Category Archives: Fun

A stupidly simple mnemonic for acceleration graphs

When working with position/time graphs of accelerated motion, it is easy to confuse the dire
ction of velocity with the direction of acceleration. for example, look at the two graphs below:

parabola right       parabola left

Many students will instinctively say that the first graph is positive acceleration, while the second graph is negative. In fact, these are the same graph, as you can see here:

parabola fullIt is a single parabola, representing positive acceleration.

So how do I get kids to recognize positive and negative acceleration? Using the following, stupidly simple trick:

parabola 2

Positive face

parabola 3

Negative face

It’s really that simple. Any part part of the smile, be it a corner of the mouth smirk or a full on grin, still looks positive. Any part of the frown still looks negative. And that’s it.






Flippity flash cards

I like tools that are flexible and easy to use. So while I was recently looking for a flash card tool to use with my students (there are many!) I found that lots of them required registering, or were pretty but limited in what they did, or wouldn’t allow images or text formatting. Formatting is important – I teach science, so I use a lot of subscripts and superscripts.

I was pleased to find (somewhere on page three or four of my search) This simple tool uses a google sheet to generate flashcards. You grab a template, enter your information in two columns (the two sides of the flash card), along with colour formatting if so desired. Publish your spreadsheet, grab the link, and paste the link into the second page of the sheet, and voila, instant flash card set. No sign in required.

flashcard image

There are ads displayed prominently on the site, which may make it unsuitable for some. But as a simple, non-login flashcard game/study aid, that allows html formatting and embedding urls for images and video, I think it has a lot of potential. I could see having students easily generate flashcards for themselves and each other as well.

The site also has templates for generating quizzes, a Jeopardy style game, name picker and  progress indicator, so there’s a lot of potential there.


Desmos is another great math tool

Yesterday I wrote about g(Math), a tool for adding formulas and graphs into Google docs, like an equation editor on steroids. Today I’m going to talk about Desmos, a full-featured, web-based standalone graphing calculator.

Desmos can be run from the website, or installed as an app in Chrome. You don’t need an account to use it, but if you create an account you can save your work – even saving a copy to Google Drive, which is nice. The interface is clean, with the list of functions down the left side, and a large central grid (which can be switched between Cartesian and polar) to display functions. It responds well to double touch, so using it on an interactive whiteboard is easy.

There are many, many saved examples on the Desmos site which highlight it’s capabilities – including animation and drawing pictures with multiple equations.

I’ve started using it to illustrate the parabolic functions of acceleration, finding the roots, intersection of functions (solving two equations and two unknowns), and illustrating standing waves and beat frequency. I’ve just scratched the surface – there is a lot more that can be done with it, I just need to find the time to figure out what all else it can do. But for teaching transformations of functions? Just throw in a function with sliders and watch what happens. It is a very user-friendly interactive tool.

It’s teacher friendly, student friendly, works beautifully on the interactive white board, it runs animations, and it’s fun. What’s not to like?


Real Educational Technology

I have mentioned before how I became a convert to smart phones – indeed, I have become a full-fledged cyborg with mine – and I still keep finding new ways to use my iPhone for education.

Just today I got so excited with what I was looking at under the microscope I decided I had to share it. So I whipped out my phone, captured a bunch of clips, edited them, and then posted the result to facebook and YouTube, all from the phone. Now THAT is real-world, authentic educational technology.


(PS – go full screen. It’s high res!)

Check Out Project Noah!


I’m not sure why it took me so long to discover Project Noah. It is a citizen science community that, in their words, is intended to be “a fun, location-based mobile application to encourage people to reconnect with nature and document local wildlife”. Essentially, you take pictures of animals and plants, and upload to the Project Noah website. But it is based around smartphones. With the app installed on your iPhone or Android, users can snap anything interesting (or mundane, too) and upload. You have the option of identifying what you have uploaded, or requesting identification. The location information can optionally be attached to help learn more about geographic distribution. There is also a social network for chats and discussion, and even patches for accomplishments.

The images and locations are searchable online, so it can be used by amateurs and researchers alike, and as they say their “ultimate goal is to build the go-to platform for documenting all the world’s organisms and through doing this we hope to develop an effective way to measure Mother Nature’s pulse.”

I uploaded my first image today of a snail (me: “Oh! Gotta take a pic of this snail!” My wife: “Geek”),  and I took the time to double check the identification and enter that information. I think there is potential for this to be used in the classroom in many ways – an image resource, a class project or hands-on biodiversity lesson. Having to take a few minutes to identify and classify what has been found is an extra layer of analysis and engagement which requires a bit of patience, but pays off.

Of course, now that I have my first upload, I’m hooked. And, as with my snail picture, I expect to be called a geek a lot more often…


Optics Song

One of my students started this off, and we just had to finish it. Sung to the tune of Frère Jacques:

Denser slower, Denser slower
That’s how light, That’s how light
Undergoes refraction, Undergoes refraction
That’s Snel’s law, That’s Snel’s law

(Note that while it is usually referred to as Snell’s Law, the person for whom it is named was Willebrord Snel, with one “l”. He later went by the latinized “Snellius”, but it is not called Snellius’ Law, so I will be pedantic and stick with Snel’s Law.)