Appreciate the Inspiration

May 4, 2010
Teachers enlighten and brighten us

Teachers enlighten and brighten us.

Today marks the occasion of an important holiday for science teachers: International Star Wars Day. The epic battles with the incongruous noise in space, the wisdom of Yoda, the painful lesson in over-hyped expectations that was ‘The Phantom Menace’ … all these and more have been inspirational for science teachers throughout the decades since the release of ‘A New Hope.’

What, you thought I was going to talk about National Teacher Appreciation Day? Actually, I am. Because what I am talking about is inspiration: for teachers, from teachers, and to teachers.

We appreciate and celebrate teachers not just because of the things they teach, but because of the ways they inspire us to think about the world in a new way. Whether it is to explore renewable energy, look at light in new ways or to embrace our inner geek, inspiration is what teachers give us.

So in turn let us give them our appreciation, not just this day or week, but as often as we are inspired. Feel free to discuss the teachers who inspired you in the comments.


Online Science Education Resources

January 28, 2010

On this blog I have previous written about integrating music and science education, multimedia in automotive education, and science comics and the classroom. Today I am going to concentrate on something you most likely are already doing if you read this blog: using tools from the Internet in your classroom. I will introduce you to a couple of great free resources to supplement and expand on your classroom lessons.

Today Science announced the first of 12 winners in websites that provide tools, information for and promotion of science education. This prize, which will be announced each month, is called SPORE, or The Science Prize for Online Resources in Education.

The first winner selected was The University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center websites, one of these websites is for students. It provides virtual labs, informative graphics and detailed explanations, all in a lick user-friendly design. In addition, they also have a site specifically designed for science teachers. There you will find supplemental materials as well asĀ print-and-go lesson plans.

Another great resource I would recommend is this online database of the 100 best free online science documentaries. With listings broken down into discipline, this is a fantastic way to find a supplement to your lessons.

What about you? What are your favorite science resources on the web?

Tuning In the Mind

December 21, 2009

With the multitude of media available now, how do people concentrate on one task? A recent Scientific American article “Portrait of a Multitasking Mind” discussed people who consistently accessed two or more forms of media at a time. While these people are often sought after for job positions, a study from Stanford University found that multitaskers actually have more problems switching quickly between two tasks than other people.

But how do people actually manage to select what to pay attention to? The Kavli Institute for Systems Nueroscience and Centre for the Biology of Memory have been working towards understanding that. By measuring the brain waves of rats and listened to the transmissions. The gamma waves, a subset of brainwaves, proved interesting. They work as a radio system in the brain, imparting information. The hippocampus is able to tune into one of the frequencies, which then tune the others out. This allows the brain to focus on one thing.

Sources: Science Daily, Scientific American

Science Comics and the Classroom

December 18, 2009

Engaging students in science is a frequent topic in this blog, mostly because it is one educators struggle with often. Previously I wrote about integrating music into a science class and using multimedia in automotive education. Today I am going to talk about a visual medium: comics. More specifically, comics related to science. Comics combine text and images to tell a story.

I am not referring to teaching the (inaccuracies) of super heroes, (though that method is also recommended). No, I am talking about comics written explicitly about real life science. These can range from single panel informational images intended as a teaching aide to comics based on the lives of comics, current or historical. Utilizing them in the classroom can be as simple as hanging a print on a classroom wall to generate organic discussion. For more information on science comics check out Science comics as tools for science education and communication: a brief, exploratory study from the Journal of Science Communication.

So what are your favorite science comics?

Wooing Potential Scientists

November 30, 2009

Yesterday Britain’s Royal Society announced that they were putting 60+ historical scientific papers free on the internet in celebration of their 350th anniversary of promoting science. These papers include Benjamin Franklin’s descriptions of flying the famous silk kite and James Cook’s feeding his crew sauerkraut to keep them from getting scurvy. Students will be able to read and see these accounts in the writers’ handwriting right in front of them on their computer screen, bridging the past and future. The papers can be found here at

Why did they decide to do this? The Royal Society is dedicating to raising the profile of science. For Americans, this ties in with President Obama’s announcement last week that he was launching the “Educate to Innovate” Campaign for Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (Stem) Education. This is a nationwide effort to get students studying science, and beyond that, into science related jobs.

Both of these initiatives are aimed at getting young people more engaged in science. Which do you think will be more successful? Do you think either of them will help?

The Number of New Scientists

October 29, 2009

According to a new study, the number of native-born Americans studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) has stayed level over the past 30 years. These findings appear to be at odds with the public calls from the government and policy groups for more Americans to study science and engineering.

The paper was written by researchers at Rutgers University and Georgetown University. They conducted a longitudinal study, following students studying STEM through high school, college and into the workforce. They were looking for three things: the retention rate (how many students stayed in a STEM field), how this rate compared to previous generations, and the quality of the students who stayed with STEM studied.

What they found was a drop not in the overall numbers, but a drop in the final aspect, the quality. There was a sharp decline in the number of the highest performing students who continued to study STEM and join the workforce in an STEM related field. This decline began in the late 1990s.

This occurs because of the depressing wages in STEM fields, turning potential scientists and technology innovators into business people and office workers.

So is the public cry for more scientists beneficial? More scientists could cause a glut in the supply while driving down the quality.

Or instead, should we be more encouraging to those students who love science, and make sure there are more jobs available to them for wages commiserate with their importance.

2009 Science Nobel Prizes

October 9, 2009

While the announcement of Barack Obama as the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize has surprised the world and overtaken the news cycle, the earlier announced awards in the science fields are just as worthy of discussion.

On October 5, 2009 it was announced that three people would share the award for the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Doctors Elizabeth H. Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco; Carol W. Greider of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; and Jack W. Szostak of Massachusetts General Hospital received the award for their work with telomere research.

Telomere research deals with chromosomes. Chromosomes are composed of a long strand of DNA. The strand ends are called telomeres. They get shorter during the aging process. This means they can be used to gauge cell age. Their research is important not only in the science of aging, but for cancer research.

This was the first time two women shared the prize for Medicine or Physiology. Another woman also received a share in a Nobel for her contribution to the science field. Ada E. Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel was one of the three scientists sharing the 2009 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. She, along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan of the M.R.C. Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England and Thomas A. Steitz of Yale University, received the prize for their work in mapping out the ribosomes.

Another trio took home the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physics: Charles K. Kao, Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith. They were rewarded for their work in light and optics. Dr. Kao, while working in England in the 1960s, made a discovery related to the distances light can travel, while Doctors Boyle and Smith invented the semiconductor sensor known as a charge-coupled device, or CCD. The discoveries are used to help with the flow of information. Dr. Kao’s discovery led to the development of the fiber optic cables that are integral in modern telephony as well as the fiber optic cables that make high-speed broadband Internet possible.