More On The Drama Of Science

This perhaps falls between a collection of news items and an extension of yesterday’s post.

As seems to be customary with all AAAS events, news of them drips out for weeks and months after.  There’s an article in Scientific American on Alan Alda’s keynote presentation from the February meeting in Chicago.  If you’re already familiar with the science communicator career Alda has built over the last 2 decades, you can skip the first section of the article and get to the speech.

Relating directly to yesterday’s post about the theater show, Alda demonstrates how simple actions can be compelling to watch if the stakes are significant – and understood by the audience.  Explicitly linking the risks and/or rewards of the experiment/research/engineering project to the doing of that activity can help grab and keep an audience’s attention.

Another approach is seen in the Intergalactic Travel Bureau, a touring group educating the public on space tourism.  (It’s Kickstarter campaign has just been funded, so please disregard the pleas for money.)  It’s putting the audience in the imagined future that they want to have happen, and demonstrating the benefits they see.

If you’d like to try this for yourself, check out the recently announced science fiction contest by Issues in Science and Technology.  Treatments are due June 1, with semi-finalists given 3 months to write the 2,500 to 5,000 words.

The Drama Of Experiments

The Science Museum in London has just started this year’s run of The Energy Show, a theatrical production targeted at kids.  It will soon tour England and Wales (H/T BBC News).

The premise of the show requires the protagonists perform a series of science demonstrations to resolve the conflict of the show.  Imagine an episode of MythBusters where confirming (or busting) a myth provided a reward or surmounted an obstacle that prevented any of the Fantastic Five from meeting their goal.  Heck, the finale of the MacGyver special fits this bill – except in The Energy Show there are explosions.

This entertainment model could well work elsewhere.  Heck, I’d argue it’s an important element of two touring shows – the MythBusters Behind the Myths Tour and Alton Brown’s Edible Inevitable Tour.  And those shows are kid-friendly, but not targeted to them.  Cost may be the only thing making it tough to do too many of these productions.  That’s a shame.

Late To The Wolkenfeld Party

On the March 8 edition of the radio program, Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, an interesting song was used to bridge segments (it ran between Limericks and Lightning Fill in the Blank).  It’s called “I’m A Virus,” and it was in the show due to the recent news of the virus recently revived in Siberia.

The song was created in 2012 by Glenn Wolkenfeld, a science teacher who has been using music in his work since the 1980s.  His website may be called sciencemusicvideos but it’s a more comprehensive collection of his educational thoughts and materials.  It’s worth your time.

More On The World Science U

A little later than originally expected, World Science U went live earlier today.  As Brian Greene described in earlier press reports, there are just two courses available at the moment:

  • Space, Time and Einstein – a short course on special relativity. It doesn’t require a formal mathematics or physics background, and can be completed over 2-3 weeks.
  • Special Relativity – a longer university-level course involving the math and physics background you might expect.  The course could be completed over an 8-10 week span.

Both the Short Courses and University Courses can be completed at the learner’s own pace.  Even the short courses are intended to be interactive, with demonstrations, discussion fora, live discussions, lecture and review videos, and office hours.  The University Courses also include exercises, problems, and exams.  Certificates will be available for the University Courses for those who complete at least 75 percent of the course elements.

There are also hundreds of short videos available answering questions on a variety of topics.  You do not need to register  to view the videos (part of the Science Unplugged section of World Science U), but you will need to register (all you need are a name and email address) to participate in the courses.

Four additional courses are currently in development, two focusing on general relativity and two on quantum mechanics (a Short Course and a University Course are developed for each topic).  More courses should be rolled out over the coming months, especially as additional faculty join the effort.

If you’ve read this far, and still aren’t convinced, take a look at this promotional video.

Science Games: Two Different Ways Of Finding Efficient Transportation

Take a look at two games that simulate transportation systems.  One is already available on your mobile operating systems of choice, but another is not quite there.

Osmos is already a popular game (it’s been out since 2010).  There is a free demo, and the full game is available for $10.  It’s a physics-based simulator, with 8 different worlds where the player must try and grow by absorbing other objects.  But every move requires a loss of mass, so trajectories must be well planned in order to keep playing.  Game founder Eddy Boxerman spoke with Nautilus about the game, and I think what comes across clearest in the discussion is how the same physics requires different thinking depending on the scale in which you play.

