Review by Emily Pohlonski, Common Sense Education | Updated June 2016
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Science Journal by Google

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Turn your phone into a lab sensor to collect and analyze data

Subjects & skills
  • Science

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (2 Reviews)

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Pros: A free alternative to expensive classroom light, sound, and motion sensors.

Cons: Not all students have a smartphone.

Bottom Line: Science Journal does a good job recording real-time motion, sound, and light data using phones.

Teachers can use Science Journal by Google to help students design and conduct their own investigations. Use the Getting Started activities on the Making & Science website to familiarize students with the tool. Each one takes only about 15 minutes. 

If it works with your content, have students follow the detailed instructions to design, build, and test their own wind spinners. Otherwise, once students have spent some time playing with the app, encourage them to plan and carry out their own experiments. 

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Measure sound, light, and more using the sensors in your phone. Google refers to the Science Journal app as a pocket science laboratory because it allows students to measure data in real time using a phone. Sensors record ambient light (lux), intensity of sound in decibels (dB), and acceleration of the phone moving in three planes (m/s2). Students can design their own experiments and use Science Journal to collect and annotate data.

Google provides Getting Started activities on their Making & Science website. These activities are printable and will help acclimate students to the different tools available in the Science Journal app. Once the students get started they can build a project and save multiple trials to compare.

Science Journal by Google takes advantage of smartphones, which some students already own, to use as lab sensors. This can be a huge cost savings since similar science sensors range in costs up to $5,000. A similar app, Lab4Physics, does the same thing but works on Apple devices. Science Journal may be challenging if not enough students in a class have phones. One way that Science Journal is a step up from Lab4Physics is that you can record audio observations and take pictures while simultaneously collecting data. This helps students capture their thoughts in the moment but not quite at the level of Playground Physics, which takes video and traces the motion right on top. 

Science Journal lets students take the lead in their science class. At the time of this review their support website, Making & Science, had only one experiment (Wind Spinners), but it exemplifies the Science and Engineering Practices from the Next Generation of Science Standards. Students are challenged to design their own structure and measure how well it spins in the wind. Students are also supported by tips that show up while using the tool. For example, after completing the first trial, students are encouraged to perform multiple trials to look for consistency in data.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Kids are engaged because they have a choice and an opportunity to figure things out themselves. This is paired with an elegant interface that kids find easy to use.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Exploration is emphasized over direct instruction. Even the introductory activities encourage students to experiment and determine which of the accelerometers works best when spinning a phone around inside a sock.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Tips are available while using the app. A support website provides printable introductory activities.

Common Sense Reviewer
Emily Pohlonski Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
August D. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Ridgewood Elementary School
Eureka, United States
Onboard sensors in your phone or tablet ofter tons of potential for authentic science learning.
Although the true potential for student learning will come at the hands of middle and high school students, I also see a benefit for elementary students with teacher support. How can we make objective observations? Just open the app and we'll quantify some information! What is data? Let's collect some now and talk about it! How can we visualize information with a chart? Here's what we just observed and here's what it looks like as a graph! ...
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