The latest curriculum advance for Lego involves sending its Mindstorms robots into outer space. Well, not really, but the company worked closely with NASA engineers to build a set of class lessons around the EV3 Space Challenge Set & Activity Pack. The $330 kit includes 30 hours of classroom material as well as Lego bricks and printed landscape mats to work on. The lessons include everything from Learning and Challenge Missions to Gears and Research Projects and might just produce a future astronaut.
Tired of robot kits that take a week of science classes to build but they don’t do much of anything? RobotsLab’s Box is a great way to teach STEM via building and working with four robots. The kit costs $4,000 and comes with all the parts you’ll need to create and use a quad-copter, robotic arm, mobile robot and Sphero ball. The center of attention is the included Asus 10.1-inch Android tablet that contains more than 50-hours of instructions and classroom lessons that integrate math into the curriculum.
Any regular Tech Tools reader will know that I love the idea of teaching science with real-world experiments that use sensors, and Vernier has made a big step forward. The Go Wireless Temp sensor can record temperatures from minus 40- to 125-degrees Centigrade and sends its data wirelessly to an iPad, iPod Touch or an iPhone. The stainless steel temperature gauge has a resolution of less than one-tenth of a degree and requires the free Go Wireless app, which should be available in the coming months.
A great way to get kids interested and excited about science is to teach them at an early age about the stars, constellations and how the universe formed. And, Escapist’s Star Chart software is a great way to get started. The free Android app has a database of 120,000 celestial objects, shows a full view of the sky for any night in the past, present or future and doesn’t require a telescope. It allows you to zoom in on any item or group and can tap into the pad’s GPS for location information as well as even respond to voice commands
Setting up a school’s astronomy program doesn’t require a four- or five-figure budget because an innovative non-profit group has a capable budget telescope that’s perfect for school use. Astronomers Without Borders has a portable 5-inch Dobsonian reflector telescope that costs just $200, low enough to buy several scopes. Called One Sky, the telescope has a 130 millimeter f/5 paraboloid mirror and comes with two Plossl eyepieces.
The One Sky telescope is particularly good for schools because it can place a red dot in the field of view to highlight certain celestial objects. Plus, it weighs just 14-pounds and can be folded up and can be stored in a closet when not in use.
Sunita Williams, former Commander of the International Space Station, is back on terra firma, but before she rode on a returning Russian rocket she recorded this video tour of the space station. You can see where the astronauts live, eat, sleep, work and even go to the orbital bathroom, although this is likely to elicit its share of chuckles and giggles in the back of the class. At times it has the feel of a real estate video of an anxious homeowner, but the 25-minute clip has a spectacular view of the earth and is the closest that most of us will ever come to floating weightless in space.
Got a good tech lesson for tomorrow’s class? L. Robert Furman has a book chock full of them. “Instructional Technology Tools: A Professional Development Plan” has 114 pages of technological hand holding and a slew of great classroom activities that range from creating animation sequences to making a class blog. While it has excellent step-by-step instructions for those unsure of the technical credentials, unfortunately, the book is mostly text with few illustrations and no screen shots of how to do the task at hand. It costs $19 for the printed book or $4 for the downloadable ebook.
With a variety of sensors and probes assuming a role at the center of science education, Vernier’s LabQuest 2 can not only display, tabulate and graph the readings, but analyze the results and provide instructions to students. In other words, it’s as close to a handheld lab machine as it gets.
At 1.0- by 3.5 by 6.1-inches and weighing 11.5-ounces, the gray plastic LabQuest 2 is smaller and lighter than the original LabQuest. It feels like an oversized cell phone with three prominent controls to the right of display for getting to the Home screen, going back and starting the data collection process.
The 5-inch touchscreen uses resistive technology and is bright enough for classroom work, but also has a high-contrast mode for outdoor data gathering trips. At a resolution of 800 by 480, it shows just enough detail and in most cases the screen responds well to finger touches. It has fold-out legs to give it a tilt and you can change the orientation between portrait and landscape.
Inside is an 800MHz ARM 7 processor and 236MB of memory; 200MB was available for use capturing data and adding lab instructions. It can grab and store up to 100,000 samples per second.
