Maps, Apps and Docs – How I re-imagined teaching Heat

Technology is a gift to education, but one that with poor training is not necessarily used appropriately. For example research has suggested that using computers to take notes is less effective than hand writing them. Another example I have noted that students often like the tactile feel and use of ABCD cards as opposed to using digital voting systems. They can also be quicker and allow the class to flow better.

Thus when writing my final project I tried to bear in mind that technology was only useful when utilized well, and not over used. Some lessons rely heavily on technology whereas some have token uses (simple replacement of writing on paper for convenience). The unit is also light on advanced computer skills as this is a start of year unit. It applies technology in a way to make the lessons flow better, to increase the ease of collaboration, add depth to learning and to allow students to develop their low level skills (particularly the use of spreadsheets for data collection and manipulation). This was one of my aims for the outset as I noted last year that many students at my school, although savvy in the use of a social media, are unable to perform simple tasks on a spreadsheet program.

The unit I chose to reimagine was the Heat unit. This is a grade 10 (15-16 years) unit and has connections to IB and AP courses. Heat can be an obscure topic to learn, mostly because you can’t see it, and there is a need to rely on tools such as thermometers to detect or measure it. Technology therefore has a potentially powerful role in this topic. It allows you to visualize what heat is better through use of graphing or simulation software.


Phet simulations ( are an incredible resource for science teachers to demonstrate concepts which are impossible to see or difficult to replicate in the lab.

The unit plan explores six main areas:

  • Temperature
  • Heat and Thermal Energy
  • Thermal energy transfer
  • Latent and Specific Heat capacities
  • Calorimetry
  • Gas Laws


The Plan

You will find all other documents required linked off the Unit Planner. Note also there is no rubric as at my school this needs to be something the entire department uses and so I need to collaborate to create it. The summative written assessment is also not written up. This is to allow the teacher more flexibility in creating an assessment that meets the needs of the class they are teaching.


Technology Integration

Before this project this unit had little in terms of tech integration. Much of the lab work was still present but there was little in terms of collaboration between students.  Data tables were hand written, and student choice had a small part to play. The main tech integration was simulation.


Writing this unit one of the most important things I learned was of the potential power in science of crowd sourcing data.

Students all contribute data, leaving the class with a large amount of varied and well tested data. This can help reduce rushing and allows all students to end up with workable data.

Students all contribute data, leaving the class with a large amount of varied and well tested data. This can help reduce rushing and allows all students to end up with workable data.

The use of Google Sheets allows an entire class to contribute towards the same set of data. As a result it prompts discussion points during class surrounding accuracy and precision. In the past if students have collected poor data, its ok, but then they don’t see the ‘true’ trends (although they can continue to conclude, they just end up with the wrong ‘answer’, which isn’t what we care about anyway). Through crowdsourcing data if one group of students collect poor data, its only one set in many. It provides an opportunity to explore outlier calculations, and think more thoughtfully about conclusions. An assessment I might consider in the future is to use the set of data collected in order to write an analysis.


Another exciting tech integration in this unit is the use of ‘Explain Everything’ (LINK).

YouTube Preview Image

Video created by the Office of Distance Education & eLearning at The Ohio State University.

This is an app for both Android and Ipad that allows students to record videos and then annotate them on the screen. I first saw it utilized last year when a colleague used it in her Biology class and presented the outcome to the high school. The app allows students to explain what they are seeing in an easy and instructive manner. In this unit it is used to create four videos which answer obscure questions surrounding thermal energy transfer. Providing a narrative forces students to think about how they are describing the science. Potentially peer assessment could be used to encourage students to have students give feedback to other students. These videos can be uploaded to the school YouTube! channel for the students to watch and revise from later.


The last use of technology that I like, although not revolutionary in terms of the educational gains, is the use of MyMaps to practice temperature conversion.

An example MyMaps ( that I created for my holiday last year. These can be useful for students who might be looking at something which varies from place to place.

An example MyMaps ( that I created for my holiday last year. These can be useful for students who might be looking at something which varies from place to place.

In the past for practicing temperature conversions I have simply put a list of temperatures up on the board and students have converted. It is an easy task, but a forgettable and frankly boring one. The use of MyMaps is not going to boost the speed at which students learn this skill. What MyMaps will do is make it more memorable, and enable students to engage with the task more. Students get to choose locations, find them on the map, search the current temperature and then convert to Kelvin. The skill of converting is supplemented by search and geographical skills. It also opens the doors to other things I would like to do this year. During Learning 2.0 ASIA in 2015 (Manila) I attended a session run by students, where their teacher had used mapping sites to write about ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger. I thought this was a great way to integrate technology into the classroom, and was jealous at the ease at which this technology was used. My integration isn’t as good, but it is the beginning of a development to show students how science is a global effort. For example:

  • Students pick a scientist they respect and write something about them. They can use MyMaps to place where they lived or worked and link to a blog post where they have written about the scientist and why they respect them.
  • In the renewable energy topic student could use MyMaps to describe the effects climate change will have on that region.

These are simple changes but make the learning more real, simply by placing it on a map.



This unit has two main summative assessment pieces:


The ‘Explain Everything’ video created by students. Assessed via rubric.

