Story time: As a graduate student, I spent time with the wonderful scientists at the Museum of Biological Diversity. Every year, they hosted an outreach event that they tamely called the “Open House”. The MBD Open House was part children’s science museum, part science celebration, part excuse to get everyone together and just share what we loved and have a good time. I was always at the paleontology table, but I had a secret love for what the entomologists (insect scientists) were up to. Their activity was to take insects (usually wasps, ladybugs, and June bugs) that had been “pests” and trapped, then preserved in alcohol – and set them up in little vials so kids could take them home. These were not just any bugs dropped into vials, though. They were special. They suspended insects in Purell. Why? The legend was that an exterminator (and I don’t know who or where) had a collection of common pest insects. Bees, hornets, wasps, ants, termites… all delicate insects, and some were tiny and/or difficult to attach to a board to show his clients. Another issue was that as they aged, they dried out and broke and fell apart. Anyone who’s tried to identify an insect knows that recognizing the right one is much more difficult when you have them in pieces in a box rather than intact. At first, he thought the answer was to preserve the collection in jars of alcohol. It wasn’t too long before he settled on Purell. Because its a gel, you can suspend things in it. Like this:
I have a bald-faced hornet from the MBDOH I’ll have to go find this week. I have about a thousand of these plastic fish around the house, so he’s standing in for an insect. See how he’s suspended? And you can turn the jar around on all sides? Neat. The last few weeks my daughter and I have been planting our garden, starting seeds and playing with various macroinvertebrates. She wants to check out our seeds, but they haven’t come up just yet. She has no idea what’s going on under the soil in our garden. Do you see where I’m going here? No, we can’t plant seeds in Purell. Alcohol is not the same as water. But, can we come close? What we need is something we can use that is plant-safe, that will hold water and support a seed. A glance around my garden shed drew me to one thing: Soil Moist. Soil moist is a jar of polymer (polyacrilimide) that I use in my garden to increase water availability. In the hot, dry areas of my yard, I sprinkle a little under my plant before I cover the roots, so that during wet times extra water is absorbed and then released to the plant during dry times. This stuff is the polymer used in diapers to absorb urine, and over time it also breaks down into chemicals that are safe for the garden. Behold: the goo.
Here is a great opportunity (from my alma-mater) for ALL teachers who are interested in learning more about science, particularly geology and chemistry.
Science Teaching for Ohio’s New Economy (S.T.O.N.E.)
Get ready for the New Generation Science Standards! Wright State University announces a summer and academic year science professional development opportunity for teachers of grades 4-12 to experience the integration of earth and physical science in an inquiry-based field, lab and distance learning setting. All teachers and administrators are eligible, not only science teachers.
Part one of STONE will include a two-week (Monday-Friday) summer inquiry-based field trip and laboratory experience. The goal of this summer experience is to allow classroom educators to build their knowledge of how geoscientists work to determine economic reserves of minerals. The field trips will be a great opportunity to collect samples for your classroom, take photographs, and use collected materials to develop your own inquiry-based classroom activities. All participant meal, transportation and lodging costs* during the summer workshop will be grant funded.
A four-week internet-based collaboration during Fall 2013 is designed to support the development of classroom inquiry-based classroom activities by project participants. Rounding out the professional development program are three interactive web conferences between participants and facilitators will take place every two months from January to May 2014 and will serve to generate ideas for further curriculum development, and to guide the future of the project. Up to 3 semester hours of graduate credit are available at the greatly reduced cost of $250/credit. Contact Project STONE Director William Slattery at email@example.com for more information or to register for the program.
Summer Field and Laboratory Experience
Tentative dates July 15-19-July 22-26, 2013.
Fall Semester 2012
September – October 2013 Internet collaboration and classroom implementation phase
January-May 2014 Four one-hour interactive telecommunication conferences
*lodging provided for those participants living at least 60 miles from Wright State University Main Campus.
Last year I taught plate tectonics to about 140 high school upperclassmen. Before I started, I wanted to know what their knowledge of world geography was so that when I referred to the continents, I would know if they knew what I was talking about. I made a quiz with a map of the world, and asked the students to identify the continents (Asia, Africa, Antarctica, North and South America, Australia, and Europe), major landmasses (Greenland, Madagascar), the United States, and Ohio (where we live).
To my shock (and horror?) most had trouble placing the United States and Ohio.
Well, as the Earth Science teacher, and I had to do something about this. We were heading in to plate tectonics, so we first learned about kinds of maps, then nearly every activity was working with maps, identifying landmasses, and trying to understand the relationships between them.
I would encourage you to find a way this Earth Day to challenge your students: do they know their literal place in the world? Could they point to it on a map? I bet most can’t.
Consider: National Geographic found that among young Americans,
- nearly 30 percent of those surveyed could not find the Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest body of water;
- more than half—56 percent—were unable to locate India, home to 17 percent of people on Earth; and
- only 19 percent could name four countries that officially acknowledge having nuclear weapons.
