A Lavalier Mic that Works for Teaching?

The 5 minute video below is a teacher’s review of a $20 lapel mic. You might also be intrigued by this product if, like me, you teach a concurrently blended course: some students are in the classroom and the rest are online. In the classroom, everyone is masked and observes a minimum 6-foot physical distancing protocol.

Challenges in this teaching scenario include:

  • my mask muffling my speech and standing far from a microphone so that the online students have a hard time hearing
  • wireless mics degrading the sound quality (yeah, I’m looking at you knockoff AirPods), including static, choppiness, and lag

Then I found this mic:

Supporting remote students in a hybrid/concurrent class

Below is feedback from a variety of remote high school students attending my school where the vast majority of their peers are on campus and in physical classrooms.

Photo by Martha Dominguez de Gouveia on Unsplash

Feedback: Sometimes in class [my teacher] can forget to invite us from the waiting room, so I miss like the first 15 minutes but thats alright. 

Fix: No, it’s not. Bless this child’s heart. As the teacher, though, I get that you can’t simultaneously watch the Zoom waiting room and teach class. Delegate!

  1. Ask a couple of students to join the meeting from their computers then mute their mic and speaker to prevent audio feedback.
  2. Make these students meeting co-hosts. They can admit classmates from the waiting room AND monitor the chat.

The remote students added that they like to type a question into chat to replace the lost ability to whisper a question to a neighbor.

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

Feedback: It’s tough to read the whiteboard via Zoom. 

Fix: Broadly speaking, beware of glare and check up on image quality often. I recommend you switch from filming handwriting on a whiteboard to using a document camera that’s then screen shared to Zoom and projected to the whiteboard. I like the wireless Ipevo VZ-X camera ($300) if you have budget or a mobile phone pointed at the table and joined to your Zoom call as a participant if you don’t have budget.

Photo by Capturing the human heart. on Unsplash

Feedback: it is a bit confusing converting all the deadlines into the time zone here, but fortunately I have contacted all my teachers, and they all understand my situation 

Fix: Share with your students that they can set their local time zone in Canvas Account settings. Here’s how:

  1. Log in to Canvas
  2. Click Account, then Settings on the left side
  3. Click Edit Settings on the right side
  4. Choose your time zone in the center of the page

At least one student has told me the time zone feature will change their life!

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

Feedback: one thing that I can think of is probably not being able to hear other classmates clearly when we are outside. 

Fix: The student suggesting this went on to say “my teacher really helped a lot by repeating the students’ answers.” That’s a great interim solution, thank you, whoever was already doing this! 

Also, be aware that sound intensity drops with the square of the distance from the microphone. How can you get students closer to the mic while still distancing? A few solutions to try:

  • Reduce the group size.
    • Split the class. Give group A an independent task while you hold a discussion with group B.
    • Hold a fishbowl discussion. The folks on the inside talk while the folks on the outside work in the Zoom chat or a Google Doc to record observations, push conversation further, etc. 
    • We heard from remote students recently that if they’re the only one on Zoom, they find group discussion with 2-3 people in the group to be fairly natural. Bigger than that is tough to be a participant in.
  • Change the medium.
    • Canvas Discussions seem to work best if the discussion group is under 8 people. Above that, I think it’s tough to follow a lively discussion because of sheer volume. Encourage students to try audio and video responses within Canvas Discussions for variety.
Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

Do more of these please:

Further words from the remote students.

  • “Make me feel like I’m in the classroom by moving around the room on purpose (with the teacher marker) just to get the Swivl to move around. Also, it’s nice when the Swivl cam is at the same height as students.”
  • “I like when the Swivl view is of the class (as opposed to just the whiteboard). But, I want to be able to see the board AND the class at the same time.” You can do this! Point the Swivl at the room and use your laptop to see the whiteboard (or better, to screen share your document camera). Hit me up if you want help getting this set up.
  • My teacher is attentive to me and my needs as a remote student.

What’s been working for you and your students? 

The Scanner in Your Pocket


Students can submit a PDF scan of their handwritten work through your school’s learning management system, using a mobile phone. PDFs can be created a variety of ways, for instance Android users have the Google Drive app while iPhone users have the Notes app. Detailed instructions follow.

