Monday, February 28, 2011

‘Vanished’ - Online Science Mystery MMO

The Smithsonian and MIT will launch 'Vanished', an online and offline massive multiplayer game for middle schoolers ages 11 to 14.

In the game, kids become scientific investigators and help crack puzzles, online challenges, use museums and their local neighborhoods to find clues to solve an environmental disaster mystery.  Players will also be able to participate in video conferences with real scientists from the Smithsonian, and team up with other players online to work together.

From the press release:

"Current science instruction relies too heavily on memorization and activities with pre-determined outcomes causing many kids to lose interest in science and have misconceptions about what it means to be a scientist," said Scot Osterweil of MIT Education Arcade. "VANISHED will provide kids with real scientific mysteries to solve. The popularity of television shows like CSI, Bones, and NCIS tells us there is hunger for this kind of problem solving. We're eager to provide to VANISHED participants the genuinely fun and engaging experience of what it's like to be a scientist: trying to understand the unknown, asking why something has occurred, searching for evidence, and collaborating with other investigators."

Sign up for the game at the Vanished website, the game starts April 4. (h/t to Change The Equation blog)

Other articles about 'Vanished':

Comparative Media Studies at MIT article

USA Today article on 'Vanished'- I lol'd at the dopey first comment.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Death From Above, Now In Fun Size

DARPA's latest idea for military spy drones, and it's just adorable.

If it doesn't work out for military use, it'd make a pretty sweet toy.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Online Game for Kids: Who Wants to Live a Million Years?

From the Science Channel, here's a browser-based game that gives you options for choosing traits and fast-forwarding to the future to see how various adaptations in a species would work.  There's a nifty intro, "Learn About Natural Selection" that helps you get started, and you can run the simulation to test out your choices.

Darwin's Evolution Game - The Science Channel

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dismal Science Test Scores In Some US Cities

The NY Times is reporting that a science exam given to a sampling of New York City students shows only 30 percent of fourth graders and 31 percent of eighth graders demonstrate proficiency.

New York is one of 17 large cities that allowed its results to be reported separately.  The top three scoring cities were were Charlotte NC, Austin TX, and Louisville KY; the worst were Detroit MI, Baltimore MD and Cleveland OH, leaving NYC in the middle of the pack.

Of course, this has inspired me to torture challenge my fourth grader to try some test questions from this exam. <cue evil laughter>

NY Times: On Science Exams, New York's Students Fall Short

Sample Science Test - try this at home

National Assessment of Educational Progress - Explore NAEP Questions in all subjects

For Apple Users

Apple will still give the Education Discount to homeschoolers, but you won't find info about it on the Apple Education website anymore.

I recently bought a new laptop, taking my own advice and going for a refurbished model, which had exactly what I wanted as far as upgrades at a better price than the discount would have given me.  While discount Education Pricing is not applied to refurbs, you CAN get it for the AppleCare Extended warranty!  It knocked the price down by about $100, well worth it.

I bypassed the website, and called the Apple Online Store directly, at  1-800-MY-APPLE.

I'm just doing my part to help everyone who needs a new iPad, MacBook, or MacBook Pro :-)

Apple Store Online deals, refurbished, clearance

Apple Education site

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Taking the eReader Plunge

I have a Pandigital eReader that I loved, but I accidentally broke the glass on the lcd screen. I searched in vain for a replacement screen.  I've tried for months to get their customer service to help me find replacement or repair for the screen, but just getting them on the phone took forever (10 tries!), and while I finally got a "case number", no one followed up with a resolution either way for the past 6 weeks.  Email was even less successful, with no response at all.  Given the complete lack of customer service that I've experienced with Pandigital, I cannot recommend them.

I like the Nook - both the reader and the app for Mac (PC, iPhone and iPad all have apps for Nook too). The biggest reason I chose Nook over Kindle is that with Nook, you can borrow library eBooks. Sony eReaders also support the library ePub formatted eBooks, but the Sony products are more expensive than the classic (b/w) Nook.  I didn't bother with Kobo, since Borders is now in bankruptcy, and I want to have a piece of equipment that has a fair chance of being supported by the manufacturer for a while.

There are three models of the Nook, the original black & white screen using eInk, and the new Nook Color which is a small Android tablet (and hackable, but that's another post for another day).  If you just want something for reading, save money and go for the black & white version, which has either wifi-only or wifi + 3G downloads (free) provided by AT&T.

If you want a really inexpensive Nook option, you can find refurbished models (varying availability depends on stock on hand) on eBay, sold by Barnes & Noble. I've found many Nooks listed on eBay for inflated prices from other sellers, but B&N has consistently had the lowest.

If you don't care to try an eReader, you can also add Adobe Digital Editions software, free, and read library eBooks on your laptop or desktop.   And if you want to buy Nook books from Barnes & Noble, and use them across platforms, they have free apps for iPhone, iPad, Mac and PC.

Okay, now what can I read?

There are several options for free and low cost eBook content readable in Adobe or Nook formats.

Try your local library.  As a resident of NY state, I was able to join the NY Public Library in NYC for free, via computer, and have access to all electronic book and other resources. Your local library system may also offer eBooks and other electronic files as well through the Overdrive interface (the same one used by the NYPL). Obviously, not all titles are available as eBooks, but it's a good place to start when looking for newer works.

Project Gutenberg has thousands of public domain books in multiple formats,  ePub for Adobe Digital Editions software and the Nook, html, simple text, as well as Kindle compatible files.  All books are free, but donations are gratefully accepted.

For Nook and Nook app users, Barnes and Noble has a blog, Unbound, that posts about new releases and often has promotional pricing on selected titles, and features free eBooks on Fridays with titles from contemporary writers (some full length novels, but sometimes short stories or novellas).  There is also a dedicated section of free eBooks on the Barnes and Noble site, available any time.  If you have a Nook, you can read their eBooks for free for an hour in-store and get free samples, usually the first couple of chapters, of most eBooks in the catalog anytime.  I have found that it really helps me to decide if I want to justify shelling out full price on a new title.

My kids still prefer dead-tree-style books, but I am finding that the electronic version really suits me.  I like the light and compact nature of an eReader, and I love being able to instantly download and read something the moment it strikes my fancy.  It's less cumbersome than using a laptop, and it frees up the computer for my daughter's marathon Roblox sessions :-)