Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, New Orleans, Louisiana

Back in May I had the opportunity to tour the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans, Louisiana, part of the Audubon Nature Institute. It was my last day in town, it was pouring rain, and I was honestly too tired to accomplish anything that was too much trouble. Turns out this attraction was located about a block from my hotel downtown on Canal Street. It’s open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and tickets are $16.50 for adults, $12.00 for children, and $13.00 for the 65+ crowd. Be sure to look around at all of the tourist pamphlets in nearby hotels for an admission coupon. I can’t remember exactly what I paid, but it was around $11.00 – well worth finding the coupon.

There are a lot of exhibits worth seeing here. My favorites are the Butterfly Garden and the pinned insect collection. There were “caves” to walk through to experience how underground bugs live, insect cams to watch real, live bugs at work (here is a link to the cockroach cam for your viewing pleasure, sponsored by Animal Planet; and here is the Ant Cam), and even a café where you can eat bugs called Bug Appétit. I didn’t do the latter. There was also a fantastic recreation of a Louisiana Swamp, and all of the critters that would normally be found there.

I should point out that the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium is part of a larger group of Audubon attractions in the New Orleans area. There is also the Audubon Zoo, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, he Entergy IMAX Theatre at the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, and you can get in to all of these places for one fee if you buy the Audubon Experience Package – $44.50 for adults, $27.50 for children, and $31.50 for seniors. This package allows a person into each attraction once over a 14 day period, so no need to rush around to see everything in one day (unless that’s all the time you have).

You can go online here and send a number of free Audubon E-cards, each featuring fantastic photography of various animals from some of the Audubon facilities. I was also able to download an App for the Insectarium from my iPod Touch before my trip to help me plan. Just go to the App Store and search for Audubon Apps. This particular App is FREE.

Here are my best photos of the bugs:

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Lynn and I in the Butterfly Garden:

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Here are my three traveling companions at the Café:

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Emily, Doer of Stuff

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The Florida Everglades

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I had the opportunity to ride on an airboat recently in the Florida Everglades. Despite having to get up in the wee hours of the morning, the trip was wonderful.

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This little guy was the co-pilot of my boat. He is six years old. I can only imagine that spending your summer on a boat like this with Dad would be fantastically adventurous.

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We had really great weather. I coated myself with sunblock since my northern-European skin isn’t used to all of this blatent Vitamin D.

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This is the view from behind me.

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There were at least 3 other boats out that day. Where there be boats, there be gators.

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Did I mention the absurdly terrific weather?

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Here is a male grackle. He seemed totally comfortable around the boats.

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This is a female alligator. Not a very big one.

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Here is our grackle friend calling out an alert.

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And here is another female gator approaching.

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The weather did start promising some mystery and intrigue.

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I love the reflections of the clouds in the water.

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Here’s a line of some potential rainfall. It started pouring rain within 10 minutes of us getting back to the docks.

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This cormorant was sunning himself.

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As was this turkey vulture.

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I’m squinting in the sun, not mad. Self-portrait.

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I love how we leave out mark everywhere, don’t you? Not everything gets to remain pristine, I guess. I do like my electricity.

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Ahhhh. Industrial infrastructure……

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Geographers in the field?

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I had a great morning. Highly recommended!

Emily, Doer of Stuff

T3G Adventures, Part II

In case you missed it, my last post was Part I. Lots of learning here! So, here we go with Part II….

Day 3:
Today was our first trip into the field. We got a brief lesson on using GPS units, then went outside in groups to collect real world data. I collected data on rocks around the building we were meeting in. I paired up with Frank from Virginia because we also collected data with cell phone apps. The cell phone collection was very easy; we could get our data point and assign attributes in the field, then attach a photo of our object. Very cool stuff – much more friendly than a standard GPS unit (Garmin etrex) because you can access the platform right from the device. A GPS unit has to be taken back inside to download the data, then convert that data set into a CSV file, then bring that into a map as a layer. The serious advantage of the GPS? It relies on satellite triangulation (well, trilateration, actually) via radio signals do determine its location and can be used anywhere, anytime – no tower required. A cell phone relies on a network and can have spotty coverage in many places. Things to think about.

Here’s a picture of my partner, Frank, in a photo we like to call “Frank On The Rocks”.

