Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Archive for September 2011

The first free app, and on the top of my list is DropBox.  DropBox is a website and an application.  You have a folder on your desktop on every device you own; your PC, Mac, iPhone/iTouch, and android phone.  Anything you place in your DropBox folder on one device is synced to all the other devices.  Phones can see the files but don’t sync or download it unless you open it.  You can also create shared folders.  I have one set up with my daughter in college.  If she wants some photos or a video, I just drop it in the box, it instantly appears in our shared folder.  She can leave it in the DropBox folder or move it to her machine and save our DropBox space.

Because of DropBox, I no longer have my lesson plans on a USB that I have to carry around.  The files reside in my DropBox folder, and more importantly, there is only one version of it and it is always the most updated copy.

There isn’t much of a downside to the app.  People don’t have to be members or download the app to be able to use your shared folder.  You start with 2.0 GB of space and earn 250 MB each time someone you invite installs the app on their computer, up to a total of 8GB.  People can access the folder without downloading the app, but if they don’t download the app, you don’t get the bump in storage.  You can also increase storage up to 50GB for $100 a year.  I’d probably consider subscribing if it was about half that, I just don’t need 50 GB right now.

If you want an account, do me a small favor and let me send you an invite.   Click on my Contact Me link.  Doing so will get you an extra 250MB, and do the same for me.  Then you can share it with your friends and coworkers if you love it.  I love it.

The second app on my list for today is called Evernote.  Evernote took some figuring out for me, but once I saw the light, I’m a convert.

Here’s how you use Evernote – you upload photos, pdf’s, and random stuff.  You write lists, send web pages, and scan business cards.  All that crap that you need but you don’t know what to do with it, it goes in there.  Here’s the golden nugget of Evernote – anything in there becomes searchable.  So that business card, just take a picture and upload.  Now you can search for that person or company or title.  Instead of keeping the instruction manual for all those electronics gizmos, upload the manual.  If you ever actually need it, you can search the manual through Evernote.

Just like DropBox, the app is on everything.  You can install an add-on to Firefox (and probably other browsers) to directly upload to Evernote.  Just highlight, right-click and at the bottom of the menu is “Add to Evernote.”  The limit here is you can upload only 60MB per month (each month), which I’m finding is an enormous amount of stuff.  I saw something at Home Depot that I wanted to remember, so I took a picture and sent it to Evernote and added notes later.  I’m sure there are other ways of using it, like they have tags you can attach to everything and notebooks for organizing, but I’m using it as a warehouse for manuals, business cards, recipes, and other things that just don’t fit anywhere else.

You can go premium with them for just $5 a month and they have educational discounts as well.  Most of the negative comments were about not being able to share the data.  I don’t want to share this stuff, it’s my junk drawer and attic all in one.

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Last year, the course was actually called Robotics and Astronomy, or Robostronomy for short.  The intent was half-year of each.  The result was more like three weeks of astronomy and robotics all year-long.  Don’t get me wrong, I love astronomy.  It’s just, well, Robots took over the Earth.  Between the great things we could do with the MindStorm, and then the SeaPerch competition, we were all robots, all the time.  This year we are adding the First Tech Challenge.  Yep, Robots have taken over the Earth, and it looks like they landed in my classroom.

The goal here is STEM, that’s what opened the door for the robot invasion in the first place.  Clearly missing from our program these days is what we called in the old days, ‘drafting.’  Drafting isn’t done on a board with a T-square anymore, but you all know that.  Today, 3D mechanical Computer Aided Design (CAD) is available for free from Google (Sketch-up), and from a number of companies who cater to the high-end.  I actually know this industry well, I spent 25 years in the CAD/CAM/CAE industry (M for manufacturing, E for Engineering, meaning simulation).

So with some guidance from some friends at Drexel University, and a little research on my own, I decide to go with SolidWorks software.  All of the vendors have aggressively priced programs for the educational market, I think we are paying just $1000 for a 10-seat license.  What makes this software connect to the students is what we spit out of it.  The school invested in a 3D printer, specifically uPrint Plus from Dimension.

If you have never seen one of these, think Star Trek Replicator.  The replicator creates parts from ABS+ plastic directly from the output of the 3D CAD.  How better to teach engineering principles than to give the students a design challenge, have them work through designs and then fabricate it in the printer.  Here is a great video from a customer talking about how they use a 3D printer in their engineering design work.

My new printer is due here any day and I’m pumped up.  Yep, geek boy has a new toy.  Tea, Earl Grey, Hot!


What’s New in 2013/2014?

Every year brings a change, this one is no exception.

I will be picking up the sophomore honors Algebra II class to keep them separate from the juniors. This should help accelerate them and put them on a stronger track towards Calculus. Looks like there will be only one section each of Physics and Calculus, but still two of Robotics & Engineering.

Hot topics this year are going to be the Common-Core Standards, Standards-Based Grading (SBG), improving AP Calculus scores, and somehow adding Python, maybe as a club.

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