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Pros: Sensors are durable and lightweight, so students can be creative about how they design investigations.
Cons: PocketLab better exemplifies the nature of science when students design or modify existing labs instead of following them step by step.
Bottom Line: A science sensor that pairs with your device to gather and analyze data is perfect for inquiry-based learning.
PocketLab is flexible enough that once kids know how to use the app, they can design investigations that matter to them. If students are interested in gymnastics, they could tuck the sensor into their waistband and gather data while flipping. Kick your rocket lab up a notch by attaching the PocketLab sensor to your water rocket and collecting the live data. PocketLab also works with Google's Science Journal app.
PocketLab offers a variety of accessories such as the HotRod Dynamics cart. Instead of purchasing the cart, teachers who have access to 3D printers can download the free 3D printer files and make their own. Head to the Educators page to find a variety of user-produced lesson ideas and videos.
PocketLab is the latest in a series of efforts to make sensors affordable for classroom use. It uses small, wireless sensors (PocketLab One, Weather, and Voyager) that pair with smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks, or other laptops to gather data such as acceleration, pressure, humidity, magnetic field, temperature, and more. The data can then be analyzed using tools such as Excel and Google Docs and even through the Scratch programming site. Kids can even create their own programs in Scratch, such as controlling a spaceship on the screen using your PocketLab sensor.
One sensor works for most of the different types of measurements. Want students to learn about momentum and force through collision carts? Instead of purchasing an expensive air track, you can strap two PocketLab sensors to a pair of carts, collecting data on two smartphones. The same sensors can be used to measure the magnetic field of a slinky and to build your own seismograph. Because PocketLab is lightweight and durable, it can be used almost anywhere.
Other tools like Science Journal and Lab4Physics are free, but all data is gathered directly from students' smartphones. PocketLab stands out because the sensor is separate and can be placed anywhere, from inside a soccer ball to the top of a ceiling fan while it spins. While the sensor is in play, students are holding their tablet, smartphone, or laptop and watching the data in real time. The sensors are expensive, ranging from $98-$148 apiece, but that's still cheaper than outfitting an entire lab with traditional equipment.
PocketLab has created a series of experiments with clear step-by-step directions to help students do things like build a barometer that measures weight. This activity promotes learning by helping students see how pressure is affected when weight is added to the bag. These labs do most of the planning for the students, but teachers could modify the activities to allow for more student-led investigation.