• Smithsonian Science How Returns

    Posted by Ashley Deese on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 ( 0 )
    Smithsonian Science Howis back with an all-new series of webcasts! This year, teachers can bring more Smithsonian scientists into the classroom through a live television-style program that is streamed through the web. These webcasts air twice in one day, at 11am EDT and 2pm EDT. The live show format allows for students to interact with the scientist in real-time. Students can join the show by submitting questions, participate in fun quizzes, and engage in polls. The scientist will also answer student questions on air throughout the webcast. This gives students the opportunity to interact with these scientists without ever leaving the classroom. Once the webcast has aired, your students can explore the topics from the webcast further with the provided classroom activities, lessons, and readings. Resources from ourSTC™curriculumare also included. There are a variety of topics for the webcasts. Check out thescheduleto find one that fits into your lesson plans. Or watch them all!

  • LASER i3 Summer Professional Development Prepares for Sustainability in Houston

    Posted by Dana Bulba on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 ( 0 )
    Over the past four years, the SSEC has immersed itself in a $35+ million U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) grant: the “LASER i3” project. With a full-time team of roughly 8, the SSEC has been implementing its approach to science education (the LASER model) in 125 schools across northern New Mexico, North Carolina, and Houston, Texas. While roughly half the schools have actively taken part in all aspects of the SSEC’s LASER model – from taking part in Strategic Planning Institutes (SPIs) to receiving science materials and teacher training – the other half has been carrying out their science programs as usual. All the while, the Center for Research in Educational Policy (CREP) at the University of Memphis collected data in order to validate the program … What are students learning? Do attitudes differ between the schools? What works and doesn’t work? The schools the SSEC has actively worked with over the past several years are classified as “Phase 1” schools, and the schools that have been involved in the research component only are classified as “Phase 2” schools. Fifth grade HISD teachers conduct an investigation in the Level 1 Motion & Design training. One of the main goals of the LASER i3 program is to sustain the program within the regions. And, even though the 2014 – 2015 school year marks the end of the funding period, nearly 500 Houston teachers representing 49 Phase 1 and Phase 2 Houston Independent School District (HISD) schools dedicated part of their summer break to bettering their science teaching this summer. The sense of possibility, dedication, and excitement was palpable among the science teachers.

  • A Teacher's Perspective

    Posted by Chrissy Romero on Friday, September 05, 2014 ( 0 )
    The following blog was written by LASER i3 New Mexico teacher and Site Coordinator Chrissy Romero. Ms. Romero teaches at Gonzales Community School in Santa Fe, New Mexico and has been an immeasurable asset to the LASER i3 project since the first summer of training in 2011. Ms. Romero has demonstrated exceptional commitment to the program; she has supported and trained her fellow teachers, and she has been involved as both participant and faculty member at leadership development institutes. The SSEC would like to thank Ms. Romero for her dedication and for sharing her reflections on LASER i3 with us. The Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) recently hosted the LASER i3 Strategic Planning Institute (SPI) for New Mexico LASER i3 schools at the Sheraton Uptown in Albuquerque. As we approach the last year of the grant, the focus was on creating strategic plans that would help school districts continue inquiry science in the future. It was apparent from the participation and excitement that we have come a long way since the first teacher trainings in 2011. Chrissy Romero (at left) looks on as participants at the 2014 NM SPI begin the “Change Game,” a research-based simulation to gain strategies for effecting change in a school system.

  • Butterfly Wing Optics

    Posted by Julia Rothchild on Thursday, September 04, 2014 ( 0 )
    A Morpho butterfly looks like this. Emanuela Carratoni/iStock/Thinkstock The deep iridescent blue is even more dazzling in real life. And yet this butterfly’s wings, according to any sort of chemical analysis, are completely colorless. Nothing in them is truly blue. The mystery of how light that is the color of satiny sky can radiate from translucent material has puzzled scientists since Newton. The quandary is simple: how can something be produced from nothing? As is often the case with science, the answer has been there all along, but simply took a while to find, as scientists needed powerful microscopes to make the discovery. When they at last brought the wings into focus beneath a lens, the lurking cause of color emerged: scales. The wings were blanketed in millions of scales. Of course, this doesn’t seem like an answer at all. How can translucent scales, even quite a lot of them, create color? There must be some element inside them that exudes blue. As it turns out, it is not the miniature tiles themselves but their configuration that matters. A butterfly’s wings may be covered by two, three, or more layers of scaly sheets. The layers are stacked and buttressed by microscopic arches and columns like a miniature Roman city. When a ray of light strikes a wing, some of it bounces directly off the top level of scales. Some of it burrows through the first layer and bounces off a lower level. Light falls from the sky as waves that are like coiled springs. Some of the waves are huge – if you encountered them as water at a beach, they would crash over your head in an instant. Some of the waves are very small, like the surf where the ocean meets the sand. Our eyes see waves of different sizes as separate colors. So when a pack of waves ranging from Chihuahua to German Shepherd stream from the sun down towards the jungle, every color in the world rains down upon the wings.

  • The Energy Beneath Your Feet

    Posted by Julia Rothchild on Thursday, August 07, 2014 ( 0 )
    When the house feels cold in the winter, I turn up the thermostat. But not without a twinge of guilt. I know that at the touch of a button on the little white control box, a furnace hidden somewhere around the house starts huffing and puffing. To churn out hot air it guzzles electricity, which is unfortunately neither renewable nor environmentally friendly: most electricity is made in power plants from coal or natural gas. Burning any of these materials releases toxins into the air. These in turn contribute to raising temperatures and air pollution levels all over the world. The touch of a button on a thermostat nudges the furnace into electricity-consuming action. (Image from here.)

