I used some of Pasco’s wireless sensors in my classroom over the past two years in my high school science classes. Here’s my review of their wireless sensors with water quality testing and other applications. Pasco makes sensors and other technology for science and engineering and is a popular choice for technology in the lab.
I tested Pasco’s wireless optical dissolved oxygen sensor, wireless pH sensor, wireless temperature sensor and wireless conductivity sensor in the aquatic chambers of our class ecocolumns. One of my student groups used the Pasco wireless sensors for three months of weekly data.
The optical dissolved oxygen sensor ($289) is a nice piece of lab equipment and does not need calibrating. It is waterproof–has a clear screw-on cap to keep the power button protected from water. This is nice if using in the field for a pond or stream. It also has a hook so you can lower with a string into a body of water. This sensor also has temperature so you don’t need to purchase a separate temperature sensor (but temperature sensors are very inexpensive and can be used for other labs). The pH sensor ($65) was fairly easy to calibrate. I had to search for the calibration page online, however, as the directions did come with the sensor. I have buffer solutions of 4, 7 and 10 on hand and I only needed tow of the buffers for calibration. Calibration was easy to do on the SparkVue app. The temperature sensor ($39) is straightforward and sturdy. The conductivity sensor ($95) is nice, because it shows total dissolved solids (TDS) as well as conductivity. This conversion from conductivity to TDS in Sparkvue is helpful for students so they don’t have to do the conversion themselves.
Powering and Connecting Pasco Sensors
Most of the sensors run on small watch batteries. This is a plus in that you don’t need to charge them, but can be a drawback as you will need to purchase batteries. Batteries last about a year with regular use. I keep a supply of batteries on hand from Amazon. I did have a lot of trouble opening up the battery compartment on one of the temperature sensors which is a downside as the plastic can sometimes warp/stick.
Most of Pasco’s sensors do not have a wire to connect to the computer. This can be a drawback if your computers don’t have enough bluetooth connections or if the bluetooth connections are not stable and its better to be wired. The Chromebooks I use currently have a lot of ports for each laptop and bluetooth wireless connectivity is not an issue.
Pasco Light Sensor
The light sensor ($69) is handy for a variety of uses. I used the sensor to gather data during the last eclipse, but lately, I’ve been using to measure light intensity of plant lights and light from my window. It’s been invaluable for me to understand how my fluorescent bulbs are holding up in my grow light units, how much light my plants actually get by the window, and how my new LED lights compare with older light sets.
Pasco Carbon Dioxide Sensor
The wireless carbon dioxide sensor ($195) has some nice features. Its design works well not only in the bottle that comes with it, but also in other empty bottles (like gatorade or vitamin water) that can be used for labs. The sensor is also good for measuring decomposition in a bio bottle or the Pasco EcoZone System ($105). Waterproof plastic sleeves can be purchased to use to measure dissolved carbon dioxide which could be used when studying ocean acidification.
I recently tried a few of Vernier’s GoDirect Wireless Sensors with my high school students and liked many of their features. Vernier technology is a popular choice for many secondary science labs.
Water Quality testing with Vernier Sensors
I tested Vernier’s wireless temperature, pH, optical dissolved oxygen, conductivity, nitrate and ammonia sensors. One group of students used the Vernier sensors for their ecocolumn data and I also tested the sensors in my fish tank.
The optical dissolved oxygen sensor ($299) worked well and needed no calibration. The pH sensor ($89) needed calibration (as do most pH sensors and probes), but this was easy to do in Graphical Analysis. I have buffer solutions on hand, because I calibrate pH probes of varying brands almost weekly. The temperature sensor ($69) also worked well.
Vernier wireless sensors have to be charged periodically which can take some planning and a lot of plugs/ports for multiple sensors to charge. The sensors have a wired option so if the sensor is not charged, students can plug into the side of the Chromebooks. Our Chromebooks only have one plug-in port so students would have to use the sensors one at a time if not charged–but that’s typically fine for water quality testing.
Both the nitrate ($249) and ammonium ($249) sensors are harder to use. This is typical for this type of sensor of any brand. They need planning ahead of time. Both sensors need soaking in buffer solution for 30 minutes before using and often need calibration. However, I tested the sensors a week after calibrating and they held their calibration over the week of non-use. This is an improvement over sensors I used a decade ago.
