Using ICT in Science – 2000

 

Roger Frost offers tips & suggests resources

 

Asking what to do with ICT in science could be the easiest of questions. Here is a subject that is both rich in visions of possibility as well as quality software and equipment. Since the dawn of the National Curriculum, data logging or making measurements in experiments has been the obvious ICT activity for science teachers.

But ‘sciencey’ as data logging is, juggling a combination of computers, equipment and bubbling beakers of water needs practice. Before we look at that, and before people struggle with it too, you can proffer that famous retort, “I wouldn’t start from here” and take a look at the excellent software that has been appearing over the last year.

Another special title is Oscillations and Waves (age 16-18) from Fable Multimedia. This title, perfect for advanced level, again offers animation but this time of pendulum motion, diffraction, the Doppler effect and interference. Physics teachers will tell you that it’s hard to illustrate these in other ways and a nice feature of this software is how easy it is to get straight to the bit you need to show as opposed to clicking through tiers of menus.     

Software simulations such as these are easy to relate to and immediately useful. While they develop no IT skills, they do sell the idea that computers do have something special to offer.

Another range of software simulations come from Australian software developer Newbyte. Each in its way, allows us to show things which are difficult any other way. Drosophila Genetics (age 16-17) is a simulation of a classic experiment where the aim is to work out how different characteristics are inherited by breeding different strains of fruit flies. You breed a male with small wings and a female with normal wings and you count the number of each kind of offspring just as you might in a class experiment. This information allows you to work out which genes are dominant, which are recessive and which are sex-linked. And while using software is no substitute for the real experiment it's amazing how many different experiments can be tried in a short space of time. Used as a follow-up to a real experiment, the software is a great step forward in the teaching of genetics.

But some experiments are too dangerous for pupils and yet they really ought to do. However, in Radioactivity Penetration (age 15-17) pupils experiment with alpha, beta and gamma radiation in complete safety. In Acid-Base Titrations, they can experiment with a wide range of acids and bases more efficiently than they could for real. What is more, teachers can use the software demonstrate several teaching points and very effectively too. Yet more titles take us out of the laboratory and deal with the natural selection of such as moths, frogs and beetles. For example in Frogs (age 14-16) your mouse becomes the predator living on a population of frogs. You click on a frog to eat it but quickly learn that some frogs are poisonous. These frogs, the red frogs, slow down your mouse and soon teach you not to do that again. Graphs on the screen show how the proportions of the red and green frogs change as a result of your eating. Over several generations of frogs, you notice that if the non-poisonous frogs mutate to have red skins, you’ll not eat them because you’ll think they are poisonous. This ‘mimickry’ of creatures with an adaptive advantage (i.e. poisonous) is one of nature's clever selection tricks and here the idea is shown very clearly. 

 

Data logging

 

Data logging, where pupils use sensors to take readings in experiments, has a special place in science teaching. With it they can see how fast the temperature and many other changes live on the screen. Then using data logging software they can take measurements from graphs and gain some interesting insights into experiments.

It’s best to start with reliable experiments using a minimum of equipment. For the carpeted computer room, my favourite is to measure the room temperature and light level over a day or two and then ask the pupils to explain the graph on the screen. Another is to measure the sound level of the class when you have to leave the room – and if you dare, threaten to keep them in if they make too much noise! After this you can use sensors in classic experiments such as making a cooling curve for a cup of soup; measuring the speed of a car rolling down a slope or measuring the rate of a chemical reaction with a light sensor.

As a technology slightly off the main route it’s an area where the IT coordinator’s help with choosing equipment and software could be welcome. There are some crucial tips to choosing and the first is to find the right computers: sensors work well on old equipment – so that a hand-me down network of 486 PC’s or Acorn’s might be just the ticket. Combined with a large TV screen display for demonstrations, which will need some technical support to set up, this inexpensive set up is very good for moving a science department on. Even better, is to consider buying a set of ex-demo Pentium laptops - you can pick these up for about 500 each. 

The second tip is to work out what you really need to do as it’s very easy to buy equipment that does too much. For example, there is very little call for controlling robots in science; so keep things easy and treat control as a separate buying decision. Aim for a modest set-up – a single kit for a primary school and a set that a whole class can use for a secondary school. Data logging suppliers Commotion and Data Harvest offer relatively affordable kits costing from 150 (primary) rising through various ranges to 400 (secondary) which do all that’s essential.

In particular, Data Harvest have ‘Ecolab’ a pocket sized data logger with primary school-friendly Sensing Science software. Beside this Commotion offer the ‘LIVE’ logger with a choice of software such as Junior Insight or Investigate. For the secondary school, Data Harvest offer EasySense, Sense & Control and a new EasySense Advanced kit with its display screen. The competing range from Commotion is the very elegant and easy, LogIT Datameter 1000.

Advanced level generates other needs and teaching the physics of sound, light and motion calls for more than the usual kits. It’s here that US supplier Pasco excels – with high performance equipment that leaves everything else for dust. With it’s recording speeds of 200,000 samples a second you can turn the computer into an inexpensive storage oscilloscope where you can see live sound waves or even electromagnetic induction. The Pasco Science Workshop system features sensors never seen before in this country – and they allow you to measure changing distance, force and acceleration where before these quantities were hard to measure directly. Since first using the system last year, together with its best of breed software called Data Studio, this high fidelity recording system has become the recommended system for this level of school. A demo copy of the software on the web (4Mb) is worth the download just to see how data logging has finally lost it’s old clunkiness.  

 

Trainer and writer Roger Frost specialises in using technology in science teaching. He runs training days for school science and is the author of a series of ideas manuals.

 

CURRICULUM MATERIALS

Data logging & Control

Data logging in Practice

IT in Secondary Science

IT in Primary Science

Written by Roger Frost. Available from ASE Booksales, College Lane, Hatfield, AL10 9AA Tel: 01707 267411

 

SOFTWARE

                    

Drosophila Genetics

Radioactivity Penetration

Acid-Base Titrations

Frogs, Beetles, Moths

From Newbyte

 

Oscillations and Waves

From Fable Multimedia

 

 

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