June 12, 2013 7:45 AM
On setting up and using G+ Circles
Social media and smartphones have really improved the way we can work with groups of people, whether business or volunteer colleagues, or students and their parents.
If you have been following my blog you know that I recently spent a week as a delegate
at the Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF). I’ve been involved at this level a number of times over the past 20 years. What a difference technology has made to accompanying a group of students away from their home – some perhaps for the first time.
Using the theme ‘Sharing the Trail
’, I have previously helped teachers use social media to keep up with science education. This time when I was chosen to be the delegate for the Calgary Youth Science Fair, I welcomed the opportunity to test out a few ideas that had been percolating in my mind. I was going to be travelling with 12 students and 3 adults to the Lethbridge CWSF.
When I initially met with the parents and student finalists prior to our trip, I suggested that if they were interested, I could set up a Google Circle for us to share information. I have prided myself in being what I considered to be a power G+ user for some time. For several years, I have been using the sharing features even before it was named G+. I use shared calendars with both my family and with others for volunteer activities. I had used Google Drive (formerly called Google Docs) in a group setting to facilitate collaborative information sharing. I’ve used small G+ circles to share ideas and photos with committee members.
Here are the steps I went through to set up a G+ circle for the science fair finalists and their parents. First, I went into Drive and opened a spreadsheet to record the pertinent student information. Now, instead of needing to carry a binder with all this data, all I needed was my smartphone. By sharing this document with the other adult supervisors of the group, they also had full access to the information in case it was necessary.
Next I was able to take the list of student and parent email addresses and incorporate them into my contacts as a Gmail group. Now, all my email correspondence to the group could be sent to me with bcc to the group, thus maintaining the privacy of the individuals and their email addresses.
At this point, I sent an invitation to all of the students and their parents to join me on G+. Once about half of them had joined, I was able to create and share a private Team Calgary circle. I taught the participants how to save the circle, and how to share information only within our circle.
Through the week, I was able to share my photos with the circle, while keeping them out of the public domain. I received positive feedback each time about this method of sharing information. At the end of the week, several of the students asked me to keep the circle going as they thought they might have stuff to share after getting home. In actual fact, it wouldn’t matter if I had removed the circle from my G+ if they had already saved it as their own circle. G+ circles are self-moderated.
I also found that Twitter was actively encouraged at the CWSF. Several of my student finalists had accounts, and many of the other people at the fair were actively tweeting. Throughout the fair site, we were encouraged on posters and at meetings to use the hashtag #cwsf. I used both my own Twitter account @gwardis
and I also tweeted on behalf of Calgary Youth @sciencefairCYSF
. Based on my experience at the fair, I recommend Twitter for sharing information that you don’t mind being public. The G+ circle was still the best way to share private information within the group.
Once we were back from the fair, one of the student finalists used YouTube to post a video collage of photos from the fair. She asked me to share it with her fellow students. Naturally, I posted it on my G+ circle for the team, but as a backup, I also emailed the link out to the rest.
Do you want to give G+ a try and not sure where to start? Sign up for an account here
, then save this circle
I have shared on News and Information.
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June 2, 2013 10:45 AM
Microbialites - Early Earth and Outer Space
When I wrote about stromatolites and biofilm
last year, I speculated that the spacecraft Curiosity would be looking for biofilm as a sign of life on Mars. At that time, I did not know that there is a major joint project of the Canadian Space Agency
which has astronauts working directly with scientists on microbialites. As part of their training to go into space, the astronauts do ‘real science rather than just simulations’ so they will be much better prepared when they travel into the future.
I recently attended a geoscience open house at the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre
. The feature presentation “Early Earth and Outer Space” by Ben Cowie and Allyson Brady, was described as a talk about microbialites. I knew immediately that I was in for a treat. Ben is a PhD candidate at the University of Calgary. Allyson, with a doctorate from McMaster University, is science lead and principal investigator for the Pavilion Lake Research Project
(PLRP). Both are keen, enthusiastic scientists wanting to share their excitement over working on such a unique project.
Microbialites are rock structures created by single celled organisms that live on their surface. Fossil microbialites would be a sign of life since the rock is formed by living things. It is important for scientists and astronauts to be able to distinguish between rocks formed by biological processes or through physical processes alone. This is one of the reasons that astronauts are being trained at the PLRP. You can imagine that it would be very useful to have an astronaut who could tell at a glance if a rock on the surface of the moon or a planet is worth further examination.
Some of the oldest fossils on earth are stromatolites. Stromatolites, one type of microbialite, can still be found growing in hypersaline marine lagoons. The major surprise was also finding microbialites growing in the fresh cold water of a British Columbia Lake. The lake does not look any different from any other glacially formed lake in interior British Columbia. Yet this particular one hosts a unique form of life: fresh water bacteria which form into microbialites. According to Ben, these were first noted by scuba divers in 1997. Scientists began research at this site in 2005. In 2010, astronauts became part of the research project. Allyson showed us pictures of the submersibles that put the scientists into the driver’s seat and allow prolonged mapping and filming at Pavilion Lake, which is much too cold for scuba divers to do detailed work. She also told us about MAPPER – a citizen science project which allowed more than 4,000 online volunteers to contribute to the analysis of over 1.1 million photographs taken by the scientists at the PLRP.
