Friday, June 24, 2011

Gapminder: world statistics made visual

Gathering and interpreting statistical information is one way to make sense (on nonsense?!!?) of the world. Hans Rosling (see March 23 post) has developed a program that animates statistics -- which enables students to see changing trends over time and to compare trends in different countries. The goal of Rosling's organisation is to "replace devastating myths with a fact-based world view." Their method is to make data easy to access by compiling data sets from such organisations as the World Bank, Lancet, the WHO, and the UN and easy to understand by making it visual and manipulable. Gapminder comes in 2 versions: Gapminder World which is online or if your internet access is limited you can download the desktop software (must have Adobe Air installed).

(click above image for full size; link to static poster)

Students select the information they want to view by assigning the vertical and horizontal axes on the graph. The colours of the data bubbles correspond to countries on the map (upper left). Mousing over a bubble highlights the country on the map and its x and y coordinates. There is a slider beneath the graph one can use to choose the year (1800 - 2000+) to be illustrated. Clicking on 'Play' reveals the changes in the graph over time.

Using this kind of software to relieve the students of the time/labour intensive work of data mining and graphing will give them more time to speculate about underlying causes and possible future outcomes of making (or neglecting) changes. If you're looking for ideas about how to exploit this great resource, there is a teachers' page to explore.

Final note: the Teq people are offering a free webinar on June 30 (4pm ET) on using Google Earth, Skype, Gapminder Desktop, and other free resources on you SMART Board. Perhaps I'll see you there.

Friday, June 17, 2011

More Visuals: Intel's Museum of Me

A while ago I bought a GPS in hopes that I might find myself traveling to some strange city in the not too distant future. I practice with it when I drive around here at home so that I'll be more adept at integrating the visual and auditory cues when I really need them. My preferred mode is 3D which turns a traditional flat map into a 'drive through' experience. Watching the progress of the little car on the screen reminds me of my brothers playing with their dinky toys out in the back yard when they were young -- pushing them up sand piles, careening them around corners, crashing them into obstacles -- all with accompanying sound effects.

This morning I discovered another virtual tool that turns flat viewing into immersive 3D. Intel's Museum of Me morphs your Facebook page into a virtual building with rooms for your profile information, images of your friends, and your videos. It turns your text into a piece of dynamic art and at the end integrates the mosaic bits of the 'you' captured in your Facebook into a final defining image.

(Link to video)

I have to admit that visiting my personal museum is kind of a minimalist experience which reflects the fact that I don't reveal much of myself in that forum. The richer your Facebook, the more interesting Intel's virtual rendition of 'you' will be.

It would be very cool to use this kind of tool as a way to turn static classroom research about a historical figure or a character in a novel into a Museum of 'X'. If there's a way to make up actual Facebook pages for non-living characters, please let me know. Until then have fun walking through this tribute to your own life.

Thanks to CyberJohn from CEET for this one.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Worlde lovers -- meet Tagxedo

OK -- so many of you who read this know that I live in Vancouver, that our team lost, and that many of those who live here behaved deplorably last night. I'm not sure if the sore losers in other cities wreak this kind of havoc when a team loses, but there has to be a better way to express disappointment than by trashing your own nest and doing it in front of an international audience!

But this post is about the image above and how to make one (not about the incident it portrays). This was made with a Web 2.0 tool called Tagxedo which blends visual with verbal by turning word clouds into images. It's in free beta now so you can play to your heart's content; however, soon some of the fancy features will move to a subscription basis. If enough people use it and write in, perhaps Hardy (the creator of this tool) will consider a special deal for educators (as have Glogster, Animoto, and GoAnimate to name a few).

(From the website) "With Tagxedo, you can:
  • make word clouds in real-time, and re-spin, and re-spin to your liking
  • save the word cloud as images for printing and sharing
  • look at all variants of the clouds in a gallery (see screenshot above), and pick the one you want for further tweaking or saving
  • choose from many different fonts
  • use local fonts (e.g. downloaded from Font Squirrel, DaFont, FontSpace, or your own hand-drawn fonts)
  • quickly switch between different colors and themes
  • constrain the cloud to selected shapes (heart, star, cloud, oval, etc)
  • use images as custom shapes (e.g. Reddit Alien) [premium feature]
  • use words as custom shapes (e.g. "USA", "Love", "Joy", "I LOVE YOU") [premium feature]"
For more samples and ideas, you can link to 101 Ways to Use Tagxedo. A helpful FAQ page provides information about how to use the more advanced features.

[One caveat: apparently there is no way to search for a gallery item once it has been created. I'd recommend doing your word composing in a document that can be saved so if you have to rework the original, you have the text on your own computer. I'd also add the URL of your gallery image to that page so you can get back to it at a later date. This might save some tears later on.]


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Climate Science Resources from England

(click image to see full size)

Th Climate Science Info Zone offers information on climate and climate change in video (animations with subtitles if you wish) and print form. This is a website students can explore in a non-linear way -- following their interests and making their own connections. In the image above, you see the main topics and subtopics, but there's an additional layer of more specific key ideas linked to each of the subtopics so the students can drill down and find quite specific information in one to two minute chunks.

