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Science and Art video conferences by the Cleveland Museum of Art

June 12, 2014

After an inspiring time at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History I headed over to the Cleveland Museum of Art to visit Dale Hilton and her distance education team. The Cleveland Museum of Art holds a fantastic array of collections from Egyptian exhibitions and Roman relics to medieval weaponry and renaissance tapestries all the way through to contemporary photography… you could spend a very long time here! Through Dale the museum has been prolific in its digital outreach and has been doing so since 1999. With variety of art, history, language and STEM workshops the museum easily reaches 500 connections per year to schools throughout the USA and beyond.

Cleveland Museum of Art

Cleveland Museum of Art

One of the reasons I wanted to visit was to find out how the museum mixes art and science in a video conference setting. In teacher professional development sessions I’ve often argued that science doesn’t have to be run by itself and that mixing it up produces richer meaning for students; it was great to see this in action! Using the on-hand artifacts, a document camera and a chroma-key the remote students can explore STEM outcomes such as the water cycle, rock cycle origami and tile tessellations and still connect with core artistic messages of the museum. One of my favourites is the simple machines lesson whereby the museum educator discusses medieval trebuchets and ballistae and has the connected students create their own mini-catapult!

Where possible the Cleveland Museum of Art connects with in-house experts on art curation and preservation, discussing the chemical treatment needed to bring artwork to showroom quality. The team has also run video conferences for the visually impaired whereby tactile materials such as pottery & Travertine are sent to students for them to describe in detail. Such programs are highly rewarding for the museum presenters, the school teachers and participating students as it encourages strong communication and descriptive skills; in fact all three groups learn from each other as they share their own experiences and perspectives.

Whilst at the museum I got to watch a video conference on ‘Knights, Castle & Kings‘ which was presented by Arielle Levin with technical support by Kevin Kelly at the A/V mixing desk. Arielle presented in front of a green screen whilst a variety of artworks and animations were portrayed to the remote site. The context of the lesson was in linking the artworks to the lifestyles and beliefs of the middle ages with Arielle constantly interacting with students throughout. The animated introduction using Google Earth as a world view zooming into walking through the galleries was a nice touch!

Arielle and Kevin presenting Knights, Castle & Kings video conference

Arielle and Kevin presenting Knights, Castle & Kings video conference

A major highlight of the visit was when Dale asked me to join her new intern in viewing several pieces of 500 year old European armour. Donning white gloves I was lucky enough to carefully hold plate steel gauntlets, a chest plate, a crossbow shaft  and a full visor helmet. Certainly not what I expected but very much appreciated! The pieces were part of the Art to Go outreach program, an outreach program designed to get museum exhibitions to schools throughout Ohio.

Holding 500 year old armour!

Holding 500 year old armour!

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Cleveland. Unfortunately I ran out of time to visit the Rock Hall and the Pro Football Hall of Fame but I will catch up with them after this Churchill Fellowship. My next stop will be Rochester, New York to visit the Monroe #1 BOCES team as they present video conferences for both the Challenger Learning Center and the Bathysphere Underwater Biological Laboratory. So much more to see and do! Looking forward to it 🙂

All the best,

Ben

Distance learning at Cleveland Museum of Natural History

June 11, 2014

On leaving Indianapolis I dropped into Cleveland to visit a hive of activity in the video conferencing world. Nestled on the shoes of Lake Erie, Cleveland is home to a variety of cultural institutions that run distance learning IVC programs including the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Rock Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Cleveland Museum of Natural History

My first stop was with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, situated within the University Circle district not far from downtown Cleveland. On entering the building I was greeted by Lee Gambol, an exuberant and knowledgeable science presenter who spearheads over 30 video conference science programs and also runs outreach sessions plus the popular summer camps at the site. Walking toward the distance learning room I couldn’t help but be excited as we walked past Lucy, the remains of an ancient hominid found in Africa that I had only read about in textbooks. The museum also houses a variety of marine fossils that are found in the 350 – 400 million year old Cleveland shale, the famous of which would be Dunkleosteus which was a massive 30ft apex predator that preyed within the Devonian seas.

