Trendswatch and Open Data You Can Use

The future is bright, and full of sugar.  Image courtesy of NASA's image galleries, see link below.

The future is bright, and full of sugar. Image courtesy of NASA’s image galleries, see link below.

Have you been looking through The Center for the Future of Museums’ Trendswatch 2015?  If not, you can find it (and some related articles) right here.  (If you’re not familiar with Trendswatch, the basic idea is that the CFM looks at what’s happening in society on a large scale and predicts how certain trends in technology, attitude, and habits could influence/affect museums and museum-goers.  It has broader implications for education, design, marketing, and service organizations too.)

One of the trends identified is the rising importance/influence/availability of ‘open data’ and the projects that are created using it.  This can mean anything from GovTrack’s database of US Congressional voting records to the Cooper Hewitt’s 3D scans of their mansion, available free for makers and creatives of all sorts to download and tinker with.

In the spirit of Brain Popcorn’s Ideabox, here are some open resources that you can use, and some creative prompts for yourself, your museum, or your classroom:

Inspiring Images

What can you do with museum-quality images?

  • Digital collages, cropping, recoloring, pop-culture parodies, screen wallpapers, custom header for your personal blog
  • Print actual wallpaper, fabric, etc. using a service like Spoonflower or similar
  • Print images for mixed media collage, mod-podge and resin-based crafts like jewelry or glass jar luminaria
  • Costume, set, and character design inspiration for theater classes, writing prompts, and authors’ visual reference files
  • History reports, bulletin boards, and VTS classroom discussions with an overhead projector or poster-sized prints

Where can you find them?  (Some of these links also include 3D models and audio and video files, for bonus remixing options)

The Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler galleries have all their collections online, with images you can use in any non-commercial form, for free.

The Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries have all their collections online, with images you can use in any non-commercial form, for free. Click the image to go to Open F|S!

So Many Numbers…

I mentioned GovTracks earlier, but there are reams of numerical sorts of information out there too.

What can you do with lots of numerical/geographical/etc. data sets?

  • map customized information onto Google Earth or other visualization services (see Gapminder below) (great for conversations about population density, conservation efforts, etc.)
  • track language use on social media (where are certain words or new phrases popular, and what kind of people are using them?)
  • More maps: what do people in each state search most often on the internet?
  • Plan a student advocacy campaign for something your class decides is important.  Who are your legislators and what do they think is important?  Who do you have a chance of convincing based on their records?
Visualizing a timeline/map of electricity use per person, 1700's until the present day, using Gapminder

Visualizing a timeline/map of electricity use per person, 1700’s until the present day, using Gapminder

Where can you find data sets?  Please bear in mind that a lot of these sites aren’t going to have data that’s super interesting to a class of third graders, for instance.  For middle, high school, and college students, not to mention professionals, sure.  But if you have rec’s for kid-friendly data, I’d love to hear them!

This is by no means an exhaustive list, so if you have other great sources of open data, or suggestions for cool projects, please share them in the comments below!

What’s next?

Looking to make a set of data you or your organization has a part of the open data universe?  Check out Open Data Commons for a getting-started guide and important legal information.

As a logical extension of open data, some people are going all the way to ‘open objects,’ such as Jeremy Deller’s Do Touch project, in which objects from a historic collection are brought out to the public in malls, parks, etc, and made available for exploration.  This is a great idea, and it would be great if museums could do more of this! The Active Collections project is all about helping museums identify which objects are truly serving their missions: if they could also identify what could be used as ‘educational collection’ for this kind of purpose, think how inspiring that could be.

Open data is being used for community mapping, app building, advocacy, education, and more.  What are other possible mid- or end-points for this trend?

Learn Vocabulary and more with the New York Times

Every now and then I run across a link that is just too cool to wait for an appropriately themed post, and today is one of those days.

Today I discovered The Learning Network, a blog on education hosted by The New York Times.  This extremely active blog uses content from NYT as the basis for lesson plans, quizzes, activities, and other materials directed at both teachers and students across all academic disciplines.  You can investigate their archives based on subject matter (grammar, social sciences, math, etc.) or by type of activity (word of the day, ‘6Q’s about the news,’ poetry pairings, etc.), or search the blog for a specific topic, article, or event.