Allyson calls this project “extreme microbiology”. She told us how data and samples are shared with ecologists, biochemists, microbiologists and geneticists. I found one such project described when I spent time on the PLRP website, where Joe Russell from the University of Delaware has blogged his work on DNA
of the microbialites.
I know that we will hear a great deal more about this major project being done at a small cold glacial lake in British Columbia.
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May 19, 2013 10:00 AM
Diary of a Canada-Wide Delegate – The Final Day
Today was the last day full day of the 2013 Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF). And a very busy day it was. After breakfast, the finalists were once again at their projects for the last school tours and public viewing. The top of the fair Platinum award winners had been moved overnight to a prime location to accommodate the anticipated crush of viewers. Adam Noble, top of the fair, certainly draws a crowd. A tab was placed on the winning projects so that one could tell at a glance which projects received medals.
I spent time walking around the projects and looking at ones that caught my eye. During the latter half of the morning the delegates from Alberta got together at the tables above the exhibit hall and continued the networking process required to establish a strong provincial organization. One major goal of Youth Science Alberta will be to assist Alberta students in getting to the CWSF. Larger fairs probably don’t need the financial help, but for several of the smaller regionals in the province, the Genome Alberta support is the only cash funding that allows them to help bring their kids to the fair. Hopefully this will change into the future.
After a quick lunch it was take down time. With the new backboards, the process this year was sort of a reverse of the safety check. The students who properly followed procedures and used the designated tape were able to peel it off quickly leaving a clean backboard. Then they got an official to check and sign them off. With all takedown sheets in hand, each delegate was able to have their region checked off by their zone rep and received the money for taking the students for a night out on the town.
The city of Lethbridge has much to offer. Our group started off at the Galt Museum
where we got a personalized tour from the curator, Wendy Aitkens. She began by explaining the central history of
Lethbridge, pointing out the sights we could see through the windows of this marvelous facility. Then Wendy took us through the highlights of Discovery Hall. After seeing the permanent exhibits, we made our way to the travelling exhibit ‘Canadian Science and Engineering – Hall of Fame
’. I found the panel on Raymond Lemieux
. He was my uncle’s brother and I knew from the time I was a child that he was a significant Canadian scientist. We then worked our way down the hall to see some of the artifacts of Senator Joyce Fairbairn, the first woman to be named leader of the Government in the Senate. The exhibits that pay tribute to her are housed in what was once the men’s dorm at the old Galt Hospital which opened in 1891.
After the obligatory trip through the gift shop we made our way out of the building for a few pictures near the views from the grounds. Next, we bused the eight blocks to Galt Gardens, a park where we were able to take in the final portion of a concert. Any interested finalist or delegate could learn to line dance from some leaders at the concert. My own finalists were not keen so we went over to Park Place shopping mall where we spent a little time and money.
We had already made a booking for dinner at the nearby Boston Pizza. We joined two other Alberta regionals for dinner. All of our finalists submitted their menu choices the day before, and when we stepped into the restaurant we were escorted to our reserved section. The food started coming almost immediately. It took less than an hour for 30 hungry people to be served and out. Some of the other regional groups went to possibly higher-end restaurants and spent the whole evening waiting for food. We have learned through experience to choose a known franchise for our young students as we know that they will all find a food choice that they can eat. All happy, no complaints.
After supper, we were back at the university campus for a carnival night housed at the finalists and delegate lounge. All our finalists were there. None stayed back in the room to study, prepare or even watch videos. This was the final event of the fair.
It seemed that 11:30 p.m. came early, and for some it was. The regionals from eastern and central Canada either stayed up, or woke up in time to catch a bus for Calgary at 2:30 a.m. They had early flights out of Calgary to the east. Another set of buses left at 4:00 a.m. Chris Roedler and his committee did not get any sleep, but they sure looked relieved when they boarded us on to our bus back to Calgary at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday. This was the last bus out of Lethbridge. For the organizers, it was finally over. For us, we have a bus ride back to Calgary to meet parents at the airport and then for us too, it will be really all over for another year.
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May 17, 2013 6:30 AM
Diary of a Canada-Wide Delegate – Day 6
Time this morning seemed to fly. After breakfast, the finalists were at their projects by 9:00 a.m. for public viewing and school tours. The University of Lethbridge had again filled the hallways with displays and demos for the close to 2500 students who would be touring the Canada-Wide today. When the yellow buses arrived, there was enough electricity in the air to light the city as the elementary aged students started bouncing off the buses and into the exhibition.
