Don’t Try This In Your Lab

One of my middle school classes is going to participate in the Human Genetics: A Worldwide Search for the Dominant Trait project. As an introduction to this project, I wanted to fly to all the schools currently signed up for the project with Google Earth. The problem is Google Earth won’t run on the computers at our school – at least it won’t run at any speed that is acceptable. The computers are pretty old and the graphics cards don’t support true color so we have to run it in OpenGL mode which on the computers at school is extremely slow probably due to the fact that we only have 256MB of memory in most of the machines.

I then investigated Microsoft’s Live Search Maps as an alternative. This too requires true color to run in 3D mode but I set up a tour in this anyway and used it in 2D mode instead. This is not the don’t try this part .. yet. This is definitely not as showy as their 3d mode or Google Earth but if you Map All between each school you get some idea of distances. The students were interested to see where all of the other schools are and liked the zoom to street level functions even if the flying capability wasn’t there.

The first requirement for the Human Genetics project is to write an introduction letter from the class which is to include the location of the school in latitude and longitude. I wanted to review this in a fun way so I decided to do the Crack the Code activity as a whole class project. Now, this is where the don’t try this part comes in! I wanted to use a 3d model of the earth to try to find the locations but as I noted above these won’t work in the lab. So, I found Find latitude and longitude with Google maps which lets you move a marker and the latitude and longitude will display. While this wasn’t as showy as something 3d and wasn’t very fast especially on zooming in and out, I thought it might work. Let’s just say so not successful!

Upon reflection, I feel this would have been better with the students trying this (even with the same tool or a similar tool that zoomed faster) in pairs or small groups rather than as a whole class. In our lab we don’t have SmartBoards and we don’t even have a projector so all whole class activities are around a single monitor. Another don’t try this unless you have to item. We do have a fairly large monitor and there really aren’t issues with not being able to see but it’s not extremely engaging. So, why didn’t I do it as a small group activity? We’ve been having bandwidth issues and if too many people are online at once we lose our Internet connection so I wanted to avoid that and truthfully I thought it would work as a whole class activity. I was wrong.

Since we can’t really do this project as I wanted to do it with the 3d tools, I think I may break the no homework from computer lab rule and assign this as homework or maybe as optional homework with some kind of incentive to complete it. This way the students can use Google Earth or Microsoft’s Live Search Maps at home if they have newer equipment (and most do) to find the locations in the activity and to find the latitude and longitude of the school. If there are any students that don’t have access at home, I will work with them during study halls to do it at school.

So, my advice to you if you have older equipment is to really think about how engaging the activity will be without the latest tool. I know I need to keep this in mind when I plan lessons. They might be fun at home when I’m planning them on my new with lots of memory and flat screen monitor computer but that doesn’t always translate to fun in the lab on old computers with very little memory and old monitors.