First Experiences Using the Internet in Science Teaching

I had two real first experiences using the Internet.

Here’s the first:

I had purchased my first personal computer in 1980. It was an Apple II, which was invented by Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computer. In his book, iWoz, Wozniak describes his unbelievable creativity in firstly inventing the Apple I, and followed soon thereafter (1977) with the Apple II. I used my 1980 Apple II (which used cassette tapes to run programs), along with a modem made by Hayes Micromodem of Atlanta to connect to two different data bases on the Internet: BRS Afterdark (Bibliographic Research Service which libraries used; afterdark meant it was cheaper), and Compuserve, one of the first online companies offering access to data bases and products—and this was 1980. No one at Georgia State University was doing this, so when I asked to use one of the phone lines to connect to data bases, not only did they not know what I meant, but they simply said, “sure.” So now I had connections at my home, and in my office at the university. Later I started using email, and gopher and some of the other ways of accessing and sharing information on the Intenet. Remember bitnet?
My first computer
The Apple II: my first computer, C.1980. I connected a modem to the Apple II, and I was connected to the Internet! See the end of this post for a picture of the modem I used

Then I started traveling to Russia (then, the Soviet Union). I first went there in 1981. After several years of travel, and after developing very wonderful and strong relationships with Russian educators in Tbilisi (Georgia), Moscow, and St. Petersburg, and after bringing hundreds of American and Russian teachers and researchers together through a series of exchanges through the rest of the 1980s, we jointly decided to begin designing and writing lesson plans and curriculum that we would implement and teach in each others classrooms. Russian teachers taught in American classrooms, and Americans taught in Russian classrooms. We developed trust. We were ready to move on.

The second first real experience with the Internet:

A group of us had developed the Global Thinking Project. We designed it to be used in an Internet environment. Problem was, we didn’t have the hardware for the Russian schools.

Phil Gang, a friend and colleague, suggested we visit the local Apple Computer office, and see if they might be interested. It just so happened that we were hosting a group of educators from Russia who were involved in the GTP, so we all went to the Apple office. The meeting broke the ice, and because we had our Russian colleagues with us, Apple realized that the project was going to happen. We needed computers.

At the next meeting we met with the Apple directors, and they agreed to give us six Macintosh SE computers and printers. They also introduced us to Gary Lieber, an engineer for Apple who had just moved to Atlanta from Cupertino. Gary became a part of the GTP, and he traveled to Russia with us. Ten of us arrived at the Atlanta airport with the Macs, printers and modems (given to us by Hayes Micromodems) boarded the airplane carrying this technology on with us. We flew to Moscow, and we now ready to install the computers in six different schools in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In late January, 1990 we carried (literally) six Macintosh SE computers (printers and modems) onto a Delta jet, and flew with them to Moscow, and installed them in six schools, helping establish one of the first global telecommunications systems for science teaching.

We were held hostage at the airport for about six hours. The Soviet customs officials demanded money from our Soviet colleagues, so it took hours of negotiation to let us through. We did and we were ready for the first installation the next day.

Without Gary, we couldn’t have done it. Telecommunications connections were not as easily obtained as they are today. There was only one company in the Soviet Union that we could use to get a modem connection, and it was called SOVAM (Soviet American Telecommunications). Gary had to program the computer we used in each school to reach SOVAM, which we used to connect through Europe to Apple’s email system. Unbelievably Gary got the system running in each school, and we had a telecommunications project that linked six Russian schools with six American schools (Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles).

There was a wonderful moment in School 157 in St. Petersburg. Gary was explaining to a group of Russian secondary students how the computer network and telecommunications system worked. One of the Russian students asked Gary how long it took a message typed on the Macintosh in his classroom to reach America. Gary said, “Oh, less than a second!” The students were astounded. So were some of the adults.

With the installation of the computers and modems into six Russian schools, we had established The Global Thinking Project telecommunications system.
GTP Network
The network shown here was established by putting Mac SE computers and modems in Russian and American schools. In Russia, telephone lines connected the IASNET to Geisco in Europe, which used satellites to transmit data to the US. Without Apple’s Gary Lieber, we probably could not have established this early telecommunications system.

This was an exhilarating experience for all of us. We implemented the first field test of the GTP curriculum over the next two months. Students in Russia were using their new computers to send email messages containing information about themselves and the data they had collected on the various GTP projects. That summer we brought all of the teachers together for a conference and training session several months later in Atlanta. Although there were many problems with telecommunications, and helping teachers develop a habit of mind of using email and checking posts on the bulletin board system we had set up, it showed us the potential of using the Internet as a tool in science teaching. This was the beginning. The GTP grew to include schools not only in the USA and Russia, but Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Spain, the Czech Republic, Botswana, Singapore, Scotland, and Finland.

These were the two-first ways that I used the Internet. I’ll continue talking about the Net further this week. Let me hear from you and about your first experiences with the Net in teaching.
This was the modem we used in the Soviet Union. It was made by Hayes, and had a speed of 2400! It worked beautifully.

The Race to the Moon: von Braun and Korolyov

In the last two posts I have discussed the space exploration and rocket development contributions of Wernher von Braun for the Americans and Sergey Pavlovich Korolyov for the Soviets. Each man is considered the person who led these respective countries into space. Sending humans to the moon and returning them safely, and indeed exploring beyond the moon was the dream of von Braun and Korolyov. Korolyov, who knew about von Braun and his work at the German designer of the V-2, and the American rockets, followed everying that von Braun did. von Braun, however, never knew of the existence of Korolyov personally, as Korolyov’s identity was kept secret until he died in 1966, three years before the Americans landed on the moon.

The history of the moon race is interesting, and you might want to visit Anatoly Zok’s website, and in particular scroll through his detailed moon race chart comparing Soviet and American chronologies.

Using the Web to Transform Learning Possibilities

Fifteen years ago, a team of educators from Georgia took 6 Macintosh SE 20 computers, modems, and printers to the then Soviet Union, and then proceeded to install one computer, modem and printer in five different schools we were collaborating with (2 in Moscow and 3 in St. Petersburg). We connected each computer to a telecommunications system using the school’s phone line and modem. The World Wide Web as we know it today, had not been in use, so we only had email as our means of communication, but given the fact there were very few computers in the Soviet Union’s schools, this was a remarkable event. The five schools in the USSR were linked by a network known as the Global Thinking Project with five schools in the USA (four in Georgia, and one in Pennsylvania). Students collaborated on a series of environmental projects in which they conducted local research projects and then used the Network to share their findings with their partner and collaborating schools. Today we have the Web, laptops, and wireless environments. We also have 15 years of research on the problems and benefits of using these technologies to promote learning. The Web has transformed the way we do business, and the way we communicate with each other; it can transform the way we learn, and the way we impact learning in schools. For example, the Virtual High School enables students at any participating school take courses online. Online curriculum projects have been implemented and field tested over the past ten years including GLOBE, CIESE Collaborative Projects, Hands On Universe, to name just a few. The Web has great potential. What do you think?