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After using the iPad2 and the Apple TV to mirror iPad content through my LCD projector, I realized that this setup can be used as a wireless document camera by using the built-in camera app on the iPad2.

The Setup:

First of all, I setup a ‘stand’ for the iPad, so that it could project anything underneath it.  Being a science teacher, I have access to plenty of lab stands and clamps (I actually wrapped the two metal rods in electrical tape to protect the iPad2 from scratches).


I gently rested the iPad2 on the stand, being careful to center the camera on the lab table below, and secured it with a large rubber-band.



I found that I needed a wide stand so that students could fit their whiteboards underneath without difficulty.


This system is also flexible, as it is wireless.  I can carry it back to the lab and showcase individual student work to help direct a laboratory investigation.  Taking a picture, I was even able to annotate over a photo by importing it through an app like the Educreactions Interactive Whiteboard app.


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5a23195uA recent Phi Delta Kappan article caught my eye about using TV in the classroom: Teaching with television: New evidence supports an old medium, by Deborah L. Linebarger.

In the article, Linebarger cites research affirming that TV can be used effectively in the classroom – especially where it supplements, rather than supplants, good instruction.

There are some obvious benefits in having videos that enhance a lesson.  I recently was watching Fabric of the Cosmos – a four-hour series on PBS featuring Brian Greene.  The third episode (Quantum Leap) showcases the weirdness of the quantum world.  In just 20 engaging minutes, Greene is able to beautifully illustrate concepts that I could never replicate in class (and it’s free online too).

But Linebarger also reveals a reluctancy that teachers might have in using TV:

Those who choose to air video content in the classroom risk being called lazy, if not accussed of educational malpractice.

This brings to mind the movie Bad Teacher, where Cameron Diaz exhausts her supply of “education-like” movies so she doesn’t have to prepare a lesson.  While this hyperbole is funny, it speaks to the fear that some educators might have in letting TV do the teaching for them.

So how can teachers use TV (perhaps the term video is more appropriate) effectively to supplement good instruction?  Here are some suggestions:

Watch Segments.  Many full-length videos are not appropriate for viewing in the standard 50 minute classroom.  However, with digital media on DVDs and online, it is easy to watch shorter segments – specifically tailored to your classroom content.  Paid services like Safari Montage and Discovery Education Streaming make this even easier, as their videos already are ‘chopped’ up for this purpose.

Use the Remote.  When watching longer videos, I think it is important to use the pause button often.  Not only does this insert physical breaks for the students, I can take the time to discuss the curricular importance of a scene and use informal assessment techniques to gauge student learning.

Don’t turn down the lights.  While it is tempting to turn down the lights while watching content, this is a sure-fire signal for many students to disengage from the lesson.  If possible, try to have some lighting on to remind students that watching the video is an active experience.

Stay current.  Amassing a collection of videos as permanent features in your curriculum might be enticing, but it can encourage you to stick with outdated and irrelevant content.  Take time to preview new content that might replace older content (however, there are times when I specifically use outdated content in science as a way to discuss how science changes).

Above all, make sure to evaluate the purpose of using any video in the classroom.  If the video truly enhances learning by supplementing good instruction, then it can be a wonderful educational resource. Linebarger sums it up nicely in her closing remarks:

Television can never replace teachers.  But Teachers can use television well, taking advantage of its strengths.

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Using video clips in the classroom is nothing new – a couple companies have even made a business model for this educational niche.  But Hollywood movies can also have educational value, especially when trying to find errors and discrepancies within them.  To assess some basic properties in matter in my chemistry class, I have been utilizing movie clips for help.

raiders1How Dense is Indiana?

When teaching density, I use a clip from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark [You Tube Clip] whereby Indiana tries to swap a gold idol with an equivalent VOLUME of sand.  Obviously, Indiana gets the mass wrong, as sand and gold have quite different densities.  A similar exercise can be found at Glencoe Science.

I’m Melting?

Moving on to chemical versus physical change, I get a little help from the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz [You Tube Clip].  In the movie, the witch clearly claims that she is melting.  Using clear evidence in the film, I ask the students to defend if she is really melting, or if she is chemically reacting, sublimating or vaporizing.


Of course, movie clips can be used in many other areas of science (see below) and in other disciplines.  Imagine having students compare inconsistencies in the Hollywood version of a classic novel to its literary original.  How do you use movie clips in class?

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Usually the during the week of homecoming, my Biophysical Science class is just finishing up a basic chemistry unit on the properties of matter.  To keep the kids focused on science, I make sure to obtain a little dry ice to have my students observe a unique phase change known as sublimation.