Both the nitrate and ammonium sensors can inform how beneficial nitrifying bacteria are functioning. If a fish tank or aquatic chamber of an ecocolumn has low ammonia and higher nitrates, it means that there is a healthy population of bacteria for nitrification–the process of turning ammonium into nitrites and then nitrates. Ammonium is found in animal waste (like fish poop) and dead, decomposing organic matter. Ammonium is toxic to aquatic life in high amounts so a healthy population of bacteria is essential.
Older Vernier Technology with New Sensors
I have some Vernier sensors from over a decade ago that use a TI-84 Calculator interface for readings. Many of the sensors still work, but pH sensors do not have as long of a life span. So, I recently purchased some new replacement pH sensors to plug into these calculators. I purchased the Tris-Compatable pH sensor ($99), because the bottom of this pH sensor is sturdier which is good for ecocolumns. Regular pH probes tend to be rather delicate on the bottom, but these can handle more bumps with gravel in the aquatic chambers of the ecocolumns. They can also be used to measure the pH of soil using a soil slurry. I was happy to see that I can still order Vernier sensors that work with the older technology .
I recently tested three of Hanna’s pH Meters in my high school science lab. Hanna is a specialist and leader in pH technology for industry as well as education and I looked forwarded forward to trying these pH meters out.
pHep Pocket pH Tester
I really liked this pocket pH tester for use in EcoColumns. It is fairly inexpensive ($39.95) and has nice features. This pH meter comes with packets of buffer solutions for calibration and calibration was easy and electronic. This is an improvement on the cheap pH probes (different brand) I previously used that required a screwdriver to calibrate. They are also waterproof! A big plus with students who aren’t as careful as they should be. Would be a good probe for an Ocean Acidification Lab for Chemistry or Environmental Science. The tester can also be purchased on Amazon if your school has an Amazon account.
Calibration also held fairly well with five groups of students using the testers each lab day. I needed to calibrate after about 3-4 weeks of ecocolumn data which I have found to be a good length of time for holding calibration .
This pH meter also comes with temperature which means there is no need to purchase a separate temperature probe. It also has an automatic on/off feature (great for students who forget to turn them off) and uses small coin batteries.
Checker® pH Tester with 0.1 pH Resolution
The Checker pH tester ($29.95) is another inexpensive pH meter, but without the temperature add-on. I found that it did not hold calibration as well as the pHep and was not as easy to calibrate (but okay once I figured it out). Its is an option if you want to save a few bucks. It also has electronic calibration which is very nice compared to the screwdriver method with cheaper probes. It has automatic on/off, uses coin batteries and comes with calibration solutions.
HALO® Wireless Field pH Meter
This HALO Wireless Field pH meter is much more precise than the first two. But, it comes with a higher price tab ($165) too. Its a high quality pH meter that would be helpful in chemistry classes that need a more precise pH meter for titration or other labs. The meter also measures temperature and adjusts pH for temperature.
This pH meter does not have a digital display, but instead links to an app on a phone, computer or tablet. The free app is easy to use and connects seamlessly with Bluetooth.
This pH meter is much more versatile with the ability for a 5 buffer calibration (but you don’t need that many for regular high school lab work). The app can graph, do calculations and share data– it is a powerful tool lab tool.
* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.
In a 5E, an Engage should be quick and illicit prior knowledge. For this 5E, students answer these questions to get their brains thinking. This part only takes about 5 minutes for students to write and about a minute to share.
Who is the oldest person alive that you personally know?
Did anyone in your family live past 100? If so, who?
How long do you think people live for? In other words, what’s the average lifespan of people in the United States?
Recall survivorship curves. Describe the three types of survivorship curves. Type I: Type II: Type III:
Which curve represents humans? _______
Do you think human survivorship curves have changed in the past 200 years? How?
The “Explore” portion of the lab is not my own. It is taken from many shared cemetery lab resources from many generous teachers.
Students work in pairs and record their headstone data on Tables 1 and 2.
Next, they read the instructions and fill in their pair data in Tables 3 and 4–just the first column. You can copy one set of tables per pair, or save paper by putting the tables in plastic sleeves (or laminate) and use vis-a-vis markers and wipe off.
