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Toys For Science Teachers 32

Science teachers from around the U.S. get together to discuss curricula and of course to be pitched by purveyors of classroom goodies. Gary points to this "photographic tour of this past weekend's convention. Palm demonstrated a science module and software that turns a Palm computer into a data logging and graphing machine. 33 color photos in all!" I'd like one of those USB-connected Intel microscopes, and a large barrel of LEDs ...
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Toys For Science Teachers

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  • Mad wires with alligator clips connected to each end.

    6 volt batteries

    motors, all kinds, with gears & crap

    Light bulbs, LED's & such

    Well... at least all this stuff I enjoyed in 6th grade science
  • It is cool to have all these latest high toys, but how many schools can afford them? Many schools don't even have decent computers at this day and age, Palm? I'd rather have better libraries, computer labs that run GNU software. And with the way things are going, probably some metal detectors and armed guards :-(

    But of course I am not say teachers shouldn't have fun. God forbidden if schools become boring. ;-)


  • by Anonymous Coward
    Mad wires with alligator clips connected to each end. 6 volt batteries

    Sounds just like my electro-masturbation equipment. Clip the nipples and/or penis and ZAP!

  • If this type of thing blows your skirt up, find the closest Discovery Store and you'll spend hours in it looking at all the various things in there.

    After what 'they' have done with plants and animals I'm not sure I'm thrilled with yet another 'fast growing plant' Next they'll tell us it's perfectly safe and our kids (in my case, my kid's kids) will have three eyes and eat dog food.

    Cav Pilot's Reference Page [cavalrypilot.com]
  • by Thalia ( 42305 ) on Wednesday March 28, 2001 @02:05AM (#335386)
    Although all of these toys are very cool (some cooler than others, I'll admit), very few school districts will spring for more science toys. In fact, science teachers spend on the order of $400/year on toys/classroom equipment, and such.

    Given the local advocacy of science teachers, you should put your money where your mouth is, and donate school supplies to teachers. What the heck, search for science teachers, and give them only science toys! The site is TrueGift [truegift.com] a charity that simply takes gift lists from teachers are tries to find donors to provide the basic necessities.


  • Just imagine.. a new type of terrorist. They splice the fast-growing genes into some annoying weed (like a dandilion or something) and threaten to release it... they'd spread like wildfire!
  • Don't get too excited by the toys that interact with the Palms, they've had software that can work with TI-85s to do much the same thing for years. We actually had the software at our school (it did stuff w/o the TIs), and several students had TI-85s, but the school wouldn't buy the adapters, so the benefit was lost. I'd also like to point out that TIs are cheaper than Palms, and at least from my experience, cost is highly prohibitive in education.

    Still though,the toys are pretty cool, I got to play with some of the Intel toys first hand. It'd certainly make class a bit more, uh, interesting... putting small, zoomable cameras in high-school guys' hands... ; )

  • I each computer at my high-school were to run GNU software (ie. 200$ for windows, 300$ for MS-office, etc.) We would have more than enough money to either Buy a palm for each computer in the lab (Bad Idea, you don't want kids my age playing with Palms, they wouldn't last a day).

    But what we could use would be Graphing Calculators. I know mine (TI-83plus) has programs on it to interface (plug in to) with all kinds of stuff, from theremomters, to multimeters, then you can graph the information.
    I know TI-92s only cost like 150$, so there even cheaper than Palms, and they have a Qwerty keyboard, and all kinds of Algebraic abilities.
  • Doh! Zoomable cameras at ANY age is bad for us guys...I can only imagine the trouble I'd get into!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Back in the day when I was at Secondary School (roughly 13-16) we had a pretty cool physics teacher who used to bring his own toys into the classroom, and turn existing 'science staples' into toys.
    Every friday class he was bringing in his Amiga to run half-life simulation software, mechanics software, and a bunch of other stuff. He had some DAMN COOL magnet toys - they were various strengths, sizes, weights, densities etc... and you had to just piss about with them. Add some meccanno, lego technic, etc... and we were doing some neat lever / magnet / heavy weight / kid in the next desks finger experiments
    We learned more about physics in those friday sessions than in the rest of the week. And the thick kids (of which, thankfully at the time I was not one) even learned stuff!
    It was all the guys own stuff aswell - I'm sure he got a good 50% of it nicked every year.
    As an aside - He used to get out the 'radioactive source' at every possible opportunity - it was a big lead and wood box with a slit in the front which made the geiger counter click for the odd experiment. He used to dare us to run past the front of the thing! what a guy! But jeeze did his breath stink!