One of the currently featured posts is “Twelve Ways to Learn Vocabulary with The New York Times,” full of neat trivia regarding the main NYT website itself (did you know that double clicking any word in an article will bring up dictionary definitions of that word?), lesson suggestions on content based analysis (even for the sports pages!), and opportunities for student writing.

This blog and some other cool resources I’ve encountered will soon be showing up on the re-organized resource pages here at Brain Popcorn, so stay tuned!

Two Weeks to National Fossil Day

Every time I look at my inbox and start thinking that I really need to try to cut down on the amount that lands there on a daily or weekly basis, something cool invariably arrives to change my mind.  Case in point, this morning’s email from the National Park Service announcing the upcoming arrival of the very first National Fossil Day(TM) on October 13, 2010.

I like fossils.  I like love the National Park Service.  I had my career-epiphany-moment directly after taking a fossil hike on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

I opened the email.

So what is National Fossil Day?  Part of the 2010 Earth Science Week celebrations sponsored by the American Geological Institute, National Fossil Day  is “a celebration organized to promote public awareness and stewardship of fossils, as well as to foster a greater appreciation of their scientific and educational value.”

(In other words, a really good excuse to play in the dirt.  I always like those.)

The NPS website is a wealth of interesting information, a “rockin'” interdisciplinary list of activities, and other fascinating and fun stuff.  A few highlights include a map of the 230 national parks containing fossils (including ones in Guam and the US Virgin Islands) and fossil highlights from many of those parks,  a list of the official state fossils, and a list of events in your area.

If, like me, you take a look at all the amazing activity which is going to be on the National Mall in DC and want to cry into your Pleistocene soup from sheer envy, here are a handful of fun fossil-related activities and articles you can enjoy from the comfort of your desk chair.

Geology for Fossil Hunters, courtesy of the Exploratorium’s very cool site “Evidence: How do we know what we know? Human Origins”. Also including cool videos on virtual fossil reconstruction and other nifty topics.

Professor Allister McFragilis, Dinosaur Geo-Detective.  No, seriously. It’s an electronic field trip, or EFT put together by Bryce Canyon National Park, and has both online games and then downloadable lesson plans about geology and specifically fossils.

Dinosaur True Colors Revealed for First Time by pigments remaining in fossilized dino fuzz.

Pterosaur Ornithopter videos.  Which are apparently flying vehicles which mimic bird- or bird-like flight, specifically in this case, dino-bird-like-flight.  The key to this seems to be that the wings flap, as opposed to fixed-wing aircraft like normal planes.  Intrigued?  There is actually someone who has built and tested a successful human-powered ornithopter called the Snowbird, with a record setting 19.3 second flight, achieved just last week on September 22nd.

And, of course, more fossil fun activities and links at my previous post, “Dinosaurs, Art Photography, and Toddlers?

Plum Blossoms, Bamboo, and Pine Sprigs

Welcome in Lunar New Year with the spirit of friendship (as represented by the flower arrangement above) and with an arrangement of my own suggestions for cool resources and activities.

Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City 2009, photo by ho_hokus

History and Culture

A brief but interesting collection of information on the New Year as celebrated in China, from the University of Victoria

A nice resizeable map of China, with or without more detailed information, from National Geographic

Asia-Art.Net, a collection of really beautiful examples from several cultures, organized by medium or by culture.


Why is it Lunar New Year?  Observing the Moon, from Science NetLinks

Arts and Crafts

Disney’s family activities offer up some fun and easy decorations for the holiday: a festive ribbon dragon, a beautiful lacy banner, and a good-luck goldfish.

The Smithsonian strikes again!  (I love these guys as much as I love National Geographic!) The Sackler and Freer Museums are home to the Smithsonian’s Asian collections, and they have both Chinese centric and Across Asia teacher resources as part of their larger set of Online Guides.

Theater and Music

Two fabulous resources from the Kennedy Center’s Artsedge:

Puppets on the Move: China and the Silk Road and

The Sounds of China Pod Page, with music to listen to and connected information and activities.


