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My last post had me still in San Francisco at the NSTA national conference. That was March. Now it’s May, and I don’t quite know what happened to April. Let me try to catch up on myself and this project.

Me and Explore Mars

Chris Carberry, Myself, and Artemis Westenberg of Explore Mars

Back in San Francisco, I had just been awarded 3rd Place in the Mars Education Challenge by Bill Nye (yeah, that guy) and by the Explore Mars Foundation. That was on Thursday, March 10. On Friday, March 11 I attended a number of excellent presentations including one on an online student science project from Mt. Pisgah Observatory to classify stars based on their absorption spectra. Thousands of photographic plates with the stars’ light refracted into spectra have been digitized and made searchable. A spectrum from a star can be compared against standard spectra for major stellar classes and subclasses. I will incorporate this activity into my astronomy classes.

My second session was to be over in the Moscone Center on how to use the iPad in science education, a subject I’ve talked about here before, but when I got there the room was packed and people were standing in the aisles and flowing into the hall. This isn’t too surprising – as I saw later that day at the nearby Apple Store, the lines were very long (all the way around the block) and Apple employees were handing out fruit (apples, of course, and oranges) and granola bars just so people wouldn’t pass out from lack of food for waiting so long. The reason: the iPad 2 came out that day.

Apple lines

Lining up for the iPad 2 at the Apple Store in San Francisco

Instead of the iPad session, I went next door to a good session on project-based learning in the classroom, where a junior high in Lincoln Parish in Louisiana has created a program that is completely project based, yet covers all core curriculum. I found out more about it from the presenters afterward.

I had planned on going to more sessions, but since I was in the Moscone Center it seemed a good time to check out the dealers exhibit. The exhibit hall is a huge, cavernous space with the big name companies jockeying for prime spaces by the main entrance and smaller companies along the aisles in the back corners. I was ostensibly looking for the Explore Mars booth, but I systematically covered the floor and visited anything that caught my eye, picking up a lot more materials to take home than I really wanted to. I was glad I left some space in my suitcase. I finally found the Explore Mars booth on the NSTA aisle (the competition was sponsored by NSTA) and I reported in to Artemis and Chris, who said that the first place winner had arrived and that we would have another small presentation later that afternoon.

I went to lunch, finding a place about a block away called Mel’s Diner. As I sat down at a stool at the counter, the person sitting next to me turned to me and said, “Well, Dave, how are you?” It was Eric Brunsell, who now teaches at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. I first got to know Eric through the NASA/JPL Solar System Educators Program (SSEP), the same group I had dinner with the night before. Eric was with Space Explorers, the group that managed the training sessions for SSEP. We had a good talk about what he’s been doing and on the problems currently being faced by teachers in Wisconsin, where the governor is trying to destroy the teachers union and cut teacher benefits and retirement.

Down to the Bay

Looking down to San Francisco Bay from the top of Nob Hill

Back at the Moscone Center, I reported in at the booth and met Howard Lineberger, the first place winner. Andrew Hilt (2nd place) and Howard and I stood with Artemis and Chris and officials from NSTA for more photo ops, and were interviewed by Chris on camera on our feelings about Mars exploration. Chris and Artemis had to go to another reception, so they asked us to man the booth until the end of the day. Andrew and I talked to anyone who was interested about the competition and showed them our lesson plans.

Chinatown

Chinatown in San Francisco

Afterward, we decided to walk up to Chinatown for supper. We headed to my hotel to drop off my stuff, then to Andrew’s hotel, then we walked up Nob Hill. We wound up going too high (it is quite a steep hill and we got a good leg stretching) and had to wander back down to the east into Chinatown. I found a really good Chinese bakery, where we sampled the yedz (coconut rolls) and I later bought a koushu binggan (kind of a graham cracker cookie). We found a promising SzeChwan restaurant and had supper. I found out the Andrew and Eric Brunsell are friends and have worked on common projects together. Small world! We also compared notes on our astronomy classes. We walked back down to where our hotels were, and I said goodbye (Andrew is heading home tomorrow). I found a good souvenir cable car ornament for my wife, then headed back to my hotel.

