Videodisk Middle School Science Curriculum
Centered on Maya

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There's not a lot of software about Indian people or themes. But, if your school has or can get a computer-controlled videodisk player, preferably with a large video monitor, there's an entire integrated science-social studies curriculum that can be used from grades 5-8 depending on what activities and experiments are done. The history, accomplishments, and present-day lives of Mayan peoples are central to this material. This is "The Voyage of the Mimi II." a continuation of an earlier video-disk-based curriculum, "Mimi I." Created by Columbia University's Bank Street College of Education with DoE and NSF funding, both Mimi curricula use video to draw students into the serialized adventures of the crew of the sailing ship Mimi. Each 15-minute plot episode is followed by a documentary-style segment (called an Expedition) that expands the science and math themes touched on in each plot episode. These segments introduce scientists and others who use science and math in daily life.

On its second voyage, the Mimi crew--which includes several youngsters-- head for Mexico to study the ancient Maya civilization, Trying to solve an archaeological mystery they find a lost Mayan city and run into a gang of looters who are smuggling out artifacts They visit with Mayan villagers and scientists and are helped by local people. They visit the Montverdi cloud forest in Costa Rica and learn about its ecosystem. A Mayan scientist shows them ancient solar and star timekeeping features of the old buildings. They visit the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, and study the movement of the earth around the sun. Scuba diving figures importantly in the plot. It's the hook for scientific study--using computer-controlled instruments--of pressure and temperature, and of the ecology of a coral reef habitat.

The episodes are only the "hook" for student interest and science concepts and methods introduction. Unique Explore and Discover software (Macs and Windows PC's) lets the students access a large database of info on the 6 videodisks, as well as the episode segments. They can follow up prompted investigative activities and do small-group research projects using this on-videodisk material. An included Reportmaker is used to prepare their own multi-media reports, with live segments or stopped-frames for class or all-school presentations (good live "science show" for parents' day).

The curriculum also includes several software items (which have been combined on one CDROM): Maya Math explores the base-20 number system. With Maya Calculator and Maya Calandar, students use these numbers in astronomical and calendric calculations (the Mayas used a very complicated overlapping multiple calendar system). Glyph Trek is a treasure-hunt game that uses Maya glyphs. Thinking and higher learning skills are the objectives--the point is not to become an expert in ancient systems of numeration and timekeeping, but to learn to think more clearly. Some teachers have found that students who freeze up, expecting more failure in familiar Western arithmetic, often blossom in this very different context, so it serves both an enrichment and a remedial function simultaneously.

The older program Sun Lab is now part of a CDROM called A Field Trip to the Sky to which a Moon Lab has been added, as well as the planets. Students will discover how civilizations like the Maya, without modern scientific instruments, mastered a great deal of astronomical info. They will see telescope and probe fly-by videos too. The CDROM also contains a Field Trip to the Rain Forest, a visual catalog, where students can change day to night (and see how different activities and animals emerge), move around, up, and under the rainforest canopy, zoom in for closer views, access data tables to find characteristics of animals, insects, and plants. Hyper links show food chains and predator-prey relationships when a particular organism is selected.

Also included is Scuba Science Pressure Kit which includes temperature and pressure sensors (and a signal conversion box) as well as software to record and process data from experiments in the student's experiment book. An optional Bank Street lab book helps you guide students through 28 different measurements and experiments with this computer-add-on instrumentation and its record-and-analyze software, an excellent intro to how modern lab science is done in partnership with computers to record and analyze measurements.

The software and videodisk bundle is $1800 (for either PC's or Macs). Schools should also get the teacher's Theme Guide ($39) which shows how to integrate this curriculum with many sets of themes you personally or your school may be using in its overall curriculum design. The teacher's Social Studies Resource Guide ($39) shows how to expand the Mayan material and relate it to the study of North American Indian life and culture. Additionally, for $10 (or $90 per 10), beautifully illustrated books cover the entire Mimi II video-episodes, for student reading with comprehension testing activities. Large maps and posters are available.

