Using GIS and GPS Technology as Teaching Tools?

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

Recently, I was at an education conference in Croatia, and one of the presentations was about using geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS) technology as teaching tools. The presenters proposed that this technology can be integrated in a variety of ways to create interdisciplinary lessons and projects that are technology-based. Students can learn with the GIS and GPS rather than just learn about it so that they can become producers of knowledge about the physical world around them and not just consumers of information.

One of the connections the presenters made was to the sport of orienteering to promote the development of map-reading skills and navigation. Even though orienteering is usually done low-tech with a compass and a map, higher levels of technology can create a different experience for participants.

“Field-Map birdie” by Claudiusmm – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Of particular interest for me as a teacher of English as Foreign Language are the ways this type of technology can be used to create authentic (real-life) reading, writing, speaking and listening activities for students. The presenters made a specific point that students’ real life knowledge about nature gained with this technology can easily be represented through the medium of digital story telling, which itself integrates reading, writing, and speaking and uses critical thinking skills as students plan and develop their project.

If anyone has had experience with these types of projects, I’d like to hear about them. Post a comment to this article or email me at zimmerma@purduecal.edu

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A preliminary list of resources:
Alec Bodzin, GIS and GPS Links, Lehigh University, 2/12/15.
GIS in Education Resource Sheet,” Utah Rural Schools Association, n.d.
Jennifer Johnston, “Engineering Professor Shares Mapping Technology with Teachers,” MyVU, Vanderbilt University, 8/20/14.
Bianca Bowman, “Teacher Knowledge and Geospatial Technologies,” Conversations on Knowledge for Teaching 2015 Education Technologies: Now and in the Future, n.d.

Deus What?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Yet another “robot” movie has appeared, and another Terminator movie is scheduled for release. It’s the robots who should be saying, “I’ll be back.”

Having already written on robots and artificial intelligence, writing about the latest opus, Ex Machina, may seem anticlimactic. This movie certainly has some excellent optics. Just four characters make up the speaking parts. One more is important to the plot, and only ten are listed in the credits. This is a small movie when measured by personalities on screen. The special effects that make Ava look mechanical are almost astounding and, along with the scenery and sets, make this a large movie.

The premise that a lone genius can create an artificial intelligence that passes muster as capable of human thought is an enoromus stretch. That he also can fit it all into a human framework that can walk bipedally and can perform other human-like actions is beyond imagining. You really must suspend disbelief to watch this movie and seek its philosophical underpinnings.

In the end, it’s the same old story that we’ve seen since Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein. Man should not play god, and creating new life is extremely dangerous. The movie plays on the morality of choosing to be god and on people’s fears of the unknown, especially when created by a “mad scientist.”  Continue reading

Textbooks, Emoticons, Assessment, Technology

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Universities seek alternatives to expensive textbooks by Leslie Corbly in Deseret News National 4/25/15
With the increasing cost of textbooks, schools are adopting policies to allow open source textbooks that can be offered free online to students. Research shows that interactive digital texts not only cut costs but improve student engagement.

Some bilinguals use emoticons more when chatting in non-native language in Science Daily 2/17/15
The use of the emoticon (which many people love to hate) by language learners was studied by a research team and compared to the use of nonverbal communication and found a correlation ;-)

New Tablet-Based Interactive ELL Test in Language Magazine 2/20/15
This new tablet-based assessment, which can provide data about ELLs, raises the question about how much information we want a private company to have about our students and whether and how it should be disseminated. These issues are not addressed in the article.

Teachers Mixed on Common Core, Support Blended Learning by Dian Schaffhauser in The Journal 2/9/15
A poll conducted by the Association of American Educators showed that more than 90% of teachers in the US report that they use technology in the classroom and that 67% of them are in favor of blended learning and that students should be required to take at least one online course before graduation. I assume they are talking about high school.

Technology changing teacher’s role in Science Daily 2/16/15
In what should come as no surprise to anyone, a recent Finnish-Swiss-Belgian study showed that “the use of technology changes the role of the teacher from a traditional knowledge provider rather into a facilitator guiding the students’ learning processes and engaging in joint problem-solving with the students. In addition, technology offers a range of new types of learning possibilities.”

The End of Dark Energy

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Dr. Peter A. Milne and his associates have found an unexpected and, to the cosmological community, startling result from their surveys of supernovae. This result illustrates both the consistent and varying nature of science at the same time.

Dr. Peter Milne

Dr. Peter Milne

We know from a great many astronomical observations that the universe has been expanding for a little short of 14 billion years and continues to expand. Because of gravity, everyone expected that this expansion was slowing over time with theories and measurements suggesting that this expansion would eventually coast to a very dilute universe drifting apart at ever slower speeds.

In the 1990s, some astronomers separately discovered that the universe is expanding ever more rapidly instead of the expected opposite slowing of expansion using measurements of he brightness of very distant supernovae. They received the Nobel Prize in physics for this work in 2011.

