I'm participating in a MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) put on by Mozilla called "Teach the Web" for the next couple of months. It seems like a good way to get exposed to new tools and new approaches to teaching digital literacies to our youth at the Academy and beyond.
This week's assignment is to blog about one of several prompts. The one I have chosen is :
What is the advantage of making as learning over traditional “forward facing” pedagogies? Disadvantages?
As someone coming at the Maker Movement as mostly an outsider, I'm perhaps not the best person to respond to this prompt. That said, I have implemented a number of maker experiences in youth programs I have run, and done a small number of Maker / DIY / craft projects of my own over the years.
One of the advantages of making as learning that I observe is the kind of "lean in" engagement I experience and see in young people when doing a maker project. They are totally focused and on-task when they have decided to create something, to the exclusion of all outside input and realities. They get to be in a "flow state" where time is experienced differently, and the entire universe collapses into the one activity and goal.
Yesterday, a group of our science teens at the Cal Academy of Sciences got to talk with Jeroen Lapre, senior technical leader in the Morrison Planetarium here. Before Jeroen came to the Academy, he spent many years working in digital effects for the film industry, specifically Industrial Light and Magic. He worked on such tiny, little known projects as "Star Wars" episodes 1-3.
One of the neatest parts of Jeroen's talk was his description of an independent film project that he has been working on for a long time: "Maelstrom II." Based on a short story by Arthur C. Clarke, "Maelstrom II" tells the "near future" story of one lone technician trapped in a damaged space vehicle in a degrading orbit around the moon.
Today is the official launch of our newest exhibit at the Cal Academy of Sciences: Human Odyssey. I've only spent about 30 minutes in the exhibit, and I've already learned a lot more about human evolution.
If you thought you understood humanity's evolutionary journey, consider these questions:
What is the different between a "hominid" and a "homonin"?
When did homo sapiens decline to just 20,000 people?
What adaptations led us to be the only surviving species of the "homo" genus?
Why is there more genetic diversity among Africans than among any other group in the world?
Are we continuing to evolve as a species?
You will get answers to these important questions and more at our latest exhibit "Human Odyssey."
Among the neat features of the exhibit:
an articulated model of "Lucy", the famous fossil of the Australopithecus afarensis species
an animation showing the different walking gaits of a chimpanzee, Lucy and homo sapiens
an interactive digital map showing humanity's journey across Africa and to the other continents over 200,000 years
data from the latest research from the field from anthropologists, including our own Dr. Zeray Alemseged
Check it out at the Cal Academy during the day or during our popular "Nightlife" events every Thursday.
The Earth only seems static and immovable because we live such pathetically short lives. In geologic time, the Earth is always in motion: continents skate and twist, collide and separate, split and suture over millions of years. It's a beautiful, imperceptible dance that never ends.
But how do we know that this is what happened? Much of this story is told through the fossil record of animals and plants that share common genetic traits that can be traced across those continents and sub-continents that were once one large land mass. It's an important story that connects us to our past and the past of our planet and its other species.
The new "Connect the Continents" interactive game is our latest addition to the "Earthquake" exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences. Designed to be a multi-player experience, the game challenges players to reconstruct how the continents and subcontinents of Antarctica, South America, Africa, Australia and India were once connected as the supercontinent Gondwana. Players use five mounted iPads to control one of five of the land masses, swiping and twisting to get their continent to match up with the other ones.
Yesterday, I finally got assigned a much-coveted bike locker from the office lottery here at the California Academy of Sciences. The fact that we have so much demand for these bike lockers, even with ample standard bike parking, shows our staff's commitment to green transportation.
Reportedly, about 75% of the Academy's roughly 500 staff people take some form of alternate transportation to get to work -- bus, train, biking, or walking. Partly that is due to the difficulties of driving and parking in San Francisco, and the Bay Area's excellent transit system. But also I think it reflects our staff's commitment to a greener world.
The Cal Academy is the greenest museum in the world, a LEED platinum-rated building. That refers to our building materials, water savings, and energy efficiency, among other factors. But beyond the building itself, we as a staff are encouraged to do our business in environmentally responsible ways. We do this in big and small ways, one of which is limiting the use of cars for daily transport to work.
Visitors to the Academy as well are encouraged to use alternative transportation. If you walk, bike or take public transportation, you get $3 off of admission. You can get two Mission tacos for that! Plus, you get to bike through the gorgeous Golden Gate Park.
Our staff bike culture is just one of the little things that makes working at the Academy satisfying. Not only am I at a world-class natural history museum, aquarium and planetarium. But I am also in an institution actively trying to make a difference in the world.
For awhile now I have been toying around with "TheBlu," a virtual ocean environment. The creators describe "TheBlu" as "the world's first social digital ocean you can download, explore and share." Essentially it's an interactive screensaver composed of different ocean environments that is populated by marine life created by digital artists from around the world.
As a digital art experience, TheBlu is quite beautiful and mermerizing. The versimillitude of the ocean, animal and plant life interacting is very well done, particularly for freeware that runs on most decent computer systems. The quiet music, gentle audio cues, and swaying camera combine to make TheBlu a calming and meditative experience.
That said, there isn't much to do in TheBlu. As a veteran of virtual worlds and digital games, I want to explore all of the lush ocean environments like a scuba diver. Instead you are limited to changing camera views and clicking on the different marine animals you encounter. I guess that wasn't the kind of interaction the makers of TheBlu wanted to support in their virtual environment, but it bothers me every time.
For the next five days, I'll be in Columbus, Ohio for the annual conference of the Association of Science-Technology Centers, or ASTC for short. ASTC gathers nearly 2,000 professionals from science centers and museums from around the world.
I'm looking forward to learning about all of the work being done by science centers and museums from all over, and networking with people running these projects. Looks like the Bay Area museum and science center community will be well represented: I've already met a couple on the plane ride over here.
Meanwhile, I've never been to Columbus before. Any recommendations of what to see, do or eat?