It has been interesting to track the delivery path of my iPhone the last few days, which is set for delivery on Tuesday of this coming week.

The iPhone Cometh

When I told my 9 year old it was shipping from Shenzhen, China, his first question was, “Why is the iPhone made in China?” Rather than tell him my opinion on that, my response was, “That’s a great question. Who do you think you could talk to who is an expert on that subject to get an answer?” He thought for awhile, and responded that he could talk to an Apple Genius at the Apple Store. We then proceeded to brainstorm a set of other questions he could ask an “Apple Genius” (since it didn’t make sense to set up an appointment and just ask one question) and went to the Apple Store (iPod with recording microphone in hand to make a podcast) on Friday evening. (We also did a practice interview and worked on asking questions which required elaboration, using “how,” “why,” etc.) Not surprisingly, the Apple Genius could not let us record his answers to Alexander’s questions, because as an Apple employee he’s prohibited from participating in any type of new media publication (blogging, podcasting, etc.) I find that pretty ironic, given the fact that Apple’s hardware and software tools are focused on empowering the voices of users and the read/write web…. But I was actually not too surprised by this. The “Genius” did a good job handling most of Alexander’s questions, but I don’t think he answered the initial question about why the iPhone is made in China very well. We’re going to continue searching for answers on that one together from other sources.

Using Google Earth, it’s amazing to see what a journey my iPhone has already made.

Shenzhen to Anchorage

Remaining legs of my iPhone's journey home

These distances aren’t completely accurate since they are direct from Google Earth, and the flight routes of the aircraft between each location are undoubtedly not as direct, but they are still eye opening as approximations:

  • Shenzhen to Anchorage: 5,058 miles
  • Adding the leg to Indianapolis: 8,072 miles
  • Adding the leg to Memphis: 8,455 miles
  • Adding the expected leg to Oklahoma City: 8,877 miles

Using the popup measurement window in Google Earth, we can see that distance is equivalent to 562,442,111 inches, or 8,394,658 smoots. For whatever unit of measurement you want to chose, that’s a lot of distance! It is difficult to actually show this entire delivery route in a single screenshot in Google Earth, and made me wonder if flying west from China across the Euro-Asian continents wouldn’t be faster… A little more exploration in Google Earth revealed the answer: No. It is faster to fly through Alaska and across North America. If a direct flight was available from Shenzhen to Oklahoma City, Google Earth shows it would be about 7,900 miles:

Direct Route: Shenzen to Oklahoma

These global measurements inspired me to ask a more basic question: What is the circumference of the earth? This question and WikiPedia’s entry for earth can lead to a nice chain of additional questions and answers. WikiPedia states earth’s orbital circumference is 924,375,700 km. How many miles is that? Using Google’s built-in currency conversion search feature, I learn the circumference is 574,380,431 miles.

That number seems really big, especially compared to the distances I just “measured” with Google Earth for the Shenzhen to Oklahoma trip. Then I realize, I mistakenly used “ORBITAL circumference.” Rather than using the number for the earth’s actual circumference, I’ve mistakenly used the number for the distance of the earth’s ORBIT around the sun.


So back to WikiPedia and the page for earth. In the sidebar under “physical characteristics” I see the Equatorial circumference of our planet is 40,075.02 km. By converting with Google I learn that distance is 24,901.463 miles. That sounds more reasonable.

So, my iPhone (by the time it arrives in Oklahoma) will have traveled approximately one third of the distance around the earth. I remember from geography studies in the past that the earth is “fatter” around the equator (and this is why WikiPedia lists a different “Meridional circumference” from the equatorial circumference.) My approximation of traveling one third of the way around the earth still seems fairly accurate, given these variances.

Look at all the questions this iPhone tracking event has inspired, and all the discoveries!

  1. Where is Shenzen, China?
  2. Why are products, like the most advanced phone in the history of the world to date, manufactured there?
  3. How far has my iPhone traveled being shipped to me?
  4. How far around the world is that?
  5. Are my mathematical calculations reasonable?
  6. What is the difference between orbital circumference and equatorial or meridional circumference?

The list can (and will) go on from here.

This is an example of a teachable moment. A point of inquiry based on natural curiosity. The power of digital tools in the hands of an inquisitive learner. An experience of authentic learning.

Education in our classrooms needs to look more like this example. Do we want students to understand circumference? Do they need to understand the complexities of outsourcing and flat-world economics? What are we using as ENTRY POINTS into conversations about these topics? The math textbook and figure 10B on page 65? The tools which we have at our fingertips via the world-wide web are truly staggering. WikiPedia, Google Earth and Google (as much more than just a search site) are phenomenal tools for inquiry. The tools are not enough, however. We need to bring these tools to bear on interesting questions worthy of further inquiry.

So how do we use these tools to teach like this?

We begin by not answering all the questions our students have, and rather than struggling to answer them all, struggling to inspire THEM to ASK more questions. Engagement often begins with authentic curiousity, which breeds the desire for inquiry. This entire process begins with the interaction of the learner’s mind with her/his external context. Cognative dissonance, a novel experience or image, a different idea… All can inspire curiosity to ASK.

And so learning begins and continues. 🙂

I can’t wait for my iPhone to arrive. I’m going to look at it with different eyes after this learning experience. It’s already traveled over 8000 miles in its short life, and it was just born! (Yes, I acknowledge this rhetorical question is anthropomorphic.) Who knows where we’ll be going together in the years to come?!

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On this day..

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5 Responses to The iPhone cometh and inspires inquiry

  1. Tina says:

    Hi Wes,
    I am in pure envy of you. Your iPhone will only be 146 miles away from me (according to Google maps.) (I’m in Bartlesville, OK) I loved how you stated “Education in our classrooms needs to look more like this example.” I am going to mark this blog entry new for future reference. I will need to read through it more than once. I learned so much clicking on the links. It was a shame your son did not get a good answer from the Apple Genius. Isn’t learning so much fun this way? Thank you for taking the time to share. And, boy, do I wish I had an iPhone. Maybe I can get the second generation…. Tina

  2. Wesley Fryer says:

    Well Tina, if we can conclude anything based on past technology and economic trends it is that the computing power will increase over time as the pricepoint decreases. So yes, I think an iPhone-like device is in your future, and in the futures of most if not all the kids you’re teaching and working with daily! 🙂

  3. Jennifer Wagner says:

    Of everything you have ever written, and anything I have ever heard you say — (except regarding God, of course) this has been the most powerful blog entry, in my opinion.

    The possibilities that you showed — just in waiting for the iphone — was wonderful. Perhaps everyone has already thought of this — but I never thought of tracking packages. To going to the Genius bar just to chat.

    What you did with your son, though, impressed me the most. You not only set him up for success in interviewing, but you didn’t provide him with the quick answer and let it go at that. And you went out of your way (okay perhaps you did have to go to the apple store) but you made time in your day to include your son. (many men don’t do that, ya know!)

    I admire you — you knew that. Now a bit more.

  4. Robert says:

    I have almost these exact same screenshots from Google Earth when I gave a talk about the adoption of our two daughters from China. (Lucy is from Guangzhou and Penelope is from Jiangxi province.) So I got a chuckle out of your comment about your iPhone “being born” and its “journey home” (language which I also used in my talk). Anthropmorphism, indeed!

  5. James says:

    Your maps are likely wrong because they don’t seem to follow great circles. When traversing large distances around a sphere (such as the Earth), the “direct” route isn’t the most direct.
    shows that the great circle for Shenzhen (SZX) to Oklahoma City (OKC) does, indeed go through Alaska.

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