Save the Penguins Project: Utilizing Pasco Heat Probes and SparkVue App to assess the efficiency of Penguin Hut prototypes.

In this TEL, how Pasco Heat Probes and the SparkVue App can be utilized in a junior or intermediate science classroom will be examined. How one could use this technology in a science or inquiry-based project and how it impacts student learning will also be addressed.

Technology Focus: This transdisciplinary project integrated a variety of technology tools at various stages of the Design Engineering process.  A list of the technology tools is indicated below. A table outlining the stages at which these technologies were introduced in the “Save the Penguins” project (link to document may be found below).


G-Suite (formerly Google Apps for Education)


  • Google Classroom for ongoing communication

  • Google Team Drive for communication and organization between group members

  • Google Form for self-assessment

  • Google Slides for presentations

  • Google Keep for notes


Google SketchUp Make (formerly Google SketchUp)


Pasco Heat Probes


SparkVue App (Apple or Android)


In this TEL, a more in-depth examination of how Pasco Heat Probes and the SparkVue App can be utilized in a junior or intermediate science classroom will be examined further. Further, how one could use this technology in a science or inquiry-based project and how it impacts student learning will also be addressed. Additional resources related to its use can be found below.

About the Technology Tools


i) Overview


Pasco Heat Probes (wireless sensor probes) and the accompanying SparkVue App is used to gather thermal energy (heat) data. These wireless sensor probes are quite user-friendly, durable and safe to use and can be handled by students at all ages from K-12. Further information on the make and the functional use of the Pasco Heat Probe may be found here. The cost of one Pasco Heat Probe retails for approximately $70.00 (Cdn) while the SparkVue App may be downloaded for free on any Apple or Android device.


ii) Connecting to the SparkVue App


Image 1: The image above displays a line graph generated by collecting data using

a  Pasco heat probe through the SparkVue App.

Image 2: The image above displays a bar graph generated by collecting data using a Pasco heat probe through the SparkVue App.

The data collected using the Pasco Heat Probe is conducted in real-time.  The data is gathered and displayed in graphical form using the SparkVue App, which is easily downloadable from the Apple or Google Play Stores (for Android devices).  Any device with bluetooth capability will allow for a seamless connection between the Pasco Heat Probe and SparkVue App.   


For a detailed step-by-step tutorial on how to setup and use the Pasco Heat Probe in your classroom the following YouTube video is a valuable resource:


iii) Other interesting features of the Pasco Heat Probe and SparkVue App:


Once a connection has been made between the Heat Probe and the App, students be able to visually see the rise/fall of the thermal energy (heat) in their surrounding environment as the data is collected over a period of time (minutes to days). Students will find this feature particularly intriguing; which is a great spark to their inquiry .  It is also possible to change the scale on the graph so that the peaks and falls in the graph become much more noticeable.


The App allows students to have full control. Students are able to autonomously start and stop the data collection process, thereby controlling the amount of time the data is captured over. Once the stop button has been enabled, students are able to capture an image of their data collected in graphical form (line or bar graph) and then save and/or send this image directly to their email or via AirDrop through a wireless connection.  


Further, the SparkVue App allows teachers and/or students to modify the theme or layout of the page so that questions may be asked, or other features can be added in multiple windows (e.g. timers, textbooks, other graphs etc.) simultaneously, allowing students to add notes, comments or ask questions related to the data to further develop their 21st century skills (e.g. critical thinking, communication, data analysis, collaboration, etc.).


For example, some questions that may come up either by the teacher or students include:

  • What does your graph show over time? Explain.  HINT: Include terms such as: thermal energy change, convection, thermal energy transfer, movement of heat,  area of high heat to area of less heat.

  • Does your graph have any unusual points or peaks/falls? What do these peaks/falls represent? Explain.


iv) How were these Technology Tools used in the Grade 7 Science Project:


In the Grade 7 Science Project: Save the Penguins, the Pasco Heat Probe and SparkVue App were used to enhance student understanding of heat transfer, absorption, loss and gain as part of the “Understanding Matter and Energy: Heat in the Environment” unit (The Ontario Curriculum, 2007).  These tools were particularly useful in enhancing student understanding of how heat, which is traditionally invisible to the naked eye, transfers and moves freely in our environment.


