• Leafsnap Turns Students into Hands-On Botanists

    Posted by Alexis Stempien on Tuesday, October 13, 2015 ( 0 )
    Photographing a leaf with the Leafsnap app “I’m working with our app, Leafsnap,” the scientist said. I hesitated before joining her. Visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History for a before-hours event, I had wandered into the room hoping the butterfly pavilion would be open early. (It wasn’t.) Instead, I found a lone scientist working with her iPhone and a few plants. “Leafsnap is a free app based on facial recognition software,” she elaborated, gesturing to her phone. “You take a picture of a leaf, and it tells you what kind of plant it is.” I stopped. It did what? Leafsnap: The Interactive Field Guide for iPhone and iPad The scientist, Ida Lopez, turned out to be the Smithsonian program coordinator for Leafsnap and was delighted to explain more. Leafsnap, she explained, was started in 2003 when several computer science professors from Columbia University and the University of Maryland approached the Smithsonian with an idea: They wanted to apply facial recognition software to the natural world. With their technology, a field botanist could pack a computer, a camera, a GPS, and a small Wi-Fi antenna, then snap a photo of a leaf and immediately know what kind of plant it was. A camera, computer, GPS, and small antenna? It sounded cumbersome, but Lopez continued.

  • Am I Right-Brained or Left-Brained?

    Posted by Nate Fedrizzi on Tuesday, September 29, 2015 ( 0 )
    Am I Left or Right Brained? According to scientists, you’re probably neither. Many of us have asked ourselves this question at least once. The idea that people are either “left brained” (more concrete and analytical), or “right brained” (more abstract and creative), has been circulating in popular culture for decades. The lasting influence of this concept may be due to the natural human inclination to categorize everything —including the people around us.

  • Earthworms, Volcanoes, and What It Means To Be a Scientist

    Posted by Brian Mandell on Wednesday, September 23, 2015 ( 0 )
    Teachers are often asked the following question, “What makes someone a scientist?” Students in all grades ask this question a lot. Although there is no one clean answer, we hope to provide a little clarity for our teacher friends out there. Being a scientist means being curious, passionate, and resourceful. Being a scientist means using evidence to make claims. It’s a way of thinking. It’s a mindset, but where does this scientific mindset come from? Is there a special combination of internal ingredients necessary for one to develop a scientific mindset? To answer some of these questions, we will focus fire on the impact curricular resources can have on the development of a scientific mindset. These resources have a unique ability to influence the teaching and learning of science for every teacher, student, and parent in an educational system. The messages and stories found in science curricula can make a profound difference in how students think about and approach science. If there is an emphasis in the curriculum on the who, what, where, when, and why underlining a scientific discovery, students’ mindsets will follow. They might only value the outcome. They might only value the discovery, but what about the act of discovery? The pattern in these curricular resources is familiar. We learn about a theory or concept, find out who discovered it, and are usually (and unnecessarily) provided with the year of their birth and death.

  • 5 Science Facts About the U.S. Constitution

    Posted by Ashley Deese on Wednesday, September 16, 2015 ( 0 )
    On this Constitution Day we wanted to recognize the fascinating science behind preserving one of America’s greatest documents. Constitution Day is celebrated every September 17 to recognize the signing of the United States Constitution. “Constitution Day commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution by thirty-nine brave men on September 17, 1787, recognizing all who, are born in the U.S. or by naturalization, have become citizens.” -- Image from Thinkstock Of course, we are all aware of the significance of this piece of American history, but did you know that this document also has a connection to NASA? Yes, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. We compiled a few science facts about preserving the Constitution and NASA’s role from NASA’s Destination TomorrowTM video series.

  • Good Thinking!: Introducing ... Ms. Reyes

    Posted by Nate Fedrizzi on Wednesday, September 09, 2015 ( 0 )
    “When we had to think about who Ms. Reyes was as a person, I conjured many of the women and men I've met in this science and science education world … I think science has a way of challenging people such that self-deprecation or not taking yourself too seriously becomes a survival skill. Not all scientists or science teachers develop those traits, by any means! But my favorite ones have and I saw that as something that would shine through Isabella.”

