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Ed Tech Thoughts on the Space Coast

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Technology as an Amplifier-The SciPad Technology as an Amplifier-The SciPad!

This fits beautifully with my interests as an educational technologist and my background as a science educator/scientist. The definition of technology states in part: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes (New Oxford Dictionary) A scientist views technology as taking a
scientific principal and making something practical and useful out of it. So Technology amplifies our capabilities and potential. Technology helps us extend our senses to see, hear, feel, and perceive things that our natural senses may not be able to detect and quantify. A microscope amplifies our sight so that we can see what is otherwise invisible. A properly created graph may help us to project and predict future trends, amplifying our understanding and communication.

Technology can also improve the quality of our information by being more exacting. In science we call this quantifiable observations - observations that are quantities based on a standard of measurement. Qualitative observations that we make such as the water is warm or cold become temperatures that are much more meaningful. We are not relying on an ambiguous expression that is relevant only to some unexacting construct in the observer’s mind.

An Example of How Technology Amplifys a Student’s Understanding



A eighth grade science research student believes that the sound of a boat engine causes stress to aquatic organisms. We find a sound file of the sound of a boat engine, set it to loop as a Quicktime file. This audio file is played through a set of headphones clamped on the outside of the small tanks with 30 Daphnia (a small freshwater crustacean).

Technology Amplifies Our Abilities

We create a simple script on her Mac laptop in Automator to play and stop playing the file in iTunes. Then we create an event to run these Automator scripts for 5 days in iCal. On one computer the iCal events allow the looped file to play for 5 hours, On another computer, the motorboat file is set in iCal to run for 12 hours. A third group (the control group), there is no sound being played at all.

Technology Amplifies and Quantifies Our Observations

So we have an audio file playing at the same volume out of iTunes on six experimental groups – using six sets headphones. Or do we? How do we know the sound in the different tanks is the same sound? How do we characterize the sound? Is it loud? Medium loud? Primarily highs, lows or midrange tones? To have a clear and common understanding we need to use numbers that are based on a standard of measurement (common meaning so that other people can have a true sense of what the character of the sound is).

Sound is typically measured in decibels (dB) units. Decibels are units of pressure – but sound is also described in terms of frequency... so you could have a lot of sound ‘pressure’ at a low (bass, drum) frequency and have very little pressure at a high (tweeter, cymbal, flute) frequency. So sound is characterized by a combination of
frequency (measured in Hz) and pressure (measured in dB).

Technology Allows Us To Monitor Things In Unusual Places

Next we needed to monitor what the Daphnia were hearing in the water. It would be silly to stick our head in the water– we probably would introduce a whole new level of stress for these aquatic crustaceans, assuming our head fit. And we wouldn’t be able to quantify (provide number measurement of our observations) if we used only our ears.


So we had a hydrophone – a submersible microphone. But we needed a special type of meter that would measure sound, unfortunately I learned at the last minute that our $50 dB Meter from Radioshack was broken. Furthermore, we also looked at the specs and determined that the Radioshack device wouldn’t work to measure sounds below 50 dB, which was likely going to be an issue. Next day delivery on another $200 device from Amazon didn’t mention any external microphone port (for the hydrophone) and there were no reviews Sad .

App Store & iPod Touch to the Rescue


When Google searches and Amazon next day delivery didn’t work, I turned to the place I increasingly am relying on for novel solutions: The iTunes App Store! Here I found over 20 apps that served as dB meters, the most promising from audio enthusiast and professional sound engineer, Andrew Smith in Boulder, CO and his software company: Studio Six Digital . With a click, a brief download and sync I was in business with an audio testing suite of software that some reviews equated to equipment costing between $4,000 and $6,000!



Our set up included a Belkin microphone that plugged into the base of the iPod Touch (or iPhone). Research on the audio recording capabilities of the iPod Touch’s headphone/microphone input at the top of the device revealed that the Touch has a low frequency filter (probably to prevent wind noise) which was part of what we wanted to measure. The Belkin device has a miniplug (3.5-millimeter), stereo microphone adapter for an external microphone- our hydrophone in this case. This input will bypass the low frequency filter of the headphone/microphone jack at the top of the Touch.


When she was able to measure the sound levels in the tanks, our research found that the tanks that were supposed to have no sound had virtually the same audio characteristics as the tanks that were being treated with sound! It turned out that most of the sound was being conducted through the surface of the desk and since all the tanks were on the same desk surface, they were all being treated with the same sound. Our researcher was going to have to repeat the experiment and isolate the tanks so that the treatment was not transferred through all the tanks.

So end of story:
Technology helps us learn. Technology amplifies
what we are capable of.
Ok, maybe I am not an amplifier, but with technology I can help others amplify their knowledge, understanding, senses, communication, and LIFE!
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