April 9, 2019

Using Geogebra within Moodle to Give Physics Students Instantaneous Feedback

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

Traditionally, Physics students work with pencil and paper on Physics assessments. In recent semesters, I have been using GeoGebra and Moodle to provide opportunities for my students to interact with Physics-related content and get instantaneous feedback. These tools allow me to better monitor whether they have integrated the learning objectives of my classes and track the friction points, and has ultimately helped to improve their performance in my courses.

How I use Geogebra in my classes

GeoGebra is an open-source platform aimed at mathematics education, which means it is built around functions, rather than algorithms. The tool displays functions and allows students to play with them in a particularly visual manner. It is primarily used by math teachers, but I have been using this visual functionality for my Physics classes.

Over the last several years, I have moved my Physics teaching from a traditional lecture format to an active learning approach. I use the Geogebra platform in different ways, firstly to demonstrate Physics concepts. However, I also have developed a series of short Geogebra activities which students can use both for group and individual work, and for both formative and summative evaluations.

Often in active learning classes, students can move onto the next activity segment without realizing they have the wrong answer, and although the teacher reviews, the feedback is not proximal enough for maximum impact. It is therefore important for students to get their answers right, and to get quick feedback on those answers, since each new concept builds incrementally on prior knowledge. GeoGebra allows students to manipulate the problems and solve them visually.  The graphical representation that the platform affords also allows them to work with in Physics context.

I started creating my own applications in GeoGebra less than six months ago and have already developed a fair amount of content. To date I have developed about 30 mini-assessments, covering topics like free body diagrams, from mechanics, electricity and magnetism.

An example of a Circular Motion question that uses GeoGebra

One of the areas my students were having difficulty with is the E field from equipotentials. I created a GeoGebra script to help teach this concept and assigned a similar but different exercise for a test. I noted a marked improvement in my students compared to to previous years. I think it is helping them.

Immediate Feedback

In a traditional approach in Physics, students might draw three body diagrams on paper. They will only receive feedback once the teacher has had a chance to review their work, and this can only happen once the student has submitted their work.

With my current approach that uses GeoGebra, students receive immediate feedback on the sort of activities that they are doing. While they are manipulating a graphic, they see whether they have provided the best answer or not, since certain scripts I use mark the student instantly. This is really the major reason that I chose to start working with GeoGebra. The instant feedback is fantastic!

I’ve found that the learning curve for students is very short because I have tried to make the interface very intuitive. Usually, I just need to show them once how to manipulate the GeoGebra app, for example demonstrating how to pull vector arrows out of the free body so that they see how it works.

Integration with Moodle

An example of a GeoGebra app inside Moodle.

I have integrated everything with Moodle so that every student has to answer with their own account, whether they are working in groups or individually. This is important, because in some group activities, certain individuals might not integrate the learning objectives. One of the strengths of setting up the system this way is that the teacher can check on student progress and see what they are getting right and what they are getting wrong.

If I see that there are friction points, I can attack the problem differently with my teaching in order to make sure that they have understood.

Screenshot of the setup in Moodle. The teacher has to import a GeoGebra file (.ggb), which is downloaded from the GeoGebra site. Make sure that the ‘selfgrade activity’ is checked.

At Vanier, we use DECclic’s Moodle services, and with DECclic’s setup, the GeoGebra app can be installed as an external tool. This means that scores calculated in GeoGebra can be  imported into the Moodle Gradebook. Note that the communication between the platforms is very specific: A Geogebra variable called ‘grade’ (small ‘g’, 0<grade<1) must be defined as the score. You have to click  the ‘self-grade’ box in the GeoGebra external tool setup in Moodle, and make sure the grade point is set to 1 [to match the information coming from Geogebra]. In other instances of Moodle, it is possible to use GeoGebra as a Moodle Quiz type, which allows for more, and two-way, variable passing.

Open source community

GeoGebra is open source software which has a whole community of educators developing scripts. I really like this community aspect of GeoGebra. GeoGebra started and is based in Spain, so there is a particularly dynamic international group of users.

As for other platforms, authors can make content private while it’s in development and then open them up to collaborators and share the final product with others. Because GeoGebra is open source and non-commercial, anyone can copy public apps into their own GeoGebra account and modify the app to match their own needs. Terminology and symbols might differ from one discipline or context to another, but the ability to easily modify existing content makes it very powerful.

There is already a lot out there in GeoGebra for Physics, but these apps are mostly simulations for teacher demonstration rather than mini-assessments for students. Even though the scripts are mostly simulations, they were still helpful for me to gather ideas on things that might work for my assessments. For example, a vector app developed by a math teacher in the US  was easily repurposed for free body diagrams in my class.

Tips for editing your first Geogebra scripts

The best way to get started is to get an account and then just look and see what the GeoGebra community has made available. You can make a copy of existing scripts and play around with them.

I like that GeoGebra makes it easy for teachers to do simple simulations. Initially, the platform was made for math, and you have to get used to working with functions rather than algorithms.

My first few scripts took a while to develop (and I found some aspects of the platform a bit clunky),  but once you have developed a script, you can easily copy and tweak the next ones. Once you understand that it is about functions and variables, rather than classic programming or scripting, you get the hang of it. It does not take that much time for me to create my apps now.

If you want to get heavy into the programming with JavaScript, you can. But if you don’t have time, you can just use the integrated GeoGebra scripting (simple scripting). I have mostly worked with the GeoGebra script, which just doesn’t do recursive iteration as you would expect in regular programming, which is limiting.

To make things easier for your students, my tip is to make sure to provide enough communication to them within the GeoGebra applications, for instance, by labeling relevant objects. You can also make sure that you provide thorough instructions in Moodle  to tell them exactly what they need to do.

Getting others involved with Geogebra and Moodle

My next step is to get other teachers involved with GeoGebra because I think it is a fantastic tool. At Vanier, Stephen Newbigging is using GeoGebra within the math department where it is particularly interesting for use in math simulations.

I am hoping to recruit some new colleagues in Physics so that we can create a community and share the scripts we are working on. This is one of the reasons that I am planning to present what I have been doing with GeoGebra at the 2019 SALTISE conference. Hopefully we will get a core group of people interested in developing things. If more teachers were involved in producing materials and sharing them, this would be even more powerful!

Editor’s note

For an introduction to the GeoGebra platform, please view Charles Laporte’s Digital Tool article on GeoGebra

About the author

Kevin Lenton

He is a Physics Teacher who has been at Vanier College for the last 11 years. For the last 7 years, he has been organizing pedagogical activities in active learning classrooms. Thanks to PAREA grants, he works in collaboration with teachers from other colleges to improve the integration of technology into the classroom. His research team studies how students are using the technology. He is also active as a member of the executive committee of SALTISE, an organization that promotes new pedagogies in the classroom. Kevin is a member of the Editorial Committee of Profweb and an occasional contributor.

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