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STEM, With or Without the Wires

Pasco compositePASCO takes the worry out of STEM with a family of sensors and software that let you use plain old USB cables or Bluetooth to connect them to a variety of platforms. With nine members the wireless sensor line ranges from a $39 temperature sensor for monitoring or regulating a chemistry experiment to the $159 Smart Cart that’s perfect for teaching about Newton’s Law, conservation of energy and work.

Happily, PASCO’s SPARKvue software can directly connect with just about every platform at schools, from Windows and Macs to Chromebooks, iOS and Android tablets. None of the sensors, however, work with Google’s Science Journal software. On the downside, you’ll likely need PASCO’s USB adapter for older Windows and Macs as well as Chromebooks.

The $49 voltage meter worked perfectly with an iPad Pro via Bluetooth and a Surface Pro 3 tablet with the cable. Small enough to put in a pocket, the voltmeter runs on a rechargeable battery pack. The white box not only has the model number on it, but a simple wiring diagram showing that the voltage sensor needs to be in parallel while the similar current meter needs to be set up as a serial connection.

It comes with a pair of plug-in electrodes and there’s a USB connector for charging and connecting it to a computer. The sensor has an on-off switch as well as LEDs for Bluetooth connections and battery status.

Pasco selectionAfter pressing the sensor’s button, it became discoverable for Bluetooth connections and linked on the first try. The sensor stayed connected wirelessly up to about 40-feet from the tablet and its battery should be good for weeks of daily use.

The wireless voltmeter can measure voltage with a 0.5-percent accurate up to 15-volts but can handle momentary surges of up to 250-volts. There’s also a current meter available that tops out at 1 amp and has an internal resistance of 0.1 Ohm. Both are capable of recording up to 1,000 samples per second using its Bluetooth connection or 100-times that with a wired connection.

The sensor worked just as well wirelessly or plugged in. I used the gear for a couple of labs like using the output of a solar cell to track the increasing daylight of a sunrise. Later I used a Pasco voltagerheostat to track the voltage with increasing and decreasing resistance. These devices and the others available can be used for everything from a physics lab to monitoring an electrochemical reaction.

Pasco has a good variety of online materials to help make using the voltage sensor and other wireless products easy, including videos. There are online training seminars available for teachers who feel the need of a little help getting started.

Because they don’t have to use wires to connect and cover the majority of computers used in schools today, the PASCO wireless family of sensors can help neaten up the science lab.



PASCO Wireless Sensors

$39 to $159

+ Works with iPads, Androids Macs, Chromebooks and PCs

+ Online training and teaching resources

+ Good variety of sensors

+ Inexpensive

+ Directly connects with many recent comptuers


- Doesn’t work with Google Science Journal

- Some older computers require connection interface

Solar Cruise

Solar boat compositeWhat better way to teach about the power of the sun than to build a small cork solar-powered boat. While you can do this project on your own, RECharge Labs has put a kit together that costs $30 each or a classroom five-pack for $135. It comes with everything you need, from the solar panel and cork base to the drive motor and propellers. A printed copy of the activity guide, which explains how to build and use the boat, is included but you can get a .pdf Acrobat file of it for an extra $5.

Freebee Friday: A Robotic Storm for Chromebooks

Ev3 chromebookLego’s MindStorms robotic kits are an excellent way to teach everything from the physics of motion to programming, but there’s been one thing missing: the ability to use inexpensive Chromebooks to program the robots. Now, with Lego’s EV3 programming interface for Chromebook that can do everything the iPad version can. It comes with a new set of lessons and tutorials.

STEM Without All the Wires

5424cad3-b81e-4085-b569-28db0be53ccbNeed a set of STEM data sensors that work across the board with Androids and iPads as well as PCs, Macs and Chromebooks? Pasco’s latest wireless sensors can stream data for everything from pressure, temperature and pH to acceleration, light level and electrical current and voltage. They don’t require a wireless connection box, have year-long batteries and they cost between $39 and $99 each.


Let it Grow

Click n growForget about trying to grow an avocado pit or potato on toothpicks because Click & Grow’s Smart Herb Garden kit has a free iOS app for iPhones and iPads to monitor growth, create a watering schedule and teach about plants. The kit has LED lighting, sensors that keep an eye on soil conditions and comes with soil already set up and for those with brown thumbs who can only grow weeds, the company guarantees that plants will germinate. It all costs between $100 and $160, depending on which wood the base is made out of. There are also refills for growing new plants every year.

Freebee Friday: (Almost) Back to School, Part II

Chemistry 2It’s summertime and the classrooms are either empty or very close to it. So, it’s time to think about the new school year that's coming, with Vernier leading the way with a slew of tips, tricks and summer services. To start, you can check out the company’s available grants to help outfit a new lab for the incoming class, watch any of its 180 videos or look over the company’s 1,000 sample experiments online.


From Minecraft to STEM

PiperOne way to get kids excited about learning about engineering, math and science is to use Piper as an entry point. Based on a Raspberry Pi processor and a slew of components and programming software, it lets kids comfortably try out engineering and technology ideas by advancing through the Minecraft game and creating electronic projects. There’s no soldering and Piper is smart enough to let kids know when they’ve made a mistake. It costs $300. 

Best of ISTE: The Heat is On, Part II

Product.thermal-analysis.flirone-ios._ipad._ice._blocks.001Vernier now has a free app that can now work with the inexpensive FLIR One thermal camera add-on that makes it perfect for an elementary through high school science lab. It’s good for watching ice melt, an exothermic chemical reaction and how infrared light acts. The labs range from looking at the thermal conductivity of materials to an examination of how evaporative cooling works. See it at Booth 3300.



Best of ISTE: Suite Pricing

Learning suiteRather than licensing Smart’s Notebook, Lab, Response and Amp separately, the Learning Suite combines these programs into a unified whole. There’s a common entrance link to all four apps and annual pricing starts at $129 per teacher, but drops quickly with school- or district-wide volume licensing. You can see it in action at Booth 2106.


Freebee Friday: From Experiment to Lab Report

Science journalThe big news from Google’s IO tech-fest is the company’s Science Journal app. As its name implies, it is a full-service science app that lets you tap into sensors on the phone or tablet or connect external ones. You can record data, graph it and make notes right on the screen. Think of it as the easiest way to assemble all a student needs to put together a cogent lab report. Best of all, it’s free.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.