For most science teachers, using STEM in the classroom revolves around a box or drawer filled with a tangle of sensor cables and connection boxes. Often, the first 10 minutes of a class is spent disentangling these devices and getting them plugged in and working. With LabDisc, it’s all – or at least mostly – inside a small disk.
With a diameter of 5.2-inches and a thickness of 1.5-inches, the disc is like a large hockey puck. It’s easy for small hands to carry and use, is rugged and has a pull out stand in the back. At 11-ounces, a classroom’s worth of sensors can be carried on a tray or cart between rooms.
There are four versions of LabDisc that are each suited to a different lesson or discipline.
- Enviro is aimed at environmental science with sensors for dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity and more.
- Physio is for physical science labs that require measurement of acceleration, motion, voltage and other parameters.
- Biochem is for biochemistry work with colorimeter, heart rate, dissolved oxygen and other gauges.
- The Gensci disc that I looked at has 13 sensors, including ones for barometric pressure, current and voltage, GPS, light and sound, motion, distance, humidity and temperature.
All four devices give you the flexibility to not only tap into their built-in sensors but also into sensors on the host computer, like the iPad’s accelerometer. There’s another way: you can plug in a variety of external sensors, including many older Veriner and Fourier devices via a mini-USB port.
With seven buttons for connecting with the individual sensors and a simple three-key control panel, the disc’s 2.4-inch backlit monochrome screen is the center of attention. I prefer the larger, more colorful and touch-sensitive display on the Vernier LabQuest 2 handheld, but the Gensci scheme works well.
Using any of the discs is remarkably easy, once you get the hang of its input system, so plan on spending some time introducing how they work to the class. Then, the sky’s the limit as far as using the LabDisc goes.
Around the circumference of each LabDisc is a series of input connectors and its power input. The disc’s outer ring rotates to provide access to them. On the downside, some get covered, so you can’t do things like charge the disc and use the external temperature sensor at once.
Happily, the disc has a rechargeable lithium polymer battery that is rated to run for 150 hours. In actual use logging data from the disc’s ambient and external temperature probes, the system actual ran for more than double that. This means that you’ll probably need to charge the systems once a week at best.
Each of the discs connect either via a USB cable or Bluetooth and they generally link up on the first try. An AC adapter and carrying bag top off the package. While the actual details depend on the sensor and what is being measured, they can capture between 1 data point per minute and 24,000 data points per second. The device can hold up to 128,000 data points.
The key to the LabDiscs’s versatility is the GlobiLab software. There are versions for everything from PCs and Macs to iOS, Android and even Chromebooks and Linux computers, making it one of the most versatile devices at school. That means that you can use it with whatever computers are available.
I tried out the GenSci general science disc with an iPad Pro and Surface Pro 3 and found the software to be similar, although each version is a little different. While the software is collecting data you can see the numbers come in and graph themselves or watch analog meter needles swing up and down.
Inside, the program has a slew of premade labs for things like examining acid rain and analyzing the temperature for a week. There’s more online, although no place for teachers to share their favorite home-grown lessons.
It takes a minute or two to set up the disc and start gathering data, a big plus when trying to squeeze a lot into a 45-minute period. I set the disc to monitor the temperature, light level and humidity to catch the setting sun and then used the external pH sensor to monitor the acidity of water as I added salt to it. The data plot showed the variables in different colors and all the raw data and graphs were exportable for analysis inclusion in the lab write-up.
The best part is that the software has enough smarts to do things like show the minimum, maximum, average of a data set and even calculate a summation of the area under the graph. It can show the data’s standard deviation and perform linear and quadratic regression for any two tagged two points on the plot.
At $600, the GenSci disc is pricey and about twice what the Vernier LabQuest device goes for, although the disk has many more sensors built-in. In addition to getting them one at a time, Globisens sells a class pack that includes 16 discs, a cart with central charging station for roughly $10,500. That way, there’ll be enough STEM to go around.
+ Excellent PC, iPad, Android, Chromebook and Linux software
+ 13 built-in sensors
+ Can use some Fourier sensors
+ Lessons and labs
+ Long battery life
+ Sophisticated graphs and analysis
- Disc’s ring blocks some ports