Final post from Oxford…

A few more thoughts from the Oxford conference and then, I promise, I’ll stop.  I learned so many new things during this conference, saw so many bright lights, and challenged so many of my own assumptions that it’s difficult to know how to process it all.  These blog entries have really helped, so thanks for listening.

Meet Tom Moher (University of Illinois, Chicago).  Tom is interested in embedded phenomenon – that is, persistent objects, present in our world, that can be used as opportunities to move students into long-term, inquiry-style projects.  He’s taken the hum drum sounding objects often found in a grade school science classroom – ant farms, plants under grow lights, and small animals in cages – added the affordances of the online world, and embedded phenomenon around them right into the classroom.  The idea is to map scientific phenomenon to the physical space of classrooms.

Roomquake students

RoomQuake students

RoomQuake is one example.  Picture a fifth grade classroom, with four computers positionied around the room, pre-programmed to simulate earthquakes at random times.  The classroom is also outfitted with recording instruments, to be read by the students.  Recordings are read, distances are interpreted, and the students mark the calculated epicenter with a styrofoam ball, dangling from the ceiling (the size of the ball reflects the magnitude).  The project goes on for weeks.

He’s built similar systems for dynamic ecosystems (RoomBugs), invasive species (Wallcology), and the orbital motion of planets (Helioroom).  He showed us videos of the students in these classrooms – dashing to the data stations, squealing with delight, making observations, conferring with each other – doing science. The advanatages are obvious – here, not there.  Ours, not theirs.  Distributed, not centralized.  Persistent, not intermittent.  And some tantalyzing possible next steps – decision-making at the conclusion of an embedded experience?  Sharing their data outside the classroom?  New projects with real data streaming into the embedded scene?

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