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Confidently Integrate Computational Thinking into Any Lesson with Blockly

Introducing students to coding and computer-controlled outcomes is easier than ever before with Blockly coding. Included in SPARKvue 4 and Capstone 2, Blockly offers students a new world of experimental opportunities that focus on computational thinking and data visualization. Blockly’s visual coding environment is intuitively designed to facilitate the success of new coders, while strengthening the skills of more advanced learners.

Blockly’s colored coding blocks provide students with a visual method for developing strong coding foundations. The user-friendly design allows students to simply drag and connect coding blocks that correlate with syntactically correct coding elements such as variables, commands, and loops.

Blockly within SPARKvue and Capstone is compatible with all PASCO sensors and interfaces. When students combine PASCO sensors with Blockly, they are empowered to design and execute their very own sensor experiments. Students can create code that collects sensor measurements, reports data, or controls output devices such as the Smart Fan Accessory. As they execute their code, students can visualize their data using real-time graphical displays that assist with data visualization.

Real-World Coding Activities: Computational Thinking Meets Data Literacy

The integration of Blockly into SPARKvue and Capstone gives students unparalleled control over their experiments. While developing their code, students can press the Record button at any time to execute it and receive live feedback. Students can instantly monitor sensor measurements through live graphs and digits displays that support debugging throughout their code creation process. Once students have successfully coded their sensor parameters, they can collect data in real time, store it, and use it to inform future experiments.

With an unlimited amount of coding combinations, Blockly allows students to customize and create experimental designs, determine data outputs, and use those outputs to inform future decisions. Through the integration of coding and sensor-based technology, both SPARKvue and Capstone provide a platform for the exploration of phenomena through computational thinking and data visualization.

Sample Programming Activities


Entry Level Programming with the Wireless pH Sensor

The Wireless pH Sensor is the perfect tool for introducing young learners to pH and simple programming. In this activity, students use their knowledge of the pH scale and a Wireless pH Sensor to create code that runs along with their data collection. Using a simple set of coding blocks, students can instruct the sensor to identify a sample solution as neutral, basic, or acidic. As their code is executed, live data displays communicate the code’s effect in real time. A text display will correctly identify a solution’s pH. This simple activity gently introduces students to basic programming concepts, sensor measurement, and the pH scale to instill a foundational sense of confidence and understanding in STEM.

SPARKvue Blockly Code
Instruct the sensor to identify a sample solution as neutral, basic, or acidic.
SPARKvue Blockly Code
A live data display communicates the code’s effect in real time.

Entry Level Programming with the Wireless Temperature Sensor

For introductory lessons, students can learn to program a temperature display and a simple text output. The goal of this activity is for students to create a program that gives instructions to cool a liquid to below 15°C. Students can monitor their live temperature reading and a text output that is temperature-dependent. In this example, the text output reads “Add more ice!” when the water temperature is above 15°C, and “Great work!!” when the water temperature is less than or equal to 15°C. The Wireless Temperature Sensor should be placed in a cup containing room temperature water. Once students have developed their Blockly code, they can execute it using the Record button. Add the ice gradually to reduce the water temperature. A successful program will display a live temperature reading and the correct text when the temperature shifts above and below 15°C.

Capstone Blockly Code
In this example, the text output reads “Add more ice!” when the water temperature is above 15°C.
Capstone Blockly Code
In this example, the text output reads “Great work!!” when the water temperature is less than or equal to 15°C.

Advanced Level Programming: Thrust with Blockly and the Smart Fan Accessory

The patented Smart Fan Accessory adds versatility to any dynamics experiment. It features numerous control features when plugged into a Smart Cart. Students can control the fan’s thrust and direction from their devices. They can also set start and stop conditions that power the fan on or off when a particular measurement, such as position, reaches a set value. Students can easily determine a parameter and immediately observe its impact on the experimental outcome, which is a powerful component of active learning.

Students can control the fan’s thrust by programming calculations based on sensor measurements. In this example, a student commands the fan to maintain a thrust of -100*[Position]. This makes the fan blow harder as the cart moves down the track, causing the cart to reverse. When the fan senses a determined measurement, the student’s code is executed, producing a physical change in the experiment and altering data collection. Students can test their code’s effectiveness, make corrections, obtain live data, and complete graphical analysis before exporting their lab for grading. This user-friendly platform is an intuitive and time-efficient method for introducing students to computational thinking without straying from standards.

Smart Fan Configuration Menu
Control the fan’s thrust and direction from their devices.
Capstone Blockly Code
Control the fan’s thrust by programming calculations based on sensor measurements.

Blockly is Compatible with All PASCO Sensors & Interfaces

Get started with these favorites:

Standards Alignment


ISTE Standard: Computational Thinker (all ages)

  • 5a Students formulate problem definitions suited for technology-assisted methods such as data analysis, abstract models and algorithmic thinking in exploring and finding solutions.
  • 5b Students collect data or identify relevant data sets, use digital tools to analyze them, and represent data in various ways to facilitate problem-solving and decision-making.
  • 5c Students break problems into component parts, extract key information, and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving.
  • 5d Students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.

ISTE Standards Grades 3-5 (ages 8-11)

Data and Analysis

  • 1B-DA-06 Organize and present collected data visually to highlight relationships and support a claim.
  • 1B-DA-07 Use data to highlight or propose cause-and-effect relationships, predict outcomes, or communicate an idea.

