Apps for Ancient Civilizations

By Thompson, Stephanie | Science Scope, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Apps for Ancient Civilizations


Thompson, Stephanie, Science Scope


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Society has transitioned into a technological world where people interface with personal electronic devices through an exponentially increasing number of applications, or apps. We now rely on the components of technology to bring us up-to-the-minute news, resources, and information on every imaginable topic at the touch of a button. A language of shortened words and phrases for texting has developed, which has become as common as the technology itself.

The National Science Education Standards "recognize that many individuals have contributed to the traditions of science and that, in historical perspective, science has been practiced in many different cultures" (NRC 1996, p. 21). From this statement, I started to compose a project for my eighth-grade classes that incorporated technology and a historical emphasis on science drawn from ancient civilizations to promote a greater understanding of conceptual science. In the Apps for Ancient Civilizations project, students investigate an ancient culture to discover how people might have used science and math smartphone apps to make their lives easier. Students investigate science and math concepts by making connections to new technology, while learning and integrating history into science.

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According the National Science Education Standards, scientific investigations should explore how technology can address real-world challenges. Students should engage in activities that "meet a human need, solve a human problem, or develop a product rather than to explore ideas about the natural world. The tasks chosen should involve the use of science concepts already familiar to students or should motivate them to learn new concepts needed to use or understand the technology" (NRC 1996, p. 161). In this project, students had to research an ancient civilization, find the science and math challenges of the time, and then find ways to solve these science and math issues by creating figurative apps on a large model of a smartphone they created.

Apps for Ancient Civilizations

Students were instructed to select an ancient civilization from a list, then research the science and math issues of that time period. Each student designed six math or science apps. For each app, students described issues facing the civilization's culture, how the app worked, and how the app benefited the culture.

Students were also instructed to design a model of a smartphone, illustrating how the device and the six app icons might have looked based on the ancient civilization they had chosen. For example, an ancient Mayan smartphone was designed in the shape of a shield, an Egyptian smartphone with hieroglyphics and gold details. The icons on the model smartphone were also reflective of the ancient civilization's math or science issue as portrayed in the app description. The icon might be a picture of herbs used as medicine or an image to depict the irrigation of crops. Students were asked to design a smartphone model including the icons that was a minimum of 11" x 14"; however, half of a poster-board size is recommended in order to clearly see the app icons. Students using 11" x 14" for their smartphone models made their app icons 3" x 3". Students using half of a poster board for their smartphone models made their app icons 5" x 5".

Students were instructed to include detailed descriptions of how each app worked and why it was prevalent during the time of their civilization. The app descriptions gave students the opportunity to reflect upon the issues facing the civilization while delivering a solution to a problem. Students' app examples were of their own creation, fiction and nonfiction, and at times reflected challenges facing our own culture.

The app descriptions were a minimum of half a page in length, but most descriptions were longer to reveal the depth of the app. Students also included pictures or other views of the app to illustrate how it worked.

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