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Friday, November 30, 2018

Google Science Journal

Three and a half years ago, I wrote a blog entry titled "Garlic Necklace, Not a Silver Bullet."  I discussed how we need to embrace the messiness of multiple solutions instead of trying to find the perfect one.  This is especially true if you are trying the seek a single student edtech device that you hope achieves all goals: "While your 1:1 device may be one kind of device, you still have access to laptop carts, iPads, and computer labs (with large desktop hard drives and powerful processors) for specialized work.  And speaking of devices that do specialized work, let's not forget that many students already carry one in their pocket: a smartphone."

That last part -- how do we find ways to integrate instead of ban the powerful microprocessor many students carry around in their pocket? -- echoed in my head when Heidi Neltner recently introduced me to a new mobile Google app, Science Journal.  It is available for iOS and Android and requires a smartphone or tablet; according to their site, it will also work for "some" Chromebooks that can install Android apps.  But once you get past the device and installation hurdle, it is free and an amazing resource for science classrooms.

How does it work?  After installing Science Journal, you will need to give it permission to access your device's microphone and camera.  You will also need to state your age, as Google wants users to be 13 and older; it only asks for this once on the first time you open the app.  (This strikes me as a bit odd, since no personal data can be collected, as no account creation is possible and you cannot yet link it to a Google Drive account. That said, it does collect and send anonymous data unless you turn this off in the app's settings.)

The app starts with a "Welcome to Science Journal" experiment example you can play with, edit and archive.  (Similar to Google Keep, you can "clear the screen" by archiving experiments that can be retrieved later, or of course you can delete them.)  Creating a new experiment is as easy as hitting the purple "+" button in the lower right.

Once inside an experiment, you can edit the title at the top by clicking the top right pencil.  The top half of the screen is where data and notes are captured.  The bottom half (which can be slid up to take up the entire screen) is where you have four icon choices.  The first allows you to make journal text entries.  The third allows you to take pictures; with the fourth, you can insert images.  The second icon is where the magic happens, as this is where you choose a sensor reading tool.

You have the following sensor tools to choose from: Ambient Light (lux), Sound Intensity (dB), Pitch (Hz), Linear Accelerometer (m/s squared), Accelerometers for X, Y and Z axis, Barometer (hPa), Compass (degrees), and Magnometer.

By utilizing your device's various sensors -- accelerometers, light sensor, microphone, compass -- Science Journal allows you to see real time data as you move the device or expose it to sound, light and other stimuli.   By hitting the icon in the lower left black band, you can take a picture "screenshot" of the data which gets added to your experiment's top half data collection area.  By hitting the red button, you can make a playable "recording" of data that is added to your collection area.  By sweeping up and hitting a grey "+" button underneath, you can open another "card" for a different sensor reading tool to happen simultaneously.

Last but not least, you can make some adjustments to the sensor reading tool by hitting the three dots on the right of the sensor tool name.  One of the options is to "enable audio."  This creates some pronounced auditory feedback as the data input changes!  (You also hear this in the data "recordings" discussed above.)

One word of caution.   Speaking to colleagues about this app, a common concern discussed is students getting . . . ahem . . . so excited about science that they risk damaging their device as they enthusiastically gather data.   While protecting school devices is important, you also want to be able to tell an unhappy parent if little Johnny breaks his iPhone that you had a thorough class conversation about proper management and care of technology.  Even better: if you are asking for students to install the app on their own devices, a letter home stating your purpose and getting parent permission first may be a good proactive choice.  (You know what?  That 13 and older age requirement may now be making more sense.)

How could you use it?  The ability to use this app in a science classroom or lab (individually, in collaborative groups, or in a station rotation) is pretty self-explanatory.  The key is that Science Journal empowers students to be experiential, inquiry-based learners.  I imagine this app could be helpful in the prototyping and early research stage of Design Thinking.   The journal entries jotted in the app could be the beginnings of deeper reflections or detailed lab reports, and would then be copied and pasted into other places such as Google Docs.  And why not have a cross-content PBL with science and music?  The band OK Go has an educational site full of "inspiring tools for playful learning," and some of their experiments (like this one) specifically utilize the Science Journal app as a music making tool!

Remember that you can get teacher resources, experiment ideas, and other help on the Science Journal site.

Downsides?  I wish Science Journal could work as a web-based product, perhaps through a Chrome Extension, but keep in mind that anything bigger than a tablet begins to get unwieldy as you start flipping, spinning and moving your device around to take readings.  More importantly, I hope that it soon allows integration into your Google Drive account, so your experiments could at least be saved to the cloud and possibly shared and published.

If you are using Science Journal, share your stories in the Comments below!