Category Archives: Science

Summer program rockets students into NASA science

Developed by McREL through a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (Grant R305A090344), Cosmic Chemistry uses real-world science from NASA’s Genesis mission to engage 9th and 10th graders in science and prepare them for high school chemistry.

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Putting a little mystery in teaching

Want to hear a simple, surefire way to get kids interested in what you’re teaching?

First, think back to your childhood. For kids, the world can be a wonderful, mysterious place. That’s why, as any parent knows, children are naturally full of questions. Why is the sky blue? Why do I dream? Why do birds fly south for the winter? The list goes on and on.

As we grow up, we solve these mysteries and fill our heads with facts. Over time, we start to forget what made things so interesting to us in the first place. As teachers, it’s easy for us to take a Joe Friday “just-the-facts, ma’am” approach to teaching. As a result, we blow the suspense for children. We come right out and tell them the answers to the mystery, rather than building their interest by posing questions such as, “Have you ever seen a shooting star? What do you suppose that is?”

A few years ago, Robert Cialdini,  a psychologist at Arizona State University, wrote an article titled, “What’s the secret device for engaging student interest? Hint: The answer is in the title.” After sifting through dozens of dry science articles, Cialdini found that engaging science writers take a different approach: they pose a question, for example, “What are the rings of Saturn made of? Rock or ice?” Then they build suspense and mystery before finally resolving the mystery. The answer, in this case (spoiler alert!), is both.

Teachers, can, of course, do the same thing in their classrooms. Instead of coming right out and providing kids with the answers, they can build suspense in all kinds of subject areas, not just science. For example, in social studies, a teacher might offer this mystery: How could a rag tag army of volunteers (the American revolutionaries) defeat the world’s greatest superpower at the time (the British empire)? In math, a teacher might get kids wondering how to calculate the area of a circle. Gee … wouldn’t it be great if there were some kind of “magic” formula for that?

At two upcoming events—a lecture here in Colorado on Jan. 15 and a free, national, NASA-sponsored webcast on Jan. 20—McREL staff members will offer up some big space science mysteries (and their answers), helping teachers think about how to design their lessons around these mysteries.

So as you plan your next lesson, you might ask yourself, what’s the mystery here?

Bryan Goodwin is McREL’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing.

How do you teach science to students with visual impairments?

Imagine a big ball of rock and ice hurtling through space that grows a tail as it approaches the sun. Can you picture that?

Well, maybe not. You might wonder, what kind of tail? Is it long like a monkey’s, curled like a pig’s, or bobbed like a poodle’s?

Well, none of those, I might tell you. It’s more like a jet condensation trail, only a little wider and not as long—relatively speaking, that is.

But what if you’d never actually seen a con trail—or a monkey or poodle tail for that matter. We could go on like this forever, playing a sort of 20 questions game, each of us becoming more exasperated.

Obviously, if I could just show you the image of a comet, you would quickly understand what I’m describing. That’s the challenge science teachers face, though, when trying to help students with visual impairments grasp difficult science concepts: They can’t rely on simple images from textbooks. They must help students use manipulative and tactile tools to “see” what they’re learning.

For the past three years, McREL has been working with Edinboro University, Tactile Learning Adventures, and the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind to develop an intervention to help teachers create tactile graphics and written descriptions for visually impaired students.

The project, titled ACE (for Adapted Curriculum Enhancements) and funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, has created and studied the effectiveness of materials and lessons designed to help grades 6–12 mainstream teachers adapt lessons for students with visual impairments.

So how do you help a student with visual impairments visualize a comet? Here’s a hint: it involves a Styrofoam ball, some ribbons, and a hair dryer.

View this lesson and download other free lessons and materials from the ACE website at http://www.ace-education.org/.

Bryan Goodwin is McREL’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing.

Catch a glimpse of real 21st century skills

Last week, I caught a glimpse of the future and realized that, like my own parents, I’ll probably have no idea what my kids actually do at work when they grow up.

This glimpse came courtesy of a Minnesota Public Radio story, which covered McREL’s NSF-supported “nanoteach” initiative to bring instruction in nanotechnology to high school classrooms nationwide.

In case you’re not familiar with nanotechnology (I’ve only recently learned about it myself), it’s the science of creating structures and manipulating matter at the molecular level. It promises breakthrough innovations for “everything from improved cancer treatments to more effective sunscreen,” reports MPR’s Dan Gunderson.

If that sounds farfetched or like something out of Star Trek, consider this other tidbit from Gunderson’s story: “the government predicts nanotech will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the next five years.”

The challenge, then, is getting today’s student students prepared for these jobs of the not-so-distant future. Moreover, nanotechnology will likely change our world. That means that students, even those who have no interest in pursuing nanotech careers, should understand both the promise and peril of this rapidly emerging technology.

Read the MPR story.

Visit the Nanoteach Website.

Bryan Goodwin is McREL’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing.

Calling all high school science teachers!

Want to learn how to incorporate nanotechnology into your existing curriculum? Want to spend two weeks in gorgeous Colorado in the summer? Better yet, want to get paid to do all of this?

NanoTeach is recruiting teachers for a year-long, nationwide pilot test starting in the summer of 2010. Through lessons and experiences that model the three-part Designing Effective Science Instruction (DESI) instructional framework, participants will investigate dynamic nanoscience and technology content (NS&T) content while learning about instructional strategies that support effective science teaching.

Specifically, we are looking for thirty high school science teachers who teach physical science concepts and are looking for ways to energize their teaching with strategies to integrate cutting-edge nanoscience and technology, real-world application, and professional connections that foster meaningful and dynamic teaching and learning.

Participants will receive a $3000 stipend and paid travel and lodging to Denver, Colorado.

Please visit http://www.mcrel.org/NanoTeach for more information.

Elizabeth Hubbell is a Lead Consultant in the Curriculum and Instruction department at McREL.