Algorithms and Programming

  • 1B-AP-08 Compare and refine multiple algorithms for the same task and determine which is the most appropriate.
  • 1B-AP-09 Create programs that use variables to store and modify data.
  • 1B-AP-10 Create programs that include sequences, events, loops, and conditionals.
  • 1B-AP-13 Use an iterative process to plan the development of a program by including other perspectives and considering user preferences.
  • 1B-AP-15 Test and debug (identify and fix errors) a program or algorithm to ensure it runs as intended.

ISTE Standards Grades 6-8 (ages 11-14)

Computing Systems

  • 2-CS-02 Design projects that combine hardware and software components to collect and exchange data.

Data and Analysis

  • 2-DA-07 Represent data using multiple encoding schemes.
  • 2-DA-08 Collect data using computational tools and transform the data to make it more useful and reliable.
  • 2-DA-09 Refine computational models based on the data they have generated.

Algorithms and Programming

  • 2-AP-10 Use flowcharts and/or pseudocode to address complex problems as algorithms.
  • 2-AP-11 Create clearly named variables that represent different data types and perform operations on their values.
  • 2-AP-12 Design and iteratively develop programs that combine control structure, including nested loops and compound conditionals.
  • 2-AP-13 Decompose problems and subproblems into parts to facilitate the design, implementation, and review of programs.

NGSS Alignment (Grades 3-5)

Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions

  • 3-PS2-1 Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.
  • 3-PS2-4 Define a simple design problem that can be solved by applying scientific ideas about magnets.

Energy

  • 4-PS3-2 Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents.

Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer

  • 4-PS4-3 Generate and compare multiple solutions that use patterns to transfer information.

Engineering Design

  • 3-5-ETS1-2 Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • 3-5-ETS1-3 Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

NGSS Alignment (Grades 6-8)

Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions

  • MS-PS2-3 Ask questions to determine cause and effect relationships of electric or magnetic interactions between two objects not in contact with each other.
  • MS-PS2-5 Conduct an investigation and evaluate the experimental design to provide evidence that fields exist between objects exerting forces on each other even though the objects are not in contact.

Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer

  • MS-PS4-3 Integrate qualitative scientific and technical information to support the claim that digitized signals are a more reliable way to encode and transmit information than analog signals.

Engineering Design

  • MS-ETS1-3 Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.
  • MS-ETS1-4 Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.

Independent (Remote) Datalogging

In logging mode, wireless sensors collect data to their onboard memory for hours, days, weeks or even months at a time without needing to be connected to a computer, tablet, Chromebook or smartphone.

When the experiment concludes, simply connect the sensor to a device running PASCO software and download all the measurements it recorded.

How much does a windshield screen affect the temperature inside a car on a hot day? Using Wireless Temperature Sensors in logging mode makes it easy to find out.

 

Set up remote logging

Collect data directly on a Wireless Sensor instead of a computer or mobile device.

Note: Remote Logging is only available for PASCO Wireless Sensors.

  1. Open SPARKvue or click then select Start New Experiment.
  2. Click Remote Logging:
  3. Turn on the sensor then click the sensor which matches the device ID.

  4. Configure remote logging for each sensor:
      1. Select a sensor to configure from the Sensor menu.
      2. Toggle Sensor Enabled to Off if you don’t want to log data with this sensor.
      3. Set the Sample Rate using the left and right arrows. Toggle Common Sample Rate to Off to set different sample rates for each sensor.

    Tip: The configuration window indicates the amount of time that the sensor can log data below the sample rate. To increase the logging time:

      • Decrease the sample rate.
      • Disable unused sensors.
  5. Optional: Toggle Sensor Button Deferred Logging to On to start data logging by pressing the power button on the sensor.
  6. Click OK.

Data logging begins immediately after you click OK or press the power button on the sensor (if you selected Sensor Button Deferred Logging). The Bluetooth status light blinks yellow and green until data logging begins. When the sensor starts logging data, the Bluetooth status light blinks yellow.

Click OK and close SPARKvue. To stop data logging, turn off the sensor or connect it to SPARKvue to download the data.

Download remotely logged data

Download data remotely logged on a Wireless Sensor for data analysis. You can download the data to multiple devices as long as data isn’t deleted from the sensor after downloading it.

  1. Open SPARKvue or click then select Start New Experiment.
  2. Click Remote Logging .
  3. Turn on the sensor or press the power button if the sensor is currently logging.
    Note: The sensor doesn’t appear in Wireless Devices when the Bluetooth status light blinks yellow. Press the power button to make the sensor appear.
    Tip: Connect the sensor using USB, if available, to download data at a faster rate.
  4. Select the sensor under Sensors with data.
  5. In the Logged Data window, select Download Data.
  6. Select a method to download the data:
    • Templates
      Use this method to download the data into a new file.

      1. In the Select Measurements for Templates panel, select up to three measurements to display.
      2. In the Templates panel, select a template or a Quick Start Experiment to display the selected measurements.
    • Quick Start Experiments
      Use this method to download the data to a new Quick Start Experiment file. Names of Quick Start Experiments appear if available for the connected sensor.

      Select a Quick Start Experiment from the list, if available.