  • If You Can't Stand the Heat…

    Posted by Cathy Wang on Monday, August 04, 2014 ( 0 )
    The Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) is proud to celebrate another successful year of sponsoring and hosting the 2014 Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers (SSEATs). Last week, the SSEC wrapped up Energy: Past, Present, Future—an academy dedicated to understanding the history of energy production, the current state of energy needs, and future technologies to enhance energy efficiency and conservation. On average, Americans have the world’s largest energy consumption while accounting for less than 5% of its population. Americans also account for a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. We rely heavily on fossil fuels (natural gas, oil, and coal) for more than 80% of our energy needs. With oil and natural gas reserves increasing by 30–40% in the past few decades, what used to be a crisis of energy sources is now an issue of fossil fuel misuse. The aftermath of this energy misuse is directly related to our current global climate change crisis, a fact that presenters throughout the week emphasized. Global climate change is now a relatively accepted concept across the global community, but what is scarier than growing caron dioxide levels is the rate at which these emissions continue to increase. We are now taxed with the responsibility of halting the current rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

  • Five Things to Know About Biomimicry

    Posted by Julia Rothchild on Thursday, July 31, 2014 ( 0 )
    The word is difficult to parse. Try this: bio-mimic-ry. Though not so easy on the eyes, the word lucidly explains its own meaning: biomimicry is the imitation of designs and processes found in nature. It asks how we humans can benefit from mimicking the intricate and graceful systems displayed by life forms all over the world. The concept relies on the fact that organisms have been evolving and improving themselves for billions of years, and in many cases have developed near optimal solutions for confronting the physical challenges presented byliving on Earth. As we worry more earnestly and often about how modern technology is a cumbersome imposition on the environment, scientists, artists, and inventors are looking to the natural world to inspire new designs that could imbue human methods of living with more elegance. Here are five topics in biomimicry that are worth time and attention.

  • SSEC Summer School

    Posted by Patti Marohn on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 ( 0 )
    Some professionals may be a little bit jealous that teachers get the summer off. Well, teachers don’t necessarily get the whole summer off. Laser i3 school districts in North Carolina, Texas, and New Mexico are currently undergoing summer professional development that brings the teachers back into the classroom and puts them on the other side of the desk. Two groups of teachers participated in training in Houston, Texas, last week. The first participants were elementary and middle school teachers whose schools are currently using units from the Science and Technology Concepts (STC)TM curriculum. The sessions focused on deepening content knowledge through inquiry while strengthening pedagogy, exploring student thinking, and learning to address misconceptions in a peer-to-peer setting. For example, in grades 1 and 2, they may teach students about clouds in a unit on weather. Learning would focus on different types of clouds, some names of clouds, and what the different types look like. To increase background knowledge, the facilitators and co-facilitators introduce some higher-level content, like under what type of pressure and density conditions the clouds form and how convection in the atmosphere helps create the weather that we experience around us. The discussions on pressure and density are not designed to be taken back and taught in a first- or second-grade classroom; rather, they give the teachers a richer foundation of understanding and more of the backstory that relates to the subjects they teach.

  • Bugs, Biomimicry, and Biodiversity

    Posted by Lauren DiVito on Monday, July 21, 2014 ( 1 )
    A Smithsonian Science Education Academy for Teachers event Two weeks ago, the Smithsonian museums and research facilities were filled with the sights and sounds of adults mimicking insect mating calls, hunting for organisms in brackish water, and allowing African Giant Millipedes to scurry across their willing hands. These adults were participants in the Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers (SSEATS), week-long events focusing on the professional development of science educators. Emphasis is placed on inquiry-based teaching to facilitate effective learning in the sciences. Throughout the week, 20 teachers from all across the country gained a behind-the-scenes look at exhibits within the Smithsonian, participated in hands-on presentations with various scientists, and hiked through the historic Java Trail—land which has been used by Native Americans, colonists, and dairy farmers—all the while discovering creative ways to incorporate the overall theme of biodiversity into their classrooms. Biodiversity refers to the variety of different species within a region, and while the week included a look at creatures local to Washington, DC, the teachers were also given creative ideas and resources for completing similar tasks within their own cities. EntomologistsNate Erwin, who was with the Smithsonian for 20 years and is currently a freelance biologist, and Gary Hevel, who has been with the Institution for 45 years, spent the day sharing their love of bugs. The participants were given a look into Gary’s 25-drawer project, a collection of over 4,000 different species obtained from his backyard over a period of four years. His collection included a golden bug hypothesized to be the star of an Edgar Allen Poe short story, a Sunset moth considered by most to be the prettiest of all the butterflies, and the largest beetle in the Eastern USA—aptly named the Hercules beetle. He concluded his tour by encouraging the group and the public to go out, collect, record, and illustrate. “There’s so many darn things out there!” Entomologist, Gary Hevel, displaying thebeauty of the Sunset Moth.

  • Chronicling Climate Change

    Posted by Julia Rothchild on Friday, July 11, 2014 ( 0 )
    From their lookout in the White Mountains of the western United States, the bristlecone pines have seen it all. They watched from afar as the Confederates suffered heavy losses at Union hands; they heard the scratch of Shakespeare’s quill; they heard the first fireworks bang at their invention in China; they listened to the grinding of stones as the Egyptians erected the Great Pyramid at Giza. Through practically every point in human history – for the last 5,000 years – these trees have remained steadfast witnesses, rooted in the soil. The bristlecone pines have not lived so long because the environment favored their existence. To the contrary: they grow in extremely harsh environments, high up in the mountains. Scathing winds, highly acidic soil, little oxygen, and cold, long winters have barraged these trees literally for millennia. The natural world has not been especially kind to them. Bristlecone pine trees are gnarled and old. They grow at the high altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level. (Image from here.)

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