I consider this well-planned, resource-rich curriculum a sufficient reason for any Indian school to get the necessary hardware for computer-controlled laser videodisks. In pondering this enthusiastic endorsement, you should be aware that I started out by considering laserdisk technology absolute trash, an awkward and obsolete technology repackaged to sell to technologically ignorant schools, a total waste of money. It is the content of Mimi II that entirely changed my mind. (I still hate videodisk technology.) I'm very hard to impress--I've seen such a lot of good and midling and awful stuff--but I was totally impressed by Mimi. Not, you understand, the mere vid-segments. The whole thing--the auxiliary books and guides for teachers, the student reading books, the lab experimentation hardware and software, the planning and writeups.

This really is a curriculum, not a bundle of stuff randomly packaged together. You should get all the extras, not just the videodisk and software bundle. This is not "individuals sit down and play it" software. The video segments are for all-class presentation, while small groups should work with the Explore and Discover software and do lab experiments with the computer-connected probes (which don't have to be attached to the one controlling the videodisk player)

Teachers without laserdisk players can partially evaluate this expensive investment through reviewing free videotapes Sunburst loans schools. This will help you decide whether to try to budget for one for your school. See Videodisk tech page.

Some Arizona schools have developed an entire year's worth of school work using the Mimi I voyage to center and organize curriculum activities that expand from it. They found it is very successful in holding student interest, and transferring this interest to a variety of science, math and other reading and writing skills work. There is a "Mimi Newsletter" for teachers to communicate their projects and results. Sunburst Software, which markets the entire Mimi curriculum exclusively for Bank Street is starting a web page--it should be up by fall-- which will contain more such news, and Mimi usage tips.

Call (800/321-7511) for Sunburst's full-line catalog (they have a number of unique software items, developed by their own staff). Ask also for the special Mimi catalog, and to see some of the Mimi newsletters. Even if you've never thought of computer-controlled videodisk before, Mimi II gives every Indian school of the appropriate grade range good reason to consider this technology now. A computer-controllable video laserdisk player, such as the Pioneer 2600 is $800-$1200. A large (26") classroom-sized monitor is about $700 (computer monitor cannot be used; the video signal is different). Fortunately the TV-type signal monitors are much cheaper. If you have an "AV Mac" this monitor can be directly attached via a standard RCA video cable to the special big-monitor output. You can demo all sorts of computer activities for the whole class. A small group of 3-6 students can also see InterNet accesses and websurfing much better that way, too.

Don't think of these laser-disks as super-expensive videotapes. There are some like that--and in that case you should get the $30 videotape instead. The point of videodisks is that you and the students can control them, they are interactive., like good CDROM's, but containing much more material. They are really databases, whose "data" includes vid clips, sound, still images, long searchable documents, data tables, graphs, and more. The inclusion of searchtools and reportmaker in control software is a must for geting the most out of these laserdisks--but all too many of them still offer only barcode software controllers, meaning student searching is limited to following barcoded workbooks or handout sheets they have been provided.

There are also some excellent science and math computer-controlled video packages from Videodiscovery including their prizewinning "Science Sleuths" (whose abbreviated version on CDROM has been winning raves from sources as diverse as the Wall St. Journal and New York Times) and the just-as-good "Math Sleuths". Call for the Videodiscovery catalog at 800/548-3472.

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CREDITS: The Maya sculpture was scanned several years ago from various archaeology books I neglected to record. I traced it in FreeHand, simplified the backgrounds, and turned them into pseudo-greyscaled or colored "stone cartoons." If anyone knows the site provenance of the grey sculptures or the "bamboo-head" cartouche, please let me know.

Page prepared by Paula Giese.Text and graphics copyright 1995

Last updated: Saturday, July 08, 1995 - 3:40:02 AM