This first video I checked out (Exploring Earths' Climate >> How are climate and weather different?) is meant as an introductory piece, but it's all about the British Isles. You could turn this around and ask the students to create equivalent presentations for their own locations by making their own cartoon flip books using something like ToonDoo or their own video animations (try Xtranormal) or even PowerPoints with their own narrations (which could be uploaded and shared in Slideboom or AuthorStream).

But wait -- there's more! On the same website, the Online Stuff tab take you or your students to games, science news, and several themed exhibits. I love the one on the brain. In addition, if you click the Educators tab and then select Classroom resources from the menu at the left, you'll find a collection of great how to's for teachers that will help you organise hands-on activities and for your students in a variety of science topics (ages 3 - 16). There are videos, pdf's and templates -- everything you need for a successful science exploration with minimal prep and maximum activity. There's even a page on how to plan and run a CTD (collapsed timetable day -- aka 'dropdown' or theme day) on climate science. This could be a nice way to dovetail a whole day of activities with one of the great Discovery scientist webinars that are offered several times a year.

Thanks to Shana Opdenberg (Technology Integration Integration in Education Ning) for the heads up on this website. The British Science Museum, which makes this material available completely free, has done a wonderful job of connecting with the community. I wish we had something like it here in Canada!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Time travel, motivation, creative problem solving, and testing

It's amazing what cleaning up one's email does. But let me back up a minute …..

Two weeks ago my tough Toshiba -- faithful companion through all Wilkes courses -- wouldn't boot up. I took it to my tech guys who were able to back up all the data and get it running again, but only sort of. There just wasn't any sound. Try as we might with fixes we found on the internet, the problem could not be fixed. The computer had been beeping strangely when booting up for some time, and I was on the last week of my 3 year, on site warrantee with Toshiba, so I contacted them thinking a nice miracle worker would come to my door to set everything right. Instead, they insisted on a compete reset back to factory settings in order to diagnose what was software and what was hardware related.

Now, I use my email as a sort of diary of daily connections, so there are over 10,000 sitting there -- some categorised nicely in folders, others just relegated to the junk file or left in the in-box. And all of this dates back to when I abandoned my desktop machine in 2009. I decided that before wiping out the heart of my machine, at the very least I ought to sort the individual folders and the junk file to preserve relevant content and purge the rest.

I started at the top, quickly got tired, and moved to the bottom of the list. There was more to delete from there, so it gave me the illusion of going faster. To my surprise, the process turned out to be quite interesting. I had set up the system so that most subscriptions would go to 'junk' simply so they wouldn't clutter up my in-box every day. Scanning these turned into a compressed journey through technological time. For example, I watched Google Wave go from inception to demise. I revisited the early smartphone and pre-tablet eras when making technology easily accessible in classrooms seemed an insurmountable hurdle. It made me very aware of the problems that 'technological disparity' is going to create in North American classrooms where a public school education is supposed to be one of society's great equalizers.

It also made me resolve to delete 200 old emails per day as well as read or properly classify all new ones rigorously which leads me to today's mashup. I offer you two items this week's emails : an article entitled "Panel Finds Few Learning Gains from Testing Movement" and a video (below) called "Gamifying Education."

What occurs to me is that perhaps U.S. educational policy makers should be looking at how to get from where they are (tests don't boost learning) to where they want to be (ensuring greater learning success for more children) as a game of connections (as in the last segment of the video). My worry is that they won't use this as a reason to apply creative problem solving and critical thinking skills to the problem but will just respond by adding another level of tests or by rejigging the existing tests to make it harder to 'game the system'.

I'd be interested in reading your thoughts on one, either, or both. What do you find are life and school's greatest motivators?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Free one year trial of 'Imagine Mars'

(click for full-sized image) is a subscription-based company which will deliver online lessons -- selected from their collection or developed by you -- to your students. Their materials, for the K-8 market, are designed to help teachers meet the STEM standards as well as give students instruction in 21st century technology skills. Their game-based packages create a multi-sensory environment where students can "model … new skills and create stronger connections to their learning." They take advantage of kids' natural desire to master internet applications and at the same time support their learning efforts. is partnering with a number of other educational service providers, including Discovery, so teachers can create and distribute online learning experiences which integrate materials from these sources through the SKY digital learning environment.

With Imagine Mars, has created a project-based learning package for grades 3-8. It's a little reminiscent of the old survival on the moon group survival simulation activity we used to have students do in the old days. has worked with Nasa to replicate virtually the kind of face-to-face experience illustrated in the video below.

CK2 NASA Imagine Mars youth program from danboarder on Vimeo.

The one year, free trial is good for one teacher and a class of 30 kids. All you have to do is answer 2 questions to start the process of signing up. Once you have your trial, you'll be prompted to create an account and set up your licences. Enjoy.