Coaster (or should that be cstr?) Physics


As part of my science workshop at BETT, I covered some experiments looking at speed, acceleration and free fall. The main purpose of this was to demonstrate and compare using distance sensors on a Labdisc with an iPad app called Video Physics by Vernier.

Often we would ask students to write up experiments and collect together their research on speed and acceleration as a presentation or project, but I also suggested that since learning is really about demonstrating mastery or understanding that an app like cstr physics (you can download the app here). It contains a track builder to allow you to build your own rollercoaster tracks (which of course have to obey the laws of physics).


You can then ride your rollercoaster and explore potential and kinetic energy, speed, acceleration and g-force acting all around your track. Students can even explore what happens when you fail to obey the laws of physics without endangering any lives. I used to run a session with a k-nex track and light gates at the city learning centre, but it was not half as much fun as the physics on show here – physics really can be phun!


Back from BETT 2013

So, I’m just back from another great week presenting at the BETT show. This is the thrid year I’ve been lucky enough to be asked by Toucan and AT Computers to present workshops for teachers at the BETT show, and I think this year was probably the best yet!


It was an absolute pleasure to spend a week with two good friends and fellow Apple Distinguished Educators, Joe Moretti and Julian Coultas and throughout the week we presented workshops on a whole variety of iPad related classroom workflows. There were many highlights during the week and I’ll no doubt be blogging about them over the coming days. To give you a little flavour of the week, I’ll mention just a few of the apps and tools we looked at; Showbie, Garageband, Nearpod, Labdisc and Globisens, Book Creator, Explain Everything, printopia, me-drive by Kanex, iBooks Author and iTunes U. The focus was very much on pedagogical approaches and classroom workflows that deeply integrate learning and technology – I hope we managed to deliver on our promises!


One of my new resolutions following BETT is to make a concerted effort to actually maintain my blog/site, as this week has reminded me of the importance as an educator to share. Hopefully at least some of the ramblings which I am sure will follow will prove useful to some of those who find themselves here……

Back to my science roots – data logging on the iPad

I seem to have spent a lot of time recently with my iPad and some other toys exploring how the iPad can be successfully integrated into the science classroom.

There are a growing range of peripherals for the iPad (I’m sure I read somewhere that the iOS peripherals market is worth more than the iOS market itself) and there are some that are particularly enticing for the science classroom.

Datalogging is an area of technology that traditionally science has always made use of. Back in the days of BBC computers, black boxes called LogIT’s allowed collection and graphing of a whole variety of experimental data and most schools have a range of equipment for data collection from simple digital thermometers to whole ranges of specialist datalogging equipment.

In my eyes, one of the big problems with many datalogging solutions is that they usually consist of a base unit which you plug sensors (available separately) into to record different types of data. This means costs can soon mount up.


The labdisc by Globisens takes a different approach. All of the sensors are built in to the data logging unit itself. There are 5 different models of labdisc all of which have 12 to 14 sensors built in. The different models cover a range of specialist areas such as biochemistry and higher level physics, while more general needs are taken care of by other models.


See Labdisc in action in this video “A Walk in the Park”.

Originally designed for use with Mac or PC computers, Globisens have put much thought into developing an iPad app and bluetooth connectivity. The well thought out app is called Globilab and is available for free from the App Store.

Get the app here

Globilab app icon

I’ve had the pleasure of using these extensively, and they work really well with the iPad. The user interface of the app is well thought out, allowing programming of the various sensors using on/off switches and rate and number of samples can also be set within the app (with some sensors it is possible to capture up to 25,000 readings per second). There is a nice feature to manually capture samples by pressing one of the buttons on the front of the Labdisc. Data can be exported as a csv file should you need to further analyse data, and the app itself is capable of both linear and quadratic regression curves.


Another nice feature of the Labdisc is built in GPS making it perfect for recording data on field trips for example. The app displays data graphically on the map too.

Labdisc GPS

Even if you don’t yet have a Labdisc you can download the free app, and use the built in accelerometers and microphone in your iPad. Measure and record noise levels in the classroom throughout the course of a day, or combine your iPad with a Grip Case (more about these great cases in a future post) and a length of rope to do great pendulum experiments, or with a spring to investigate Hooke’s law.

At around $500 the Labdisc is not the cheapest tool you will ever buy for use with your iPad but with practical uses in Science and Geography from primary right through secondary, these valuable peripherals really help to maximise investment in mobile devices such as iPads.

We have recently invested in a set of 20 and I look forward to seeing how they are used across the science and geography curriculums and on various field trips over the coming months….I’ll keep you posted.

Showbie – the missing link for the classroom?

