Spreading diseases

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I was recently shown a brilliant app/game for Biology, to support learning about the spread and control of infectious diseases. It’s called Plague Inc (download it here – ) and features some great science and opportunities for students to apply their learning about the spread of disease.

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You take on responsibility for creating a disease such as a bacteria or virus. Choose a country to start the disease and the game begins. Different factors affect how your disease spreads and as the game proceeds, you get the opportunity to evolve your disease to incorporate new mutations making it easier to transmit, more deadly, or harder to research cures for to name but a few.

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The game could be used for both GCSE and IB/A-level Biology and Geography, to give students a different method of learning and applying knowledge and understanding of the the factors influencing the spread of diseases. While somewhat macabre, there is something distinctly satisfying about building a disease that wipes out the entire human race!

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Homework and consolidation activities would be other good places to use this app. One of those elusive apps that manages to capture the addictive elements of gaming with some good science modelling for an addictive learning experience.

Finger on the pulse…

One of the other areas I covered in my science workshops at BETT was investigating heart rate and circulation.

There are a number of apps that could be used in the classroom to measure heart rate, and during the workshop I demonstrated What’s My Heart Rate (download the app here, free). During the workshop, I demonstrated how Labdisc could be used to capture pulse rate and cardio graphic data using the pulse meter included with several of the Labdisc models.
This data could then be compared with data from apps such as What’s My Heart Rate

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This app uses the front facing camera of the iPad to detect changes in the blood flow through capillaries in the skin. Another app which uses similar technology to measure blood flow in the fingers is Cardiograph (download the app here – £1.49).
Students could compare accuracy of these ways of measuring pulse with more traditional ways. This is very current medical research, where efforts are being focused on whether smartphone cameras can provide accurate medical data, so your students could also be contributing to cutting edge medical research while they investigate heart rate!

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More iPad gadgets for science

I probably have more than my fair share of gadgets and peripherals for the iPad and iPhone, but two that have been particularly useful in the science classroom are the focus of this post.

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The first is called Airmicro and is a wireless microscope. This gadget (which has been likened to an otoscope (for looking into ears)by friends, and an electric drill by airport security) creates it own wireless network using 3 AA batteries. Using one of several iOS apps, you can then connect your iPad to the wireless network it creates. The objective lens can be changed and a variety of lenses from 15x to 400x magnifications are available.

While not cheap (around £400, lenses vary from round £50 to £200), there are a couple of things that make this a really useful tool in the classroom. Traditionally, decent quality video microscopes are expensive enough that a school is not likely to have more than one of them. Inevitably, lessons involving video microscope work end up actively involving a minority of the class.

With the Airmicro, students can also connect to microscope using the app and capture their own pictures. The Mytech app (download here – free) also allows student to overlay a scale to take measurements much like using an eyepiece graticule with a conventional microscope. This means students can actively participate in lessons, even if there is only one Airmicro. This also makes it much easier to share the images captured under the microscope too.

We have used this very successfully in the classroom and although not designed to work with traditional microscope slides, we have had a good deal of success using the Airmicro attached to a clamp and stand and placing a sheet of white paper behind the slide.

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I bought my Airmicro from the Japanese manufacturer (Scalar – click here for more info), but there are also UK and US distributors now I think.

The second gadget I want to highlight is the Withings Blood Pressure monitor. Available from the Apple Store online and other resellers, this connects directly to the iPad using the dock connector (not currently lightning connector though). It does exactly what the name suggests and is a blood pressure cuff which is controlled by a free app on the iPad (you can download the app here).

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Again, in the classroom, I don’t think there is any need to have a lot of these, but when studying a unit on the heart and circulation for example, a really nice starter to each lesson of the unit could be to pass the blood pressure monitor around the classroom and have the students measure their blood pressure. Over the course of the unit, the students would build up a graph of their own blood pressure at different times of the day/week, and could be asked to investigate reasons for differences, for example. At around £100 this is not the cheapest science add on for the iPad but like the Airmicro could be another useful tool to maximise your investment in iOS devices.

Science in the Classroom with iPad

Having had a few days to recover from BETT, I have also been reflecting on the weeks events and experiences. I thought I would also summarise each of the workshops I ran, and sum up the workflows and apps I covered. The first workshop was really a continuation of the science workshop I ran last year at BETT but I was also keen to try to squeeze some pedagogy into the 25 minute session too.

The workshop began by looking at investigative science and experimental write ups. At GCSE and A/IB level, this is an important skill and the iPad offers very practical tools to facilitate this.

Looking at an IB level chemistry experiment investigating Beers law, I demonstrated Labdisc by Globisens. You can read more about Labdisc here. Using the biochem lab discs built in colorimeter, I measured the light transmission of various copper sulphate solutions demoing how to take manual readings with the Labdisc.

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I recorded the data into a Numbers spreadsheet and demonstrated how the data could be simply turned into a graph and the unknown solution marked on the graph. Switching apps between Pages and Numbers allowed me to write up the app and copy data created in Numbers to create results for the experiment. Adding photos of the experiment captured using the iPad cameras helps to create visual hooks to help students recall and remember experimental procedures. I won’t argue that this is hardly transformational, but there’s no arguing the iPad is a versatile classroom tool, allowing data logging, spreadsheet and word processing capabilities with a built in camera. Add wifi access to more information than anyone could ever absorb, and  while it’s nothing other tech doesn’t allow us to do, the iPad allows it to be done more simply and quickly. Isn’t this what we want our tech to enable us to do?