Another simulation game worth diving into is Mini Metro. It’s not yet available outside of a web-browser version in alpha. The idea is to figure out how to build a subway system that optimally serves its city.  The game becomes more complicated as the city grows.  Can you help the subway evolve to keep the trains on time?

Weekend Science Video Goodness: MythBusters And Black Holes

As part of the finale for the current batch of new MythBusters episodes, Discovery released a video put together by melodysheep, the force behind the Symphony of Science.  It’s not (at least at the moment) available outside of the MythBusters website, so no embedding.  Maybe later.

Coma Niddy continues to produce science videos, a combination of demonstrations and rap explanations.  His latest include a two-part series on black holes.  The second part mentions the recent remarks by Stephen Hawking where he revises his earlier thinking on the subject.

White House Film Festival Promotes Educational Technology

Earlier today, in partnership with the American Film Institute, the White House hosted a film festivalAnnounced last November, the festival theme was technology in schools.  Over 2500 entries were submitted from students at the elementary, middle and high school levels.  16 Official Selections were screened at the White House, and over 100 other films received Honorable Mention.  The President took the opportunity to promote his ConnectED initiative, which is intended to expand the number of schools with access to next-generation, high-speed Internet access.

As this photo suggests, there were some special guests in attendance.  Actor (and occasional White House aide) Kal Penn joined Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Conan O’Brien had a video message for the filmmakers.  You can watch all of the Official Selection and Honorable Mention films online.

It’s worth noting that one of the Official Selections was made by Kayla Briet, who was the Runner-Up in the recent Stand Up for Science contest organized by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.  She also composed the music involved in her video submissions, so she’s probably more talented than you imagined.

Brian Greene Kicks Off World Science U Online

Last Tuesday (February 18) Brian Greene stopped by The Colbert Report.  The theoretical physicist and best known string theorist was promoting the forthcoming launch of World Science U.  This is an online education venture where students can take science classes – for free.  The doors are almost open, and the promotional video suggests that Greene’s enthusiasm will be part of the experience – certainly when he’s teaching.

Greene will teach two courses, both on special relativity.  One course is geared toward those who aren’t mathematically inclined, while the other will presume some familiarity with math.  While the promotional video suggests the courses are strictly online lectures, this Columbia Spectator article indicates the courses will include exercises and assessments that are part of the massive open online course model called a MOOC.

The first courses will start on March 6, and Greene hopes to attract students from a variety of backgrounds.  Like many other online educational offerings, Greene expects students could be looking to augment their other courses, to learn about the subject, or to fill in a course need for which they may not have the needed resources where they are.

World Science U is an outgrowth, at least in part, of the World Science Festival, which Greene co-founded.  Hopefully the Festival and the U can build each other up.  A possible first step would be to funnel more Festival participants into the U.  Regardless of what first step is eventually taken, the sooner the U stops resembling Brian Greene’s personal lecture channel, the better chance it has of thriving in its own right.

Yes You Can Play A Science Game

Since this week’s posts have been heavy on science entertainment, why not continue.

The National Science Foundation is hosting a webinar on February 21 called Designing Games for Scientific Participation.  Kurt Squire from the University of Wisconsin-Madison will discuss his research on designing online environments for science learning.  Squire is also part of the Learning Games Network, a non-profit learning games studio.

Cancer Research UK has a mobile game called Play to Cure: Genes in Space (H/T Popular Science).  The game is designed to help analyze cancer data through what appears to be a space shooter game.  The path the player maps for the ship is used to help assess DNA microarray data

The game is available for download (gratis) at the major app stores.

This Is Our Salute (To Darwin)

Today is Darwin Day, more notably commemorated in the U.K. than in the U.S., there are still some modest celebrations of Charles Darwin, born 205 years ago.

Representative Rush Holt introduced this year’s congressional resolution to designate February 12 as Darwin Day.  It’s failure to advance in time is certainly consistent with the typical effort of Congress to avoid passing much of anything, even wind.  That said, there are a couple of paragraphs that draw focus away from Darwin’s accomplishments.

On to the music.  The Symphony of Science opted to mark the day by putting some of Bill Nye’s recent remarks during his recent ‘debate’ with a young earth creationist to music.  It’s light on the auto-tune, and called “The Joy of Discovery.”

Going back to the beginning, at least for this part of his work, Baba Brinkman has a new rap honoring Charles Darwin. Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Evolution was developed to recognize Darwin’s birthday, and this new piece was as well.

Saa-lute!