There’s a beach somewhere out there and Sarasota County School District middle-school students can be found on it! Middle school science teachers Dorothy Rieger and Amy Proch-Moore have developed an experience that lets students apply concepts learned in the classroom to their observations and measurements in the field. The experience involves analyzing the properties of beach materials in terms of light reflection and heat retention.

Students use TI-Nspire CX Handhelds, TI-Nspire Lab Cradles, and Vernier temperature and light sensors to collect data at each of the five Sarasota beaches. “The freedom to take the equipment into the field gives students a chance to connect the classroom content to the real world,” said Rieger. “It facilitates the collection of quantitative data about the amount of light reflected, which would not be possible without the use of the data-collection technology.”

“The TI-Nspire handheld shows the data all in one place.”

Students, Cameryn and Olivia, said that using temperature and light sensors, aside from being fun, helped them learn. “We were able to collect data quickly and get precise numbers, which would be much harder to do with a thermometer and a mirror,” Cameryn said. “The TI-Nspire handheld shows the data all in one place, and it’s easy to identify exactly what the temperature and lux (light intensity) are with the equipment,” added Olivia. But what if classes can’t take a trip to the beach? Sheree Barlow, another district science teacher, brought the beach to her students to conduct a similar experiment involving heating and cooling sand and water.

Barlow’s students found that sand and water cool and heat at different rates. “It’s great because the probes allow students to collect data in a fraction of the time it took to collect it in the past,” explained Barlow. They connected this to their real life experience where the sand gets so hot in the afternoon that it burns people’s feet, that is, except for the sand on Sarasota’s Siesta Beach. “We were able to use the probes to analyze the specific powdery white properties of the quartz sand at Siesta Beach and its high albedo (reflective power) compared to the sand at other local beaches,” Barlow said. “We also made predictions of how the black sand beaches in Hawaii and Tahiti would compare to lighter brown sand beaches here in Florida with regard to their surface temperatures on a hot afternoon.”