Evaluating watersheds at the Lawrence Hall of Science

In late April, more than fifty visitors participated in a formative evaluation of LakeViz 3D visualizations, tabletops and exhibits at the Lawrence Hall of Science (“the Hall”).

On the first day, LHS educator Elspeth DeShaw led two groups of eager students (grades 2-5) through a multimedia lesson on watersheds, which was designed to explore how best to combine 3D visualizations with hands-on tabletop activities.

The students first soared through the Lake Tahoe watershed via the 3D ‘Drop of Water’ visualization.  They then created their own watersheds with a hands-on activity which used newspaper, waterproof tablecloths, and instant tea grounds to create topography, observe water’s paths and explore how pollution might affect the watershed.

LHS educator Elspeth De Shaw prepares a group of students for the 3D Drop of Water visualization while evaluators Steve Yalowitz and Maia Werner-Avidon look on.

LHS educator Elspeth De Shaw prepares a group of students for the 3D Drop of Water visualization while evaluators Steve Yalowitz and Maia Werner-Avidon look on.

To situate watersheds in the context of the student’s lives, Elspeth used Google TourBuilder, to guide students on a trip from their homes to the Hall’s watershed, the Strawberry Creek watershed.  They explored how watersheds are important habitat for local plants and animals, how urban watersheds are managed and how they can be affected by human activity.

On the second day of evaluation, visitors were invited to try the Shaping Watersheds sandbox exhibit which had been recently installed at the Hall.  Located in the Science on a Sphere room, evaluators wanted to explore how supplementary visualizations could support sandbox exploration.  Visitors young and old alike enthusiastically dug into the exhibit, sharing their perspective on its meaning and value, along with suggestions for improvement.

While some visitors were participating in the Shaping Watersheds evaluation, others were giving feedback on a list of possible choices for the interactive portion of the DIY Lakes iPhone app that is currently in development and that will follow the at-home inquiry format of DIY Nano and DIY Sun Science.

Audience Viewpoints Consulting (AVC) is preparing written reports on the formative evaluations and we are looking forward to integrating the findings into the project’s learning resources!

The LHS LakeViz evaluation team, ready to deliver and evaluate watershed materials (L to R):  Sarah Reed (LHS), Maia Werner-Avidon (LHS), Steve Yalowitz (AVC), Lisa Newton (LHS), Erin Wilcox (AVC), and Elspeth DeShaw (LHS). Photo credit: Sherry Hsi (LHS)

The LHS LakeViz evaluation team, ready to deliver and evaluate watershed materials (L to R): Sarah Reed (LHS), Maia Werner-Avidon (LHS), Steve Yalowitz (AVC), Lisa Newton (LHS), Erin Wilcox (AVC), and Elspeth DeShaw (LHS). Photo credit: Sherry Hsi (LHS)

Preparing for sandbox launch at the Hall

The Lawrence Hall of Science (“the Hall”) staff has been busily preparing its Shaping Watersheds exhibit for prime time. The Hall shop staff did a wonderful job customizing and adding key modifications: re-locating the ‘Drain’ button for improved ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) access, adding a transparent lid and new frame to enable two modes of use (facilitated and unfacilitated), and adding a USB port in the former location of the original drain switch. The USB port allows a keyboard to be connected to access the computer within the cabinetry.

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A modified version of the ‘Shaping Watersheds’ exhibit is installed at the Lawrence Hall of Science. The modifications include improved ADA access and a removable, facilitation-flexible lid. A small stepping stool (seen in bottom left) allows little visitors to access the sandbox bin.

Once those modifications were complete, the exhibit was installed in its new home, the Hall’s Science on a Sphere room. The Hall staff worked with the UC Davis technical team to calibrate the exhibit for optimum performance, with the modifications and new location. This experience provided a good test to explore whether sandbox software upgrades and technical support can be provided remotely.

Lawrence Hall of Science staff Frank Kusiak (center) and Graham Patterson (right) and Exploratorium staff Chris Dang (foreground) calibrate the exhibit, with remote assistance from UC Davis technical expert Burak Yikilmaz (via Skype).

Lawrence Hall of Science staff Frank Kusiak (center) and Graham Patterson (right) and Exploratorium staff Chris Dang (foreground) calibrate the exhibit, with remote assistance from UC Davis technical expert Burak Yikilmaz (via Skype).

Since its installation, the Hall staff have been testing the sandbox with small groups of visitors, training adult volunteers as facilitators, and drafting a facilitator’s guide based on the lessons learned. We’re gearing up to make a public launch of the exhibit soon!

Lake visualizations with Google geo-tools

This spring, LakeViz team members and Cal Academy colleagues participated in a day-long workshop to explore Google’s newest geo-tools.  The workshop was led by the enthusiastic John Bailey, Program Manager for GeoEducation from Google Earth’s Outreach team. Through a collaboration with the California Academy of the Sciences, Ryan Wyatt, Director of the Morrison Planetarium and Science Visualization, served as our gracious host  for the training.

One of the main challenges the LakeViz3D team has faced has been how to make research-level visualization tools (e.g., Crusta, LIDAR Viewer) — that produce high-fidelity imagery —  usable for educators and non-technical staff to create their own 3D educational visualizations.  The workshop was, in part, intended to explore whether relatively familiar, user-friendly interfaces such as Google’s geo-tools could serve as more accessible entry points for educators to create supplementary visualization tools for their audiences.

Participants learned how to create collaborative maps using Google Maps Engine (GME).  We also explored lakes-related maps published in the GME Maps Gallery, such as a global map of lakes and reservoirs and changes in Lake Erie algal levels over time.

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The new Google Maps Engine allows users to import, stylize and share a wide range of spatial datasets.

