Today I begin my new job. I’m no longer mostly a physics teacher. Now, I’m mostly a content creator and an entrepreneur. It’s a big change; here’s the story.
For the past 14 years I’ve had the best job of my life. Of the dozen or so jobs I’ve had, being a high school physics teacher has been my favorite by far. Sure there are tough parts, but this job has wrung the best out of me year after year. There’s nothing more than I’d want for a job beside something that demands the best I am able to produce.
All during my teaching, I’ve been curious about how to use technology to improve learning. Early on, someone showed me Vernier’s LoggerPro video analysis. I loved how it allowed students to analyze events directly. For a year or two I went a bit overboard, with almost every topic featuring the opportunity for students to make and analyze video— lots of dots placed on lots of screens.
I loved how it allowed students to analyze events directly.
About six years ago, I tried a different approach: I placed scaling objects, like a whiteboard with grid lines, in the background of the video so that students could directly measure position without needing a video analysis program. Using QuickTime’s frame-by-frame controls, students can measure time by counting frames and knowing that each frame, in this case, is 1/210 seconds. This seemed faster, and more direct than traditional video analysis: students used their own measurements to quickly calculate things like velocity or acceleration.
Students used their own measurements to quickly calculate things like velocity or acceleration.
In August 2010 I tried making an image of a measuring tool— a grid in this case— and overlaying it in the video in iMovie. It took many steps to get the overlay to be scalable, sharp, and with a transparent background. Switching to Final Cut Pro & allowed me to add a “frame counter” so students didn’t have to keep track of the number of frames when timing motion. The video below shows one of the first completed videos. Students could easily use the frame counter and grid to measure x- and y-axis velocities and add the vectors. They can check the validity of their answer by timing how long it takes for the puck to reach the red arcs, and observing the angle using the protractor.
This really worked well. Students seemed engaged, and as the collection grew, we were able to explore lots of situations very quickly. The videos could be embedded in web pages, and viewed frame-by-frame on any computer with QuickTime player installed. I started embedding the videos into WebAssign questions to make interactive video instruction and assessment.
This really worked well. Students seemed engaged, and as the collection grew, we were able to explore lots of situations very quickly.
In 2013, Matt Vonk (University of Wisconsin – River Falls) and I, along with our collaborators at Carleton College’s Science Education Resource Center (SERC) got a grant from the National Science Foundation. We acquired better tools, made more videos, researched how students used them, and published the videos on our website. We also developed a web-based player we called DMV (Direct Measurement Video) Player, that allowed frame-by-frame playback in the web browser. Soon we added the draggable interactive tools like rulers and stopwatches.
The project has grown to the point that I’ve had to make a choice: either keep teaching or keep working on the project.
This summer, Matt and I got a smaller NSF grant for the “I-Corps L” program which took us through the lean startup process. As part of the work, we interviewed 100+ teachers and other interesting people in ed-tech. Compiling the results, it became clear that there is a need in the science education community for products like the one we are making - that make it easier to integrate more phenomena and science practices in the classroom.
It became clear that there is a need in the science education community for products like the ones we are making.
So, starting today, that is my job. I’ll still teach one class of AP Physics 1, but the rest of my time will be devoted to launching Pivot Interactives: making video, guiding our software development team, and writing and testing curriculum with my students. It seems like a dream-job come true. I’ll keep you posted.
Since this original post, Pivot Interactives has grown immensely, serving over a million students and thousands of teachers with over 550 activities in the activity library.
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