During the course of the project, students were asked to take on the role of “real-life” Engineers to plan, design and later modify the construction of a penguin structure prototype using insulating, reflecting and conducting materials to keep heat outside (see "Stages of the Engineering Design Process" document).  The penguin structure prototype measured no more than 10 cm x 10 cm at the base and a variety of building materials were provided to offer students the opportunity to add their own personal touch.


During the testing phase (see "Stage 9 of the Stages of the Engineering Design Process" document), a small ice cube in the shape of a penguin, measuring no more than 1 inch (width) x 2 inches (length) was placed inside the enclosed hut (a small door was necessary to allow the placement of the ice cube inside the hut).  Next, the metal portion of Pasco Heat probe was placed inside the structure preparing it for the data collection process.  On the outside, a hot incandescent light lamp was used to add “warmth” to the structure, simulating the natural sunlight. After setting up their structure for the testing stage, students connected their probe via bluetooth with the SparkVue App to initiate the data collection process.


v) What was the purpose of this Design and the Use of the Probe/App?


The goal was to design a hut that would preserve/sustain the ice cube the longest, thereby simulating a real-life situation in which Antarctic penguins inhabit enclosed structures for the purpose of safely birthing their offspring.  In the natural environment, global warming has proven to negatively impact the population of Antarctic penguins as the ice caps on which they breed and lay their eggs are slowly melting away.  Furthermore, with rising temperatures, penguins are forced to leave their nests unattended at times, to cool off in the ocean water nearby. This in turn increases the risk of predation towards their unborn offspring.   By offering a safe and cool enclosed space for penguins to safely nest and give birth to baby penguins, the anticipation is that the Antarctic penguin population will be protected for generations to come.  


iv) Impact on Student learning


By collecting and analysing data, students engaged in the process of utilizing essential 21st century learning skills to draw conclusions through the analysis of real data.  Some of the key skills acquired and utilized included: Data collection and analysis, collaboration, making connections, problem solving/troubleshooting, perseverance, time management, communication and critical thinking.


In this stage of the project, students were able to identify that there is a correlation between the the collection of data or numbers, which help inform Engineers and manufacturers modify designs to produce more efficient and useful products with a purpose. Theoretically, students were also able to draw meaningful conclusions about how humans can help living creatures in the environment overcome potentially dire consequences due to the negative effects of global warming and how an excess of heat loss or gain can impact both living and nonliving components of our environment in a negative manner.


Following the initial data collection phase, students modified their penguin structure to prevent further internal heat gain. A second data test was run to draw a comparison with their first data to determine if modifications were effective. This information was later presented in the final stage of the project (see stage 9 of the "Stages of the Design Engineering Process" document).


vii) Timeline for this project in a science classroom


The entire penguin project can be broken down into smaller phases or stages to simplify the planning process (see stage 9 of the "Stages of the Design Engineering Process" document for suggestions on a potential timeline). In general, this project took approximately 2 months to complete and was integrated into the Grade 7 heat unit, supplemented with periods of content that allowed for further understanding and exploration of concepts related to heat.


viii) Cross-Curricular Connections:


Throughout the design process, a cross-curricular approach was utilized using the decline of the penguin population as the main contextual piece.  Using the penguin problem as a main focus, additional discussions/questions and/or assignments focusing on the impact of Climate Change and Global warming on ecosystems and our natural environments was addressed in their Grade 7 Geography program; The graphical analysis and interpretation of data from this project was used to dive into further learning opportunities in the Grade 7 Data Management Unit (Mathematics); The final media presentation was used as an assessment piece for the Grade 7 Language Arts Media Unit; and knowledge of the human impact on living things and the potential for viable solutions was assessed as part of the Grade 7 Science & Technology Interactions in the Environment Unit.


ix) How one could use this tool in a classroom


As Global citizens, students were exposed to further practical uses of heat probes  outside the context of this project such as its use in the food, chemical and manufacturing industries, its use by biologists to understand the impact of global climate change on living organisms, and its practical use to monitor and sustain living creatures in an ecosystem.  Students and educators are also able to connect with professionals who utilize similar types of tools in their workplace or industry to showcase their usefulness in data collection and analysis in the real world through video conferencing websites such as VROC and Skype in the classroom.


