Magazine article Technology & Learning

Exploring Our Home Planet

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Exploring Our Home Planet

Article excerpt

When our children inherit the earth, what will be their legacy? These five science programs will help open your students, eyes to the amazing diversity of life--and the growing ecological problems--of the only planet in the universe known to harbor life.

When the first pictures from space appeared in Life magazine some three decades ago, we gained a new perspective on our home planet. Earth science was no longer just the study of air, sea, land, and living things, but the study of an entire planet--the only one so far found suitable for life.

Today, most educators view earth science as an interdisciplinary endeavor, with teachers from all curricular areas working together to help students understand the rich diversity of life, environments, and the fundamental changes occurring as the human population continues to grow and use more of the world's resources.

Fortunately, a wide variety of instructional materials have been developed that allow students to use the special capabilities of computers to explore various aspects of the earth's systems. Here, we discuss five new programs--a simulation game, a videodisc title, and three multimedia CD-ROMs--which differ substantially in scope, perspective. and the kinds of experiences they provide for students, but share the goal of educating residents of the planet about their home.

Choices, Choices: Kids & the Environment (Tom Snyder Productions)

The single simulation reviewed in this roundup and also the only program aimed at early elementary students, Kids and the Environment from Tom Snyder's Choices, Choices line focuses on the issue of what to do with solid waste. As with the publisher's Decisions, Decisions series (which offers similar titles for older kids), the software is a single component in a much larger package that also includes a range of printed materials designed to guide children through cooperative discussions and other important steps in the decision-making process.

The program revolves around the central problem of where the soccer team can conduct practices when their usual place is littered with garbage. Youngsters work in groups to set their goals, with each child assigned a role representing a different point of view. Is it more important to win the game? To have fun at recess? Or to have a clean playground?

Students decide (from a menu of choices) what to do. The computer then implements their choices and shows the students the consequences of their decisions. When the game is over, they rate how well they did in achieving their goals. As hoped, the most successful strategies lead towards reducing waste and recycling.

The software acts as an organizational and management tool, using cartoon graphics and clear, simple statements to pose questions, display multiple options, suggest next steps, etc. With more than 300 different paths through the simulation, students can play the game several times and still discover surprises. The substantial teacher's guide includes a variety of good extension activities and readings.

Earth Explorer (Apple Home Learning)

The wealth of information on global environmental change and numerous lively discussions of "hot" contemporary issues--from nuclear power to endangered species--make Earth Explorer a very good bet for the classroom.

A vast CD-ROM, the program includes more than 400 short articles; 21 sets of data on environmental topics such as pollution and population; 12 animated exploratory screens; and 21 simulated discussions. Information is accessed through brief, clearly written articles and illustrations, graphs or maps with topic area links, and short tutorials on key concepts such as why the poles are cold and what causes seasons.

The best opportunities for learning, however, are to be found in the Hot Topics area, where users can explore a series of issues through the eyes of 16 different fictional characters. For example, when a businessman wants to donate freezers to island inhabitants, we hear pros and cons from scientists, bankers, diplomats, and residents. …

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