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Games for Change Opening Keynote and Going Beyond the Common Core

Michael Jones, chief technology advocate at Google, gave the opening keynote at the 10th Anniversary Games for Change Festival.  Michael was the chief technologist of Google Maps, Earth, and Local Search and the teams responsible for providing location intelligence and information in global context to users worldwide.  He demonstrated two new technologies coming out of Google.

The first technology he demonstrated was Field Trip.  It is an app that lets you use a smart phone in a location to provide tidbits of history, architecture, art, and the local community of merchants and services. It augments reality, superimposing the history and imagination of contributors on the time and space you are uniquely standing in.  For example, I can select “feeling lucky” for random notifications, or I can explore notifications about cool stuff nearby (architecture, historic places, food and drinks, museums and art galleries, and a plethora of unique choices like movie locations). It relies on Google earth and Google maps (which, in turn, rely on satellite technology now so sophisticated as to tell what type of tree stands in your yard).

Then, Michael Jones’ talk got interesting.  He talked about a game called Ingress (layered onto Google Maps and Field Trip). It is in Beta testing, but it opened my eyes to so many possibilities for gaming (AND STUDENT!) interaction.  There are currently more than 170 ‘enlightened’ agents in the Pittsburgh area. Michael’s talk included agents from all over the world. You become pac-man … going into the real world and finding power at outdoor art displays with teams of friends (or make new friends) – in a battle with the “resistance” (you choose what side to battle on). I listened to his talk and can imagine challenging my Global and Cultural Perspective class at Duquesne to find which religious monuments in Pittsburgh are Ingress power sites and compare their notes with teams in Israel, Turkey, Pakistan, India, and Bosnia.

I flashed back to a conversation with a 4th grade teacher, Kelli Keriotis, about the 4th grade science curriculum that included earth and its solar system and ecosystems. There was no mention of GPS, of Google Earth, or satellite technology.  Her students (yes, I know, only some – and there is still a huge divide) are using these tools and playing games such as Ingress or geocaching with their parents and grandparents. Ian (my 15 year old) has been to four extracurriculars (Scouts, C-Mites, Connections Math and Science Academy, and John Hopkins) on the satellite technology behind Google Earth and GPS. Why is the 4th grade science curriculum so far removed?

Teachers are meeting in virtual space to share ideas and learn in spare time. The only teacher at Ian’s cyber school to date that has used Google Earth technology as been a history teacher who learned and explored this technology on his own. They often need to buy out of pocket resources like the recent NOVA episode Earth from Space. The special highlighted the 120 satellites using imaging technology to reveal information on everything from upcoming weather to natural disasters, from ancient roadways to the spread of disease.  This information is made dynamic and interesting in fantastic computer graphics.  The teacher is reaching out to NOVA and NASA developed lessons to try to integrate them (in addition to curriculum that teaches the specific wording and multiple choice answers of the standardized test), and simultaneously trying to let parents know everything they are piecing together to encourage learning to continue at home.  The time frame for this information to make into a standards approved curriculum is too time consuming.  By the time it is released in printed textbook form, it is out of date and possibly obsolete.

This model is doomed to failure (not before inflicting an incredibly high burn out rate). How do we move to a system that makes the classroom a curriculum where students themselves explore and share what they’ve learned in ‘extra’ curriculars, where parents and professionals contribute their expertise (with support and help to make it age appropriate and engaging), where teachers have free time to schedule the class online conversations with the International Space Station or a Discovery Channel Webinar.  Like the teachers today, I am struggling with this question and relying on computer technology to store and recall the vast amounts of information that flow through my inbox daily. But then I need time to reflect on all that information, to sort and prioritize.  Common Core Standards are unhelpful when they are used to prescribe a scripted curriculum that fails to excite the imaginations of students and instill a deep and insatiable curiosity. They are most helpful when they distill the essentials and provide a skeleton that teachers can enflesh with the unique qualities of their community, students, and individual passions.

Even at their best, Common Core standards limit science to that period of time scheduled for it to be explored.  Michael Jones’ vision of Ingress holds out hope for a classroom where students can stand in the world actively pursuing a meaningful goal and draw upon the knowledge from the individual topic of “Earth Science” in a way that erases the artificial lines that demarcated it for the purpose of Common Core.


Tools to store…

My own Earth Science online files (they show a bias to communicate mapping technologies for robotics)

Videos Earth Playlist on Youtube

Images Earth Pinterest Board

Sites in my Favorites

Google Earth

NASA Earth

NASA Earth Image of the Day

Nova Lesson Plans

Discovery Lesson Plan: Reading Satellite Images

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