    • Add to existing experiment
      Use this method to download the data to an existing experiment file.

      1. Click Open PASCO Experiment or Open Saved Experiment.
      2. Select a file to open.

 

SPARKvue 4.0

SPARKvue makes data collection and analysis easier than ever before with cross-platform compatibility on Chromebooks™, iOS, Android™, Windows®, and Mac®, or on our standalone datalogger, the SPARK LXi.

Why SPARKvue?

SPARKvue makes data collection, analysis, and sharing quick and easy on every platform. Compatible with all of PASCO’s wireless and PASPORT sensors, students can quickly set up their lab, or use a built-in Quick Start Lab and begin collecting data immediately. SPARKvue is for all sciences and grade levels. However, if you’re an advanced user looking for more capabilities such as video analysis, advanced statistics and calculations, and greater customization of data displays on a PC or Mac®, then check out our PASCO Capstone™ software.

Since SPARKvue was first released, it has been winning awards, and we never stop improving it. With the latest major release of SPARKvue 4, we’ve continued to add features without adding complexity. A new Welcome Screen makes it easy to get started and discover SPARKvue’s capabilities. Whether you want to add data manually, use sensors for real-time or remote logging, or open one of the hundreds of existing labs, this is your starting place.

SPARKvue Landing Page Example

Data Collection

Using a USB or an interface, with SPARKvue you can just plug-and-play with nearly one-hundred sensors via Bluetooth®, which pairs wireless sensors through a simple in-app list (no system settings are required). PASCO understands that classrooms and labs can be hectic, so SPARKvue allows you to simply select a sensor from the sorted list (the closest sensors are first) and match a 6-digit laser-etched ID number to get connected. This method works even when there are dozens of Bluetooth sensors in the same lab.

Once you’ve selected a sensor, choose from a template or QuickStart Experiment, or you can build a page to meet your needs. SPARKvue is designed for inquiry, and students are not constrained to a few pre-selected layouts… the software can support expanding capabilities with ease.

SPARKvue Connection Screen Example
SPARKvue Template Screen Example

Collecting and visualizing data is easy with an array of displays, and the tools you need for analysis are right at your fingertips. Students can annotate data, apply curve fits, compare runs, create calculations, and much more! In-context tools make it simple to find what you’re looking for, which means that students spend their time learning the science, not the software.

SPARKvue Data Screen ExampleWhether you’re teaching K–8, high school, or college students, SPARKvue has the displays and tools you need to collect and analyze data. The basics you’d expect (such as digits, meter, graph, and table) are all included, but you will also find FFT, bar graphs, map display, embedded assessment questions, video playback, image capture, and analysis, as well as space for text and images. The labs you can build are only limited by your time and creativity.

Data Sharing and Export

When it’s time for students to submit their work, SPARKvue supports a variety of formats, and its export tools make it easy for educators. Students can easily snapshot their work in SPARKvue and submit an image, export the data to a .csv file to work in a spreadsheet, or save it in our .spklab format when they can come back and do more work in the future. SPARKvue also supports many other apps for saving or sharing data, including Google Drive on Chromebooks™.

SPARKvue Sharing Screen ExampleIf students are collaborating on a lab activity across devices, they can set up a shared session and stream results in real-time. Then, when the session is over, each student will have a copy of the data to analyze independently. These sessions can be set up in seconds within a student group, or the entire class can share the data from a teacher demonstration.

SPARKvue Data Screen Example

Data Collection

  • Live Data Bar: See sensor readings before you start sampling.
  • Periodic sampling: Automatic sampling proceeds at a fixed rate.
  • Manual sampling: Saves data only when a user specifies.

Data Displays

  • Graph, including multiple plot areas and axes.
  • Digits
  • Meter
  • Data Tables
  • FFT
  • Map Display
  • Bar Graph
  • Weather Dashboard (when used with the Wireless Weather Sensor with GPS)

Analysis Tools

  • Scale-to-fit: Adjust axis for optimal view of the data.
  • Data Selection: Easily select a portion of the data for analysis.
  • Prediction Tool: Visualize a prediction alongside the data.
  • Smart Tool: Find data point coordinates and calculate delta values.
  • Calculations Tools for Statistics: Easily get basic statistics (min/max/mean) and more.
  • Slope Tool: Find the slope of a point.
  • Curve Fits: 10 different curve fits with goodness of fit values.
  • User Annotation: Easily add text annotations to runs or points.
  • Easily add a y-axis or a new plot area.
SPARKvue Data Collection Example
SPARKvue Data Collection Example

Designed for Science Learning

  • Convenient annotation, snapshot, and electronic journaling are among the features that support peer dialogue, classroom presentations, and assessment.
  • Create and export electronic student lab journals.
  • Integrated with cloud-based file-sharing services such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and more.

The Same User Experience Across:

  • Computers
  • Chromebooks™
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones
  • PASCO dataloggers

More Features

SPARKvue Graph Data Screen

Graph data from a sensor & see the results in real-time.

SPARKvue Meter Screen

A Bar Graph used to investigate absorbance.

SPARKvue Boyles Law Screen

Boyle’s Law using both manually entered & sensor data.

SPARKvue Weather Dashboard Screen

Weather dashboard to monitor atmospheric conditions.