Using an Android phone to generate PDFs:

  1. Open Google Drive app and tap the New (+) button.
  2. Tap the Scan button in the Create new screen.
  3. Position the phone over your work and take the photo. You’ll get better results if the work is evenly lit.
  4. Tap the Add pages button (+) if needed. Tap Save when done.
  5. Tap the PDF to open it then the More (…) button and choose Send a copy. 
  6. The directions diverge from here, depending on your LMS and submission method.

Sample scan from my Google Drive. Note that this page was side-lit to prevent shadows from the overhead lights.

Using an iPhone or iPad (any iOS device) to generate PDFs:

  1. Open the Notes app. 
  2. Tap New Note
  3. Tap the Camera Button, then Scan Documents.
  4. Adjust the cropping of the page by dragging the corner handles if needed.
  5. Tap Keep Scan. You can add additional scans to the document or tap Save.
  6. Tap the Share Button.
  7. The directions diverge from here, depending on your LMS and submission method.

Using a MacBook Air:

  1. Open the Photo Booth app.
  2. From the Edit menu, confirm that the “Auto flip new items” item is checked.
  3. Hold your paper to the camera and snap a picture.
  4. Select all the photos you want to submit then choose Print from the File menu.
  5. Click the PDF drop down and choose Save as PDF.
  6. The directions diverge from here, depending on your LMS and submission method.

More Resources: Zoom 101 & My Waves Page Available

I put together a Zoom 101 for Teachers lesson. You can read it below or import into Canvas by searching the Canvas Commons for “Getting Started with Zoom”. I’m focusing on how teachers unfamiliar with web conferencing might use it to teach remotely, so I don’t think it’s your typical tutorial.

In addition, the Waves Page I described in my last post is now available in the Canvas Commons. Search for “Template for an Online Lesson (Waves by Hayes-Golding)”. Import into your course and edit to suit your needs.

Getting Started with Zoom

Hello fellow teachers! Zoom is the web conferencing tool that we’ll be using. On this page, I’ll show you the recommended settings and features of this great tool.

Part 1: Before School Restarts


Go to Zoom.us and sign up for a free account using your school email.


Also on Zoom.us, go to My Account > Settings and consider making the following changes for your account (recommended, certainly not required):

  • Mute participants upon entry on (way less chaotic to start if the students aren’t on by default!)
  • Breakout room on (puts a button in every meeting)
  • Nonverbal feedback on (hand raising!) <– not mentioned in the video, possibly useful
  • Auto saving chats on (maybe? the chat window is a great way for students to communicate without interrupting) <– not mentioned in the video, possibly useful for some
Watch a video of this process [2 min]

Download and install the Zoom client on your computer from here.


Open Zoom on your computer and schedule all of your classes as recurring Zoom meetings. I’m a fan of the personal meeting ID method so that every class has the same URL, you don’t have to switch “rooms” between classes, and so that students always have the right URL for your class because it doesn’t change over time. Here’s a summary of all my recommended settings (watch the video for explanations):

Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 9.22.47 PMScreen Shot 2020-03-18 at 9.22.58 PM

Watch a video of this process [5 min]

If you have about an hour and want a deeper dive, watch this Zoom training offered by power user Heather DeGeorge.

Part 2: Class Management Tips & Advice

My top class management tips for web conference calls*:


Know how to mute everyone at once: it’s under Manage Participants > Mute All. This will be useful at some point when three kids have barking dogs or a crying baby in the next room.


Teach students the shortcut to unmute temporarily: press and hold the spacebar.


Take time to go through web meeting etiquette  on day 1 (here’s a similar list you can share with your students). My favorites are:

  • we can see you, try to sit still
  • avoid asking if everyone can hear you, they’ll alert you if they can’t hear
  • keep your audio muted most of the time so we don’t hear background sounds (def. if you need to type!)
  • close other browser tabs or pull the relevant tab off the stack before screen sharing

Teach students to interact by either using Raise Hand (under Participants) and/or the Chat window.

