On a breezy spring afternoon at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, designer Jake Barton is watching a pair of middle schoolers chuck an iPod across a playground while another kid films the scene with an iPad. This is the physics lesson of the future, and it looks like a blast.
Barton’s media design firm, Local Projects, has spent the past two years working with SciPlay, a research center launched by the New York Hall of Science in 2010, to use play to help kids learn scientific concepts. Local Projects is designing a suite of apps for SciPlay to leverage the way kids naturally play to create a social, engaging education platform that can fit in with Common Core principles for middle school math and science. The as-of-yet-unnamed SciPlay app which Barton and his team are testing on this particular day is a “digital noticing tool” that acts like a microscope revealing the hidden physics of kids’ everyday activities like throwing a ball. “Playgrounds are essentially machines to induce Newtonian physics on our own bodies,” Barton explains. “There’s math and science inside these things you already like to do. You just haven’t had a platform that can reveal it to you.”
…The app’s simplicity makes it a powerful classroom tool. Because it only really requires an iPad (the iPod sensor provides immediate data on spikes of acceleration and force, but the app can extrapolate that information from the arc of motion) it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to implement in schools, many of which have already embraced the tablet revolution. But tablets haven’t been received warmly in all school districts, limiting the app’s potential spread. For instance, Los Angeles Unified School District’s decision to invest in iPads for 47 schools last year was expensive and controversial, and the district later decided to invest in laptops instead.
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