• 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.

  • Taking the First Step – Colorado Strategic Planning Institute

    Posted by Tami McDonald on Thursday, August 13, 2015 ( 0 )
    “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.” – J.P. Morgan Hello, my name is Tami McDonald. I am the Colorado Regional Coordinator for the Smithsonian Science Education Center LASER program. As a near native of Colorado, I am proud to be promoting inquiry science and excellent professional development locally. I believe the need to prepare our students to compete in an innovation-based economy is great. If kids are excited about science, technology, engineering, and math, their chances of solving future global problems increases. My love of science started at a young age with parents who taught me to explore. Each summer, our family would pack up our camper and embark on a journey discovering national parks and enjoying adventures along the way. Growing up in Salida, Colorado, my teachers supported and encouraged my curiosity. After years of working in a variety of industries, I took a huge step and returned to school. Inspired to make a difference for children, I became a teacher. Prior to joining SSEC, I spent eight years teaching elementary and middle school students in both urban and rural settings. In those years, I found myself using science as a springboard for teaching math, reading, and writing. My passion for science education inspired me to obtain a STEM Certificate through the NASA Endeavor Teaching Certificate Project. I continued my education, receiving a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction with a STEM Emphasis. As a life-long learner, I sought out additional professional development opportunities. Each of these learning opportunities challenged me to be a better educator. Now, as a member of the SSEC staff, I am proud to be a part of supporting science education through the LASER program. The week of June 22-26, I had the privilege of attending the 2015 Colorado LASER K-8 Science Education Institute for Leadership Development and Strategic Planning. As a “newbie” to the SSEC team, I arrived wide-eyed and full of wonder at the events planned for the week. Our location at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science provided a scenic landscape of the downtown skyline with the Rocky Mountains in the background.

  • Good Thinking!: Introducing... Terry

    Posted by Jean Flanagan on Tuesday, August 11, 2015 ( 0 )
    “I’m chuffed to bits that I could help!” —Terry In the world of Good Thinking!, science teacher Ms. Reyes gets research-based tips from a cast of surprisingly lively classroom objects, from Blossom the orchid to Bunsen the Bunsen burner. Who better to help Ms. Reyes with the finer points of teaching Earth science than the Earth herself? Enter Terry the globe, featured in our latest episode, Make it Rain! FableVision Creative Director Leigh Hallisey explains the challenge Terry posed: “Her tone had to come across as authoritative but not patronizing and a know-it-all, which is tough when you are LITERALLY the world expert on the world.”

  • Behind-the-Scenes of the New Horizons Pluto Flyby

    Posted by Alexis Stempien on Wednesday, August 05, 2015 ( 0 )
    Click the CC button to enable captions How Thinking Like a Kindergartener Landed Me at Johns-Hopkins After my sophomore year of college, I became infected with a passionate curiosity and optimism. Although I had always loved learning, this curiosity reached new heights, and I began jumping into adventures like a child splashing in rain puddles. I asked journalists to lunch and called magazine writers for advice. I took on new leadership roles and applied for new jobs. Most people would call this “networking” or “professional development”, but I called it “exploring and making friends”. Like a five-year-old on her first day of kindergarten, I found a new delight in talking to others about their lives and passions and discovering what they could teach me about the world.

  • When Science Isn’t Fun

    Posted by Marjee Chmiel on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 ( 1 )
    Whenever I’m engaged in small talk at a conference, soiree, or any other miscellaneous function where people talk about what they do (in Washington DC, that happens to be all functions, everywhere), someone invariably responds to my description of my vitae with a well-meaning, “It’s so great that you are showing kids that science can be fun!” Of course I appreciate people’s enthusiasm in what I do; I firmly believe that science education is the most interesting thing a person can do. But the word “fun” doesn’t sit well with me, and seeing as I am a person who loves to overthink all things, I have given the word fun, in the context of science, quite a bit of thought. In the Lab of Shakhashiri For all intents and purposes, my science family tree starts with SCIENCE FUN. My college intro-to-chemistry professor was Bassam Z. Shakhashiri of Science is Fun fame. Professor Shakhashiri literally wrote the book(s) on amazing science demonstrations. These demonstrations energized me to switch from being a zoology major to chemistry. I traded animal insides for giant purple flames and things that went pop pop fizz. The chemistry lecture hall at University of Wisconsin-Madison​

  • Your Daily Dose of Disturbing: The Dementor Wasp

    Posted by Megan Stefkovich on Thursday, July 23, 2015 ( 0 )
    Watch this video. WATCH. IT. If you’re anything like me, it will leave you with your mouth hanging open, slightly unsettled, at one of nature’s most incredible, disconcerting, skin-crawling species:

  • Good Thinking!: Introducing ... Albert

    Posted by Nate Fedrizzi on Wednesday, July 22, 2015 ( 0 )
    “I did an around the world…around the actual world” – Albert the Yoyo The latest episode in the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s Good Thinking! series introduces another new classroom guide, Albert the Yoyo. The episode, titled Falling 101, explores the topics of gravity and air resistance, and suggests effective practices for teachers as they work through the subject matter with their students. As the classroom’s resident physics expert, Albert (named for the godfather of physics himself, Albert Einstein) guides Ms. Reyes through the material and illuminates common student misconceptions about why and how things fall. Unlike some of the other classroom guides, including the high-octane Bunsen and gruff Gummerson, “Bert” is a laid-back, relatable character that perfectly embodies the low-key retro essence of a yoyo. Using his string, classroom projector and vast experience with the forces of gravity, Bert is able to transport viewers through space, time, and students’ minds to make the teaching of complicated physics principles more straightforward and accessible.

  • It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Bad Biology Pun!

    Posted by Deandre Miles on Thursday, July 09, 2015 ( 0 )
    If you have ever closely studied members of the phylum Echinodermata, you might ponder, “How can I tell a male sea cucumber from a female?” In this case, you would be prudent to accept the wisdom of accomplished scientist of echinoderms Dr. David Pawson who implores, “First you must ask its name.” Humorous bits such as this were woven into a week of intensive science exploration that took place at the SSEC’s 2015 Biodiversity SSEAT. Representing a spectrum of grade levels, 15 STEM instructors from as far as San Jose, California, traveled to the nation’s capital to participate in a weeklong academy designed to introduce them to the work done by scientists who study the diversity of life, engage in dialogue with content experts and fellow educators, and develop pedagogical techniques that facilitate a hands-on, inquiry approach in teaching. The week proved a stellar success, leaving instructors with sentiments such as, “This week will leave an everlasting impact on my teaching. This has recharged my ‘ADP’, sorry for the biology joke. I loved this week and I am so thankful for all the dedication all of you provided for my benefit! Thank you so much!” and “This by far has been one of the greatest experiences and professional development I have attended. I feel that I am leaving inspired and ready to use the resources and knowledge I have gained this week.”

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