Students then enter their pair data (from Tables 3 and 4) on a class spreadsheet using Google Docs. I program the google doc to add the rows for them. After every pair has filled in the spreadsheet, Students use the class data to fill in # deaths, # survivors and % survivorship for Table 3 (Pre 1900) males. If using my spreadsheet linked above, make a copy of the spreadsheet as your “Master” and then make a copy for each period and erase the sample data inside. Also delete columns U and V with their formulas. Thank you to APES teacher Michelle Amos for help with the formulas!
After students calculate % survivorship by hand for the first spreadsheet (Table 3 Pre 1900 Males), copy and paste columns U and V from your “Master” into the spreadsheet. Student calculations by hand should match the computer generated ones.
To save time, I program the google sheet to do the other calculations for Table 3 females, Table 4 males and Table 4 females. I do not program the math calculations for the first spreadsheet, Table 3 males, because I want students to do the math themselves first to understand survivorship.
Students make a line graph with 4 lines on the same graph: Pre-1900 males, Pre-1900 Females, 1900+Males and 1900+ Females. Even though the computer can graph for them, I make students hand-graph so they understand not only how to graph, but can better understand the data.
In this part of a 5E, students begin to understand their data and make a claim at the end. Students may have some mis-conceptions and wrong ideas which is okay at this point. Walk around and read student claims to see where their thinking is at this point. Students will have the chance to correct their answers later so its not necessary to make sure they have the correct answers now.
Next, students go back to their questions from sense-making and revise their answers.
Elaborate: Survivorship Curve Predictions and Demographic Transition
Students show deeper understanding by making predictions as to what would happen to a modern survivorship curve with various scenarios such as disease and pollution. By checking their predictive lines, you can see if they truly understand how survivorship changes. Students also connect survivorship curves with the demographic transition model.
This evaluate is optional. Students write a chunk paragraph describing how AND why the population dynamics of Los Angeles changed in the past 200 years using evidence from this lab.
One of the most interesting labs in Regular or AP®Environmental Science is using cemetery data for human population studies. This 5E covers Several topics from the new AP Environmental Science Course and Exam Description including 3.3 “Survivorship Curves,” 3.8 “Human Population Dynamics” and 3.9 “Demographic Transition” and 8.15 “Pathogens and Infectious Disease”.
The Cemetery Lab is also good for AP Science Practices of data analysis, math calculations, and text analysis as well as NGSS Science and Engineering Practices.
The lab takes 2-3 class periods (45-50 min) with homework.
For copies of all the Cemetery 5E Lab files, scroll down to “Materials and Supplies”
Different Ways to do the Cemetery Lab
Go to a real cemetery with students
Take pictures at a cemetery and use the pictures in lab (shown above)
Use “made-up” tombstones from a file and post around the room
Use a database of tombstone data from a real cemetery
Cemetery Lab Pictures or Databases
What you choose depends on your resources. If you cannot take kids to a real cemetery, I highly recommend going to a local old cemetery and taking pictures of headstones, printing them and have students use for data in the lab. I live in a fairly new town that doesn’t have an old cemetery so my pictures come from nearby Los Angeles which is as local as I can get for my students.
You need 200-400 pictures of headstones with enough pictures of the following:
Males and Females born before 1900 and after 1900 (about half and half if you can)
Women who died young-in their 20s and 30s (most before 1900)
Babies and young children that died (most before 1900)
My pictures are printed from Shutterfly as it was cheaper than color ink on my printer and they will last longer. But, you can always print on regular paper or have students use a digital file of the pictures. I have a pack of 25 pictures for each pair of students (18 pairs per class). Each period of APES analyzes 450 pictures. You can adjust these numbers as needed for smaller classes or less pictures.
LOCAL is always best for student learning, but if that’s not feasible, you can use this is a file of about 200 pictures of tombstones taken by AP® Environmental Science Teacher Eduardo Fernandez and shared with permission. These are from a cemetery in the Los Angeles area.
Another option is to print this file of fake tombstones made by AP® Environmental Science teacher Michelle Miller Fagen and post around the room, lab, hallway or other location.
Another option is to use an online database of burials in a cemetery. Find a Grave is one site that does this.
I do not have advice for going to a real cemetery as I have never taken students to one.
A set of Tables 1 & 2, 3 & 4 per pair of students. This can be laminated or placed in plastic sleeves if you want to save paper. Students do not need to keep these papers as they are used for calculations that are entered into a class spreadsheet.
