our kindergarten and third grade
students were able to set up a motion
activity or a science fair experiment
using the magnetic field sensor with
very little help.
Inquiry and Investigation
One advantage the SPARK’s interface
box has when compared to others is
its option to use or create full-featured
and content-rich investigations or
explorations from within the unit. The
product comes preloaded with more
than 60 laboratory investigations covering every area of science and grade
level, all with a careful instructional
design in mind. Each of the explorations we examined introduced the activity with thoughtful questioning to
promote critical thinking. Some of the
sections even had a place for students
to type their responses into a journal.
When there was no way to enter responses, the questions served as class
or lab group discussions. Some of the
experiments began with interactive
simulations that asked students to
predict anticipated changes in a system, based on prior knowledge, and
then the SPARKlab simulator demonstrated the actual results as an overlay
on the prediction. The design of the
software allows the SPARK to be an
all-in-one solution for completing a
lab from introduction to conclusion.
The experimentation began by clearly detailing the process for setting up
the experiment. It gave concise direction about which probes to acquire and
when to plug them into the unit. The
graphics that accompanied the labs
were well designed and appropriate
to the context of the experiment. The
The SPARK includes more than 60 free
guided inquiry labs in a unique electronic
pictures detailed the equipment’s setup.
Teachers can even add their own pages
to match the exact content standards
and curricula for their specific teaching assignment and share the labs with
other units via a USB drive.
At the end of the experiment, students must relate their findings to
the responses that they entered at the
beginning of the experiment. They
can enter their responses directly into
the SPARK, send the content to the
journal, and then export the final contents of the journal to their computer
or printer. The unit has a USB port to
allow for easy transfer via a flashdrive.
They can also import the content of
the journal as an image file for further
editing and review through Microsoft
Word, PowerPoint, Inspiration, webpage editors, or Web 2.0 tools (
The SPARK costs $329 per unit
and comes with a temperature and
voltage sensor. Additional sensors
typically cost more than $60 each.
Our ultimate goal for an interface
such as the SPARK would be for it to
serve as a one-stop shop for all of the
experimental design tools associated
with the investigation process. Features
we would love to see included are a
built-in video cam for capturing actual
experimental footage and a built-in
microphone for recording student
comments, observations, and analysis.
From beginning to end, students are
engaged, challenged, and interactive
as they work with the SPARK. The
unit guides yet asks students to make
predictions, test those predictions,
and then draw conclusions from those
experiences. This is exactly what we
would expect from our students in
the science classroom, and the SPARK
allows us to carry out that lesson design in the lab. If you are looking for a
data collection package for your district, we recommend you consider the
Ben Smith has been a physics teacher at Red Lion Area High School for 20 years. He and Mader are the science curricu- lum specialists for L&L. Smith also serves on ISTE’s board of directors.
Jared Mader is the director of technology at Red Lion Area Senior High School in Red Lion, Pennsylvania. He has been a chemistry teacher for 10 years.
November 2009 | Learning & Leading with Technology 43