One of the biggest challenges for some people when using an iPad for the first time is where files are stored and sharing those files in an easy way. When working with students in the classroom, the sharing of files is particularly important. At a really simple level, most apps allow completed work to be emailed from the iPad, which has worked well for some of our teachers. This does require some clever use of folders to keep work from multiple classes on multiple assignments organised (some of our teachers use clever automatic filtering and clear subject lines to do this for them).

With iOS 6 there are now many more options for opening a file created in one app in another app. This, and the advent of cheap and often free cloud storage, has given many options for sharing of files within the classroom.

Online storage provided by such as Dropbox, Box and Skydrive provide plenty of free options for storing files online that can be accessed easily by any device with a suitable app and internet connection.

While these apps do provide a method for sharing files, the elusive missing piece in the classroom has always been a way for teachers to provide valuable feedback on work that students share with the teacher.

Showbie app.jpg

Enter Showbie (, a pretty unique combination of app and website. This service allows teachers to create hand in folders for classes at the showbie website. Students then register using the code the teacher provides, and have access to class folder where they can hand work into. The teacher can upload documents to the folder to provide resources for the class, and provide both written and audio feedback to individual students on assignments that they hand in.

I’ve been lucky enough to see this in action in some of our classrooms at school, and the results have been very impressive. Several of our High School teachers have gone completely paperless by using Showbie in conjunction with other apps like notability (which gives them the ability to download submitted work as a pdf, mark it just like they would a paper copy, and then resubmit it back to Showbie). Students hand in work to the assignment folder and can see when teachers have added comments or verbal feedback (which can be recorded straight from the iPad).

Showbie also provides some really useful videos and support to show you how to get the best out of Showbie’s webdav capabilitities with a whole variety of useful classroom apps (Using webdav and Showbie).

Showbie is completely free for students and teachers get 10 assignment folders for free. Annual school subscriptions are also available at a very reasonable cost (I have just signed all our teachers up for around $7 for the year).

Download the app here.

If you want to try this out, I would recommend setting up both a teacher and student account. This will allow you to also join the class you set up as a student to explore how the app works from both the teacher and student perspective.

I’m very excited to see how the use of Showbie develops at school this year, and I’ll keep you posted.

STOP PRESS – After the release of iOS 6.1 last week Showbie launched a fairly major update to the app meaning it is now possible to carry out the entire workflow just from the app. I changed my workshops part way through BETT last week to highlight all these new features and will write an update later this week. I was also lucky enough to meet and spend a bit of time with Colin Bramm, founder of Showbie at BETT who proved to be a thoroughly great guy – I look forward to further conversations in the coming months…

Colin also announced that free teacher accounts will come with 200 free assignments from the middle of last week, which essentially turns Showbie into a completely free service for teachers, as assignments can be archived each year (they remain accessible by the teacher but do not count towards the total number of assignments). Colin hinted there are some exciting developments to come in the enxt few months for pro users, so I am excited to see how Showbie will develop further – this is a truly great tool for iPad based classrooms!


Nearpod logo.jpg

Another great tool that we have been exploring at school is Nearpod ( This allows teachers to create engaging and interactive presentations for the iPad with embedded video, quizzes, open ended discussion points and free drawing sections. Nearpod accepts pdf or jpeg slides which can easily be created in Word, Pages, Powerpoint or Keynote amongst others, so it is also relatively easy to repurpose existing presentations and worksheets.

Nearpod also provide a library of ready to use presentations including some from the Khan Academy, which can provide either a starting point or inspiration for creating your very own Nearpod presentation.

It works brilliantly in a classroom situation where you want to guide the students through some parts of the presentation, and maybe watch a video and answer some quiz questions. Students can connect to the presentation using a simple code (which can even be emailed to them). The teacher can see when students are connected to the Nearpod presentation (and more importantly if they move off the Nearpod app) and Nearpod also collates any data that students enter during the session (giving the teacher useful formative assessment data), which can be emailed as an excel file or analysed in more detail on the Nearpod site.

Until very recently there were separate apps for teacher and student, but the latest update has combined them into a single app, as well as adding some additional features.

Download the app from iTunes.

This video gives a good idea of how Nearpod works.

Nearpod is completely free, and the free account allows teachers to create and save 10 nearpod presentations. There are now also paid school editions, which allow a school to subscribe a group of teachers giving them unlimited storage of presentations.

A number of teachers at our school have been trying Nearpod out in their classrooms, and so far it has been a big hit with the students who seem to really like the interactivity and engagement opportunities Nearpod provides to augment existing lessons. If you haven’t tried it yet, I would highly recommend giving it a go!

I think Nearpod is a great way for teachers and other presenters to engage their audiences when information needs to be presented. Used creatively, new features like the slideshow which allows you to create a series of slides that the class can work through at their own speed combined with quizzes and open ended discussion questions also offer some powerful formative assessment tools too!