Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Letter to My Students After a Long Day Creating with iPads

Dear Students,

I had a dream last night that I came to class and said that we are going to do another project with iPads and YOU ALL REVOLTED against it!  Ha!

So, let me say a few things.  Thanks for your hard work on Thursday!  Several of you worked many more hours than I had expected.  You took this assignment very seriously.  I have watched several of the videos and they are good presentations!  

But remember the goal of this whole project was learning (not just a grade) so let me give you some reasons why we did it.  

1) There is a hierarchy of knowledge and expression of knowledge.  For example, simple recall of things like ions is the lowest form of knowledge.  Recall is totally necessary, but it is not very deep nor does it require much thought.  A first grader could memorize the formula for carbonate. Application and understanding are higher.  Much higher kinds of knowledge are analysis and evaluation.  That is why I have you analyze your experiments and evaluate your technique and write about it. This requires maturity.  The highest form of knowledge is creativity.   This takes skill, maturity, along with integration of the lower forms of knowledge.  Creativity requires producing something that never existed before.  It requires a plan (not just throwing paint on a canvas) and it requires a design.  You did all of these things on Thursday....with chemistry!  Producing new materials that will go into the 12th generation of the iPhone or designing an experiment that will lead to understanding the cause of cancer takes creativity.  Creativity is also one of the highest and best things we can do as humans.  We are most human when we create for good.  My goal is to create an atmosphere where those types of students (good chemists) can flourish.  

2)  I think when you have to explain something in detail you have to take your understanding to a whole new level.  This makes new connections in your mind that are longer lasting.  Learning is much deeper when you have to explain something.  That is why when you sit in the study room and explain dimensional analysis to some poor Chem. 110 student, you understand it better yourself.

3) I think it is good to interact with the latest technology tools.  Now they are just tools and not the be all end all, but it is good for you to learn to solve the problems that arise.  I saw you help each other out, this is good.  Learning is relational.  And you developed your problem solving skills. Life is full of problems.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  

All of this is good learning that goes way beyond chemistry.

Thanks for being such willing learners!


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Using the iPad Pro in Chemistry Lecture

Finally the iPad as I originally hoped it would work!

My original intended use of the iPad was as a platform on which I could write and create chemistry videos to upload to the web.  The first few generations of iPads allowed this, but using the stylus or my finger made my writing look awful.  With the new 12.9 inch iPad Pro and Apple Pencil I am able to write on the iPad in a way that looks much more like my natural hand writing.  I don't have the best hand writing by any stretch, but now at least it looks the same as if I had written on paper. In fact it might even be easier than writing on paper.  In this post I am going to give a description of the uses of the iPad in chemistry class and then I will give the pros and cons and future goals.

Description of use of 12.9 inch iPad Pro in Chemistry class

In my career I have gone from using a blackboard to a whiteboard to an overhead to a document reader to a Wacom tablet and now an iPad as a lecture platform.  I guess I have been teaching a long time.  In chemistry there are a lot of formulas so it is hard to simply type notes on a computer.  Most of the notes need to be hand written for efficiency.  There is some recent research here and here suggesting it is important that students take notes by writing long hand rather than on a laptop.  I also don't like PowerPoint because although it is a good presentation platform it is hard for students to know what they need to know and write down.  I post my "lecture outline" on the internet and then my students print it out and bring it to class.  They should never have the problem of "What notes am I supposed to write down?" I tell them that what I write, they should write. As I teach at a community college I believe that I am teaching my students "how to be a good chemistry student".  So modeling exactly what they need to write down helps train them for success in a less structured environment at the university.  My lecture outline has the problems and questions and headings already on the page so those do not need to be copied by the student.  Here is an example of my Preparatory Chemistry Lecture outline.  I used to have to make transparency copies of it when I used the overhead.  With the document camera I graduated to paper copies but my hand often covered what I was writing and I had to turn around frequently to see if I was off screen.  Now I just write directly on the iPad with the Apple Pencil.  The iPad is connected to the projector by a Lightning to VGA cable.  This saves a lot of paper.

It is very easy to take my lecture outline from my website and send it to Notability.  I can hit the "upload" (export) button from any webpage on the iPad and send it to just about any app I want.  I choose Notability.  Then I immediately go to the Notability app and "Create a new note."

Then I can immediately start writing on the note.  It is that simple.  I can import web pages, documents, pictures and write on them.  It gets projected onto the screen and my students can take appropriate notes.  With the PowerPoint app, although I do not use it, one can create, present and write on their presentation using the iPad, pencil, projector and the PowerPoint app.  The Apple Pencil communicates via Blue Tooth.  It must be charged by connecting it directly to the iPad and it charges in a few minutes.  You can check the charge status very easily using the notifications screen.

