Life on Mars, or not?

I’ve been watching the television news and have seen that our networks have picked up on a photo taken by the Nasa spacecraft Spirit in Jan. 2004, of a shape that looks like a human, or ‘bigfoot’, figure.

I love a good ‘Life on Mars’ story, but thought I should check out a favourite site of mine and see what badastronomy.com had to say about this. I discovered this site last year while helping a student who was doing an inquiry based project for a Science class.  Phil Plait runs the site and this is what he has to say on his main page;

I am an astronomer, writer, and skeptic. I likes reality the way it is, and I aims to keep it that way. My real name is Phil Plait, and I run the Bad Astronomy website

It’s a great site and one to remember so that you can inform your students and staff about it. He has over 11,000 readers so I’m sure plenty of people out there are aware already. Phil had a comment on his blog about the photo, but the link he provided to Emily Lakdawalla’s site The Planetary Society Weblog was the real find. Emily’s post, entitled Teeny little Bigfoot on Mars, was a thorough discussion of the image and what it might be. I love this paragraph which talks about the actual size of the said ‘person’ or ‘bigfoot’;

The zoomed-in view of the image on the Internet also makes it very difficult to see that Bigfoot is really not very big. There’s a neat tool that another rover fan, “Algorimancer,” has written that allows you to use the rovers’ binocular vision to estimate the distance to and size of objects visible in their images. Using AlgorimancerPG, you can determine that our little “Bigfoot” is actually less than five meters from the rover, so can be no more than about 6 centimeters tall.  

These are the types of things I enjoy about the immediacy of the Web. The ability to search for the guts of a story that our media has picked up. These are the type of skills we need to be teaching our students today. 

Another good thing my search turned up was that the BBC article about this topic included this quote from badastronomy.com;

Badastronomy.com tried to apply some perspective: “A man? It’s a tiny rock only a few inches high. It’s only a few feet from the rover!”

  Well done BBC!

Toonlet – creativity for your classroom on what has been a sad day.

Toonlet looks like a great little tool that will enable your students to create comic strip characters and then create a comic strip starring their creative efforts.  Here’s an example from their archives;

Ethan Wandingham

If you’re looking for an online tool to make your class activities a little more interesting and engaging, this could be something to consider. Best part of all, it’s free!  Download Squad have done a review of Toonlet which is worth a read.

On a completely different note, I was saddened today to hear of Heath Ledger’s passing. After seeing a quick news grab regarding this my first reaction was to go to Google News and search ‘Heath Ledger dead’ to find out what was being reported. Sure enough in seconds I was looking at a New York Post article which was providing me with a lot more detail than what my television news service was offering. When I spoke about this to a friend during the day she was surprised that I had thought to do this and even more surprised to find out that you can select news from the Google toolbar and complete a search in this field. It made me realise once again that many people are not always familiar with new technology. We need to remember this and not assume that just because we are comfortable with the Web that others are similarly empowered. Teaching opportunities are everywhere – today mine was at a swimming pool complex – and my friend was going to go home and try it out.      

Mr. Fisch, I salute you!

In my last post I made reference to the Fischbowl, a blog site written by Karl Fisch. I first heard reference to this site last year when I attended a conference at which Chris Poole was a keynote speaker. He began his speech by showing us ‘Did you know?’, a thought provoking video that had us all hooked. I remember seeing the end credits and seeing the word Fischbowl. I thought this must represent some ‘think tank’ operating out of the U.S. As I started reading more in later months I discovered that Karl Fisch is not some ‘suit’ heading up a ‘think tank’, he’s a teacher at Arapahoe High School in Colorado.  Here’s a bit of what he says on the ‘About this blog’ page;  

The Fischbowl was then conceived as a blog to support our staff development effort. I am the principal “author” of the blog. I’m the Director of Technology at Arapahoe High School(fancy title, but basically means I’m the technology coordinator for the building). In the beginning, the blog was simply a place to “continue the conversations” we had in staff development every two to three weeks, to extend the discussions beyond the time we had face to face. As the year progressed, I started to post more to the blog about relevant educational issues, new technologies, and whatever else I thought might be related and thought-provoking for our teachers, even if it didn’t directly relate to what we had just talked about in staff development.

