How I generate science tutorial videos

image of an old film camera

image of listing of some of the videos I have on YouTubeI have been making many video tutorials for my science classes in the last few years, and some folks have asked how I  create them. I have gone through a process of  changes, so I thought I’d present the options I have used to create them.

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Videos of building molecules, and showing chemical reactions, with candy and toothpicks

Image of Ethyl acetate glowing for cover

Following are a couple of videos to provide students with examples of how to solve a couple of tasks in chemistry.

Building chloromethane

Using Lewis dot structures to determine how a molecule will bond.

Ester synthesis from acetic acid and ethanol

The exact mechanism is more complicated than shown here, but the basic atom movement between reactants and products is accurate.

Modeling Instruction and NGSS: Energy as a Crosscutting Concept

NGSS 3D learning logo

At the January 2017 Lasallian Symposium at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA, I presented a short talk describing how Modeling Instruction uses energy as a Crosscutting Concept for implementing the Next Generation Science Standards. You can download a copy of the slides from my talk here.

Video (without narration)

Extra time on quizzes: Why you need individual work

photo of students being loud

Today was a great day.

My students had a short quiz, and I wanted to make sure they all had plenty of time to complete it. I thought it would take them about 20 minutes to finish it (most finished in 15-20 minutes), but wanted to allow plenty of time for students who require ‘extra time’ (whether LD diagnosed and on an IEP or not diagnosed). I set the timer for 30 minutes, and, since my school is a BYOD school (every student has a computer of some kind), I created an assignment on our learning management system (Schoology, see screenshot below).

Before the quiz, I spoke with my students about what I was doing, sharing my concern with being able to provide in-class time for students who need extra time, but not having those who finish quickly sit around waiting for others to finish. Most of them understood and thought this was a good idea.

And, when the moment of truth arrived, when most were done with the quiz, the class was still pretty quiet. No students whispering to each other (well, only occasionally), and most working on their chemistry.

Of course, I should do this all the time, but sometimes I forget. Today was an example of the importance of a complete lesson plan.

Screenshot  of my Schoology assignment

Image of Schoology page with assignment

Classroom photo image source.

The periodic spiral of the elements

traditional periodic table

In working with my students’ perceptions of the periodic table, I wrapped a periodic table around a roll of paper towels. My attempt was to get them to realize that the Alkali metals are actually right next to the Noble gasses. I wasn’t sure if it was working, but in our review leading up to the finals one girl mentioned that it was a spiral–so I guess it’s helping some students.

Others have done this in a flat design (e.g. see P. Fraundorf’s page showing many great designs), but I wanted to show the idea in 3D.

Below is a video showing a periodic table spinning around on a turntable. I recommend downloading the video and using VLC Media Player, Quicktime, or some other viewer that allows you to scroll the video back and forth.

The table I used comes from, a great resource for online and printable periodic tables.

Here are a couple other 3D ‘tables’ that email list folks have let me know about:

Excel spreadsheet for calculating molar masses and percent composition

screenshot of spreadsheet

Over a decade ago I made a Quatro-Pro  spreadsheet to make quick calculations from masses on the periodic table. Well, now Excel rules the roost, so I created a similar version  using Excel. The fundamental element of the spreadsheet is that the cell with each mass is given a name that is the symbol for the element. So, for example, instead of having to remember which cell the mass of oxygen is in (C9, in this case), you only need to type in O.

The only element that doesn’t work with its symbol is carbon. Excel will not allow a cell to be named just “C”, so I had to use “CC” instead.


  • To calculate the mass of water, just type if =h*2+o (letters can be UPPER or lower case)
  • For hydrochloric acid, type =h+cl
  • Copper nitrate: =Cu+N*2+O*6
  • Carbon dioxide =CC+O*2 (this is an example of the carbon exception from above).


screenshot of spreadsheet
Screenshot showing the main “working portion” of the spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet

Video overview

Physics/Chemistry of Espresso Machines: Part 1

Diagram showing how steam and water escape the water tank at two different locations.