Watch a video on nonverbal feedback [2 min]

Watch setting up a seminar-type view & use raise hand [1 min]


As meeting host, get the most flattering angle! Set your computer on a stack of books and keep stacking till your webcam is about eye level:

Photo on 3-18-20 at 10.29 PMPhoto on 3-18-20 at 10.29 PM #2

* Been doing this since ~1998, holy cow.

To Do:

I want to add a section on using breakout rooms and hope to update the post & Canvas this weekend.

Zoom users, what have I missed?

Quick Prep for Remote Classes

The following is based on an email I sent to my school’s Academic Dean as we prepare to offer all our classes remotely.

I set up an entire week’s worth of lessons tonight using what I learned from the Global Online Academy (GOA) course. It took about 3 hours. The parts of the GOA course I most leaned on were wayfinding, relationships, and assessments.

First, watch my ~5min walkthrough of the lesson. The actual page/lesson is still under construction and behind my school’s Canvas login. Happy to share with anyone who asks. Here are screenshots, as well:

Screen Shot 2020-03-13 at 10.56.13 PMScreen Shot 2020-03-13 at 10.56.41 PM

Here’s how I thought about planning for remote class delivery:

  • How much time? Face-to-face seat time at my school is about 4 hours per week, so that.
  • I figured my work would go fastest if planning backwards from an assessment. So the assessment I chose is a lab, something that already existed in my lesson inventory. Physics teachers, it’s the Waves Intro using Sean Cordry’s submitted lab called Writing an Equation for the Wave.
  • To get the students ready for the assessment, I knew I’d need to teach vocabulary and introduce them to the key content. I chose videos and readings. The videos were filmed tonight (included in my 3 hour estimate) and readings come from a great online resource.
  • I knew I needed some synchronous time, so decided on a Zoom call. A good chunk of the time in the call will be devoted to students presenting something to each other. Physics teachers, since I’m introducing wave vocab this week, I made up a fun activity about estimating the measures of a wave from a video clip of their choosing.


The tech I needed to feel comfortable with includes:

  • Canvas Pages to present the class stream for the entire week. This is not hard to do but maybe is hard to make look nice. In an effort not to overwhelm, go ahead and tell our colleagues they can get icons from flaticon.com, photos from unsplash.com. I can share the page I created to the Commons then my colleagues can use and adapt – a huge timesaver.
  • Canvas Quizzes for submitting the homework for completion (kinda a hack of the way graded quizzes are supposed to work, a Google Form would have worked just as well here)
  • Zoom web conferencing
  • Canvas Assignments for submitting the finished lab report

I want to stress that this is just one way to run remote learning. It most closely mirrors what I’d have done in the classroom AND the pedagogy is fairly traditional. I think therefore it presents a course quite familiar to my colleagues.

Computational Modeling with Tychos

Tychos is a computational modeling tool for physics students that allows them to dip their feet in coding without a ton of overhead. I’ve been playing with it for a few days and am impressed. My previous physics coding experience is in vPython and Pyret, plus I’ve read a fair amount of colleagues’ work using other tools such as trinket.

If you’re new to the idea of computational modeling in physics, this document from Rebecca Vieyra provides some rationale. I like it because ideally, by coding a physics model my students can focus on concepts rather than manual calculations.

Here’s a short introduction to Tychos:

Intro Physics Simulations

I wrote the following with only a few hours’ experience in Tychos. Click each image to link to the live demo.

Projectile Motion

Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 8.01.12 PM

A note on those graphs — it’s fairly straightforward to turn them on and choose what variables get graphed. The ease of opening up a familiar graphical representation is a huge benefit over any other computational modeling tool  I’ve used (except possibly spreadsheets).

1D Acceleration Under a Constant Net Force

Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 8.26.17 PM.png

As far as I can tell, all vectors in Tychos is 2D. For the last two years teaching 9th grade physics, I’ve done almost no treatment of 2D physics. So right now, I’m left wondering if the presence of 2D everywhere is a feature or a bug (in terms of my needs, not an actual bug!).

I arrived at my model with a tiny bit of help from the Model a Force tutorial in Tychos’ documentation. Their tutorial came at it using change in momentum, but I wanted to approach through Newton’s 2nd Law because that’s the way my students will see it. The documentation, by the way, is well done and includes a number of tutorials that are right on target for high school physics teachers. Maybe that’s what I’m loving best about Tychos — it was developed with high school physics in mind.

