Brainstorming and Ideas

The following ideas have been collected from suggestions at the SchoolGrid kickoff meeting on 14 November 2003 and by a subsequent brainstorming session by Lucie Green and ElizabethAuden.


  • Weblogs: Allow students to keep daily updates of long term projects. Potential uses include tracking daily observations of lunar progress or change in sea temperature over the course of a term. Benefits include "commenting" feature in which students and teachers can comment on weblog entries to discuss results or link to further information.
  • "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" Launch Event: More on this later.
  • Data Display: Because keywords and metadata used to describe astronomical data products can be terse and / or obscure, using an XML file (perhaps an ontology?) to translate keywords into plain English and link to glossary definitions would help teachers and students identify the physical quantities they want.
  • "Chat with an astronomer": schedule 30 minute or hour long chat sessions using IRC, Jabber, Instant Messenger, or similar online chat technology. Classes can prepare questions in advance relating to curriculum material for astronomers to answer in a real time session; students could also ask impromptu questions.
  • Tool: conversion of tabular data to Excel: Much of the tabular data stored on the grid may be formatted as a simple text file, VOTable, or FITS table. Many schools use Microsoft Excel to analyze tabular data. A tool or plugin to convert common tabular grid formats to Excel spreadsheets would allow students to access more data.
  • Spectral Filter Video Games: The British National Space Centre in Leicester has several interactive video games designed to last 3 - 5 minutes. One such game allows a user to apply three different spectral filters to find a crashed airplane. This game is easy: the three spectral filters are described as "differentiates grass from jungle", "differentiates rock from grass", and "differentiates metal from rock". The filters are applied until the plane appears in the image. A more challenging version of this game could describe several spectral filters in terms of different chemical combinations identified or different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum identified. Allow students to apply these filters to several different images of Earth: locate the Eiffel Tower, their high school, thermal vents in Iceland, etc. This could combine Earth observation, chemistry, geography, and physics curriculae.

Adding Value with the Grid

A more coherent list of ways Schoolgrid can benefit from Astrogrid. 20 November 2003, ElizabethAuden

The Schoolgrid proposal can take advantage of several grid components provided through the Astrogrid infrastructure. In particular, the Data Centre, MySpace, Registry, and External Tool modules can be customized to enhance science education within a single school and between multiple schools. Most schools with computing facilities also have a security policy.

The Data Centre makes data gathered by a school or university available to the grid. There are several scenarios in which individual schools could benefit from hosting a Data Center:

  • Faulkes Telescope: A science class that uses the Faulkes Telescope to observe a particular object can store the images or tabular data gathered in the school's data centre. Not only can students at that school access the data, but other schools observing similar objects with the Faulkes Telescope can access the data to compare results or build up a catalogue of observations.
  • Localised Weather Centres: Classes studying climate around England can construct small weather centres containing thermometers, baraometers, and anemometers. Students can record measurements by hand or add digital readouts that can be fed directly into a computer. As these measurements are stored in the data centre, students can conduct long-term projects on changing weather trends at their own school, or they can compare local measurements with readings taken at schools around the country.

The MySpace module provides distributed storage space for data results. Schools can share disk storage space and search the files stored within one or more schools' MySpace areas. While astronomers using Astrogrid may store the results of a data query about supernovae in MySpace, students of all ages can use the MySpace storage for a variety of projects:

  • Analysis of F.T. or Weather Centre Data: The two scenarios mentioned in the Data Centre use cases above will generate astronomical and climate data stored in one or more Data Centres. However, even schools that don't host data centres can access this data and create tables and graphs of rainfall in the West Midlands, hours of sunlight in Yorkshire compared to Somerset, or the running tally of Messier Objects observed over a school term. These analyses can be stored in MySpace and shared between classes and schools.
  • Experiment Reports: As students conduct chemistry, physics, biology, or environmental experiments, the results and reports can be stored in MySpace. Schools can compare results as they change experimental variables or expand classroom experiments into longer individual projects.
  • Picture Contests: Primary school students can use MySpace, too. Children can draw pictures of constellations, planets, or even alien life and store them in collaborative MySpace areas. Pictures can be collected from several classes and schools. Perhaps even an online exhibition!

The Registry describes the data, software, and storage resources available to grid users. The Registry can be adapted for Schoolgrid in two ways. First, a specialized Registry can be created that describes data of interest to schools. Second, the data descriptions themselves can be customized to provide a simple but accurate picture.

