Back in March 1993, I was given an invitation by Caltech to witness a new development involving the Internet. I was taken to a computer lab on Caltech’s campus where I heard a brief lecture, and then was shown the first web browser, Mosaic—images and text on the same page. In 1993, there were only three websites in full operation. One was located in Switzerland, the second in Chicago, and the third at Caltech in Pasadena, California.
Two years later, I logged onto AOL and aided in developing the Electronic Schoolhouse. In September 1995, I developed and launched an educational program on the Electronic Schoolhouse called, “Space Island’s.” At the time, I thought it would be interesting to work with two other schools on a common online project. The first was a public school located in Sitka, Alaska, and the other, a private school in New Rochelle, New York. I had no idea what was to come next.
The Space Islands project was centering around a virtual space station, where students were given a virtual lab to conduct science, math, and engineering experiments regarding space travel and concepts of living in zero-g. By March, 1996, I was spending 3- 4 hours every day answering emails from around the world. The Los Angeles Times newspaper reported that AOL had recorded forty nations, which had become involved with the Space Islands program with an estimated 3.2 million students and teachers working on the project. This obviously opened up AOL, and I was given a free account, but I still had not realized what I had done yet. To me, this was a new way to interact with other schools and to create educational projects.
In June of 1996, I received a letter from Senator Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, informing me that my program, “Space Islands,” that I had pioneered, was being inducted into the Library of Congress as a historical event. Historical event?! It was labeled as the first long distance educational program ever done on the Internet. It would soon launch, what we call today online e-learning.
It was the global interactions of students and teachers that was most compelling. For example, students in Kuwait asked a simple question, “Where does the water come from when you are in space?” This got students in Nebraska looking into the topic of growing corn in hydroponic experiments. Students from Cambodia wanted to experiment on the same topic but conducting the experiments using rice. At the University of Helsinki, Finland, university students saw an opportunity with all the nationalities and languages and created the first present tense language interpreter. The lists went on from engineering concepts to developing the imaginary technology that would be used to build the engineering tools, and using math as an application in creating simulations.
In 2012, I took a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership online. I enjoyed the courseware but was not impressed by the e-learning technology colleges and universities were using. Considering the advances we have seen in the past 16 years, in both computer and online technology and engineering, I was surprised to see little advancement in e-learning connections. Connections between students and facilitators (what universities and colleges call online teachers or instructors,) wasn’t much more than the e-mails and bulletin boards I used back in 1996.
So, here we are in the 21st Century where computer technology and software had advanced science fiction into reality with the pantology of historical developments and advancements, condensed literally, to one 2.25″ x4.75″ (5.2cm x 12.7cm) hand-held device capable of receiving and sending information almost anywhere on this planet. And yet, there was a lack of efficacy in the technological hubris that attenuated educational advancement. Why?
In those past 16 years, technology and software companies had evolved from manufacturing to sales, from sales to partnerships with educators, to memberships on school district Board of Directors dictating everything from curriculum development to pedagogy structures. Educational publishers had also joined in, along with many other businesses. Educators had become nothing more than secondary employees and clients to the industries marketing and selling educational books, equipment, and software.
Now, the last paragraph sounds like an anti-tech individual with a pejorative agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hold two B.S. degrees in Information Technology, and taught at a secondary technology school for two decades. So, has technology become an aberration to me? No! For the past three years, I have had an opportunity to take a step back from the daily teaching and department needs to see what is going on locally in other schools, as well as schools around the world, and I have found two interesting trends forming globally. The first, centers on using technology as a motivator. That will never happen. The second group, tends to put technology in its place as a tool–no more, no less, which seems to be showing positive results.
I have to admit, Apple Corp was a financial genius in marketing to schools. But, in the end, it wasn’t education and degrees they were hoping to increase–it was market shares and products. It still is. All manufacturers of “educational” equipment and software see big $$ to be made from both State and Federal educational programs. In fact, many of these same companies pushed legislation by courting financially into several political agendas. Common Core standardization was one of them. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to computers, cell phones, tablets, and the Internet I think standardization is very important. It just doesn’t belong in the classroom where there are different learning styles, behavior issues, and socio economic situations to deal with.
In the next series of writings, I am going to be focusing on schools that are getting measurable results. No, not higher standardized test scores! Nor, from new ways to using apps on a cell phone, iPad, or tablet. When the new Core Curriculum was voted in, the state officials said, “We will set the bar, how you teach it is up to you.” What they added in smaller print was, “as long as you do it our way.” This reminded me of Henry Ford who said, “You can buy any car with any color, as long as it is black.” By the way, as a sidebar, Henry Ford’s industrial manufacturing model would eventually be the impetus to today’s educational programs. But, that’s another story.
Image: VocWord http://bit.ly/1HHYkT5 Space Islands image from SI group.
Once upon a time, actually last month, I was asked to speak to a group of university students from the University of the Philippines, Manila, on the topic of Digital Storytelling. The whole talk took place from my home in Southern California via the Net. Digital Storytelling is really no different than any other storytelling except you are using digital tools to compose and create the story. But, storytelling in itself, is a powerful tool that most teachers don’t take advantage of.