I overheard one of my students talking to a VIP from one of the big sponsors and realized immediately that she is the one I would ask to represent us for the CBC interview
coming up at noon.
The delegates spent the morning either viewing the displays or attending professional development-like forums to learn about various aspects of science fairs. I attended one on how to improve your local regional fair and realized how lucky I am to be associated with Calgary Youth, a regional with more than 50 years’ experience putting on science fairs for students. Just before lunch, all the delegates and finalists from Alberta grouped up in their dark citron team jackets for a picture on the knoll overlooking the Old Man river valley under the stylized U of L sculpture.
At 2:00 p.m. precisely, the buses were loaded and departing for the Enmax Centre. Brilliantly, the organizers had the delegations sitting at the same numbered table assigned for the opening ceremonies. They had however rearranged the placement of the numbers so that we were sitting in an entirely new place. Then the lights went down, the music went a little louder and a deep voice announced in French and English that the awards would start in 2 minutes.
As a delegate, you want your team to do well, and provincial rivalries naturally exist, but in the end you find yourself cheering for all of these young scientists being honoured for their curiosity and perseverance to get to this level. By the end of the event, more than half of the Calgary Youth finalists received a medal. All four of the Alberta finalists who had previously won a Genome Alberta award crossed the stage to receive a medal. Best of fair goes to Adam Noble from Peterborough, Ontario. The experienced finalists from my region indicated they were not surprised as they said that Adam’s project was a quantum better than anyone else. I must make sure to take a look again at public viewing on Friday.
After the awards ceremony, we cleared out of the Enmax centre briefly so that the tables could be set for the banquet. As the banquet drew to a close, the stage was filled for a final time with the volunteers from all the committees:
- National Judging Committee
- National Science Fair Committee
- Board of Directors of the National Science Fair
- Ambassadors for the Finalists
- Youth Science host team.
Youth Science Canada has only 3 paid employees. They were also introduced. It was impressive to see the large group of people on the stage that work pretty much the entire year to make sure this is a major event for our young scientists. We gave them a standing ovation.
We bused back to the University campus in record time where the finalists quickly changed from their best dress clothes to their casual attire and the finalists lounge was a rocking good time for the rest of the night – ending with the #CWSF version of the Harlem Shake.
I had no trouble falling asleep after doing the final room check to see that all my finalists were safely back in their rooms for the night.
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May 16, 2013 6:30 AM
Diary of a Canada-Wide Delegate – Day 5
When I first saw the planned tours for the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Lethbridge, I didn’t know how I was going to make my choice. I was thrilled when I found out that I did not have to make a choice because the Lethbridge host committee set up the tours so that every participant visited every venue. I don’t know the entire history of Canada-Wide tours, but I do know that this is the first time I have been able to visit two UNESCO World Heritage sites on the same tour day.
We had been previously assigned bus numbers. On tour day, we went straight from breakfast to the bus staging area in a parking lot near the exhibit hall. As we passed by numbered tables, our box lunches were set out and ready to be picked up. Then on to the bus.
The buses departed Lethbridge at 8:15 a.m. and our cycle took us through Cardston to Waterton where we arrived by 10:15 a.m. The park is not normally opened this early in the year, but they made an exception for the Canada-Wide tour day. The woman in the Welch’s Chocolate Shop
was smiling from ear to ear when she saw 5 bus loads of kid’s coming through her door. Yes, that was the first stop every one of them made. Once stocked up on ice cream, candies and fudge, we wandered around the town and taking in the sites. I especially like seeing the awesome power of Cameron Falls. I have not seen it during spring run-off before. We were back on the bus by 12:15.
Next stop for us was the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump
. We were met at the door by our guide Edwin. He is a great story teller and had the ability to engage the larger group of us assigned to him, or to pull aside someone with a very specific question. Just as we were about to leave, Edwin pulled me aside to show me some details of the buffalo skeleton. An hour and a half was only time to see the major highlights, and having a guide to point them out really made a big difference for so many of us. A person probably needs more than a day to see all the exhibits on display.
Two UNESCO World Heritage Sites done and we still had a third stop to make – The Alberta Birds of Prey Centre
. They call it an interactive experience. That is an excellent description. As soon as we were on the grounds at the centre, there were guides helping excited finalists and delegates get close-up to observe and even gently touch several baby birds of prey. I was fascinated with the month old baby Great Horned Owl. It was abandoned by its parents at a construction site near its home. The guide told me that these little guys have such long legs to jump among the branches developing their strength and balance in preparation for their first flight which takes place by about two months of age.
We were all very tired by the time the tours were over. Super lasted until almost 8:00 p.m. as some of the buses got back quite late from their tours. Just before doing the final room checks for the night, I discovered that Mike had posted the interviews he had done
on Sunday. When I checked with Atulya, I made sure he knew his interview was up. I sent an email to the delegates so that they could pass that information on to the other two finalists.
I think everyone will still be a little tired in the morning. This was a long day. Tomorrow - the Awards.
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