Xu instantly thought of Star Walk when we asked him to recommend an app relating to the natural world. Star Walk presents a virtual universe, where you can travel faster than light speed, visit stars, and learn about space using the very latest scientific information.
“Like many men, there is a boy astronaut living inside me,” Xu says. “Years pass, and I am a father, but the boy astronaut has never left.” The first time Xu used the app, he was trying to explain to his five-year-old son how the sun sets and the moon rises. He used his iPhone to show the little boy the relative position of the sun, already below the horizon of the earth. They went on to read up on the earth’s moon, Mars, the Milky Way, and other galaxies. Xu told his son how he first learned to locate Orion when he was a child. “The teachable moment was facilitated through the app, and it was a teachable moment for the both of us,” Xu says. “Now there is another boy astronaut in my house; my son uses the app more often than I do.”
“Most city residents don’t have the luxury of lying down on their roof on a starry night, telling tales about stars and horoscopes, or imagining alien civilizations far away,” says Xu. “As a child it always brought me joy to look at the night sky. I felt connected to nature, and merged into the universe.” He believes that appreciating infinite space teaches us how humble human beings are, how lucky we are life exists, and how courageous man has been in reaching out to explore the universe. “Astronomy helps us to understand, love, embrace and respect nature from our core,” he says. Now that the weather has improved, Xu recommends families take a trip out of the city to a place where they can see they starry sky and develop their own inner astronauts.
Fitzpatrick recommends Klikaklu, which is designed to help you create scavenger hunts or treasure hunts in any outside or indoor space. You simply take pictures and add clues for each question or task, adding as many clues as you want. Children can then go out and explore, collect items, take pictures, and investigate the world around them.
You can also set up rewards and the app allows you to easily share your hunts with other users. Depending on the age of your children, hunts can be as easy or challenging as you like. Fitzpatrick discovered Klikaklu when she was researching fun interactive ways to involve Grade 4 students in a unit on exploration. “I like Klikaklu because it gets students involved,” she says. “Children are natural explorers and inquirers and this gives them the opportunity to do that in the natural environment.”
If there were one thing she could improve, Fitzpatrick would like to see video clues added to the interface. As it is, teachers at CISB use the app in classrooms at both lower and upper elementary levels for Math and other units. “Using Klikaklu We can easily create different hunts for different subjects and keep track of student learning and understanding,” Fitzpatrick says.
Photos: Star Walk, Klikaklu, and courtesy of Keystone Academy and CISB