Data logging update - January 2001

Data logging, the technology for teaching science, becomes unbelievably easy this month. Breaking with traditions that go back years, new sensors now plug directly into the computer and are ready and working within seconds. The range of sensors from Pasco use the ‘USB’ socket found on many machines. They bring ‘plug and play’ measuring to science lessons. Plug in a temperature sensor, see the software launch and you’ve a system that’s as slick as it needs to get. That this ‘PASPort’ sensor, eschews power supplies, batteries and fussy interface boxes will suit many settings, though the target is pupils at ages 9-14.

There’s more to this than taking temperatures. Using other plug-and-play sensors you can measure distance, heart rate, force and pH. Swap them around and the software comes up roses, offering a correctly scaled graph ready for a investigation. The software also links to a huge work scheme of electronic sheets that not only illustrate a task but guide pupils through it. In turn these link to several tomes of curriculum, which if US flavoured, merit study for their attention to detail.

In the last couple years, US company Pasco have come to the fore with ground breaking, high performance equipment. Much of this has no equal, even here in the UK, the centre of the data logging universe. Their Science Workshop systems has shown itself to offer the very fast data capture that, like an oscilloscope, put sound waves and lamp flicker on the PC screen. Sensors that directly measure force and acceleration make you wonder whether we need to rethink how we teach. A colorimeter that automatically zeroes itself and leaves you to start measuring offers the chemists and biologists similar food for thought. It’s much like the way the calculator impinged on maths teaching.

Pasco’s data logging software called Data Studio (downloadable free demo at www.pasco.com) showed how it was possible to exploit the capabilities of modern computers. Its ‘go ahead and try it’ approach lets you rescale graphs, change settings and tweak the display as you take readings. Its built-in worksheet maker quickly brings the whole business of managing a lesson to a head. Data Studio isn’t a bundled in piece of software, it’s a serious glance at how we might do science this century.

The Passport range is rightly aimed at the younger end of school where they will be used occasionally and reliability is paramount. To a large extent, the success rate and the lower cost of training staff might offset their highish cost. If that might makes them less that perfect put aside the idea of buying lots of them and you can find here a brilliant, very reliable distance sensor, heart monitor and pH meter to use from time to time.

Data logging has been synonymous with technology not working. Whereas in recent years the flat battery has been king, a USB connection offers power in the plug and pushes all that into history. Plug and play had to come to data logging one day, but really it didn’t have to be this good.

 
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