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Also, we had a mini-lesson on something that I have known forever – while Degrees/Minutes/Seconds (a measurement of how far away you are from where the sun is at Noon) still obviously exists, who would work in Base 60 when they could be working in Base 10??!? Decimal Degrees are the way to go as far as I’m concerned.

Here I am with a Garmin GPS unit around my neck, with yet another rock. I joked that these were “glacial erratics”.

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The reality of using cell phones and/or GPS units to collect data in the field has massive implications for the classroom. Citizen science can occur with multiple platforms (devices) at the same time. And while a class that uses this technology may be chaotic the first time outside while everyone adjusts to the minor differences between devices used by the group, kids today will adapt and learn the complexities of technology very quickly. I think that this kind of learning will engage some of the students who might now do as well with “traditional” learning methods, too.

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It was at this point that we had a M3.1 earthquake, centered at 34.007N, -117.174W, which translates into an extremely modest earthquake who’s epicenter was located about 5 km south of Redlands, CA at 11:50 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. I didn’t even feel it. I had to hear about it from Cowboy Jim later on that night. Sad, no?

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After lunch I headed to the ESRI Learning Center, across campus, to learn how to use ESRI Maps for Office. How cool is this? Anyone with an Organizational account, Office 10 or 13, and the ESRI Maps for Office app loaded onto their machine. I was amazed at how easily I could insert both a static and a dynamic map in Power Point, and how I could drop and drag an Excel spreadsheet right into ArcGIS and automatically get a map without having to futz with the data AT ALL. [Years ago I spent a considerable amount of time {WEEKS} correcting data spreadsheets before I could bring them successfully into ArcView 3.12a – what a massive change this feature is!].
This application is a great way to engage people in other disciplines with GIS. A science teacher can use data stored in an Excel file to make a map and analyze the dataset. An English teacher can make a story map from the geographic locations in a book (ex. The Grapes of Wrath, The Road, The Kite Runner). A Social Studies teacher can drop interactive maps right into lesson plans on the Smart Board, and have student manipulate the maps right there in the classroom. So many possibilities…all of which are fairly easy to incorporate into the classroom without much training.
Later in the afternoon participants spent a good deal of time discussing what effective Professional Development looks like. We should know since we were all there doing it, right?
Initially we were asked to get into small groups and come up with what good professional development should look like. There should be engagement. Teachers should use materials that they are actually going to use in the classroom, activities that are based on real world situations, so they feel empowered by the end of the training, not just overwhelmed with details. Examples of student’s work would be helpful. Activities should be related to standards – Common Core, STEM, etc. Teachers need to know that this training is worth their time and expense. Do they feel that it is important for them to be here? This training needs to actually meet a need or solve a problem.

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Participants need to have access to technology during their training, whether individually or as part of a lab. There needs to be time for networking and the sharing of ideas for future application – time away from the programmed learning times, so attendees can connect with each other and pass ideas around. Having choices between topics is great if the training is big enough so that people get the skills that most apply to their area. There needs to be room for creativity alongside of skill development. Allow teachers to feel ownership! Acknowledge their areas of specialty!
There also needs to be a means of follow-up after the training is done so that trainers know that their content is being implemented in classrooms, and so that teachers have access to answers and ideas if they get stuck. We talked a bit about the idea of Mentoring. Who out there in each state is trained in certain topics? Who can teachers go to for help, encouragement, etc.? The idea is to create sustainable success so no one – teacher or trainer – feels like they are sitting, spinning their wheels.

At some point we decided to start a FlashMob that detailed the “rotate your equator” and “bend your knees” advice of instructor Charlie Fitzpatrick. It was a bit less “mob”, than we hoped, but there was definitely “flash”. We are a fun group!

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We had a great overview of the history of Redlands, CA from Cowboy Jim so that we would have some knowledge of the area that we would be exploring on foot for tomorrow’s field trip. He mentioned the teensie-wee earthquake, then said, “California, with all your faults, we love you still. Very still.”

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Day 4
Field Trip! Sarah Goggins and I paired up to collect data on street lamps in downtown Redlands. We were assigned to Zone 7. Sarah had a cell phone, so we were able to collect all of our points, enter attributes for them, and attach photos and comments while we were in the field. We didn’t have to write a single thing down because the points were being uploaded to the Cloud as we progressed. By the end of the morning our whole group had collected 1,500+ data points, many properly attributed and most with photos attached..