The use of this tool was quite impactful as students were able to measure heat loss/gain visually using the SparkVue App as means of analysing the loss/gain of heat over time.  A concept that is often lost to students since the movement of heat is not always visible to the naked eye.  They were also able to better understand the use of data collection on making informed decision making (e.g. modifying a product or design to maximize efficiency and usefulness).


At any grade level, these tools can be quite impactful. To view examples of how this tool and inquiry can be adapted for other grades see “Next Steps/Extensions for this Tech Tool” section below.


x) Teaching Strategies enabled through the use of this technology.


Student engagement and effective teaching strategies were paramount to the success of using this tool in the Grade 7 project.  As a starting point, it was important to offer students a tutorial on how the probes could be set up and used with ease. Students who were unfamiliar with the Probe were provided with some practical examples of its use in the real-world. A breakdown of the use of the App and how it is able to collect and display data was demonstrated as well through mock runs.  Prior to collecting data, students were encouraged to navigate through the Sparklabs tutorials and lessons offered through the App, to collect their own data sets on heat emitted from the human body and other materials.  Exemplars of data collected in class were shared and uploaded to our Google Classroom for reference as needed. Some students went a step further, offering a quick breakdown of how they collected their data through our Google Classroom feed.


For the visual learners, gathering data in real-time is always exciting and taking the time to analyse the data as a group was also essential, as students were asked, at a later time to “tell a story” about their data as part of their final “Pitch presentation” on the effectiveness of their product to help sustain life through the choices they made for materials and design of their penguin structure.


xi) Further Resources to support the use of these tools in the classroom:


On the Pasco Scientific website, middle and high school lessons are available for educators to access through a link called SPARKlabs Online Library.  However, the lessons can only be opened by devices running the SPARKvue App.

It is important to note t that not all lessons are related to the Pasco heat probe in this lessons database. In addition to the Pasco Heat probe, this site offers lessons on how to utilize a variety of other wireless sensors offered by Pasco.


These built-in lesson, which are accessible through SparkVue, may be used by students to test out the probes and data collection process before using them for in-class inquiry-based projects.


Lessons specific to the use of heat probes in a junior or intermediate program are limited through SPARKlab however, as the Grade 7 Penguin Project demonstrated, students were quick to learn how to use the heat probe sensors, regardless of any prior knowledge of the technology.  Students were particularly interested in gathering practical data using a visually appealing platform.

Describe the technology “know how” required to implement this tool/activity


What will you need to know to use the Pasco Probe and SparkVue App?


Level of Knowledge needed to use the technology:


  • low to Medium knowledge/skills may be required

  • familiarity with how to download Apps on Apple or Android devices  

  • occasional updates may be required on the App to ensure its ongoing use, making this technology highly adaptable to changing technologies




The Pasco Heat Probe is very easy to use and is a relatively low maintenance tech tool. Students of all ages may appreciate the interactive component of the accompanying SparkVue App, making this tool accessible for all ages, varying in depth and complexity at the higher grades.  


Science & Technology Curriculum Links:


Grades 1 - 8 (Understanding Matter and Energy; Understanding Earth and Space Systems; Understanding Life Systems)


Grades 9-12 (Earth and Space Science; Chemistry)


These technology tools (Pasco Probe and SparkVue App) can be utilized and adapted to meet the needs of any learner.  However, access to resources such as tablets, ipads, laptops mobile devices all with bluetooth capability are required. Alternatively, all other devices lacking a built-in bluetooth may be rendered useful with an external USB bluetooth adapter.

