Gaming STEM in Humanities Courses

I did a presentation last month titled "Gaming STEM in Humanities Courses" at the NJEDge Faculty Best Practices Showcase

I talked about using serious games, primarily the Web Adventures series developed by Rice University, as a way to increase students’ science knowledge and to inspire science-related careers. I was interested in “gaming” these STEM programs for teaching humanities courses.

I used the Web Adventures in several courses, but I particularly liked using it in an undergraduate critical thinking course. Take a look at the slides from the presentation.





 


Animating Hair Is a Lesson in STEAM

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I am a proponent of the concept of teaching in a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) framework that goes across disciplines. I have seen many attempts to use science and math in teaching art - some successful, some not.

A new project that does this in an engaging way is a collaboration between Pixar Animation Studios and Khan Academy that is sponsored by Disney. Called "Pixar in a Box," it gives a look behind-the-scenes at how artists at Pixar need to use STEM to make art.

To make balls bounce, leaves in trees move in the wind, fireworks explode or realistic rippling water takes more than drawing skills. It requires computer skills and considerations of math, science such as physics and digital humanities.



In this learning series of videos on simulations, the Pixar artists use hair as an example of an animation problem that needed to be solved. Using examples from their films, such as the character Merida in Brave with her bouncy and curly hair, you learn how millions of hairs can be simulated if you think of them as being a huge system of springs.

As the lessons progress, you can learn about animation roles and will discover what a technical director does in the animation process.

The lessons are appropriate for grades 5 and up - though I can see many adults and younger kids interested in animation from a technical or artistic side enjoying the free series.


Major Money

moneyWith all the talk about alternatives to the degree and open education, we still have 70% of American high school graduates enrolling in college. You would hope that the major they choose are not based solely on money, but salaries are not only important to students but have been important marketing tools for colleges.

The job site Glassdoor did  an analysis of nearly 500,000 resumes and salary reports they hold for their job-seeking users and came up with a ranking of the 50 majors that pay the most during the first five years out of college.

The top ten majors range in salaries from $70,000-58,000.

1. Computer Science

2. Electrical Engineering

3. Mechanical Engineering

4. Chemical Engineering

5. Industrial Engineering

6. Information Technology

7. Civil Engineering

8. Statistics

9. Nursing

10. Management Information Systems

Do you see a theme in the top 10? Yes, STEM majors take most of the top spots. They also point to likely entry-level positions, such as for #6 IT being a programmer analyst, technical support and systems engineer. Social Work comes in at #49 with a  median base salary of  $41,656. Biology slips in at #50 at $41,250 for entry-level jobs like lab assistant or paramedic, Education (K12 teachers) comes in at #41.

 


A 16mm Education

16mm projectorMy elementary school days were the 1960s and back then seeing a film in class was a big deal. Those 16mm educational films often left a bigger impression on me than the books and lessons. A decade or so later and I was the teacher in the classroom and I became very good at threading those old 16mm projectors that often ate up the film.

Television as an educational tool was pretty rare. I recall my fellow students sitting on the floor of the gym in 1962 to watch one small television set as John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.

A bit more than a decade later I was threading one of those 16mm projectors as a teacher to show my students films. Some teachers took advantage of using films a bit too often. We called them "plans in a can" and they were popular emergency plans in case you were absent without warning or on a day before vacation.

I was pretty frugal in my use of films, but I also taught a course on film and video production, so I think I had legitimate reasons to show films. Before there were home video players, 16mm films were the only way to do it.

The Sony Betamax hit the U.S. in 1975, and my school bought a VHS videocassette recorder (VCR) in 1977 when it was edging out the Betamax for the home video market. That VCR was something I used more and more, though my students were still shooting their own video on reel-to-reel VTRs (videotape recorders).

Sony changed that with their 1983 Betamovie cassette camcorder. My school bought a full size VHS camcorder and so did I. My first home movies of my newborn son were recorded with a video camera plugged into a VHS deck.

But I have very fond and surprisingly vivid memories of those old 16mm films that I saw a s a kid in school.