Next we moved onto Physics….I’ve already written a post about the last app I showed, cstr physics (you can read it here). I started this section by demonstrating a free fall experiment that can be done with the Labdisc and a table tennis ball. Dovi (the CEO of Globisens has a nice video of this experiment here)….

I then discussed how the iPad gives us ways of doing things that were either impossible of very difficult previously.

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Using Video Physics by Vernier (you can download here – it costs £2.99), we looked at carrying out the same experiment using motion analysis. This allows you to either record or use video previously recorded on the iPad, and use motion analysis software to track an object. The app will also produce graphs of the data captured, and this can be exported for further analysis in software such as logger pro. It is also possible to create a video file with graphs etc, embedded. Not all of the graphs produced are really very useful, but for the price this is an amazing tool, and with the ability to easily share files to Logger Pro, there is substantial classroom potential for this app for a whole range of speed and acceleration experiments, and also what about using it in PE to analyse sports movements such as throwing a basketball, kicking a football or hitting a tennis ball. This app is well worth looking at particularly if you have access to Logger Pro software in your school (more info here).

The final part of the workshop looked at Biology, and I discussed ways that a topic such as heart, blood and circulation could be covered. I’m currently putting together separate posts about some of the gadgets and apps I used during the Biology part of the workshop, and will link them here when I have posted them.

I was really pleased both with how the workshops went at BETT and by the amount of positive feedback from teachers who attended the workshop. Combining some really useful apps and a couple of gadgets such as the Airmicro and Labdisc, the iPad can be a very versatile tool for science learning, allowing us to support learning in wholly new and exciting ways.

Back from BETT 2013

So, I’m just back from another great week presenting at the BETT show. This is the thrid year I’ve been lucky enough to be asked by Toucan and AT Computers to present workshops for teachers at the BETT show, and I think this year was probably the best yet!

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It was an absolute pleasure to spend a week with two good friends and fellow Apple Distinguished Educators, Joe Moretti and Julian Coultas and throughout the week we presented workshops on a whole variety of iPad related classroom workflows. There were many highlights during the week and I’ll no doubt be blogging about them over the coming days. To give you a little flavour of the week, I’ll mention just a few of the apps and tools we looked at; Showbie, Garageband, Nearpod, Labdisc and Globisens, Book Creator, Explain Everything, printopia, me-drive by Kanex, iBooks Author and iTunes U. The focus was very much on pedagogical approaches and classroom workflows that deeply integrate learning and technology – I hope we managed to deliver on our promises!

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One of my new resolutions following BETT is to make a concerted effort to actually maintain my blog/site, as this week has reminded me of the importance as an educator to share. Hopefully at least some of the ramblings which I am sure will follow will prove useful to some of those who find themselves here……

Back to my science roots – data logging on the iPad

I seem to have spent a lot of time recently with my iPad and some other toys exploring how the iPad can be successfully integrated into the science classroom.

There are a growing range of peripherals for the iPad (I’m sure I read somewhere that the iOS peripherals market is worth more than the iOS market itself) and there are some that are particularly enticing for the science classroom.

Datalogging is an area of technology that traditionally science has always made use of. Back in the days of BBC computers, black boxes called LogIT’s allowed collection and graphing of a whole variety of experimental data and most schools have a range of equipment for data collection from simple digital thermometers to whole ranges of specialist datalogging equipment.

In my eyes, one of the big problems with many datalogging solutions is that they usually consist of a base unit which you plug sensors (available separately) into to record different types of data. This means costs can soon mount up.

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The labdisc by Globisens takes a different approach. All of the sensors are built in to the data logging unit itself. There are 5 different models of labdisc all of which have 12 to 14 sensors built in. The different models cover a range of specialist areas such as biochemistry and higher level physics, while more general needs are taken care of by other models.

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See Labdisc in action in this video “A Walk in the Park”.

Originally designed for use with Mac or PC computers, Globisens have put much thought into developing an iPad app and bluetooth connectivity. The well thought out app is called Globilab and is available for free from the App Store.

Get the app here

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I’ve had the pleasure of using these extensively, and they work really well with the iPad. The user interface of the app is well thought out, allowing programming of the various sensors using on/off switches and rate and number of samples can also be set within the app (with some sensors it is possible to capture up to 25,000 readings per second). There is a nice feature to manually capture samples by pressing one of the buttons on the front of the Labdisc. Data can be exported as a csv file should you need to further analyse data, and the app itself is capable of both linear and quadratic regression curves.

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Another nice feature of the Labdisc is built in GPS making it perfect for recording data on field trips for example. The app displays data graphically on the map too.

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Even if you don’t yet have a Labdisc you can download the free app, and use the built in accelerometers and microphone in your iPad. Measure and record noise levels in the classroom throughout the course of a day, or combine your iPad with a Grip Case (more about these great cases in a future post) and a length of rope to do great pendulum experiments, or with a spring to investigate Hooke’s law.

At around $500 the Labdisc is not the cheapest tool you will ever buy for use with your iPad but with practical uses in Science and Geography from primary right through secondary, these valuable peripherals really help to maximise investment in mobile devices such as iPads.

We have recently invested in a set of 20 and I look forward to seeing how they are used across the science and geography curriculums and on various field trips over the coming months….I’ll keep you posted.