Eighth-graders at Dawson County Middle School recently had a chance to work hands-on with technology students and professors from the University of North Georgia.
"This is a great partnership with the University of North Georgia," said Principal Mark Merges. "We sat down to try to figure out a way to buy or create these probe [thermometers] to help in our physical science labs and Professor [Joe] Covert got with the technology at the university and there's a technology student there that actually built a prototype."
Forty-five students in Kevin Grigsby's eighth-grade technology class were taught by Covert and three of his students, one of which included Jennifer Lindly, a computer science major at the university who created the prototype of the probe.
"I was in [a class] over the summer and we were working in the lab and ... eventually it evolved into the prototype built with basic electronics," Lindly said. "We tried to make it as cost-effective as possible, because they are building them in the classrooms in mass quantities."
The devices cost $25 a piece. Originally, Merges said that the school was looking at probes costing in the $100 range.
"This prototype costs only a quarter of what it would to buy a probe thermometer of this type for our physical science classroom," he said. "We wanted our students to put these together so they would have the knowledge to build the computer, program it and maintain the probe."
Covert said that when Lindly showed the probe prototype to him, he immediately remembered the conversation he and Merges had previously had about this technology.
"We had bumped into these various single-board computers and we bought a couple and brought them down to Mark [Merges] and said ‘We can do all kinds of cool things with these,'" he said. "The first goal that came to mind was to reduce the cost of computer interfaces used in classrooms. You can buy devices that cost upwards of $300 that read temperatures, but on the scale that they need them in a school, $300 times the [number of] kids is off the charts."
After the students build the probes, they will be used next in Amanda Moore's eighth-grade environmental science class this week.
"We are going to start learning states of matter, like condensation, and there are a few labs we can do," Moore said. "With these thermometers, we can melt various substances and use these thermometers at each lab station to test the temperatures."
Covert said that these computer probes weren't just a one-job device, either.
"In the future, you could conceivably do the next step to researching the reasoning behind the codes used on these thermometers," he said. "Given enough time, we could go in and have the kids put another sensor on the board and reprogram it to something else. That $25 is only the foundation for another data-collecting computer."
To see what steps the students took to build these devices in class, visit tinyurl.com/dcmsarduino.