Dr. Carol O'Donnell Serves as External Expert on Newly Released Broadband Commission Report
In the fall, leaves change color and apples and pumpkins are ripe. BrianAJackson/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Meteorological fall arrived on September 1. This is harvest season for many people in the Northern Hemisphere. Apples are ready to pick at orchards and pumpkin patches await visitors. Are you raking leaves yet? Are you enjoying delicious, warm apple cider as the temperature begins to cool? The first day of astronomical fall in the Northern Hemisphere officially arrives September 22 when the Sun crosses the celestial equator going north to south, which is called the autumnal equinox. During an equinox the tilt of Earth’s axis and Earth’s orbit around the Sun are positioned such that the axis isn’t tilting one hemisphere toward or away from the Sun. Direct sunlight shines on the equator, so the length of day and night is nearly equal for both hemispheres.
The people who lived in Polynesia hundreds of years ago were known for their voyaging capability. They practiced wayfinding, or navigating, by using careful observations of the natural world including the stars, the Sun, and ocean waves. We know they sailed between clusters of islands that includes Marquesas, Mangareva, and Rapa Nui using their sturdy double-hulled canoes, but did they travel all the way to South America? Until recently, the strongest evidence to answer this question was the presence of the sweet potato, a crop native to South America, in Polynesia. However, recent research analyzing human DNA from Polynesians and South and Central American groups sheds new light on the mystery.
This artwork shows what a double-hulled canoe looks like. Getty
The Smithsonian is an institution dedicated to the public good, and in these times, we take that mission more seriously than ever. Although most of our museums and research centers are temporarily closed, we remain hard at work—educating, inspiring and supporting Americans through this difficult period.
During the past few months, the country has grappled with dual pandemics—the first a pandemic of illness, the second a pandemic of racism. It is like no other moment in American history.
People everywhere are turning to the Smithsonian in record numbers for context and knowledge. By making the wonders of science, art, history and culture accessible to all, we help the public understand the complexities of our world and feel part of a shared human experience.
Lighthouses serve several functions. They can warn people on boats of rocks in the water. They can show the way to a safe harbor. Are you looking for a light to guide you in these rocky times? Consider taking a lighthouse tour courtesy of the Smithsonian. Or maybe that’s a tour of the Smithsonian courtesy of lighthouses.
In order of left to right rows from top left: Scott Catalogue German Democratic Republic 1554 National Postal Museum, 1977.118.104.22.168; African Postcard collection, EEPA 1985-014, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution; Transfer from U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Harpers Ferry Center (through David H. Wallace); Photo Lot 97 DOE Oceania: Philippines Postcard Collection 05169000, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution; Transferred from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration 1964, nasm_A19760224000; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the General Services Administration ca. 1935-1938, 1974.28.154; Smithsonian Institution Archives, siris_sic_13382; Henry and Nancy Rosin Collection of Early Photography of Japan. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Purchase and partial donation. FSA.A1999.35; Smithsonian National Museum of American History, nmah_1413592; Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 1896-16-1.
Scarisbrick Hall School, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) hosted an online “Global Classroom” to help young people around the world learn more about COVID-19. The virtual event hosted schoolchildren from 193 countries invited to ask questions about the virus and pandemic.
Smithsonian Science Education Center Director, Carol O’Donnell, and Division Director for Curriculum & Communications, Brian Mandell, both presented at the event.
Annual IAP SEP Global Council Meeting
The Inter-Academy Panel in Science Education Programme (IAP SEP) held its annual meeting, virtually, on April 22nd. The focus of IAP SEP is the promotion of Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE) and also the improvement of science literacy among the general population through national academies of sciences as well as science museums and centers. O’Donnell has been a member of the council since 2015.
COVID-19 has taken over world headlines since it first emerged in December of 2019. As the disease spread into a pandemic, scientists have scrambled to learn as much about it as quickly as possible. An early bright spot in the overwhelmingly negative news about COVID-19 was that it was believed pets could not get or carry the virus. However, recently a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for COVID-19, which opened the questions: Can I infect my pet or another animal? And can an infected animal infect me?
What is a virus?
COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by the virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). A virus is any of a large group of microscopic infectious agents. Viruses are composed of genetic material, RNA or DNA, surrounded by a protein coat called a capsid. The capsid keeps the genetic material safe. Some viruses also have greasy coat called an envelope. A virus is a parasite and needs a cell to replicate. Like some animal species, viruses are grouped into families and types with other genetically related viruses. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that usually use cells in the respiratory tract of a human or non-human animal to replicate. They often cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses.
Corona means “crown” in Latin. Corona viruses are named for the spikes on their surface that look like the points on a crown. NIAID-RM
The British are coming
A century ago, the jungles of India were teeming with 45,000 tigers. The Indian people and tigers lived together in harmony, at least for the most part. Tiger hunts took place but were not common. This all changed when the British arrived in India, bringing with them their love of hunting. Tiger hunting became a royal sport soon after.
One maharaja was reported to have killed 1,200 tigers. Image: National Museum of Asian Art, accession number S1990.73.
Spring 2020 Advisory Board Dinner & Meetings
The Smithsonian Science Education Center held its Spring 2020 Advisory Board meetings and dinner March 4th- 5th in Washington, DC. On Wednesday, March 4th, SSEC held a joint meeting between the board and its Ad-Hoc Committee on Higher Education Center. The group was welcomed by the interim Associate Provost for Education & Access, Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar. This was the final meeting of the Ad-Hoc Committee, whose members include:
We offer free Smithsonian STEM games online or for download! Our games are designed with clear learning objectives, vetted by our team of curriculum experts, and are used by students around the world!