Lee Gambol holding a cast of Dunkleosteus jaw

Lee Gambol holding a cast of Dunkleosteus jaw

Having such a large variety of distance education programs requires a fair amount of coordination; the museum interacts with over 500 distance classes each year with the majority of them being 1:1 sessions. Nearly all of the programs are supported by boxes of equipment sent out prior to the lesson and used as interactive materials for the students to use. We discussed several programs, including the Devonian fossils, the sexual health program for high school students, geology, climate and the just senseless senses workshop for younger students. A unique program run is that surrounding Balto, a Alaskan sled dog famous for leading a team of dogs to deliver diphtheria medicine to the Alaskan district of Nome in 1925 (the famous Iditarod race is based loosely around this delivery).

Vinnie-cam in the distance learning room!

Vinnie-cam in the distance learning room!

Time was made for a VC chat with the East Ohio Educational Service Center which in itself is a content provider of video conferencing sessions. The school district runs 14 sessions to students across the USA. The district also bring in mandarin speaking teachers from China to run distance lessons to schools throughout the district. Lee also took me to her former haunt at the Great Lakes Science Centre which houses the lander from the 1973 Skylab 3 Apollo Program in the NASA Glen Vistor Center and has a large variety of hands on exhibits that would engage even the most recalcitrant teenager. As the museum is directly adjacent to the lake the ship William G. Mather is docked to support an exhibit to the science of steam and environmental conservation efforts on the lake. We also spent some time at a Cleveland must for gastronomical delights; ‘Melts‘, famous for great tasting subs and for appearing on Man vs. Food 🙂

Skylab 3 Apollo Lander

Skylab 3 Apollo Lander

The next entry will on the Cleveland Museum of Art, the next stop on this Winston Churchill Fellowship.
Science and art? Absolutely!

Catch you on the next round,

Ben

Nina Mason Pulliam Ecolab

June 8, 2014

Following my visit to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum I dropped by the Nina Mason Pulliam Ecolab. Situated in Marian University, the NMP Ecolab is designed as a living laboratory for local students to study the ecology of the Indiana prairie’s, woodlands and freshwater streams. Wandering the network of trails along the site you could almost forget that you were 15 minutes from downtown Indianapolis, especially looking across the lagoon and into the forest.

NIna Mason Puliam Ecolab at Marian University

Throughout the NMP Ecolab there are markers for students to take note of the surrounding topography and biota. I liked the addition of signs that detail the carbon soaked up by the canopy trees as well as interpretive signs indicating the presence of local fauna species.

Lagoon in the Nina Mason Pulliam Ecolab

Lagoon in the Nina Mason Pulliam Ecolab

The Nina Mason Pulliam Ecolab also runs video conferencing from a dedicated workshop room next to the natural landscape. A large variety of science education services are offered for remote school sites, whereby 22 video conferences ranging from 5 senses human body workshops for kindergarten students to ecological investigations, forensics and genetics for students up to grade 12 are available.The strength of the video conferencing lies in the interactivity; classes are sent materials to interact with which means the distance lesson is not a ‘talking head’. The dissections can be guided by a document camera and experiments are shown up and close wherever possible.

Being on the grounds of a University the NMP Ecolab is able to draw on local experts for focused video conference sessions with older students. Speaking with Janice, the director of the NMP Ecolab, she recalls how a visiting cancer researcher visiting the University on a Vera Bradley scholarship spoke with high school students to talking about her research, future University career pathways that students could take as well as guidance on healthy living. Again, this highlights the strength of video conferencing for schools to access experts with great ease.