I came across this lab from the Monterey Bay Aquarium called “Light in the Deep Sea” a few years ago when I taught Marine Science. I recently pulled it out and used this lab in AP® Environmental Science since it matches topic 1.8 Primary Productivity of the APES Course and Exam Description (CED). Click to access the full version including teacher’s instruction and templates from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In addition to primary productivity, students learn about predator/prey interactions, adaptations, range of tolerance and other ecological concepts.
Click for my student handout. The first 3 pages come from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s PDF. The last page has questions that I made that correspond to various topics in the APES CED. The correlation is at the bottom of the last page. Note: I did not use all of the data sheets provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium-only #1, #2 and #4.
The materials are affordable and will last for years. You need:
Prepare glasses for students. My student lab assistants made them all for me. They pasted copies of the template onto file folders and cut them out. Then, they stapled the 4 plastic sheets onto each glasses. You can have paperclips to help hold back the plastic pieces as kids use them or skip this step.
Cut a larger sheet of black felt as a background and smaller squares of the other colors.
Load colored pictures into Google Classroom or another online platform OR print in color. I made a separate PDF of just the pictures to do this (The pictures are found in the instructor’s guide).
This lab can be completed in one traditional day (45-55) min with students finishing the questions for homework.
You may need to edit some of the questions on the last page depending on where you are in the curriculum. My students have covered all these topics by the time we get to productivity, but your students may not have. However, you could keep the questions and discuss in class as a way to preview the topics.
Students learn not only about primary productivity, but about predator/prey interactions, adaptations, resource partitioning and range of tolerance. They practice with visual representations and data analysis.
Focusing on skills and science practices is super important in a science class whether its an AP® or a regular class. But students still need content and essential knowledge. What are some methods of content delivery?
There is no one best way to deliver content. As a professional educator, you have to decide what is best for your own group of students, school, and community.
I developed sticky-noting over 10 years ago as a way to balance the needs of my high level students who could understand everything from reading the book and the kids who needed more from me to understand the material. You can read about this method on this post.
Students can learn a lot of content at home by reading the book. In an AP class, there is not enough time in class to cover all content and train students in the Science Practices. This is a form of “flipping”. You can read more about reading quizzes and flipped method on this post.
Reading quizzes can be implemented to make sure the students did their reading. They can be on paper, or online. I use my textbook’s online portal for my quizzes, but Google Forms is another good platform. My quizzes are timed (11 questions in 7 minutes), randomized, open book/note. I usually assign one quiz per two sections of reading and they are low-level questions that ONLY check if they read. They are not AP-caliber questions.
Edpuzzle can be used to supplement reading assignments. A few short videos assigned (2-4 minutes) per section of reading can help students understand what they’ve read. Embedded questions makes sure students pay attention to the video. I grade the questions on accuracy as part of their homework grade.
One way to ramp up learning with your Power Points or Google Slides is to use an interactive presentation site such as Pear Deck. Students answer formative assessment questions and engage in discussion during notes to keep them engaged and learning.
This is a popular way of doing notes. Much of the feedback from teachers I talk to at workshops around the country, however, is that students generally dislike it. But many also say that it can be done well and some teachers have developed modifications that work for their students. You can read about the method on the Cornell website.
A increasingly popular method of notes are sketch notes. A good website that gives a lot of advice for this process is the Shrock Guide. Teachers who use this method find that students need training to do it well, but it can be a method very useful for certain learners.
Another “hot topic” in the teaching world are interactive notebooks. This website has a good tutorial on how to do them.
A fun way to mix it up is to use doodle notes where there is a template for students to write information or draw pictures on. I use doodle notes for a few topics such as plate tectonics and the nitrogen cycle. There are many good sellers of these templates on TPT including SheCartoons.
File Folder Notes
Another idea for unit content or even exam review are file folder notes. Each students must write important information, graphs, charts on a file folder. The folder is sturdy and can be a long-lasting study tool.
Charts and Graphic Organizers
Charts and other graphic organizers are good tools for list of topics that kids need to know such as biomes, energy sources, diseases, air pollutants, toxins, etc. This is better than assigning projects and having kids research and share only one of them. This way kids learn all of the information well.
Newspaper, journal, or internet articles are a good way to develop critical reading and text analysis skills while learning content. Be sure to train students how to identify the author’s claim and the evidence that backs up the claim. I do not spend time having students find and present current events. Time is precious and I prefer to have them read articles I picked out that meet strategic content and literacy goals.
