The Scout Report
August 28, 2015 -- Volume 21, Number 33
A Publication of Internet Scout
Computer Sciences Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison
TED-Ed: Lessons Worth Sharing
Go Botany: Discover thousands of New England plants
National Archives: Records of Rights
Renewable Energy Projects for the Classroom (PDF)
PLOS: Computational Biology
Modules: Free Ag Energy Curriculum for Teachers
PBS Learning Media: Teen Maps Contaminants from a Coal Plant
Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology: Macaulay Library
The Upshot: Is It Better to Rent or Buy?
Bombsight: Mapping the WW2 Bomb Census
America By The Numbers
A Corpse Flower Blooms in Denver
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TED-Ed is a multifaceted educational platform based on the knowledge-proliferating philosophies of TED, the organization made famous by its renowned TED talks. To take full advantage of TED-Ed, educators will first want to explore the existing Lessons, of which there are thousands. A drop down menu reveals a dozen subjects, including The Arts, Business & Economics, Health, Mathematics, and others. Various filters, including Content, Grade Level, and Duration, help narrow down to a specific topic. Some of the best lessons, such as "The Benefits of Good Posture," have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, and include thought provoking, ready-made multiple choice and open-answer questions and prompts for student discussions. Educators who would like to use the platform to build their own lessons around web videos (from TED, YouTube, or Vimeo, for example) will need to create an account. Registration is easy, however, and only requires an email and password before creation of video-based lessons can occur. [CNH]
Headquartered at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, FlackCheck.org offers resources that help students "recognize flaws in arguments in general and political ads in particular." At the time of this writing, with the primaries well underway in the United States, the site has excellent sections dedicated to particular candidates, including "Campaign Watches" about Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry, among others. In addition, the Patterns of Deception section outlines the misleading arguments that surround debates on climate change, immigration, and gun control. For educators teaching critical political thinking, or for anyone who would like a tool for sorting through various policy debates and campaigns, FlackCheck.org is an excellent resource. [CNH]
These Teaching Tools from Go Botany, an online arm of the New England Wild Flower Society, will bolster the lesson plans of educators working with "students and informal learners ages 10 and older." Interested readers may want to begin with James Sirch's "Next-Generation Science Standards," which is provided under Teaching Tools. Available as a downloadable PDF, this resource outlines the many ways Go Botany can be useful to teachers and students, from first grade through high school. The Go Botany Plant Quiz Cards, a downloadable resource with photographs and information about a dozen New England plants, is another great resource. The site also links to the Go Botany Plant Identification Form and a Bibliography of Children's Books on the Subject of Botany, which are both excellent resources. [CNH]
This new permanent collection at the National Archives showcases documents and images related to "the ongoing struggle of Americans to define, attain, and protect their rights." Readers may want to begin with the Online Exhibit. Here they will find six informative categories: Equal Rights, Rights to Freedom and Justice, Rights to Privacy and Sexuality, Workplace Rights, First Amendment Rights, and Rights of Native Americans. Each category contains well-researched annotations and plenty of primary sources to spice up lesson plans and classroom activities. For instance, the Equal Rights section provides a chronology of the history of rights in the United States, from the 15th Amendment onward. Interested readers may also enjoy the Museum Exhibit, which details the Exhibit Concept and offers sections on African Americans, Women, and Immigrants. [CNH]
This National Science Foundation-sponsored PDF, which was assembled in 2013 by four educators at the Illinois Valley Community College, offers a range of activities for Middle School, High School, and Community College students. Each lesson is tuned to the particular needs of its target population. For example, the Middle School Activities section begins with a five-page Introduction to Renewable Energy and includes a Solar Energy Unit and a unit about Wind Turbines as an Alternative Energy Source. Meanwhile, the High School Activities include references to geometry and other more advanced topics, while the Community College Activities explores the complexities of biofuels and the power generation of wind turbines. [CNH]
The online journal PLOS: Computational Biology seeks to make "connections through the application of computational methods among disparate areas of biology," thereby providing "substantial new insight into living systems at all scales, from the nano to the macro, and across multiple disciplines, from molecular science, neuroscience and physiology to ecology and population biology." With an editorial board drawn from some of the world's great universities, this open access journal can be counted on for groundbreaking and reliable information in the field of computational biology. Recent articles include reviews of probability models, an editorial about what is and isn't computational biology and articles on topics as varied as "Asynchronous Rate Chaos in Spiking Neuronal Circuits" and Optimal Prediction of Moving Sound Source Direction in the Owl." [CNH]
For educators looking for an entire curriculum about agricultural use of energy, or for anyone interested in the way agricultural scientists are currently thinking about the uses and conservation of energy resources, this curriculum of 15 modules will be a true boon. Readers may download the modules individually or choose to download the entire curriculum simultaneously. Readers may first browse the Learning Objectives and Topics Covered of any particular module, as well as view slides. They may then download the module in a rather large zip file format (approximately 35MB). Each lesson is packed with information and activities, including syllabi, quizzes, press releases, and visually compelling, informative slides. Topics range from Ag Energy Basics to Energy Conservation in Agriculture to lessons about solar energy, geothermal, wind, biofuels, and hydropower, among other topics. [CNH]
