At Christmas, I excitedly opened my presents to find a new watch. Not just an ordinary watch, but a smart watch which allows me to collect data about myself. I now know that on average I climb 20 flights of stairs a day, and that when I am teaching I easily meet my 10,000 steps – but at a weekend I barely make half of that. This got me thinking about my teaching and data logging.
Data loggers are a measuring instrument that can record the data. In science lessons, they allow you to collect data in smaller time samples, and see the patterns and trends emerge in the data in real time. It has the added advantage of allowing students to focus on the science concepts rather than on how to read a scale or record the data.
But, data loggers can be temperamental. We are very reliant on our technicians to set them up in advance, and often there is a limited selection of hardware due to the pressures on budgets. Could personal devices and apps be a solution?
Collecting data using the Fitbit
My smart watch allows me to display my data in lots of different forms from bar charts and table to scatter graphs with trend lines. This allows discussion about how data is best represented to find trends. I can use the heart rate trend graph to measure my recovery time and can even work out my resting heart rate.
I think that using data loggers allows you to focus on trends. You can easily change a condition and immediately see the effect graphically in the data. For example, if you go closer to the source of the noise, the Decibel measurement increases instantly. I think this allows students to investigate more easily and because they are excited to collect real-life, relevant data they are more likely to remember the relationships between the science theory, observable change and the shape of graphs. It has been shown that to learn we need an emotional response, so I hope that excitement will help students learn the key concepts more easily and that this will convert to an improvement in attainment.
Data loggers improve engagement in science and are also very beneficial to SEND students as they can focus on the science without needing as much dexterity with equipment or ability to read and interpret scales.
Using the free decibel meter app
At Bablake School, where I am Co-ordinator of Junior Science, we are committed to making innovative use of appropriate technology to further enhance the quality of teaching and learning. We have a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ policy, so, as I was teaching sound, I asked my students to download a free sound meter. That allowed us to go out and measure the level of sound around the school in Db and even related that to familiar noises. We could investigate how distance affects the loudness of a sound and plot graphs of these data.
Sam Holyman is Junior Science Co-ordinator at Bablake School in Coventry, and West Midlands ASE President. She is also author of a number of best-selling science textbooks for KS3 and GCSE, and a keen advocate of innovative teaching and learning. She was recently nominated in the Teacher Scientist category for the Science Council’s 100 leading practicing scientists in 2015.
Main image: Mark Woodward