While the LabQuest 2 has built in sensors for sound wave forms, illumination, a three-axis accelerometer and GPS, it can also accommodate 3 analog and 2 digital plug-in probes. Vernier sells more than 70 probes for measuring everything from acceleration to power and even has spectrophotometers, a melting point rig and a gas chromatograph, whose price tags dwarf the cost of the LabQuest 2. Unfortunately, it can’t accommodate Fourier and other sensors.
Most sensors start sending data as soon as you select them from the checklist, but it takes about 15 seconds for the GPS receiver to get a location fix; it returns the coordinates to five decimals places, but lacks digital maps.
Like its predecessor, LabQuest 2 is self-contained and can collect a slew of data. Just about everything is adjustable, including axis units and sampling rate. Students can monitor the probes’ readings, view a spreadsheet of the results or get a graph of the action.
That’s just the start because the system has the ability to not only take an instantaneous tangent, integrate the area under a graph and apply basic statistics, but use sophisticated curve fitting techniques and model the data to make predictions. At any time, certain readings can be marked so that they remain but won’t be used and the data run can be saved for later analysis or incorporation into a lab write-up.
The LabQuest 2 comes with step-by-step instructions for several dozen labs built-in and there are many more available online. They are written in simple HTML format and teachers can make up and add their own for specialized labs.
On the downside, you can’t directly take a screen shot with the unit. You’ll need to configure the device to send emails and send the screen to yourself. With the included Logger Lite software, you can transfer the data to a PC or Mac computer, but the Logger Pro program adds the ability to overlay the data with an illustrative image.
The device has a slew of unexpected extras, including an audio tone generator and power amplifier, but the later needs special hardware. The system has a scientific calculator and a built-in Periodic table that has all sorts of physical details and constants, like melting point and specific heat. My favorites are the LabQuest 2’s audio recorder for saving notes and its stop watch, which is often the first thing to disappear in even the best stocked science lab.
The system has Bluetooth and WiFi as well as a micro-SD card slot for saving data. While there are USB slots for moving data to a computer and connecting a memory key, there’s no way to route what’s on LabQuest 2’s screen directly to a projector to demonstrate how to use it. You can connect it to a computer (PC or Mac) via a USB cable or a WiFi link and project that. It requires the LabQuest View 1.0 program, which costs $49, but you’ll only need one copy per room.
You can print directly from the LabQuest 2, but only if you have one of the HP printers that are supported. It worked just fine with a memory key, 2GB micro-SD card and a wired keyboard. The system has an adequate onscreen keyboard but it lacks things like a dedicated .com key for easing the typing of email addresses.
I used the system for several weeks to do everything from analyzing the motion on a swing and watching the voltage of a battery decline to monitoring the light of a sunset and taking longitude and latitude locations fixers in conjunction with sound and light readings. Its ability to grab data and analyze it is without comparison in such a small unit.
Its 300mah battery pack is enough to power it in constant use for 6 hours and 45 minutes, more than enough for a full school day of back-to-back labs. On the downside, while it’s being used the LabQuest 2’s screen heats up. It never got uncomfortably hot, but was warm in my use with three or four sensors at a time.
At $329, Vernier’s LabQuest 2 comes with a 5-year warranty, although the system’s battery is only covered for a year. A bargain, LabQuest is a modern-day science lab that fits in the palm of a hand.
+ Small and light
+ Touchscreen and stylus
+ Can accommodate 5 probes
+ Integrated analysis software
+ 5 built-in sensors
+ Lab videos and extras
- Gets warm
Regardless of which actually came first, any elementary classroom studying farms or nutrition, Discover’s digital field trip to an egg farm is a great online activity. From farm to table, kids will learn about how chickens grow and lay eggs. There are several lesson plans included and kids can ask questions. It’s free and starts at 1PM (eastern time) on April 18.
James Cameron, better known for Titanic and Avatar, recently went on a sea journey to the deepest part of the ocean. Nearly 7 miles down in the Mariana Trench, his one-man sub, Deepsea Challenger, took him to see things few humans have seen, and recorded it for all to look at and marvel. The video is a great science lesson about not only what lurks way down under and how you get there, but what you need to do to get back to the surface safely.