Archive for the ‘From the Classroom’Category

Innovation at the STEMposium

In the last few years, STEM has become a buzzword in the education community. STEM, which stands for Science Technology Engineering & Math, has developed out of a growing concern that the US education system is not effectively preparing the next generation of innovators. From the National Science Teachers Association centering their 2011 around STEM education to the countless tech companies developing seeking to engage students in critical thinking with innovative curriculum centered around technology, STEM’s focus plays an important role in rethinking and reforming education.

Recently, the California Academy of Science, in partnership with several education organizations, foundations, and companies, held the “STEMposium” in San Francisco, CA. This event sought to bring together innovators in education to share their successes and best practices in STEM education. From a PIXAR animator working to bring animation and programming into schools to a Librarian reinventing the classic science fair using the web to a science teacher having her students build smartphone applications, the winners and finalists of the STEMposium are truly bringing innovation to how we engage our students. Visit the STEMposium website to learn about each of these inventive projects.


05 2011

The Physics of Angry Birds?

Yesterday I had my 8th grade students exploring an online projectile motion simulation where they launched various objects from a cannon, exploring what variables affect how far an object will travel (i.e., mass, air resistance, trajectory arc, etc.). Partway through the class, one student exclaimed that he thought the simulation was “Just like Angry Birds!” Hearing several classmates excitedly chime in and agree with the student’s assessment, I decided it was time to look into the physics behind this game and whether or not it might offer a potential new way to engage my students in physics.

For those of you not familiar with Angry Birds, it’s a game in which one uses a finger-controlled slingshot to launch birds, trying to destroy structures and enemy pigs. While the premise is simple (and a bit contrived), the game is very difficult to put down (I’ve personally been up late to play “just one more level…”). A quick search yielded a Wired magazine article in which they did frame-by-frame analysis of the launches, looking to see if the catapult-slung birds match up with real-world physics. As it turns out, they do!

Innovative Uses in the Classroom

  • Use the video analysis tools that are part of Vernier’s LoggerPro or Cabrillo’s (free) Tracker software to analyze Angry Bird launches, which are available on YouTube. Both of these programs allow students to place dots on the bird’s location in each video frame, plotting x and y values on the coordinate plane. For my middle school students, we’ll be looking at the linear and parabolic equations that match up with the bird’s horizontal and vertical positions respectively. For more advanced students, consider having students do some of the calculations for acceleration, velocity, etc. using the data from the video analysis. The Wired article does a great job outlining some of these calculations. Read the rest of this entry →


04 2011

Anatomy with Google Body Browser

Twice in the past eight years, I’ve been lucky enough to have one of the Body Worlds exhibits in San Jose, CA during my 8th grade anatomy unit. Each time I’ve taken students to see the exhibit, it’s been an incredible culminating experience to our study of human biology, allowing students to see actual human systems, how they fit together, and how life choices affect our organs and survival. In the years when the exhibit has not been in town, I’ve struggled to come up with a way to bring a similar experience to my students (using a frog dissection as an analogy just doesn’t measure up!).

As I strolled the exhibit hall at the NSTA National Conference, one booth amazed me with their innovative (and free!) solution to my Body Worlds dilemma. The engineers and educators behind Google’s “Body Browser” offer up an incredible tool that allows students to browse a 3-D, interactive model of the human body. A simple set of sliders allows students to peel away and zoom in on the systems of the human body. Discovering how the complex network of blood vessels feed muscles throughout the body is as easy as transposing the circulatory on the muscular system, giving you a 3-D model that then allows you then zoom in on the muscles, veins and arteries in any part of the body. Want to share a particular view that you’ve created on your screen? One more click gives you a link that will retrieve your customized view. While Google Body Browser is not new to Google Labs, they just released a major update to the tool, adding new features such as being able to change the model’s gender, add labels to your model, and “pinning” a particular organ so that it remains visible as you change views.

Innovative Uses In The Classroom

  • A Body Systems Scavenger Hunt – Give students a set of tasks, such as “find a ball and socket joint” or “show how the digestive and circulatory systems work together to meet the body’s survival needs.” Students use Google Body Browser to find a view that shows each of the scavenger hunt tasks and use the note tool to explain and justify their display. They then share their views with the teacher and classmates using the “share this view” link feature.
  • 3-D Quiz & Test Diagrams – Create a specific view of the human body to accompany a quiz or test question. Create a custom view link and have students visit your 3-D model to answer the question. They can interact with and explore the model, making this approach ideal for higher level thinking question, such as “Visit and explain how the muscles, bones, and connective tissue show in this particular joint work together to allow movement.”

How do you use Google Body Browser to enhance your students’ learning? Share your ideas in the comments section.

Access Google Body Browser at


03 2011