Pros of 12.9 inch iPad Pro with Apple Pencil

1) Intuitive Simplicity

As I mentioned in my description it is easy to get my notes from my web page and within seconds import them to notability and start lecturing.  There is only one cable to connect with.  When I used the Wacom Tablet, which served its purpose well, I had to connect to my laptop with two cables and to the projector and to power.  This took me several minutes.  And I had to wheel a cart around.  And I had to convert my web page notes from pdf to jpeg.  The iPad lets you write on any format.  At least I have not found a format I cannot write on.

2) Writing is easy

I can change colors, highlight, zoom in (PowerPoint has a "laser pointer"), and I can easily undo or erase.  So I can highlight something and then undo it for cleaner look.  The Apple Pencil is very easy to use and it flows very nicely.  I am left handed so I cover what I have just written on paper and often erase with my hand as I go from left to right on an overhead.  But with the iPad this is not a problem.  Also I have not had a problem with my hand writing on the iPad or moving things around so I can rest my hand on the iPad as I write with the pencil.

Students often email me questions in between class time.  Sure it takes time for me to help them, but it is so encouraging when students are engaged enough to ask for help outside of class.  With the iPad I can very easily write a response or demonstrate a problem either as a note I email to them or as a movie that I upload to the web.

3) Organization

All of my notes are in one place.  If I lose something I can easily import it from the web.  I used to have to carry around cumbersome notebooks with loose leaf paper.  Now it is easy to find my notes and start writing.  And they don't get out of order.  It is very easy to refer back to a previous page.  If I feel it is appropriate I can send the notes to a student who was absent or I can send them to a student that may have a disability.  It is also easy to send the notes to tutors that are helping current students so that they can see exactly how I want problems to be solved etc.

4) Making videos (screencasts)

It is very easy to record what I am writing on one of the screen casting apps such as Educreations or Showme or Touchcast.  From Touchcast (the one I recommend) you can save it to the camera role and then to YouTube.  Here is one of the first videos I made with the iPad:

5)  Battery Life

My lecture and lab classes this summer went from 8 am until 1:40 pm and I rarely reached below 50% on the battery of either the iPad or the Pencil.

6)  12.9 inch screen

The original iPads are too small in my opinion to write on for a chemistry class lecture.  The new size is perfect and they are the size I had originally hoped the iPad would be.  It is just the right size to write on, project and yet it is not too big to store in my brief case safely.  I use a portfolio that used to have a legal pad in it as my case.


The Pros far outweigh the Cons!

1)  Pencil design

The pencil is expensive, somewhat heavy  and it is shaped to role,  I have not dropped mine yet but that is just a matter of time.  The pencil has no clips on it.  I would like to have a very long cord attached to it and then around my neck so that I don't lose it or drop it.   There is an extra tip provided in the box.  When the pencil is charging it does not fit well in the iPad.  The iPad has to be slightly elevated when connected to the pencil.  The pencil can also be charged with a special included connector separate from the iPad (That is a pro, not a con).  When a colleague and I researched cases we did not research well enough.  The cases we purchased have a pencil holder on the outside of the case.   This would be fine for a two dollar pen or pencil.  But I am very nervous leaving a 100 dollar pencil hanging outside especially when I shove the whole thing in my brief case or backpack.

2) Pointing

This is more a problem with me than the iPad.  Because I am used to the document camera I can point with my finger at something I want my students to notice.  I have often found myself pointing at the iPad and my students have no idea what I am pointing at.  I have resulted in walking over to the screen and pointing directly or using a highlighter on the app.  This is more an issue of my habits than a con with the iPad.

3)  Showing objects

When I have used a document reader I could easily grab a plastic model of a molecule or some other object and stick it under the document camera from projection.  If I am using the iPad I have to disconnect it and re connect the document camera to the projector.  Again this is a minor issue.  And if I have a picture of something I can easily show it so it is a trade off.

Current and Future Goals

1) Mentoring Colleagues

This summer I am mentoring my biology and chemistry colleagues on how to effectively use the iPad Pro in their lectures.

2) Apple TV

I also purchased an Apple TV.  I need to figure out how to use it in my classroom so that I can go wireless and walk around the room as I lecture.  This way I could sit right next to the screen if I wanted to.  I could also hand the iPad to a student and have them complete a problem.