Lions! Pandas! Naked mole rats? Come visit them all at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. We are on the lookout for animals that are swimming, running, wiggling, and stomping. Grab a camera and take some pictures of animals on the move! Shutterbugs teaches students how to describe movement and motion while visiting rare animals at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Each animal has coloring-page printouts, so you can print and color your favorite critter.
The Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) offices are a block off the National Mall. In our offices, we can hear and feel trains go by. Those in offices closest to the tracks can tell the difference between commuter trains and freight trains without looking. How can we tell the difference?
The tracks that run next to our building are used by several freight and passenger train systems. MJB Rogers
In July of 2019 Dr. Usha Rajdev embarked on a journey to provide STEM education to teachers and institutions in Uganda. Over the course of two weeks she met with one University and four local High schools to develop a STEM program. The Mosquito! Module was implemented in five institutions with Dr. Rajdev’s guidance. Teachers from each institution engaged in training using STEM and what local resources can be used to implement this project. The Mosquito! Module framework focuses on sustainable actions that are defined and implemented by students in reducing mosquito infestations in and around schools. This included cleaning wells, removal of stagnant water, life cycle of mosquitoes and its spreading of diseases, and the importance and urgency of engineering and design of mosquito traps by students. Using STEM and Project Based Learning (PBL), students designed mosquito traps and gathered data. Students are continuing to work and strengthen their projects and traps throughout the course of this year. They are actively engaged in informing their surrounding community about the mosquito problem and offering realistic and sustainable solutions. The students are also communicating with the school nurse to document the decline in cases of malaria in their schools. They are looking forward to sharing their data and projects at the International STEM conference in early August 2020.
High School students place mosquito traps around their school.
On the morning of Monday, July 22nd, 60 educators representing 11 school systems from around the world made their way toward a ballroom in Washington, DC. Nametags were retrieved, coffee was poured, handshakes were exchanged, and eventually each chair in the room was claimed. As the room’s volume grew by the minute, so too did the palpable mix of enthusiasm, determination, and eagerness for each team to dive in to their task for the next five days: devising a five-year strategic plan for their school system’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) program using the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s (SSEC) Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform (LASER) model. At 10:00 am, the welcoming remarks began, kicking off the 2019 Smithsonian Science Leadership Development & Strategic Planning Institute.
The institute consistently brings in a diverse group of participants, as each team contains a mix of individuals that may include administrators, teachers, department chairs, community members, and government officials. Yet from this first morning, it was clear that the 2019 institute was special in regard to both its participants and the populations they represented. Some teams were creating strategic plans for individual schools, others for counties around the United States, and others for entire countries. In the room there were representatives of three continents and three primary spoken languages. Thanks to simultaneous translation services, it became routine to see a wave of headphones come on and off as presenters switched between these languages.
No one bothered to close the door as the plane started rolling forward. I sat, straddling the bench and facing the back of the plane, with a line of new and seasoned divers behind me. As I stared out the opening, watching the ground get farther and farther away, I felt my instructor, Charlie, behind me fumbling with hooks and chains at my shoulders. I looked to my right. On the other bench, my best friend was also getting strapped to his instructor. Within minutes, I saw my friend’s instructor pointing him to the opening, beyond which I could only see blue sky. They shuffled to the doorway. Before I had time to process what was about to happen, I saw them fall out of the plane and disappear. Seconds later, Charlie ushered me to the same ledge. There was nothing but 14,300 feet of air below me. I felt a gentle push, and then suddenly, just…falling.
Thanks, Charlie! Tina Zdawczyk
Still preparing for the new school year? We've got you covered! We have curriculum, professional development, and digital media resources to help you start the new school year off right!
Curriculum | Grades 1-5
Smithsonian Science for the Classroom was designed from the ground up to meet the Next Generation Science Standards.
Smithsonian Science for the Classroom is a new curriculum developed by the Smithsonian Science Education Center. It is designed to engage, inspire, and connect your students firsthand to the world around them. The curriculum has been developed in consultation with teachers and field tested in a range of schools with diverse populations. It draws on the latest findings and best practices from educational research.
For decades, the Smithsonian Science Education Center has been a leader in providing curriculum, professional development, and leadership development in support of inquiry-based science education.
I have a friend from when I lived in Ohio. We dealt with lots of lake effect snow and the occasional blizzard warning. She moved to Seattle and she experienced lots of rain. Then she moved to Charleston just before Hurricane Matthew hit in 2016. About a year ago, she moved to southern California. Last week I received a text from her. "I do not like earthquakes."
New Science Curricula Summit & Workshop
Smithsonian Science Education Center Director, Carol O’Donnell, traveled to San Francisco, CA to participate in the New Science Curricula Summit & Workshop on June 7th. The summit focused on generating new ideas and/or possible collaborations for experiments aimed at spreading science and scientific thinking more widely across both the US and the world. O’Donnell presentation to the group was centered around Community-based citizen science, specifically on SSEC’s Smithsonian Science for Global Goals Mosquito!.
What comes to mind when someone mentions the abandoned 14th century city of Angkor, Cambodia, and the modern capital city Santa Fe, New Mexico? Most people would agree that there aren’t many similarities; however, the ATLAS Water team of explorers at Piñon Elementary School may disagree.
ATLAS stands for Always Think Like A Scientist. Courtesy of ATLAS Water