Skull comparisons at the Ecolab

Skull comparisons at the Ecolab

The NMP Ecolab also offers a variety of summer STEM camps, whereby local kids spend the day with educators to learn hands on experiments such as dissections, bird spotting, chemistry and physics. I spent some time with the local team as they prepared for this summer’s influx of kids. It was fun contributing to the brainstorming of lessons as well as join in on the role play scenarios that allowed educators to look at best practices for classroom management – I got to be the Aussies kid being bullied! Some lighthearted fun, especially when we debated the merits of metric system 🙂

My visit to the Nina Mason Pulliam Ecolab wraps up this leg of the journey around North America for my Winston Churchill Fellowship. Next up will be a visit to Cleveland to visit the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Cleveland Museum of Art. A lot more to learn, this trip is not over by a long stretch!

All the best,

Ben

Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

June 7, 2014

Whilst in Indianapolis I was able to check out the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis , the world’s largest children’s museum not far from the city centre. As you approach the building you definitely know you’re in the right place as full size dinosaurs smash out of the building as a giant Bumblebee robot from the Transformers franchise stands guard within the foyer.

Dinosaurs busting out of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Set up over 6 levels, the children’s museum aims to get kids involved at every level. Role playing is encouraged in a variety of areas be it construction, marine archaeology, or simply making a pretend Chinese banquet for their family. Roaming the site takes some time as each level, even without kids as you try to soak up the detail. I know that if my kids were with me we would have been busy all day!

Interactive coaster in ScienceWorks exhibition area

Interactive coaster in ScienceWorks exhibition area

A fantastic addition to the exhibits was the marine archaeology section “National Geographic: Treasures of the Earth”, where kids can participate in reconstructing lost artifacts, excavate a dig site and wear pretend diving gear. Part of this exhibit included the electrolysis of a cannon and showcases of artifacts such as coins and cannonballs from the Quedagh Merchant wreck of Captain Kidd fame from the 18th century. Just across from the wet labs was a Egyptian tomb complete with hieroglyphics and sarcophagus.

Cannon from the Quedagh Merchant undergoing electrolysis

Cannon from the Quedagh Merchant undergoing electrolysis

The Dinosphere exhibit was fun for kids (who would have thought?!?) with a well thought out series of exhibits of fossils and reconstructions. I especially liked the ability for kids to talk with on-site palaeontologists working with a bones through a window into the preparatory lab. Tucked away upstairs was a section on flight. The addition of aircraft models used by NASA to plan for streamlining in wind tunnels was fascinating. Included on the site was a steam train and railway station in the ‘All Aboard!‘ section and a young kids wishes and dreams section which included sensory materials to interact with and even an operating carousel. Of course the Planetarium was great, not a show but a guided walk through the stars by an educator in the room.

Water clock at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Water clock at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

All in all it was a great to wander the building and appreciate the effort put into the site.
Looking forward to checking out more sites as I continue on this Winston Churchill Fellowship!

Cheers,

Ben

CILC; the heart of North American distance learning

June 6, 2014

After two flights from Alaska I continued my Winston Churchill Fellowship travels toward Indianapolis to visit the heart of North American video conferencing at the Center for Interactive Learning & Collaboration (CILC). Bringing together over 230 content providers, 10,000’s of teachers and over 90 countries the CILC has truly become a center of video conferencing over the past 20 years of operation. On a personal note it was great to catch up with Janet Zanetis who had spent the past couple of years in Australia working with schools and content providers and to finally meet Julia Heighway and Tonia Carriger in person after chatting via VC over the past few years. Through CILC I have been running virtual excursions for Fizzics Education to North American schools, often at 3:00am or similar due to the time differences so it was nice to chat without red eyes and a caffeine headache!

CILC Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration

Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration

CILC provides a multitude of services; professional development for school districts using video conferencing, consultancy to new content providers considering implementing distance learning systems and providing a booking system and evaluative service for schools to confidently seek out interactive lessons provided by cultural institutions. Additionally the CILC allows schools to meet other schools for shared classes on all key learning areas. Students can also create their own content and teach it to remote sites which gives students ownership over their learning, highlighting the age old premise that you cannot truly know your subject unless you can teach it competently to someone else!

