Data Logging

Graphics calculators can be used to analyse data automatically collected by data loggers, devices that can make physical measurements, such as temperatures, times, electrical currents, light intensities, etc. This idea has attracted some interest in both science and mathematics in secondary schools.

Each of the calculator manufacturers also provides support for, and examples of, data loggers for schools, with the emphasis on their use in science. For example, the data logger shown above is the EA-100 for Casio calculators, for which there is a collection of support materials for science teachers. The data loggers shown below are respectively the CBL (Calculator-Based Laboratory) and CBR (Calculator-Based Ranger) manufactured by Texas Instruments, for which there are also support materials available on the web. Colin Croft has provided a number of science applets for the HP-38G calculator for teachers and their students to try out.

Calculator-based data loggers from different companies share many of the same characteristics, but also have a few differences. For example, the Casio data logger above can be set up to collect data from the keys on the unit, while the CBL requires a small calculator program to be written (or to be entered onto a calculator and then used). The CBR comprises a built-in motion detector, while other data loggers have a number of ports into which various probes (including a probe for detecting motion) are inserted.

Data loggers have some significant advantages for collecting data. For example, they can collect data more often (say, every 10 milliseconds) than humans normally can, can make measurements to greater accuracy, can be used outside, away from science laboratories (since they are quite portable), allow the data to be shared fairly easily among students and, clearly, allow the data to be analysed much more easily than data collected 'by hand'. These sorts of things are discussed a bit in an article I wrote recently for Scios, the journal of the Science Teachers Association of Western Australia.