Following up from the workshop, LakeViz team member Dr. Sarah Reed,  Science and Technology Educator at LHS, explored TourBuilder, a geospatial storytelling app which combines Google Earth with a presentation platform similar to Powerpoint.  View one of the LakeViz visualizations that TERC’s Education and Outreach Director Heather Segale adapted for the TourBuilder environment at this link.

Google’s Streetview has gone ‘off-road’ and workshop participants enjoyed touring Cal Academy with a 360-degree Ricoh Theta camera while creating photospheres that can be added to the Google Maps library.  In addition, members explored several of the lake-relevant Streetview Treks, such as Moraine Lake and the Colorado River.

LakeViz team members also explored the analytic capabilities of the remote sensing tool Google Earth Engine which allows visualization and analysis of raster datasets.  Using GEE Timelapse, users can, for instance, view the desertification of the Aral Sea.

While the geospatial tools explored at the workshop don’t allow for true 3D visualizations, such as one would expect to see in 3D theater venues, the LakeViz team members are assessing the tools’ capabilities as visualization tools for educator use.  For instance, a school teacher could rapidly create a watershed story for their students, while educators in a science center could use Google tools as an intermediate tool to explore pathways for large datasets during story and visualization development.

LakeViz members with instructor John Bailey at the GeoEducation workshop.  From left to right:  Burak Yikilmaz (UC Davis), Jessica Bean (UC Davis), Frank Kusiak (LHS), Sherry Hsi (LHS), Chris Keller (LHS), Sarah Reed (LHS), John Bailey (Google GeoEducation), Alison Toy (TERC), Heather Segale (TERC).

LakeViz members with instructor John Bailey at the GeoEducation workshop. From left to right: Burak Yikilmaz (UC Davis), Jessica Bean (UC Davis), Frank Kusiak (LHS), Sherry Hsi (LHS), Chris Keller (LHS), Sarah Reed (LHS), John Bailey (Google GeoEducation), Alison Toy (TERC), Heather Segale (TERC).

3D Sneak Peek at ECHO

Over two days of formative evaluation, more than 300 guests at ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center previewed a new 3D guided tour of  the Lake Champlain Basin. Nina Ridhibhinyo, ECHO’s group  programs manager, guided these eager participants through space and time as part of a 25-minute 3D presentation on the history of dam development and flooding on the Winooski River. They explored Vermont’s wetlands and flood zones, delved into the historic floods of 1927 and 2011, and visited mills, hydroelectric, and flood control dams throughout Vermont.

Nina Ridhibhinyo narrates  a 3D guided tour of the Lake Champlain Basin.  (Photo courtesy of Audience Viewpoints Consulting.)

Nina Ridhibhinyo leads a 3D tour of the Lake Champlain Basin.                                                    (Photo courtesy of Audience Viewpoints Consulting.)

This 3D visualization tool provides a powerful way for our visitors to explore the geography of the Lake Champlain Basin as part of an immersive 3D experience. By layering aerial imagery and geographic data on top of a digital model, ECHO guests can now soar over the mountains, above the streams, and through the valleys of the Basin.

 “As a small lake aquarium and science center in a watershed that serves a total population of only 600,000 people, ECHO could not have imagined using 3D technology to develop awareness and stewardship of freshwater ecosystems programming without the support of the LakeViz3D project, a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant,” said Julie Silverman, ECHO’s director of new. With NSF’s on-going support, ECHO plans to roll out new 3D public and school programs this fall and winter

3D Movie of Lake Tahoe Set to Make a Big Splash This Summer

This summer visitors to the Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) will have the unique opportunity to “Go Jump in the Lake” without even getting wet.  A new 3D movie, produced as part of the LakeViz project, will dive under the water’s surface to observe the different organisms that live in Lake Tahoe and to explore the physics that governs the lake habitat.

The movie, “Let’s Go Jump in the Lake,” will feature unique footage of Lake Tahoe and its inhabitants, all in 3D. Stunning time-lapse sequences show changes in the lake throughout the seasons. TERC divers have captured subsurface video that includes kokanee salmon spawning, the extent of invasive species such as watermilfoil and Asian clams, schools of native fish, and underwater research projects. For close-up shots of the animals that live in Lake Tahoe, TERC set up aquaria for fish, Mysis shrimp, and zooplankton such as Daphnia. Computer generated animations are used to illustrate concepts—such as lake mixing—that  are difficult to capture on film.

Steve Andersen with Omnidual Media is filming and managing the post-production of the film. Since the movie will be presented in 3D, all the video equipment is specialized for the shoot. Steve has an arsenal of tools including several UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) designed to carry two cameras for the challenging 3D aerial shots.

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3D Videographer Steve Andersen uses an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle equipped with dual cameras for 3D video of Lake Tahoe

“I’ve had to build most of the camera mounts to shoot 3D, both above and below water”, says Andersen.  “I designed a special stabilizing mount for the UAV to properly balance and control two synced cameras. This took several months of trial and error to finally get a working system.”

He has also built several underwater mounts for UC Davis TERC divers Brant Allen and Katie Webb to shoot the underwater scenes. Much of the video will be shot using the latest GoPro cameras and Sony’s NEX cameras placed in Steve’s custom designed 3D mounts. Steve will also be creating the 3D computer generated animations used throughout the film.

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UC Davis TERC divers gather underwater film footage in Lake Tahoe for the new 3D movie

“Let’s Go Jump in the Lake” is currently in production with a release tentatively scheduled for August 2014. When complete, it will be showing at the Tahoe Science Center (open from 1-5 Tuesday – Friday).  It will also be available on the 3DH2O website, the LakeViz project’s library of resources for freshwater ecosystem education using stereoscopic 3D and augmented reality visualizations.