It was interesting chatting about the variety of content available on the CILC website and how video conference content providers adapt their specialty into the distance learning environment. Some providers prefer to run distance sessions through traditional conference codecs where as others provide sessions via the cloud based H.323 products that mesh a multitude of hardware platforms. Regardless of the method chosen, the basic challenge remains in keeping the content relevant to the classroom situation. With this several questions must be addressed:

–          How does the learner benefit from the workshop?

–          How is interactivity maximized for the learner? In other words, what do they get to do?

–          How does the lesson address the required National Standards and Common Core standards?

–          Is the lesson pitched at the correct year level?

Schools have the option of booking workshops via a calendar or by requesting a specific time/date from a provider. The provider can offer sessions as a “one off” session or a series of classes as a unit of work. The schools have the option of placing money into a ‘Content Dollar Bank’ which means that classroom teachers can pay for the sessions used from an account created with the CILC, saving on administration issues for the schools as they can plan for their virtual excursions costs up front.

During my visit I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Jack Matheson from Minnesota Historical Society. Running a program called ‘History Live’ the Minnesota Historical Society runs virtual excursions in front of a green screen units from one of their 26 sites that dot the State. Jack was fantastic, going through ten programs  run for schools including historical perspectives on trade, ancient civilizations and military life . An interesting take on history is teaching the scientific method through discussions on historic inventors from Minnesota. Students can pole their answers into the session using their computers or tablets as well as create speech for cartoons of historical characters, the best answers being are placed onto the main green screen for students to see. Highly interactive and full of energy, the sessions clearly help teach history in a fun accessible way plus I love the meshing of science into the mix.

History Live video conferences by Minnesota Historical Society

History Live video conferences

In the afternoon there was time to wander downtown Indianapolis. Some great architecture and a beautiful day to walk around.

Courthouse, downtown Indianapolis

Courthouse, downtown Indianapolis

Over the next day’s I’ll pop over to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and the Nina Mason Pulliam Ecolab. Looking forward to seeing more ways of presenting science to the public!

All the best, catch you on the next post!

Ben

Alaska Sealife Centre: marine wildlife video conferences

June 2, 2014

After a visiting the Alaska Zoo the Churchill Fellowship continued down to Seward to visit the Alaska Sealife Centre. Set on the edge of town on the shores of Resurrection Bay, the Alaska Sealife Center specialises in cold water marine animals and is Alaska’s only permanent marine mammal rehabilitation facility. Since commencing video conferencing in 2005 the center has grown a reputation of strong content mixed with solid teaching pedagogy. A highly popular place with tourists, my morning visit was timed perfectly with tour groups arriving from the nearby cruise ship!

Presenting marine science via video conferencing at the Alaska Sealife Center

Presenting marine science via video conferencing

On entering the Center I immediately headed upstairs to meet Darin Trobaugh, a distance education specialist getting ready to run a video conference on Marine Mammals and their Adaptations to some year 4 students on Long Island. We quickly got to work, taking two movable trolleys with distance learning equipment into position at a location that had direct line of sight to a Harbor Seal tank, a Steller Sealion Tank, a marine diving bird tank and a television showing a live feed of a Steller Sea Lion colony on a rocky outcropping on Chiswell Island 35 miles away. This was an interesting video conference for me, not only was the content engaging but it was great to see how Darin handled both the offsite classroom as well as working with the interested public onlookers passing by. To handle the noise within the auditorium Darin used a highly effective headset microphone and ear pieces, similar to those used by sports broadcasters.

Discussing Harbor Seals to students from Long Island

Discussing Harbor Seals to students from Long Island

The lesson itself was highly interactive with the students. It combined a variety of mediums; live shots from the holding tanks, document camera shots of otter teeth and fur, recorded footage of animal behaviours and student creating models of seals in their room using simple craft materials. Throughout the session the kids were highly engaged and enjoyed interacting not just with the lesson itself but connected on a personal level with Darin, sharing stories about sea kayaking with whales to living near New York. This again highlighted the real strength of educational video conferencing; it is a two-way conversation in real time with a site that students may not ever get to see in person. Not only is it just about a site’s particular content, the educators who run distance lessons have had real experiences with working in the museum/galleries/zoo/aquarium that they are representing. There is a depth of knowledge that students can access just like the expert was in their own classroom, with the lesson changing to fit the questions of the students as what would occur in dynamic classrooms around the globe.