SPARKvue Choose a Path Screen

The new entry screen makes getting started even easier. Choose from three entry paths.

Download:

Download the latest update or give it a try for free.

Windows® Computers

  • Filename: SPARKvue-4.3.0.10.exe
  • Filesize: 250.32 MB
  • Version: 4.3.0
  • Released: Dec 13th, 2019

Download Free Trial Download Update

Mac® Computers

  • Filename: SPARKvue-4.3.0.10.dmg
  • Filesize: 132.67 MB
  • Version: 4.3.0
  • Released: Dec 13th, 2019

Free Apps for iPhones, iPads, Android tablets and Chromebooks

These SPARKvue apps provide the complete software install so that the user experience is the same regardless of platform. Updates for these apps are handled via direct notification and installation on your device, including SPARK LX/LXi users.


System Requirements

Windows
  • Windows 7 SP1 or later
  • Processor: 2 GHz or greater
  • RAM: 2 GB or greater
  • Disk Space: 459 MB or greater
  • Resolution: 1024 x 768 or greater
Mac
  • Mac OS X v 10.11 or later
  • Processor: 1 GHz or greater
  • RAM: 2 GB or greater
  • Disk Space: 202 MB or greater
  • Resolution: 1024 X 768 or greater
Chromebook
  • Chrome OS v70 or later
iOS
  • iOS v9 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.
Android
  • Android v5.0 or later. Compatible with tablets or phones.

About The Free Trial

  • This is a fully-functional 60-day free trial of SPARKvue software for Windows or Mac Computers.
  • After the 60 day trial, a licensed version of SPARKvue will be required to continue.
  • The full version of SPARKvue is also available as a free app for iPads, Android tablets, and Chromebook devices.

The View From a Small Town Physics Classroom

Let me paint you a picture. Not something physicists normally do but I’ll give it a shot.

I teach in a small town in BC. For most of my career it has been lower on the social-economic scale, a true blue-collar place but things are changing. More and more people are being pushed out of the big cities due to high house prices and ending up here where life is more laid back, more affordable, more idyllic?

Again, for most of my career the supplies I have had access to are the same supplies that came with the school when it was built…back in the 1950s. Trying to modernize my lab has been a challenge but just like the city, things are changing.

I’ve used PASCO products since my university days and have always found them to be intuitive and practical. When I had the chance, I purchased some of their GLX data loggers for demo purposes. I started to show the students the power of probeware and they yearned for more. Yes, I used yearn to describe students. I know, almost unheard of.

When I procured the funding to buy a class set of the GLXs after buying one a year for 5 years I was ecstatic. I called PASCO to order and was told that they were discontinued. I was bummed. What now? They told me about their new product, the Spark LX as a tablet data logger. I was intrigued. Many discussions happened, and I started to get on board. PASCO even took some of my suggestions about what I thought the logger should entail. After months of waiting they finally arrived; just in time for the start of a new school year.

I happily got to setting them all up and preparing their first interactions with the devices. I would use the Match-Graph software to give my physics students some hands-on real life to graph interactions. After a few hiccups of the airlinks needing firmware updates which my school computer wouldn’t allow I had the students head out into the school to test out the Spark and the software.

The looks we got from the other students and staff started as bewilderment. “What is his class up to now?” was heard more than once. My students didn’t even hear. They were too engaged to notice. The beginner graphs which were too hard mere seconds ago were now too easy. Harder graphs please. Harder and harder they went and the more competitive they got. “I’m addicted to this!” one student exclaimed. “I get it now.” Yelled another. They were hooked at first use.

I can’t wait to see how the next experiment goes. This is how technology should work in class. Relating physical experience to life experience to learning.

____
Glenn Grant has been teaching physics, math and science for 20 years in a small town called Mission, BC. 
“For most of my career I’ve been using equipment from the 1960s. I was the first person in my district to start using a Smart Board and then started getting into sensors about 10 years ago.  Since then I’ve cobbled together whatever I can to give my students access to something from the current century.  I believe that technology has a place in the classroom as a tool to further the learning.  Using the new PASCO equipment we can do labs 100 times a class and the discussion becomes more in-depth.  Why did they choose the data set they are using?  What makes that data “better”?  Can you replicate the graph on the board using the equipment.  It allows for more actual science than just content memorization. As I deepen my understanding of the equipment and its uses, I’ve been teaching the other members of my department and other teachers in the district.  I’m not an expert yet but I’m working on it.”

ONE SENSOR, MANY POSSIBILITIES

Earlier this year PASCO released a new Wireless Weather Sensor. It collects temperature, humidity, UV, wind, and more. The sensor also has a GPS! The folks at PASCO then embedded ArcGIS into their SPARKvue software that manages the sensors and allows for data analysis and visualization. Of course you can always export your data and load into a map at ArcGIS.com.
The all-in-one instrument can record up to 17 different measurements individually or simultaneously! Use the sensor in logging mode with the optional Weather Vane Accessory for long-term monitoring, or use it as a hand-held instrument to study microclimates and record ambient conditions relevant to many biological and environmental phenomena.
The Wireless Weather Sensor covers a wide range of protocols including:
  • Air Temperature
  • Barometirc Pressure
  • Water Vapor
  • Relative Humidity
  • Surface Ozone
  • Aerosols
  • Biometry
  • Lilac Phenology
  • Seaweed Reproductive Phenology
  • Hummingbird Project
  • Phenological Gardens
  • Land Cover Sample Site
  • Fire Fuel
  • Mosquito Larvae Protocol
  • GPS

The Effect of Learning Through Inquiry: A Blog Series

Who am I?

