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Smartphones emerge as key STEM teaching tool

SMARTPHONES are being used as “mini-labs” in classrooms to deliver STEM education.

South Australian company Phonelabs is developing 3D-printed science kits and lesson plans to help bridge the gap between practical and theoretical teaching.

It has launched a crowdfunding project on to raise funds for the development of the new learning materials.

The science kits incorporate smartphones into a range of experiments such as measuring acceleration, angles, scaling, frequency and sound.

The 3D-printed accessories include smartphone stands and measuring devices designed for specific experiments.

Phonelabs founder Sivam Krish said the use of smartphones in classrooms was an effective method for generating interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects among students.

He said smartphones had evolved to become highly functional miniature computers with quality sensors and data analysis hardware already installed.

“We want to connect kids with learning in a completely different way where they learn to enjoy science,” Dr Krish said.

“What they have in their pockets is a far better tool than what they have now in labs and it can measure temperature, light and sound.

“We have a range of different kits that are like mini-labs.”

The Adelaide-based company runs workshops in schools around South Australia.

It aims to raise about $3500 through the Indiegogo campaign to develop more programs for elementary and high school students around the world.

Phonelabs uses web apps to demonstrate how to perform experiments, which eliminates the need for technicians or lab instructors.

It is also developing products for home-schooled students.

Upon completion of the campaign there will be a range of kits available – a simple starter kit for AUD $20 and a home study kit for AUD $98.  The contents and price of a complete science kit is still being evaluated.

Dr Krish said introducing smartphones into the classrooms would be an easy and seamless transition because students were already active on the devices.

He said students who owned smartphones would have increased access to “laboratory equipment”, reducing the need for students to share.

“A lot of the time kids are left with a bunch of equations out of a book but with phones they can discover the laws of nature themselves. It’s all about studying the world around us,” Dr Krish said.

“3D printing has allowed us to design and mould our products to meet our needs and we will continue to use it until we have a large volume, then we will evolve our manufacturing processes.

“Right now more and more schools want to focus on STEM subjects but there is a large gap between the book learning aspect and the practical aspect. We are working with Google to change this.”

Phonelabs was awarded South Australian Startup of the Year at the 2016 iAwards earlier this year.

The iAwards are designed to recognise innovative companies having an impact in the field of Information and Communications Technology.

Phonelabs is working with Google to inspire the next generation of scientists by developing more 3D Printed Lab kits using Google’s Science Journal app.

Its web apps are available for use on smartphones and can be viewed using any browser. The 3D printed kits can also be used with Google’s Science Journal apps that can be downloaded using Google Play.

The Australian Government released its National STEM School Education Strategy in December in a bid to improve the performance of Australian students against international benchmarks.

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