Of course, once the conference was over it was time to roam the site to check out all the exhibits. One of the interesting sections was the quarantine area whereby injured or newly rescued marine animals spend time to be rehabilitated or checked for disease. In the future this area may well have a dedicated camera installed so that remote students can get up close to this section of the Center. As with many education centres there is a strong take home environmental message for visitors. A poignant section was that of the Exxon Valdez oil disaster of March 23, 1989 which still affects ecology along the Alaskan coastline to this day.

Boat marina in Seward, Alaska

Boat marina in Seward, Alaska

I have thoroughly the Alaskan leg of my fellowship study tour. Great people up here plus it is really hard to take your eyes off the mountains and glaciers as you go about the place! I was able to spend some time off checking out Exit Glacier and the townships of Talkeetna and the Whittier. The next leg of this journey will take me off to Indianapolis to visit the heart of North America video conferencing at the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration offices. Whilst there I’ll spend some time at the Nina Mason Pulliam Ecolab and check out the world’s largest Children’s Museum not far from downtown. Lots more to do!

All the best,

Ben

Alaska Zoo: new distance content ready for schools

May 30, 2014

This leg of my Churchill Fellowship dropped me into Anchorage in Alaska to see the Alaska Zoo education team and view what they have been doing to setup their distance education school sessions. Accompanied by Pamela Lloyd from GCI SchoolAccess and my sister, we met Stephanie at the front entrance on a brisk morning keen to check out both the IVC and the animals!

Alaska Zoo

Alaska Zoo

Alaska Zoo, whilst new on the video conference scene, has been running education programs for visitors for over 40 years. The Alaska Zoo is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting conservation of Arctic, sub-Arctic and like climate species through education, research and community enrichment. With assistance from GCI, the zoo now has a mobile distance education trolley that can be wheeled throughout the zoo to access a number of hi-speed wifi hubs placed along the tracks. Over 28 cold climate species are exhibited at Alaska Zoo, many of which that can be seen during an IVC workshop: polar bears, wolves, caribou, snow leopard, moose and more. An extra dimension to these programs is delivering them surrounded by the general public. The educator presenting the lesson therefore has 2 audiences; the on-site people and the remote class. This does not detract from the session but actually enhances it by demonstrating the zoo as a dynamic place that students can visit one one day. Unfortunately there was no school connection on the day of my visit but it was still great to chat about the developing programs and the plans for expansion of the zoo.

There are plans to install a purpose built video conference room complete with a green screen, sound proofing and document camera. This will enable conferencing on wet weather days and add an extra dimension to the sessions already offered. There is also an opportunity to connect with the quarantine section which means students will be able to see newly arrived animals and get behind the scenes of a working zoo.As the sessions develop they will become available for students to view through the Center for Interactive Learning & Collaboration.

As the Churchill fellowship progresses I cannot help but reflect on the dedication and passion of staff involved in distance education. Many of the education staff in these institutions squeeze the design of video conference programs into what little spare time they have. Putting together a new distance program can seem daunting but education staff always seem to take it in their stride. Consistently the focus of the IVC programs is on the learner in terms of what they will take from session and how the lesson structure can support interactivity. I very much appreciate Stephanie taking the time to show me around as the zoo, especially with the recent arrival of orphaned wolves from the ongoing fires in the region and therefore the huge media interest and subsequent business!

With a final look around the zoo it was time to move onto the next site. The next visit will be across to the Alaska Sealife Centre in Seward, a site that has been video conferencing since 2005 and is well known in the distance learning community. Not too far, just a short 2 hour drive through some spectacular mountain scenery through the Kenai Fjords National Park. I’ll just have to keep an eye out for moose crossing the highway – there are so many in Anchorage!

Catch you on the next entry 🙂

Ben

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