When I first went to school, computers were experimental. Memory was likely less than a kilobyte for a machine which took up a large room. Hard disk storage was still science fiction. The idea that software, or computer programming, could help in education may have been someone’s dream, but it remained out of reach for many years.
Science and industry explored the possibilities and pushed the boundaries of the technology until computers no longer needed an entire building, but could be carried in the palm of your hand. Today’s cell phones have computers on board that are far more powerful than the computer on board the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Module. At first, computers were too expensive. Only businesses, the government or large institutions could afford them.
The Best Kind of Educational Software
As a teenager, I remember my late father once brought home some work and asked me to help. It involved drawing computer flow charts. That was my first taste of programming logic. My father worked for Documentation Incorporated, a business which had lots of computer hardware and specialized in renting processing time out to businesses which could not otherwise afford to buy the equipment. Doc Inc had only recently acquired a contract from NASA to catalog, process and publish data for its many space projects.
At that point, I had been keenly interested in space travel for more than half of my pre-teen life. Quite often, my father would bring some of their publications home to share—press releases of the upcoming Gemini flights, unmanned photography missions and much more. I was in heaven.
One of my fondest memories from school came from grade school in the late 50s and early 60s. There were many films showed in class, particularly science, but one series of films stuck out in my mind—the Bell Telephone science series. They combined science, cartoon characters, animation, documentary footage and more to illustrate the points being made. They were engaging and enlightening. They combined several layers of learning in one educational vehicle. Not only that, the films were entertaining.
Software needs to be like this. They need to be entertaining, engaging and they need to engender a sense of wonder, awe and discovery. I like the idea of the industry leading the way on this, but too much freedom without awareness can lead to disasters. Is software empowering students to think, or is it turning them into robots? We need to stay critically aware of the impact of such educational software.
3D Astronomy Space Educational Software
For 25 years, I attempted to visualize the stars around our solar system. I started out with a handheld calculator. This was before personal computers. When finally I had a computer powerful enough, I created Stars in the NeighborHood—educational software to help me visualize how close stars were to each other. Software like this can help students become more deeply engaged with a topic. For instance, this software allows the user visually to tag individual stars with one of 7 color markers. Stars known to have planets have their own special marker. Users can also change the names of individual stars and add notes to them as they discover new information about them.
Creation Story Video About this Educational Software
Recently, I started a new YouTube channel called Space Software. My first video there is shown below. This tells of the inspiration which led to this educational software. I hope you enjoy.
This article was originally published 2015:0522 on InfinityDynamics.org.