Learner-Shaped Technology

August 3, 2008

Mars Books

Filed under: books,general,mars,science,technology — Mike W @ 10:47 am

Because books are perhaps the best educational technology around, I thought I’d share some good reads related to Mars. Comments below:

clipped from www.amazon.com
Zubrin does a super job of outlining an economically feasible and sustainable approach to Mars exploration. This is one of the texts we’ll be reading for the Mars course in the fall. A great read and no shortage of controversy.

The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must

The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must (Paperback)
clipped from www.amazon.com
This one looks pretty intimidating when you first flip through it, but Kargel makes the geology of the red planet understandable and incredibly interesting. The spectacular images and graphs really enhance the discussion, and you can tell he’s passionate about this stuff.

Mars - A Warmer, Wetter Planet (Springer Praxis Books / Space Exploration)

Mars – A Warmer, Wetter Planet (Springer Praxis Books / Space Exploration) (Paperback)
clipped from www.amazon.com
This covers the history of mapping Mars and is really well written and in-depth. My only suggestion is that it needs more images and maps. I often found myself visiting the map on the inside cover of the book to orient myself to a feature being discussed in the book. The plastic protective cover from my library copy made that map hard to get to, and I ended up tracking down maps on the internet instead. Who wants to be sitting at the computer though when reading a great book? Not me. A fascinating look at Mars mapping, but it could be much better with maps that support the discussion.

Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World

Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World (Hardcover)

  blog it

August 2, 2008

Way to go iClicker!

Filed under: clickers,general,sustainability,technology — Mike W @ 9:51 am

In an earlier posting I discussed some less than optimal packaging with a recent order of iClickers. We’re very happy with the clickers themselves, btw (which is also in the earlier posting). A glitch with my blog comment notifications caused a great response from the Director of iClicker to sit in moderation for quite a while. My apologies for that. It’s since been fixed.

I wanted to highlight Renee’s response here. Since the posting, I was also contacted by one of the iClicker creators about an idea I’d posted on a list serve about making analyzing data gathered via iClickers easier. We had a great conversation, and they are exploring adding some additional features to make analysis more seamless.

Thanks for being so responsive and committed to sustainability! I’m impressed.

Mars Phoenix converts a Twitter skeptic

Filed under: mars,science,technology,twitter — Mike W @ 9:32 am

I’ve been very skeptical about educational uses of Twitter, but I have to admit that a little lander on Mars has changed my mind. This fall I’m teaching a course for non-science majors that centers around exploring the physics, chemistry, and geology surrounding a manned space mission to Mars. When I found out the Mars Phoenix Lander was providing mission updates via Twitter, I decided to take the plunge.

The lander (through a ghost writer) sends out tweets, sometimes several times a day, with mission updates which I follow through Twitterific (screen shot below).

Twitter Mars

One of the objectives for the course is for students to get a real sense of the scale, terrain, and environment of Mars. That’s not something that gets accomplished through a single lesson. Having the students subscribe via Twitterific or text message updates (I haven’t sprung for the extra $ to get into that) seems like a great, subversive way, to weave Mars into the daily lives of students. Phoenix “tweets” have often led me on a curious quest for more info, and I’m hoping it will do the same for students.

I was psyched to learn that the mission had been extended (through a tweet, of course) to the end of September, so I can use this for at least part of the upcoming semester. Here’s just one example (of many) of a great pointer from Phoenix, which can be used to address common misconceptions about the cause of the seasons.

Mars midnight sun

Clipped from JPL site.  See http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/phoenix/images.php?fileID=15091 for full story.

Oh yeah, here’s a link to the famous Private Universe video showing interviews with Harvard grads that demonstrates just how tenacious this misconception can be.

If Twitter can help, I’m in!

Link to Mars Phoenix tweets / twitter page 

April 5, 2008

Concept Map Software Demo – CmapTools

Filed under: concept maps,data visualization,demo,general,science,technology — Mike W @ 8:56 am

CMapTools is concept map software which is available free for educational use. I created a quick demo of some of the main features. I especially like the support for mulitmedia objects.

super hero small

Oops! See this 60 sec correction / tip for saving space in your concept map.

Of course, there are many academic uses, but the above superhero example is kind of a fun intro (see more detailed, finished super hero map here). For example, the Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carleton College has some great information on using concept mapping in the geosciences.

January 19, 2008

Sustainable Packaging?

Filed under: clickers,general,sustainability,technology — Mike W @ 9:40 am

I know it’s been a long time, but I’m hoping to get back in the blogging groove. I have a list of blog topics in a google doc that I’m hoping will sustain a more regular blog presence. I’ve moved my site over to a new host.  I’m redirecting automatically for now, but please update your bookmarks.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that we’ve been exploring clicker technology in class to promote class discussion (especially around controversial topics), predicting the results of a demo, etc. . We recently received a shipment of 60 clickers, and I was distraught over the packaging. Check it out. Each clicker was individually wrapped in the kind of packaging that leaves one’s fingers bruised and bloodied, and the amount of waste is pretty striking. Below is a pic of the packaging vs. what was inside.


We’re in conversations now with the vendor now to check into alternatives. They may be under the assumption that we’re like many schools where clickers are sold in the bookstore. Instead, we’ve purchased several departmental sets for sharing. The six teacher clickers came with a more reasonable amount of packaging, so it has to be possible to scale back on the waste. We’ve been very pleased with the iClicker brand, but if you decide to go this route, please join in and ask about alternative packaging before they ship.

Some things the iClickers don’t do that we’re trying to find solutions for:

1. Data Formatting – We have a couple of professors interested in analyzing data gathered in class with statistical packages like SPSS. The session data is stored in spreadsheets, but there’s a lot of manual cleanup needed before the stats are run. It shouldn’t be too hard to automate the clean-up process.

2. Limited Choices – A-E works fine for many questions, but if you’re asking students about presidential candidates, important political issues, etc.., 5 choices can be very limiting. We knew that going in, but it would be great if there were a simple alternative. I asked the tech guy at iClicker if they’ve explored hooking into devices with more buttons or allowing a double click to expand choices (like AA, BB, etc.). They haven’t done anything with this yet, but the code is open source, so I’m going to poke around and see what it would take to add this expanded choice mode.

3. Mapping Choices – The flexibility of the software is great. You can pose questions / scenarios in presentation software, ChemDraw, Google Earth, etc.. Because the question is captured as an image, you have to go back and map choice A to Obama, B to Clinton, C to Edwards, etc.. It’s okay if you’re just using the questions as a discussion starter but makes looking at trends in student opinions more difficult.

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