Teaching Advanced Placement Physics at Los Altos High School: Technology Integration

Stephen Hine invited me into his 90 minute AP 1 (there is also an AP 2 course at the school) Thursday, September 15, 2016. Hine has been teaching at Los Altos High School for three years. He also graduated from the school and, as a student took physics courses from the teacher who has an adjacent classroom to his in the two-story building housing math and science classes.

The room is spacious and furnished with lab tables and science desks with the latest equipment for students to use. Pods of four desks are arranged throughout the large space. There are 24 students in the classroom when Hine begins the lesson.






Hine begins the class by asking students to copy down the objective for the day printed on a slide showing on screen:

Students will be able to (SWBAT) create instructional videos using whiteboard animations in order to demonstrate problem solving skills and provide instructional support to peers

Students at the various tables have a notebook and pen next to their tablets and laptops. As they write and click away, the teacher takes attendance and asks about a few missing students.

Hine then points to the agenda for the day printed on the whiteboard:

  1. Lab Peer Review
  2. Problem Solving Videos

He then asks students to review each other’s lab report on the Projectile Launch that they had completed (See lab questions here).  Hine wants class to use rubrics matrix that he had given to students to assess the quality of their lab work and that of a partner (see rubric here).

Accessing the rubric, however, from the mixed set of devices and operating systems students have such as Apple tablets, laptops, Windows and other devices including Chromebooks, is cumbersome. The district mandated a Bring-Your-Own-Device program two years ago and students bring in Apple, Google, and other devices. The school makes available Chromebooks to students who lack a tablet. Each type has its own operating instructions and sharing documents from one device to another becomes an oft-repeated procedure in the class.

Hine gives three sets of step-by-step directions to students with different devices. Expressing frustration , the teacher gives another set of directions for students using Chromebooks. In asking students to share lab reports across computers, Hine gives more instructions for how students can share.

Students turn to task and they begin assessing each other’s lab reports using the criteria in the rubric. I look around the room and see that all students appear to be on task. Hine moves among students’ desks checking their screens, solving technical glitches and answering questions.

Teacher tells class that they have 10 more minutes before end of activity. He tells class: “If you see anything missing on their partner’s lab, tell them and help. Give constructive criticism, please,” he adds.

Hine gives five and three minute warnings.

For those, the teachers says, “who have finished, submit your review and go ahead and read overview on your screens about instructional videos.”

He then asks everyone to submit their review and to close the lids of their computers when they have clicked “submit.”

Now, Hine segues to second and last activity of the 90-minute lesson: students making instructional videos to show how the class, divided into pairs and trios, will solve problems about different projectiles’ velocity, range, etc. that teacher had assigned to them. For the next seven minutes, Hine, standing at the white board in the front of the room, reviews each of the five steps in making a problem solving video: diagram their solution of problem, write the necessary formulas, do the story board, take photos of what they have done, where they put their names, and doing voiceovers, etc.

Hine assigns a problem to each group (e.g., “A basketball referee tosses the ball straight up for the starting tip-off. At what velocity must a basketball player leave the ground to rise 1.25 m above the floor in an attempt to get the ball?”). For a list of all the problems assigned to students, see here.

Some students ask questions about whether they can use paper and pen (Hine says “yes”) to questions about the different problems including : “when is the video due?” Teacher points out the tubs of materials on the front lab table (e.g., markers for the white boards attached to each cluster of desks; iPods to do the filming for students whose devices lack a camera).

The directions that Hine gives to students identifying the problems and what they are to do are available to students on each of their devices (see below).

Overview:    In a pair, you will be solving one of the problems below using our perfect solution format.  Once you have correctly solved the problem and confirmed the provided answer(s), you will be creating an instructional video using a whiteboard animation of the process.  Once everyone has completed their video, we will have a class folder with all of the videos to help you study for the unit test.

Perfect Solution Requirements:

Please use Actively Learn for examples of solving these problems

  1. Simple diagram of the scenario with important quantities or characteristics labelled.
  2. List of given and known conditions. For kinematics this should include initial and final position, initial and final velocity, acceleration, and time.
  3. Initial formula used to solve the problem written entirely in symbolic form.
  4. Complete algebraic solution to the problem that is written entirely in symbolic form.  The final step should involve your desired quantity isolated on one side of the equation.
  5. A final boxed numeric answer with correct units.

