Wikipedia in your classroom

CC BY-SA 3.0,

We’ve done a good job training our students: ask them if they can use Wikipedia for research and you will hear a resounding no. They can even give good reasons for saying no: it’s full of mistakes, anyone can edit it, it’s not reliable, etc. Here’s the only problem with that: Wikipedia is not full of mistakes, not anyone can edit it and it actually is pretty reliable. So how can you use it responsibly with your students? Here are some quick tips you can use in your classroom.


Checking for Accuracy

Is there inaccurate information on Wikipedia? Sure there is but luckily there is a very easy way to distinguish between the good and not-so-good pages.

Open up any page on Wikipedia and check in the top left corner, you will see 2 tabs: article and talk. The talk tab is full of useful information and it also tells you how good a page is. Almost every page on Wikipedia has a quality ranking, if you find a page that doesn’t have one don’t use it because you don’t know how accurate it is. The example below has a B-class rating, so what does that actually mean?

Quality rating of Wikipedia pages

You can find out by clicking any of the [show] links on the right to see more details, go ahead and click it. One of the things you see now is a link to the quality scale, go ahead and click that as well. This next page should make you very happy: a rubric that shows the different quality levels. Want even more? Go ahead and click the [show] link for any level in the rubric. You will notice that the criteria for “Featured Article,” “A” and “Good Article” are pretty strict and most articles in the top three bands of the rubric actually passed an impartial peer review. This link shows you an example of a quality rubric on Wikipedia. Only about 0.1% of all articles on Wikipedia reach “Featured Article” status and only about 1% of articles on Wikipedia are in one of the top 3 bands.

Keep It Simple

Wikipedia is available in 284 different languages and dialects. One of these languages is called “Simple English” and all the articles on this version of Wikipedia are written in basic English. What this means is that these pages are written using only the most basic English words. The articles on this version of Wikipedia aren’t subject to the same level of scrutiny as the pages on the regular English version but it’s a great starting point for younger readers and ELL students.

Creative Commons

One of the great things about Wikipedia is that all of the media you find on Wikipedia is in the Creative Commons. That’s not all, Wikipedia also provides a portal to help you search for all these things: Wikimedia. Want more? Wikimedia also provides correct attribution for each picture. For more on Wikimedia and other ways to find images check this post.

Things to try

  • If you still think Wikipedia is full of mistakes find a Wikipedia page that students might use for your class and make sure it has a mistake. See if students can find the mistake as well.
  • If there is a mistake challenge students to edit the page and fix the mistake.
  • Have students add missing information to a page.

Reaction Timer


Today’s goal is to create a simple reaction timer using the Arduino. You will learn how to use a button as an input, how to use while loops, how to declare and use variables and how to use the Serial Monitor.

Screen Shot 2017-09-02 at 11.01.40 AM


For the reaction timer you will build 2 separate circuits: one circuit with a button and one circuit with an LED. Both circuits can be seen in the picture. You know how the LED circuit works be we are going to have a closer look at the button circuit.

The two left legs of the button are connected together internally and the two right legs of the button are connected together internally. This means that when the button isn’t pressed pin 3 is connect to GND through a 10K resistor. The resistor is important because it prevents a short-circuit when you press the button. When the button is pressed pin 3 gets connected to 5V and you can use the Arduino software to detect this.

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 10.52.19 AM


When declaring a variable you have to include 2 things: the type and the name of the variable, all of our variables are integers.

Serial.begin(9600) allows us to use the serial monitor to display messages on the computer screen. Serial.println(” …”) is used to actually print messages on the screen.

All the while statements are used to wait for something to happen with the button. The empty curly braces {} after the while statement tell the Arduino to do nothing as long as the condition in the while statement is true.

The millis() command gives the time since the Arduino was turned on. We record this time when the LED turns off and again when the button is pressed. The difference between those 2 times gives us the reaction time.


Basic Mindstorms Sensors

Before you start experimenting with the sensors you should have a basic background information about how the sensors work. We will be looking at two basic sensors: the touch sensor and the ultrasonic sensor.

Langlands, Rob. “Lego Mindstorms EV3 Touch Sensor.” 2018. jpeg file

Touch sensor


The touch sensor has a button at the front that can be pressed. When the button is pressed the sensor sends a signal to the EV3 brick, the EV3 brick can then use this signal to make decisions about what it wants to do next.

You can think of the touch sensor as a light switch, when the switch is on (button is pressed) the light is on (signal to the brick). When the switch is off (button is not pressed) the light is off (no signal to the brick).

When you use the sensor in the Mindstorms program you will see there are three options for the touch sensor:

  • 0 (Released) – The button is not being pushed
  • 1 (Pressed) – The button is being pushed
  • 2 (Bumped) – The button has to be pushed first and then released
Langlands, Rob. “Lego Mindstorms EV3 Ultrasonic Sensor.” 2018. jpeg file

Ultrasonic sensor

The ultrasonic sensor looks like it has eyes and it can use these eyes to “see” what’s in front of it. The ultrasonic sensor can’t really see but it there is an obstacle in front of it the sensor can measure how far away the obstacle is.

The ultrasonic uses the same principle bats use to sense their environment: echolocation. The sensor sends out sound that we can’t hear (ultrasonic) and measures how long it takes for that sound to bounce of an obstacle and come back to the sensor. It then uses that time to calculate a distance.

There are different settings for using the ultrasonic sensor in the Mindstorms software, for this class you will always measure distance in centimeters (cm).


Controlling 2 LEDs


The goal is to build a circuit with 2 LEDs. Each LED has to be able to be controlled independently using the Arduino.