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Here are some of my favorites photo finds of the day:

Fearless leader, Charlie Fitzpatrick

 

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Stained Glass window with geographic features

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Unusually positive street tags

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I’m guessing that this tree gets hit a lot?

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Awesome motorcycle

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Sweet 70s VWs

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Odd cars

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Lion

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Lunch in Smiley Park.

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Cowboy Jim gave us a blacksmithing demonstration. Made a flathead nail and a j-hook. The whole demo reminded me of my time spent in Appalachia, what with the coal smoke and all. Thought I’d given that scent up for good.

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We spent much of the afternoon working with the data that we collectively gathered in Redlands that morning to make maps. My map was fairly straightforward – I took just the street lamp data layer and broke it down into unique symbols that were assigned by the login initials of each collecting group. This, very basically, showed which points were collected by which groups, and where. Initially my idea was to create a tool by which a teacher could monitor the progress of a student collection group, or a manager could see which zones were lacking coverage. Expanding this coverage idea, I cross-referenced the number of point collected in each zone and assigned an overlay of color per zone, so the zones with the most number of data points were darkest blue, and the zones with the fewest number of data points was light blue, with gradations in between. This would allow a manager the ability to see which zones needed more data collection at a glance.
We did a “Gallery Walk” in the auditorium so that we could move around and see what kinds of problems other students were working on. There was such a diversity of problems being solved or needs being met. It is amazing what a little imagination, a walk, and powerful but straightforward computer software can accomplish within a relatively small amount of time.
I then created a bogus 30-day trial Organization for ArcGIS, which was a little maddening. All of my “users” are Muppets. It’s a long story.

Day 5
We played the lightning round game “Deal With It”. The questions and situations posed to us, were designed to make us think outside of the box. My group was asked how to spread knowledge about ArcGIS online at the college/university level. Our ideas were to reach out to the early adopters and train them first so that they could help us train other faculty and staff. Another idea was to get some time at faculty meetings to do a brief into, with “wow” kinds of things, then ask to train departments individually at a later time. Included would be examples of how to upload scientific data with the drag and drop method, show maps that would interest social scientists, and so on, giving relatable examples. Others were given other challenging situations. We had to present our best ideas onstage, competing against our brains and the clock.

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So that was my training in a nutshell, if any of you have actually read on this far. I walked away with the knowledge that GIS is a platform that takes many guises – desktop, Cloud, online, devices, and so on. There is no reason for any of us to fear this kind of technology. GIS can bring spatial learning into the classroom, can be used out of the classroom in the field, and has massive powers for analyzing data, solving problems, and answering questions.
Beyond the learning itself, I spent hours with my fellow attendees, whether over a meal or poolside at the hotel in the evening, sharing a beer, and sharing a little bit of our lives with each other. Many of our conversations – by far the majority – related to our work lives and our backgrounds in geography, administration, teaching, business, etc., and we all shared knowledge and experience beyond what we learned in the auditorium each day.

And now?

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Emily, Doer of Stuff

T3G – Teachers Training Teachers, ESRI HQ, Redlands, CA [Part 1]

Earlier in June I attended a training called ‘T3G: Teachers Training Teachers’ offered by ESRI, makers of ArcGIS software (and other genius applications). I was encouraged to apply to this training by a number of people and entities, namely the National Geographic Education Foundation, who funded my plane ticket, Joseph Kerski of ESRI Colorado office, and Rebecca Theobald of the Colorado Geographic Alliance. In fact, I asked the latter two for help on a few occasions during the application process while I was stuck. I had to write some essay-like answers to some questions and then I had to create my own map using www.arcgis.com, which probably took me about 8 hours total. A DEAL! Once accepted, ESRI covered the cost of the training plus my hotel and some of my meals while I was in Redlands, CA.

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For reasons of ridiculousness (plane tickets that cost both an arm and a leg) I flew into LAX rather than Ontario, so the Super Shuttle and I hung out for a while in the mean time. The Ayers Hotel in Redlands was great. No problems there.

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Start each day with Logistics and Daily Focus and ended with a Debrief and Evaluation. The first day we were there, Charlie Fitzpatrick of ESRI laid out our goal in simple terms: SAVE THE WORLD. No problem, right? We talked about the essential skill sets that a GIS professional development opportunity should include: GIS knowledge and skills, technical skills, and teaching professional development skills (especially since the idea of this training is that we, the participants, are going to go back and train others.

