Joshua Seaver demonstrated this project during the Electronic Schoolhouse session, Moving Mountains: Using Interactive Graphics to Teach Geography
Bar-Levav is a panelist on Reading, Writing, Reload: New Three Rs for a New Millennium.
The Electronic Schoolhouse: Teaching Students How to Open New Doors
by Lisa A. Kerscher
For many of us, visualizing an atom's orbiting electrons in high school chemistry class was no picnic. Then attempting to connect that picture with what it meant in the real world was a challenge tackled by only a handful of extremely motivated students. The endeavor involved all brain and no action. It's no wonder chemistry teachers have had a hard time keeping everyone's attention on the blackboard and away from doodling on the desks.
But by combining computer graphics with interactive technologies, creative educators are replacing ho-hum learning with go-get-'em techniques and motivation.
Instead of pushing his students to memorize flat facts, Joshua Seaver of the Science Museum of Minnesota teaches geography by encouraging them to play games together. Using MicroWorlds' LOGO, which is already installed on most school computer systems, along with the museum's IMAX Omni film called "The Greatest Places," traditional research papers are history and students are teaching each other.
"It's a multi-faceted learning experience," Seaver says, because students gain interactive programming skills in the context of studying geography. His students view the Greatest Places website, choose a place they want to investigate, get the pictures, sounds, and text they like, and learn how to create an interactive webpage. With this framework, the task is more like a game and so the students don't think of it as learning, he says.
It's also a collaborative project, Seaver says, "so that it's a social process -- learning how to really work with each other -- which I think in some ways is even more important than whether or not the project gets completed." The experiences excite and motivate the students, as creators and users, especially because they can get lots of feedback from peers, relatives and professional, rather than only one person grading the project.
But for such interactivity to work and become commonplace, Henry Bar-Levav of OVEN Digital, believes that educators need to remember that people don't instinctively understand many interfaces. Therefore, teaching how to use them needs to become part of the curriculum.
There are two types of interfaces, Bar-Levav says. One is a puzzle which has a key, like OVEN Digital's Stem-and-Leaf diagram, and once people understand the key, they gain both a sense of achievement and a shorthand way to get information. The other type of interface is one that is functional, like pull-down menus and scrollbars.
Currently, people are exploring new kinds of interfaces -- providing users with an understanding of organization and programming, "the ones that really work for people will be the ones that survive," Bar-Levav says. As these options evolve, we will also want "people to make informed decisions, rather than having certain ones simply handed to them on a platter." Then, "once people are comfortable and understand the meaning [of these interfaces], they will be able to get information quickly, be able to use it better, and get a better return on their investment."
Perhaps the most important idea for educators to keep in mind, Bar-Levav and Seaver agree, is that they aren't just teaching students these skills and understanding for the immediate paybacks. It is learning that can be developed and used effectively outside the classroom and for the rest of the students' lives. It is education in the best sense of the word.