Owls in the Classroom, Part 1

By Marc Bucchieri

It’s been awhile since our homebrewed Owl units were first introduced to this blog, and they’ve come a long way since then. In fact, the Owls just celebrated a major milestone in their fledgling career in the WMSI tech arsenal. Over the past month, the Owls were incorporated into a unit of lessons for the Woodland Community School at Meadowstone Farm. Tech development was pushed forward, games were designed, and ominous timer displays ticked (almost) down to zero.

  Which wire to cut?!?!?

Which wire to cut?!?!?

It all started when our Mobile and Instructor-Developer Corps coordinators made their way down to Meadowstone Farm one rainy morning to play a game with the Older students at the Woodland School. This was to be the first lesson of a four-part curriculum, and the game was intended to demonstrate the technological capabilities of our Owl units. After a quick tutorial on map and compass skills (you’ll see why in a second) the students were given their Owls and a sheet of coded clues. The clues, once decoded, hinted at different locations around the farm. Students then raced to each waypoint, where their GPS-enabled Owl released a compass bearing toward the final treasure. Once several bearings were plotted, the teams could begin to home in on their goal.

 Students were given these coded hints to help them find the waypoints.

Students were given these coded hints to help them find the waypoints.

In order for this game to work, the Owls were enabled with several tech features that have been in the works for months. In order to release bearings at all the right waypoints around the farm, each “seeking” Owl had to be hardcoded with the coordinates of each waypoint and its location relative to the “hiding” Owl. In future iterations these bearings will be calculated in real time, allowing the hidden Owl to be anywhere within the circle of waypoints. The Owls were also equipped with two-way radio communication, so that the hidden unit could send time updates to the seekers.

 Student maps looked sort of like this, if a bit more rain-smudged and gray

Student maps looked sort of like this, if a bit more rain-smudged and gray

After successfully finding the hidden Owl (in a silo) the group returned to the classroom to brainstorm and design a game of their own. Back inside they were introduced to some other hidden capabilities of the technology, including the ability to read and transmit sensor data. Students watched in excitement as the readout from an accelerometer was displayed as shifting pools of color, then took turns moving and shaking the Owl to generate their own colorful patterns.

 Our WMSI staff and students narrowly escaped without.. being.... hypnotized

Our WMSI staff and students narrowly escaped without.. being.... hypnotized

Over the next couple sessions, Woodland students went through several iterations of planning, refinement, and testing to bring together an awesome collaborative game. As with most feats of engineering, this game was designed to fit a set of constraints. The game must allow for at least three players at a time (ideally six), take less than 30 minutes to run, and use at least two Owls. Most importantly the game should be skill-based, so that participants can improve the more they play it. Check back soon for the story of how math, silly acting, and GPS were all used to create a board game the size of a farm.