Students have their own copy of the rubric, which is placed into their Hapara folder. Comments and grades are distributed via this to students.


A short, 20 minute quiz to take place a few lessons after the end of the unit.

The quiz will be conducted online, using a Google Form. In order to ensure that students do not cheat by using web search or social media to communicate, they will be using a website of my own device to prevent this.


If students deviate from the website, the color to the right of their name (on the left hand screen) will turn red and their screen can freeze. This requires intervention to unfreeze, prompting a discussion of how the screen came to be frozen.

Students log into the site using a code generated by my computer. Their browser window is then controlled by my browser window, and I can see when the students are not on the correct page and freeze their tabs. I still try to have students facing so I can see their screens, but mostly this method has been successful over the past year and a half (and has saved me a LOT of paper!).

Flubaroo is used to auto grade much of the numerical work students submit. This also allows me to write comments by students answers, and to write a mark scheme that students receive. It sends students their results via email, and generally makes the grading process much easier.


Formative assessment is conducted throughout.

  • The use of Google Forms to collect data allows me to quickly find out where students are struggling, and so is used at several points throughout the unit.
  • Google Docs and Sheets allows me to comment directly on student work and initiate a dialogue about their work.
  • ‘ABCD’, ‘Thumbs up’ and ‘Five fingers’ (where your understanding is on a 5 finger scale) are also utilized throughout.

Typically when planning I find it best not to be too prescriptive in the region of formative assessment as each teacher and class have their own preferences for this. I have included what I would do in the unit plan though I would hope this is modified by class to suit the teacher and/or students.


Stupid Question Competitions

Coming from a school in rural England, the students in South East Asia are very quiet. They mistake this in part for being respectful (I feel it is disrespectful not to offer an answer if you know it!), but some are simply scared to be wrong. When I joined this school one of my colleagues told me:

“If a Korean students answers a question incorrectly, no other Korean student will attempt it, as it will be seen as disrespectful if they then answer it correctly.”

Whilst I have not found this to be universally true, it does follow that after a string of incorrect answers, a class will stop trying. Students who answer incorrectly may not put their hand up again unless prompted.

In terms of asking questions students are similarly more reserved. Students do not want to appear to be wrong and so do not ask questions they feel are stupid, or that feel that they should know already. Stupid question competitions are a way around this, as it becomes a positive thing for the question to be stupid, and if the question is good you can praise that also. It also unleashes some students’ creativity in how they can think of a subject in a stupid way. The general way I run these is:

  • Students have post it notes throughout the lesson, and they are free to write a stupid question as and when they think of it. Max of one per student usually (some students can think of MANY genuinely stupid questions which just takes too much time!).
  • Near the end of the lesson I collect these and categorize them as ‘related and stupid’, ‘unrelated and stupid’, ‘good questions’ and ‘jokes’.
  • At the end of the lesson I read through and answer the ‘related and stupid’ and ‘good questions’ and we vote on the stupidest question. Sometimes, if time allows (and if good quality), I will read some of the ‘jokes’ if they are related to the topic.

I will be sure to publish a blog post during the year with some of my favorites. House points are awarded to the stupidest question (by class vote) and at the end of each quarter a bigger prize is awarded to the question voted the most stupid. I started this tradition last year and it has had a very positive effect on the weaker students’ frequency in asking legitimate questions.



At the end of writing this unit I think there are a few things I want to do moving forward:

  1. Expand my Twitter base. Using Twitter to source real time information is a powerful tool. A year ago I asked students to vote on what the SSIS Physics twitter name and tag should be, and they voted for #PhySSIS. I intend to try and get this account more followers so, when we need to crowd source world data, we can do it much more easily and in real time.
  2. Explore the Google Apps more. As my school is a ‘Google School’ it makes sense to try and use Google Applications where available. This will also help build my portfolio to complete my Google Teacher training.

I teach this unit in abut two weeks time. I will write a summary blog to show how it went, and share the YouTube! channel with the videos.

The most important thing I learned planning this unit is to let technology integration be seamless, and not pushed in for the sake of it. I found myself asking the question ‘Why did I choose to use Google forms here’ at several points. Sometimes ABCD cards are easier and more fun. Students also may not appreciate the hassle of going to the effort of getting to a Google form when they can just wave a card in the air and have a bit of fun with it (putting all ABCD cards up at once – the answer is definitely in one of them right?).

Here’s to the start of a great new academic year!

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  1. Alex Bunting says:

    Lesson 1 Brief Reflection:

    The mymaps task was pretty good! The students were into it and in one block found lots of cool places 🙂

    In general there was too much talk this lesson. I think the activities worked in introducing the topic and being an ‘easy’ and interesting first lesson – but there was too much me time. This was something I had imagined when I wrote it but struggled to reduce it. Having taught it I think there is necessity to do so. Possible ways this could be achieved:

    – Have students split into groups and research Farenheit, Celcius and Kelvin. Could use the mymap to write about where they went, what they did there etc. Could you GSlides to produce a quick presentation on each of them. This might take a little while though…

    – Use of card sorts to distinguish between the different temperature scales, although also this could be used to start the next lesson (will write these and add to blog).

    And for other things:

    – I think for the temperature scale activity we need some flat thermometers we can actually stick on the cards. Its a cool activity but actually making them useful would be cool.

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