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Datalogging-model houses1.jpg
Use sensors to measure and investigate - Data logging

Tool Description Today there are hundreds of objects with sensors that respond to variables such as temperature and light. They enable us to measure force (in our weighing scales); deceleration (in our car air bags) and location (in GPS navigation). Sensors help us to investigate science. If you wonder about the G-forces you might undergo on a theme park ride, or how long it takes to cool a can of Cola, you are in the business of investigating science. Data logging technology now provides students with a tool to operate scientifically, solve problems in technology lessons, or analyse data in maths. All through the 1990's and ever since, UK schools have acquired equipment for measuring using sensors, largely because the National Curriculum (~1990) encouraged teaching science with technology.

Sensors(tool) are obviously tools for measuring in science, but why might they be better than regular tools? Are they more accurate; more convenient or less costly? On these points alone, they are little better than a device such as a thermometer. Sensors and data loggers(tool) are in part ‘special’ because they can display fast changes and measure with precision. A temperature sensor linked to a live graph can give an insight into how a cup of coffee cools. Analysing the data from that experiment provides learning opportunities - which can often be overlooked. Sensors extend the range of things we can measure - from timing a falling mass to recording human pulse changes during a race. Importantly, a live display of a changing measurement can provide students with a tacit understanding of what is happening. Nearby are numerous examples to evaluate what sensors bring to science.

Technology continually innovates and just sometimes, technology's ability to provide an automatic result is worth reflecting on. An accelerometer(tool) gives an insight into gravity by providing the number 9.8 - a figure for the acceleration caused by gravity. Another sensor, called a light gate(topic), can also measure acceleration but this result needs to be derived from measuring distance and time. Ultimately you have measured the same parameter but the advantage of using a light gate is that students must do the work to get to the answer. And that is very useful indeed. A further example may help: one type of breathing sensor 'integrates' chest movements to display a breathing rate on a screen. Another type of breathing sensor shows a wave of peaks as the chest moves. In the latter case, students need to count the peaks to obtain the breathing rate. An anaesthetist would find a direct readout of breathing rate useful while an engineer would find a direct readout of acceleration useful. A teacher however, would see learning opportunities in getting students to work things out. (edit)

Teaching Approach. Encourage pupils to engage in the scientific method(ta) and reason(ta) about how best to use sensors to collect data for an inquiry(ta) project. Engaging pupils in using tools can encourage them in their use of language(ta) and group work(ta) for a particular problem. (edit)

Tool details
Title Use sensors to measure and investigate
Topic Data logging,  Sensors
Licence / Cost / Platform

Needs equipment

Subject / Categories ToolInfo, Sensors, Data loggers, Measuring, Books, Data logging, ICT, TaggedWithTag
Teaching Ideas / Links

Investigating a way to keep your house warm and a graph from an investigation comparing ways to make coffee

Datalogging-model houses2.jpg Dataloggingcoffee1.gif

A curriculum

The following table is a guide to the way pupils might progress with their use of sensors and control technology.

Progression in measuring and controlling things What the pupils do in science (or technology)  
Recognise that everyday devices respond to signals and commands and they can make them respond in different ways. Talk about how to use a video recorder. 1
Control devices purposefully and describe the effects of their actions. Technology: introduce robots. 2
Understand how to control equipment to achieve specific outcomes by giving a series of instructions. Technology: control a robot. 3
Use IT to control events in a predetermined manner, to collect physical data and display it. Technology: control a robot and make it perform a set routine. Use sensors to make measurements and display readings. 4
Create sets of instructions to control events, and become sensitive to the need for precision in framing and sequencing instructions. Technology: control a robot and make it perform a set routine. 5
Develop, trial and refine sets of instructions to control events, demonstrating an awareness of the notions of efficiency and economy in framing these instructions. Understand how IT devices can be used to monitor and measure external events, using sensors. Technology: control a robot, make it perform a set routine and not be content with just getting it to work. Use sensors to make measurements, for example, use digital sensors to measure their reaction time. 6
Use IT equipment and software to measure and record physical variables. Use sensors to make measurements in experiments. Use a data logger to record the room temperature and light level over a weekend. Display readings  as time graphs. 7
Select the appropriate IT facilities for specific tasks, taking into account ease of use and suitability for purpose. Design successful means of capturing and preparing information for computer processing. When assembling devices that respond to data from sensors, they describe how feedback might improve the performance of the system. Use sensors to make measurements in experiments. Select appropriate sensors and recording parameters. Use the data in the data logging program or export it to a spreadsheet or word processor. Develop a control system to run a biofermenter, an aquarium or fire alarm. Discuss and document the work to a high standard. 8

Learning to use sensors

Progression is no less important in using computers and sensors than any other part of the curriculum. How then might pupil's skills develop as they move through school? This list is one answer.

