Tuesday, July 30, 2013

STEM Teacher Prep Earns Texas A&M State Honor

Good news for STEM in the Lone Star State: Texas A&M University's STEM Teacher Preparation Academy has been recognized as an Exemplary Faculty Practice under the Quest for Quality: Teacher in Texas initiative. The statewide effort highlights exceptional quality in university-based teacher preparation across Texas.

As stated on Texas A&M's website: Quest for Quality is a collaboration between the Center for Research, Evaluation and Advancement of Teacher Education (CREATE) and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) and is funded through a grant from the College for All Texans Foundation. 

The award, based on a submission prepared by STEM Academy representatives earlier this spring, recognizes evidence of faculty excellence in the following areas: developing knowledge in the discipline; modeling pedagogy; using technology; addressing diversity and equity; creating experiential learning; investigating, analyzing and solving problems; and assessing learning. Texas A&M reports that all nominations were independently reviewed and selected by state and national reviewers, along with CREATE staff.

Specifically recognized from Texas A&M were STEM Academy staff members Timothy P. Scott, Jennifer Whitfield, Dawn Parker and Carolyn Schroeder. The staff members were cited for their efforts to impact and improve the state of STEM education by helping to better prepare the next generation of science and math teachers. This comes as good news at a time when STEM teachers that are capable of preparing today's youth seem so scarce.

To learn more, read the full article and to view commentary from teachers who were recognized, click here.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Summer Science Experiment: Make it Rain!

You may have more rain than you'd like this summer, but for those sweating out the summer and doing their best to make it through another drought, the four letter word never sounded so good.  Either way, why not make some rain of your own?! Help your kids understand the weather and what really causes it. This might even help curb some weather related fears your little ones are hanging on to. 

Grab these items to get started:
  • Glass Jar
  • Hot, hot water
  • Plate
  • Ice Cubes
Once you have you're supplies, get started! (And it's totally okay to call yourself the rain man/woman if you'd like.)
  1. Heat your water until it is just about boiling and pour it into your glass jar.
  2. As quickly as you can, cover the glass jar with your plate and then place the ice cubes on top. You might also want to keep a towel handy for any unexpected spills that might occur.
  3. Sit back and watch what happens as it begins to rain inside your jar! 
So what's really happening, here? The warm, moist air from the water rises and mixes with the cool air created by the ice cubes causing condensation first, and then rain. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tools for STEM Schools

If you're looking for tools to guide your thinking and actions for STEM implementation in your school then you've come to the right place. Dorothy Earle and SusieTeague, Education Specialists for S2TEM Centers SC recently wrote a blog post for STEMblog that detailed three ready-to-use, free resources that will get your STEM journey started on the right foot.

  1. The Theory of Action (TOA) for STEM Success is a foundational tool. Within this framework, users will find a repository of information, reflection questions and self assessments to guide them in meeting their STEM education goals with just one click. The TOA highlights 10 characteristics of successful STEM schooling organized under two broad categories:
·         STEM Mindedness describes the STEM school’s culture, vision and values. The characteristics are highlighted under the headings of STEM for All, Innovation, Collaboration, Continuous, Learning and Data.
·         Total InstructionalFocus describes the full community’s shared responsibility for instruction that prepares each student for success in STEM. The characteristics are highlighted under the headings of Engaged Community, Curriculum, Assessment, Professional Learning and Instructional Support.

  1. Innovation Configuration (IC) Maps are a set of tools that complement the TOA and are available for download. IC Maps highlight characteristics of high functioning STEM schools and provide detailed support in guiding schools along the continuum from getting started to sustaining an exemplary STEM program.
  1. The STEM Self-Assessment is a short, online tool that provides immediate feedback to help schools identify a starting point for exploring the TOA and IC Maps.
For more information on these resources, or to learn more about S2TEM Centers SC’s programs and services, visit theoriginal blog post or go to the organizations website at www.s2temsc.org. From there you can join their mailing list, visit their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter.

Monday, July 22, 2013

UW-Madison Using Ant Gardens to Advance Biofuel Studies

Ants: no matter how mindless and insignificant the tiny critters may seem, they're doing big things and advancing science at the same time! What am getting at? Biotechnology Calender, Inc. reported that bioresearchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison are taking note of ants maintaining gardens of fungi as we speak and are translating how their inquisitive habits may aid humans in their search for sustainable energy sources.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Geoff Gallice.
For example, leaf-cutter ants share a cyclical symbiotic relationship with the fungus L. gongylophorous that starts when the ants bring leaves to the function. In other words, the fungus breaks down the leaves into sugars it can digest, and then it produces fruiting bodies full of nutrients that are valuable to the ants. This brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Because of their relationship, both organisms get access to a source of food they would be unable to attain on their own.

What interests researchers most about this relationship though, isn't the relationship itself, but rather how the fungus L. gongylophorous handles the leaves that are brought to it. The breakdown process the fungus goes through is very similar to the goals of researchers like Garret Suen, who investigates ways to break down cellulosic commodities like corn stalks and grasses and turn them into biofuel. 

To read a statement from Suen on how he plans to learn how humans can mimic the fungus on a much larger scale and to learn more, check out the full Biotechnology Calender, Inc. article here.

This read more about the funding for the University of Wisconsin, Madison and its studies, click here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Summer Science Experiment: Ocean in a Jar!

