Education for the 21st Century

August 21st, 2012

by Sam du Busc

It was once said that every student should have their own textbook to best learn in school. Fast-forward to 2012 and you will find that some education experts are wondering the same thing about mobile devices. History has shown that methods of education are slowly, but ever-evolving. The recent explosion in the popularity of mobile devices (specifically Apple iPods and iPhones), along with their accessibility and relative ease of use, have caused educators and developers to test iPods as a medium for education. Currently there has been very little research on the topic so far, but results are looking promising. I believe we are on the brink of a paradigm shift in education and that mobile devices, whether made by Apple or not, will become a new medium in which students assimilate information.

I believe the biggest reason that mobile devices may become a new standard is the younger generations’ aptitude with electronic devices in general. Even if students younger than 25 did not have a computer at home when growing up, schools, libraries, and other institutions heavily rely on computers and encourage their use. The environment in which children grow up today is vastly different from the environment 20 years ago. Because of this, they have an almost intuitive understanding of the devices we use everyday. In most cases, this is an advantage, but in others, not so much. In a generation that gets news from the Internet, reads books on tablets and e-book readers, and listens to lectures online or an mp3 player, it stands to reason that students prefer to interact with a computer or iPod over a textbook.

This leads us to the question: Are computers and mobile devices effective tools for learning? One simple conclusion is that there is no reason they would not be. Electronic devices allow for vastly more flexibility than textbooks. In fact, a platform like the iPod allows for nearly endless possibilities in terms of organization and presentation of content. Another simple conclusion is that mobile devices are not effective tools for education. There are various arguments in this vein, such as one made by Bill Gates recently. His argument was that PC’s were better suited for educational purposes. Others may bring up the issue that buying iPods or iPads for an entire school is still very expensive. However, this issue is diminishing, but more importantly, mobile devices should have a much longer lifespan than a textbook or backpack full of them. Still, I have yet to see an argument that convincingly explains why mobile devices cannot become a new medium.

The next step is to find or develop a method or methods of use which prove most effective in teaching. This is where developers can truly get creative as the number of ways in which a collection of iPods can be used in an educational setting is rather surprising. Students can use the devices to complete activities or drills, takes quizzes, ask questions, and collaborate, to name some methods. The way in which I am interested in developing is using games as a means for learning. Sometimes referred to as “edutainment,” concepts are presented in a way that is both educational and fun. The challenge is creating a game that not only holds a child’s attention, but also presents information in an effective manner. These games must also be intuitive and easy to use, otherwise a child may quickly become frustrated with it.

As mentioned before, using mobile devices in education is a relatively new field. Many mistakes will be made, but ultimately, educators will be able to use them in an effective manor. Who knows how education might progress from there?

Apps for Education by SMART

May 25th, 2012

Around the World in Nine Apps
April 16, 2012 By Brynn Boyer

Nine applications in a year; thousands of downloads from all over the world; one dedicated UMW professor.
Jennifer Polack-Wahl, professor of computer science, leads a small group of student researchers who in just 12 months is making a sizeable impact in elementary schools in the Commonwealth and across the nation.

Polack-Wahl and the team, known as S.M.A.R.T. (Student Made Applications and Researching Technology), has created applications, or “apps,” for iPads, iPhones and iTouches specifically geared toward addressing Virginia SOL math and literacy requirements for elementary school students. This semester, the group released an app that focuses on the history of ancient Egypt. Apps on money and life science are in the works. Polack-Wahl is collaborating with the Charlottesville, Va., school district, which is using the apps, to make sure the content and format are effective. And with Apple technologymaking its way into elementary school classrooms, the S.M.A.R.T. team is adding a research component to its work.

“We are getting data to prove the technology works,” she said, since schools may be more likely to receive funding for apps with research that supports their effectiveness. “We have to show it is worth the investment.”

Polack-Wahl set up the student research program to emulate independent studies she has seen at the master’s and doctoral levels.
This semester, six students meet one or two days a week to research and develop the apps. Her goal is to give them the opportunity to do higher level work and have a hand in projects they might not normally undertake.

“It’s like a mini Ph.D. program,” she said.

Dungeon and Dollars

January 26th, 2012
The purpose of Kevin Cherniawski  is to facilitate the understanding of base currency and change among kindergarteners to fourth graders through the use of a game. Given the rapid increase of computing technology among education, this game not only needs to be simple to use and understand, but also presented in a format that attracts the interest and attention of children.

Game available at:

Ancient Egypt Update

December 13th, 2011

It’s that time of the year again, late night cramming – I mean study – sessions with sleep deprived classmates desperately clutching their Venti, double shot, caramel latte in the vain hope that if they stay awake an extra three hours they will perform better on their next final. More importantly, however, it’s also the end of another exciting semester with the iPhone research team. Boy, what a semester this has been. I came into the semester with a good chunk of my game done due to work I had done over the summer but after the second week I just wasn’t feeling it. So I decided to abandon all the work I had done and started over on a different game idea, much to the horror of my research advisor Professor Polack. But looking back now, I believe it was worth it.



The overall theme of my game has always been Ancient Egypt; however the story and structure of it changed after that decision on week two.  The concept of my game is that you start out as one of the lowest rungs on the Ancient Egyptian social ladder, a pyramid builder, and your goal is work your way up to become the Pharaoh. You do this by completing the mini-game associated with your current social standing.  In total there are four mini-games for each of the four social rankings you must achieve; pyramid builder, craftsman, scribe, and priest. However there are two modes you can play in: story mode and arcade mode. In story mode there is narration as you progressively play through each mini-game to become the Pharaoh. In arcade mode there is no narration but you can pick and choose which mini-game you want to play.

