Technology’s in the hands of physics studentsThe opening minutes of physics classes at Woodbury High School have changed a little over the last few weeks.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
The opening minutes of physics classes at Woodbury High School have changed a little over the last few weeks.
Elements remain the same: students enter the classroom, pull out a chair, place their bag on the table, remove their textbook, and place pens and paper on their desk.
And that’s the point where you’d notice a change in the ritual.
Instead of pulling their trusty graphical calculators out of the bag next, students in physics teacher Rick Light’s classes are instead reaching upwards, for several dozen handheld touch screen computer devices from overhead storage.
The Nova5000 devices, which Light has had for almost a year now but only began introducing to students in earnest last month, are used by students to perform calculations, draw graphs, access the physics class website and check answers.
He says they are now used in all of his classes — and students have been quick to take to the new technology.
“It’s really, really good and helpful,” said senior Emily Wilson. “I would recommend it because it takes that busy work out of the experiments, and it’s more interactive to use.”
Light says he began investigating how the physics classes could introduce more technology after he was told there was spare money to upgrade (as a result of a technology bond passed in 2006) when the science rooms were redesigned.
When he came across the Nova5000 devices, he thought they would be perfect for his physics class.
“[They] said, ‘Dream big,’ so I did, and they came through,” he said, smiling.
“In 25 years of teaching, I’ve never had anyone say dream big to me before, and come through.”
As well as performing the same functions as a graphical calculator (Advantage: it doesn’t matter if students forget their own, as they often do, according to Light), the computer devices also work with a number of hi-tech add-ons, such as the distance probe demonstrated at a class Thursday, Oct. 2.
It measures the distance between a moving object and the sensor, recording data up to 25 times a second, and instantaneously plotting a graph on the touch screen.
“When I went through my physics courses 25 years ago, it was ticker tape in the labs, and students now can do the same thing in five seconds that it took me days to do,” said Light.
“Why not use the technology that will allow them to analyze the data and not force them to do the drudgery of getting the data?”
His students are in firm agreement with that line of thinking.
“It’s made things a lot easier,” said Brian Sessions, who is thinking of studying engineering at college. “It’s nice to see a visual graph being made for you right on the spot, rather than having to draw it yourself.
“It’s a lot more efficient and visual. Some of the stuff could take hours to do, but it takes a couple of second to do, so it makes it a lot more efficient.”
One of the other, less obvious advantages that Light has discovered relates to the connectivity of the devices.
They’re all linked in to his master computer, located at his desk up front, which means he can view on one screen what each student is doing around the room.
And that, says Light, means less wasted time and distractions.
“All the new [Texas Instruments graphical calculators] have games on them, so the students are always playing games,” explained Light.
“I have a much tighter control on that [with the computer devices] because I can see what they are all doing on them from here.”
He says he is using the Nova5000s at about 75 percent of their capacity right now, and hopes to introduce multiple choice polling (in the style of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”) and have students complete tests on them.
Light believes Woodbury High School is the only school in Minnesota to be using the Nova5000 devices to date and says it has been a steep learning curve for him since the district acquired the technology.
He suggests parents, teachers and school administrators are likely to be won over by the sheer economics of the system, if nothing else.
Although the devices each require an initial investment of $500, Light predicts that could potentially be recouped over time if the school opted to have students access textbooks (each costing $100) through the Nova5000s rather than purchasing physical books, for example.
As teachers at Woodbury High School have also been instructed to cut down on paper wherever possible, the handheld computer devices come into their own, enabling students to access PDFs rather than worksheets for each lab they take, and even allowing students to write essays using a handwriting recognition program.
In short, the future’s bright — and it’s in the hands of Woodbury’s physics students.