This PBS Learning Media presentation is an excellent resource for teachers working with students in grades six through 12, or for anyone who is working with middle and high school students and would like to inspire them to take an active role in their communities. Readers may like to start by watching the three-minute video about Marisol, a young community activist who is working to raise awareness about the detrimental health effects of a coal plant in her neighborhood of Little Village in Chicago, Illinois. From there educators may want to examine the Support Materials on the site, which include an informative background essay and a number of discussion questions to enliven the thinking of students. There is also a handy Educational Standards section, where public school teachers will find that the lesson plan meets National Standards for World History, U.S. History, Science Literacy, and other topics. [CNH]
With over 175,000 audio and 60,000 video recordings of birds and other animals, The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology is one of the world's largest collections of media documenting biodiversity. The Scout Report has visited both the Library and the Lab previously, but, since 2015 is their Centennial, we thought the site was worth a return trip. Not only that, the technology to listen to media has improved tremendously over the years; the 2004 Report notes, "Site visitors with broadband internet connections can link to video clips of bird behavior from the Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library." With today's computing power, the main requirement is the scientific name of a species, which will retrieve audio, video, and maps related to the animal. There's a feed from the Macaulay Library Facebook page, where an audio quiz is posted every few days, inviting visitors to identify bird sounds. The Library is currently partnering with NPR on the Decoding Nature project (http://www.npr.org/2015/07/31/427990342/here-s-how-to-identify-sounds-you-hear-in-nature ). Listeners can record a clip of a bird or other animal sound in their backyard, send it to NPR, and the Lab will identify the source. Follow along at #decodenature on Twitter. [DS]
Most people may not know that Bloggingheads.tv, which was founded in 2005, was the first website devoted to split-screen video dialogues about politics and ideas. Founded by journalist Robert Wright (author of such classic philosophical works as The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are and Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny), the site has a knack for drawing together brilliant minds for crackling conversation. The site features just over a dozen different programs, including the DMZ, where "liberal Bill Scher and conservative Matt Lewis... hash out the week's political events;" Culturally Determined, which covers all things culture; and the Wright Show, where Robert Wright interviews just about anyone in whom he has taken an interest, often with fascinating results. [CNH]
Everyone who uses a computer or reads a magazine lives in a world of typefaces, but few of us give this ubiquitous art its proper due. Enter Typographica, a website entirely dedicated to the art, science, and business of typeface design. Here readers will find articles on the latest innovations in typeface, as well as interviews with designers, reviews of typefaces and type books, and the occasional commentary. Of special note, each year the site chooses its Favorite Typefaces, which include a few dozen creative and useful examples of the art, along with a helpful description of what has been happening in the world of fonts and serifs. In addition, readers may pursue the work of several dozen designers on the site and, under the Foundry tab, examine the work of particular companies, from Apple to tiny boutique houses in Denmark. [CNH]
In the field of journalism, it is common for sources to sometimes request a press embargo, meaning that they ask reporters to refrain from publishing information until a certain date or until certain conditions are met. In theory, this is reasonable. However, there are times when journalists perceive embargoes as overly restrictive and unnecessarily entangling. Medical journalist Ivan Oransky has created Embargo Watch to "keep an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage." Here readers will find the latest details on how famous journals like Nature, Science, the Lancet, PNAS (and many others) release information to journalists with the expectation that news reports will, at least usually, coincide with the publication of the articles in question. Things get interesting, of course, when some news outlets break embargoes, or when journals ask for embargoes that strike journalists as unreasonable. The blog entries on this site, which tend to be published monthly or as problems with embargoes arise, are insightful, incisive, and informative for anyone interested in how journalism works behind the scenes. [CNH]
As this excellent interactive resource notes, "The choice between buying a home and renting one is among the biggest financial decisions that many adults make." And yet there are few resources on the Internet as fluid and informative as this 21-part series of interactive charts and graphs. Here readers may enter their prospective home price, how long they plan to stay, mortgage details (rate, down payment, and length), projected future growth rates, taxes, closing costs, maintenance fees, and then, in contrast, the costs of renting (monthly rate, broker's fee, renter's insurance). Given all of that information, the site calculates whether it is better to rent or own, as well as where the dividing line might be in terms of renting versus the costs and benefits of owning. In all, this is an extremely helpful and informative site for anyone that has ever considered owning their own home. [CNH]
