High-tech with a friendly face

21st February 2003 at 00:00
Datalogging is part of the national curriculum, but it can be intimidationg for technophobes. Now one firm has adapted its kit for pirmary pupils, writes Bill Hicks

Datalogging: the word hardly sets your pulse racing - or does it? A Year 3 class from St Saviour's Church of England Junior School in Bath would know precisely how to find out. They would use a datalogger, linked to a heart-rate sensor, and display the results on a whiteboard, then the whole class would know precisely what effect, if any, the dreaded word has on your ticker.

They know all this because they were one of two groups at the linked St Saviour's Infant and Junior schools given the chance to use some new child-friendly datalogging kits by specialist manufacturer ScienceScope.

The aim was to show just how easily the technique can be integrated into junior science lessons, even by teachers who are wary of ICT.

Datalogging - the use of sensors linked to computers to measure and record changes in the physical environment - is not short of fans and it is a strong component in both the science and ICT scheme of work. Even at key stage 2 pupils are expected "to make systematic observations and measurements, including the use of ICT for datalogging".

The technique has been enthused over by curriculum advisers, but there is evidence of resistance to its use in the classroom, especially at primary level, where the technical diffidence of non-specialist teachers often meets meagre ICT resources. St Saviour's is a well-resourced school with above-average performance in national tests, but no prior knowledge of datalogging.

ScienceScope's Logbook starter kit is designed with teachers just like these in mind. To make the point, they found teachers with little or no previous experience of datalogging and gave them minimal notice to prepare themselves. Limited availability of products designed for use with younger children was also a factor, until quite recently. Now, though, firms are offering datalogging starter kits specifically for use in science at key stages1 and 2.

Rachel Rigby, deputy head at St Saviour's Infants, needed little persuasion to accept the challenge. She used the datalogger with a Year 2 group in an experiment to compare different types of light-bulb. "This is a natural extension of the work they have been doing," she says. "The children are excited at the prospect. It will inspire them."

ScienceScope supplied a Logbook datalogger with built-in light and temperature sensors, as well as a data-projector and a large whiteboard.

The firm also supplied a technical expert but, in the event, Rachel didn't need any help. Her 19 pupils sat cross-legged on the floor, watching the whiteboard display with astonishment as she gave a demonstration of light-level measurement by putting her hand over the sensor. The read-out fell from 900 lux to nine.

At that moment, teacher, pupils and guests became aware of at least one scientific fact: the human hand is not opaque. The experiment continued with discussion of the readings for the tungsten and fluorescent light-bulbs. Then the logger was switched to display graphs plotting light level and temperature over a period of five minutes. This was again generated in real time and projected on to the big screen. "This is so good for whole-class teaching," says Rachel. "I had 19 children there and they were all completely engaged. It's also supremely interactive - ideal for infant classes because they can see the results immediately.

"They were interpreting results - and that's level 3 - but we were seeing kids doing this at the beginning of Year 2."

Across the road at the junior school, headteacher Kevin O'Shea is "very positive" about datalogging, but he does have some reservations. "There could be a danger of children missing the stage where they work things out for themselves." His school has recently acquired its first dataloggers, mainly used for Year 6 lessons.

Year 3 teacher Leann Lewis encountered datalogging during New Opportunities Fund training, so she had some idea of the possibilities when offered the ScienceScope equipment for a lesson on the topic of food and health. She decided to use the Logbook, linked to a heart-rate sensor, to test the effect of Jexercise on pulse-rates. Three students were chosen as volunteers. A sensor was clipped to the ear lobe of the first pupil and the read out on the display shot up to 160, making the children gasp with surprise. And when the clip slipped and his on-screen pulse dropped to zero, there was a collective intake of breath, held until the read-out bounced back to 90.

The children then watched in awe as the green line representing their pulse-rates zigzagged across the whiteboard. "It was a bit nerve-racking at first, but we all got a lot out of it," says Leann.

The children learned that heart-rates return to normal faster for some people than for others - because they had seen it happen. They had also seen that other factors affect the heart. Having The TES photographer focus on Isabel's ear lobe had made her pulse accelerate.

"It's good that kids recognise that empirical data will not always be what they are expecting - that it doesn't always follow that perfect curve," says Kevin. Both teachers plan to follow up their lessons using print-outs of the data now stored in the logger. They also have plenty of ideas for using loggers in other lessons.

The ScienceScope Logbook primary starter pack costs pound;169 (excl VAT).

It includes light and temperature sensors. The Philip Harris IR pulse sensormeter costs pound;152. ScienceScope, 146 London Road West, Bath BA1 7DD Tel: 01225 850020Email: sales@auc.co.ukwww.sciencescope.co.uk

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