A school telescope, through the Internet

first_imgHarvard scientists are creating a group of interstellar “ambassadors” who are helping to explain the universe in school classrooms through a web-based program that lets students soar through space to view planets, stars, and the gassy clouds where the latter are born.The Worldwide Telescope Ambassadors Program is the brainchild of astronomy Professor Alyssa Goodman, who has been working with Microsoft programmers for several years on their Internet-based Worldwide Telescope, a free program. Goodman has worked with its creator, Curtis Wong, at Microsoft Research, suggesting updates and changes that have added functionality useful to researchers.Through the main interface, users can zoom “through” the universe to explore. A click of the mouse will call up links to research databases, putting the current knowledge about a particular stellar body or region at the user’s fingertips. For more-basic users, there are also a series of “tours” — guided introductions to specific astronomy topics — to get them started.The ambassadors program, cosponsored by Microsoft Research and WGBH, is run by Patricia Udomprasert out of Goodman’s Viz-e-Lab. The lab was founded earlier this year to develop ways that researchers can visualize and manipulate large data sets. The lab emphasizes low-cost, affordable technology and has developed a 3-D interface with the Worldwide Telescope, using a standard high-definition, flat-screen television and Microsoft Kinect, an add-on to the software giant’s Xbox 360 system that lets users control games with their bodies. The result is that users can navigate the 3-D universe not only with a mouse and keyboard but, at least in the Viz-e-Lab, by standing in front of the screen and moving their arms to swim closer to or further from an object.Goodman says that the technology, though still experimental, is just one example of new ways to interact with the large sets of data accumulated by projects affiliated with the lab, such as the Dataverse, Seamless Astronomy, and High Dimensional Data Visualization and Interaction. While data in the past has typically been displayed in charts and graphs, technology in recent years has enabled the collection of such large volumes of data that traditional display methods are inadequate. By displaying the data in three dimensions or by interacting with it graphically, researchers may be able to not only better explain what they’ve found but also understand it better themselves, Goodman said.The ambassadors program takes that same approach to teaching astronomy. The ambassadors themselves are astronomy-savvy individuals, such as retired astronomers, astronomy hobbyists, researchers seeking to add an educational component to their work, and even Harvard undergraduates interested in the subject.In one year, the ambassadors program has grown from several ambassadors working with 80 students in one school to a dozen ambassadors and 400 students at two schools, Lexington’s Clarke Middle School and Prospect Hill Academy in Somerville, Udomprasert said. Goodman and Udomprasert said they hope the program will continue to expand as funding becomes available.“People learn with this in a different way than they do with books,” Goodman said.Michelle Bartley, a sixth-grade science teacher at Clarke Middle School, where the program kicked off last year, said the traditional curriculum required students to do projects on subjects covered in class, like constellations and the life and death of a star. The Worldwide Telescope not only engages this generation of video-savvy kids better, it allows them much greater freedom to explore the universe on their own and to pick astronomy projects that follow their interest.As Bartley taught the year’s astronomy lessons, ambassadors were there to help, working one-on-one with students, helping them if they got stuck with the software, and allowing them to move ahead with their projects.“They’re phenomenal,” Bartley said of the ambassadors. “They’re there from day one, walking around the class and talking with the kids. The program really gets kids excited about astronomy.”Dick Post, a retired businessman and member of the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston, worked with Bartley and other Clarke teachers two days a week this spring. He said that with 20 kids in a class working on the software, it’s critical that someone other than the instructor be there to help.“Even if you know the program, the kids will do something you’ve never thought about,” Post said. “This age group is amazing. You can’t believe how fast these kids learn.”last_img read more