Two Objects Colliding

This model is near and dear because last year, I assigned a project that included coding this very model to predict the collision of two constant velocity buggies. The students’ work was solid and it brought together all the representations we’d learned to work with to that point.

Here’s a simulation that would work for the project:

Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 8.45.24 PM.png

I find myself wanting (and failing) to interact with the graphs like Buggy Position — that little image is great for little more than a qualitative snapshot. My Tychos skills are only a few hours old, so maybe the feature I want exists and I don’t know how to get to it.

While I can adjust the length of simulation to estimate the answer, I know there must be a better way to find out the solution of when and where the buggies collide.

That’s all for now. I’ll keep exploring and share more with y’all soon. I hope back to school season OR last breath of summer season is treating you well. What have you been thinking about for this upcoming year?

Protest Buttons for Middle School Campers

Summer camp at my school consists of a two- or four-week boarding experience for middle school students from around the world. More soon on the Maker Space class I’m teaching most of the time. Today is about the intersession workshop I led on Protest Buttons.

The genesis: button-making is fun beyond all expectations. How could I add substance to the activity?

I designed a one-hour workshop surrounding Protest Buttons. I’d show the campers several examples, teach them to use the button maker, and encourage them to create their own for causes they want to take a stand on.

We started here:


I explained each button’s roots. For instance, the raised fist (lower left in the picture above) has a broad and fascinating history of which I was largely unaware. I tried to choose causes that would be both interesting and un-alienating to my audience. Each camper chose one or two to make for themselves.

Cue the button-making station:


Then, the fun part: choosing their own causes. Below are the raw materials I provided.


This is a great time to add that my class of 17 included a number of kids from Hong Kong and several more from China. The kids from Hong Kong immediately said they wanted to make “Ban Carrie Lam” buttons (here’s an explainer on the protests in Hong Kong). Knowing this could get contentious between the two groups — mind you, they’re in middle school — we talked about the care with which we’ve built this camp community and that we don’t want to alienate our friends. There were Chinese students in the room who fall on the opposite side of these major protests. At the same time, thinking about the LGBT and black students in the room, I made clear that no one has the right to deny your humanity. It was a delicate balance — in making the Chinese campers feel safe in the space, I might alienate the queer campers. I hope I succeeded in bringing some nuance to a tricky situation.


Student protest/cause buttons included:

  • lots of iterations on rainbows for LGBT students and their allies
  • save the turtles
  • save Chinese pets from pet thieves who want to sell them for meat
  • save the Earth
  • “we’re only kids”

We closed with a variation of my opening questions on the button board: what do you notice makes a good protest button? Students said it’s important to have colorful or bold graphics, to have few words on the button, and that the button be readable quickly as you walk past someone. If I had a few more days, we might dive into graphic design principles and iterate on the designs they sketched.

Here are my Illustrator files, in case you’d like to lead a similar workshop.

In almost totally unrelated news, last night’s sunset looked like this:


In the morning, I’m off to start the second session of camp. I hope that you have a great week, no matter what you’re doing!

Model-Making Project on Buoyancy

SandLModelBoardThis year, we* inserted a project on buoyancy in between two units on forces (the Modeling Instruction with Computational Modeling curriculum). Results were encouraging and I wanted to share why this project is a keeper.

The project consisted of an extended lab report and a whiteboard model of buoyancy. Teachers intervened only lightly content-wise to help students draw conclusions from their experiments. What you see on the example boards throughout this post is pretty unfiltered.

Background on our Class Environment

As teachers, our experience with teaching model-building is admittedly novice. We’re totally doing too much of the heavy lifting — but we’re learning!

For instance, earlier in the year, we studied two entire units and near the end, we handed out teacher-made models to summarize what we learned. Recognizing we took too much of the control, we next asked students made their own models. But without much training, these were really just sheets of notes.

A conversation about what it would look like to get students to build a good model led us to the following project.20190221_093347

About the Unit

Students spent about two weeks working through a series of labs learning about buoyancy. This was the first time, however, that we pretty much cut the kids loose to create the model without much guidance from us.

