Datalogging and datahandling in primary science

Joyce Porter and Peter Harwood
Centre for Science Education, Liverpool John Moores University
This article first appeared in MAPE Focus on Science Autumn 2000

In the National Curriculum for Science 2000, it is expected that, 'all pupils should develop the key skills of IT, through using a wide range of ICT'. ICT opportunities are identified within the Programmes of Study and include the use of sensors to record changes in sound, light and temperature.

Recently, Musker (Education in Science, 2000) highlighted why ICT makes a difference to learning. In this article, some approaches that we have used in incorporating datalogging and datahandling in primary science, and their impact on learning, will be described.

In the examples chosen, datalogging has been used to aid pupils' conceptual development and challenge their understanding. Datahandling using real data from datalogging experiments has also been used to improve pupils' skills in interpreting the meaning of graphical information.

Example 1 Boiling a kettle

Key concepts

Fig 1 Hot stuff graphs

The datalogging exercise can be carried out with a whole class if a large TV screen or video projector is available; otherwise it can be done with small groups.

The children are asked to predict, using Fig. 1 (prediction 1), what will happen to the temperature of the water with time when the kettle is switched on. The children can be asked to make a further prediction 2 minutes after the kettle has been switched on and they have observed the initial shape of the datalogged graph (prediction 2). The predictions can be collected afterwards and give a valuable insight into the children's thoughts.

Safety must be considered, so the children should be kept at a safe distance from the kettle and associated equipment as a large amount of steam is generated as the water boils.

The direct use of the datalogger and the continuous production of the graph of temperature against time (Fig. 2) allow the children to relate what they observe happening (e.g. production of wisps of steam at 70C) to the graphical information. When the water starts to boil, copious amounts of steam are produced the kettle is then left to boil for another 34 minutes so the children can see from the graph that the temperature remains the same. The graph can then be used to ask the children a series of probing questions:

Example 2 Sound levels in a room

Key concepts

Sound levels in a room can be measured using a standalone data logger to record the sound at various distances from the source. The activity involves using one note on a keyboard (or a recording of such): pupils monitor the sound levels on the datalogger at distances from the keyboard (0 m, 1 m, 2 m, 3 m, 4 m, 5 m . . .) across the length of their classroom or the school hall.

Again, pupils are asked to predict the result before the experiment is carried out (Fig. 3, prediction 1) and after the first three results have been recorded (prediction 2).

The children record their results on the board and examine them to see if there is a pattern. A typical set of results might be:

0 m 99%
1 m 87%
2 m 79%
3 m 70%
4 m 75%
5 m 69%
6 m 65%
7 m 62%

The results are very useful as they are not as expected the children are then asked which results should be repeated. Results at 2 m, 3 m and 4 m from the source are repeated and the same levels of sound are found. The children then draw the graph from the results. An interesting series of questions can be asked:

These showed that the children were using ideas based on their everyday experiences, which were not all that far removed from the concepts of sound waves interfering and causing resonance.

Data handling

The graphs obtained from these and other datalogging activities in science (e.g. monitoring temperature levels in compost, light absorbance/reflection of a number of materials) can be used later within the unit of work, or for revision, to probe the children's ability to interpret graphical information from real sources and to link to mathematics activities. Other graphs can be used to do this: one I have found particularly useful is puddles (Fig. 4).


There is a place in the playground where you always get a puddle when it rains.

Some children measured the size of the puddle during the day.

They did this one day in the summer, then they did the same thing in the winter, to see if there was a difference.

Firstly, the children can be asked if there is a place in the playground where puddles usually form (a common feature of most playgrounds). Then they are asked how they would measure the puddle, and what equipment they would use. A variety of answers are obtained (length, width metre rule or tape measure; perimeter, tape measure or trundle wheel). A child is then selected to draw the puddle on the board and mark on how they would measure it (for example, width is selected). The teacher then asks the children where the next puddle should be drawn, the puddle which has had 2 hours to evaporate; should it be inside or outside the first puddle.

The teacher draws the second puddle and asks another child to mark where they would measure the width of the second puddle. This can lead to a lively discussion if the second child chooses to measure the width of the puddle at a different place from the first child.

A series of challenging questions can now be asked:

1. What is happening to the size of both the puddles?

2. What is different about what happens to the puddle in summer and the puddle in winter?

3. Can you explain the results (scientifically)?

4. Why does it take several hours to do this puddle investigation?

5. Why do they have to use the same puddle place each time for their investigation?


The use of datalogging enables children to relate their observations and scientific reasoning to what is being recorded in graphical form.

Datalogging and datahandling exercises can provide children with a valuable opportunity to think about what graphical information actually means a key skill in their educational development.

A disc with a number of graphs which can be used for datahandling exercises is available from the authors on request.


Department of Education and Employment and QCA, (1999) Science; The National Curriculum for England, QCA, London.
Musker, R, (2000). Why ICT makes a difference, Education in Science, 86, p. 4.


The authors would like to thank the primary schools involved in the project 'Promoting Excellence in Primary Science' in which this work was carried out and the Astra Zeneca Science Teaching Trust for their generous support.

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