iPad-ing Across the Sahara

I have to blog for three classes this semester…two that I’m co-teaching and one that I’m taking.  I’m looking forward to drawing conclusions about that experience.  Will it be too much of a time suck?  Will I get faster and better?  Will I feel like I know the inside of my bellybutton better than how to drive to work?


Hard to say.  And yet, with all these venues for blogging (with their different focuses), I can’t really fit the subject of this blog into any of them, but it kind of fits into two of them… I really want to blog this–maybe by the end of the blog I’ll figure out why it’s so important to me.

For the last three Martin Luther King Jr Days, I have taken it upon myself to create a cultural learning experience for my two girls (currently ages 5 and 8) that has nothing to do with Martin Luther King directly but that I feel like he would appreciate from a “get to know other people” perspective.  First there was the Great Wall of China battle between China and the Mongolians in the living room, then the mummification ceremonies of Barbies in the kitchen..I actually talk about these events quite frequently and I’m not really sure why, but they seem to be important to me and my girls.

Well, this year I was stumped…no inspiration at all…and MLK was upon us.

https://youtube.googleapis.com/v/1FlDQzcc9n0&source=udsSo yesterday morning my kids and I were sitting on the couch and I pulled out the iPad and said to my eldest, “Where do you want to go?”

Sydney answered “I want to visit a griot in Mali.”

Now a griot is a storyteller and she just finished a unit on ancient Mali, so this answer did not surprise me as much as it might surprise someone who hadn’t been helping her study her vocabulary words.  So we searched YouTube for “Griot.”  That started a discussion on effective storytelling.

The expressive griot we watched (one of several we watched, actually) sang to a variety of river-life images, opening the opportunities to talk about pitch, volume, tone, imagery, musicality…my daughter identified it all.

The images of the Niger River led me to ask her about the process of trading in ancient Mali (boats and camel caravans) which, in turn, led to the discovery that while Sydney had been required to memorize the word “caravan” she really had no conceptual image of what that was.  Trust YouTube to have short films of caravans.

We rode across the Sahara to an oasis (another word memorized, another incomplete visual picture) and found a YouTube video on oasis living in the New Valley in Egypt, where the ancient ruins show signs of Roman influence (correctly pointed out by my little student on the couch–the arches among the rectangular blocks).

And so a plan unfolded.  My husband oversaw the building of a Bedouin tent in the family room (despite knowing it all had to fit on their camels, the kids used every piece of fabric we own to build this tent, including 8 umbrellas which I thought was a nice touch in the desert) while I ran to the craft store. Thanks to a little A.C. Moore action, we built clay pots and oasis dioramas with real sand, water, and glitter (because the world revolves around glitter) and rode our camel-bikes in caravan to our own oasis (the neighborhood playground). I even got to steal one of their bikes, because the desert has its share of raiders. Imagine a 5 year old in a princess bike helmet chasing after her stolen bike with training wheels–“Come back you camel stealer! I am the tribal leader’s daughter!”  We got some looks from the kids playing basketball.

Then we ate dinner on the floor by the fire and pretended we were in the desert.  All the while, YouTube played a tremendous role, as it has music videos of traditional dance from a variety of African countries…allowing me to combat the stereotype of “Africa as a country instead of a continent.”  We listened to hours of music from all over Africa yesterday, comparing and contrasting and locating places on the globe as we went.
Nothing would have been possible without access to YouTube. You could argue I could have found the same things in a good library, sure, but I started without a glimmer of inspiration, trusting that we would be able to link our way to something juicy…and we linked quickly.  The speed of access was essential.  The variety of subject matters and modalities–maps, videos, music, short documentaries–was essential.  The internet was essential.  And the compactness of the iPad rather than using my laptop–that was essential too.  There is absolutely no way I could have engaged my young daughters in those initial steps if I couldn’t have passed the computer back and forth with them.  So I remain a grateful iPad devotee.  And the 3rd annual MLK event in the Gogia household was a success.

Flickr – Kaptain Kobold

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Interesting example of “enhanced” learning…I am passing this to my daughter and our 7 & 5 year old grandkids.


  2. Laura Gogia says:

    Thanks Britt,

    The iPad has become a fixture in our house for enhanced learning opportunities…so much so that I think my next blog might be related to the exhaustion that arises from parenting constantly from an active learning perspective.

    Here's another example…another problematic vocabulary list…this time about planets “rotating” on “axes” while “revolving” in “orbits” around stars…throw in some moon phases and seasons and you've got a major opportunity for mass confusion. Luckily we have access to http://www.pebblego.com which has much of this information on it…short verbal/audio passages combined with short videos that the kids can play over and over with the touch of a button. So here's how it works…black and white, pictureless paper vocabulary list, sitting next to a kid with an iPad loaded with Pebble Go. Kid chooses the vocabulary word, picks the video, and while it plays, a silly younger sister pretends to be the sun while the crazy mother revolves on an orbit around the sun holding a rotating globe. The added layer of the video and application questions–presented in color– was extremely helpful, although having the silly younger sister involved almost made it it's own youtube video.


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