Additional Information about the other Technology Tools used in this Project


In addition to the Pasco Heat Probe and SparkVue App, a number of additional high-tech and low-tech tools were utilized at various stages of the Design Engineer Process for this project, the following guide may be used as a reference ("Penguin Problem, Stages of Design Engineering", each stage of the design process is supplemented with the relevant technology tools to advance the design and building process.


G-Suite App: Google Docs


About the App: Google Docs is an application in which documents can be created, edited and stored on a cloud-based platform in Google Drive.


How it was used in this project: Throughout the project, students used Google Docs as a means to collaboratively share ideas, questions, responses and content as it related to solving the main problem.  It was also the main app used to share reading material, success criteria/learning goals, conferencing feedback and group criteria checklists.


Impact of this App on Student-learning: The use of this app is unique in that it encourages student engagement through collaborative teamwork, accountability, verbal and written communication, editing and proofreading skills.


Teacher Accessibility: Educators will find the sharing, editing and comment feedback elements of this app particularly useful. By placing all docs in a shared Team Drive, teachers can access student work at any time and provide ongoing feedback as students reach specific milestones in the project.


G-Suite App: Google Forms


About the App: Google Forms provide a quick and easy way to gather information.  This App is found in Google Drive and can be used to create surveys, questionnaires, assessments, and rubrics.


How it was used in this project: At the end of the project, students shared their successes/challenges as they related to the project. A self-assessment form was created using this App providing instant feedback as a means of making modifications for learning goals and identifying areas of growth or improvement for future projects of a similar nature if necessary.


Impact of this App on Student-Learning: Students were encouraged to deeply reflect on their participation in this project by sharing their feedback and enhancing their learning (a 21st Century Global Competency). A self-assessment tool of this nature develops deeper metacognitive skills and assists students in developing self-awareness, greater confidence in their ability to learn and encourages them to persevere and overcome challenges (Reference: 21st Global Competencies “Learning to Learn/Self-Awareness or Self-Directed Learning”).


Teacher Accessibility: Google Forms are simple and easy to create. The built in G-Suite Training feature provides easy-to-follow tutorials on how to create simple  to more complex assessment tools, surveys and questionnaires as a means of gathering information.


Google SketchUp Make (3D) (formerly Google SketchUp)


About the App: Google SketchUp Make (formerly known Google Sketchup) is a 3D modeling computer program that can be downloaded on any PC or Mac to be used for a number of drawing applications (for example: in interior design, civil and mechanical engineering, architecture and video game design).


How it was used in this project: In this project, students used this software during the design phase to build a 3D version of their penguin hut structure, complete with dimensions and all materials completely labelled (see "Example of a 3D sketchup model (student diagram)" attached below).


Impact of this App on Student-Learning: Students worked collaboratively and using effective communication skills to decide on which penguin hut design would make for a viable build.  Students also utilized their spatial/mathematical sense to create realistic designs that could be re-created with hands-on materials during the building phase.


Teacher Accessibility: To access this software, it can be downloaded for free on any PC or Mac. It may be necessary to contact your school administrator or IT team to have it downloaded on school computers, however, it can be downloaded for free on any personal device through wired or wireless access.


G-Suite Apps: Google Keep


About the App: Google Keep makes it easy to take notes, memos and lists  and it with others.


How it was used in this project: Students used Google Keep to jot notes and keep a track of information as they researched and review the “Save the Penguins” reading and research potential solutions to the problem posed.


Impact of this App on Student-Learning: This App is particularly impactful as students are able to keep a track of their notes on their Google doc without losing information. This App also makes time management a breeze by allowing students to set reminders in a list to help keep their project on schedule. Key skills such as organization, note taking, making lists and communicating between group members makes this a very useful App at any stage of the Design Process.


Teacher Accessibility: This Google App may be downloaded as an Add-on through Google docs. It is easily accessible through a gmail account.