This unit teaches buoyancy through the investigation of floaters and sinkers. Here are the project files and a brief description of what each does:

  1. Buoyancy Project — the overall project description and marking information
  2. Floaters vs Sinkers — put different objects in water and try to describe why some float and others don’t.
  3. Fg vs Mass (only because we hadn’t done it yet — this is a lesson plan more than an activity). Here, we get to Fg = mg.
  4. Buoyant Force — this activity gets them to the buoyant force changes as the object slips into the water but doesn’t change with increasing depth underwater.
  5. Factors Affecting the Buoyant Force — students learn that for floaters, the buoyant force is a factor of weight but not volume and for sinkers, the buoyant force is the opposite.
  6. Overflow — students explore the weight of displaced water to unify an explanation for how buoyancy works on both sinkers and floaters.


About the Project

Students submitted a writeup of three of the activities we did in class. The writeups were basically lab reports, something we don’t really do in this course. Select photos below.



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On the last day of the unit in class, we asked students to create whiteboard-based models of buoyancy referencing the writeups. I’ve scattered a representative sample of whiteboards above. Click and zoom in to see how they organized their learning.

Finally, after about an hour of work, we took detailed photos of the whiteboards and the kids erased them. Never have I seen students so reluctant to erase their work.


Why is it a Keeper?

Yeah, so that’s the buoyancy project. The student-made models were way better than in the last unit. We were able to provide scaffolding so they could learn how to select knowledge and ideas for the boards.

There are definitely cons to the project — most notably, some kids got left behind and never quite caught up to the ideas in later activities. In the future, I want to build in more class activity wrap discussion (in the spirit of Modeling Instruction). More “hey, these seem like big ideas I want to write down.”

Also, this project produced a mountain of grading I’ve only just now summited.

Overall, though, I was impressed with the students on the project. They’re better at organizing a lot of ideas into a limited space, at grouping similar ideas, and at contrasting ideas. We’ll definitely do the buoyancy project again.

* we = my teaching team of three Physics I teachers. Together, we teach five sections of ninth grade physics.

Two New Types of Problems

As my students have been developing their understanding of uniform acceleration, my colleagues and I have come up with two problem types for student practice. Much appreciation to Brian Frank for his writing about multiple representations, as it was a big motivator for me to pull this together.

Deploying the Model from an Incomplete Representation

We asked students to fully deploy the model of uniform acceleration based on an incomplete chunk of info. (Background: for our students, to “fully deploy the model of uniform acceleration” means to create all the representations they know[1], filling in all the values at every step.) We’ve been practicing deploying our model on a bunch of scenarios. What you see below come from practice as well as our test.

For example, this data table:

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 10.27.01 PM

Students had to finish the table, then flesh out the model using a variety of representations.

Here’s another, starting with this mathematical representation:

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 10.28.15 PM

And finally, this velocity-time graph, which appeared on the test today:

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 10.28.38 PM.png

Here’s where we went from the above velocity-time graph. First, we asked for the initial conditions (position and velocity) as well as the acceleration. Most students did a decent job here. A design flaw in the graph we provided on the first version of the test (photo below) made it tough to read points and therefore calculate slopes. We updated for later classes and the screenshot above is the newer version.

Next, we asked about when the object reaches its starting position. I absolutely love the explanation from the student below.

Finally, we asked about the displacement of the object over some time interval. Again, check out the work below to see how this student applied her work from the previous question to make her job easier on this one. Brilliant!


As y’all know, students are forever misreading velocity-time graphs as position-time graphs. Here’s a classic example of that mistake on this question:


Or, in this student’s case, confusing position with displacement:


Identifying Initial Conditions

Now, let’s back up from today’s test. Sort of late in the game, we realized kids who struggled with deploying the model on problems like those above were struggling to identify the initial conditions (velocity and position) and the uniform acceleration. That’s when we whipped up the “identifying the initial conditions” problems.