Hello World! My name is Maayan, and I am another co-op student at AYVA. I’m currently studying biochemistry at the University of Guelph, which is how I ended up on the AYVA Team. A bit more about me: I do not have any cute pets, but I do have two younger brothers. I’m interested in science, especially all the cool discoveries that can be made to improve the human condition. Outer space is rad. I can talk about Mars colonies for hours on end.

How did I get into science?

As a wonderfully sweet little child, I frequently stole my brothers’ toys. I built Lego castles, controlled toy cars, and appropriated (stole) puzzles by the box. I liked building things, and I liked breaking things down to see how they worked. As I continued to grow into an adolescent, I enjoyed reading science fiction, enough to finish all the books my school library had.

Eventually, as I skipped on through life, I was assigned to do a school project on an important Canadian. I chose Julie Payette, an astronaut (and currently the Governor-General), and my interest was born. It was amazing to me that people had gone to the moon, and now different countries were collaborating on the International Space Station for scientific research. For the first time, I felt that people could come together for a cause to further humanity. The five-dollar bill is still my favorite: it has the Canadarm2 and the astronaut on it. To this day, I smile whenever I see one.

In high school I realized that astronauts couldn’t have gotten to space without a team of people down on earth who helped solve problems, and just because their jobs were less flashy (and got less camera time) it did not mean that they were any less important. Anyway, I liked biology (humans!) and enjoyed learning chemistry (and about the universe). I couldn’t decide which one I liked better, so biochemistry is the major I chose. No one seemed to be offering xenobiology or astrobiology courses at the time, but I hope someday they will.

What’s Next?

Back to the blog, I will be writing a few articles on teaching science through inquiry. This is important for future STEM-ists since teaching STEM is only a step before understanding STEM. After all, every inventor, scientist, engineer, mathematician, technologist, and astronaut started as a student.

Nice to meet you, and I hope to write again soon,

Maayan

GLOBE Learning Experience 2018

Every 4 years, GLOBE hosts their annual conference outside the USA and this year we trekked to Killarney, Ireland to work with GLOBE coordinators, teachers, and students from all over the world. The conference began with an opening ceremony at the Killarney House which offered an incredibly scenic exhibit venue.

GLOBE 2018 setup

For the next several day’s attendees used PASCO equipment at two field sites to collect water quality data on the Owengarrif River. Sampling took place at the Upper Torc above the falls and the Lower Torc at the mouth of the river.

GLOBE 2018 data

Having downloaded SPARKvue software to their phone or tablet the students and teachers connected to the Optical Dissolved Oxygen, Wireless pH, and Wireless Conductivity sensors to complete the Water Quality Protocol. We also deployed the new Wireless Weather Sensor which made the site set up a cinch, answering the two critical questions of “Where are we?” and “What are the current conditions?” right on the weather dashboard display.

While the map display is not required for this protocol being able to view the data in real-time on the map was helpful to give students a sense of the landscape and identify features that could impact the water quality. Happily, at every site, we sampled the Owengarrif was in good health, although it was running near-record low flow rates due to a 5wk drought and above-average temperatures.

Here’s a quick video of highlights during the conference – hopefully, we’ll see you there next year!

 

If you’re already a GLOBE teacher or PASCO user and want to see what protocols are supported with sensors, please visit our GLOBE page for an updated alignment. If you’d like to learn more about how to participate in the GLOBE program and get your students collecting data that will be used by scientists all over the world, please visit GLOBE.gov to get started.

Inquiry Learning Helps Keep Students in STEM

The use of technology in STEM education is quite important because it supports inquiry learning. With the newest innovations from science equipment companies such as PASCO, there are even more ways to support inquiry using hands-on learning. In several independent studies, using inquiry-based learning has improved student confidence, interest, and performance in physical sciences.

The Impact of Inquiry Learning for Science Students

One study in Thailand by Tanahoung, Chitaree, Soankwan, Manjula and Johnston (2009) compared two first year introductory physics classes at the same university. One class was taught using a traditional method while the other class used Interactive Lecture Demonstrations. Interactive Lecture Demonstrations is a form of inquiry; students first predict the outcome of an experiment individually and then in groups. The demonstration is performed in real-time using micro-computer based laboratory tools (in this case a PASCO interface and a temperature sensor) and then students and/or instructor reflect on the concept based on their predictions and the actual results. For each thermodynamics concept, a pre-lecture and a post-lecture test was administered for comparison.

Tanahoung et al. found that in almost all of the concepts, there was a greater increased of percentage of correct answers between tests from the experimental group than the control group. These results show that teaching methods that use inquiry and technology are a novel and viable pedagogy for the 21st century.

Inquiry-based learning has been shown to improve grades in physical science courses for non-STEM students. In one particular study by Hemraj-Benny and Beckford (2014), a chemistry concepts such as light and matter was taught in relation to visual arts using a combination of traditional lectures and inquiry activities. The experimental group participated in group discussions, performed experiments using worksheets, created presentations, and had a summary lecture from the instructor. In contrast, the control group only had lecture-style lessons in which the instructor went over PowerPoint slides and certain scientific experiments in detail.

