Oregon Trail & iPod touch
By Leon Borgmeier
, 4th Grade Teacher
Download a PDF of my presentation:
Origins of the Question
My fourth-grade students study the Oregon Trail as a major part of my third trimester social studies curriculum. Lectures, role-playing activities, and a simulations form the majority of the unit lesson plans. The lessons that require students to use critical-thinking strategies typically seem to be the most effective.
- What happens when Apple iPod Touches are used to support student critical-thinking development?
- How will student motivation be affected when iPod Touches are incorporated into the Oregon Trail lessons?
- What will learning look like when students are using the iPod Touches?
- How will I measure the affects of the iPod Touches in comparison to learning from standard lessons?
- How will I distinguish between “learning” and “playing” when students are using the iPod Touches?
- With eight iPod Touches and 22 students, how will I distribute opportunities to use the Touches against my more standard lessons?
Collecting data will be the most critical component of my research project. Therefore, I will rely on three chief sources of data collection. First, I will use student work. Comparing written responses of students who are using the iPod Touches to responses of students who are doing other activities will allow me to analyze the development of critical-thinking skills and expressive language. Another form of data collection I will employ will be student interviews. This process will allow me to use follow-up questions to help me focus on the specific information I will be seeking. Interviews will also provide opportunities for me to analyze students‘ attitudes, interest levels, and self-expression. Finally, I will record activities of students using the iPod Touches for Oregon Trail lessons and those participating in my standard Oregon Trail lessons and activities. While I may gather data from other sources (student surveys, anecdotal observations, my own journal), I will certainly base the outcome of my research project on the previously-mentioned sources.
- One finding I am certain of is the Oregon Trail game on the iPod Touch has my students anxious to study the Oregon Trail.
- What led me to this conclusion? Observations and interviews convince me of the students’ level of enthusiasm.
- Another finding I am certain of is I am becoming more aware of when “learning” is happening when students are using the iPod Touches.
- What led me to this conclusion? I have listened to their discussions and observed the development of their reasoning skills.
The level of interest in The Oregon Trail on the iTouch is apparent when speaking to the students. I should note that at this time my students have only played the free version of The Oregon Trail app. I do not start my Oregon Trail unit until after Spring Break. By limiting them to the free version, they can experience some of the tasks and activities the full version offers, but they cannot go very far on the trail.
Interviews with the students produce responses like “I look forward to finding out more about the kind of people who were on the Oregon Trail” and “I wonder what is was like for a kid on the Oregon Trail.” In discussions with students after they have played free version of The Oregon Trail on the iTouch, I find they are not only interested to learn why pioneers headed to Oregon and how long it took, but they are also interested to learn details about how pioneers crossed rivers on the way, where the forts were along the trail, and what happened when people got sick during the journey.
One interesting observation I made really surprised me. During a social studies lesson on how a bill becomes a law, we had looked at a flow chart as a means of making the process clearer. When I was speaking to a group about their experiences with The Oregon Trail game and had them explain the reasoning behind some of their choices, they designed a flow chart to show where and why they made some of their choices. It was very organized thinking and showed some development I had not anticipated.