Again, these problems presented the students with a single representation (sometimes incomplete). Students almost unanimously agreed it was easiest to start with the mathematical representation:

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 10.35.26 PM

The verbal descriptions were also pretty simple:

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 10.35.10 PM

And for some reason, the motion maps continue to be a struggle. For this particular batch of kids and for this particular content timing, I opted to give them initial velocity, though it’s totally obtainable from this motion map:

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 10.34.54 PM

Parting Thoughts

Both the incomplete representations and the initial conditions problems proved super helpful. I mean, of course they did or I wouldn’t be writing about them here. I keep saying that I’ve never taught kinematics with so many open-ended problems. Most of the time, our students are modeling a scenario. Then sometimes, we throw in a pretty traditional question they need to answer with the model.

Oh, and though you don’t see it here, we did a little with free fall. Most kids realize that the acceleration acting on an object thrown up in the air is uniform, even at the apex of the throw. First time ever that so many kids get it. I credit velocity-time graphs and data tables for helping them see it.

I remain baffled at why so many students find the motion maps to be so difficult. These same kids love them some data tables, which have exactly the same information.

Finally, Brian Frank’s Primer on Problem Solving with Multiple Representations is a great follow up.

[1] Our students know motion maps, position-time graphs, velocity-time graphs, acceleration-time graphs, verbal descriptions, mathematical representations, data tables. In some circumstances, we might ask them to add computational models.

Free Fall: A Satisfying Board Meeting

Finally! A satisfying board meeting with students! It’s been a long fall with awkward board presentations around my room. Silence, constantly looking to me for affirmation, and boards that are total messes have been the hallmarks of the past few months.

I’m here today to say that with persistence, it’s possible to have a great discussion. First, a few whiteboards post-meeting:

Thursday: Free Fall Day 1

My rough outline of class goes as follows: Introduce that the topic today is free fall. Explain it’s a subset of the uniform acceleration model we’ve been studying. Drop a few objects and suggest which ones I think could probably be modeled with a free fall model and which can’t. Ask what they think free fall means, what it implies as far as a model.

Then I asked students to film a falling ball and perform video analysis. First time with this particular tool, so I taught it to them.

They then took the two graphs they got directly from Logger Pro (position-time and velocity-time) and used them to generate semi-quantitative versions of the other representations they know (acceleration-time graph, motion map, verbal description, and mathematical models).

No board meeting at the end of Thursday’s class. Instead, I wrapped with a definition along the lines of “an object in free fall experiences no air resistance, only the force due to gravity” and sent them on their way.

Friday: Free Fall Day 2

On Friday, a student and I launched a ball straight up (using a projectile launcher). From that observation, the students were asked to produce whiteboard models. I gave students 12-15 minutes working in pairs and brought them together for a board meeting after.

The first questions I got included:

  • But we don’t know any values, how are we supposed to create a data table or equation?
  • Should this be a qualitative or quantitative model?
  • Where is x = 0m?

Most boards came in with impeccable kinematics graphs.

When the graphs had mistakes, it was almost always on the velocity-time graph. Here are the two variations.

When confronted with these graphs, students had detailed discussions about how long the ball is at rest at the top of the motion. Does the ball pause for more than a moment? How do we know? Someone pointed to the acceleration graph at a constant a = -9.8 m/s/s as their proof — velocity must change by that amount every second.

This was my first board meeting where other students were able to explain the exact ways in which these are not a representation of the ball launched up. Kids were out there changing their whiteboards in the moment.


Look at the data table in the center — this pair of students, bothered by not knowing v0, opted to make up a value and go from there.


Group 2 here got their graphs right. But if you look closely at their motion map, they believe the acceleration changes direction with the object. Also, they switched to thinking initial velocity is 0 m/s on the more concrete models in the second picture.

But We Still Need More Time

So, after the boards were correct, I had 5 minutes remaining in my last section of Physics 1, so I asked them “An object in free fall’s time in the air is represented by time, t. At what time would it reach the apex?” Though this kind of algebraic representation is new to my 9th graders, most said “1/2t” with confidence.

Yay! They get it! So I followed up with:

“For the launched ball you just modeled, does the ball spend more time going up or more time falling down?”

A variety of answers, no consensus, not a soul says “the times are equal.” I point out how it’s the same question I just asked them mathematically. They push back with all sorts of considerations. Very few students truly believe “the times are equal.”

Then the bell rang.