3)  Organizing folders on Notability

I need to figure out the best system of organizing my classes into folders.  This summer I had only one class but now I have several so I need to organize my notes.  I have two sections of the same class so I need to stay on top of organization

I think the iPad Pro is going to make my teaching a lot easier and convenient.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the iPad (Part 1)

From Spectators to Scientists 

I think the iPad lends itself real well to teachers who instruct in accordance with the Next Generation Science Standards (from now on NGSS).  First a little background on NGSS: These standards are written to guide science instruction in the K-12 classrooms.  College professors like myself should be interested in these new standards as well for two reasons.  First, our incoming students will have learned science under these new standards and it is important for us to know what our students know coming into our classes.  Secondly, all college professors have potential science teachers in their classrooms.  These future teachers will be using the NGSS to teach their future students.  It is important that college professors are at least aware of the NGSS so that we can help this next generation of science teachers be equipped to teach the next generation of science student.  

The previous generation of science standards in California focused on content.  These standards listed the concepts and topics that students were supposed to know with their minds.  In my opinion these standards tended to underemphasize the hands-on aspects of science and the connection between mind content and hands on experiences.  This is a bit of an oversimplification, but the previous generation of science standards focused more on theory than on practice.  I sensed that the processes of experimentation were underemphasized.  

NGSS shifts the pendulum back towards practice.  It will remain to be seen if the pendulum swings to an extreme where content is underemphasized.  I am going to be initially optimistic that it won’t be an extreme.  There is plenty of content in NGSS.  Furthermore, my high school biology teacher and very good friend tells me that “NGSS is not the ceiling it is the floor.”  Even though certain content topics are not mentioned in NGSS we can still teach them.  In other words NGSS is not setting limits on content it is setting a minimum.  That is what my friend means by floor not ceiling.

But there is a heavy emphasis on practice in NGSS.  There are eight science practices in NGSS that cut across all levels of education and that we want to see all students mastering.  They are:

  • Asking questions
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematical and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information

Currently in many science classrooms K-16, students are spectators.  They sit and learn about science but they are never given a chance to be a scientist.  Imagine a PE baseball class where the teacher discussed hitting and modeled pitching, lectured on fielding and showed videos of major league games.  Students were then tested on when to bunt or how many strikes a batter gets or what is the definition of a “pickle”.  One might ask, “When do the students get to go out and play baseball? The kids just want to be baseball players!”  NGSS is attempting to let the students be scientists at every level.  

Experience Matters

When I was a kid my parents could not afford a dish washer.  And guess who had to wash the dishes 3 nights a week?  Me!  It was washing the dishes where I learned about gas laws without even realizing it.  I would always take the glasses and turn them upside down while full of air.  I would submerge them in water and let go.  I always got yelled at for breaking glasses!  But I learned about pressure and volume.  Again, I did not use those words “pressure” and “volume” and I certainly did not say things like, “According to Boyle’s Law….”  But when I did get to chemistry in the 11th grade and I heard about all of these gas laws they just made intuitive sense to me.  Performing the mathematical calculations like P1V1 = P2V2 was easy for me to do because I understood the concept behind them.  I understood these concepts because I had personal experience, in the kitchen sink!

It was only about six years later that I was teaching my own chemistry class.  I explained the gas laws perfectly. (Ha!)  I modeled the calculations.  I gave the students guided practice at Boyle’s law and Charles’s law and Gay-Lussac’s law.  I assigned “independent practice as homework.  I followed the seven step lesson plan perfectly.  Then I gave a quiz.

The results were terrible!  It took me a long time to figure out that the students did not understand the concepts of gas laws.  When I went back to reteach I told them, “You know, it’s like when you are washing the dishes and you take a class and…”  

I heard back in unison:

“Teacher, we all have dishwashers at home!”  

My students did not all have the experiences that I had.  So back into the lab we go!  

NGSS  puts the experience back into the science classroom.  

I am already seeing the results.  My wife’s friend Teresa Collar at Raymond Elementary School in Fullerton is an early adopter.  She teaches kindergarten.  Around her room she has all kinds of experiences for her students.  She has broken appliances for the students to take apart.  I call it “appliance dissection”.  I have always secretly been jealous of the biology faculty.  Have a busted blender?  Mrs Collar can put it to good use!  She also has a “making table”.  It is a table with cups of “stuff” to make things with.  The cups have paperclips and popsicle sticks and tape and clay and different odds and ends that the students get to make things with at different times of the day.  She also had a “boat building contest”  She gave the students different kinds of paper to test the papers’ floating ability.  The next day the students were to choose the best floating paper to build a boat with.  Each group got a number of plastic bears to test the weight the boat could hold before sinking.  Then the students could modify their design.  Was this a kindergarten class? Or was it the skunkworks at Northrop Grumman?  These kindergartners were learning by doing: designing, building, testing, modifying.  That is the value I see in NGSS.  Someday when they finally do learn the vocabulary, it has an experience to stick to.  

