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 Magic Planet brings world to life 



Jan. 29, 2008
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Magic Planet brings world to life


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Press one button and weather patterns emerge. Press another and Jupiter appears.  Press again and Hurricane Katrina comes to interactive life.

            Slippery Rock University has equipped the first floor lobby of its Advanced Technology and Science Hall with The Magic Planet, a new projection display device with unlimited teaching potential.  The Magic Planet ��- one of the first in Pennsylvania - is a sphere-shaped learning tool that displays digital media of the earth and other planets.

            "It's neat because you can see information that you don't normally think of, such as different climates and hurricanes," said Eric Klug, geology major from Wexford. "Students like it because it gives you a world view, and it's on a computer with a touch screen and easy-to-follow menus."

            The interactive learning globe enables students to choose climate-change or other settings and see moving, color images of earth's environment as it appears from space. Cloud cover, climate zones and shifting continents are lifted out of flat dimension and projected in flashing real time.

            "Magic Planet takes students leaps and bounds ahead of textbook science or even computer-assisted learning by offering visual representations of what the ever-changing earth really looks like," said Julie Snow, SRU associate professor of geography, geology and the environment. "The data is always current. Via the Internet, Magic Planet downloads the current weather across the planet every three hours."

            Snow, Tamra Schiappa and Jack Livingston, associate professors of geography, geology and the environment, obtained the $43,224 globe through the SRU Technology Fee Program.      SRU is the only Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education institution and one of only two universities in Pennsylvania - Carnegie Mellon University is the other - to have The Magic Planet, Snow said.  The 24-inch diameter globe is active from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Made by California-based Global Imagination, the Magic Planet is constructed of acrylic that can be washed with soap and water. It uses off-the-shelf bulbs that are replaced every 2,000 hours, so costs are minimal.

            Students interact with Magic Planet at times convenient to them, using a touch-screen kiosk to explore or conduct research.  For instance, a meteorology student can display satellite imagery animated for the past 24 hours.  Physical geology students can examine the movement of the continents. Students in world geography can watch the expansion of Islam from the 7th century. 

            Other settings show sea surface temperatures, glaciations, human population growth, carbon emissions and political hot spots.

            "It's really cool to be able to see things on a global scale," said Meghan Rice, a geology major from Clarion. "Being in class and hearing professors talk about things is one thing. Being able to do research in an interactive manner is more helpful."

            Snow cited many educational benefits. The technology enables students to study the scientific method using high-tech modeling. The apparatus stimulates natural curiosity and will permit the implementation of new pedagogy with more difficult concepts.

            "The success of the geography, geology and the environment department in providing a high-quality education is in part due to our innovative teaching styles that incorporate state of the art technology into our learning community," Snow said.

            Magic Planet can also tap into the latest animation innovations through a user group. For instance, if NASA develops new animation of the moon or Jupiter's red spot, those upgrades become available.

            The wireless technology enables professors to use the globe for classes or special presentations. Snow, who teaches meteorology, can download two-dimensional weather maps from her laptop and upload to The Magic Planet, which projects them in three dimensions. 

          "The technology makes it easier for students to understand dynamic global systems, whether it's climate, the biosphere or geologic history," Snow said. "When the professor is finished using the globe, the kiosk is turned back to the public mode and available for any student or community member to use."

            "Magic Planet allows students to visualize earth processes presented in the classroom setting," Schiappa said.

            The kiosk also has the potential to aid local teachers and SRU education majors as a teaching and teacher-training resource for elementary and secondary education, she said.

            SRU's College of Health, Environment and Science has other plans to expand digital learning opportunities by creating an interactive, hands-on Exploratorium in the Advanced Technology and Science Hall.

            Livingston said the chemistry department wants to install an interactive Periodic Table of the Elements; computer science plans to introduce virtual programming, and geology envisions interactive fossil and rock and mineral display cases. 

            "Today's students don't want to just see something in a case. They want to experience it," said Livingston. "We believe in experiential learning. We want to offer an exploratory environment."


Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.









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