There are lots of great things to love about fall. There’s cooler weather, apple picking, Halloween… but arguably one of the best things is the natural art show that deciduous forests put on. Every fall these forests turn from their typical green to vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow. It’s a spectacular site to see and one that people travel miles to visit (in Vermont we call them leaf peepers). But what’s the story behind this beautiful show of color, and why don’t all trees do it? As always, there’s some pretty cool science happening behind the scenes.
What’s the weather like right now? Let me guess, you just glanced out a window? Or maybe you consulted the meteorologist in your pocket. Either way, odds are most people reading this won’t be outside. After all, Americans spend 87% of their time indoors. As a result, the weather is much less a constant concern of ours than a welcome reminder that nature still exists beyond our buildings.
Humans are great at creatively conspiring against Earth’s elements, and the temperature is no exception. In addition to buildings, we’ve invented clothes to cover ourselves, thermostats to tinker with the temperature, and numerous other nature-numbing devices that solve the challenge of changing climates.
June brought educators from around the country to Washington, DC, to experience Smithsonian research facilities, interact with scientists, and engage in activities to bring back to their classroom. These educators were participants in the Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers (SSEATs), a weeklong event that focuses on the professional development of science educators.
From June 18th through the 23rd, 18 teachers from across the country gathered in Washington, DC, to learn about biodiversity at this year’s Biodiversity Smithsonian Science Education Academy for Teachers, or SSEAT. The participants went behind the scenes at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, spent time in the museum’s Q?rius Lab, and traveled to Edgewater, Maryland, to visit the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Throughout the week, teachers were able to explore fields such an entomology, paleobiology, ecology, scientific illustration, and ornithology with Smithsonian scientists and researchers as well as experts from the U.S. Department of Energy, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
An important theme throughout the Biodiversity SSEAT was how numerous fields of study are interrelated with the sciences. In particular, there was a focus on the integration of the arts with STEM (the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), which creates the concept of STEAM. Although the concept of STEAM was present throughout the week, it was most prevalent during Sally Bensusen’s session called “Integrating STEM and the Arts.” Working as a scientific illustrator for over 30 years, Ms. Bensusen had a variety of techniques and activities to share with the teachers.
Sally Bensusen instructs a participant on how to use a microscope for scientific illustration.
Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” During the week of July 24-28th at the 2017 K–12 Science Education Institute for Leadership Development and Strategic Planning, seven teams consisting of district and school administrators, teachers, and community members became the pilots of change. Committed to implementing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) into their school communities, each team had the task of devising a 5-year strategic plan using the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform (LASER) model. With sessions led by both Smithsonian Science Education Center staff and experienced faculty from around the country and beyond, these schools and districts became equipped to change the lives of their students.
NASA/ The Exploratorium
On August 21, 2017, day will appear as night, temperatures will drop, and birds will fly home to roost. This may sound like something out of fiction, but it’s all very real. For the first time in decades, North America will experience a total solar eclipse stretching from coast to coast and even including Hawaii and Alaska. More than likely, if you’ve had access to TV, radio, Internet, or really exposure to any type of media in the past year, the total solar eclipse is not new news. This is something both amateur and professional eclipse chasers have been looking forward to and talking about for years. You may be wondering, is the hype worth it? Does the lining up of three celestial bodies all traveling on different orbital planes actually deserve this much attention? The simples answer, YES!
What an experience! I recently participated in the Smithsonian Science Education Academy for Teachers on Biodiversity, a week-long professional development program, and all I can say is “WOW!” Once I arrived in Washington, D.C. I realized that I was in for an unbelievable educational and personal experience.
Digital technology is quickly becoming a central part of our lives. But in our digital world, we cannot lose sight of the importance of tactile experiences in a science classroom. Dr. Carol O’Donnell argues that it’s not about resisting the shift to digital, instead, it is about finding ways for object-driven learning and digital learning to complement one another.
Yes, you read that right. As 21st century humans, we get to enjoy all the perks of modern technology. That includes digital money, music in your pocket, intercontinental travel, and now, possibly, de-extinct species. Last month, a team from Germany considered the legal implications that such species-level innovation might have in a perspective from the journal Science. The discussion comes at an important time, as recent advances in the field have made the idea of de-extinction increasingly feasible.
Summer vacation is often filled with fun activities but did you know that, on average, students lose two months worth of academic progress over the break? This is referred to as the “Summer Slide,” or the tendency for students to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school year. In order to combat this, we have provided a list of free educational games to keep your student engaged and excited about learning all summer long!
Have you had a chance to check out Showbiz Safari in the SSEC Game Center? In this life science game, students take on the role of assistant casting director for Walrus! He has three kinds of movies to cast – but different roles require different kinds of organisms! Using their knowledge of diverse plant and animal life, students must make sure that Walrus casts the prefect character for each of his movies. Keep reading to learn more about some of the super cool organisms from the game!
