Friday, February 29, 2008

Website of the Week: WeatherBug®

WeatherBug® has installed professional-grade automated weather stations at a number of schools across the United States. Over 8,000 U.S. schools use the information generated by these weather stations as part of their science and math curriculum. The WeatherBug® Schools webpage has eight Exploration Zone Sample Lessons to explore, including ones on temperature, El NiƱo and weather forecasting. Want a free weather widget for your desktop? Check out WeatherBug® Widgets.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

It's time to vote!

With election fever running high here in the U.S., it seems like a good time to run a poll here at Mama Joules. Thanks for your vote, it will help me tailor future content to meet your needs. As always, if you have any suggestions, need to report a broken link, or just want to get in touch, drop me a line at juliekelsey [at] earthlink [dot] net.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Project WET

When I was in graduate school, I was fortunate to have taken a number of interesting science education classes. One of these was a workshop based on Project WET, a non-profit water education program for science educators. The Project WET Curriculum and Activity Guide is geared toward students ages 5 through 18. The nice thing about the book is that there are charts in the back, breaking down the activities by grade levels (K-12), time required, subject areas, topics, and things like group size. Activities range from looking for contaminants in soil, to holding water court, to imagining yourself as water. You can download a sample activity on Project WET’s Kids Page.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Chemistry is Magic

A recent edition of the Mizzou alumni magazine (Go Tigers!) pointed me to the Magic of ChemistryTM, a ten-year-old science program for girls that began at the University of Missouri. This hands-on chemistry workshop lets junior Girl Scouts (4th to 6th graders) visit different chemistry stations and complete experiments on topics such as polymers and pH. If you are part of the Girl Scouts-Heart of Missouri Council, the next workshop takes place on March 15, 2008. Not in Missouri? Check out this page if you are interested in Starting Your Own Program.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Website of the Week: Save Your Trash

Recently, I read about Ari Derfel, a California man who decided to keep all of his trash for one year. The original report on this story, It's no garbage strike - man keeps a year's worth of trash was written by Kelly Zito of the San Francisco Chronicle. Zito reported that along with his discovery of how much waste he generated yearly (around 100 cubic feet), Derfel also made some startling discoveries about himself during this time, including the fact that he was stress-eating way too much soy ice cream.

Derfel’s blog, Save Your Trash, includes links to what Derfel has learned by saving his trash and some of Derfel’s basic tips for reducing trash. I especially like the photograph of Derfel surrounded by his mound of trash. It is a sobering snapshot of American life.

[Please note that Derfel does save EVERYTHING and he mentions saving some items that might be considered unsuitable for little eyes.]

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

NSF's Science and Engineering Indicators 2008


The National Science Foundation recently released Science and Engineering Indicators 2008. According to this report, “…In science, average scores increased for fourth grade students … held steady for eighth graders; but declined for 12th graders between 1996 (the first year the assessments were given) and 2005.”

What does this tell us? In the U.S. educational system, we appear to be losing our science students somewhere between fourth grade and high school. The pressing question is why.

One possibility? Poor instructional material. In 2000, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Project 2061 found the content of high school biology textbooks severely lacking. AAAS's 1999 study of middle school science textbooks was even worse, finding no textbook to be even satisfactory.

Another reason may be inadequate support and professional development for K-12 science teachers. This issue was raised by Linda Froschauer, former President of the National Science Teachers Association, during her 2007 interview (note: this links to a pdf file) – Meeting the Needs of Science Teachers – with Cathy Tramontana of Project 2061.

Whatever the reason, we need to be doing a better job of supporting and encouraging science education in the United States. Our future depends on it.


Monday, February 18, 2008

The Carbon Fast

This year, the Church of England has encouraged Christians to undergo a “carbon fast” for Lent, the 40 days prior to Easter. What is a “carbon fast”? It’s when you give up things that increase your CO2 footprint (or release more CO2 into the environment). The rapid increase of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is one of the causes of global warming. You can find out more about the carbon fast by visiting Tearfund. Participants are encouraged to do things like take a shower instead of a bath, turn the thermostat down by one degree (or up, if it’s summer where you are!), or, my personal favorite, remove one light bulb from your house as a visual reminder that you are trying to live with less during this Lenten season.


[Update: 2/11/10 -- Fixed broken link]

Friday, February 15, 2008

Website of the Week: Ask-A-Scientist

This week’s Website of the Week is Ask-A-Scientist, operated by the Division of Educational Programs at Argonne National Laboratory. This educational outreach program – now in its 17th year! -- is designed for students and teachers in grades K-12. Have a question about science that you just can’t find an answer to anywhere else on the web? This is a good place to post it. Previous answers are indexed under categories such as astronomy, materials science, veterinary, and weather. Want to learn about Cow Magnets? Why Boiled Eggs Turn Solid? Why people sometimes have Red Eyes in Photographs? These answers, and more, are waiting for you in the Ask-A-Scientist questions and answers archive.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Take your balloon for a winter walk

Yesterday, I bought my small son a Valentine's Day balloon. We picked a nice helium-filled mylar and I was very picky to get a full one because I wanted to get my money's worth (those balloons are expensive!). But when we took it outside, the balloon didn't look full at all.

At first, I was mad. "But I checked!" I thought. "I was careful to get a fully inflated balloon." When I thought about it more, I realized something. So I decided to keep the balloon and test my theory. And I was right! When I took the balloon into my house, lo and behold, it was full again.

