It was once almost impossible to study live volcanoes in the classroom, but students in Nan Hua High School are doing it. Using the online 3D globe, Google Earth, they can now travel the world virtually during their Geography class in search of volcanoes and other natural landforms.
“Where are you bringing us today?” is a question often heard during Geography lessons in Nan Hua High School. For teacher Mdm Wendy Lim, this question is music to her ears. It is a strong indicator that her students are excited to learn more. How does she pique their interest in Geography?
Conceptual versus Real Understanding
It all started when Wendy was in university. “I did a paper on how glaciers were formed and got an ‘A’ for it!”
But what she knew about glaciers was merely conceptual. It wasn’t till she encountered glaciers for the first time in New Zealand that she realized this.
“It was when I saw the glacier with my own eyes that I realized that knowing the theory does not provide the real understanding that actual experience brings,” she shares. “I couldn’t comprehend the immensity of it – I could actually walk on the glacier!”
In the classroom, students are far removed from the natural world. Wendy feels that this may limit their imagination, as well as their learning. “A lot of times, we have the concepts but only limited understanding,” she says.
Living in the urban city-state of Singapore, her students often have difficulty imagining the scale of certain landforms (such as volcanoes and mountains), and this sometimes leads them to have inaccurate ideas of these landforms.
To address this, Wendy and her three colleagues decided to create an integrated learning package, which introduces Google Earth into their Geography lessons. They believe that the use of this virtual globe browser will enrich students’ learning and understanding of Geography.
Overcoming Physical Constraints
Through the application, Wendy can “transport” her Secondary 2 students to a natural landform in another country.
Students are taught how to use the application’s tools, such as the ruler tool, which lets them measure the length of a volcano crater, for example. The historical image tool allows users to see how a mountain has changed over the years by dragging the cursor along a timeline.
“They also study the interrelationship between the human and the physical environment – how human interact with the landform,” Wendy says. Students can even tour the landform. This can be done using the street view tool.
The students were amused when they discovered that they could even walk inside the crater itself. “This allows them to see how huge the volcano is and make observations on the landform.”
At the end of each lesson, students hand in their worksheets that are filled with their research findings from Google Earth.
Technology for Learning
To develop a culture of sharing, Wendy created a Facebook page for her Geography class where her students upload their class assignments.
“The objective for this learning package is to enhance students’ self-directed learning,” she adds. “Facebook allows a lot of sharing and collaboration.”
Students can offer suggestions or ask questions by commenting on their classmates’ posts about their research findings. They also share their findings by presenting in class using the Facebook group. This way, they can learn about other real-life landforms that their classmates have studied.
Both Google Earth and Facebook have opened up great learning possibilities for Wendy as well as for her students. “Technology has changed the way students learn and the way teachers teach.”
For research, she points her students to useful online resources. But to ensure that they understand what they are doing, she encourages her students to write and present their findings in their own words.
The students are also given inquiry questions which help guide them on what they should post on Facebook. “Students sometimes need to be taught how to post the right things and that is the challenging part.”
Wendy knows her students are on the right learning track when the number of questions they ask during lessons increases. “They ask good questions like: ‘Do all mountains only have one crater?’”
Through such an inquiry approach combined with technology, these students are well on their way to an endless discovery of the world beyond their classroom.