    So - yeah - toys not books - toys not books - toys not books!
  • This already exists, though not on the Palm. When I taught high school a few years back, we had TI calculators and peripherals for science labs.

    I taught at a private school and the students were all required to purchase the calculators and we would use them in the science classes. The calculators had some nifty features as well (spreadsheet, graphing). They could also be connected to a computer and any stored data could be written to a file. Finally, they were also programmable.

    I'm not certain what the benefit to having this on a Palm is. Much cooler than computer/electronics companies developing toys for science labs would be someone developing better science curricula. Report on that when it happens...

  • See this CNN article [cnn.com] and discussion on K5 [kuro5hin.org] earlier.
  • by SydBarrett ( 65592 ) on Wednesday March 28, 2001 @05:02AM (#335394)
    The Discovery Store is cool, but is way overpriced for most stuff. What you really want is American Science and Surplus:


    They also have lots of cheap toys, usally much cheaper than places like Archie McPhee, including a complete collection of slime and glow-in-the-dark toys.

  • 400 dollars/year for that stuff. Divided by the number of students who use it. A couple bucks per student.

    No wonder our educational system is in so much trouble.

  • It doesn't have to be expensive to be cool.

    One of the coolest things that I saw for high school science was a home built cloud chamber. For any aspiring physics nerds, it was WAY cool.

    You can also cheaply build your own X-Ray machine

  • My high school honors physics teacher my senior year actually worked with Texas Instruments on developing programs and science expirements for the TI-CBR. So my honors physics class (all 9 of us), got to play each day with that thing using our calculators to record data from the CBR. It had an infrared sensor, radar sensor, etc. that were used to sample data from a falling object, moving cart, etc. It was fun, and this all happened back in '95! Needless to say, that was one of the best high school classes I took, and one of the few I aced. :)

    It was a real treat to do expirements with the CBR because it made for much more detailed and accurate lab results, and helped you to learn the material better. We all did some pretty quality lab write-ups which our teacher took with him to a summer training/feedback session at the TI offices. I guess it payed off, because now they've got a whole slew of calc's out there that can do tons more than my measly TI-85!

  • I have this wonderful technology!!!
    It's completely portable, I can take notes with it, the power NEVER fails, it'll last for decades, and I can access information in it in seconds.
    It's called a book !!!
    Selling schools technology is like selling little Red Riding Hood to the wolf. What are you gonna tell your kids?

    "Sorry, we spent all the money on this Palm, no shakespeare or soccer for you kid".
    Computers don't belong in schools.
  • Yes, private industry invading our schools is _exactly_ what we need.

    "Can anyone tell me the atomic mass of Bolognium?"


  • by skwang ( 174902 ) on Wednesday March 28, 2001 @08:13AM (#335400)

    While this convention shows off the newest and coolest gadgets, education budgets are shrinking. I for one would rather see people develop inexpensive experiments for high schools that would allow students to learn science for a smaller price tag; it's win/win (except for the people who sell the cool gadgets...)


    The other night my friend presented a neat toy he constructed, basically a Laser pen imbedded in a old Nintendo Zapper Light Gun. The trigger switch would trigger the laser. After playing with it for a while, someone suggested that we measure the wavelength of the light. Usually this lab is done with a diffraction grating. The laser beam is shined through the grating to produce a pattern on the wall. By measuring the pattern, the distance to the wall, and the width of the slits one can determine the wavelength of the laser beam. Usually, high schools have expensive He-Ne lasers and manufactured diffraction gratings; we had none of those things. It dawned on us that the opposite of a diffraction grating gives the opposite pattern against the wall. Since you get a interference pattern from a single narrow slit (see a physics text on why), we took the opposite of a single slit: a long, thin item. We eventually settled on a single staple and a .5 mm piece of (mechanical) pencil lead.

    The result was the wavelength of the laser pen was about 750nm +/- 120nm. We suspect the laser pen is a cheap He-Ne laser with a (defined) wavelength of 632nm.