As the site notes, "Gastropod looks at food through the lens of science and history." In each episode of this gastronomic podcast, co-hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley examine historical precedents and groundbreaking science of a unique culinary event, "from aquaculture to ancient feasts, from cutlery to chile peppers, and from microbes to Malbec." They interview experts and chefs, visit labs and kitchens and archaeology digs, and generally have a wonderful time showing listeners the ins and outs of the what and how of food today. Episodes tend to run about half an hour in length, and each is accompanied by a well written article and informative Episode Notes. Recent topics have included sound as "the forgotten flavor sense," an expose of Sus scrofa domesticus (the pig), and an illuminating look at ice cream. [CNH]
Bombsight, a project of the British National Archives, allows readers to experience the World War II bombing of London through interactive maps, photographs, and compelling narratives. The landing page engages readers from the start, where a map of London is covered with numbered red dots, each related to the bombing of that particular location. Selecting one of the dots pulls up a short description of the location and the explosive. Readers may then click on "read more" to navigate to a page that includes images related to the area, as well links to people's stories related to the area. For instance, selecting the red dot labeled "3" takes readers to the Southwark Bridge, where they can view images of bombed out buildings of the area, medical teams, and scenes from bomb shelters, as well as read accounts from five different narratives, each available directly on the site. [CNH]
The PBS documentary series America By the Numbers with Maria Hinojosa focuses its formidable attention on the dramatic demographic shifts taking place all around the country. Stories range from the small town of Clarkston, Georgia, which is now home to an international refugee community, to the struggles of the Cambodian community in Long Beach, California. On this site, readers may watch trailers for all nine episodes and read short descriptions of those episodes. From there, they may select "Click Here to Watch the Full Episode" to navigate to the PBS website, where the documentary series can be viewed in full. In addition, the Resources tab includes a helpful interactive demographic map of the United States, and an Educational Materials section with curriculum guides and educational resources designed to accompany the episodes. [CNH]
RebelMouse is a social media aggregator. In other words, the links, updates, tweets, photos, and other content that readers post on their various social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.) can now all appear in one place - and that place happens to be beautifully designed, convenient, and free. Readers may sign up with their existing Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ accounts, or they can use the simple email/password function. From there, provide the service with your sign in information for your social media accounts and it will start pulling your updates and blending them into a visually satisfying arrangement. You'll also have more editorial control than on other social media sites with the magazine-like format. The only potential downfall is that, predictably, others will have to also sign up for RebelMouse before they can view your content. [CNH]
For readers looking for a free online platform for small meetings and webinars, MeetingBurner is a good choice. The free service can host up to ten participants, and includes screen sharing, group chat, audio and video conferencing, and some mobile tools. This can be especially helpful for small organizations with a limited budget, since few web conferencing providers offer free plans. However, to access more of MeetingBurner's advanced features (such as the ability to host up to 50 or 250 attendees and recording options), users must pay a monthly fee. In a nutshell, this basic service is one of the few free web conferencing services available and it is perfect for small business owners or non-profits on a budget. [CNH]
Foul-smelling 'corpse flower' blossoms in Denver (+video)
Corpse Flower: Facts About the Smelly Plant
Why Insects Are Drawn to Corpse Flower's Stench
Amorphophallus titanum History & Statistics
'Tabitha the Titan' begins making seeds
How do we smell?
When the five-foot three-inch tall Corpse Flower at the Denver Botanical Gardens finally bloomed this week, it drew over 22,000 visitors in two days and made headlines around the country. Why all the fuss? First, the plant is rare. Even in its native Sumatra, botanists find specimens hard to come by. Second, the Amorphophallus titanum takes about a decade to blossom, and then the bloom only lasts a matter of days. Future blossoms are unpredictable, sometimes arriving after a year or two, but often taking another seven to ten years before gracing gardens with their towering countenance. Finally, of course, there is the indecorous odor, both infamous and alluring, designed to lure carrion-eating beetles and flesh flies for the purposes of pollination, and now a favorite feature among elementary school students and their often horrified parents. [CNH]
The first link, from the Christian Science Monitor, offers coverage of this week's Corpse Flower bloom at the Denver Botanical Gardens. Next, Live Science's Alina Bradford offers some titillating facts about one of the world's largest flowering structures. The third link takes readers to a National Geographic article from January of this year that chronicles the bloom of another Corpse Flower, this one at the University of California Botanical Garden. Meanwhile, the fourth link navigates to the Virtual Herbarium of the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, where readers may peruse an in-depth treatment of the history and statistics of the Amorphophallus titanum. The fifth link, from UC Davis News and Information, chronicles the cycles of 'Tabitha the Titan,' a Corpse Flower at UC Davis's gardens that bloomed a month ago and is now in the process of making seeds. Finally, the last link takes readers to a fascinating exposition of the human nose, in which Rose Eveleth "charts the smelly journey through your olfactory epithelium" for TedEd. Here readers will find a short video, a quiz, links to interesting studies, and a guided discussion - all designed for educators looking to introduce students to the wonders of olfactory science.
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