Creanimate invites children to create their own animal by taking an existing animal and changing it some way. For example, students might ask for a fish with wings or a bear that can dance. In response, the program engages the students in a dialogue in which they consider the ramifications of their changes. It might ask how the fish will use its wings or what value a bear might get from the ability to dance. Creating a new animal is an inviting task for children because it offers them the opportunity to be whimsical and imaginative. Unlike most school activities, it rewards their natural inclination to push beyond the limits that are constantly imposed on them. As odd as it seems, creating their own animal is a way of bringing authentic scientific practice to a level that connects with children's natural inclinations for learning.
When scientists study a phenomenon, one of the first things they do is disturb the system under study from its natural state and observe the effects of the disturbance. The effects of modifications on a natural system can reveal a great deal about that system in its natural state. Thus, an atmospheric scientist learns about the atmosphere by releasing gases and observing what happens to them. Creating a new animal performs the same function for students. It provides them with an opportunity to learn about the animal before it was modified and about the modification itself through the consideration of relevant, open-ended questions.
Schools typically teach science under the guise of open-ended inquiry, but they actually desire to convey a collection of specific, predetermined answers. Teachers present science as a set of achieved results, not as an inquiry into unanswered puzzles. While Creanimate not only allows students to imagine their own animals, it responds to their creations the way a naturalist would if he encountered this animal for the first time in the wild. It raises open-ended questions and discusses possible answers with the students. For example, suppose a pair of students ask for a bee with a big nose. The program might respond by asking how the bee would use its big nose. In the ensuing discussion, the students could propose answers, (e.g., to suck up honey), or the program might provide suggestions. Resolving a question usually gives rise to a new question. The role of the computer in this situation is to allow students to team up with the computer in pursuit of an ongoing dialogue in which the students propose changes, the system raises questions, the students resolve those questions with new changes, and the system raises new questions about the new changes.
To take this further, let's suppose a pair of students ask for a fish with wings. The system might ask how the fish would use its wings. After considering several possibilities, the students decide the fish should use its wings to help it fly. The addition of the act of flying raises yet more questions, and the student now must deal with what else his fish needs in order to fly, as well as how flying could help the fish to survive. This might be a good time to talk about flying fish, or dolphins, or why birds fly. In any case, the students should be in charge of the discussion, determining the direction of the computer/teacher. Giving the students control over their own learning allows them to take advantage of Creanimate's capacity to show video clips of actual animals. Students see what they want to see and are, therefore, immediately interested.
Creanimate: The Right Stories at the Right Time
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