As a result, the class that received both inquiry and traditional lessons performed better in their final exam than the control group. More students in the experimental group reported better confidence and less fear in science than the control. Interestingly, Heraj and Beckford found that both the control and experimental group reported to have a greater appreciation of the scientific world after completing this course. Overall, this experiment shows that inquiry methods are especially beneficial for non-STEM students in understanding physical sciences. The critical skills taught in this course is an excellent example of how STEM skills can benefit everyone, including non-STEM majors.

The use of personal multifunctional chemical analysis systems has greatly improved student perception on chemistry experiments. As reported by Vanatta, Richard-Babb, and Solomon (2010), West Virgina University switched to the PASCO SPARK learning system and reported several benefits to using such systems like “less ‘waiting around time’” (Vannatta, Richard-Babb & Solomon, 2010, p. 772), the possibility of interdisciplinary and field experiments due to the versatility of using such equipment. Such as portability, ease of use and using microcomputer-based laboratories allows students to move at their own pace instead of waiting for others to move on. All of these benefits are factors to increased student retention and interest in chemistry majors.

Additionally, PASCO has upgraded from the portable SPARK learning system with built-in software to the downloadable SPARKvue software for computers and mobile devices. In another study, Priest, Pyke, and Williamson (2014) compare student perception using a handheld datalogger (the PASCO GLX system) versus SPARKvue on a laptop for the same chemistry experiment. Students were surveyed after using the GLX system for a vapour pressure experiment on their opinion on the lab. The next year, the school had phased out the GLX system and introduced SPARKvue using a laptop interface but kept the lab exactly the same. Researchers noticed more positive responses to the experiment when students used the laptop interface. Students perceived that the experiment was simpler and that the content was easier to understand when using SPARKvue because students are more familiar with a laptop and not a traditional datalogger, they experienced less frustration and spent less time learning how to use the necessary software to gather data.

A Guided Inquiry Lab – Results May Vary!

In my own studies, I benefited from inquiry labs and technology definitely made these labs easier. One of my favourite labs was a dart gun experiment where our groups were challenged to determine the theoretical spring constant of a dollar store dart gun by devising our own method. The goal of the experiment wasn’t to determine the actual spring constant since there weren’t actual springs in the dart gun, but to use what we knew from other units to create an experiment. We were given free reign over all the equipment in the classroom including the PASCO GLX and motion sensor and needed to keep a lab notebook in order to note any changes to the experimental method.

My partner and I opted for a low-tech option (pictured right) – we weighed the dart and determined the maximum height of its flight upwards so we could plug it into a kinematics equation to find the vertical velocity of the dart when it exited the chamber. This method was sort of tedious – I would launch the dart from the floor while my friend would video the dart on her phone while standing on a chair so we could replay and record when it reaches maximum height. This resulted in a few mishaps such as the dart perfectly falling into the adjacent broken glass box which we promptly moved. We also had to make several modifications to our experiment design to ensure that our data collection was consistent such as taping the dart gun so it exits perpendicular to the ground and adding weight to the dart gun so it doesn’t hit the ceiling before it reached its maximum height.

Another group decided on the easier (and safer) option of using the GLX and motion sensor to capture the horizontal acceleration of the dart when launched off of the table to model a Type 1 Projectile Motion problem. This method reduced a lot of uncertainty in their calculations since the sensors could accurately capture their data and they had the added benefit of not needing to precariously stand on a chair and guess-timate the maximum height. They also managed to finish a lot earlier and have more experimental runs than we did.

Although the sensors did end up making the experiment a lot easier for them, both of our groups were able to make connections between units and truly use the scientific method which made the experiment so much more interesting than our usual structured inquiry labs.

How You Can Support Inquiry Learning in Your Classroom

From these studies it is clear that inquiry-based learning and technology in STEM classrooms have short-term benefits such as increasing student interest and confidence. In addition, these two approaches to learning are complimentary to each other. The ease of use from technology decreases wait times and allows students to move at their own pace. Because students can move at their own pace, they are able to ask questions about the experiment itself. Students are able to benefit from making mistakes in this environment because the data logging software allows them to analyze what they did incorrect and why it is happening.

Through this approach, students are able to be curious in a controlled environment whilst developing essential scientific inquiry skills. There is also more time for meaningful discussion during class through using probeware since it reduces the amount of set up and lessons on how to use the equipment. Because of this, students are less likely to get frustrated or bored from experiments and helps students understand or reinforce their knowledge in the subject. This could improve the number of students pursuing a science education since students are less likely to leave if they are interested and confident in what they are learning.

PASCO and AYVA have a significant amount of resources that further demonstrates the positive impact that probeware technology has in science education such as White Papers on how PASCO supports scientific inquiry. AYVA also provides Curriculum Correlations for Canadian provinces which provides suggestions on how to incorporate PASCO technology into science classrooms across Canada.

 

References

Hemraj-Benny, T., & Beckford, I. (2014). Cooperative and Inquiry-Based Learning Utilizing Art-Related Topics: Teaching Chemistry to Community College Nonscience Majors. Journal of Chemical Education, 91, p. 1618-1622

Priest, S.J., Pyke, S.M., & Williamson, N.M. (2014). Student Perceptions of Chemistry Experiments with Different Technological Interfaces: A Comparative Study. Journal of Chemical Education, 91, p.1787-1795.