Governor Announces Changes in Administration

first_imgGovernor Announces Changes in AdministrationMontpelier — Governor Jim Douglas has announced that the secretariesof human services and administration are planning to switch positions inthe next phase of the Governor’s efforts to strengthen governmentservices, save Medicaid and reform health care.Effective Monday, February 21, Charlie Smith will become administrationsecretary, state government’s equivalent of a chief operating officer andMike Smith will become human services secretary, overseeing the largestand most costly agency in state government. Both men will work closelytogether to ensure a smooth transition of all management and legislativeissues.Governor Douglas said both men have served extraordinarily well in theircurrent positions and that each agency will benefit from the change.”Charlie and Mike are invaluable members of my team and both have workedvery hard in their agencies to improve the service we provide Vermonters,”Douglas said. “Each of them offers important skills that will benefit theagency they are moving to.”Douglas noted in particular Charlie Smith’s work with consumer and peeradvocates to develop and embark on an intensive effort to transform theway the Agency of Human Services delivers its services. After months ofmeetings, focus groups and surveys, a plan for one of the most significantreorganization of government services in more than two decades waspresented to the legislature and approved in the waning days of the lastbiennium.”This is the next phase of our government reorganization efforts,” Douglassaid. “A few of our folks will be changing positions, but we’re keepingthe same great team on the field.”SAVING MEDICAIDDouglas said both men would continue to work closely to address currentbudget challenges, especially his plans for health care reform and savingMedicaid for the most vulnerable.Vermont’s Medicaid program faces extreme and deepening annual deficits.Without structural and programmatic changes in the fiscal year 2006, theMedicaid deficit is of $80 million is expected to approach three-quartersof a billion dollars over the upcoming 5 fiscal years.ABOUT CHARLIE SMITHDouglas chose Charlie Smith to lead is Agency of Human Services inDecember 2002. Smith, 50, of Burlington, was District president of KeyBank and President of the United Way of Chittenden County.”Charlie is a proven public and private sector manager, as well as acommunity leader,” Douglas said. “Charlie has all the skills required toaccomplish my goals for state government.”Douglas pointed out that he asked him to “create a Human Services Agencythat delivers services more efficiently and more effectively,significantly improves the client’s experience with the Agency and willmaximize the value of every tax dollar spent in this agency each year.” Achallenge he has met through an Agency wide reorganization.In the late 1970’s Smith served two terms in the Vermont House ofRepresentatives and later served as staff director for then CongressmanJim Jeffords.Smith earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University.ABOUT MIKE SMITHPrior to his appointment in December 2002 as administration secretary,Mike Smith, 51, was Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officerof Yankee Captive Management, Inc., an independent captive management firmlocated in Vermont.He has also sat on the Board of Directors of the Yankee Insurance Group,whose subsidiaries include Hackett, Valine and MacDonald and YankeeCaptive Management, Inc. From 1995-1999, Smith served as Deputy StateTreasurer under then State Treasurer Jim Douglas.Prior to returning to the public sector, Smith was the General Manager ofPublic Employer Risk Management Association, Inc. (PERMA) a workers’compensation insurance pool for public entities.In addition, Smith has been a partner of MMA Consulting Group, Inc., aconsulting firm for cities and towns in the northeast. He is also formertown manager of Hardwick, Vermont and a former member of the VermontLegislature representing his hometown of Woodstock and surrounding area.From 1972-1975, Smith was a member of the highly decorated SEAL Team Two,the U.S. Navy’s elite commando unit.Born in Rutland, Vermont, Smith earned a bachelor’s and master’s degreefrom the University of Vermont.Smith will head the largest agency in state government. “Mike is a man ofgreat compassion and strength,” Douglas said. “He will make an excellenthuman services secretary.”OTHER CHANGES * Commissioner of Human Resources Cindy LaWare will becomeDeputy Secretary of the Agency of Human Services. * Commissioner of Finance Robert Hofmann will becomeCommissioner of Corrections * Deputy Commissioner of Finance Jim Reardon will becomeCommissioner of Finance and Management. * Commissioner of Corrections Steve Gold will become DeputySecretary of Administration.###last_img read more