Using data logging technology with special needs students

Many departments have small numbers of data loggers, stuck at the back of cupboards with flat batteries, neglected because no-one really knows what to do with them.  Perhaps they don’t get used because you haven’t got a class set or because the teacher lacks the confidence to use them in front of a group of tech-savvy students.

My advice – if you have PGCE students get them on the case.  PGCE students have to show capability in ICT skills and what better way to learn than by mastering data logging equipment and rolling out activities to the rest of the department.

Data loggers are excellent tools for SEN students – hopefully the ideas below will encourage you to dig yours out and get them up and running again!

Using data loggers as a digital measuring device

At the simplest level just using a data logger as a digital thermometer works.  It is easy to read and using like this is a good way to introduce the technology to students.

Logit explorer

Using data loggers on the IWB to show live data

Most data logging equipment can be connected to a PC and used to show live data from an experiment on the IWB.  You could even get students to take regular readings from this live data, building up skills like timing and recording results, whilst keeping the activity simple.  This is especially useful where there could be health & safety implications from the experiment.


The image shows the data captured from an experiment investigating the insulating properties of dog fur!  This graph was displayed at the end of the experiment, with live data being displayed on the screen as the experiment was underway.

Data loggers also allow many students with poor numeracy skills to visualise the results and answer questions like ‘did the temperature go up or down?’ which they might not have been able to do from a table of numbers.

Using data loggers to capture data and create a graph of results.

For students who lack the necessary coordination or organisational skills to collect results over a period of time, why not give them a data logger and get the hardware to do the work for them.  Students are released from the requirement to collect readings at fixed intervals, they don’t have to struggle to read the thermometer and the data is even graphed at the end by the data logging software.  More advanced students can even export their data into Excel.


This graph shows the temperatures collected during the dog hair insulation experiment (unfortunately I didn’t start the data logging collecting data until we had finished using the live display on the IWB).   Again this allows students with poor numeracy to visualise the results, and to make comparisons between the different data sets collected (e.g. which temperature dropped the fastest? the most? the slowest?)

Do you use data logging hardware/software with SEN students.  Leave me a comment and share your ideas with others.

Getting students to prepare for exams–There’s an app for that!

We all know that students are notoriously bad at preparing for exams.  Pearson (owners of the Edexcel exam board) think they have a solution – an app (for Apple devices).

From launching the app with the ‘My Exams’ icon, you come the my exams page where you enter the dates and subjects of any exams coming up.  You can also post how you feel about the exam (e.g. I am confident, I am busy revising) and also post a message about your exam to your Facebook page.  Once you have entered your exams, you are given a list of exams in date order, with a countdown for each.  Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much more to this section – I would have liked to see the ‘to do’ list as a separate tab in the application, perhaps collating the lists from all exams.

The app also has a section for useful and quite detailed study tips, like the importance of having a plan.  Whilst the app will only appeal to those students that are already preparing for exams (with an Apple device), it is another tool in their arsenal to help them succeed.  Search the Apple App store for ‘Exam Countdown’ – it’s a free download.

Now if only there was an app for willpower…

Science CPD (Continuing professional development) using podcasts

mp3playerPodcasts are short audio programmes that you download and play at a time convenient to you.  You can listen to them on your PC, on your MP3 player or even your mobile phone.  I download mine using the built in ‘Podcast client’ on my Nokia phone, but iTunes is perhaps the simplest and easiest way to access podcasts for most people.

I tend to listen to podcasts on my drive to school and when I’m walking the dog – and I’ve picked up ideas for experiments and lessons as well as broadening my scientific knowledge.  My favourite science podcast is ‘The Naked Scientists’ and I’d recommend if you only listen to one podcast you listen to theirs.

I’ve listed below some of the podcasts I find/have found useful – let me know if you know of any good ones I’ve missed out.

The Naked Scientists (Podcast link/iTunes link)

BBC Science in Action (Podcast link/iTunes link)

Science Weekly from the Guardian (Podcast link/iTunes link)

Lab Out Loud (Podcast link/iTunes link)

Dr Karl and the Naked Scientist (Podcast link/iTunes link)

Scientific American (Podcast link/iTunes link)

Nature (Podcast link/iTunes link)

The Tech Teachers (Podcast link/iTunes link)

Science CPD (continuing professional development) Science Websites

laptopScience websites provide two opportunities – access to content to keep subject knowledge up to date, and specific information about teaching science.  Many of these are written by teachers for other teachers – often as a blog (a website where entries are in date order).  Note as with Twitter, not every article you read on these sites may be Science related.

I’ve listed below some of the more useful science websites I’ve found – if you know of any I’ve missed off, do add them in the comments below.

Some of the websites will offer you RSS feeds (with a little orange symbol) which means you can read updates from these sites without having to visit them – you just need an RSS reader.  Google Reader is my RSS feed reader of choice – you simply ask Reader to follow the sites you are interested in and you can read the updates for all the websites you subscribe to within one tool (from any computer).  Look here for helpful videos.

You can click here and see the articles I’ve read  and thought were worth sharing (and you can even subscribe to this list in Google Reader!).

Feel free to leave a comment or use the ‘Contact Me’ option if you have any questions.

Science CPD (continuing professional development) Using online communities

The best kind of CPD I’ve experienced comes from other practitioners.   Online communities provide an opportunity to interact with other teachers at a home and place convenient to you.  Ideas, resources and video can all be shared online.  I’ve list below the two most useful ways I’ve found of interacting with other teachers online.

TES online

The Science forum on the TES (Times Educational Supplement) has plenty of enthusiastic teachers who are willing to answer queries, share good practice and act as a sounding board for your ideas.  The board is organised as a series of topics, and you can either start a new topic or respond to an existing topic.  The board can be used anonymously so you don’t have to reveal your identity if you are afraid to show your ignorance.



Twitter is a website that lets you post short messages (140 characters or less).  People follow you and you follow other people – you can direct questions to individuals by putting @theirtwitterID at the start of a message.  To make twitter easier to use, you can use a third party program like Tweetdeck (which can also post Facebook and other updates for you too!).

Follow me on twitter and say hello – I’m cleverfiend (because fiendishlyclever was too long to be my user ID)

To speed things up I’ve created lists of the science teachers I follow on Twitter (note that the teachers may talk/twitter about other topics as well as science).  You can simply follow my lists and therefore follow the same professionals that I do.

Science teachers in the UK

Science teachers outside the UK

A word of warning about Twitter.  You hear some teachers raving about twitter saying its the best thing since sliced bread and how their PLN (personal learning network) helps them develop as a teacher.  I find it’s like shouting in the wind.  The signal to noise ratio is extremely low, and many of the teachers on twitter (including many of the ones I follow) are only there because they like to hear the sound of their own voice rather than to engage in meaningful dialogue.  I do stick with it though because it has proved to be useful on several occasions.

There are many other educators on Twitter as well as science teachers.  Once you find someone you like have a look at the people they follow and follow some of them yourself.   You can search Twitter for the #ASEchat tag – these are all posts (Tweets) by science educators using the Association of Science Education hashtag (#ASEChat).



There are fan pages on Facebook but I’ve yet to find anything of value for CPD.  You can also engage in discussion with individuals through their blogs by leaving comments.  I know online communities have been set up in the past using the Ning platform but the people who run these tend to be ‘tech hippies’ jumping on every bandwagon that comes along rather than an overworked science teacher!

Let me know if you find a good online community that I haven’t mentioned – I would love to hear about it.