For this to work you have to build 2 independent circuits, one for each LED. Notice how both LEDs share the same ground (GND) but the plus side of each LED is connected to a different digital port on the Arduino. It’s important that each LED is connected to its own digital port on the plus side, this is the only way to control each LED individually. When pin 7 is set to HIGH current will flow through the LED and the resistor to ground and it won’t have any effect on the LED connected to pin 8.

Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 10.30.47

CodeScreen Shot 2018-09-11 at 10.58.53

Setup is used to declare pin 7 and pin 8 as outputs so we can use them to control the LEDs.

The loop is used to make the LEDs blink, when the first LED is on, the second LED is off and vice versa. LEDs are on for half a second before switching. There is no delay between turning off pin 7 and turning on pin 8, this makes it seem like it’s happening at the same time.

Have a good look at the code and make sure you understand what happens when the code ends the loop and starts over again.


  • Make both LEDs blink at the same time
  • Add more LEDs and make patterns
  • Add more LEDs and make them go on and off randomly
  • Make a set of (safe) traffic lights



Images and Copyright

By Carlos ZGZ [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
We’ve all done it, we’ve all used Google to find images and then stuck those pictures into presentations, lab reports and posters. If it’s on Google I can just use it, right? Wrong! What most of us don’t realize is that most of the pictures we find on Google are protected by Copyright. We could have long discussions about things like “fair use” and citing sources but the bottom line is that there is only one way to make sure you are not violating any Copyright laws when using images from the internet: Use Creative Commons images and attribute them correctly. Alternatively you can always use your own images.

That sounds like a lot of work!

It might sound like a lot of work but it doesn’t have to be. There are some great resources out there to help you find and correctly attributing images you find online. Have a look at the different options, give them a try and see which one works for you.

1. Photos For Class

Photos For Class is definitely the easiest option for finding Creative Commons images and attributing them correctly. Just enter a search term, click “Find Photos” and you will be presented with Creative Commons images from different sites that match your search term. 1555348 When you download one of the images the correct attribution is automatically added in a black bar at the bottom of the image, it does all the work for you! The attribution is part of the image so you are not able to select the text if you want to copy it.

+ Good range of search results
+ Attribution is embedded in image
+ Search results are filtered for school
– Attribution is not editable

2. Wikimedia

I love Wikipedia, it’s a great source for all kinds of information. Even if you don’t want students using Wikipedia for research you should encourage them to use it to find images because all images you see on Wikipedia are licensed as Creative Commons. All these images are hosted on Wikimedia and Wikimedia also helps with citing the images correctly.

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 13.40.45
Screenshot of Wikimedia page. Image: CC BY 2.0,

Just go to Wikimedia Commons, enter your search term in the top right box, hit enter and you will get all the images that are available on Wikimedia. Clicking an image will open an image browser and give you the option to download, when you download Wikimedia will tell you if you need to attribute the author. If you need an attribution for your image just click “Show me how” and you will be presented with the correct attribution for your image. You can even get the attribution in HTML if you want to use it on a web page.

+ Attribution is editable
+ Attribution in text or HTML
– Limited search results

3. Compfight

Compfight searches a wide range of sites for Creative Commons images, search results include mostly images that are not copyrighted but also include “premium” images. These premium images are usually shown at the top of the screen and are not free to download. Attribution is only given in HTML format but can be converted to regular text with a bit of work.

+ Wide range of search results
+ Search can be filtered for school
– Citation only in HTML format

4. Your own images

Even when you use your own images you should be citing them so people know where they are coming from. Here is an acceptable format for citing your own images:

Last Name, First Name. “Photograph Title/Description.” Year Created. Digital File Type

Here’s an example:

Langlands, Rob. “Leopard in Kruger.” 2015. jpeg file.

Get ready for Mindstorms

Photo Credit: dluders Flickr via Compfight cc

Install the software

Click here for the EV3 Software. Download the file and install it.

Get the Ultrasonic Sensor plugin

Click here to go to the download page. Scroll down, look for “EV3 software blocks” and click on the Ultrasonic sensor to download the block. Don’t delete the file after you install it:

  • Open the Lego Mindstorms EV3 program
  • Create a new Project (and Program)
  • Click Tools (text on the Menu bar, not the icon) –> Block Import Wizard
  • Click Browse and select the file (block) you just downloaded
  • Click Import
  • Restart the program (not your computer)

You are set up now to start using Lego Mindstorms EV3 on your personal laptop.

Your first Arduino program

Programs in Arduino are know as “sketches”, to create a new sketch go to File –> New. You should now have a blank sketch that looks like the picture on the left. The first part of a sketch is setup. The setup code runs only once at the start, this is where you set up variables, ports, sensors, … The second part of a sketch is loop, the loop code runs continuously.

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 8.16.41 AM.pngOn the left you can see an example of a simple sketch, let’s look at all the code … Let’s start with the setup, in setup we are telling Arduino that we are going to use pin 10 as an output, that means that we can tell the Arduino to send information to pin 10. Whenever you want to use a port you have to tell Arduino which ports you want to use and if they will be inputs or outputs.

The first command in loop tells Arduino to turn on port 10 (digitalWrite), what this means is that the port will go from 0V to 5V (HIGH) and if you have an LED connected to this port it will light up. The next command (delay) tells the Arduino to do nothing for 1000 milliseconds or 1 second. Then we turn port 10 off, it will go back to 0V (LOW) and the LED will turn off as well. Lastly we have another wait command. After the wait command the program will go back to the start of loop and the program will start again. The result is an LED that will blink with a 1 second interval.

Things to try:

  • Change the delays and see what happens
  • Connect an LED to port 7 and change the code accordingly
  • Connect 2 LEDs to 2 different ports and make both blink at the same time
  • Create different blinking patterns for both LEDs