Also from the Kennedy Center, Chinese Calligraphy and Ink Painting

And finally, from Read-Write-Think, which is run by the National Council of Teachers of English, a very cool Fairy Tale Autobiographies lesson plan, which uses Chinese tales but could be adapted for pretty much any culture.

Not enough?  Then come celebrate with the Peabody Essex Museum, on Saturday February 27! (Chances are very good you’ll find me making paper lanterns in East India Marine Hall…)

Windows on the World At Large (And Small!)

Today I bring you a few ‘fun-with-photos’ links.

The Infinite Photograph from National Geographic’s Green Guide — You’ve probably all seen those really cool photocollages: VanGogh’s Starry Night redone through tiny pictures from NASA, Yoda reconstructed with a million Star Wars screencaps, etc.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve wished over and over for a magnifying glass while you were looking at them–fortunately, the folks over at NG seem to be a lot like me.  *wink*  Their Infinite Photograph gives you an opening scene, into which you may zoom to see how it is constructed out of hundreds of other photographs, and keep zooming in until you get an entirely new scene–then start zooming all over again from there.  Not just a really whizbang techno effect, it’s also a collection of incredibly beautiful images from all over the world.  And if you’re lucky, it will also inspire you to pick up your camera and head outdoors.


Miniature Art — I happened across this collection of photographs/miniatures by accident while working on an Inventors’ Workshop challenge.  There’s something fascinating about seeing the world from the Brobdignagian point of view, and though some of the pictures in this collection are clearly the work of a somewhat quirky sense of humor and propriety, they’re fascinating, fun, and a great way to start a discussion about scale in math, form, function, and design in science, point of view in literature or art, and ‘just why are the Belgians so fond of Mini-Europe anyway?’ in geography.  🙂

Behind the Scenes at the Harvard Museums — Have I mentioned yet my firm belief that a lot of us who work in museums do so because we really like getting to go through the ‘staff only’ doors to see the cool hidden stuff?  Wired Science brings us some really beautiful photos of some of the strangest, coolest, most random hidden favorites from the Harvard Museum of Natural History.  (I notice they do not include the classroom where I had my Urbanization of Ancient Cultures class.  Which was cool.  And dusty.)

And finally, a graphics resource, just for the heck of it.  You have a pretty cool picture for an exhibit/mailing/program/birthday card, but really don’t know how to frame it or what color scheme to use?

Check out Pictaculous, which allows you to load a picture and then will give you a selection of color palettes from which to choose for further graphic design.  It’s a fun tool, and if you’re feeling really brave you can screencap your favorite palette and drop it right into your photo editing program to have available for your color selection tool.

Putting Twitter in a Historical Context?

Wait…really?  Twitter, the ‘so new you have to be part of it to look cool’ mini-status-update gadget that half the world loves to hate already?  Twitter plus history equals something interesting?


John Quincy Adams as ambassador to Russia

John Quincy Adams as ambassador to Russia

While I admit to being slightly biased about just how cool this organization is, (I worked on the interactive timeline on The Coming of the American Revolution) the Massachusetts Historical Society has gone and done something kind of fun.  This summer marks the 200th anniversary of John Quincy Adams’ voyage to Russia, to the diplomatic post appointed to him by then President Madison.  Though JQA wrote long diary entries as well, he also kept a line-a-day journal with navigational coordinates of their journey and a summary of the day’s highlights–much like today’s Facebook status updates or Twitter posts.  The MHS is doing a daily re-post of those summary entries on Twitter, and also has an overview page about the project available at their main site.

My favorite techno-gadget they’ve included is a progressive Google map tracking JQA’s progress across the Atlantic, linked from the end of most posts.

For further thought:
– What other historical figures would you love to see as a Twitterer or in some other modern guise?
– How else could you use Google maps in another context?  Historical?  To plan out the plot of a story?  Tracking sea turtles? (The New England Aquarium, another institution for which I have a positive bias, has a rehabilitation center that tracks its ‘outpatients.’)