New technologies from Microsoft Research are enabling scientists, researchers, and citizen scientists to build better narratives with big data.
I talk with a lot of education stakeholders about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (collectively STEM) Education weekly. There is an urgent and nationwide need to bolster our high school and college graduates in STEM disciplines and careers. President Obama has shared the statistics that STEM careers are growing twice as fast as other careers and we do not have a workforce ready to fill them all of these job opportunities. Meanwhile, unemployment is still at 8.3% in the United States.
“Reaffirming and strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation is essential to meeting the challenges of this century. That’s why I am committed to making the improvement of STEM education over the next decade a national priority.”
Most often in STEM disciplines, there is an intense focus on the core subjects at the exclusion of Language Arts, History, and the Arts. However, savvy educators are finding the threads that bind these disciplines together through technology. New research and technology are making it easier for students to become better storytellers by using data to build rich contextual insight into STEM-related disciplines.
In February and March 2012, Microsoft Research revealed exciting research projects that by themselves are brilliant. Taken together, these new research projects can make learning STEM a dynamic bridge for history, language arts, and literacy.
ChronoZoom beta (www.chronozoomproject.org)
Imagine all of known history as a massive big data project. How would you organize it? How would you visualize it? How would you make it super easy for professionals and laypeople to understand? ChronoZoom is an open-source project that presents the history of everything. You should visit Microsoft Research’s ChronoZoom site to learn more details and to download lesson plans and guides.
ChronoZoom is the perfect place to start an Earth Sciences or any History course. ChronoZoom organizes known history into threshold events and periods the define our universe. Humanity has only been around for a tiny fraction of time when you look at the cosmic scale of history. This context for looking at large amounts of data makes the eternal continuum of time a lot more digestable. Zooming across the eons of time from billions of years to millions of years to thousands to today is exciting and a great way to discover the world on a greater scale. Time literally flys by you on ChronoZoom. Blending historical context with Earth Science is the first step of the journey to building a new narrative for STEM and Literacy.
Now, while your imagination is still active, take all of the data of the cosmos and focus it down to just one planet–our own spaceship, Earth. Like ChronoZoom, Layerscape help scientists take massive quantities of geospatial data and time to focus in on events that happen on and beneath the earth. Using the richness of the WorldWide Telescope platform, Layerscape visualizes data about the earth, its oceans, its climate and more through rich, interactive tours of the planet. Now that scientists have the element of time to map to their geospatial data, that can look at events both from a historical context or as a climate change event. Using the Layerscape WWT add-in for Microsoft Excel 2010, the visualization of data changes in realtime in Layerscape.
Watch the video below of how modern scientists are using Layerscape to help them discover and understand elements of our world that technology is just beginning to unlock.
Where’s the Big Data
The final components are not so obvious–the need for big data analysis and human-machine interaction. In the video above, you heard Dr. James G. Bellingham, Chief Technologist, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, discuss the use of AUV or Autonomous Underwater Vehicle for research purposes. Well, an AUV is another name for robot. The study of robotics as a platform for research continues to expand as our ability to place highly-accurate sensors on machines to go places that are hostile for humans. These robot sensors are capturing enormous amounts of data that need to culled, organized for retrieval, and visualized for storytelling.
Only a handful of K12 schools across the country have robotics programs. This aspect of science, technology, engineering, and math needs to increase for STEM Education programs. Even fewer schools are preparing students for the analysis of a deluge of data outside of the pure sciences and research communities. This notion of sensor technology coupled with autonomous machines that produce large scale data for research and analysis is a trend that will continue for as long as humanity remains curious. This curiousity should be encouraged in students and the capacity to participate must be developed now. It takes 18 years to produce an engineer. That is just a dot of time in ChronoZoom; however, the impact of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians affect generations of humanity.
When the President talks about the growth in STEM careers, we should look closely at where the research community is investing and trying to solve problems. Often we need to develop new technologies to solve research problems that lead to bigger breakthroughs. These breakthroughs in basic research is where innovation and new commercial opportunity spring forth.
ChronoZoom and Layerscape both great projects that you can use today and contribute to the growing community of researchers and citizen scientists. When you fuse these research projects with your cross-curricular assets, you will go beyond the data to engaging a new generation of storytellers.
Visit the Microsoft Research sites below to learn more about ChronoZoom, Layerscape, Microsoft Robotics Studio, and Big Data. Use these tools and research to help your students become scientific storytellers. Then share your story in the comments below.
Featured in this story:
Microsoft Research ChronoZoom beta Project site has background information about the project, along with guides and lessons plans.
Microsoft Research Layerscape Powered by WorldWide Telescope site has resources and tours available for download into WorldWide Telescope and Microsoft Excel 2010.
The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Scientific Discovery is an important eBook on the rapidly emerging field of data-intensive science and big data.
Microsoft Robotics site contains links to the Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 4 (RDS4) and learning resources
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