AHS Physics Teacher John Macuk’s Use of Vernier Digital Probes
Vernier digital probes are computerized measuring devices that capture data via specialized sensors. For instance, the acidity level of a solution can be measured by dipping a pencil-sized sensor into the liquid. Data registered by such sensors are fed into computers for storage and analysis. A typical student lab activity using digital probes might involve recording acidity levels of a pond’s water over time. Acidity of samples collected weekly over several months could be charted with software customized for use with digital probes to show patterns of interest, such as surges in acidity that might be tied to the timing of polluting discharges into the pond.
One of the big advantages of using the digital probes is that it enables students to quickly get an overall picture of what the data they collect in an experiment means, says Arlington High physics teacher John Macuk. In the past, much of their lab time was spent laboriously recording one measurement after another by hand and then manually constructing graphs based on the data. Freed up from such chores, they can “repeat detailed observations and look for patterns, rather than spend time crunching numbers and charting results themselves.”
That, in turn, enables students to explore phenomena in a deeper, more engaging way—they can experience the same thrill of discovery that scientists get working on the frontiers of their fields. Macuk notes that he especially enjoys “watching students’ hypotheses get busted and seeing them coming to understand what nature is saying to them (through digital-probe data)—it’s often counterintuitive, rather than what they believe about how the world works.”
He adds that the modeling and simulation software used with the digital probes is really popular with students, “probably because of its connection with cool computer-generated special effects in movies.”
Like all software, the programs used with digital probes are getting ever more powerful, says Macuk. But unfortunately “our obsolete PCs cannot provide new web-based capabilities that are now available.” Thus, more advanced computers that can handle the new digital-probe software are high on his wish list for classroom upgrades.