What to Buy
The ICT and IB Physics website has a lot of information about the use of dataloggers and not a lot has happened since then. Both Pasco and Vernier are pushing their stand alone modules the Spark (Pasco) and Labquest (Vernier). I have used both but prefer to be connected directly to the computer. if we are going to ask students to analyse data with a computer then they will need one in the lab anyway so why not connect the sensors to it?
I actually use the outdated science workshop sensors and the 500 interface from pasco, however, if I was starting from scratch I would either buy the good old labpro from Vernier or Paco's pasport system. The advantage of using labpro is that it uses the Loggerpro software which is excellent for drawing graphs that comply to the IB requirements, but Pasco has the better distribution set up, they have a wider range of other physics equipment and their technical support is second to none. Both companies do a Physics bundle which have a good range of sensors however I wouldn't bother with the microphone or the accelerometer in the vernier pack.
For a class of 16 students I have 8 dataloggers with 8 sets temperature probes and light gates. This is so that I can do some labs where the whole class is doing the same thing at the same time, this is a big advantage because students can learn from each other. In addition I have a big selection of other sensors that students can use when doing their design labs. I sometimes run circuses of experiments, these last for 4 sessions and comprise of 2 sets of 4 different experiments, so if I am going to use sensors in the circus experiments I will need 2 of each.
8 Temperature probe
8 light gates
8 voltage sensors
4 light sensors
2 smart pulleys
2 Force sensors
2 motion sensors
2 rotatory motion sensors
2 time of flight accessory
2 freefall adaptors
1 magnetic field sensor
1 High temp sensor
1 alpha beta gamma detector
With this list it is possible to do all the labs described in this website plus many more.
Introducing students to datalogging
Students seem to have the ability to absorb the latest technology with no apparent effort, this does not mean that students will be able to simply pick up a datalogger and begin to use it, they need guidance. I always start the year with a mini course in the use of dataloggers, spreadsheets and graph plotting software. I find that this works well and students get an early feel for what practical work in physics is going to be like, some do get put off but it's better that they change subject now rather than later. One problem I have found with this "shock start" is that students who join the class after the first 4 or 5 weeks have a lot of catching up to do. The keen ones work through the mini course in their own time to catch up.
If you are going to teach students how to use dataloggers before they have done any physics then you need to pick a simple example. Even students who have never studied physics before will know that the temperature of water rises when a kettle is switched on (although they may not know what a kettle is) so I use this as a first investigation. The other advantage of doing a heat experiment is that it uses one of the cheaper sensors.
Once students have completed the "mini course" then you shouldn't need to give instructions on how to connect the sensors and use the software ever again, well that's the theory. If they do forget what to do then they can simply refer back to these instructions.
I have included details of the practical here but you can only use this if you are using the science workshop 500 with data studio software. I will write versions for vernier and pasport in the near future.