Smartlab vs Covid-19


A distance teaching experience in Physics with BYOD approach for reality tasks. Physics laboratory during the emergency Covid19.

In March, because of the Coronavirus, we had to suddenly stop our school routine and we had to rethink our teaching and learning process.

In Sicily (Italy), the lessons suddenly stopped on March 9th. In the beginning, it seemed the suspension will only last one week, but then we realized the school was not going to open again.

Since March 15th I started meeting my students in a virtual classroom with the Moodle digital platform of my school and I used the flipped-mastery teaching approach.

I teach Maths and Physics in a scientific high school and I use the physics laboratory weekly. During this period, it was not possible to use it and so I used a different approach: conducting experiments and reality tasks on specific topics with BYOD approach.

The activity was held from the 20th April until the 20th May 2020.

My students had already conducted experiments in the school laboratory also using their smartphones and through our school which has a very well-equipped Physics lab. In any case, I believe that the implementation of experiments is very significant and allows students to obtain excellent results because it allows students to consolidate the topics and the teacher can easily verify their skills and competences.

The students had to understand the concepts of periodic motion, a component on an inclined plane, temperature, heat, and had to deduce relationships between quantities. In particular, they had to experimentally verify that:

  1. The g value is constant
  2. G-force components on an inclined plane       
  3. The length is proportional to the square of the period and the period does not depend on the mass
  4. The amount of heat is proportional to the change in temperature
  5. The measure of illuminance

Task aims

The students had to verify the laws of physics using their smartphone and app: this allowed the teacher to evaluate them by testing their knowledge, real skills, their skills regarding ICT, and writing an experience report in English.

Task outcomes

  • Knowledge: students had to learn more about motion, vectors, temperature, and heat
  • Understanding: students had to fully understand the relationships between measured quantities
  • Application: students had to formulate a hypothesis and discover the results using innovative tools with a scientific approach
  • Analysis: students had to understand how to collect data, represent it and try to reach a logical conclusion based on their hypothesis
  • Summary: students had to summarize the results obtained by filling in a report of the experiment
  • Assessment: students’ assessment is authentic, based on their real knowledge and skills
  • Results of effective learning: hands up, hands-on.

I explained with a presentation the periodic motion and the basic concepts, its main features and I showed with video how to download a free application Physics Toolbox from USA Vieyra software.

Students read the presentation of the problem. During the online lesson students and I explored the key contents, how the proposed application works and how students can use it to collect the data they need.

This is Physics Toolbox Sensor suite App that I used with my students.

Smartphone sensor with Physics Toolbox Suite are:

  1. G- Force sensor,
  2. Orientation sensor,
  3. Data chart,
  4. LuxMeter,
  5. Proximeter
  6. smartphone cronometer.

Each student looked for more information about the experiment with a short video in eBook for further information and planned his own experiment: collected the data on a .csv file and, after transferring the data to the PC, created tables and graphs with a spreadsheet.

Each student completed the form, describing the process, the results and documenting with photos, tables, and graphs. When they completed this activity, they uploaded their work to Moodle.

Each of the students’ documents was checked and evaluated by me and my colleague Sabrina Marino; we provided the students with our feedback commenting on their work and explaining them how to do the job better.

The students compared and helped each other during the course.

Here you have some examples of papers delivered by my students in English:

Student 1




  • Physics Toolbox Sensor Suite application on our smartphone
  • drawing squares (one with an angle of 30° and another one with angles of 45°)
  • hardcover book
  • support surface
  • calculator

main focus of our work 

We are going to show how the gravitational force components change.


We will use the book as a plan and then we will use the drawing squares to tilt the book cover of known angles.

We will use the application Physics Toolbox in G-Force meter mode to perform the measurement.

From our mobile phone menu settings, we must disable the options G-Force and Include total G-Force because we will not need them in this experiment.

The mode G-Force Meter gives us the value of G-Force as a unitary vector (the G-force module is equal to 1N) whose direction is parallel to the gravitational force, so these two forces are proportional (G-Force = Weight Force = 1 N).

Now let’s begin the experiment.

  1. We fix our phone in the book. At this point, we can use the application. If the mobile phone is in a perfectly horizontal position on the cover of the book, the application shows that the components Fx and Fy of G-Force will be equal to 0 when the phone is stationary (as shown in the photo to the right).
  2. We take one of the two drawing squares, for example, the one with an angle of 45°. We must put it between the cover and the first page of the book, so the cover book will be tilted by 45°.
  3. The application shows the new values of the components Fx, Fy, and Fz of G-Force. We can read these values without moving the cover book. We can see that Fx remains 0, Fy, and Fz components are the same and they are worth about 0.71.
  4. We repeat the measurement using the drawing square with an angle of 30°. We must put it between the cover and the first page of the book, so the cover book will be tilted at 30°.

Let’s look at the values of the components: Fx remains 0, Fy is equal to 0.5, Fz is equal to 0.88

All pictures were taken by students and provided to the author with adequate authorization to be published – Attribution CC-BY

All pictures were taken by students and provided to the author with adequate authorization to be published – Attribution CC-BY

Student 2


First hypothesis (constant length and variable mass)


  • The proximity sensor (PROXIMETER) is a sensor that tells us if an object is near the Smartphone. It is above the screen and its main function is to lock the headboard when the Smartphone is resting on the ear to prevent accidental contacts from ending conversations or activating other features during the call. It can take only two values: 0 (object not present) and 1 (object present).
  • From the Physics Toolbox menu, we choose Proximeter. No object near proximity sensor will appear on the screen. If we pass the hand on the sensor, we see that the inscription becomes Object near proximity sensor: the sensor has detected the presence of the hand. Let’s click the Pendulum mode button.
  • Now every time we pass the hand on the sensor, a sequential number (1,2,3) and another number representing the time interval in thousandths of a second from the previous step appear.  At this point we place the Smartphone so that the oscillating mass of the pendulum passes close to the sensor and activates it. Now let’s swing the pendulum and start the measurement by clicking on the plus button. We collect 20 values, then click the red button to stop the capture.
  • Let’s save the file and upload it to an Excel sheet. There is only one column of data, which represents the ranges in ms. We calculate the average value and the standard deviation of the 20 intervals.


  • Let’s build an elementary pendulum: we tie a paper clip at the end of a cotton thread and add two more staples by inserting them in the first one. We suspend the wire by fixing it with tape at the edge of a table, making sure that the bottom edge of the table and strip of tape coincide
All pictures were taken by students and provided to the author with adequate authorization to be published – Attribution CC-BY


My students learned more about vectors, periodic motion, temperature and heat and carried out experiments to test hypotheses and relationships between variables: they used innovative digital tools and described the experimental method clearly and fully by attaching photos, tables, and graphs in English; they learned many transversal skills with new teaching approaches.

Authors: Donatella Colamasi in collaboration with Sabrina Marino.

Donatella Colamasi is a Maths and Physics teacher in a Scientific High School, Digital Animator, associated AIF (Association for the teaching of Physics), National Commissioner Physics Olympics. She teaches in Siracusa “O. M. Corbino” IGCSE course Cambridge International and likes trying new teaching approaches with students so they are challenged and learn many soft skills. 

Sabrina Marino is an English teacher in a Scientific High School and she teaches in Siracusa “ O.M. Corbino” IGCSE course Cambridge International, promotes Erasmus and foreign exchange projects.

Featured Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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