Many of them have emerged online. I assume that many of these films have had their copyright lapse, or maybe the companies that produced them have gone out of business or just don't care about their use any more.

I recall this film on "Lunchroom Manners" as one I saw in school. I also recall Pee Wee Herman using part of it in one of his shows. Watching "Mr. Bungle" in school settings today reminds me of my own school and the kids look like a lot I did then and my fellow students. Since I have no film and video of my own early days, these are like home movies.







I can imagine teachers in the late 1940s and 1950s showing in a health class films like the 1951  "Going Steady." (It doesn't portray going steady as a good idea.) And I'm not sure how teenagers in 1949 would have viewed the tips in Dating Do's and Don'ts. These were made by Coronet Instructional Films, which produced hundreds of films for the school market.

Public domain films from the Library of Congress Prelinger Archive and Archive.org can be a real trip down memory lane for people who came of age in the 1940s through the 1970s.

But the films I saw in school that left the biggest impression on me were the ones about science. Many of them were well made and from Hollywood producers and studios. I vividly recall "Our Mr. Sun," a film directed by Frank Capra who is best known for It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and many others.





That film launched the Bell System Science series. My father worked at Bell Labs in New Jersey then, so I thought then that he might have had some vague connection to these films (he didn't). It was the time time of the space race with Russia and an early version of STEM education that we all needed to know more about science. My father was determined I would be the first in the family to attend college and really wanted me to become an engineer.

With animation and live action, "Our Mr. Sun" was really well-made for the time. Capra had been producing documentaries for the Army during WWII such as the Why We Fight series and this documentary side business continued after the war. I know I saw that film multiple times in school, but this Technicolor beauty was originally telecast in 1956 and 1957 to 9 million homes and then some 600 16mm prints were distributed to schools and community organizations through the Bell Telephone System film libraries.

Another film I recall was on the atom. I grew up in that "atomic age" when the fear of nuclear war was very real. The film I recall was produced by Walt Disney Educational Media. Walt Disney began hosting his own television show for ABC in 1954. In exchange for a weekly hour-long Disney television program, ABC was funding some of the construction of Disneyland. The show was originally named Disneyland but went through later incarnations as Walt Disney Presents, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, The Wonderful World of Disney etc. All in all they ran for an amazing 54 years.

The "Our Friend the Atom" was a pro-nuclear energy film but it did compare atomic energy to a genie in a bottle, both of which are capable of doing good and evil.







Not all the films were about hard science and another one I recall must have had some impact on my decision to go into the humanities and major in English. Another from the Bell Science series produced by Frank Capra was "Alphabet Conspiracy" which was the story of the science of language and linguistics. The premise was a plot to destroy the alphabet and all language and it featured the very odd Hans Conried.

The growth of television after WWII scared many parents and educators. Kids were watching a lot of TV and, like film and comic books before it, the fear was that it would rot their minds. The same cry was heard with videogames, the Internet and now with smartphones, which contain all those formats.

I wrote my Master's thesis on the influence of television on children in regard to violence and isolation. There is no doubt that all this media influenced several generations, but I'm not sure that it rotted any brains. I suspect it inspired many kids.



This post first appeared at One-Page Schoolhouse


Listening to Wikipedia


visualscreenshot of the hatnote visualization of Wikipedia edits



There is a wonderful STEAMy mashup application online that lets you listen to the edits being made right now on Wikipedia. How? It assigns sounds to the edits being made. If someone makes an addition, it plays a bell. It someone makes a subtraction from an entry, you'll hear a string plucked. The pitch changes according to the size of the edit - the larger the edit, the deeper the note.

The result is a pleasantly tranquil random but musical composition that reminds me of some music from Japan and China.

You can also watch recent changes. A the top of the page, green circles show edits being made by unregistered contributors, and purple circles mark edits performed by automated bots. White circles are brought to you by Registered Users.

If you hear  a swelling string sound, it means that a new user has join the site.(You can welcome him or her by clicking the blue banner and adding a note on their talk page.)

