Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Turn Your Smartphone into a Science Laboratory: Five Challenges That Use Mobile Devices to Collect and Analyze Data in Physics

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Turn Your Smartphone into a Science Laboratory: Five Challenges That Use Mobile Devices to Collect and Analyze Data in Physics

Article excerpt

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Mobile devices have become a popular form of education technology, but little attention has been paid to the use of their sensors for data collection and analysis. This article describes some of the benefits of using mobile devices this way and presents five challenges to help students overcome common misconceptions about force and motion. We've used these challenges--and the apps we created to go along with them--in our physics classes but have also found them useful in environmental science, chemistry, and biology classes as well.

Using mobile devices in science

Though U.S. science classrooms have used smartphones for data collection (Huffling et al. 2014; Heilbronner 2014), the international education community appears to have used them longer, having produced several lab ideas relevant for high school physics teachers in the United States (Kuhn and Vogt 2013; Barrera-Garrido 2015; Monteiro et al. 2014; Science on Stage Europe 2014; Gonzalez et al. 2015). Many of the apps involved use a smartphone's accelerometer, a sensor particularly well suited for teaching concepts of force and motion and cause and effect (Figure 1, p. 34; Monteiro, Cabeza, and Marti 2014; Tornaria, Monteiro, and Marti 2014; Vieyra and Vieyra 2014). The accelerometer is a micro force meter using small pieces of silicon that move in response to changes in orientation (see box). Students can use apps that use this sensor to measure linear acceleration and compare different types of motion, including constant velocity, linear acceleration, and centripetal acceleration. Knowing the mass of the mobile device allows them to measure its net force using Newton's second law, [F.sub.net] = ma, as well.

Research shows that students struggle conceptually with the relationship between force and motion and especially with the concept of centripetal force as inward directed. Research by Hestenes, Swackhamer, and Wells (1992) on the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) shows that students typically gain only 24% to 42% on the FCI after traditional instruction involving lecture and cookbook labs. This suggests a need for more engaging instructional strategies.

Mobile devices allow students to graphically model physical relationships (Arizona State University 2015) and to collect data outside the classroom, such as in the field or at home, so students can better see and understand science concepts in contextualized, relevant environments and improve their skills in science and engineering practices as described in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013) (see box, p. 38; ISTE 2007). Data collected in environments such as these are typically big, "messy," and more realistic than that collected in the lab and thus present increased opportunities for learning and engagement.

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How to use mobile devices inside and outside the classroom

Below are challenges we have used with students in regular introductory algebra-based physics courses around the world. Note that many schools still restrict the use of personal mobile devices in the classroom, so consult school administrators before starting. Discuss with students mobile device etiquette, including, if appropriate, that devices be screen-down during teacher-directed activities or class discussions. Also remember that any new technology in the classroom takes time to learn. Once learned, however, mobile devices can speed up data collection. Allow students time to explore what data their mobile devices can collect and what manipulations change the data collected.

Students should investigate where the x, y, and z planes are on their devices (Figure 1) and how they are represented graphically. Students must understand what the device is measuring, and, if appropriate, how the internal sensors work (see box, p. 33).

Students complete the five challenges presented on the following pages. …

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