We observe:

  1. Sublimation of dry ice
  2. Density of carbon dioxide (bubbles with hover over more dense carbon dioxide – see video)
  3. Carbon Dioxide as a liquid (under pressure) as it exists in a gas cylinder
  4. Carbon Dioxide as a liquid (by sealing off a pipette with pliers, students can safely observe carbon dioxide liquefy as the pressure increases – see phase change diagram of carbon dioxide)
  5. Rapid sublimation of carbon dioxide in water in a sealed Nalgene bottle (see videos below)

CO2 Expansion 2007 from Brian Bartel on Vimeo.

Note the rapid condensation that appears on the lab table once the pressure is equalized.

CO2 Expansion 2008 from Brian Bartel on Vimeo.

NOTE: this demonstration was done behind a Plexiglas screen when there were no kids in the room.  Below is a picture of the bottle before, after, and a piece that was lodged in the ceiling (of which I am quite proud).

Nalgene Bottle Before

Nalgene Bottle Before

Nalgene Bottle After

Nalgene Bottle After

Piece Lodged in Ceiling Tile

Piece Lodged in Ceiling Tile

I should emphasize that this rapid buildup of gas pressure can be very dangerous.  In fact, the rapid vaporization of liquid nitrogen in a sealed plastic container is exactly how I once blew up a sink (see About page).  This is why a safe alternative to a live demo is to take an extreme video for future use.

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Inspired by Dale Basler’s stop-motion video project in physics, I recently had my freshman biophys students make videos that examine the factors affecting the rate of a chemical reaction.

We used a lab from an Addison-Wesley Chemistry lab manual entitled “Factors Affecting Reaction Rates”. This lab was ideal, as the instructions are already neatly divided into 4 parts, whereby each part examines what can affect the rate of a chemical reaction (temperature, concentration, surface area and use of catalyst). Students were divided into 8 groups of 3 (2 groups for each concept).

These were the guidelines for the videos:

  • 1-2 minutes in length
  • Describe setup & document experiment
  • Discuss results (with graph or data table)
  • Show balanced reaction
  • Discuss concept

This was a 5-day project (2 days in lab, 1 for taping, and 2 for editing in the computer lab). I gave the students just the basics in order to use Windows MovieMaker, and helped them on-the-fly with questions.

Besides the final project, perhaps the best part of the project was viewing them all in class. Not only were we able to discuss the concept in each video, but students also critiqued each video in content and in quality. This evolved into a really productive discussion on how important it is to be able to communicate science effectively.

This turned out to be a great project that the students really enjoyed. The only negative comment I heard was “the reactions were kinda boring” (all kids want fire and flames). Now that I know the students can handle this type of work, my mind is spinning on what movies they can make in the future using other science tools – graphical analysis, digital microscopy and RasMol (molecular visualization software) come to mind immediately.

Here is an example video:



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Jeffrey Branzburg recently wrote an article for Technology and Learning ( entitled “You Can Take it With You” (How to integrate video segments in curriculum – without worry). To summarize, Branzburg is teaching us how to download video clips from YouTube, Google Video, etc (as they might blocked through many school districts).

Here are his suggestions for showing ‘blocked’ videos in class:

  1. Link to the video or embed the video code in a blog or website
  2. Video Downloader 2.0 (
  3. (
  4. Zamzar (

But the question still remains – even if we can download these internet videos – should we?Some of the content on these sites is illegally posted, so by showing this content in class, you could be violating copyright laws.

Ok – so avoid downloading episodes or clips from major networks. What about content that’s NOT stolen from network and cable television? Here’s the legalese – the YouTube Terms of Use (section 6 part C) allows its users to “…use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such User Submissions as permitted through the functionality of the Website and under these Terms of Service.” The catch here is “through the functionality of the Website”.So by downloading content outside of the website, you are technically violating the agreement.

Thus, legally – it is ok to link to and embed code from YouTube and Google Video. But be careful when you bypass their user agreements to download their content.

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I recently found this website from TIME magazine entitled “80 Days that Changed the World.” This is really the web version of the book, with the same title. [Link]. It seems to me that this would be a fabulous resource to complement United Streaming. For instance, students can surf through the 80 days to identify a specific event, then use United Streaming media to develop a project around this event.

For fun, I identified a handful of science-specific events, then search United Streaming for related content. Here are the results:

What are some other sites that people have found that might complement United Streaming in a similar fashion?

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