).  I reflected on two key issues: Math and Science were taught separately and at my school they were most often scheduled in opposite semesters as to not overburden the students.  I discovered in my Grade 9 Science classes that I pulled back on the amount of math, including data analysis, because “the students were not there yet” in terms of mathematical capability.  I have my own extensive curriculum standard to cover, and I would have to sacrifice some of my curriculum to covered the Math curriculum.

So here was my “illogical” idea.  Teach Grade 9 Math and Science together.  

Naysayers might argue that this would put too much homework and stress on students at that level.  I would agree that it would be best not to schedule their English course in the same semester, and would be better to schedule them with a non-exam course in the same semester.

Naysayers might argue that this would take a lot of coordination between teachers.  Of course!   Shouldn’t we be working together?  Better yet, utilize the teachers that have both Math and Science teachables to implement this.  These teachers would have a foot in both departments, knowing the challenges of each.  These teachers could bridge the concepts between courses and design lessons, units and assessments the involve both disciplines.  

YAYsayers, like me, would look at this as an opportunity to build deeper relationships with students since the group would be with the teacher for two periods a day instead of one.  Students would have more opportunities to learn and practice concepts, to receive feedback and guidance.  I imagined a classroom that fluidly moved between a science lab, to graphing the data, into a math lesson.  I pictured the two possible paths for these students… I prefered the version of these often disengaged students working collaboratively on more interesting, challenging and relevant problems.

My next posts will explore my Experimental Design for how this might look and a model for examining connections between Math and Science curriculum expectations.

[Brain clip art from PhotoClipz]

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Innovative Teaching in Science: Using Doodle Notes in the Science Classroom

In my last post, I shared how I create Doodle Notes for my Science classes, including some technical and design tips.  

It's such a heartwarming feeling to know that my Doodle Notes have been used with thousands of students.  I have been prioritizing my time to create Doodle Notes for the subjects and topics that I love.  For me it started with the Law of Conservation of Energy and Forces, then an entire unit of Doodle Notes on Nuclear Energy - one of absolute favourite topics!  This led to an entire unit on Astronomy - my other top love, and Climate Change, which I find is crucial that our students have a sound understanding of.  Over the past year I've been also utilizing a whole bunch of Physics Doodle Notes with my senior students.  They love that they can be creative in class, and I love that I get their attention.  Doodle Notes have really enhanced my teaching from back in my early days.  

Here are some tips and tricks I have learned through using A LOT of Doodle Notes in my classes.

Start with WHY?
I begin each new semester with Cognitive Advantages to Doodling.  I use Math Giraffe's "Engage Your Brain" Doodle Notes on the first day of each class.  This sets the tone for my class and how I teach.  I am able to convey to the students that I care about how they learn, I want them to be engaged in my lessons and that this class will offer them a new way of thinking.  I also explain to them that these are not coloring pages, they're actually advanced, brain-based learning materials.  

Provide the tools
In the back of my classroom I have a big sign that reads: NUCLEAR WASTE.  Under that sign I have seven containers of colored pencils and markers (I prefer Crayola's Pipsqueaks).  My instructions are, "grab some colors underneath the nuclear waste for you and your group."  The students may not use the Doodle Notes to their full advantage if they are disadvantaged.  Some students may not think you can use color in your high school notes.  I make sure to have some different tools they can use to utilize the creative side of their brains while learning Science.  

I have read that some teachers leave the Doodle Notes for independent work, and if that works for you, great.  For me, I love the interaction and I love the opportunity to be creative too!  My preference is to always do the Doodle Notes with the students and explicitly state why I chose certain images.  "Since you read the graph to find the position, I chose a book to represent that.  Let's practice reading the graph to find the position at different times, and we'll write down our answers on this stack of books."  This also helps me to set the pace of the note, and stop it to include an anecdote or video where needed.

Mix it up
When I am introducing a topic, I will rarely start with the note.  Usually some sort of phenomenon, or experiment or video is used to pique the students' interest and the note follows.  Even doodling might get boring if that's the only creative aspect to the class. 

The doodle note teaching strategy was developed by Math Giraffe and is trademarked; Please see for more information.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Innovative Teaching in Science: Creating Doodle Notes

In my last post I explored the cognitive advantages to using Doodle Notes in the classroom.  Downsides to providing students with a sheet of blank paper and asking them to copy down your doodles is that you lose the time efficiency of a fill-in-the-blank note and their thought process and creativity might be stifled by your own.  For those reasons I created a scaffolding for the Doodle Notes, so that my class time was being used efficiently, students still had opportunities to infuse their own creativity and I could explain why I chose the images and paths that I did… and maybe part of the reason was that I am too type-A that my own doodles would take forever to draw out.  

For the most part, I create my Doodle Notes in PowerPoint (I am learning Adobe Illustrator but the learning curve is STEEP!)  I’ve found I can perform most tasks in PowerPoint quite well, but Adobe Illustrator has some technical advantages.  

 With PowerPoint, I can create quickly.  It is easy to import clipart and fonts that I have purchased.  I can even create custom shapes by using the “Edit Points” option.  There are limitations, but most of these are visual and do not affect the students’ learning (inability to change the thickness of line art, difficult to “lock” objects in place).

Adobe Illustrator has a huge learning curve.  I'm a Science teacher, not a graphic artist!  I’ve been using tutorials and templates to help me along, but these come with a cost - the most expensive being the time it takes to learn and create.  The biggest advantage to using Adobe Illustrator is the masterpiece that is created once the scaffolded Doodle Note is complete.

Either way, students are more likely to go back and study from their Doodle Notes, compared to their more traditional notes.  

With either program, I begin with determining which orientation I think would work best (portrait or landscape), and create a 8.5”x11” slide or art board.  After reviewing what concepts I want to cover, I write out the content on the page (which I later remove for the students to enter) and search for images that support the content.  I consider what the students can color in addition to what they can draw and write.  I start with the key images - that might be the Sun, Moon and Earth for a Doodle Note about solar and lunar eclipses.  As I proceed, and position the image and text elements, I add connectors like arrows to solidify those connections for the students.  A lot of adjusting happens throughout the process.  It does take a lot of time to create, but students start begging for these notes once they’ve had a taste!

In my next post, I will explore how I teach with Doodle Notes to innovate my Science classroom.


The doodle note teaching strategy was developed by Math Giraffe and is trademarked; Please see for more information.
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