Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The iPhone and the Scientist

I was talking to a colleague who noted that the iPhone has an incredible amount of tech stuffed into a small space. In particular, there are umpteen sensors - motion sensors, magnetic sensors, GPS, light sensors, sound sensors, tilt sensors, accelerometers, ... He wondered how much of the kit in a science classroom could be replaced by an iPhone (or in some cases an iTouch) with the right Apps.

Possible uses

Originally uploaded by William Hook
Off the top of our heads we came up with a few possibilities. Simple tools such as using the iPhone as a stopwatch or using the iPhone's GPS to collect data for time/speed/distance investigations.

When you look at the available Apps, even more possibilities present themselves. For example iCarpenter provides a range of tools for exploring angles and the iProtractor tool allows you to measure angles on images stored on your device. (The iProtractor creator has also produced a Units Convertor which is designed for scientists and engineers which he says does, "does high-powered dimensional analysis".)

Other Apps to measure and/or record include SoundLevelPro (one of umpteen decibel sound level meters), TiltMeter Pro (which can log data from an inclinometer), iSiesmograph (which hopefully does what the name suggests... but the web page describing it is in German!), the Magnetic Flux and Metal Detector (which does what it says on the tin), iSteps (one of many pedometer/calorie counters that could be used as part of a healthy eating/Biology topic) and Sun Clock (which displays the time, information on sunrise and sunset as well as details on the phase of the moon).

The Nike/iPod link up suggests that interfacing other sensors and using the iPhone/iTouch as a data logging device should also be possible. Perhaps I was looking in the wrong place but the best example of this I could find is the iNXT Remote App that connects with Lego NXT robotic systems.

Finally, the Creative Applications site gives Ten Creative Ways to Use the Accelerometer some of which would be useful in the Science classroom.

Ideas from Twitter

Having exhausted my own ideas, I turned to my Personal Learning Network and asked on Twitter if anyone had good ideas for how this technology could be used in the Science classroom. A wide range of suggestions were made.

First of the mark was Theo with news of a microscope App. I don't know if this is what he meant, but the only thing I could find was an announcement about a virtual microscope for pathologists. Next up was John with Crayon Physics Deluxe for the iPhone (or iPhysics perhaps?). Stuart suggested some games that have a science element, namely: Sheep Launcher (free version available), Geared Lite, Ragdoll Blaster Lite and Biker Blast-off.

Also through Twitter came a message from Leon saying that he was working with a class of children who were using the iTouch. He has now posted a video of what the children are doing and it looks brilliant.

Final Thoughts

I'm convinced that the iPhone/iTouch has potential in the Science classroom and in education more generally. It is expensive to get an iPhone but many of the potential uses work just as well on the much cheaper iTouch. Also, Science equipment is expensive, so if one device with the addition of cheap Apps can perform a variety of tasks, it may even work out to be quite cost effective.

Finally, be aware that many of these suggestions are a stab in the dark as I do not (yet!) own an iPhone/iTouch. I hope that some of you reading this, with direct experience, will be able to make better suggestions - perhaps especially where I have selected one representative App out of a range of possiblities.


So tell me - are you convinced? Is there a place for the iPhone/iTouch in classrooms? Also, what Apps would you recommend and why?


Mosher said...

I'd recommend waiting till another company with a blander image brings out a version that costs half as much, doesn't crash and won't turn into a brick when you try to use it with someone other than AT&T or O2.


But anyway, the seismic page can be whacked through Google Translate:


David said...

Hello Mosher

It is sad to see one so young being so cynical. :-)

The iPhone is expensive but the iTouch is much more affordable and can do most of the things the iPhone can. There are plenty of companies, some possibly with "blander images", bringing touch screen iPhone look-a-likes to the market but most are still playing catch up. I'm not sure you'll get the functionality and the range of Apps anywhere else for the foreseeable future. However, hopefully the competition will help push everyone's prices down... although I'm not sure that any telecom company has an interest reducing costs. They seem to seek out new ways of extorting money from their customers on a daily basis. My current favourite are "Unlimited" deals that when you read the small print have a so called "fair use" clause that limits the unlimitedness!

As for crashing... unfortunately that is not a problem unique to iPhones. My so called "smartphone" crashes with alarming regularity!

Steve said...

David, a great post. I think you are spot on iphone/ipod touches are great devices in the classroom, I will use iphone to encompass both during this comment. The new ipod nano with its camera also looks like a credible teaching tool

As I am not a scientist I don't have any specific science apps but I do have several that are good for generic teaching/learning.

Camera, with the 3GS (or nano) the camera could be used to take videos of experiments and ported back to the pc/mac.

Email, set up your email account, this is excellent for gmail, hotmail etc as well as exchange based accounts.

Evernote - excellent tool for note taking, these can be text, photo or voice. The iphone app syncs with pc/mac/web application.

Google Reader, not an app but a mobile version of the site. A well thought out mobile version of the main reader site, excellent for catching up on your RSS feeds.

Skype/Facebook/MySpace/Twitter (apps) - a variety of apps to keep you connected to your learning network.

MyHomework - nice app for keeping on track of your homework/assignments etc. This also syncs with a mac.

Flickr - have access to flickr images.

Air Mouse - use your iphone as an expensive wireless mouse.

DataViz access and edit word and excel documents, ability to view powerpoint.

I am sure that are many, many more useful educational apps

Mosher said...

"so young"? Flattery will get you nowhere, David ;) But cynical I truly am!

I agree with your "(un)limited" and what galls me most is that OFCOM have stood by companies using it in their advertising despite numerous complaints about the wording. Essentially, if it's got any kind of microchip in it, then OFCOM seem to panic and just wave the white flag in case they get embroiled in anything technical.

Heaven forbid you try and sell a biscuit as a cake or vice versa, though. That's far more important.

OFCOM: rewriting your dictionary.

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