Stars can explode. One common explosion is called a nova. A much more cataclysmic and extremely brighter explosion is a supernova. Supernovae shine with a brightness that can exceed that of all of the hundred billion or so stars in its galaxy. For this reason, we can see them in distant galaxies that are barely visible in our best telescopes. A supernova is a rare event occurring about three times a century in a galaxy the size of our Milky Way. With hundreds of billions of galaxies, however, it’s not too hard to find hundreds each year using modern astronomical equipment.

A special sort of supernova created when the two stars in a binary star system go through a specific series of interactions is known as a type 1a supernova. Because of the steps required to reach supernova status, the brightness of these type 1a supernovae has been considered to be a constant that can be used to estimate distances to very distant galaxies. Brightness declines with distance in a very precise manner.

There remains the possibility that acceleration of very distant bodies in our universe away from each other is a basic property of our space-time structure not detectable at smaller distances of only millions or even tens of millions of light-years, that “dark energy” is just an attempt to recast a phenomenon into understandable terms, just as the caloric theory of heat was long ago. -HK

The measurements of these supernovae were the reason to believe that the expansion of the universe was accelerating. We are seeing these very distant supernovae with light that started its journey over ten billion years ago when the universe was very young. Dr. Milne has discovered that type 1a supernovae are not all the same but fall into two categories of different brightness. Furthermore, the supernovae from the early universe are, on average, less bright than those in the more recent universe.

The lower brightness of the distant supernovae may well be due to less inherent brightness instead of greater distance. This finding destroys a fair piece of that Nobel Prize discovery. Dr. Milne still attests that the universe’s expansion is accelerating, just not so fast, but the vast number of recalculations being done to account for this new discovery will take some time.  Continue reading

Digital Privacy, ELL, Smartphones and GPA, Language and Smell

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Bill Would Limit Use of Student Data by Natasha Singer in the New York Times, 22 Mar. 2015
Singer looks at some of the issues raised by the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act, a bill to place limits on how “companies that operate school services — like online homework portals, digital grade books for teachers or student email programs —” can use or disclose “students’ personal information to tailor advertisements to them” and “bar them from collecting or using student data to create marketing profiles.”

Digital curriculum targets ELL learning gap from eSchool News, 19 Mar. 2015
Middlebury Interactive Languages has developed English Language Learner programs which “are modeled after Middlebury Interactive’s world language courses and, like those programs, integrate research-based learning techniques, cultural awareness and project-based activities into blended learning classrooms.”

Increased Smartphone Use Equals Lower GPA Among College Students by Brian Heaton from from Government Technology, 17 Mar. 2015
This study from Kent State University about the effects of smartphone use on grades is sure to cause a stir. Even controlling for certain “known predictors, the group still found the relationship between cellphone use and GPA was ‘statistically significant and negative.’”

Does speaking English limit our sense of SMELL? The ability to identify and describe odours depends on the language you speak by Richard Gray for Mail Online, 30 Mar. 2015
While this article is not technology and educated related, it does look at the science of language from a different perspective as researchers describe the relationship between the language we speak and our sense of smell and our perception of colors.

Robots in Movies

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Artificial intelligence has appeared in a great many movies over the years, often as robots. The latest is Chappie, a movie that has been panned by a majority of critics but apparently enjoyed by quite a few movie goers.

Robots (or AI) have been good and bad. The first that I recall was Robby in the first science fiction (SF) movie to adhere to scientific ideas (of the time), Forbidden Planet. This 1956 movie starred Leslie Nielsen when he was still doing romantic leading roles. The character of Robby created quite a stir at the time. He was definitely a benevolent robot who was unable to harm humans. An immense computer system, the hidden evil element of the movie, served as a foil.

robots 03
Most people remember HAL, the AI embedded in the spaceship of 2001, a Space Odyssey. This movie debuted twelve years later and showed how AI could be a force of evil. Few who saw it will forget the creepy voice of HAL (notably one letter apiece short of IBM alphabetically).

I probably will not see Chappie for several reasons based on the reviews and my viewing of the trailers. The concept of artificial intelligence rising to the level of human consciousness bothers me, not for religious but for scientific reasons. However, many students probably will see it if only because of its themes involving street gangs and defiance of authority.  Continue reading

Videos on Demand: Education Week ‘Leaders to Learn From’ 2015

On 18 March 2015, Education Week recognized 16 exceptional district-level leaders at an exclusive event in Washington, D.C., featuring presentations and discussions on leadership and education policy. Featured speakers included Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Education Deborah S. Delisle and Adviser to the Premier and Minister of Education in Ontario, Canada Michael Fullan. Watch the videos from the event.

Recognition Presentation: Meet the Leaders To Learn From (Part I)


Recognition Presentation: Meet the Leaders To Learn From (Part II)

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