  • School Registries: Specialized Registries can be created (and distributed) for data of interest to schools. This data can be the images, tabular data, and experiment reports created by students and stored in school Data Centres and MySpace areas. In addition, this Registry can describe the scientific images, data files, and software that science classes may want to access frequently. For example, an archive of Hubble Space Telescope images may be interesting to a primary school science class learning about galaxies, while an advanced A level chemistry class could incorporate the atomic elemental abundance information provided by the CHIANTI database.
  • School Registry Schema: A schema outlines the metadata that is needed to describe a resource like data archives, software, or storage space. For example, the metadata that describes a picture of a galaxy might include the name of the galaxy (M81), the instrument that took the picture (the Hubble Space Telescope), the EM frequency of the observation (optical), and the date the picture was taken (03-05-01). The current Registry schema approved by the International Virtual Observatory Alliance (IVOA) is fairly complex, but it can be extended to include the minimum number of metadata elements possible to help students find the information they want. In addition, certain elements, such as "file type" can be restricted to formats that school equipment can accomodate easily, such as .jpeg, .mpeg, or .txt.

External Tools can be written in any language and made available to the grid through a web service API. Grid developers can provide this API so that tool development becomes a "plug 'n' play" feature to meet classroom needs. A host of potential tools exists to further make use of the grid:

  • Polls: A customizable poll creator would let students and teachers create online polls that could be used for quizzes - how much would a football weigh on Jupiter?, field trip preferences - would you rather go to the National Space Centre or the London Planetarium?, or even online interaction in the classroom - which will cause a bigger reaction: adding lithium to water or adding sodium to water?
  • Videoconferencing: This facility can allow students to talk to other schools or even to scientific professionals at universities or research labs. An experiment performed in one A level chemistry class could be watched in real time by students in 20 different chemistry classes.
  • Chat With a Scientist: As schools become associated with universities in the local area, scheduled online "chats" can be arranged between physicists, astronomers, biologists, or chemists and students. For example, a history class learning about the development of civlization around the time of Stone Henge can talk to a climatologist to find out why ocean currents in the Atlantic made a hospitable climate for farmers in Britain, while at the same latitude in Asia and North America, tribes were restricted to nomadic lifestyles that followed the seasons.
  • Introduction to Computer Programming: Students learning to program could write their own scientific tools, such as converting Farhenheit to Celcius, and sharing them with other students and schools through a web service. This type of facility could enhance interaction between different age groups. Continuing the example of temperature conversion, a primary school class with access to a dual Farhenheit / Celcius thermometer could take the temperature of a cold soda, room temperature water, and a cup of tea and check an older student's programming with the temperature conversion web service.
  • Web logs: Online logs (or "blogs") are often used by computer programmers to track progress on a piece of software and exchange ideas for efficiency and problem solving. This idea can be extended to long term student projects, as well. For example, a student with access to the Faulkes Telescope could keep a web log for a month of lunar observations. The comment facility of web logs would allow other students to discuss results, while teachers could comment with constructive advice or pose open-ended questions for further discussion.

-- ElizabethAuden - 20 Nov 2003


Scaling Issues

  • Target age groups are KS3 (11-14) + KS4 (14-16)

  • Typically secondary schools have ~1000 pupils (range ~500-1500)
    • Typical teacher numbers in a science department: 6-12

  • Thus the SchoolSpace 'audience' will be ~30,000 KS3 and KS4 pupils with perhaps 300 science and other department teachers involved

'Grid' Work Packages

  • School related metadata
    • requirements need to be captured, and incorporated into mainstream AstroGrid, IVOA activities.

  • Query Issues
    • 'ks3, ks4 friendly' query capability - ADQL/VOQL requirement

SchoolSpace Mailing List

In order to allow interaction and collaboration between the educators, astro/space outreach projects, relevant technology projects such as AstroGrid, I suggest that:

  • a mailing list - SchoolSpace - be set up
  • the wiki be advertised
  • a portal

SchoolSpace Use Cases

  1. Asteroid Rotation
  2. Galaxy Classification
  3. Polar Ice Cap Variation
  4. Observation of Space Events
  5. Life in the Universe
  6. Video Streaming Lessons

SchoolSpace is a proposed initiative that would deliver a wealth of space science materials and data into the classroom. Using Astrogrid infrastructure, this project would connect scientific databases, educational resources, and computers from schools and universities all over the U.K. Students and teachers could download data from space science missions, upload their own data from the Faulkes Telescope or classroom experiments, and collaborate with other classes and school on labs, projects, and studies. Using Grid technology developed by PPARC, SchoolSpace would give both primary and secondary schools free access to the latest space mission data through a web browser.

To illustrate the diverse space science educational opportunities that SchoolSpace would provide in the classroom, construction of a demonstrator is proposed. Examples of a portal, storage area, data searches, scientific tools and collaborative classroom projects will be produced in a two year pilot program. Six science use cases are suggested here that could represent different aspects of space science appropriate to Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 in the National Curriculum. The demonstrator will include links to educational content, video, and other features exemplary of the full SchoolSpace suite.