They say “Several perhaps interrelated factors affected performance—educational experience (including taking a geography course), international travel and language skills, a varied diet of news sources, and Internet use. Americans who reported that they accessed the Internet within the last 30 days scored 65 percent higher than those who did not.” (Take the National Geographic Survey here!)
The question we must ask ourselves as teachers, is that what knowledge of the earth do we need to instill in our students? So much of Earth Day is about the resources of the earth. While this is great information for students, I’m not sure telling them to shower less is really making them a better global citizen. (And there was this one classmate I had… who should never be told that advise. Ever.)
How can we incorportate knowledge of the earth in our lessons? Of our place in it? When you teach history, do you have a map on your wall you use? Do you and your students interact with it? When you talk about government, could your students identify your state’s capital and Washington DC? Can they find places important to our world politics? Places like Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea? Can they identify the other major English speaking countries (Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand)? How many students on Friday morning knew that Chechnya was in Russia?
Can your students point to a globe to indicate where they are now? Do they know where their ancestors came from? Can they show you those countries?
When I was a Freshman in High School, part of the final exam was a set of maps. We had a world map and had to label the continents. We then had continental maps and had to identify each country and capital (yep, all of them). For the United States, Canada, and Mexico we also had to identify the states and their capitols. (If you’re wondering, I scored somewhere in the mid-80s. I still remember some of the things that gave me trouble. Budapest vs. Bucharest, for example.)
I guess I have Carmen Sandiego to thank for that.
Science Notebooks are quite the fad these days. I have to admit, I loved them as a student. However back then, before the internet was what it is now, I wondered what famous scientists had in their notebooks.
How about Charles Darwin? He sailed around the world as a “Naturalist”, looking at … Nature. A geologist by training, he also extensively studied biology. You actually can look in his notebooks (Darwin Online). Notebooks are great places for making sketches of things where writing words just doesn’t get the complete picture.
Why is keeping careful notes of your work important? So that you can prove that your idea was yours. Here is an example, where the discovery of Streptomycin, the first treatment that could cure tuberculosis. Read the story of the missing notebooks (and their later discovery) on the Notebook Stories blog, and at the New York Times. (Short version: the antibiotic was discovered by the junior member of a lab and his supervisor stole the credit, including a Nobel Prize, and profit from it.)
How about Isaac Newton? You can browse his collection online at the Cambridge Digital Library (link here).
Do you have students who love science, but also art? You might want to share with them the work of medical art student, Sayaka Isowa.
Do you keep your own science notebooks? Do your students or children?
The NSTA position statement on science learning for elementary students states that learning is best if its hands on, inquiry based, and thematic. Nature studies are one way to meet these requirements for young learners.
Nature studies can, of course, be formal. But they don’t have to be.
Right now here in the Midwest, it is Spring. Its the time for germinating plants, and birds of all sorts. Bulbs are popping up, trees are leafing out, and worms crawl on the sidewalk after the rain. I can’t really help myself – my daughter (aged almost 4) is getting quite a bit of exploring time outside whenever the mood strikes.
For instance, today is trash day. The day that I have to force myself to drag the can and the recycling out to the curb. Today, no doubt due to the interesting weather, my little shadow followed me. Shoeless. I turned around from the curb to see her standing completely still, staring at the ground. “Mama”, she loudly whispered, “there’s a WORM!”
So we counted the worms, and looked for different colored ones. She ran through the puddles (yes, barefoot). She jumped and splashed. We looked for more worms. And slugs. And the birds that were singing. And checked on the plants we potted on Saturday.
Do you notice these things? It would be possible for me to get in my car (in my garage), pull out, and never notice them. I could have insisted my daughter go inside, get out of her pajamas and into real clothes, put on shoes and a jacket – but what would we have missed then? Do you ask your students to notice these things when they are outside? Maybe they can even see things through the windows of your classroom (my last few classrooms haven’t had windows, and I miss them).
Later today I’m hoping the sun comes out, and we will go out again. We will see if the worms are still there, and if the plants have changed. What do you encourage your students to do outside?
2013 stands to be one of the best years for comet viewing. First up: C/2011 L4 Pan-Starrs.
This comet has already been visible in the southern hemisphere (comment if you’ve seen it!), and is expected to TODAY (March 8) be more easily visible to us in the Northern Hemisphere. My husband has our telescope and binoculars ready-to-go, waiting for a clear night. The best viewing should be in a few days, the 12th and 13th of March.
C/2011 L4 Pan-Starrs should be visible for the rest of the month, down and to the left from the moon just after sunset.
Comets are made of collections of rocks, dust, and ice. Most start as part of the Oort Cloud or Kuiper Belt and are a few km to 10s of km across. Sometimes, these masses of stuff begin to orbit the sun and as that happens, the comet begins to sublimate (the “stuff” goes from solid to gas) and falls apart as a result of solar radiation and (solar) wind, creating a tail. The tail of a comet always points away from the sun and does not indicate its direction of travel.
For more details, see these articles
Sky and Telescope: “Comet PanSTARRS Still Punking Out”
by BBC News: “Bright comet ‘lighting sky’ as it flies by Earth”
the New Zealand Herald: “Rare comet to be visible in NZ skies”