What was going on? There was about a 50 degree F temperature difference between the store (roughly 75 degrees F) and the outdoors (25 degrees F). The molecules of helium gas in my balloon moved slower in the colder temperature. This decrease in molecular activity caused the volume of gas to decrease in the balloon. So, even though there was the same amount of helium in my balloon both times, the volume of space it took up changed because of the temperature difference.

You know, I've often heard that fact about gases, but it's just been something I took on faith. Seeing my balloon deflate -- and realizing why -- was fun!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Always get a reality check

A funny thing happened to me at the store the other day. I was looking to buy socks for my son in the aftermath of what appeared to be a shopping free-for-all. Nothing was left on the shelves and everything remaining was in disarray. Finally, desperate, I located a ripped-open bag of socks with only 5 of 6 pairs remaining. Thinking that no one else would buy such an item – and that I might be able to get a good deal – I asked the sales clerk how much of a discount I could expect.

"Ten percent," came her prompt reply.

I stared at her. Ten percent? I thought. That’s only 1/10 off the original price. One-sixth of the socks, or more than 15% of the merchandise, is missing!

Needless to say, I took a pass on her offer. But the take-home lesson when solving equations – and this is true for science as well as math – is to always check your answers to make sure that they are practical.

Let’s say you are trying to figure out how fast an object is going and you are solving for speed. Don’t wind up with a negative number! (Or, as happened in one of my husband’s economics classes, don’t solve a pricing equation and give a negative number. It’s rare that a store will pay you to take their stuff!) John Hawley, of NEWTON’s Ask a Scientist presents a nice post - Negative Velocity - on this topic.

Learning complex concepts in science and math can seem daunting, but always remember to use that reality check! (It could even save you some money.)

Friday, February 8, 2008

Website of the Week: Thinking Fountain

I couldn’t resist sharing this website with you. The next time you clean out your refrigerator and start to throw away some old, moldy food, stop yourself. You might just be throwing away a masterpiece!

Today’s website of the week, Thinking Fountain has a section dedicated just to mold. You can visit Thinking Fountain’s Mold Gallery, a place to share your mold photographs with everyone. There’s even a page showing you how to grow your own mold. The remainder of the site has other ideas and book suggestions to get kids excited about science. But I think the mold pages are the best!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Speaking of the moon ...

Mark your calendars! There will be a full lunar eclipse on the night of February 20-21, 2008. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth blocks the Sun’s light from reaching the moon (or, to put it another way, when the moon is in the Earth’s shadow). Because some sunlight is reflected by the Earth’s atmosphere, the moon will still be visible during the lunar eclipse, but it can appear to be an eerie red during the hour or so of full eclipse, a phase known as totality. NASA has put together a detailed description of when and where to view the February 2008 lunar eclipse. For more background about lunar eclipses, I liked this page of Nick Strobel’s Astronomy Notes. Strobel has a nice diagram showing how the Earth, sun, and moon line up during lunar and solar eclipses, along with a cool clip of what to expect during the upcoming lunar eclipse (although his brief clip is considerably faster than the actual eclipse will be!). Keep in mind that while you should NEVER look directly at a solar eclipse because you can severely damage your eyes, seeing a lunar eclipse like this one is harmless (and fun!).

Monday, February 4, 2008

My theory of science

So, maybe you’ve been reading my blog and thinking to yourself, “But I can’t be a scientist. I don’t agree with half the things I’ve read about science.”

Let’s dispel one myth right now. Science is not a list of hard facts set in stone. Some people try to teach it that way, but it’s not reality. Science is a dynamic series of ever-evolving beliefs about the world and how it functions.

Take something controversial, like the theory of evolution. (For the record, I happen to believe that God created the world and it evolved, a personal theory that sets me at odds with a great number of people). You don’t have to believe in a theory in order to study it. In fact, we need people to challenge theories in order to build upon and improve the science behind them.

A theory simply reflects our best collective understanding of the world around us. Many scientific theories are replaced over time, as new facts are discovered and change our perception of the world that we live in. As the late Dr. Walter Johnson (a wonderfully eccentric and enthusiastic economics professor who taught both my husband and me) used to say, “What we have here is a beautiful theory that’s been set upon by a nasty gang of facts.”

For example, when I was in graduate school, I studied the origins of the moon. Earlier in school, I had been taught that the Pacific Ocean was deep and bowl-shaped because that’s where the moon used to be before it broke away from the Earth. (In fact, I later found this exact theory still presented in my graduate school soils textbook). But when I brought this up with my biogeochemistry professor, he looked at me as if I had just said the moon was made by Martians. This theory of the moon’s origin has been replaced by at least two newer theories (even the scientists can’t agree -- more about this in a future post) and neither of them involve the depth of the Pacific Ocean.

So, feel free to bring your disbelief to the table of scientific inquiry. Conduct your own research, generate a new set of facts to share, and help us improve the world of science.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Website of the Week: Victoria Junior College

While I was researching the interior of bowling balls for last Monday's post, I came across this wonderful website about balls by the Victoria Junior College of Singapore. Want to know how many dimples there are on a golf ball? Interested in the physics behind spinning balls? Want to learn which sport had balls that used to explode? Explore the engineering, design and history of balls from ten different sports here. And let me know which one is your favorite!