Assessment ‘for’ Learning

In this project, ongoing feedback can be provided to students at each stage of the Design Engineering process through student-teacher conferencing and using the “Penguin Problem Checklist”. This checklist can be used to: 1) track student learning, 2) assist in the progression of the project in a timely manner by adhering to a tight timeline, 3) answer questions 4) develop learning skills, and 5) provide further guidance or instruction as needed.  


A success criteria ("Criteria List" document) for assessing the viability and effectiveness of the final product may be created by individual groups using the template provided. The success criteria should provide students with the opportunity to self-reflect on the process and outcome of the project, thereby encouraging lifelong learning and deepening metacognitive thinking processes.    


Assessment ‘as’ Learning

Anecdotal observations and written feedback can be provided periodically on collaborative documents which have been created by students and uploaded to their Team Drive folders.  The comment feature and Google Keep can be used to provide notes and ongoing guided instruction, guided questions and next steps to support student learning as they progress from one stage of the Design Engineering process to the next.


Assessment ‘of’ Learning


The final presentation assessing group/student performance on the inquiry question and Design Engineering process can be evaluated using the "Penguin Hut Project Rubric: Final Presentation" Google form. Google forms are a quick tool to assess student work and collating this work in a Google Spreadsheet that can later be shared with individual students or groups through a copy-paste feature via email or through their Google classroom.

Next Steps/Extensions for this Tech Tool


The TABLE below outlines how the Pasco Heat Probe and SparkVue App may be used in other inquiry-based projects and grade levels in a Science & Technology program.




Inquiry-Based Project

Grade 1

Matter & Energy

Students can design a lunch bag to keep heat out or heat in and measure temperature using the probe.

Grade 5

Properties and Changes in Matter

Students can measure changes in temperature as properties change from one state to another and connect this to the impact changes in temperature may have on living things.

Grade 8


Students can measure the temperature at which water changes states (e.g. solids to liquids, liquids to gases, etc.) and connect this to their understanding of how even small changes in the temperature of water could have a profound impact on our environment and ecosystems.

Grade 10

Earth & Space

Students can measure the temperature of a simulated greenhouse with or without carbon dioxide and draw comparisons. A connection can be made between greenhouse gases and temperature changes in our environment.


For further cross-curricular connects in a Grade 7 classroom, please see  “About the Technology Tools section viii “Cross-Curricular Connections”.


Documents Related to the Project: 


"Save the Penguins Problem Checklist" created by S. Saleem, January 2017.


"Learning Goal(s): Save the Penguins" created by S. Saleem January 2017.



"Criteria List Template" created by S. Saleem, January 2017.


"Penguin Hut Project Rubric: Final Presentation" created by S. Saleem, February 2017.


"Penguin Problem: Stages of Design Engineering" created by S. Saleem.

"Save the Penguins Task" outline submitted by S. Saleem. 


Additional Documents (References): 


Thompson, H. “Emperor Penguin Colonies Will Suffer as Climate Changes.” Emperor Penguin Colonies Will Suffer as Climate Changes, 29 June 2014, Accessed 2 Feb. 2017.


Science & Technology, Grades 1-8, Ontario Curriculum, 2007


21st Century Competencies: Foundation Document for Discussion, Winter 2016 Edition. Accessed on August 15, 2017 from


Framework for 21st Century Learning. P21 Partnership for 21st Learning. Accessed on August. 15, 2017 from


Video Resource(s):


Save the Penguins. TDSB STEM Website (May 2017)


Wireless Temperature Sensor:


PASCO Wireless Sensor Line:


SPARKvue software:


Pasco Heat Probe Video Tutorials:


Middle School Science: Wireless Temperature Sensor Overview


Middle School Science: Thermal Energy


Middle School Science: SparkVue Bar Graphs with Sensors*

*This tutorial showcases a non-contact heat sensor which can be replaced with the contact Pasco Heat Probe mentioned in this TEL.


Video Conferencing Websites:


VROC (Virtual Researcher on Call)


Skype in the Classroom.