Asteroid Rotation:

This collaborative classroom project begins with students at two or more schools taking observations of an asteroid. Each school produces a series of light curves showing the asteroid at different times. The light curves are stored in the MySchoolSpace storage area, where a can later search for light curves taken by both schools. Once a selection of light curves has been retrieved, they can be submitted to an asteroid rotation algorithm web service. The processed light curves are returned to the student through the SchoolSpace portal, and the final rotated asteroid results can be stored to MySchoolSpace.

Galaxy Classification:

This project can be undertaken by students in a single class or as a joint project between schools. First, students locate several public images of galaxies, and the images are stored in MySchoolSpace. Next, one or more students can access galaxy images to place in a collective (or individual) Hubble Classification system diagrams on the SchoolSpace portal.

Polar Ice Cap Variation:

This project focuses on the Earth's planetary physics through a study of satellite images, and it can be undertaken singly or as a collaborative project. Students locate a series of satellite photographs showing the expanse of ice caps covering the north and south poles over a period of 10 to 20 years. Next, students find tabular data showing the change in sea temperatures during the same period of time. By graphing the change in sea temperature versus time and viewing the different sizes and shapes of the polar ice caps over time, students can extrapolate the growth or shrinkage rate of the ice caps. New tables can be created listing reasons for the change in polar ice coverage and suggestions for future activities to limit changes in ice coverage; these tables, can be uploaded to MySchoolSpace to enhance class discussions covering geography and the environment.

Observations of Space Events:

Using the Faulkes Telescope, students can make observations of infrequent space events, such as the transit of Venus in 2004, lunuar eclipses, comets passing close to the Earth's orbit, etc. These observations can be stored in the SchoolSpace MySpace and viewed by science classes all over the country.

Life in the Universe:

Projects discussing the possibility of life elsewhere in the Universe can link to observations of Mars, Europa, and exoplanets, along with ancillary references to chemistry and biology data. Students can use this topic for several areas of discussion, such as the chemical compositions, geography and atmospheric conditions on other planets or moons. For example, a chemistry class could use the SchoolSpace portal to access spectra of Jupiter's moons, identify the most abundant elements on Europa or Io and compare the elemental distributions to those found on Earth. Are the elements necessary for life on Earth present? As another example, students can access information about geographical features like Mt. Olympus or atmospheric disturbances, such as the storm on Jupiter, and compare them with habitats on earth. What lifeforms survive in extreme heat, cold, dark, light, pressure, thin air, or presence of noxious chemicals? Would photosynthesis be possible, or would the food chain need to rely on chemosynthesis?

Video Streaming:

To illustrate the versatility of the SchoolSpace portal, other materials will be added, including a streamed video of "How To Make a Comet" from the MSSL Science Week. This can be accompanied by "recipes" for students to make their own comets in the classroom. This lesson can be further enhanced by placing webcams both in the classroom and remotely with a supervising astronomer so that students can ask questions and receive advice as they build the comet.


Grid Components for Pilot Proposal

The SchoolSpace demonstrator will illustrate the value added to the classroom by integrating space science data with the grid. Several components of the Astrogrid infrastructure will be configured for classroom use: the portal, registry, application generator and "mySpace" storage area. The portal is the web interface that students and teachers will use to submit queries, view data, see video streams, and learn more about space science; the portal provides access to other components. Once a query is submitted through the portal, the search is sent to the SchoolSpace registry. This registry will hold information about data, resources, and tools suitable for KS2 and KS3 science classes. For example, a student could search the registry to find all images of Mars terrain or for tools that calculate which elements are present in a spectral file. The search for tools may return an application developed by a student or SchoolSpace content developer and published as a web service using the Astrogrid application generator. Finally, once a student is ready to store an image, table, or report, the file can be uploaded to the mySpace storage area, where it can be shared with other students, other classes, and even other schools.

Although the portal, registry, application generator and mySpace components could be installed on several computers around the country, for the purposes of the SchoolSpace demonstrator they will be installed and configured on one machine. The technical work will involve installation and configuration of the portal software on a machine with a web server, application server (such as Tomcat), and Java software development kit installed. Implementing the registry will require special configuration of the Astrogrid registry XML schema so that only data suitable for KS2 and KS3 will be locatable; this will prevent classroom searches from returning datacubes and other complex data types unlikely to be used in a high school science class. Deploying tools and applications through the application generator will require installation of a web service engine, such as Axis. Teachers and content developers can work with software engineers in developing appropriate algorithms and routines to be deployed as web services. With the previous software modules in place, installation of mySpace should only require enough disk space to allow students to upload reasonable amounts of data.

-- NicholasWalton - 20 Nov 2003

-- ElizabethAuden - 29 Apr 2004

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