Here’s an activity based on observing espresso machines in action. Watch the following video showing the milk steaming container (with a short sidetrack to the espresso pot).

What do you notice about the milk as it steams? Can you explain what is happening?

Diagram showing how steam and water escape the water tank at two different locations.Here are some details of how this espresso machine works:

  • The water boiling tank is filled about ¾ of the way up with water.
  • From the bottom of the water tank, a tube runs upward to the coffee holder, where the water is forced through the coffee grounds and drips down into the espresso pot.
  • At the top of the water tank, a tube leads outside to the steamer jet, which is placed in the milk steaming container.

The answers aren’t here, you need to develop them yourselves 🙂

Hints below ↓










Notice that for the first 20-30 seconds, there are bubbles forming, but after that there are no more bubble forming.

More hints below ↓










What is in the space above the water when the machine first starts? What is in that space after 20-30 seconds?

How do you avoid spending too much time with Twitter?

Twitter bird inside someone's head

OK, I admit it: I can get sucked into the vacuum of social media and find myself having spent more time on it than I desire. Last December, with grades coming due, I decided to take a ‘vacation’ from Facebook. I’ve largely been off it for about seven weeks (I did jump on a few times to arrange my annual birthday dinner), and while there are things I miss (mostly family updates), I’m thinking of continuing my vacation, or maybe just checking in with some of my groups once a week.

Twitter bird inside someone's headBut then there’s Twitter. I largely use Twitter for my professional development. I’m a teacher, and I follow many people/organizations  that provide me with great tools to use in my classroom; and likewise I share many resources with those who follow me. But, how do I avoid getting sucked into this vacuum of learning–I can justify the time spent because the links I follow are mostly valuable.

Some tools I have used:

  • Set myself a time limit (and try to stick to it).
  • Ask myself “Do I really need to follow this link?”
  • Don’t feel bad if I decide to “Unfollow” someone.

What tools/tips do you use/have? Please share yours in the comments below.

Introduction to Modeling Workshops at NSTA in Reno

Yesterday, I lead two short workshops on Modeling Instruction at the National Science Teachers Association area conference in Reno, Nevada. About 30 people attended the first one, and about 20 the second (about half of whom had been at the first one as well). As in many good physics activities, this included going outside (the floor in the conference room was carpeted, so the balls didn’t bounce well on it).

  • In the first workshop, I introduced the Bouncing Ball lab, which offers an introductory activity that focuses on developing students’ understanding of lab design and data analysis.
  • The second workshop introduced the Buggy Lab, that helps students develop a model for constant velocity motion.

Here are my PowerPoint slides: PPTX format with video links on in PDF format.

Here are some images:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

180: Day 26: How does GPS work?

students creating scale models of GPS satellite orbits

Two summers ago I was able to attend the Einstein Plus workshop at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. They provided some great mini-units on ‘Modern Physics’ topics, and I’ve tried to figure out a way to integrate these into my class. This year I realized I could use them as “filler” during our seniors’ Kairos retreats (students are gone for three days, which means I don’t see some of them all week!). I’m pulling out a couple of days worth of work from each unit, and the students who are on the retreat don’t have to make it up (they always have too much to make up anyway). This way, each student will get four mini-units, and miss one.

Today we started Everyday Einstein: GPS & Relativity. Students watch a short video about GPS (8 minutes), then explore uses of GPS, create scale drawings of the GPS satellites above the earth, make some calculations about the time between signal broadcast and its arrival on earth, and finally use an online mapping site to triangulate the position of an object given three cities and distances (would work great for earthquake epicenter location as well). We didn’t get as far as I had hoped, but we can finish the geolocating tomorrow, then start on relativity.

students creating scale models of GPS satellite orbits
Students drawing scale models of the height of GPS satellites vs radius of earth. One group also added the International Space Station, and, with prompting, added the height of the atmosphere.