You can select a language version of Wikimedia to listen to. When I selected English Wikipedia edits at midday ET, there were about 100 edits per minute resulting in a a slow but steady stream of sound. You can select multiple languages (refresh the page first) if you want to create a cacophony of sounds. You can listen to the very quiet sleeping side of the planet or the busier awake and active side. The developers say that there is something reassuring about knowing that every user makes a noise, every edit has a voice in the roar.

The site is at listen.hatnote.com and the notes there tell us that Hatnote grew out of a 2012 WMF Group hackathon. It is built using D3 and HowlerJS and is is based on BitListen by Maximillian Laumeister. The source code is available on GitHub. It was built by Hatnote, Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi.

Audiation is a term used to refer to comprehension and internal realization of music, or the sensation of an individual hearing or feeling sound when it is not physically present. Musicians previously used terms such as aural perception or aural imagery to describe this concept, though aural imagery would imply a notational component while audiation does not necessarily do so. Edwin Gordon suggests that "audiation is to music what thought is to language," and his research based on similarities between how individuals learn language and how they learn to make and understand music.

As the Hatnote site points out, Wikipedia is a top 10 website worldwide with hundreds of millions of users. It includes more than a dozen actual projects including Wiktionary, Commons, and Wikibooks. It uses more than 280 languages. Perhaps more amazingly, it has only about 200 employees and relies mostly on community support for content, edits - and donations. Compare that business model to other top 100 websites worldwide.

 


The Maker Movement Connects STEM and STEAM

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                      Photo: Dave Jenson - We're working on it!, CC BY-SA 2.0

Maker culture has been growing, but it contains a number of subcultures. For me, maker culture now includes hackerspaces, fab(rication) labs and other spaces that encourage a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach to innovation.

These spaces are found around the world and some probably existed prior to the use of the makerspace label. Like-minded people use these spaces to share ideas, tools, and skills.

Some hackerspaces and makerspaces are found at universities with a technical orientation, such as MIT and Carnegie Mellon. But I have found that many of these spaces are quite closed spaces that are available to only students in particular programs or majors and perhaps not to the entire university community or the wider surrounding community.

So, spaces have also emerged in K-12 schools, public libraries and in the community.

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The NJEDge.Net Faculty Best Practices Showcase is an excellent venue to showcase your work, work-in-progress or posters to the New Jersey Higher Ed and K-12 communities. This month I will be part of a presentation along with Emily Witkowski (Maplewood Public Library) and Danielle Mirliss (Seton Hall University) titled "The Maker Movement Connects STEAM Across New Jersey."  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) gets plenty of attention these days, but this particular conference is focused on teaching innovations in STEAM - that's STEM with the needed addition of the Arts, including language arts and the digital humanities, and drawing on design principles and encouraging creative solutions.

The keynote speaker at the Showcase is Georgette Yakman, founding researcher and creator of ST?@M. The acronym, in this context, represents how the subject areas relate to each other: Science & Technology, interpreted through Engineering & the Arts, all based in Mathematical elements. The A stands for a broad spectrum of the arts going beyond aesthetics to include the liberal arts, folding in Language Arts, Social Studies, Physical Arts, Fine Arts & Music and the ways each shape developments in STEM fields.

The Rhode Island School of Design is a good example of having a STEM to STEAM program and maintains an interactive map that shows global STEAM initiatives. John Maeda, (2008 to 2013 president of Rhode Island School of Design) has been a leader in bringing the initiative to the political forums of educational policy. 

Our Showcase presentation presents three aspects of the maker movement: in classrooms, in libraries and the community, and in higher education. We are part of the NJ Maker Consortium which brings together educators and librarians in K-12 and Higher Ed. The consortium looks to provide local support, networking, and training for individuals working to establish or grow makerspace programs on their schools or library branches.

In 2016, the second annual New Jersey Makers Day has expanded to a two-day event, March 18 and 19. This celebration of maker culture occurs in locations across NJ and connects all-ages at libraries, schools, businesses, and independent makerspaces that support making, tinkering, crafting, manufacturing, and STEM-based learning.