Inquiry Project – Pulse Width Modulator

For my inquiry project, I wanted to create a simple electronic circuit, called a Pulse Width Modulator. I’ve always wanted to make one of these little things. It’s sort of my gateway drug to making cool electronic gadgets. One use for this versatile little item is to dim led lights (not the dimmable kind you buy in the store – that’s no fun). I’d be able to use this with led lights that I use in my photography. The only experience I have that will lend itself to this project is that I know how to solder.

Here is a log of my learning journey. I’ll include some final thoughts at the end.




Want to see it in action? Here’s a small video demonstration.

Pulse Width Modulator Circuit from Michael Roberts on Vimeo.


This project ended in me successfully building a pulse width modulator, but even if I hadn’t gotten it to work, I still would have considered the assignment a success because I was able to experience a real life learning experience. During this assignment, I was constantly aware of my feelings about the experience and conscious of how a student may feel, given the same assignment. That was only possible because I had to learn something that was outside of my area of expertise – that which I’m already qualified to teach. In our teaching careers, it’s not often that we get to recall what it’s like to learn something new.

The History of Photography – A Web Quest

The History of Photography is a very important subject with which students should familiarize themselves. For teaching this topic, I think a web quest would be a great method, since it affords the students an opportunity to a lot of research on their own. For the framework of the web quest, I would use, since it provides a well organized template that includes an introduction, areas to describe the task and process required of the student to complete the web quest, as well as a rubric that they can refer back to, to make sure that they’ve hit all the required points, and then a conclusion. This progression would make the assignment much easier for the students to understand.

In the process section of the web quest, I would provide the following links:

A Photography Timeline

Joseph Nicephore Niepce

Louis Daguerre

George Eastman

Edwin Land

The practical part of the assignment, other than the research, would be to create a timeline which includes 10 events in the history of photography that the student feels were most important, and why they feel that those particular events deserve to be noted above the others. The timeline could take the form of a graphic which includes a line, dates, and pictures of the people or artifacts which made each of the 10 contributions. The timeline could be created in powerpoint or Google Slides (The picture below is a screen grab from one of the Google Slides templates).


The only objects needed to complete this web quest would be a computer or other digital device with an internet connection that the student could use to do the research and the timeline presentation. The classroom would need to be equipped with a similar digital device, internet connection and a projector.

Flipping the Classroom

This post is based on an article by Barbi Honeycutt PhD, entitled Five Time-Saving Strategies for the Flipped Classroom. In it, she tackles the most common reason that teachers give for not employing a flipped classroom technique – time. Many teachers feel that they don’t have time to devise so many new teaching strategies, they don’t have time to record and edit videos, they don’t have time to cover everything on the syllabus, or that the whole concept is just too exhausting. Dr. Honeycutt suggests five helpful tips for easing yourself into a flipped classroom environment.

  1. Find flippable moments – You don’t have to overhaul every lesson and assignment. Start with your existing course and find opportunities to flip the class within it. That way, you’re just concentrating your efforts on a small portion of the course and not exhausting yourself by trying to change it all.
  2. Make small changes – Once you’ve found opportunities to flip, focus on one lesson and employ one flip strategy. It doesn’t have to be the whole class. It can be two minutes of flipped format mixed in with your usual lecture.
  3. Build margins into the lesson plan – Dr. Honeycutt explains that margins are the amount allowed beyond what is needed. So, if it takes you five minutes to dove a problem, give the students ten minutes. If your explaining a new activity, give yourself enough time to explain it three times. If you’re trying out new tech, assume that it won’t work the first time. Build these strategies into your new, flipped lesson plan so that you’re not overwhelmed during the class.
  4. Rethink how your time is defined – If you feel that you don’t have time to plan activities for the flipped classroom, consider this – flipped classroom assignments take time to create, but lectures take time to write also.
  5. Do less, accomplish more – You don’t need to flip every class every day. Dr. Honeycutt says that by flipping only what needs flipping, by stepping back and doing less, your students will accomplish more.

I think this approach holds opportunities for teachers and students alike because it addresses the most common stumbling block on the road to using a flipped classroom. A lot of times, teachers feel that flipping the classroom is an all or nothing approach. As a result, they are unwilling to employ any flipped classroom assignments/lessons at all. Dr. Honeycutt shows us that we can blend flipped classroom assignments and lessons with our more traditional teaching methods. As a result, we can step back more often and let our students take charge of some of their learning, which will provide a more rich learning and teaching experience for all.

To illustrate, consider vegetarianism. Most people who consider becoming a vegetarian feel that it will be too hard. After all, they would have to revamp all of their recipes, start shopping in different places, maybe they think it’s too expensive. As a result, those same people might give up on the idea before they even try it. But if they would apply Dr. Honeycutt’s approach, they may just end up changing some of their eating habits, eating more vegetables with the meals they’ve already grown accustomed to, and replacing the odd lunch with a heathy salad. By making small changes and blending a vegetarian diet with their existing diet, they will feel the benefits of improved nutrition and be less likely to give up.

Student Centered Approaches – The Flip

This is a summary an article by Shelley Wright, entitled The Flip: End of a Love Affair. The title eludes to the fact that Ms. Wright had tried the flipped classroom, but wasn’t satisfied with the results, and so gradually moved on to a different teaching strategy.

So what is “The Flip”, you may ask? The flip refers to the practice of flipping the traditional classroom. Rather than having students listen to lectures in class and then do assignments at home, the students view lectures at home via the internet and the class time is spent doing assignments and projects based on the knowledge gained.

Ms. Wright began by using the flipped classroom sparingly, not moving completely away from a teacher-centered classroom right away. When she did begin to change her classroom to one of student-centered learning, she did so by helping the students to develop research skills, finding and assessing sources and peer collaboration. In other words, she helped them learn to learn. Over time, it was no longer necessary for her to prepare resources for the students. They had learned to find their own resources, and so, as Ms. Wright puts it, “the flip simply disappeared from our classroom”.

Ms. Wright lists four reasons why she would never employ the flip in her classroom again. (1) She dislikes giving students homework, as she is a proponent of Alfie Kohn’s book The Homework Myth. (2) She believes that a video lecture is still a lecture,and as such, does not encourage students to take ownership of their own learning. (3) She wants her students to own their learning and prefers to do so via a framework that employs three questions – What are you going to learn? How are you going to learn it? How are you going to show me your learning? (4) She believes that her students must be able to find and critically evaluate their own resources, rather than relying on her to do so.

So, how did this play out in a practical way? She gives an example of the Stoichiometry unit of her chemistry class. She explained to her students that they had ten concepts to learn by the end of the eight week semester. Each concept built on the next, so there was a specific route that needed to be followed in order for it all to make sense, but the students were encouraged to work at their own pace, work with other students of their choice who were working on the same concepts at the same time, find and evaluate their own resources. All of this was done with the teacher acting as facilitator. She was able to talk to every student every day, look at their work, have them articulate their thinking process and see where they needed extra help. The difference was that the students were developing an understanding of how stoichiometry works, rather than memorizing equations and regurgitating facts.

In conclusion, my feeling is that Ms. Wright’s current way of teaching is simply the logical outcome of employing The Flip – the natural evolution. I feel that it would be difficult to start with an inquiry and problem-based learning (PBL) classroom structure without first employing a traditional flipped classroom. The move from the flip to an inquiry and PBL classroom seems to be a question of the degree of scaffolding provided by the teacher. Once the scaffolding is no longer needed, the inquiry & PBL classroom structure will naturally emerge.

Would you agree that this was an evolution? Would it be practical to skip the flip and move straight to an inquiry & PBL classroom?