Age 5-7

Use sensors to show whose hands are hottest. Show, using graphical or bar displays, which things are hot or which sound is loudest or which place is darkest? For a primer on control, they might learn to use video recorders, programmable toys or robots.

Age 8-11

Use temperature sensors instead of thermometers to investigate the cooling of a drink. Use other sensors as opportunities arise.  Consider the advantages of sensors over human sensors and suggest some uses for them around the home. Use control technology to power models (juston/off to start with) and develop this further (move left/right, fast/slow). Do a control project that combines the use of sensors with control.

Age 11-13

Develop the use of sensors - starting with some initial demonstrations - moving onto investigations. Introduce different sensors, show what they measure and how they are used at home. Pupils might also learn to use a data logger to say, compare indoor and outdoor temperatures over the day.  Use digital sensors for measuring their reaction time or things sliding down a slope. Build a control system such as an air conditioning system or a baby incubator.

Age 14-16

By this age, pupils should be using sensors as scientific tools in investigations and projects. They should develop the skill to use two different sensors at once and plot one value say, pressure against temperature. They should examine data critically and if the data logging software is rather limited, they might learn to put the data into a spreadsheet. Combining data, graphs and text in a word processor report is another important skill. For control work pupils might develop a control system using sensors (push switches or light sensors) and output devices (heaters, buzzers, lamps). In some courses, they would be expected to plan, design, make, test, evaluate and document their project.

Age 18-

Pupil's skills should be put to full use at this age, although sooner would be much more useful. They should be able to choose their measuring tools, analyse data, criticise and document their work on the computer.

See especially Roger Frost's Data_Logging_and_Control

This resource was created by Roger Frost, and is under the ORBIT's CC licence.

Relevant resources

ICT Data Logging inservice booklet
Data logging inservice1.png
A compendium of CPD and ITE activities on why we use sensors and the practicalities of implementing their use
Activities and advice for using ICT(i) for use in inquiry(i) based learning and the scientific method(i).
ICT Data Logging and Control
A compendium with numerous ideas for using sensors to teach science.
This book provides a set of resources and lesson ideas with ICT(i) as a key focus for use in inquiry(ta) based learning and the scientific method(ta). It offers opportunities for use of group work(ta) and collaboration(ta) as well as whole class(ta) questioning(ta).
ICT Primary Science Curriculum Activities with Sensors
A compendium of investigations with sensors in primary science
This resource provides a set of activities to engage pupils in inquiry(ta) based learning in the scientific method(ta), often making effective use of ICT(i) and sensors(tool). The activities involve whole class(ta) questioning(ta) and collaborative(ta) group work(ta).
ICT Infant and Primary Science Activities with Sensors
EasySense-Vu ebook from Data Harvest1.jpg
A compendium of investigations with sensors in primary science.
This is a compendium of activities to engage pupils in inquiry(ta) based learning in the scientific method(ta), often making effective use of ICT(i) and sensors(tool). The activities involve whole class(ta) questioning(ta) and collaborative(ta) group work(ta).
Measuring Measuring Temperature - Cold and Hot
Put a number on the meaning of hot and cold
This lesson involves the use of higher order questioning(ta) to engage pupils in an inquiry(ta) relating on how to record temperature and the use of sensors.
Measuring Measuring Light - Does light shine through everything?
Using a sensor to see what's transparent and translucent
This lesson involves the use of higher order questioning(ta) on scientific method(ta) topics to engage pupils in an inquiry(ta) relating to the nature of light, its measurement, and the use of sensors.
Science Listening to scientists - Using sensors and data loggers for agriculture
How do plant growers and scientists monitor the environment? What do they measure and why?
This resource was made for general public interest but may find use as enrichment material for science, technology and geography.