This year I have been learning how to use the science department Vernier probes and their LabPro software for labs in my biology and chemistry classes. They make it easier for the students to collect data, allowing more time for analysis. They are also great for giving students a feel for what scientists use in the field. I have now done three labs using the Verniers and LabPro software: a cellular respiration lab measuring CO2, a pair of endothermic and exothermic lab measuring temperature changes, and a heat of fusion of water lab, again measuring temperature. The software and tools were easy to set up for the students and running the labs went quite smoothly. Problems occurred in the usual areas for the usual students: they did not read the entire procedure before beginning the lab and re-do's were necessary for them. The software creates beautiful graphs for student analysis. As a teacher, though, I want the student to be able to understand how the graphs are made and create their own graphs. In this regard, I want the students to download the actual data and use Excell or other spreadsheet tools for graphing. The software does not provide a straightforward means for accomplishing this. In addition, the software-generated graphs can only be saved in a format that can only be read by the LabPro software, rather than providing an option of saving as a jpeg or gif for insertion into a lab report. Because of this, the student must create a copy of the graph and insert it into a document file immediately upon completion of the lab. These problems could be me not understanding the software.
Another thing I was wondering about is how much of the slickness of the program removes the student from truly understanding the concepts. It is one thing to push a plastic syringe and feel the pressure, and quite another to simply read a series of kPa numerical data. Creating hot packs and cold packs, which is what I normally do for endothermic and exothermic labs and which I did not do this year, could have helped the students connect better with the the endothermic and exothermic labs. With these thoughts in mind, in the future I will try to schedule an inquiry lab prior to the Vernier probe lab. It's a matter of timing and scheduling.