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Possible game interface for iPad

Mineral Identification App for iPad

Since Apple, Inc. announced the release of the iPad two weeks ago I’ve been reading a lot of comments and blogs about how useful this device might be in education. Some excellent posts are being written on the possibilities. Here’s one: http://www.edutechnophobia.com/2010/02/six-ways-the-ipad-will-transform-education/ I haven’t weighed in on the issue myself yet because I’ve been so busy preparing the first few podcast episodes that I keep promising for this site. But more on them later. As for the iPad, providing they add some capabilities such as USB, Flash support, and multi-tasking, I believe it will be a platform of great benefit to science teachers in the following ways:

1 – Replacing expensive textbooks: All of us who have been classroom teachers know that printed textbooks have become outrageously expensive and in technology and the sciences they are outdated before they even go to print. Yet having a handy source of general information on a subject that is grade-level appropriate and tied to national standards and comes complete with problem sets and review questions, test banks, on-line resources, and all the other associated items is a very valuable resource for teachers. If all of this can be ported to an e-book format and read on the iPad (with added interactive and multimedia touches) then the purchase of an iPad for each student becomes truly economically feasible for schools, especially when you factor in that it also replaces most needs for student computers and graphing calculators and merges all these technologies into one device.

2- On-line Testing: iPads have the capability of simplifying student assessment by making it readily and cheaply available at any time on-line. Teachers, with appropriate application support, will be able to assign and write quizzes, tests (both unit and end-of-year state tests), and other assessment tools which students can answer directly on the iPad and receive instantaneous feedback. Many states, including Utah where I am located, are moving their end-of-year testing away from pencil-and-paper multiple choice tests to on-line testing that can incorporate many forms of questions and be skills-based and well as knowledge-based. For example, a chemistry test could incorporate a virtual lab situation as a test question. Which brings up usage 3:

Interactive periodic table

Interactive Periodic Table App

3 – Virtual Science Labs: With the accelerometer and gestural controls of the iPad, science teachers and curriculum developers can program virtual labs that mimic a student actually picking up and weighing reagents for a chemical reaction, calculating the atomic weights and stoichiometric ratios, observing and analyzing the results (say of a virtual pH titration), and comparing student answers with accepted answers. Although this can’t take the place of hands-on science labs, it could certainly help to prepare the students for the real experience and help remediate students who miss the day of the lab, and reduce costs and disposal concerns. Virtual labs could also be created for Earth science (a virtual mineral field test kit), meteorology (viewing cloud cover, barometric, temperature, relative humidity, and other data and then predicting the weather), physics (lots of possibilities here), and so on.

4 – Student Collaboration: This is my big area right now – getting students to collaborate with each other to discover knowledge and synthesize it by creating their own content for the use of other students, such as this Elements Unearthed project to develop student-created podcasts of history and usage of the chemical elements. Imagine a group of students taking iPads on a field trip to a local watershed to record measurements of the water and soil, plant and animal life, pollutants, etc. and recording all of this data tagged with GPS data, then uploading it to the Internet and making it available to students worldwide. The iPad therefore becomes a remarkable enabling tool for citizen science. Imagine these same students using a wiki page to collaborate on writing up their results, or Google docs, or even sharing an iPad as a group to write up their findings in Pages and as a Keynote presentation, with supporting spreadsheets from Numbers. I have seen some amazing things done in classrooms through my work with NASA and my frequent attendance at science and technology teacher conferences using technologies that are far less capable than the iPad (including PDAs, GPS devices, etc.). Given teacher creativity, the appropriate types of applications, and an enabling technology like the iPad, and the educational possibilities are endless.

5 – iPads as Game Platforms: Games in education? This scares a lot of teachers, but it doesn’t have to. Just talk to the educational people at Apple, Micrsoft, and Sun Microsystems (to name a few) – and I have talked to them – and you’ll be amazed at what’s coming and how it can engage students in education through doing something that’s intrinsically fun. Education doesn’t have to be boring – in fact, it’s much more effective if it is fun. Now we just need to have the imagination to create the educational games and content. I have a few ideas, and I’m trying to talk to some software developers about some apps that would be ideal for the iPad and would help teachers to teach and review concepts in chemistry, physics, and other sciences. My media design students were assigned, as part of their learning of Adobe Director and Lingo programming, to design, create, build, and program a game on such topics as Mars exploration or the history of AM radio. They were simple yet powerful (and fun) games that could easily be ported to the iPad and used by other students. Imagine if we have students create iPad apps for other students . . . now that would be powerful learning, for both the creators and users.

I have much more to say on these issues, and others are already saying many of the same things. I am attaching a .pdf file with more complete examples here:

iPads_in_Science_Education

Meanwhile, the podcast episodes are still coming – I have prepared the full 45-minute version of Dr. Scerri’s interview on the history of the periodic table, which is now ready to export, and will begin editing it according to the scripts I’ve worked out into two 15-minute videos with some great images and animations to go with them (all ready to go). The three episodes on Greek matter theories and two on beryllium mining/refining are also coming but will take more time. I need to have at least 5-6 episodes complete and available by the time I present at the National Science Teachers Association conference in Philadelphia in March.

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