Camel Groomer or Master Merchant? Interactive Silk Road iPad App
Name of App: Travel the Silk Road
Type of Technology: iPad application
SAMR Model Rating: Modification/Redefinition
Grade Level: 7th and 10th
Subject Area: World History
Description: Travel the Silk Road is an app produced by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to extend educational activities beyond the exhibit by the same name. Using iPads, individuals or student pairs use this interactive app to virtually travel through six Silk Road destinations across Eurasia, from Xi’an, China, to Constantinople. The audio features music heard long ago in these locations, so that students hear the traditional instruments of the time. This provides a sensory element to the app. The interactive character of the app involves a journey that engages students in decision making, whereby they discover information about the various luxury commodities by tapping items on the screen. Students then have to choose which good will result in the best trade. Their choices determine whether they need to go back to learn more or whether they move on to the next Silk Road destination. The prompt at the beginning encourages them to make informed decisions, resulting at the end of the app adventure in “Camel Groomer” or “Master Merchant” status (both are respectable results). Through their “virtual” field trip, students gather cultural, economic, environmental, and technological details that facilitate their understanding of the risks and riches of this commercial network – “the world’s oldest international highway.”
The enemy of any tenth-grade AP World History teacher is time – the sheer lack of it to adequately facilitate the understanding of 10 millennia of humanity’s interactions. One of the interactions that merits attention is the commercial and cultural networks of the post-classical era. I’ve had groups stage a classroom caravan, where student groups become travel guides, helping their peers – visitors to their Silk Road destination – understand its historical significance. But this activity absorbs far too much time.
Here’s where technology saved us time, while still providing a content-rich and interactive experience. This app works only on iPads, not on phones. However, with one-to-one iPad roll out on the horizon, students will be able to individually navigate the app adventure at home or in class. In the absence of one-to-one student access to iPads, students used class time to investigate the Silk Road. The app music, played on the iPads at varied rates and intervals, created an eerie Silk Road audio collage, but most students could remedy this by using their own earbuds. From my time-sensitive teacher point of view, the app accomplished in 20 minutes what the in-class group “project-based learning” (PBL) process could be accomplished in two hours. Lengthier PBL or inquiry-based learning experiences are undoubtedly valuable, and cannot be replaced by iPad apps, but such apps can both enrich and expand inquiry-based learning and/or be used strategically to more efficiently deliver content in an engaging fashion.
Click here for a webinar on the Denver Museum of Nature and Science Silk Road exhibit. Here is a screenshot of the app description.
Here (left) is a screenshot of a stop on the Silk Road app journey. Following an introduction of some cultural and environmental information unique to the site, in this case Xi’an, China, students land on this screen where they are required to make a choice. Students are wise to click the information icon next to each of the choices to determine their worth before making their selection. If they fail to make a reasonable choice, they are bounced back to the start to more actively or closely explore the clues.
The students use the information they gather as evidence for an essay comparing Silk, Sand and Sea Roads of the post-classical era. An extension of the activity involves creation of a digital Google “MyMap,” where by students add interactive annotations, including commodities, ideas, faiths, and germs exchanged along the Silk Roads. Click here for my blog post on MyMaps – also accessible on iPads.