Data logging review

Where we've got to (TES 1996)

Scientific discoveries are rare these days, but when a couple of years back, DfE funds helped schools to equip themselves with computer sensors, some discoveries were made.

Teachers discovered how sensors helped pupils to understand those tricky sciencey things like ‘changes’ and ‘cooling curves’.

In one school pupils connected a sensor that recorded sound to the computer. When they made noises they ‘saw’ them on a graph. Then the teacher told the class that if the noise went over 90 decibels, they’d lose their break. They played along, testing how noisy they could be and watching the screen. They learned quickly, discovering things about graphs, measurement and keeping their break.

The funding, called the GEST scheme, stretched to a few hundred schools who also discovered that you don’t need to split atoms to use sensors. Even a first out-of-prep room experience using sensors to measure hand temperatures can lead to deep and meaningful science.

Since the scheme ran, and the money ran out, there are some new sensor kits and some for primary schools. All kits have sensors which plug into a sensor box and then to the computer. A laptop is handy, but any Windows, Acorn or Apple machine that uses menus and mice is best. You’ll find titles such as Insight, Junior Insight, Investigate, SoftLab, Datadisc Ag and Datadisc Explorer.

Data Harvest’s sensor box is called ‘EasyLog’. Like their established ‘Sense & Control’ box it plugs into the computer and lets you see graphs and readings on the computer screen. For collecting readings away from the computer, the ‘EasyLog’ is very ‘plug and play’. You plug in the sensors, press a button, and it will collect data until you’re ready to stop. The EasyLog even works with Acorn Pocket Book or Psion computers.

You also need sensors - the most useful measure temperature, light, sound and time. But if you want to branch out, Data Harvest do three really interesting sensors. There’s a motion or distance sensor for making ‘live’ distance-time graphs, a speed of sound sensor for measuring just that and lastly, an amazing heat loss sensor you can put on a window and ‘see’ the heat flowing through it.

Another system you’ll find is a family with the LogIT, LIVE and DataMeter sensor boxes. You choose the box that suits, and then choose the sensors you’d like. DataMeter is new. It displays your readings, runs on long-life rechargeables and has easy buttons that start and stop it. Both this and the LogIT box are portable and let you work out of doors. And while LogIT now has a clip on display, if you’re buying new, the new DataMeter costs little more.

Primary schools will like the LIVE box. It has no buttons at all, and comes as a low priced kit. While it only works when connected to a computer, you can plug it into a laptop or Acorn Pocket Book and use it out of doors. LIVE shows its potential for secondary work when you use it with sensors such as voltage sensors and ‘gates’ which let you measure time.

Science supplier, Philip Harris do a large range of sensors for their sensor boxes. Their First Sense range provides the essentials for data logging. The sensors have a designed feel to them and again, this is a no-button system. But if you want to experiment out-of-doors, you’ll want their DLplus box instead. A tiny screen shows your readings on a graph. A small keyboard lets you save your results and adjust how often the sensors take readings.

Philip Harris have a deluxe range of sensors, called SensorMeters. With this comprehensive range, you can measure radioactive decay or even infra-red radiation. They double as portable bench meters with adjustable measuring ranges, though they are pricey.

Economatics do the Smartbox, whose control features tend to place it in Technology. Now there’s the Discovery with some science features: a nice size, a sensor display and an option to use it in the field.

Just a little sensor equipment is trickling over from the USA and the PASCO range is here with its high school flavour. It’s capable of very high speed data logging that let’s you capture sound waves live on the computer. There are complete packages for each science, but again they cost.

If there’s a cutting edge ‘Video Logging’ may be that. With this you can not only record the noise level of the class, but also video them at the same time! Or you can video a flower opening as the daylight comes and goes. It’s interesting, expensive but unlikely to outlive initial enthusiasm. 

While computers change dramatically by the month, it’s some comfort that the sensors of five years back still work on the latest machines. What that means is that today’s hi-tech computers and software, are running quite modest sensors. Like that class noise meter, it might sound like a mismatch of technology, but it works.


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