Whiteboard Animation Requirements:

  1. Either a school iPod or your own smart phone can be used to film.  Smart phones must only be used for this academic purpose and nothing else.
  2. Whiteboard must fit entirely in the field of view of the camera and must be at a perpendicular angle to the lens’ axis.
  3. Partner first and last names must be written on the whiteboard either at the beginning or the end animation.
  4. A single shot of the entire solution or single images of each animation step are acceptable.  Proper video formatting must be performed depending on which method you choose.
  5. Video must be easy to follow and not sped up too quickly (check with Mr. Hine about speed concerns).
  6. A voice-over must be included explaining the solution process.

He asks students to pick their partners and after some milling around in the room, students divide themselves into two trios and the rest, pairs. Much background noise from students ensues. He counts down from 15 to 0 and students quiet and begin work with their partners at different pods of desks in the room. Hine tells them they have about an hour to solve the problem, create a diagram of their solution, write the formulas as directed, do the story board, film it, decide on the voiceover, etc.

As students begin work, Hine stamps their homework and passes back a quiz students had taken before.

For the next 40 minutes, student groups work at different paces moving through the five steps laid out in the assignment and covered by the teacher earlier in the period. There are many student questions from different partners for Hine. Mostly they are specific queries about the diagrams they have drawn, formulas they are using, the visualization of the problem (e.g., dropping a water balloon from the two story building they are in), and technicalities about camera shots, and voice-overs. Students continually raise their hands and Hine moves from one group to another, listening carefully, asking questions of the pair, listening again and seeing whether they are OK to move on. During these 40 minutes, Hine is in perpetual motion working with different pairs and trios listening and explaining, often visually simulating what tossing a basketball in the air might look like, etc.

From time to time, I scan the classroom and see that every student seems to be working on the assigned tasks. I move around the room querying the pairs about which problem they are working on, which step are they on, and what do they do next.

A few pairs are setting up their story board with their diagrams and filming at one the lab tables in the rear of the room. As other pairs and trios create the formulas to solve the problem, they too move to the rear tables. With about 15 minutes left, more than half of the class has drawn storyboards and taken camera shots of the boards. One pair has already completed a voiceover.

With less than 10 minutes left, all but four pairs are at the back of the room videoing their diagram, displaying formulas, and in various stages of doing audio.

After an alert from teacher about the few remaining minutes, students return the iPods and markers to the tubs on the lab table in the front of the room.

A few students are packing up as the chime sounds. AP Physics 1 is over for the day.


Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

4 responses to “Teaching Advanced Placement Physics at Los Altos High School: Technology Integration

  1. Alice in PA

    I have wondered about implementation issues of the different platforms in a BYOD policy. Not only are there different operating systems, but you also have a mobile platform versus as non-mobile. Mobile websites look and interact differently than “full” sites.
    I read a lot about students making videos. It has been suggested to me to do exactly this process or to have students make a video about a lab for students who were absent. I see very little science educational value in a student making a video, especially given the relatively large time commitment needed to navigate the production process. They are making decisions on filming, not on the physics. What do we think they are learning, in terms of physics, in this activity? Could they have learned more efficiently by an activity more related to solving physics problems, like sorting problems according to the initial conditions, or given the worked solutions, determine the initial conditioned (in projectile motion problems it is all about the initial conditions…once the football leaves your hands, the path is determined). These are AP students so there should be few issues with the algebra.

    This has the feel of technology for technology’s sake.

    • larrycuban

      Alice, thank you for your comments on the interplay between content and using technology, particularly trade-offs around producing a video vs. applying what has been learned in the subject—although I observed very little hassle among kids in making the video. The different platforms in BYOD was an issue but handled in a few moments by teacher and students. On the Senior Civic class, your raising again the issue of how much is learned content-wise through use of technology is a fair question. I do not have an answer for that. And, yes, I would have liked very much to have had audio on small group conversations. Alas, could not do that.

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