We all know that Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas and New Year are just around the corner, but it’s not those holidays of the season that I am referring to in my title: “Tis The Season. I am referring to the Science Fair Season!
Right here in Philadelphia we have one of the nation’s largest city science fairs, The George Washington Carver Science Fair. http://www.temple.edu/carversciencefair. Applications are due in January. Teachers are always seeking out new ideas for their students for science fair experiments and they are always in need of equipment to do these experiments. With the Science Fair Season upon us, I want to share a few thoughts I have had recently on the subjects of science fair experiments and equipment to do those experiments. While I was preparing the teacher materials for this month’s featured video on EcoExpress, I had an ah ha! moment. (I write the curriculum materials for EcoExpress–ecoexpress.org. This month’s featured video is about Herron Playground in South Philadelphia). In the video the narrator talks about one unexpected positive result of the resurfacing of Herron Playground. She talks about how the neighbors in the South Philadelphia neighborhood are pleased that they no longer hear the sound of the basketballs on the asphalt court. The new porous surface absorbs the sound of the pounding ball. This lead me to think: “How about this as a science experiment: What is the decibel* level of a bouncing basketball on various surfaces?” But, the one thing I heard throughout my 30-year career as a science teacher is that science teachers do not have the equipment to do science experiments. How is a student going measure the decibel level of a bouncing ball if they do not have a decibel meter? After about five minutes of getting ready to discard this idea my iPhone rang. As I stared at my phone to answer it, I saw my apps staring back at me. I see on my phone an app for the weather, and app for the stock market, and app for Happy Hour in Center City. Why not an app for measuring decibel level. I “went” straight to the App Store and found a free app for measuring decibel levels. http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/db-volume-meter/id353432115?mt=8 I googled “scientific apps for iPhone” and found lots of apps that science teachers can use, and many are free. But even if they are not free, the cost rarely exceeds $9.99 (which is pennies compared to purchasing scientific equipment). If you don’t have an iPhone, the person next to you does. Also, there are many apps for the Android phone. The moral of this story is don’t let lack of “expensive equipment’ stop you from involving your students in the Science Fair Season. Check out iPhone and Android apps and you will see that you can do many things with your phone. Just a few years ago this was impossible, but not now. Oh and by the way, HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all! *dec·i·bel a unit used to measure the intensity of a sound.