Probing Into New Science Experiences – Computers, Probeware, Displacement, Fun, and Science Learning

When we add technology to our repertoire of science activities, the best uses are for areas that allow students to do things that they could not do before. A simulation that allows students to explore falling objects with different forces of gravity, like Adaptive Curriculum’s “Free Fall”, extends learning beyond the walls of a classroom.In a similar way, the best probeware allows students to discover things beyond the ordinary science classroom. So, if a school only had a budget for one probe, I recommend that it not be a thermometer, pH, or voltage probe, but rather, PASCO’s Passport motion sensor. Combined with PASCO’s EZ-Screen, this product is so much fun that instead of selling soda to get supply money, a science teacher could charge students a quarter a try. It is more fun than the token games at our local movie theater.Motion SensorThe name “motion sensor” is confusing. One might think it could turn lights on and off when walking into or out of a room. But these don’t; they really should be called “distance detectors”. The detector emits sound pulses that travel outward, and if something is in the path, the sound hits it and bounces back to the detector. It tells how far away a person or object is located, based upon how long it takes the wave to travel to and from the probe. Since it is measuring distance from a fixed point (the detector) in a specific direction, it can be used to track a person or object’s displacement versus time. When the person moves in or out, their displacement from the probe is indicated in the form of a line graph. Thus a student can make a real time displacement-time graph and instantly understand a topic that many students find confusing.EZ-ScreenThe group that designed EZ-Screen should get an award. It is bright, fun, and engaging, which is not easy to say about a lot of graphing software. I recommend starting with free explorations of what happens when students move in, move out, and rest. The graphs show immediately what happens. Charging students twenty-five cents a try is recommended.The most fun comes when students try to match a graph. They see a gray line graph on the screen and then try to walk in such a way that the graph is replicated. They see the graph that was created (scarlet) against the match graph (gray), and get a score (100 being the highest). Bringing in the element of competition amps up the engaging value. (Like when I connected my son’s PS3 online and then played his NCAA 08 Football; competing against a real (even though unknown) person made it so much more interesting to play as the scarlet and gray team.) Both of my sons have greatly enjoyed competitions with Match Graph.Science ClassFor science instruction, I break my class into small groups with each having a computer and a detector. They start with free exploration. Then they practice doing the first match graph. After a few trials, they have a competition to see who is the best for the second match graph. I tell them not to do the third and final match. Each group sends their top contender to the front probe, which is also connected to a projector. We then have the finals, to award the title of “Grand Displacement-Time Graph Champion”. This was great fun and learning for my middle school science children this semester, and for adult preservice teachers in previous semesters. If you set up a little bookie operation you can make some more money by taking bets on the finals. I recommend taking 10% of the action.Of course, with this probe you can do other things as well with other PASCO software, like dropping a table tennis ball and seeing a free fall graph. And then you could go to Adaptive Curriculum to explore free fall with different gravitational forces.ConclusionWhile technology might be used because it makes some things easier, I think when we are on limited budgets, starting with things that we can’t easily do, or that are impossible to do with regular tools makes the most sense. So let your students explore other planets with Adaptive Curriculum, and let them see that some graphing is great fun with EZ-Screen and motion detectors. It’s just too bad that they don’t turn off the lights.The question is… What will you buy with all the money you make?For the RecordI hope you know I was kidding about the quarters and 10% of the action on the betting. I prefer Twinkies and other lunch snacks instead of quarters and I limit myself to 8% of the gambling action.The references to Scarlet and Gray does suggest an affinity for Buckeyes.Some people use the term dataloggers instead of probeware. If you wear smell sensors connected to clothing armpits, these are called probewear, otherwise the term probeware is preferred.