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Researchers often ask us, “What’s the easiest way to get started with cloud computing?” Cloud computing can seem daunting, but Windows Azure makes it easier than ever to analyze and manage large datasets in the cloud. Want to know more? Then please join us tomorrow (December 4 or December 5, depending on your time zone) for the next installment in our webinar series that explains what, why, and how of the cloud can free you from limited computing resources and the expense of hardware procurement. One of the best ways to get going is to use one of the pre-configured “science-in-a-box” Linux virtual machines. These great little packages bring together all of the tools you need, so that you can deploy them in the cloud with just a few mouse clicks. You can grab these from our VM Depot, where there are dozens to choose from, including BioLinux and a Data Science VM with IPython, as well as big data tools such as Kafka and STORM. In tomorrow’s webinar, we’ll walk you through how to create Linux and Windows VMs for scientific applications, both from VM Depot and from scratch, so you can build your own VM tuned for your research. Once you’ve built your VM, you can literally spin up hundreds of them to run those big calculations needed to meet your publication deadline—that’s the power of the cloud in action.
Windows Azure virtual machines deployed from VM Depot: Science-in-a-Box
We’re delighted to present the webinar twice, at 8:00 A.M. Pacific Time (that’s 4:00 P.M. GMT December 4, morning for Western Hemisphere researchers and late afternoon for those in Europe and Africa), and at 6:00 P.M. Pacific Time (2:00 A.M. GMT December 5, and after breakfast in Asia). Wherever you are on the globe, we hope you join us online for this informative session. To complement the webinars, we’ve created some getting started guides at the Windows Azure for Research site to provide a deeper dive. So please join us for the webinar series and dig deeper with our technical papers to liberate your research by reaching for the cloud.—Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEALearn more
Last week, from November 22 to 24, I was in St. Louis, Missouri, at the annual conference of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), helping to promote the terrific work of our international partners in creating open-source technologies and free curricula to support history education. I spent two days in the NCSS exhibit hall demoing ChronoZoom, an interactive, multimedia timeline of the history of everything, which won the SXSW Interactive Award for Best Educational Resource last year.
I wasn’t the only ChronoZoom fan in St. Louis. Three of our collaborators presented at the conference, which draws 3,000 to 4,000 social studies educators each year. One of our pilot projects is actually in St. Louis, and its presentation was given by 13 high schoolers, all advanced-placement history students, who shared their collaborative timeline of world religions—and the power of ChronoZoom.
The pedagogical value of ChronoZoom was apparent in their comments, such as this from Dimitri Rucker, one of the all advanced-placement high schoolers:
“ChronoZoom changed the way I thought about history because of the format it’s displayed in. With the zooming capabilities, you can quickly and visually learn about history all the way from cosmos to humanity now and I think that’s very interesting about this educational tool. With ChronoZoom, we incorporated the timeline of religion and philosophy and how they have affected history throughout time. And by using ChronoZoom, it is easier to show the large timeline of events to help explain how religion has affected the world.”
My goal at the conference was to increase awareness of ChronoZoom and to encourage teachers to try it and provide feedback. In particular, we are interested in sharing the new authoring tools that provide a simple, intuitive means of creating timelines and then creating presentations around those timelines in a fashion similar to PowerPoint or Prezi. Our engineering teams will be prioritizing their work according to teacher requests, so this is an excellent opportunity for teachers to shape a piece of technology designed specifically for educational use.
I gave a lot of demos to share our technical work around ChronoZoom, but our big news was the non-digital, standards-aligned curriculum we released in partnership with the NCSS, the American Historical Association, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a team of amazing curriculum developers and subject matters experts. As I said repeatedly at the conference, the easiest thing about creating educational technology is creating the educational technology. Once that is done, the hard work begins: creating the pedagogical support necessary to make the technology comprehensible and easy for educators and students to use.
The curriculum consists of three core units that cover different approaches to teaching historical thinking: (1) The Causes of World War I, which teaches about causality and multiple perspectives; (2) Atlantic Encounters, which presents a more abstract introduction to historical thinking by studying the moments when two cultures meet and how the meeting changes both cultures; and (3) The ChronoZoomers Guild, which provides lesson templates and associated materials to create an immersive experience involving time travel and the alteration of pivotal events in world history. Read more about these three units.
Middle-school history teacher Samantha Shires helped develop the World War I curriculum and piloted it with her class of seventh and eighth graders in Greensboro, NC. What stood out for her was ChronoZoom’s usefulness as a presentation and assessment tool. “There’s a certain amount of messiness to history that can make it a challenge to fully understand,” she said. “ChronoZoom provides a visual representation that helps my students make sense of the messiness and act as an operator of history, rather than merely a bystander.”
Each of the lesson plans is designed to be open-ended with enough room for individual educators to flex their creative muscles. In each lesson, teachers guide the students to answer basic research questions by using authoritative primary sources that are curated by subject matter experts. Then, students are invited to use ChronoZoom to build timelines and presentations based on their research. This allows students to demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter as well as their mastery of historical thinking principles outlined in the C3 social studies standards and the upcoming Common Core standards.
We encourage history teachers to download the curriculum, experiment with ChronoZoom, and join our community. If you like the ChronoZoom curriculum, let us know through the website forums. If you don’t like it, definitely let us know. Your feedback is essential to help ensure that we provide a curriculum that suits your needs.