  • What I Did on my Summer Vacation

    Posted by Ashley Deese on Friday, September 04, 2015 ( 0 )
    Inspired by our friends at FableVision, we decided to highlight what we did for the summer. Summer is a very busy time for the Smithsonian Science Education Center. This summer, we brought you Good Thinking!, BumperDucks, Showbiz Safari, Explore Smithsonian, and ten leadership development and professional development programs. Yes, TEN! Somehow, a few of us managed to take a vacation. Katya Vines, Science Curriculum Developer "While on vacation in New Mexico and Colorado this summer I learned the following: That you get dehydrated much quicker at higher altitudes That an active volcano is one that has erupted once in the last 10,000 years That the atomic bomb was developed in an old schoolhouse outside Los Alamos That steam engines can produce black or white smoke That man is very creative in using what nature has provided." (L-R) Valles Caldera, NM; Bradbury Science Museum, NM; Silverton-Durango narrow gauge railway, CO; and Mesa Verde, CO

  • Blue Crab Engineering: A Biomimicry Project for All Ages

    Posted by Alexis Stempien on Wednesday, September 02, 2015 ( 0 )
    Sometimes, a blue crab and a handful of Popsicle sticks can teach you more than a textbook. This June at our Science Education Academy for Teachers on biodiversity, educators from across America discovered how scientists are learning from Mother Nature’s engineering. As it turns out, many of the world’s greatest technologies were invented long before humans figured out fire. Copying the designs and processes of life, or biomimicry, may hold the key to the science of the future – and to a few amazing classroom lessons.

  • It’s a bird, it’s a plane… It’s Energy’s Innovations!

    Posted by Daniel Tuthill on Monday, August 24, 2015 ( 0 )
    The second Smithsonian Science Education Academy for Teachers (SSEAT) of the summer came to a successful close once again in the middle of July. The focus of this academy was Energy’s Innovations and Implications. The participants heard from a diverse set of speakers on past, current, and future renewable sources of energy as well as how energy has transformed the world we live in for the past 200 years. The week began with an introduction to modern energy use starting in the industrial revolution where the modern engine was created, initially ran by water until efficiency was increased because of the introduction of steam heated by combustion. Hal Wallace, Curator of Electrical Collections at the National Museum of American History, also introduced the impact Thomas Edison had in bringing electricity to the masses with the creation of the first electrical grid in Menlo Park. Participants were even able to see one of the first electric elevators on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Today this electrical grid spans the entire United States, powering lights and appliances each and every day in almost every U.S. home. With the expansion of the grid came an expansion of power stations to supply enough electricity for the quickly growing demand and thus a spike in energy resource usage.

  • Why Do Mosquito Bites Itch? The Science of Summer

    Posted by Alexis Stempien on Wednesday, August 19, 2015 ( 0 )
    Brain freeze, sunburns, and bug bites – welcome to summer! While summer in the Northern Hemisphere often conjures up images of swimming pools and beach umbrellas, it also comes with a few pains. While scientists can’t make them go away (yet), they can at least tell us why we have to suffer through them! Maybe brain freeze, sunburns, and itchy bug bites can somehow be a good thing? What causes brain freeze? About one-third of the population is susceptible to ice cream headaches, or brain freeze. When consuming ice cream or cold beverages too quickly, the cold can trigger a sudden, painful headache that lasts for a few minutes. As it turns out, this is just the brain trying to protect itself! When something cold hits the roof of your mouth, it triggers the contraction (or shrinking) of two major blood vessels: the internal carotid artery and the anterior cerebral artery. To protect itself from the cold, the brain sends a signal to quickly expand these blood vessels to allow for more blood flow and more heat. Ultimately, the rapid contraction and expansion of blood vessels triggers pain receptors on the outside of your brain and causes that pesky headache! Need to cure brain freeze fast? Just grab a glass of warm water or, even morequickly, press your tongue against the roof of your mouth. As soon as your mouth is warm and your blood vessels return to normal, the headache will go away. Credit: Sean Dreilinger

  • Bacteria: An Unexpected Key to Curing Deadly Disease?

    Posted by Megan Stefkovich on Thursday, August 13, 2015 ( 0 )
    Scientists at the University of California in San Francisco have been studying clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPRs for short, in prokaryotic (single-celled) organisms such as bacteria. Cancer. It’s extremely good at two things: spreading terrifyingly fast throughout the body, and threading little needles of fear through every patient’s heart. Billions of dollars have been funneled into researching newer, cheaper, more effective ways to combat the second greatest cause of death in the United States, yet those affected still suffer through chemotherapy and radiation treatments year after year. What if I told you that some of our nation’s brightest have been researching what they believe will become an effective cure not only to cancer, but to a plethora of autoimmune diseases like HIV, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis? It’s reality. Scientists at the University of California in San Francisco have been studying clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPRs for short, in prokaryotic (single-celled) organisms such as bacteria. These genetic sequences are part of the single-celled organisms’ defense against invading viruses. In the CRISPR system, as this defense is known, the bacteria recognizes foreign viruses that destroy the bacteria by altering its genetic code, and cuts the altered segments out of its DNA. By understanding how the CRISPR system works in bacteria, the UCSF scientists have been able to apply this natural defense to possible treatments of human diseases like cancer and autoimmune disorders.

STEMVisions highlights ideas, best practices, research and successes in science education.