It is basically assumed that storytelling is for small children, or for entertainment like movies or plays. It doesn’t belong in an academic classroom. But I argue it does. Back in the 1980’s, Barron Publishing printed a series of math story books. The first was called, “Algebra The Easy Way.” Before “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings”, the land of Carmorra existed with its carefree and happy inhabitants. But like any good story, an evil presence appeared to challenge the King and his wizard on solving a problem or losing the kingdom. Of course, math was the answer, and the story moves through a normal series of modern math chapters explaining in a story format how they could answer the Gremlin with math. In the end–the Gremlin lost. However, he returns in the book of Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus. The key was students were completing a journey, an adventure, and learning math along the way. What could be more fun!
I was introduced into math storytelling back in the mid-1970’s at Aviation High School in Manhattan Beach, California. Originally hired as a math tutor, I was introduced to one of the math teachers whose subject was, “Alice in Wonderland.” I was given a copy of the book to read and study. On one page was the story of Alice, and on the opposite page detailed the mathematics that were hidden in the story. I was so intrigued in how Lewis Carroll, a mathematician himself, created a visual representation of what was really quite a set of complicated mathematics concepts.
You have to understand that the mathematics in the late 19th century was quite turbulent. The discoveries of non-Euclidean geometries, development of abstract symbolic algebra, and imaginary numbers were all the rage in those cigar and pipe smoked filled rooms as mathematicians continued to argue for some of kind of normalcy away from the madness at hand. Okay, you’re getting ahead of me.
The “Advice from a caterpillar” to Alice creates some interesting results as she tries to figure the correct proportions and positions of the mushroom, where the caterpillar sits on, which will bring her growth and proportions back to normal. In fact, even the “Hooka” that the caterpillar smokes is a symbol of Arabic origin, like “algebra,” which meant al jeer e al makable, or “restoration and reduction.” Al-jrbr in itself a medical Arabic term meaning may “Allah guide me through the unknown,” a medical technique used to restore broken bones. Of course, I am quite aware that during a test students will often pray to be guided through their unknown problems too!
Harry Potter was told to board his train at track 9 3/4. Alice deals with the Mad Hatter’s hat size of 10/6. Actually, 10/6 was not the hat size but the cost for the hat. It stood for ten shillings and sixpence, which interesting enough in late 19th Century England was equal to £300.96 pounds. You would have to be quite mad to pay that amount for a hat. The symbols and math continue to move along throughout the whole story.
Could physics problems be explained easier with a story? How about calculus? I believe, if you really know your subject well, you can tell it in a visual story. Consider it the next time you have a student to tutor, or a difficult concept you must present the class. If you have told a story would you consider sharing it with me?
Question: What does a 15th Century oil painting have to do with the development of NASA’s Augmented Reality iPad App?
I’m always interested in the connections that today’s digital devices have with history. Take for example, NASA’s Augmented Reality App (http://bit.ly/GA82dS). Imagine printing a simple image from your inkjet printer. Then placing the printed paper on your desk, and then turning on your NASA app and iPad camera to scan the printed image on the desk (fig. 1). Suddenly, as if by magic, up pops up a model of the Mar’s Rover, with the appearance of taking up space and volume, but no weight!? (fig. 2). Finally, you have the ability to pick up the model and view it from 360 degrees, as well as animate many of its functions (activating its’ antenna, or moving it a few degrees.) (see figures 1-3)
Fig 1. Printed paper being scanned by iPad camera
Fig 3: Rover can be turned and viewed in 360 degrees.
As I viewed the image on my iPad and enjoyed the ability to see a 3D image that I could move and maneuver in the palm of my hand I marveled with the science fiction I was playing with. In the palm of my hand was the result of years of science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and yet, one crucial element in history had been overlooked. In order to appreciate the full visual affect I was enjoying with this Augmented Reality App I wondered if this was the same wonderment experienced by the few people who saw Filippo Brunelleschi’s painting of the Baptistry in Florence, Italy, 600 years ago. Brunelleschi was a man who was an engineer, architect, artisan, mathematician, and inventor.
Prior to Brunelleschi’s work, artist’s painted and drew in a flat plane with figures that had no weight and sometimes seemed to float in space. Perspective was not important. For example, the castle in the painting (Left) looks like some child’s doll house with no depth, no perspective. The three figures behind the churchman also seem to have no order of depth–no perspective.
Brunelleschi’s work would literally change history and how people would view the world because of rediscovered geometry called “linear perspective.” Without linear perspective today’s video games, movies, holographic projections, virtual reality, and apps like Augmented Reality would not exist. Brunelleschi was the first to introduced the geometry that would gave way to these discoveries and inventions. Using a mirror, he was able to understand how all lines converged to one point. Mapping this information out on a canvas he painted the Baptistry building in Florence, Italy. People were encouraged to view the painting by looking through a hole made at the bottom of the canvas and placing a half mirror at a distance (see figure below) that would reflect the artists work and then give view to the real building. The whole experience had a wow affect. This new discovery would change how artists would paint, and even how maps were to be made. In effect, our 21st Century GPS also has its history to this same event in history. Art is another form of recording data and information, and yet it is many times over looked and shoved aside due to bias and ignorance.
Leonardo da Vinci said, “There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown Those who do not see.” It’s important to remember we see and think in images not words. Technology won’t motivate, but Art has the power to motivate and create, and in the end, isn’t that what we, as educators, are striving for, ways to motivate and encourage our students?