Tanahoung, C., Chitaree, R., Soankwan, C., Sharma, M.D., & Johnston, I.D., (2009). The effect of Interactive Lecture Demonstrations on students’ understanding of heat and temperature: a study from Thailand. Research in Science & Technological Education, 27(1), p. 61-74.

Vannatta, M.W., Richards-Babb, M., & Solomon, S.D. (2010). Personal Multifunctional Chemical Analysis Systems for Undergraduate Chemistry Laboratory Curricula. Joural of Chemical Education, 87(8), p. 770-772.

Having the Right Attitude Towards STEM

In my high school years I found that many of my classmates hesitated in pursuing science and engineering because of the ‘M’ in STEM. Math. When I was younger I didn’t really understand why everybody hated math so much – in my opinion it was more fun than having to draw (I’m a pretty bad artist). It also helps that I had a good teacher in grade 5 and 6 that gave me a healthy respect for math. Her math tests were infamous for being long and difficult but it helped me develop the necessary skills to succeed in high school.

I find that the biggest issue for students is that they have a negative view towards studying STEM and it’s a result of years of conditioning from teachers, parents, and peers telling them that the content is difficult to learn. Although it is not intentional, it has a significant effect on a student when they start thinking about what career they want to pursue.

EEK IT’S A PARABOLA! Oh wait it’s just a ghost.

Although Math is its own discipline in STEM, all the other disciplines (science, technology, and engineering) inevitably involves math in some way. So many students have a fear of math and will avoid certain disciplines because it requires math. Quite often I would hear my classmates say that they won’t apply to a specific post-secondary program because it requires grade 12 calculus. This fear of math is so prevalent in our culture that it is almost like a badge of honour to say that you’re “not a math person”. My first year calculus professor has a good blog posts (here and here) that outlines why math anxiety can be detrimental and has other math resources and activities for teachers.

This applies for teachers as well – showing fear of math or any other subject can greatly affect how a student perceives that subject. In order to address this problem, STEM education for pre-service teachers must be improved. In one study by Gado, Ferguson, and van’t Hooft (2006), pre-service chemistry teachers were taught using probeware in their experiments which resulted in greater confidence in these subjects. By having more confidence in teaching the content, the teachers are less likely to project a fear of STEM but instead an interest and enthusiasm for the subject.

Using mathematical concepts in science is an effective way to make math seem less like a scary ghost. There are many ways to help your students reinforce their math skills within science lessons. With the use of probeware with built-in graphing software, math can be readily applied to real-life concepts thus helping students understand concepts both numerically and visually. It also explains math in a different way that some students may find more understandable.

Failure Is Not An Option (Or Is It?)

I think this negative attitude towards math and difficult subjects in general comes from the fear of failure. Acceptance into post-secondary education heavily relies on what grades students have and having a low score in a course could influence whether or not they get into a certain university program. I admit that I didn’t want to take physics or calculus because I knew that it would lower my acceptance average since they were quite difficult subjects.

What I learned from these courses was far more valuable to me than a few percentage points and I’m not talking about derivatives and quantum physics. I learned how to fail in physics and calculus. I did have a fear of failure – the thought of even getting a 70 in a course was terrifying for me until grade 11. Learning new things was always easy for me and failure was never an option for the overachieving 16 year old me.

I failed a test in high school for the first time in my grade 11 physics class which was absolutely devastating. After some tears I picked myself up and tried to figure out where I went wrong. Obviously my study skills at the time weren’t effective so I had to develop different skills that would suit this type of course. I learned from my mistakes and tried harder. I ended up finishing that class with a 90 and an important life lesson. I learned that failing is okay as long as you learn from your failures. This is something that I didn’t really understand until I actually experienced it.

Although something is considered difficult or you think that you might not be good at it, it shouldn’t prevent you from at least trying. There is always something to learn from failure, even if it’s simply the confirmation that something is definitely not suited for you. This applies not only to STEM but in life.

In order for more students to pursue a STEM education, we need to start encouraging students to get out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves in areas that they are not as strong in even if they may fail. Remember, failure is an option!

References:

Gado, I., Ferguson, R., & van’t Hooft, M. (2006). Using handheld-computers and probeware in a Science Methods course: preservice teachers’ attitudes and self-efficacy. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 14(3), p. 501+.

The Cost of a STEM Education

Another major factor is simply the cost of a science and technology education – you can’t learn computer science without a working computer!

Technology has shaped education and how students learn – many teachers are opting to use online assignment submission, encouraging students to download lessons from a school website, and communicating to their students via Twitter. I still remember going to the computer lab with my class to play Math Circus, a series of circus mini-games geared to teach children math.

There are also so many free resources available for educators that can supplement their lessons and help students. Many of these resources are available through an app on a mobile platforms but what about schools and communities that don’t have the funds to access such technology?

Some schools have a Bring Your Own Device program to save the cost of buying a class set of tablets or laptops. Some schools discourage this program because it is not guaranteed that all students will have a device so they will purchase their own technology.

