Roger Frost trawls the aisles of BETT 2013 to find innovation thriving for science
It’s a good sign when you find a simple device to help teach a complicated idea. The DynaKar, invented by ScienceScope, is an example of that and it was a finalist for a BETT Award in 2013.
Never mind the spelling, DynaKar (£tba) is a toy-like car and software. It is a standalone kit that aims to simplify the study of forces and motion. The car will roll along a table and tell the computer how far it has travelled. It has a sensor that watches the wheels rotate and it transmits its calculations to the computer via Bluetooth. Its only button turns it on or off. It is remarkable how much dynamics it can cover without adding yet more wire to physics equipments. And the results are indeed lovely.
Start the car rolling down a sloped table and the software will plot a distance-time graph on screen. Drag over the graph with the software and you can measure the graph’s area and gradient. You might then make a series of graphs at different slopes of the table. Keep experimenting and you’ll learn about velocity, acceleration; momentum and kinetic energy. You can measure ‘g’ (gravity) and study harmonic motion and aerodynamic drag.
In the past we would have used ‘ticker-tape’ devices and light gates to teach this and, just sometimes, even confused ourselves. Here is technology with a chance to make things simple instead of making things different. And DynaKar was one of the best science things to see at BETT this year (see video below).
'Place the SmartScope IGO on skin and see sweat appearing from pores'
But don’t go away, there’s more. Data Harvest had the SmartScope iGO (£250), a wireless microscope made to connect with tablet devices and phones powered by Apple IOS and Android. The microscope can broadcast to three devices at once, using an app that displays the images with a wireless setting. The microscope has its own bright LED lighting and it is high-powered (x200) enough to see crystal details in a rock but also much more. It was interesting to place it on the skin and see sweat appearing from pores. It was surprising to see the tiny dots of an inkjet photo and note how colours were made from a few inks. You can take pictures, annotate them and record video using the app, although you will sense the excitement from simply handholding this microscope to see inside a flower or what is happening in a test tube. If you do not use iPad or Android tablets, there’s SmartScope 5M (£160), a wired USB microscope with similarly impressive results.
Another camera device – but more of a document camera – is a new model from HoverCam. The HoverCam Mini5 is a Mars bar-sized unit that unfolds to gaze down on the front bench. It has the convenience of built-in illumination, a stand and USB plug in the one piece. The quality was good too so I can’t imagine a teaching day when I‘d not want to use it. For science or any subject, this will fill your projector screen with a close-up of a book, exam paper or the pad you write on.
The HoverCam is one of a range of document cameras and the Mini5 (£tba) is a new take on design and portability. If you don’t find it at your science equipment supplier, you will find it on amazon.co.uk (spring 2013).
Science specialist PASCO was at BETT with a range that has now grown to 70 sensors for capturing data in experiments. Usually you want to get information from just a couple of sensors and this is the role of the new unit called the SPARKlink Air. Plug any two of those two sensors into the SPARKlink Air, and it will send their readings to software running on the computer. What’s unusual here is that this one unit can send data to any computer and that includes Mac, Windows, and Android and Apple IOS devices.
The SPARKlink Air (£tba) has both USB and Bluetooth connections which you can use flexibly. The unit works round a common school lab issue, which is that it is a challenge to support a mix of computing devices in one lesson. Helping to provide consistency is the very well featured SPARKvue software – which runs in the same way on each those computing devices. Thus, even on a phone you can measure; display graphs; analyse data; write lab reports and even find loads of ready-to-run lab activities. This unifying ability of the SPARK system, where your class may use different devices in similar ways deserves applause. You can peek at the program on the app store; or download a trial of the desktop software from PASCO. To obtain PASCO equipment in the UK, contact Scientific and Chemical Supplies.
Briefly, I'll also mention that LEGO Education had the new Mindstorms EV3, which is used as the programmable 'brain' of any robot, on its stand (see "Construction or constructivist? The power of LEGO"). Among the range of devices you could build for yourself, I was drop-jawed at a device that, like a ‘Segway’, was balancing itself magically upright on just two wheels. In five minutes, I engaged with more science, maths and technology than I've ever picked up in a curriculum document.
Missing from BETT, the classroom star that works with most data-loggers – 'Insight'
More than in many countries, the UK has a tradition of acquiring sensors and data-loggers for science. Put another way, schools have experimented with one brand, tried others and sometimes left useful gear in the cupboard (see also "Learn lessons from the skeletons in your cupboard"). My final item isn’t merely excellent software that can collect and analyse data; it now works with a huge number of different brands. Called Insight and known to thousands of science teachers, this has grown into a family of software for measuring, modelling and simulating science ideas.
New this year, was the feature-packed Insight iLOG VideoLab. This new version of Insight does a fantastic job of unifying the data-logging equipment you may have in use or in the cupboard (see "No flash, no Harry, just great science – new 'Insight'"). It’ll also work with the equipment from PASCO, Data Harvest and LogIT as well as DynaKar (above) and even display graphs from the Nintendo WiiMote controller. Insight now has the ability to capture video of sports or moving objects and then to trace how far and fast things move.
Yes, Insight was missing from the BETT show floor, largely due to the disappearance of Logotron, the innovative UK software stalwart. However its development continues, and a supplier has stepped in to make it available again. Read more about the program at www.insightresources.co.uk.
Roger Frost is a long-time author of guides for data logging manuals. His current project is a major animation resource to help the learn about Organic Chemistry. Read more at www.organic.rogerfrost.com