EMBHSSC, HSRP, LMNOP

August 6, 2010

Summer is coming to an end.  Much of mine was spent working with summer programs at The University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s (UALR) College of Engineering and Information Technology (EIT).  This time of year is also known as Attack of the Unpronounceable Acronyms!


EMBHSSC
The ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp is a two-week, academic, residential camp that emphasizes increasing students’ mathematics and science skills while introducing them to college life and stimulating their interest in science and engineering as a potential career path. Each day, campers attended classes that included problem solving, research and communication skills incorporated with biology, chemistry, physics, environmental sciences, earth sciences, technology, engineering and design concepts, and field excursions.

An interdisciplinary experience that we created this year that I am particularly proud of called on students to combine skills from Mathematics, Science, and Technology classes to analyze water quality data from various sources on campus.  Trimble, a leading provider of advanced positioning solutions, lent over $40,000.00 worth of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) hardware and software to the camp identical to those used in the gulf oil spill clean-up efforts.

Students worked in groups in the field to analyze water samples from fountains, streams, and sprinklers.  Using their understanding of chemistry fundamentals such as pH, they paired water quality information with location information collected using the GPS receivers.  Back in the classroom, students visualized the data with Google Earth, allowing them to speculate about possible pollution sources.

HSRP
I have been involved with the University of Arkansas at little Rock’s High School Research Program (HSRP) since its beginning in 2006.  The objective of the HSRP is to engage academic high achievers in a focused research environment by proactively mentoring them and helping them make informed choices on appropriate course work during their high school years for pursuing future careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. In addition, the three week residential summer program provides informal peer mentoring by engaging students in faculty research projects, allowing high school students to establish early contact with college students and professors in specific areas of their interest.

Students worked on a variety of research projects this summer including Micro-Electromechanical Systems (MEMS)-based piezoelectric materials in health monitoring applications, Computer Modeling of Human Respiratory Physiology, SCRATCH Programming, Robotics, Distributed Computing, and Social Network Mood Analysis.  For a full list including project descriptions, consult the 2010 project list.

As you can see in the above Animoto, the high school students have considerably more “play time” than the middle schoolers, but they all achieved great things this summer!

For more information about UALR, EIT, EMBHSSC, HSRP, or any other unpronounceable acronym, contact Vernard Henley, vwhenley@ualr.edu.

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Display foursquare Data on Google Maps

July 18, 2010

Just a quick post — I’m stretched really thin working two summer camps simultaneously, but this was just too cool to pass up!

When they first start using Google Maps, most people want to make a “places I’ve been” map.  The Google Maps interface is clunky to say the least, and the requirement to place the pin in just the right place causes some to abandon this project early.  Even when you have a cheat sheet, it’s easy to get lost in the process.

Enter foursquare.  This is a social tool that lets you “check in” with your location-aware mobile phone when you visit a place.  Recently, Starbucks offered discounts to people who were the most frequent checker-inners at their nearby locations.  While I was explaining to a group of middle school students how to use $5,000 Trimble GPS systems to collect and plot geolocation data points in Google Earth this week it occurred to me that it should be possible to do the same thing with foursquare data on a Google Map.

I’m not the first person to make this discovery, but it was my own idea, I swear!

To access your foursquare location feed in Google-friendly KML format, click on History and then pick the orange RSS icon.  From there, copy the second link, labeled KML.  Pay attention to the bottom note about adding ?count=25 to the address you just copied to specify the maximum number of most recent points to pull.  This defaults to 25.  The easiest part of this whole process is on Google’s end.  Just go to http://maps.google.com and paste your KML URL right into the search box!  Finally, click the “Save to My Maps” link (which only appears if you’re signed into your Google account).

If I survive this middle school camp I promise to blog again soon!


Every Educator Needs Google Voice

June 29, 2010

Google recently opened its Voice service to all comers.  I’ve been using Google Voice for a little over a year, and I’ve recommended it many times to friends and colleagues.  Google gives you a new number, a unified voice mail box, and control.

I give my Google Voice number to everyone.  I put it on my syllabi, I list it on my resume, I hand it out on business cards, I share it in workshops, and I even post it online.  My Google Voice number is (501) 303 MOIX.

I have my Voice account set up to announce callers.  This feature is optional.  What happens when someone calls my Voice number depends entirely on their Caller ID information.

If it’s a new number…
the caller is greeted by “the Google Voice lady,” is asked to speak their name, and then hears ringing.  If the call is not answered, it is sent to voice mail.

If it’s a caller who has already given their name before of if their number appears in my Google Contacts list…
the caller simply hears ringing.  If the call is not answered, it is sent to voice mail.

Depending on who is calling and the time of day, some, none, or all of my phones ring.  When I answer, I hear the name of the caller and a list of options.  The primary options are to take the call or to send the caller to voice mail.  If I select voice mail, I still have the option to listen while the message is being recorded and break in if necessary.

Why is this a service that all educators should seriously consider?

Documentation
By default, all Google Voice activity is logged.  Dates, times, recorded names, and call durations are all easily accessible.  If someone sends a text message to your Voice number that you reply to, both the incoming and outgoing messages are preserved.  Voice messages will remain in your account until they are deleted, and thanks to the text transcriptions they are searchable by keyword.

Control
Giving your home or mobile number to parents provides them with a means to contact you outside of work hours, but sometimes people call at the strangest hours.  By defining the times that you will not take calls you control when calls go directly to voice mail.

Consistency
This falls into two categories.  First, if all of your contacts know to use your Google Voice number, you will avoid a situation where your private home or mobile number “gets out.”  People will soon find that the best way to reach you is through the new number.  Second, you can consolidate your GMail and Telephone contacts using Google’s comprehensive contacts system.  Create and manage only a single copy of everyone’s information.  If you use a smartphone, you can even sync Google Contacts back onto your mobile device.

In the end, Google Voice has many handy features that you can only appreciate once you’ve started using it.  Voice lets you initiate phone calls and text messages right from your browser.  If you are on a call that you picked up on your home phone you can quickly and quietly transfer that call to your mobile phone by pressing *.  If you are “in the zone” and need to hold all calls, you can enable Do Not Disturb which can be configured to turn itself off after a duration you choose.

Using voice is not without its challenges, though.  If you are out and about and want to place a call using your Voice number, you have to dial into that account and then key in the number to call.  Alternatively, you can use your phone’s mobile browser to initiate the call, but it still takes some effort.

Head over to http://voice.google.com and set up your account.  It’s free, and they let you pick your own number.