Probeware (sensors combined with data-analysis software) is a well-established part of physics education. In engineering and technology, sensors are frequently paired with actuators—motors, heaters, buzzers, valves, color displays, medical dosing systems, and other devices that are activated by electrical signals to produce intentional physical change. This article describes how a 20-year project aimed at better integration of the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) uses brief actuator activities in physics instruction. Math Machines “actionware” includes software and hardware that convert virtually any free-form, time-dependent algebraic function into the dynamic actions of a stepper motor, servo motor, or RGB (red, green, blue) color mixer. With wheels and a platform, the stepper motor becomes LACI, a programmable vehicle. Adding a low-power laser module turns the servo motor into a programmable Pointer. Adding a gear and platform can transform the Pointer into an earthquake simulator.
This material is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program under Grants No. DUE-9454571, DUE-0202202 and DUE-1003381. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. We are also grateful to Vernier Software and Technology, PASCO, Texas Instruments, National Instruments, Digilent, and Wade’s Woodworking of Xenia, OH, and especially to the great STEM educators who have participated in our workshops.
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