    The point is that we preformed a simple experiment with a significant amount of scientific value for about $20 ($15 for the laser; staples, pencil lead, ruler, etc. are all "free"). For a high school, this kind of experiment would be much more rewarding to the students that plugging things into calculators or Palm and churning out results. A science department could spend a minimal amount of money on laser pens (the $15 ones are good enough) and perform what my friends and I did. Rulers, pencil lead, and clamps are all equipment the school should already have.

    As education budgets shrink, the experiment like the one above is a good example of what science can be done without a lot of money or without a lot of toys.

  • In high school, my brother won some kind of award, basically it was about $400, which he and his science teacher could use to buy stuff of their choosing for the school. They chose to buy a GPS handset. I thought this was kind of silly, until I thought about it for a while. GPS is going to be an important technology in the future, embedded in a lot of other devices from cars (cool!) to DVD players (not cool!). Now kids at his school can use the unit (used by both science classes and the Camping Club) and learn about the rather advanced concepts behind its function - astronomy, geography and electronics.

    Anyway, my point is that if they're available, "toys" can be really benefit students, and excite them about science. Too many underfunded schools cannot afford them, it's true. That's why good science teachers are usually extremely creative individuals (my H.S. physics teacher showed us action/reaction with a wagon and a fire extinguisher from the hallway. He got in a little trouble for that, but nobody in that class will ever forget how a rocket works.)

  • I suggest that presenting science as flashy toys and videos may limit the spread of science.
    First it makes it "kids stuff" which teenagers and adults then shun.
    Second, it makes science seem too easy. Its a letdown when the real work of making measurements, analysing data, and publishing papers occurs.
    Third, it hides the real meaning of science- as a way knowing things through repeatable observations. Science isn't entertainment like sci-fi and fantasy.

    On the other hand, I think there is a lot of good in science-tainment.
    First, it catches young minds who may eventually become scientists or at least science literate.
    Second, it forces the author to be really sure about their material. I'm a firm believer if you can't explain clearly what you do to your spouse or children, then you probably don't understand it well yourself.
    Third, its fun when well done.
  • No wonder our educational system is in so much trouble.

    I wonder how that $400 compares to the yearly expenditure on gym equipment, balls for the sports teams, etc.
    I'm willing to bet science gets at least 10x less than sports, even though I would consider science to be infinitely more important than sport.

    C-X C-S
  • Actually, that laser pointer prolly has a (in the better ones) 633/650nm or (in the cheap ones) 680nm laser diode in it, rather than a HeNe tube, so your measurements prolly weren't that far off.

    C-X C-S
  • In my experience, these end up as underused novelty items, brought out once a year to show to each new class.

    The problem is that they aren't worth it. Yes, it often helps to see various principles in action, but the expense is very large. First, the equipment itself is rather expensive, then you have to train the teachers (who often require much more training than the students), and then it takes a ton of time in class to set it all up, get it running, and do one stupid little experiment.

    Every single example of such toys I remember from school was used rarely, and when it was used it accomplished next to nothing.

    Schools should try to spend their limited resources on good teachers instead of overpriced gimmicks. A good teacher can teach far better than a bad teacher with expensive toys.
  • I attended the conference this past weekend, as one of the exhibitors. However, instead of hocking prohibitively expensive pieces of tech, I was letting teachers know about a free online service [enc.org] that has cataloged over 19,000 resources for science and match teachers to use in the classroom.

    The interesting thing about it all is, instead of teachers flocking to the FREE stuff they got cuaght up in all the glamour of CNN and TI booths. I will admit, once they stopped by our little 10 by 20 booth, they were surprised that what we offered was free. Moreover, about 10% of the resources we have cataloged are online and have free lesson plans and activities (as well as really cool pictures and virtual tours!).

    My .org has been around for over 8 years now. We give away a free magazine and our online service is free of charge. Out of the 10,000 attendees at the conference, only 1/10th had heard of us, at best.

    I liken the whole experience to open source v. Windows. People simply didn't know about their options and how to best utilize them.

  • Schools should try to spend their limited resources on good teachers instead of overpriced gimmicks. A good teacher can teach far better than a bad teacher with expensive toys.

    Ouch! That's rather harsh. Most public high school science teachers have alot of difficulty buying any kind of lab equipment these days.

    My wife is constantly fighting the administration to get relevant lab materials into the classroom. The GTE grant she won for all of the TI-85 CBL's is fantastic, it also provided two weeks training for free for the teachers who wanted them.