When I ask someone, “How was your day?”, they often respond that “It felt long.” Sometimes, if it was a really tough day, they will go as far as claiming that it felt like “the longest day of the year.” On most days, 364 to be precise, that claim is factually false. Today, however, anyone in the northern hemisphere can correctly state that this feels like the longest day of the year.
On Saturday, April 22nd Dr. Carol O’Donnell spoke at TEDxFoggyBottom 2017: In Metamorphosis!. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience, and TEDxFoggyBottom has become one of the largest student-organized TEDx events in the United States and around the world. This year’s annual conference brought together brilliant innovators and unconventional change-makers in a full-day experience featuring live presenters, and interactive exhibits centered around the 2017 theme: In Metamorphosis, discussing the current changes in our world and the implications these changes have for our society. O’Donnell’s talk reflected on her past experiences with science education, and focused on the importance of tactile experiences with physical objects in a science classroom in an age where digital learning is rapidly taking over.
The following blog was written by Dr. Reagan Flowers. Dr. Flowers is CEO of C-STEM and a member of the "Steering Committee" of experts on minority participation in teaching careers. She both presented at and helped to recruit teams of educators for the 2017 Teacher Leadership Summit sponsored by Shell Oil Company and hosted at Howard University in February.
The following blog was written by DCPS teacher Jonte Lee. Mr. Lee teaches at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in the District of Columbia and brought a team of fellow educators to the 2017 Teacher Leadership Summit sponsored by Shell Oil Company and hosted at Howard University in February. The summit guided teams in creating logic models for attracting, retaining, and developing a diverse STEM teaching workforce.
When the lights in the movie theater dim and cell phones are muted, the movie is about to begin. In the dark, you can hear an occasional cough or the rustle of candy wrappers and smell the aroma of buttered popcorn. The screen begins to reflect light. Welcome to the world according to Hollywood, a world of make-believe made from moving images and digital sound.
When you get hungry, you grab a snack from your fridge or pantry. But what can plants do when they get hungry? You are probably aware that plants need sunlight, water, and a home (like soil) to grow, but where do they get their food? They make it themselves!
Plants are called autotrophs because they can use energy from light to synthesize, or make, their own food source. Many people believe they are “feeding” a plant when they put it in soil, water it, or place it outside in the Sun, but none of these things are considered food. Rather, plants use sunlight, water, and the gases in the air to make glucose, which is a form of sugar that plants need to survive. This process is called photosynthesis and is performed by all plants, algae, and even some microorganisms. To perform photosynthesis, plants need three things: carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight.
By taking in water (H2O) through the roots, carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, and light energy from the Sun, plants can perform photosynthesis to make glucose (sugars) and oxygen (O2). CREDIT: mapichai/Shutterstock.com
A thunderstorm is a disturbance in the atmosphere that is characterized by lightning and thunder. Lightning is an electrical discharge in the air generated by charged particles in moving air masses. Because lightning is a phenomenon of moving, charged particles, not rain, we see lightning in violent forest fires and volcanoes as well as thunderstorms. Thunder is the sound produced by the shock wave lightning generates. The air immediately around lightning is suddenly heated to high temperatures—up to 30,000°C (54,000°F)—and subjected to high pressure; it expands rapidly.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Clouds are just water vapor”? Next time, you’ll be able to correct them.
While it’s true that clouds contain water, they actually aren’t made of water vapor. If they were, you wouldn’t be able to see them. The water that makes up clouds is in liquid or ice form. The air around us is partially made up of invisible water vapor. It’s only when that water vapor cools and condenses into liquid water droplets or solid ice crystals that visible clouds form.
There’s nothing lovelier than the first snowfall of winter. Fluffy white flakes slowly drift down to cover your hair and clothes in their crystalline patterns. Just like all of nature’s most beautiful things, we can describe the beauty of snow with science! With the help of a turn of the century scientist and knowledge of crystal formation, we can crack of the code on these snow crystals. Including the big questions: Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike?
In the winter, when the days get shorter and the weather gets increasingly colder, it can seem like the Sun has forsaken us. I mean, after all, that’s when we are farthest from it—both physically and emotionally—right? Well, not exactly. While it might make sense to think that colder days equals farther distance from the Sun, it’s really not quite so simple.
More than 300 educators from across Central New York converged on Nov. 8 for a "Lesson Study Elementary Science Conference"--perhaps the first of its kind in the US--that offered four “live” research lessons based on SSEC units in which students and teachers engaged in practices aligned with New York's State new science standards while participants observed and took notes.
The Director of the Smithsonian Science Education Center, Dr. Carol O’Donnell, and the Director of Professional Services, Amy D'Amico, PhD held a seminar in Mexico City November 16 and 17, 2016. This seminar, hosted by INNOVEC, was a transcendent event in many ways.