 At this point all of the logic and most of the art is completed for each mini-game. Due to the nature of the craftsman and priest mini-games, adding more art would equate to adding more content, which is what I intend on doing. As a matter of fact, most of the art is done in general. The last major art addition that needs to be added is the ending screen after you win. After that the next big addition will be the audio. I begged my friend with the golden voice, Damian Allen, to do the narration and – after promising to name my first born after him – he has kindly agreed.  After that the only other audio that will be added are sound effects for pressing buttons and other gameplay mechanics. Finally, once some minor bugs in the software have been squished, this game will be ready for release.YouTube Preview Image




Mali App On its Way

November 28th, 2011

The Kingdom of Mali. The questions are based off of the material 2nd grade students need to know for the Virginia SOL.

The game is centered on following the path of a Griot prepping the way for the Great Haj. The path of the Haj will involve visiting several historic and archetypical locations, such as a Salt Mine, River Outpost, the city of Timbuktu and the city of Djenne. At each stop, the player will complete trivia challenges and games in order to expand their knowledge of Mali. The games includes multiple choice questions and unscrabmling pictures . Each game include ideas and facts about the history of Mali, and will include voice overs and written text explanations. The player will be able to choose from a flexible path of seven different locations, creating a game that can be replayed in order to gain more knowledge. There will be more questions and concepts in the game than can be covered in a single trip, so replay will be heavily encouraged. The purpose of this game is to entertain and promote the knowledge of ancient Mali history.

What is new in apps for education?

September 29th, 2011

Do educational games really work? The S.M.A.R.T. research group (Student Made Applications and Researching Technology) at UMW are trying to answer that question by developing and analyzing the effect of educational iPhone applications on elementary school students. Applications created by S.M.A.R.T. have been requested specifically from educators across the nation. Most of the applications thus far have been focused on specific math and literacy topics covered by the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. However it was recently requested of the research group to create educational history applications; as a result, games about Mali and ancient Egypt are currently in development.

Investigation Addition is Here

June 14th, 2011

People asked for it and now it is time to play.  Download onto you iPhone/iTouch/iPad

Investigation Math is a fun fill apple collecting addition game by Jeff McElhannon and Jennifer Polack-Wahl.  The app guides the uses through addition problems using two and three digit numbers.   As the worm comes out of the apple you know you are making your way to the right answer.  If the worm stays in the apple and the apple rots “uh-oh” you are making some mistakes.  Great for 2nd and 3rd graders learning to add multi-digit numbers.  Watch as the apples roll across the screen while learning to break your numbers down by parts.

Investigation Addition is based on The “Investigations “Method developed at TERC in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The “Investigations” method is designed to help all children understand fundamental ideas of number and operations.

Investigations addition uses the strategy of breaking the individual numbers down to hundreds, tens and ones and then adding the hundreds, tens and ones for each number.

For example:

Adding hundreds, tens and ones

214 + 432

  • 200 + 400 = 600
  • 10 + 30 = 40
  • 4 + 2 = 6
  • 600 + 40 + 6 = 646

Where do I live? Update Submitted

May 31st, 2011

Where do I live is even more fun and provides more educational material during the gameplay. Improved to given a better educational experience. Fun and Free.


  • Habitat/Biome information is given when touched
    • What is a tundra?  Good thing you asked because now the app will tell you when you touch it.
  • Animal information is given before you pick a Habitat/Biome
    • We have collected the great information about each animal and put it into the game.  You want to know about a moose, well the game tells you they have furry antlers and much more.
  • New Voice Over
    • Thank you Heather for adding your professional voice over and minimizing the voice interruptions.


We will update you as soon as it is released!

Tic-Tac-Spell Published

May 26th, 2011

Tic-Tac-Spell has been published.  Congratulations Dustin!  However, we found two bugs after publication and will be fixing them within the week.  Currently it does not tell the student what the correct spelling if a student spells the word incorrect.

In addition, to the update we are already working on adding word families to the spelling game and this will be release by July 2011.  We will be using the word families at Enchanted Learning.

What do you think?

Score: New Submission (Tic-Tac-Spell) and Approval

May 17th, 2011

Clam Match has been approved.  Download on iTunes.  Congratulations, what do you think?

Tic-Tac-Spell was submitted today.  The app was created by Dustin Lieske, UMW Computer Science graduate 2011 and artwork by Chelsea Mageland (UMW Junior).

Tic-Tac-Spell takes the classic game children love to play and adds a spelling twist to help children learn how to spell, all for free. In Tic-Tac-Spell kids learn to spell words from the Dolch Word List.  The Dolch word list is a list of commonly used English words which children need to recognize in order to achieve reading fluency.

Tic-Tac-Spell allows people to play against the computer.  Moves by the computer are randomized to ensure that the game will not keep making the same moves over and over again.  In addition, words are randomly asked, so each game is unique.  Tic-Tac-Spell uses over 60 words from the pre-primer, primer, kindergarten and first grade Dolch list.

Currently the game is suited for preschooler, kindergarteners and first graders.  It is fun to play and you learn along the way.

How to Play

  • Select the level of difficulty
  • Select your symbol
  • Touch a square
  • Listen for the word
  • Spell the word correctly get the square
  • Spell the word incorrectly and you do not get the square.
  • Continue the Game until you or the computer has won the game

Free and Fun.