I’m in awe of what Karl Fisch has managed to achieve and would recommend that you check out The Fischbowl. Karl’s ‘Did you know’ video has been widely circulated and has become what is referred to as a ‘viral video’ because of it’s spread. Below is an updated version of the video that was inspired by Karl’s initial powerpoint video he created for a staff professional development session at the start of the school year.

Another great video to watch that Karl has developed is ‘2020 Vision’. In this video his slides reflect on the graduating class of the year 2020 and how they have been affected by changes in technology.  Obviously it’s a lot of prediction, but I couldn’t stop but think, ‘Yeah, that just might be possible.’ It’s reasonably long (16 mins or so) but definitely worth watching.

  Once again Mr. Fisch, I salute you!

Innovation with the world in mind.

I saw this YouTube video on Karl Fisch’s Fischbowl site. It’s a brilliant design – a bike that stores water and filters it while the rider pedals to their destination. As is explained in the video, many people in underdeveloped communities have to walk long distances to water sources.The Aquaduct: Mobile Filtration Vehicle would save many people from back breaking work and enable them to store their water in a secure device avoiding the possibility of contamination. This bike was the winner in the ‘Innovate or Die Pedal Powered Machine Contest’ sponsored by Specialised and Google.  102 entries were received in this contest, all with the aim of ‘cooling the planet and bettering lives’.  Humanities/Sose teachers could use the video as a prompt for discussion at the start of the school year. It would also be a good teaching tool for design classes. I’d use it in an English class as a writing prompt for a journal entry.The best use of all would be if some philanthropist out there (or some mega-rich company like Google who sponsored the competition!) got behind this idea and manufactured these vehicles for deserving communities. Now wouldn’t that be something!

Social networking help when you need it!

Steve Campion has a site called Library Stream (so-called because of the flow of ideas coming from the site – clever, huh!) This is what he says on his ‘about me’ page;

‘I’m the system trainer at a large public library system in the Pacific Northwest, a teacher of social web literacy since 2006, an advocate for integrating social software into the dialog with our public, and a voracious reader. I hope I can marshal all those hats into an interesting blog so that LibraryStream can contribute to the discussion about social software, training matters, and library issues in general. I’ll probably post book reviews and attempt humor from time to time, too.’

This site does just what he says and is worth looking at. If you’re new to social tools like flickr, delicious, wikis etc then it’s worth reading Steve’s explanatory posts. They’re very straight forward and allow readers to work through ‘a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web’. You don’t have to be a Library staff member to learn about these things – all educators will find these tools useful.

Passing it on – the power of the Web

Will Richardson has posted this video called ‘How it all ends’ on his site. He found it at Chris Lehmann’s site. It’s a Science teacher’s attempt to explain the debate surrounding global warming and what we should be doing about it. Another example of the power of YouTube to enable us ordinary joes to gain a voice and be heard. The message here is clear – pass it on. Your science teachers could find this a valuable teaching tool when addressing Global Warming issues.

YouTube: handy tools

I just love YouTube. Sure, it’s got some iffy content, but there is also a wealth of fantastic content that we can use in our classrooms as impetus material. I love the fact that the videos are often less than five minutes and can be used to springboard class discussion. I use keepvid to convert the videos to flv files that can be saved to my hard drive. (I’ve downloaded a free flv player from the keepvid site) This ensures that I can play the videos without having to worry about loading problems or blocks.

Jim Gates at Tipline  has written a post with a link to Digital Inspiration. There you can find a set of YouTube tools that are incredibly useful and yet very simple. I’ll be trying out Scenemaker.net where you can select specific scenes of a YouTube video by defining the in and out points.

Just for a bit of fun have a look at the hahaha video from YouTube. This would lighten any classroom – we all need a good laugh sometimes!