Top Ten Posts in 2016

These were the posts on WorldView Software’s blog that were most popular over the past year:

  1. Home page / Archives – See the latest post here
  2. American Ancestry in Maps – there are LOTS of people with German ancestry
  3. Transgender People in History – definitions, historical examples, and more
  4. The Museum of Lost Objects – documenting antiquities lost to war
  5. How Do Polls Work? – when is a poll a valid measure of public opinion?
  6. Economic Indicators – non-traditional indicators of economic well-being (or not)
  7. Phases of the Moon – why we keep track of the moon
  8. Could You Come up with $1,000 for an Emergency? – a personal financial literacy issue
  9. Secular Homeschoolers – why WorldView’s materials are a good fit
  10. Using Pokémon Go to Teach Local History – how to work the fad into your lesson planning

Have a happy new year, and thanks for reading!


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Using Pokémon Go to Teach Local History

Pokémon Go is everywhere.  Maybe the craze hasn’t hit you yet, or maybe you haven’t seen a stampede like this one:

But if you’re a social studies teacher and you’re not playing yet, maybe you should — not only is it a great reason to get outside and interact with other people, but it’s a great way to interact with local history.

This is because the “Pokéstops” where you can find the little pocket monsters are designated by GPS, and are quite often historical markers.  Niantic Labs, the maker of the game, is a spinoff of Google’s, and the game uses data from a similar earlier game, called Ingress using The Historical Marker Database.  This database records “historical information viewed through the filter of roadside and other permanent outdoor markers, monuments, and plaques.”  According to the Associated Press:

How such markers became the backbone of the wildly popular video game that launched this month is a story that goes back at least five years, when tech giant Google signed a licensing agreement to use The Historical Marker Database , a volunteer-run website that has tracked the geographic coordinates of more than 80,000 historical markers around the world, most of them in the United States.

And when you’ve finished catching Pokémons and discussing the local markers of historical places and events, you can discuss the game’s inherent bias in inputs: as Jack Thompson, Pokémon Go player notes, “Crowdsourcing is only as representative as the crowd doing the sourcing.” Because the database was created by a certain subgroup of people, but is now being used for a more universal game, there are distinct biases built-in that make the playing field uneven.

And stay out of minefields while playing.


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Virtual Reality Starter Kit

There are several different varieties of virtual reality (VR) now.   A recent Knight Foundation report called “Viewing the Future,” defined them this way: “‘virtual reality’…creates environments that allow people to be “present” in an alternative environment; ‘augmented reality,’ which starts with the real world and overlays virtual objects and information; and ‘spherical’ or ‘360-degree’ video, which captures an entire scene in which the viewer can look up, down and around.” (An older worldviewsoftware’s blog post about using augmented reality for education is available here.)

While the report focused on VR’s effect on journalism, VR has finally reached a price point where it is within reach of the classroom.  The immersive qualities of VR can make it a natural for empathetic storytelling, so why not help your students make a VR project instead of a video? There are just a few things to keep in mind.

First thing to recognize is that the VR itself is different from other visual media such as video and graphics.  This blog from graduate journalism students exploring VR contains lots of tips about perspective, angles, and other techniques that they have experimented with.  The second thing is a theme from the blog: it’s especially interesting to note that they keep finding a deeper message: the story’s the thing!  In fact, one of the most popular VR apps in the Google Play Store is Storytelling: Chair In A Room, by Ryan Bousfield, but horror stories are not my thing, so I didn’t download it to try it — I’d recommend trying the official Star Wars app’s Jakku Spy story instead.

Third is a reminder to keep it short — VR is still disorienting, and if a story is too long viewers may become nauseous.  According to this article, “Symptoms such as nausea are caused when the brain receives visual cues that clash with sensory information received from the ears’ vestibular system, which aids balance.”  This problem may have been fixed (.pdf) experimentally by researchers, but it will take time to roll out to users.

Finally, there’s already a wide range of tools available.  Google/Alphabet has put a lot of effort into creating the infrastructure around VR, and emphasizing democratic accessibility.  The featured image is a Google Cardboard VR viewer, by Wikimedia Commons user: othree, and is made primarily out of — yes — cardboard, which you fold up and drop your phone into.  (There’s some other stuff too, like a couple of lenses, two magnets, a rubber band, and some velcro.)  The first lesson plan can be to actually make the viewers you’ll be using, either from scratch or from the parts.  Other lesson plans can focus on students’ experimentation of techniques, storyboarding ideas, and the final product itself.

Tools:

Examples: YouTube 360 Videos

What will your students create?


BulbgraphOnOffChronological questions test students’ ability to sequentially order information, placing it in historical context.


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Using Augmented Reality to Learn About Government

Have you ever taken a class on a field trip and had difficulty getting them to a) focus and b) learn? Why not consider having them document the experience by constructing an Augmented Reality (AR) display? For example, if your U.S. Government class is going to take a field trip to a courthouse, an AR display could provide useful annotations of the location and of the court’s procedures — information that they may even be able to make available to the world as a public service.

This post provides a quick overview of some of the things to consider when planning an AR project.

First, consider your data generation tools. It is likely that you and your students all have smartphones capable of recording the data, but make sure at least one person has one, and the permission to use it. It is a good idea to contact the court (or other venue) ahead of time, because there may be restrictions on what you can do for security reasons.

Second, investigate court procedures with the class. WorldView Software’s “U.S. Government” has an entire chapter on the judiciary which your students can mine for information about the purpose of the judicial system in the United States, who’s who in the courtroom, and the process of a trial. Figure out what data you will want to generate, such as locations (with GPS mapping), directions for observers or participants, and images of locations and objects.

To put all your content together and into an accessible form, you will need the right developer tools. There are many different ways to create AR content, but if you’re not familiar with computer programming, you might want to start with something like buildAR.com, which doesn’t require any programming knowledge at all. Enter your information and images into the program, and voila! you have augmented reality (it will be visible using an app like Layar). Furthermore, by making the project publicly available, you and your students can assist in the democratization both of public space and of computer-mediated reality.


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