Learning Technologies GroupElectronic Visualization LaboratoryUniversity of Illinois at Chicago


Project Director: Tom Moher, EVL, Dept. of Computer Science, UIC
Graduate Research Assistants: Syeda Hussain, Computer Science; Erin Poliakon, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Teacher: Tim Halter, Lincoln Elementary School, Oak Park, IL
Seismologist: Debi Kilb, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

moher at uic.edu

Design and development of RoomQuake was supported by the NSF OptIPuter (ANI-0225642) grant. Classroom enactment and teacher participation was supported by the NSF GK-12 SKIT (DGE-0338328) grant.

Project Description
The RoomQuake project is an effort to augment a classroom, using a "thin layer of computation" (Collela, et al., 1998), for the purpose of allowing students to gain experience in the seismological practice of locating the epicenter and magnitude of earthquakes. Rather than treating the earthquakes as remote events, we adopted the conceit that the phenomena were occurring directly in the room, as if the room were a scaled-down version of a large geographic region. With each seismic event, students use simulated instrumentation, simple tools, and physical movement to determine epicenter and magnitude, and recorded the sequence of event by hanging Styrofoam balls from the classroom ceiling; over time, the classroom "fault line" emerged. RoomQuake is presented as an example of a class of simulations that we call Embedded Phenomena. Applications in this class embed imaginary dynamic phenomenaŃscientific or otherwiseŃinto the physical space of classrooms. These phenomena are "made visible" through a (usually small) number of computational affordances scattered around the room, representing visual or instrumented observations of the state of the phenomena, as well as controls (for experimentation). Teachers design instruction that includes student observation and investigation of those phenomena. Synchronized computers (e.g., PDAs, tablet computers, or conventional systems) are situated to "known" positions in the classroom. They are programmed to serve as real-time strip-chart recorders of seismic activity, presenting simulated low-level random noise until a database of clock-driven "seismic events" triggered the generation of parameter-driven characteristic waveforms specific to the location of each seismograph. A dry-line (calibrated reel of twine) was anchored at each of the seismographic stations. As each seismic event occurs (accompanied by a sustained rumble from a subwoofer located in the corner of the classroom), student teams read and interpreted the seismogram waveforms and determined the roomquake magnitude and (unique) distance (in meters) of the epicenter of the quake from each of the stations. Pulling out the corresponding length of twine, students sweep out arcs until they literally collide with one another, physically enacting a mathematical trilateration of the epicenter. At the students' direction, the teacher hangs (color-coded) Styrofoam balls from the ceiling with diameter proportional to the magnitude at the calculated epicenter. Roomquakes take place both during and outside of school hours ("things happen when they happen"); the seismographic stations retain "snapshots" of prior events. (Students can also check for earthquakes occurring outside school hours by consulting a web site on which seismograms are posted.) Student learning is assessed in four areas: science content knowledge, knowledge of seismological practice, and the mathematical technique of trilateration.

Project Status
May 2004: Pilot project with 5th grade class.
Feb 2005: Research study with 5th grade classrooms.

Publications and documents
Moher, T., Hussain, S., Halter, T., and Kilb, D. (2005). Embedding Dynamic Phenomena within the Physical Space of an Elementary School Classroom. ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2005), to appear. [PDF]

Moher, T., Hussain, S., Halter, T., and Poliakon, E. (2004). Practicing Seismology in the Fifth-grade Clasroom: Technology in the Service of Developing a Community of Learners. ISTA Spectrum, Vol. 40 (Fall 2004), No. 2, pp. 32-38. [Publisher link]

Roomquake slides from 2004 pilot study