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Mobile Learning with GEMS World Academy Chicago

June 11, 2015

Thomas Steele-Maley is the Director of Innovation at GEMS World Academy Chicago, and is working on bringing Mobile Learning to K-12 education.

Mobile learning is a book of many chapters. In 1916, the beloved experientialist / author / educator John Dewey wrote: “A society which is mobile, which is full of channels for the distribution of a change occurring anywhere, must see to it that its members are educated to personal initiative and adaptability.” Dewey’s thoughts on mobile learning then have a new birth of possibility with the mobile technologies of today. Take a quick look around the educational landscape and it becomes obvious that the ascendency of mobile learning in education is happening and happening fast. Across the US and the world, it’s common to see labs of mobile devices in schools augmenting the learning environment and one-to-one mobile device programs starting to shift practice. Importantly, we are also starting to see the emergence of schools where mobile learning is at the heart of the learning environment.

One such school is GEMS World Academy in Chicago, IL, which approaches mobile learning as integral to its success in cultivating global learners. Alongside a well researched and designed curriculum infused with mobile learning, GEMS offers a robust one-to-one program of iPads that all have Fulcrum for field-studies-based mobile learning. The combination of good curricular design and educational technology that works is very powerful. Anywhere and anytime learning has measurably contributed to the success of students and the whole learning community.

GEMS Academy field studies in action with Fulcrum

A Transformational Curriculum

GEMS Academy logo

GEMS World Academy is fundamentally transforming K-12 mobile learning. Through a curriculum focused on “innovation strands,” a thoughtful one-to-one iPad program and apps like Fulcrum, GEMS World Academy-Chicago is expanding the way mobile learning is researched, designed, and deployed in K-12 education through a comprehensive program of Field Studies. GEMS believes that technology-infused Field Studies designed for 6- to 13-year olds is imperative for cultivating global learners and citizens. The school’s innovation strand titled “Landscape as Learning: A New View of Field Studies” is interwoven into the overall curricular structure of the school. The school believes that for students to become global citizens, they must explore, ask questions, observe, empathize and act in the world without borders. To see this happen, a minimum of four hours each week is dedicated to learning outside of the school building in local landscapes.

During Field Studies, students closely engage their local community through mobile learning labs. Through multimedia data collection using iPads and other tools, students experience the sensory aspects of their community while learning about systems, empathizing with others and contributing through engaging projects and meaningful service. This learning in the real world expands students’ notions about where and how learning happens. Mobile learning thus enables the disposition of seeing and studying the world as it is and working on how it might be otherwise. GEMS believes this type of learning is at the root of global citizenship, community-based learning, internship and entrepreneurial studies.

Using Fulcrum in K-12 Education

To go beyond mere “experiences in the field” to in-depth studies, GEMS needed a powerful, intuitive and easy-to-use app for use on teacher and student iPads. Fulcrum quickly became the obvious choice for its ease of use with a wide range of users, the ability to highly customize apps and the extensive possibilities for collecting and presenting student data collected in the field. Recently, for instance, an interdisciplinary group of teachers working with a first-grade classroom designed a Field Study to survey lake trout release sites on Lake Michigan. The teachers created a Fulcrum app for the Trout Release Field Study to organize the thinking around data collection and as a support for learner activities in the field. Students had three sites on the lake to evaluate against criteria they had agreed upon in class. Fulcrum allowed for the students to stay focused on their tasks as scientists in the field while taking multimedia field notes of their findings. These multimedia field notes were then easily mapped using Fulcrum’s map embedding tool for use in visualizing data and sharing with the world.

Starting with a solid grounding in curricular design, the pioneering work of GEMS Field Studies are enabled by Fulcrum. No device or application can drive educational effectiveness or innovation. But when an app like Fulcrum is deployed to assist in creating incredible experience in learning for students, all of us in education should take note. As GEMS World Academy looks forward into another year of Field Studies, we also look forward to expanding our use of Fulcrum across the curriculum and for participatory teacher professional development. More on these initiatives in the next post.

See Fulcrum in Action

GEMS World Academy (GWA) will offer experiential Field Studies workshops at both TechWeek Chicago (June 22-28) and at the ISTE Conference (June 28-July 1). These workshops will focus on field explorations with iPads and feature Fulcrum to collect and present multimedia data in multiple forms for use in learning. If you will be at either of these events, come learn about technology and innovation at GEMS World Academy, how the school leverages Fulcrum.