We can argue that good teaching doesn’t need technology, and I’m going to agree with that. There lots of really powerful learning opportunities you can do with students that require no technology at all. In fact, if it works better without the technology, don’t use it. You are just introducing the risk that the technology will fail and your lesson will flop.

However, there are some things you cannot do without technology, and they are interesting and engaging learning opportunities for your students.

For example, I want my students to understand that when a ball bounces, the heights of each bounce closely match an exponential function. We’ve talked before how they match a decreasing geometric sequence, but I want them to really see and understand this phenomena.

So I had students first video record a ball bouncing, and then use this video recording to accurately record the heights of each bounce. Students did their recordings, and right away had questions. Here’s an example.

The thing is, you can’t accurately find the heights of the bounces without technology. Trust me, I’ve tried. I’ve had students measure with meter sticks and do 10 trials and find the mean of the heights, and all sorts of other tricks, but every time there is at least one group with really bad data. Data which makes the whole point of doing the exercise useless. You really only need to learn the lesson about experimental error a few times before you either give up, or find better ways of collecting your data.

Here are some examples of what the students did to find the heights of the bounces. What I found interesting is that they didn’t really use new technology to do their measurements, they relied on what they knew how to do, which is measuring with a ruler. So I would say this activity so far is a mixture of new technology and very, very old technology.

Notice the student (in the photo below) is using stickie notes to keep track of different positions of the ball at different times. I really thought this was a creative way to help make the measurement taking easier.

Here a student is measuring the distance directly with their ruler. At this point we had a great conversation about what this measurement meant. The question the student asked was, how do I find the actual distance the ball travelled during a bounce? She answered herself, and realized she could use the scale of the relationship between the height they dropped the ball on the screen, and the real world height. I pointed out that they could save themselves some effort, because the relationships between the bounces (what we were interested in) did not depend on the actual heights of the bounces, only on their relative heights.

So what we see a mixture of technologies the students are using and some obvious opportunities for learning to occur.

The technology is sometimes necessary to teach a particular concept in a constructivist way. In this case, the technology greatly increases the accuracy of the measurements the student is making. It makes enough of a difference that in the regression analysis the students did (using a spreadsheet program which is another useful technology) all of the students discovered that an exponential function is the best fit function for their data.

To make this point even more obvious, check out this high speed video footage of a drop of water landing in a pool of water.

You can’t see this phenomena clearly without technology to slow down time for us. It just isn’t possible. Some things worth learning in schools are impossible without using the appropriate technology.

## Scott says:

But even using this technology is just an update of an existing, older, technology.

I have a very distinct memory of sitting in Physics class in high school (some 20-odd years ago) and watching a video about how to figure out the rate of speed and acceleration of an object by using film. Since each frame of film from a movie camera was 1/24 of a second, they could film an object dropping from a height and figure out its speed and acceleration by calculating how far it fell in 1/24 of a second, or each frame of film.

The technology has been around for a while, it’s just that today’s version makes it much easier for students to be hands on with the concept.

January 12, 2011 — 2:24 pm

## David Wees says:

Yeah that is true. Instead of having to wait to develop the film, students can painlessly (and cheaply) record their data and be viewing it on their computers literally within seconds. The way I see it, as long as students don’t have to wait too long to move between collecting the data and processing the data, there is a good chance that they will see that the video is a representation of what they witnessed, rather than some abstraction which interferes with their understanding of the concept.

January 12, 2011 — 2:51 pm

## John says:

This is great. I love that you are getting the kids to discover their own ways of making these measurements. But after they do this, you might want to show them things like logger pro’s video analysis features, or video physics for iOS, which can film and do the analysis on the phone, or the java based Tracker video analysis. .

January 13, 2011 — 9:04 pm

## David Wees says:

Yeah you are right, there are some much better tools for video analysis. I don’t actually do a tremendous amount of this, and although I know how to use the first two tools you’ve mentioned, I shy away from introducing tools to the students that we’ll probably only use once.

Now if I had more control over my curriculum and could teach more the way I want to teach, I would totally grab one of those tools and do a lot more video analysis because it really is fascinating.

January 13, 2011 — 9:26 pm