Technology Supports Inquiry Learning:

Whilst technology may have been a ‘want’ ten years ago, now it is a ‘need’ for educators as more provinces and school boards make 21st Century learning skills and inquiry skills a requirement for classrooms.

Inquiry-based learning is a pedagogy that is focused on learning using constructivism, which involves an individual’s participation to facilitate their own learning. In other words, a student must be engaged, actively thinking, asking questions, making connections between their knowledge and real-life examples, and use hands-on activities to concretize their theoretical knowledge (Minner, Levy, and Century, 2010, p. 476-476). In fact, inquiry-based learning has been shown to improve grades in physical science courses for non-STEM students (Hemraj-Benny and Beckford, 2014).

Inquiry learning is a fundamental aspect of science education since the nature of the subject is to ask questions and use what you know to develop a way to answer your question.

Even if a school can afford computer carts or tablets, there are recurring costs in a science department.  In a science department equipment such as glassware, reagents, and rats for dissection must be replenished every year in order to do experiments.

Experiments support a student’s inquiry skills which are important for a budding scientist but with the high cost associated with science experiments, how can students learn?

As previously mentioned in another blog, I struggled to understand physics so I only fully grasped it when I did the experiments. I was lucky to have a teacher that did an experiment at the end of every unit and to be in a well-equipped physics classroom with an air track, metal carts, optics equipment, and PASCO sensors. I cannot imagine passing my high school physics classes if I didn’t have the resources available.

What Can We Do?

There are many government funded outreach programs that bring science experiments to your classroom for free. Quite often, university students volunteer to visit the classroom for a workshop and they will bring all the necessary equipment to perform an experiment.

In my school we frequently had visitors for McMaster science and engineering outreach programs to do a specific experiment for that day. During one of these visits, each group of students were able to build their own circuit and create a solar car that we later tested outside.

There are many programs like this all around Canada and a lot of them are affiliated with a post-secondary institution so it can double as a career-planning workshop for your students. One of the biggest outreach programs and an incredible resource for science educators in Canada is Let’s Talk Science. Let’s Talk Science conveniently provides a page dedicated to finding a local outreach:

In terms of technology, there are a lot of grants available from some of the biggest companies in Canada such as the Best Buy School Tech Grant which also has a specific STEM school category and the Staples Superpower Your School Contest for environmentally conscious schools. Check out our AYVA grant page to see what’s available!

 

References:

Hemraj-Benny, T., & Beckford, I. (2014). Cooperative and Inquiry-Based Learning Utilizing Art-Related Topics: Teaching Chemistry to Community College Nonscience Majors. Journal of Chemical Education, 91, p. 1618-1622

Minner, D.D., Levy, A.J., & Century, J. (2010). Inquiry-based science instruction—what is it and does it matter? Results from a research synthesis years 1984 to 2002. Jouurnal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(4), p.474-496.


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  • A big thanks for all the help and support you provided – I want to take some time to say a big thanks for all the help and support you provided me to select the best equipment in order to make the best possible use of the funds available. It is really exceptional that you happily connected with me multiple times even during the weekend and was always motivated to help. Please accept my big thanks for this.

    Gurpreet Sidhu | Physics Instructor | University College of North | The Pas, MB

  • Wireless Spectrometer Big Hit With Students – PASCO’s wireless spectrometer has been utilized very well by our earth science and physical science teachers. It’s an excellent piece of equipment and we have very much enjoyed its addition to enriching our classroom. It definitely brings students to a higher level of understanding wave interaction at a molecular level.

    Matt Tumbach | Secondary Instructional Technology Leader | Tommy Douglas Collegiate | Saskatoon, SK

  • Excellent Smart Cart – I thought the cart was excellent. The quick sampling rate for force will be very useful for momentum and collision labs we do. I’m recommending we include this in our order for next school year.

    Reed Jeffrey | Science Department Head | Upper Canada College | Toronto ON

  • Your lab equipment is of the highest quality and technical support is always there to help. During the 25 years we have used a wide array of lab equipment including computer interfacing. Your Pasco line has a high profile in our lab and will continue to do so far into the future.

    Bob Chin | Lab Technician | Kwantlen Polytechnic University | Surrey, BC

  • Datalogging Activities are Cross-Curricular

    Throughout the province of Nova Scotia, PASCO’s probeware technology has been merged with the rollout of the new P-6 curriculum. We chose a number of sensors for use with our project-based activities. Both the functionality and mobility of PASCO’s dataloggers enable students to collect authentic, real-world data, test their hypotheses and build knowledge.

    Mark Richards | Technology Integration Consultant | Annapolis Valley R.S.B. | Nova Scotia

  • We have a large number of PASCO wireless spectrometers and love how they have improved the learning experience for our students.

    Shawn McFadden | Technical Specialist | Ryerson University | Toronto, Ontario

  • During distance learning due to COVID-19 school shut down, I was given a short window to collect what I could from my classroom to teach online. The PASCO wireless sensors and Smart Carts were my top priority to collect to implement distance learning. By sharing experimental data with students via SPARKVue, the sensors were pivotal in creating an online experience that still allowed students to grow with their lab skills. It was easy to record videos of the data collection and share the data with my students. They did a phenomenal job examining and interpreting the data.


    Michelle Brosseau | Physics Teacher | Ursuline College Chatham | Chatham, Ontario

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