So that is a little background on NGSS.  I apologize for getting carried away by my enthusiasm for NGSS and not getting to the iPad just yet.  In a future post I would like to discuss the ways that the iPad is an excellent tool for letting students experience the science practice developing and using models.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Link to my CSTA Presentation

California Science Teachers Association Sacramento October 2015

Link to PDF of CSTA Presentation

Link to PowerPoint of CSTA Presentation

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Limitations of iPads: Practice Still Makes Perfect

Is "Mere Understanding" Enough?

I have been writing about how my hope and expectation is that the  iPad will bring "deeper understanding."  I think that it does.  I have seen it.  I tell my students, "If you cannot explain it then you don't understand it."  I still agree with this.  I have seen the products of the student created screencasts.  They marvelously explain difficult concepts like VSEPR theory. Yesterday we used iPads to create a screencast of three net ionic equations. When I asked my students if using the iPad helped them better understand the concepts they overwhelmingly say "Yes!"   Only one student in my 1st semester General Chemistry class said no.  When I asked them if they think that the iPad experience will help them on the next exam two said "I don't know" and the rest said "Yes."  This is out of a total of 22 students.  In my preparatory chemistry class we used iPads to create screencasts of students performing mole calculations and drawing a Lewis dot structure of an assigned molecule.  I asked them if using the iPad helped them understand the chemistry better.  Here are some of the students' comments:

"When you can explain something you learn it better."

"I was able to hear myself do equations step by step. "

"I'm a visual learner so seeing step by step of something really helps."

"This taught me that I must have all units and watch what I do. The slightest error can ruin the entire problem."

Even a student that was unsure if it helped commented:

"It wasn't that helpful to learn chemistry better, but on the other hand was helpful to learn how to explain my work"

And of course explaining the work was the point. In that class 23 out of 24 students completed their assigned screencast.  When I asked them if it helped them learn chemistry better 12 said yes, 7 said they were not sure and 2 said no.  The two that said no were two of the last students to complete their work in the three hour time given (actually they went over by a half hour).  I think they were struggling with the technology as much as the chemistry.

But I think the data and comments overwhelmingly show that the students felt the iPad helps them understand better.


But this just does not seem to be reflected in exam scores in the lower classes.  In my higher level class, 2nd semester General Chemistry, I do think that the students understand VSEPR and Valence Bond Theory better after using the iPads and it does translate into better exam scores.  But this just does not seem to be the case in lower level classes.

So here is my hypothesis.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pen Display Helps to Make Chemistry Videos for Posting or for Flipping

Using the Wacom 2241 Pen Display in the Chemistry Classroom

One of the main things the attracted me to the iPad in the first place was the way it is a tool for creating short videos demonstrating chemistry problems to be posted online for student viewing and reviewing.  One of the first tasks I completed when I got my first iPad back in 2010 was create a screencast using the ShowMe app that I posted to help my students review Lewis dot structures.  The last time I checked it had over 11,500 views!  (That's a lot for me.)

I started creating chemistry videos back in the early 2000's using an HP tablet.  It took forever.  The software was slow and then the video had to be "rendered" in an appropriate "codec" which could then be posted online as a Quicktime video or Windows Media Player video.  Here are some of my earliest examples that I called Chemistry mini web lectures.  I still use them today and many students have commented that the short videos have helped them understand problem solving.


Movie production just got a lot easier and quicker for me!  My department acquired 3 Wacom 2241 pen displays.

The pen display is a large tablet or (22")  extra monitor that can be written on with a special pen.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Chemistry App Nicely Helps Students See VSEPR Theory

Odyssey VSEPR (Valence Shell Electron Pair Repulsion) app shows molecular shapes

In my General Chemistry class this week we were learning about molecular shapes and VSEPR theory.  The whole point of VSEPR theory is to help us understand the 3-dimensional structure of molecules.  First we learn Lewis dot structures.  Lewis is a helpful theory but we soon see that Lewis structures have many exceptions and they don't really predict shapes.  VSEPR theory is an improvement on Lewis theory in that it does predict 3-D shapes.  The problem is that we then draw these shapes on 2-dimensional paper and the students don't really get a true picture of the 3 dimensions.  The Odyssey folks have created a neat little app that lets us get real close to the 3-D structures on the iPad.  Here is a picture of the app icon:

I have tried other apps that I really like and reviewed in earlier posts.  What is missing from the other apps is a depiction of the unshared or nonbonding electrons that are so important in influencing the shape of the molecule.  In this  Odyssey app the unshared electrons are shown:

In other apps I have used the shape of this bent molecule was clear but Odyssey VSEPR is the only app I have found that shows those two nonbonding pairs of electrons that cause this molecule to be bent.