• Good Thinking!: Introducing... Gummerson

    Posted by Jean Flanagan on Monday, July 06, 2015 ( 0 )
    “Here’s the deal, Jack. Children need to find ways to make sense of the world around them — we all do.” —Gummerson If you’ve seen Good Thinking!, SSEC’s new web series on “the science of teaching science”, you’ve probably seen Gummerson — and perhaps wondered who (or what), exactly, he is?

  • The Evolution of Fireworks

    Posted by Alexis Stempien on Wednesday, July 01, 2015 ( 0 )
    On America’s first Fourth of July celebration in 1777, fireworks were one color: orange. There were no elaborate sparkles, no red, white, and blue stars – nothing more than a few glorified (although uplifting) explosions in the sky. As it turns out, although we’ve been lighting fireworks for the last 2000 years or so, modern fireworks were only invented in the 1830s – so, what were they like before then? When Henry VII had fireworks at his wedding in 1486, how did they look? How have fireworks and the science behind them evolved throughout history? 2014 fireworks over Port Austin, Michigan​ 200 BC – 800 AD: The Birth of Fireworks Like many inventions, firecrackers fireworks were created by accident… and by the search for immortality. Around 200 BC, the Chinese unintentionally invented firecrackers by tossing bamboo into fire, but it took another thousand years before true fireworks came alive. As the story goes, around 800 AD, an alchemist mixed sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate (a food preservative) hoping to find the secret to eternal life. Instead, the mixture caught on fire, and gunpowder was born! When the powder was packed into bamboo or paper tubes and lit on fire, history had its first fireworks!

  • Meet a NASA Space Scientist

    Posted by Katya Vines on Wednesday, July 01, 2015 ( 0 )
    Dr. Jennifer Stern is a Space Scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Katya Vines, a Science Curriculum Developer at the Smithsonian Science Education Center, recently interviewed Jen about her role on the Mars Curiosity Rover team and her path to becoming a space scientist. Some of Jen’s answers may surprise you! What was your favorite class in school? My favorite classes were actually visual arts and English. I loved painting with oils and did studio art every semester in school. In English, I mostly enjoyed Shakespeare and the Romantic poets. What inspired you to pursue a career in science? I wanted a career in which I could spend time outdoors and enjoy nature. I was curious about the natural world and also felt compelled to understand how we, as humans, are impacting it. What do you love most about science? I think science is very creative. Every answer brings more questions. The kind of science I am involved with is truly exploration because we're measuring things no one else has measured. In addition, the measurements we do get from Mars and other planets are few and far between, so there's a lot of creative problem solving in order to come up with the story to explain the data.

  • Good Thinking!: Introducing... Bunsen

    Posted by Nate Fedrizzi on Tuesday, June 30, 2015 ( 0 )
    The latest episode of SSEC’s Good Thinking! series, Fired Up About Energy, features a new classroom guide: Bunsen the (you guessed it) Bunsen burner. The episode focuses on teaching and discussing energy in the classroom, and explores common student misconceptions related to the topic. As a piece of lab equipment with perennial importance to the study of all things chemistry, Bunsen provides an invaluable resource to Ms. Reyes as she refines her teaching.

  • Using LASER Science with Newcomers

    Posted by Rachel Koldenhoven on Wednesday, June 24, 2015 ( 0 )
    English language learners (ELLs) are a population of students that is growing in the United States. Educators face the challenge of helping students learn English at the same time as grade-level science content. This can be especially challenging when working with newcomers. Newcomers, by definition, have been in the United States for two years or less and have little to no English proficiency. In addition, some newcomers are refugees who have had interrupted schooling and spent time in refugee camps. How do you successfully teach science content to these students? The SSEC’s science curriculum, Science and Technology ConceptsTM, can be used effectively with ELLs, including newcomers. The inquiry focus of the curriculum as well as the hands-on materials lend themselves to the real experiences that support ELLs in science. With a few adaptations, STCTM is great for newcomers! Teachers who work with newcomers from all over the globe and use STCTM have offered suggestions for using STCTM with ELLs.

  • Reaching New Horizons: We’re Going to Pluto!

    Posted by Alexis Stempien on Wednesday, June 24, 2015 ( 1 )
    Featuring Dr. Alan Stern Poor Pluto is finally getting a visit! To the disappointment of stargazers everywhere, the icy space rock, only 1/6 the size of Earth, was downgraded to a “dwarf planet” in 2006 as we learned more about our solar system. While we may not quite be over Pluto’s “ex-planet” status, we have at least one thing to celebrate: Almost 90 years after its discovery, we’re finally visiting Pluto! Meet New Horizons In January 2006, NASA launched the New Horizons space probe, the fastest spacecraft ever launched and the first aimed at Pluto. Since then, it has been traveling through the solar system at over 30,000 mph while the rest of us on Earth have gone about our lives. In fact, a lot has happened since New Horizons blasted off nine years ago: Twitter was launched, Taylor Swift released her first album, and, oh – Pluto was thrown out of the planets club. (That’s right: When the New Horizons mission began, we were still visiting the ninth planet in our solar system!) Although only the size of a grand piano, New Horizons carries seven scientific instruments with names like Ralph, Alice, and LORRI that hope to teach us about Pluto’s surface, what it’s made of, and what its atmosphere is like. We won’t be landing on Pluto this time, just flying by, but scientists hope to land on its surface in the future.

  • Good Thinking!: Introducing... Blossom

    Posted by Jean Flanagan on Wednesday, June 24, 2015 ( 0 )
    “Go to your happy place” — Blossom the Orchid Last week we debuted a new animated web series for science educators, Good Thinking! As I described in my launch-day post, the series is a character-driven exploration of research-based practices in science education. We’ve released the first 3 episodes, featuring a host of colorful characters. If you’ve watched Natural Selection: Common Misconceptions, you’ve met Blossom the orchid, and discovered that she has a wealth of advice when it comes to biology education. We designed the “classroom guides” to be commonly found in schools, and to winkingly represent their individual area of expertise. For the life sciences topics, we thought a classroom plant would be a perfect fit. However, this is the Smithsonian, so of course it couldn’t be just any plant. As big fans of Smithsonian Gardens, we immediately thought of their amazing orchid collection, and Blossom was born!

  • Good Thinking! A new approach to professional development for science educators

    Posted by Jean Flanagan on Monday, June 15, 2015 ( 1 )
    Findings from science education research rarely make their way into classroom practice. As I’ve discussed before on the PLOS Sci-Ed blog, there are a lot of entrenched barriers that continue to separate these efforts. For one, most science education research is still primarily published in journal articles that are often difficult to access — and always dense, lengthy reads. Additionally, teacher professional development (PD) workshops, often developed in conjunction with researchers and intended to bridge this gap, are costly and time-intensive to implement. While these programs are often important and meaningful experiences, logistics still limit their reach. Ever since I first got involved with science education research, I have been increasingly disturbed by this disconnect. That’s why I was incredibly excited when our Associate Director of Curriculum and Communications here at SSEC, Marjee Chmiel, approached me with the preliminary plans for the Good Thinking! project. The idea The basic concept was to create short, animated web videos for teachers about research findings on common student misconceptions and other pedagogical topics. Marjee and I had both been inspired by the film A Private Universe and research on student mental models and conceptual change. We had also seen Phil Sadler’s recent findings showing that students of teachers who had both strong content knowledge and strong knowledge of student misconceptions learned more than students of teachers who only had strong content knowledge. Clearly there was a need for PD that helps teachers understand common student ideas and how to work with these ideas in building a more scientific understanding.

  • Literacy Doesn’t Just Mean Reading

    Posted by Patricia Marohn on Friday, May 22, 2015 ( 0 )
    When I took on the challenge to integrate literacy into new SSEC products, I immediately started thinking about how we would develop reading materials for young learners. That seemed logical…literacy equals reading. As I began researching strategies and best practices for integrating literacy into science curriculum, I realized I was barely scratching the surface of literacy connections by concentrating on reading. Looking at the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts provided even more insight. Literacy is not just reading. The chief components of literacy are reading, writing, language, speaking, and listening. As educators, we need to be thinking about what students are reading, writing, and talking about.

  • SSEC Hosted Educators from Japan

    Posted by Claudia Campbell on Tuesday, May 19, 2015 ( 0 )
    On April 29, 2015, the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) had the honor and pleasure to host 14 visiting educators from Japan as part of the 2015 Japan-U.S. Teacher Exchange Program for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). The program, sponsored by Fulbright Japan, is an exchange between Japanese and U.S. K–12 teachers aimed at strengthening ESD curricula in both countries. Now in its sixth year, the program sponsors 14 educators from Japan to travel to the United States in late April and 14 educators from the U.S. to travel to Japan in June. At the end of the program in each country, all 28 educators gather for a few days of joint collaboration to improve education for sustainable development, “a vision of education that seeks to balance human and economic well-being with cultural traditions and respect for the earth’s natural resources,” according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

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