Curriculum

App Seeks to Take Complexity Out of Teaching Physics

By Gina Cairney — August 12, 2014 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

By guest blogger Gina Cairney

The push to align curricula with 21st century learning, and prepare students for 21st century jobs has prompted what appears to be a huge push for school districts to heavily invest in digital classroom technology.

Past surveys reveal that some teachers aren’t comfortable with technology, while others are hungry for more, raising questions not only about ed tech’s reliability, but educators’ abilities in using the tools effectively, and making it engaging for students.

One organization is attempting to address those concerns of ed-tech uncertainty with an app that developers hope educators will find easy to use, and will engage students and help them master complex physics concepts.

The unofficially-named SciPlay app is a collaborative project between the New York City-based media design firm Local Projects, and SciPlay, a research center launched by the New York Hall of Science in 2010.

After the app is downloaded onto an iPad, students can then record themselves doing an activity, like throwing a ball to a friend, or jumping, according to the Hall of Science’s website. When students play the recorded segment back, they can use the various tools within the app to trace their motion, and use graphs and other data forms to calculate measurements typically associated with physics.

Some New York City schools got an early look at the app, testing the tool on a pre-loaded tablet with their middle school students, according to Harouna Ba, the director of SciPlay.

The finalized version won’t be available until September, said Ba, and it eventually will be available to all grade levels, on devices other than the iPad.

The magazine Fast Company has an extensive piece about the app, which Jake Barton, a designer with Local Projects, calls a “digital noticing tool.”

Making Physics Fun

Ba hopes the app will make physics, a notoriously difficult subject to teach, more accessible to students of all ages by deeply connecting scientific concepts to their physical, natural experiences (like jumping, walking, and throwing a ball).

“Kids might understand what movement is, but they don’t understand the concepts,” said Ba.

Rather than having students passively sit at their desks, the app is designed to get them actively involved in the learning process. (Could this be an approach that schools cutting out recess times from their schedules might consider?)

But what about teachers who are unsure or apprehensive about using digital tools in their classroom?

Ba and Dan Wempa, head of external affairs for the Hall of Science, expressed confidence in the usability of the app by teachers who consider themselves not very tech-savvy.

“The tools aren’t threatening,” said Ba, and the process “doesn’t require heavy lifting, [or the] whole classroom to be changed.”

Unlike an interactive whiteboard, which Ba described as an “invasive tool,” the SciPlay app is designed to fit nicely in, and out of the classroom. It’s “simple to use and we don’t anticipate any major issues that other classroom technology has experienced,” Wempa said.

The app will include a lesson guide, a “teacher hub,” and, according to Wempa, professional development opportunities that can be accessed online, but the app can be used by itself.

“The goal is for the app to be used by anyone,” Ba said, which means making the tool accessible not only inside the classroom, but outside as well.

This expanded access would allow teachers who don’t have the app in-class to encourage students to access and explore the app on their own.

“If you can play Angry Birds, you can handle this,” said Wempa.

But whether the SciPlay app succeeds in the school market or not will depend on if it can deliver on the claims made by its creators: that it will be easy to use, and fun for students.

Images courtesy of Local Projects.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum He Taught About White Privilege and Got Fired. Now He's Fighting to Get His Job Back
Matthew Hawn is an early casualty in this year's fight over how teachers can discuss with students America's struggle with racism.
13 min read
Social studies teacher Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for sharing Kyla Jenèe Lacey's, 'White Privilege', poem with his Contemporary Issues class. Hawn sits on his couch inside his home on August 17, 2021.
Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for lessons and materials he used to teach about racism and white privilege in his Contemporary Issues class at Sullivan Central High School in Blountville, Tenn.<br/>
Caitlin Penna for Education Week
Curriculum What's the Best Way to Address Unfinished Learning? It's Not Remediation, Study Says
A new study suggests acceleration may be a promising strategy for addressing unfinished learning in math after a pandemic year.
5 min read
Female high school student running on the stairs leads to an opportunity to success
CreativaImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Curriculum School Halts Use of Fictional Book in Which Officer Kills a Black Child
Fifth graders in at least one Broward County school were assigned to read a book that critics say casts police officers as racist liars.
Rafael Olmeda, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
5 min read
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Alhadeff told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that she does not feel like the book "Ghost Boys" is appropriate for 5th graders.
Lynne Sladky/AP
Curriculum Opinion Introducing Primary Sources to Students
Five educators share strategies for introducing primary sources to students, including English-language learners.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty