Monday, March 28, 2011

Using Games to Teach Ocean Awareness

This week I read "Using Games to Teach Ocean Awareness" by Lisa Hill, included in the March/April 2011 issue of "Learning and Leading with Technology."  In the article, Hill describes two particular games that are designed for students in science classes to learn more about coastal and ocean ecosystems.  The games are a joint project with NOAA's Ocean Service Education, National Marine Fisheries, National Estuarine Research Reserve System and the Montgomery College's Computer Game and Simulation Program.

The first game she describes is call "Where the River Meets the Sea."  The game is centered around a character named Oscar the Otter who is sad because his estuary home is dying.  The user is tasked with helping him to save it by solving actual problems facing coastal estuaries such as water pollution and marine debris.  Hill says the game "helps students build skills and raise their awareness of the importance of estuaries, water quality, tides and local support to protect estuaries" (Hill 2011, p. 32)

The second game described in the article is called "Sea Turtles and the Quest to Nest."  This game lets students play six minigames in which they learn about coastal habitats, the food chain and some issues that are threatening sea turtles.  According to Hill, "by playing these environmental games, middle school students evaluate, explore and engage in making decisions that increase their awareness and understanding of coastal and ocean issues" (Hill 2011, p. 33).

Games such as these seem to be a fun and entertaining way to learn about some of the threats facing coastal and ocean ecosystems and how we can help improve the conditions of these areas.  Students are taught how to help reduce pollution and raise awareness about these issues under the guise of playing a game.  Any time we can reach students through the use of games, we are more likely to get the message across without them losing focus or interest.  I think these games are a good example of how education and entertainment can go hand in hand.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Exploring History in Plantation Letters

In the article "Exploring History in Plantation Letters," part of the March/April issue of Learning & Leading With Technology, the authors discuss the lack of primary sources that shed light the on the experience of enslaved peoples in the Antebellum South.  The faculty at North Carolina State University have begun digitizing documents that give a first-hand account of what life was like at that time, allowing students to access them online and learn more about slavery and its effect on the country.

Most of the documents come from the Cameron family papers, a family who regularly communicated with friends and business associates regarding their plantation.  A small portion of the more than 35,000 documents discuss what life was like for slaves on an Antebellum plantation.  So far, more than 100 letters have been uploaded to a site call the Plantation Letters and includes an interactive document viewer that allows students to browse and retrieve letters of interest using keywords such as childbirth, doctors, clothing, food, housing, transportation and more.

The document viewer allows users to see a photograph of the original letter and a transcribed copy.  The goal of the project, according to the authors, is "to enable students to conduct historical inquiries on a variety of topics using contemporary tools" (Oliver & Lee 2011, p. 2).  The site also includes links for teachers to existing lesson plans to help them use standards for "promoting and assessing students' historical think in six core areas: establishing historical significance, using primary source evidence, identifying continuity and change, analyzing cause and consequence, taking historical perspectives, and understanding moral dimensions of history" (Oliver & Lee 2011, p. 2).

This sounds like an excellent way to incorporate technology into the study of history.  Being able to access primary source material online helps bring the past to life and can build a connection between students and the material they are studying.  The more projects such as Plantation Letters that are available, the more students can feel closer to the past.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Filming Compassion

The article "Filming Compassion" by Janet Bremer and Marilyn Clark for "Learning & Leading with Technology," is a great example of just how much advancing technology is assisting learning in our schools.  Students now have incredible capabilities with video production that help to create fun and engaging activities that incorporate various learning skills.

I can remember creating video projects when I was in school and video was always the most fun and exciting platform to create projects with.  However, at that time, we did not have the advanced computer technology and easy-to-use programs specifically designed to create, edit and produce high-quality movies that exist today.

Additionally, the process of making a movie itself incorporates many skills such as working collaboratively and critical thinking.  Being able to create an effective movie requires an understanding of a wide variety of tools and techniques.

Furthering the educational impact, students who are asked to make movies as part of a service learning project are getting the additional benefits of learning about the subject they are filming and doing a public service.  In practice, service learning movies help make students "experts" about the topic they are filming and helping to enlighten others about they're assigned topic.

Aside from all the practical skills students are putting to use in creating these service learning movies, at the end, the students have a tangible creation that is truly helping the community.  It helps to create a sense of pride and reward for their efforts that is a sort of instant gratification.