So again, please try ChronoZoom and let us know what you think. I look forward to possibly working with you as we continue to evolve ChronoZoom, striving to make it a great example of what the future of education might be.
—Donald Brinkman, Program Manager for Digital Humanities, Microsoft Research Connections
The curriculum for teaching historical thinking with ChronoZoom
Lesson 1: Causes of World War IThis unit focuses on the events of 1874 to 1914 that led up to the onset of World War I. The focus of this unit is causality and multiple perspectives. The material is taught by using non-digital techniques in the classroom. Students can subsequently use ChronoZoom to create timelines based on what they have learned, and present these learnings to their classmates and teacher.
Lesson 2: Atlantic EncountersThis unit explores the difference between encounters and contacts. It poses such questions as “Do cultures have a moment when they collide, when the world is changed forever and seemingly inevitably? Or do cultures interact and mingle over longer periods of time?” It challenges students to show causation, contingency, and consequences, and introduces them to historical thinking by studying encounters among cultures from across the Atlantic and the outcomes of these interactions. By exploring the question "How did Atlantic encounters shape North America?", students will understand that these encounters among indigenous Americans, Africans, and Europeans were major turning points in the history of the world. Drawing upon primary and secondary sources, students create and analyze exhibits collaboratively on ChronoZoom timelines.
Lesson 3: ChronoZoomers GuildThe third unit is a foundation to support historical thinking and is truly content-agnostic. The material from the World War I unit is used to demonstrate the principles, but the unit is intended to be “plug and play” for any history content, allowing students to populate the templates with whatever historical information the class is studying. This unit provides lesson templates and associated materials to immerse students in an epic narrative that revolves around the class being contacted by a secretive organization from the future that uses time travel to alter pivotal events in world history. Students must master fundamental historical thinking concepts and meet Common Core historical literacy standards. They are then invited to create a timeline in ChronoZoom and present it as a proposal to change past events in order to create a better future.
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Building an historical view of climate change in the cloud with ChronoZoom
Starting in the tenth century, during the Medieval Warm Period, Greenland was a fraction of a degree warmer than today. Norse settlers raised livestock and cultivated small farms. Later, in the fifteenth century, a colder climate and conflicts with the Inuit caused them to abandon their settlements. Critics of anthropogenic global warming cite this earlier episode of warming as evidence that periods of rising temperatures are part of the natural cycle of climate change. By so doing, they attempt to dismiss the impact of human activities on today’s warming world, but without examining the causes of climate changes at various times in Earth’s history.
One of my challenges as a teacher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is to help my students put such historical evidence in perspective. Every year, I teach a course about Earth system science to 80 to 100 incoming graduate students. It’s very important that these students understand how Earth functions as a planet, including how and why its climate changes. We know that Earth goes through periods in which the climate varies. And at different timescales, we understand why the climate changes.
Covering millions of years’ worth of warming trends in a single term is a challenge; managing the massive volumes of data, charts, videos, illustrations, and other support materials is even more daunting. I’ve struggled to pull together all these materials in an accessible—and manageable—manner.
Thanks to ChronoZoom, an award-winning, open-source community project that is dedicated to visualizing the history of everything, I now have an effective way of collecting, presenting, and managing all of these resources. A joint effort of the University of California, Berkeley; Moscow State University; the Outercurve Foundation; and Microsoft Research Connections, ChronoZoom lets my students navigate through time, from the Big Bang to recent historical events, stopping to study detailed information at any point in history. With the ability to compare events that occurred in the distant past with what’s going on in the present, my students can better understand how we know that today’s warming climate is driven by human activities. For example, by using data derived from ice cores and thermometers, they can examine how changes in temperature relate to events in human and pre-human history.
By using ChronoZoom, I’m developing a history of Earth that illustrates changes in climate from the beginning of the planet through modern day. I’m including images, diagrams, graphs, and time-lapse movies that illustrate changes in the environment, pulling these resources together to create tours: explanatory narratives that my students can explore at any speed and level of detail they want. They can skip over some details and dive deep into others. They can zoom rapidly from one time period to another, moving through history as quickly or slowly as they want.
By using ChronoZoom, Dozier is developing a history of Earth that illustrates changes in climate from the beginning of the planet through modern day.
Because ChronoZoom operates in the cloud and can be accessed from anywhere through any modern web browser, teachers and schools don’t have to invest in new equipment or software. That’s definitely a plus, especially in these days of tight budgets. But for my money, the best value lies in the volume and depth of material that can be packed into a single ChronoZoom timeline. Moreover, thanks to Windows Azure, the tool has the flexibility to scale up and down, so that even projects that focus on but a sliver of the history of everything—such as the history of humanity or maybe just the twentieth century or the last couple of weeks—still benefit from presentation in ChronoZoom.
What’s more, I’ll be able to share my tours with other teachers—and take advantage of theirs—because we can all upload our information to the cloud, making our data, images, and text available in any Internet-connected classroom. Our students can do this, too, creating and sharing their own tours.
I’m sure that ChronoZoom is going to change the way I teach and, more importantly, the way students learn, and I encourage anyone with an interest in understanding the interconnections of history to put their own content into ChronoZoom.
—Jeff Dozier, Professor of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara