Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wednesday's power outage at school...

was a bit of a disappointment, actually. Power cuts at school typically happen in the late morning or early afternoon in conjunction with wild, windy, stormy weather. Wednesday, the power was off at the beginning of the day.

No worries. I deployed Operation: PowerOn!

I'm lucky enough to have permanent access to a lab set of MacBooks: 10 laptops on a charging cart (a lasting legacy of Digital High School). The school purchased The Mechanical Universe High School Adaptation on VHS circa 1990, and repurchased the set on DVD a few years ago. I was able to rip each episode (via Handbrake and VLC), turn them into QuickTime files, and load them onto each laptop. (This also comes in handy when a student misses the in-class presentation and needs to make it up at lunch or after school.)

We have a class set of headphones and signal splitters for use during computer-based sound wave labs. Three splitters will turn one stereo jack into four, so four students can watch one laptop screen and listen to their presentation without being distracted by the other computers' audio programs.

It worked flawlessly: the class spent the first 20 minutes of class watching "The Wave Nature of Light" and answering questions from the video sheets I give out when we watch this episode in class under normal circumstances.

In truth, the power came on about 10 minutes in and I could have aborted Operation: PowerOn. But sometimes the return of power is fleeting and uncertain: it's up, then it's down, and back up. I didn't see any need to take a chance when the contingency plan was going so well.

Operation: PowerOn successfully negotiates the power cut conditions: No AC means no projecting and no surfing the Interwebs. The room is dark, illuminated by whatever light comes in through the windows. But charged laptops can last for hours.

Had the power remained out, we had a PhET activity lined up, and since I loaded the full PhET installation on each laptop, no Internet connection was needed.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit to some sense of smug satisfaction that comes from being prepared for such an outage. But I hate feeling powerless when the power goes out or surrendering the time to waste. And my students were great about it; no complaints of having to do a physics lesson when the lights were out. They jumped on it and completed the lesson like pros.

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