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Day 1:

Very first session of the very first day started with basics: What is a web map? We went through many different examples of web maps as they are being used by people and agencies. By the end of the day we had created our own map of some element of personal interest that related to Hurricane Sandy. Through these exercises we learned the core elements of GIS: creating geographic data, analyzing the data, and representing the data. There are different ways to think about your data – have you acquired the right data? is there a question that the data helps you answer? You have to explore what you have in front of you, analyze your data in terms of appropriateness to answering your question, and then act on what you have learned – what are you going to do with the information you’ve just uncovered?

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The reality is that there are different levels of usage when talking about GIS. There are those who bring up nice, pretty, premade maps for presentations or demos that help to exemplify some concept [Level 1]. Then some may go on to learn a little more about GIS through some kind of scripted activity [Level 2], which then leads on to more expanded scripts where the user really has to think about what’s in front of them [Level 3]. Once comfortable with this knowledge, a user can start creating directed projects [Level 4], and then move into creating their own custom project [Level 5].

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Educators have to think about multiple things at one time: What do the kids have to learn because of Common Core or STEM requirements or other mandated curriculum? What do the teachers need to be able to bring this technology into the classroom? What activities will engage the kids? And so on…. It seems that a teacher’s work is never done! So the person who is trying to train the teacher needs to recognize a few things. First, if a teacher is introduced to the new technology too fast, they get frustrated. If the training takes too long, they get bored. How many teachers do you think will implement their new knowledge given these two circumstances?

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Another lesson that came up over and over again is that the user needs to know where their data is coming from if it isn’t self-generated. Who put it up there in the web for you to use? A data producer is responsible for telling you when their data has been updated, where the data comes from, and so on. Be an educated consumer of data – know if your data is valid.

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Day 2:

We started learning about Organizations, Groups and Galleries within ArcGIS online. Organizations within ArcGIS are made up of Groups, Items, and/or Persons, which make use of Applications, Web Maps, and/or Layers (or a Service or Dataset). Organizations are restricted to some extent by how much geoprocessing they do while online, how much bandwidth they use, and how much they store in the Cloud. We learned something that I really wanted to know, how to embed maps in HTML by cutting ans pasting the HTML to multiple locations. We also created our own Map Apps with templates and played with ArcGIS online in more depth, eventually looking at Storyline templates.

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There are tons of ways to share maps as an educator. I have shared maps on Facebook and Twitter, as well as on this blog. I can also share maps as part of a Gallery via ArcGIS online, creating a portfolio of my maps. Students in a class could easily make use of this feature, uploading their creations throughout the semester and having all of their work be accessible from one online location. Students could also turn in assignments by posting their maps to their Galleries, via email, a private Facebook page, or through education management systems like Blackboard. Galleries could also be used for creating some kind of community atlas, where collaborative projects could be uploaded across “borders”. Institutions could also share maps and data this way.

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At this point I really started to understand how maps can tell stories. More on that later. I now received an invitation from ESRI to create an account as a Publisher. Before this I was a User. A person can be an Administrator, a Publisher, or a User (which is where we all start out initially). We navigated around this new environment – the OrgPub account. We had a lengthy discussion about Feature Services – theirs ins, outs, and upside-downs. We uploaded user-created feature services and played around with the data sets. Also had a discussion about the validity and accuracy of using someone else’s data set. Always know where your data comes from! Those with cell phones, who aren’t totally cheap like me, downloaded the ArcGIS app so we could go out into the field on Wednesday and collect data points.

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The evening session was for “Lightning Talks”, giving attendees the opportunity to show off their projects for four minutes. Randall Raymond, from Detroit Public Schools, talked about The Pollination Project, which awards $1,000 every day to organizations who want to spread good around the world. I also learned about gapminder.com, which is a data-filled interactive platform that helps educators teach things like population statistics in a fresh, new way. I heard about how National Geographic has a mapping program called Fieldscope that enables Citizen Scientists to interact with the world around them and post their data online for the benefit of everyone around them. There were many great discussions, but these are the three of which I will make immediate use.

This is the first post in a small series (2? 3?). So I leave you with the words of our fearless [ski-enthusiast] leader, Charlie Fitzpatrick:

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Emily, Doer of Stuff, Keeper of Metadata