Many of our students need scaffolding, however, with readings. If you can, provide a graphic organizer such as a Frayer model, provide annotation training, do discussion diamonds, or have students read to each other to help with difficult articles.
Project-Based Learning (PBL) can be used for content and skills in more authentic learning based on research about how students learn. Free curriculum is now available at Sprocket from the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Also, many teachers have developed their own PBL units that they freely share.
Remember, you cannot do it all and whatever you decide, you are the most important learning tool for students. Teach with enthusiasm and passion, but be kind to yourself and only do what you can do at that moment. Resources build over time.
* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.
My “flipping” method has evolved over the past 3 years. This is my current approach for a flipped class. For reference, I teach on a traditional schedule of 55 minutes per day. For research, best practices, advice, and computer access, read this post.
Notes at Home on Video
I recorded all my sticky-note videos for my textbook (Environment, the Science Behind the Stories by Withgott and Laposata). The videos are about 30-45 minutes of per chapter (broken up into smaller videos). Students watch at home and sticky-note their own book (there are other options for students that you can read on my sticky-note post). The time is typically 1 to 2 nights of homework depending on length of chapter. Students will pause the video and write so it takes them 60-90 minutes at home. Students watch these videos on Edpuzzle with questions that I embedded. Students get their first “notes” grade for their accuracy on Edpuzzle questions as a homework grade. Students do this assignment first to introduce the chapter.
Reading and Edpuzzles at Home
Homework other nights during the chapter consists of reading 1-2 sections of the chapter (The Withgott book typically has 4 sections per chapter). Along with this, they are assigned several mini-videos (2-5 minutes each) from YouTube, Bozeman, National Geographic orTed-Ed that are found on Edpuzzle. These mini-videos help reinforce what is read. Students are graded for accuracy on answering questions embedded in Edpuzzle as a homework grade.
Reading Quizzes in Class
After 1-2 nights of readings and Edpuzzle homework assignments, students take an online reading quiz. Usually 2-3 quizzes per chapter. The quizzes are on my textbook’s companion website “Mastering Environmental Science” by Pearson. I give 11 questions for 10 points (they get a freebie point) in 7 minutes. Randomized and not every student gets the same 11 questions. Accuracy counts and it is a quiz grade. Some students do not read and only watch Edpuzzles, but they don’t do well on the quizzes and they soon learn as their grade in the class slowly drops.
Physical Note Check in Class
I check notes for 2 chapters at a time the day before an exam. Students can bring in their books with sticky-notes, or the same information written on lined paper or show me their virtual sticky notes on an e-book. I go around the room and flip through the pages or stamp papers and mark on my seating chart. I do not collect. This is their second “notes” grade in my flipped class and is a homework grade (or sometimes a lab/activity grade if I want more compliance).
This is a sample of how I grade in AP® Environmental Science. As a teacher, you must find what works for you and your own students, school and community! It takes a lot of trial and error and adjusting from year to year.
10 points per sticky note video-usually two or three 15-minute videos per chapter. I embed questions in my Edpuzzles so students are graded on watching and accuracy in answering the questions.
4 points per mini-video which are other non-note videos to reinforce reading assignments. Examples are Ted-Ed and YouTube videos. I typically assign one or two sections of the chapter to read (each chapter has 4 sections) per night with corresponding mini-videos. I am on a regular schedule where students meet every day for 55 minutes.
I download scores from Edpuzzle in a spreadsheet, but they are percentages of questions correct. I have the spreadsheet add up the scores and then divide to make the points reflect what I wrote above)
Note Check – 20 points. I check 2 chapters of physical sticky notes the day before an exam.
Reading quizzes-2 or 3 per chapter. 10 points each. Mine are online with 11 questions in 7 minutes through the Mastering Environmental Science site for the Withgott book. Randomized. Open-book, open-note. My district recently subscribed to the GoGuardian program which allows me to monitor computers during the quiz. Before GoGuardian, I stood in the back of the room to see all the screens during the quiz to prevent cheating.
Exams are every 2 chapters
50 minutes for the exam
100 points for multiple choice (usually about 40 questions)
50 points for FRQ (1 per exam). This is my curve which I believe is fair. It is not as generous as the AP® Exam, but the students only had to study 2 chapters for the exam instead of 24 for the AP® exam.