    You can literaly work the CBL's for the TI's into just about every unit in AP Physics! Kids are definitely more excited about learning physics in the classroom.

    The college board for AP Physics also high recommends the inclusion of as many labs as possible. Many professors lament that their physics students know formulae, but don't really understand the concept that labs teach....!

    What you do point out is that expensive "gimmicks" without teacher training to go along with it is what is futile. That's why you might remember Apple IIe's gathering dust in the back of the classrooms because the teachers were not provided the time to get instruction on how to integrate the computers into the curriculum.

    Please support your local science teacher, you guys should go visit the classroom, guest speak how science and technology was important in helping you get the job that you are in now.... please don't bash the poor $27,000 average salary high school instructors...:)
    I'll go non anonymous here....
  • I liken the whole experience to open source v. Windows. People simply didn't know about their options and how to best utilize them.
    Well, there's not much you can do. It's going to take time until all public school admins and science department heads get this info..

    I wish the universities that train future teachers involved information like yours into their curriculum..

  • I second this. AS&S has a great catalog with some really unusual and useful stuff.

    To tie in with this topic, my last purchase there included a cool physics toy - the Chaos Tower [chaostoy.com]. It's a construction toy with a chain that hauls balls to the top of your design, where they follow tracks, bounce off trampolines, switch on pendulums, etc. I've had one for a week now and it's a lot of fun!

    AS&S has two sizes - just search for "goldberg". They're selling it about $20 cheaper than at the manufacturer's site ($129 for the large kit.) This should be affordable for schools as well as for geeks.

    Disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with either company. But I've been an AS&S customer since the days they were called JerryCo.


  • (revealed!... after a nice nap)

    If I give you an apple, and it cost me money, but you pay nothing. Yes, we're ignoring time and effort it took for you to come get the apple - as those are the general costs of living and most definitions of "free" ignore that. That the giver [goatse.cx] pays is not the issue. It's free to the taker - which is the general definition of "free".

    What isn't free is "get the third one free", or "free swatch watch when you subscribe to blah blah blah" - but what is free is when you pay only the living costs and when that money/time/etc doesn't go to the people providing the service, whatever it is.

    For example, I can listen to radio stations for free. I must buy a radio - but that's an living cost and has nothing to do with the radio station. Radio stations are free.

    By living costs I mean whatever costs involved in enabling me to get things when the money doesn't go to the people providing the service. If it's just living costs then the thing is free. When I buy a phone and pay for a monthly phone connection I can probably get a free local weather report, etc. This is a free.

    I propose that the general costs of living online are a computer and an internet connection. This money for these doesn't go to the websites I frequent.

    These websites provide a free service. I would even say that for most people the ad banner model is so fucked and ignored that you don't even pay with your eyeballs anymore. If you use an Ad blocking proxy you're certainly not paying with your eyeballs by looking at ads.

    They send the content to you (at their cost) for free. It costs you no more than that living costs involved for being online.

  • I wish the universities that train future teachers involved information like yours into their curriculum.

    Some universities do, most don't. Science and Math teachers are so underprepared nowadays it is downright frightening. They know how to use the Internet just fine. But using it to get useful information is beyond most of them. Then, you have the teachers that have been around forever and don't know how to 'double-click' or even what a mouse is. Demoing the site to a group of in-service teachers is a trying experience. Change is slow in the area of eductaion.

  • actually, my mother heads the Science dept at my old high school, and her budget is several thousand dollars, and she is the one who makes the decisions on what to buy--and remember, you only need one classroom set--remember sharing?
    The biggest factor she usually has in mind when I give her advice on what to buy is how easy it is to use, and do they have something that does that already?
    She bought a set of sensor that worked with TI-85(which almost every kid in that shool ha), why would she buy a new set that works with a palm, that few kids in high school have?
  • When my oldest son started Kindergarten in his (parochial) school in 1998, the computer lab consisted of 15 Apple ][s (some GS, some c, some e). Thanks to the IBM K-12 Matching Grants Program, I was able to purchase new hardware for the school at 1/5 of the list price (about $200 for each PC, plus some printers and scanners). I've also rebuilt more than a dozen PCs donated by local businesses for use in the school library. Thanks to a friend in another local business, I had a box of 10Mb Ethernet NICs and wired up both the lab and the library.

    Now if I only knew what to do with the Apples...

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel