Internet Scout Report ? Best of 2011?2012

The Scout Report
June 5th, 2012 Best of 2011–2012

The Internet Scout staff takes pride in providing links to some of the best online resources in our weekly Scout Report. Although all of the resources we cover are valuable, inevitably some stand out from the pack. In this year's 'Best of' issue, we share some of our favorite sites from the past academic year. The process of choosing which sites to include was not easy, as the interests of our staff vary as much as those of our readers. Whether it is the design of the site, the fascinating content, or its classroom usability, Scout staff all have different rationale for preferring one online resource over another. Nevertheless, we were able to produce a top ten list that we could all agree on.

We hope you enjoy this list, and take a few minutes to revisit some of our favorite sites from 2011–2012. As always, we look forward to providing new batches of fantastic resources throughout the upcoming year.

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Best of 2011–2012

The Walters Art Museum

The tagline for the Walters Art Museum is "What Will You Discover?" and its website offers up a fine mélange of art pieces, along with information about their talks, lectures, and other events. Young people will enjoy the "Waltee's Quest" video game here, which gives them the opportunity to win a virtual gold coin. It's also fun to look over the Works of Art area, as it has a great range of categories to browse through, such as Ancient Americas, Ancient Egypt and Nubia, and Ancient Greece. Here at the Scout Report we found the entire site delightful, and it might inspire a few to make a special trip to Baltimore to visit the museum in person.

Bequeathed to the city of Baltimore in 1931 by Henry Walters, the Walters Art Museum now contains 28,000 works of art spanning 55 centuries. Henry's father, William, started the collection, and first brought his art to the public in the spring of 1874 by opening his home every Wednesday for two months, charging the public 50 cents for admission, and giving the proceeds to charity. The Works of Art tab near the top of the homepage provides multiple ways of viewing the thousands of works of art from the museum that are available online. Many of the pieces are accompanied by detailed descriptions. The Artwork of the Day allows visitors to read about the details of a highlighted piece simply by clicking on its image. Visitors may also view past artworks of the day by clicking on the back arrow above the image. Another way for visitors to see the collection, through the eyes of public curators, is by checking out the Community Collections feature, which shows the collections that people have created themselves from the works of art online. Diamonds, babies, and pointing fingers are some of the themes.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Most people are concerned about threatened species around the world, and the IUCN Red List is a nice way to learn about these animals and plants. The scrolling timeline on the homepage allows users to scroll through the list by Least Concern to Extinct, complete with links to photos and fact sheets. One of the other highlights is the Initiatives area. Here visitors can learn about the ways in which the organization assesses the current status of each species, along with data sets for scientists and others. Amidst all the materials here, visitors shouldn't miss the recent photos of Przewalksi's Horse and the Red Crested Tree Rat.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species conveys information about plant and animal species on its website, and is regarded as "the most comprehensive, objective global approach for evaluating the conservation status of plant and animal species." Visitors will find that the website is divided up into the seven categories they use to classify the threat to plants and animals. The categories are Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, Near Threatened, and Least Concern. Visitors can click on each category to see an alphabetical list of the species, or to search by other criteria. The Photos section has pictures of threatened species by type from 2000–2011. Each photo has a brief paragraph about the state of the species next to it. Visitors shouldn't miss the photos of the Red-Crested Tree Rat, Blessed Poison Frog, or the Violet-Spotted Reef Lobster.

National Science Foundation: Predicting Seasonal Weather

Mark Twain used to say that people always talked about the weather, but no one ever did anything about it. This NSF site on predicting seasonal weather was a Scout Report favorite for a number of reasons, including our perennial bracing for the frosty Wisconsin winter. This site caught our interest by combining tables and visual materials with text in an erudite and accessible way. Also, the section that details the new model of predicting seasonal weather ("Model Accuracy Demonstrated") is a great way to learn about meteorological innovation and discovery. The site links to a nice clutch of classroom resources from the National Science Foundation for those interested in learning more.

Is it possible to predict large-scale seasonal weather patterns? This is one of the research questions that motivates scientists at the National Science Foundation (NSF). This special report from the NSF looks into how atmospheric oscillations from the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the tropics to the Arctic Oscillation (AO) play a "significant part in controlling the weather on a seasonal time scale." This report was written by Cheryl Dybas, and it contains four sections, along with an area with classroom resources. The sections cover new real-time weather forecasts ("A New and Better Way"), the creation of a more effective prediction model ("New Seasonal Forecast Model"), and a demonstration of the new model ("Model Accuracy Demonstrated"). The site is rounded out by the classroom resources which are designed to be used with the charts, maps, and interactive animations featured in the rest of the site.

Torn in Two: 150th Anniversary of Civil War

Many people have planned trips to experience the commemorations surrounding the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and this site is a great resource for getting energized about such an adventure. This virtual exhibit from the Boston Public Library provides photographs, maps, and other ephemera that look into the economic, social, and political differences between the North and South leading up to and during the Civil War. The site includes evocative songs from the war, along with a visual presence that is melancholy in the best way possible. Also, the Timeline area is a fine way to get a sense of those events that were on the hearts and minds of Americans before and after this four year conflict.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, the Boston Public Library has created this new exhibition, "Torn in Two: 150th Anniversary of the Civil War." The in situ exhibit concludes at the end of December 2011, however the interactive features on their site will continue to be available beyond that date. Visitors can get started by following the Take the Virtual Tour link. Here visitors will hear a plaintive song, accompanied by period images and maps. After this brief introduction, visitors can click on the People tab to learn about citizens such as Stephen Hill, a Confederate soldier, and Elizabeth Farnsworth, a Civil War nurse. Moving along, the Places section offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the "state" of each state in the US during the Civil War. Finally, the Timeline offers an interactive chronology of key events (illustrated with maps, photographs, and other documents) before, during, and after the Civil War. The site also includes resources for teachers, including lesson plans and curriculum guides.

University of Idaho Library: The Map Room

What really excited us about the University of Idaho Library's Map Room site was the Google Maps interface that visitors can use to explore the site. The staff members at the Map Room tagged over 8,000 of their photographs so that they linked up to sites all across the Pacific Northwest and beyond. It's fun just to click around on the map to look at photographs spanning a range of subjects from the Little Bighorn battle site to the capital of Wyoming in Cheyenne. Visitors can also use the interface to look for photographs organized by decade or collection. It's a neat way to learn more about the history of this vast region and the site warrants several visits.

The University of Idaho's Map Room has taken digital mashups to an entirely new level with this ambitious project. Their staff members utilized a Google Fusion Table to allow patrons to browse, via location, over 8,000 historical photographs from the University of Idaho Library's digital collections. So far, they have included football programs from their sports collection, the Dworshak Dam collection, and 1,200 images from the Idaho Aerial Photograph collection. First-time visitors will notice that each collection has a different colored marker on the map, and users can zoom in and out to look for items of note. There's a sophisticated and user-friendly interface here that allows users to look for photographs by decade as well. The majority of the images are from Idaho, but there are some intriguing outliers, such as the photograph of the Washburn-Wilson Seed Company plant in Ralston, Nebraska. Free Education

At the Scout Report, we are all about lifelong learning. So when we learned about the Saylor Foundation's website, we were hooked. The website provides access to complete college-level courses in a diverse set of fields, including art history, biology, economics, and mathematics. Visitors can click on each topic area to learn about the course offerings in each discipline. Each subject features a student handbook area, an FAQ section, and a bit of material about each course of study. Additionally, many of the materials are available via iTunes and YouTube.

The tag line of the Saylor website is "Harnessing Technology to Make Education Free." The site is the brainchild of MIT graduate and founder of MicroStrategy, Michael Saylor. Visitors will find that this online education resource is a little different than some other websites that offer free online courses. Although does not grant degrees, students can download a certificate of completion for successfully passing the exam at the end of each course. The setup of the courses offers a more structured approach for those lifelong learners out there, and can even provide a feel for the content of an undergraduate course to students considering or curious about college. There are thirteen areas of study that visitors can choose to explore, including STEM subjects such as Computer Science, Chemistry, and Mechanical Engineering. Each course is peer-reviewed, and visitors can find a list of the faculty from universities and colleges around the world that author the courses can be found in the About Us section, under the Our Trustee & Team link.

Forgotten Detroit

Many of us at the Scout Report are fascinated by cities. Detroit is one of the nation's most intriguing urban centers, and this website explores the good, the bad, and the other of the Motor City. The site brings together hundreds of photographs of storied buildings like the Statler Hotel, the old United Artists movie theater, and the remarkable ruins of the Michigan Central train station. Visitors will note that each section includes a Thoughts area which includes meditations on each building by the site's creator, David Kohrman. The site has been around since 1999, so there's a great deal of material here to consider. Overall, the site offers a dramatic, haunting profile of the urban fortunes of Detroit.

Created and curated by David Kohrman, the Forgotten Detroit website provides the generally curious with a broad range of photographs that document the magnificent structures that are a key part of Detroit's urban fabric. Korhman has a master's degree in historic preservation, and his keen eye is reflected in his documentation of the dozens of buildings profiled here. The photographs here are divided into building types, including Hotels, Theaters, and Office Buildings. The Hotels section is particularly brilliant, as it includes information about the hotel managers, artifacts, and in many cases, a "virtual stay." The virtual stay area allows visitors to enter the mind of a typical traveler coming to the hotel during its heyday, and it's a fascinating way to approach the subject. Visitors should not miss the Misc. Ruins area, as it includes some very dramatic photographs of the long-abandoned Michigan Central railroad station.

Sid Lapidus '59 Collection on Liberty and the American Revolution

Over the past couple of decades, the Internet has facilitated great steps forward in the sharing of old and rare books with the general public. This site, belonging to the Princeton University Digital Library, does just that by featuring this fantastic collection of texts scanned in color and available in full. The user-friendly design combines high-quality images of each page with a navigation system that allows visitors to flip through the books at will. In addition, the scanned format preserves inscriptions and layout, adding a great deal to the experience of reading the text. While most people will not be able to turn the original, delicate pages, this website offers the next best thing and will fascinate teachers, students, history enthusiasts, and bibliophiles.

In 2009, Sid Lapidus, an alumnus of Princeton University, gifted over 150 books, pamphlets, and prints related to the intellectual origins of the American Revolution to the Princeton University Library. The items here also cover the early years of the republic, efforts to abolish the slave trade in Great Britain and the United States, and the Revolution itself. These materials have been digitized and are available on this site. On the left hand side of the site, visitors will find listings of these documents organized by topic, creator, genre, and language. Visitors should not miss the exquisite edition of Thomas Paine's celebrated "The age of reason: being an investigation of true and fabulous theology," printed while Paine was imprisoned in 1794. It is a remarkable collection, and the site also features a link to additional supportive materials for school curricula offered courtesy of the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History.

Science Museum: Brought to Life

Although none of us at the Scout Report hold a medical degree, we found this website from London's Science Museum worth several return trips. The site contains thousands of high-resolution images, from the rather puzzling stuffed alligator that would have hung in an apothecary's shop to anatomical models to various psychometric tests. In addition, it integrates history, culture, and scientific development into short articles on a number of themes, including Belief and Medicine, Diseases and Epidemics, and Understanding the Body. Although the themes are organized to be most useful to undergraduate courses in the history of medicine, they would also be a great supplement to middle and high school study of history, anthropology, and human ecology.

Have you ever wanted to learn exactly how an iron lung works to treat polio? If so, then the interactive online exhibit found on Science Museum London's Brought to Life website on the iron lung will be exceptionally helpful. Here visitors will find a 360-degree view of an iron lung complete with sound as well as profiles of iron lung patients. Back on the homepage, visitors will find an excellent discussion about What it means to be well, in a link of the same name. According to the article, "society's medical system, religious beliefs and cultural values" all determine what it means to be well, and the discussion moves on to contrast the written complaints of aches and pains of a naval administrator in the late 1600s to the way we would handle them now. Visitors also shouldn't miss the Timeline here, as it documents key events in medical history, such as when Ibn Al-Nafis discovered the pulmonary circulation system in 1242 CE.

Get the Math

Making math fun, interesting, and relevant for middle and high school students can be a challenge. We were impressed by how Get the Math stepped up to meet that challenge by showing students how algebraic reasoning is necessary in a variety of contexts, from music to fashion to special effects. The problems push students not only to complete complex, multi-step problems, but also to reflect on the reasoning behind their approaches. Once students have worked their way through initial interactive problems, related problems build on and reinforce their understanding. The skillful use of multimedia to augment learning ensures that students will internalize math as a way of thinking, rather than simply something to memorize.

How does math get used in the "real world?" The short answer is that it is used to create hip-hop music, in fashion design, and through a number of other endeavors. This interactive website combines video and web interactive to help young people develop algebraic thinking skills for solving real-world problems. The series is funded by The Moody's Foundation, along with assistance from WNET and American Public Television. The sections of the site include The Challenges, Video, and Teachers. In The Challenges area, users will find video segments profiling the various young professionals who use math in their work, along with interactive tools to help students solve the challenges they are presented with. Moving on, the Teachers area includes resources for teachers, such as a training video showing how to use project materials in the classroom, along with student handouts. Visitors shouldn't miss the Basketball challenge, featuring NBA player Elton Brand talking about the problems presented by free throw shooting.

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Editor Max Grinnell
Managing Editor Carmen Montopoli
Co-Director Edward Almasy
Co-Director Rachael Bower
Outreach Coordinator Noah Yasskin
Metadata Specialist Andrea Coffin
Internet Cataloger Autumn Hall-Tun
Internet Cataloger Sara Cummins
Web Developer Tim Baumgard
Web Developer Corey Halpin
Technical Specialist Zev Weiss
Technical Specialist Michael Seaholm
Administrative Support Anna Johnson
Contributor Debra Shapiro

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June 5th, 2012 Best of 2011–2012