It's not on digital pads and wasn't at BETT, but science teachers will love the new 'Insight' – Roger Frost
How many of the software programs commonly used on computers in the 1990s are still being used on them today? One favourite, called Datalogging Insight, lives on and a new version for 2013 has just arrived.
Insight is a family of primary and secondary school software that grew out of the University of Leicester in 1992. The family includes tools that record readings from sensors, let you model the heat lost from a house, or coax a control box into actuating motors and lamps.
The new edition has evolved over 20 years and acquired Insight iLOG VideoLab as its name. It "does" data-logging but it now takes a broadminded approach to collecting data. It handles data from sensors you may already have, or the computer’s microphone input and can now also use its webcam.
You could use it, or your phone, to film some table tennis and use the program to mark the position of the ping-pong ball in each frame of the clip. If you put a ruler in the shot, you can use your marks to plot a graph to measure the ball’s distance, speed and acceleration. Which is a fine chunk of physics. You can use all sorts of video formats, but you can get started with its own built-in clips, including one where you can show the acceleration of a space shuttle. Video is such a ready source of data, this add-on feature now seems to belong here.
'Schools owning a mixture of equipment brands can enjoy some consistency'
Since the early days, the core feature of ‘Insight’ has been to take data from science experiments and get one thinking about what the results show. It will display a graph line you can mouse along to measure changes, ratios, rates and areas. And science teachers use these to point to what else there is to learn.
Early versions of ‘Insight’ had a green button that started recording, as long as you had plugged things in and set things up. This version offers a choice of activities (record, time events, take single readings) which set it up for you. Insight also looks for the equipment you’re using, and uniquely it can operate with 50 types of data-logger. And that’s pretty remarkable: schools owning a mixture of equipment brands can enjoy some consistency in what happens on screen. You could, probably recycle equipment that has gone out of fashion, or been thrown in a cupboard. Furthermore, without learning more software skills, you can access a range of hardware, such as a Wiimote; or the new Dynakar (see "How keeping it simple makes for powerful science") and analyse sound waves from the computer’s microphone.
‘Insight’ has a modelling system that allows you to simulate what is mostly, but not exclusively, physics. For example, you can measure how fast a coffee cools, and you can also model cooling by inventing an equation that simulates how a coffee cools. A model could help you see how putting a lid on a coffee cup makes a difference.
It is excellent to find modelling unforgotten and connecting with real data. Modelling was one of the first things that computers were made to do and is still core science. I hope I am wrong to believe that only the maths people seem to feel comfortable teaching about it in school.
Rants aside, and finally, if there’s any question about how this package can lead to useful science outcomes, a tome of curriculum support is included. There are tutorial videos, set-up wizards, experiment instructions, models and sample results. They are the tasks of experimenting, understanding and getting under the skin of a subject.
Insight makes the harder stuff accessible and ultimately useful and that’s the nitty gritty of doing data-logging really. It shows one doesn’t always need a lab full of equipment to do useful work. One mostly needs data that students relate to and a sense of where we’re taking them. Insight iLOG VideoLab defines and exemplifies what technology can do for science and I am challenged to find anything else more focused on that job.
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 4
Value for money 5
Insight iLOG Videolab
Data-logging software for the science classroom. Now incorporates video capability to enrich class work, and works with a wide range of the data-logging hardware already found in schools. Prices: £45 for single user to £179 for a site licence. Available via the Insight Resources web site www.insightresources.co.uk
Features of Insight iLOG Videolab
Roger Frost is a teacher and long-time writer of data-logging guides. His current project is an animation resource to help the learn about Organic Chemistry. Read more at www.organic.rogerfrost.com