Heat waves are affecting everyone this summer and nothing sounds better than hitting the beach to relax and cool off. If you can't go to the beach, make this ocean in a jar with your kids this weekend - complete with lessons about density and waves. The catch? They'll be having so much fun they won't even realize they're learning at the same time.

The lesson: water is denser than oil and the two liquids never mix. So, when the water in your ocen jar moves, it pushes the oil around making shapes like waves.

Here's what you'll need:
  • Clear jar or bottle with lid
  • Water
  • Blue food coloring
  • Glitter
  • Baby Oil
  • Plastic floating toys
Now get started on bring the ocean to you:
  1. Fill the jar or bottle halfway with water.
  2. Add drops of the blue food coloring until your like the color you see. Shake in a little glitter to add a little pizazz to your ocean water.
  3. Pour baby oil into the jar until it's three-quarters full.
  4. Place a floating toy or multiple floating toys on top of the oil, and then screw the lid on until it's pretty snug and tight.
  5. Shake the jar gently to make some waves and set your ocean in motion! Think about this: when you shake the jar side to side are the waves produced different than those you see when you shake the jar in an up-and-down motion? 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies: Science-fied!

The following recipe for chocolate chip cookies was adapted from a recipe that appeared in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN, June 19, 1995, p. 100). It was attributed to Jeannene Ackerman of Wico Corp. The recipe was published in Fisher Science Education's March/April 2013 issue of Headline Discoveries.

Ever wonder what a chocolate chip cookie looks like from a chemist's perspective? 

The ingredient list will probably look a lot like this:
  • 532.35mL (283 grams) finely milled wheat grains
  • 4.9mL NaHCO3
  • 4.9mL refined halite
  • 226.8 grams (2 rectangular prisms) partially hydrogenated tallow triglyceride
  • 177.45mL crystalline sucrose (C12H22O11)
  • 177.45mL sucrose-molasses mixture
  • 4.9mL vanillin-ethanol solution
  • Two calcium carbonate-encapsulated avian albumen-coated protein
  • 473.2mL theobroma cacao
And here's how a chemist would go about making these ooey-gooey favorites:
  1. Add the finely milled wheat grains, NaHCO3 and refined halite to a 2L jacketed round reactor vessel (reactor #1) equipped with a sir mechanism.
  2. In a second 2L reactor vessel fitted with a radial flow impeller operating at 100 rpm, app the triglyceride, sucrose, score-molasses mixture and vanillin-ethanol solution until the mixture is homogenous.
  3. Add the encapsulated albumen-coated protein followed by three equal portions of the homogenous mixture in reactor #1. Add the theobroma cacao slowly with constant agitation. Care must be taken at this point in the reaction to control any temperature rise that may be the result of an exothermic reaction.
  4. Divide the resulting slurry into spheres each approximately 65mL in volume. Place individual spheres on a 316 SS sheet (300 x 600mm). Heat in a 450°K oven for a period of time that is in agreement with Frank & Johnston’s first order rate expression (see JACOS, 21, 55), or until golden brown.
  5. Once the reaction is complete, place the sheet on a 300°K heat-transfer surface allowing the product to come to thermal equilibrium.
Want to take this recipe (or yummy experiment, whatever you'd like to call it) to the next level? Think about these discussion points: 
  • If you wanted to add peanuts or dark chocolate to your cookies, what would you add to the list of ingredients?
  • Write your own chemist's recipe for a baked treat using the format above.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Summer Science Experiment: Homemade Flubber!

Yes, you read that correctly: I said flubber! Your children will be thrilled to have a bag of their very own flubber to show off the rest of the neighborhood kids and will enjoy squeezing it and playing with it even more! 

Just grab a few things from around the house and you'll be ready to get started. When you're all finished, you and your kiddos will have some awesome green flubber to play with (minus all the super bounce power that it possesses in the movie!) 

Here's what you'll need:
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 1 cup liquid Elmer's glue
  • Liquid food coloring (Blue and yellow to make a nice green color or any other color that you'd like!)
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoon borax (you can find this in a box in the laundry aisle)
  • 2 bowls
  1. In bowl one, mix together the cold water, glue and food coloring. Once mixed, set aside.
  2. In bowl two, mix together the hot water and borax until the borax is completely dissolved.
  3. Slowly add the glue mixture to the borax mixture. Mix well and pour off any excess water.
After that all you have left to do is enjoy! (And clean up, of course.)

Monday, July 8, 2013

STEM Schools the Topic of New Town Hall Series!

STEMconnector and Next Steps Institute are joining forces to host three Virtual Town Halls this summer on the topic of STEM schools. The online webinars will serve as pre-conference workshops in advance of the Next Steps for STEM Schools Conference in Charleston, SC on Sept. 30-Oct. 2. 

Revolving around STEM schools, each Town Hall will focus on engaging key stakeholders in supporting STEM schools and identifying resources and best practices. The three-webinar series will kick off tomorrow, July 9, at 5 p.m. ET with, "Leveraging Federal and State Resources to Support STEM Schools." 

The following speakers will offer their unique institutional perspectives on the topic:
You can join in on the Town Hall by registering here. You can also keep up with the action by joining in on the Twitter Chat using #NS4STEM.

The second Town Hall of the series, "Engaging Industry - Promising Models of Corporate Engagement in STEM Schools," will be held on July 30. Speakers at this webinar will discuss promising practices of industry engagement in STEM school support. "Field Report: STEM Schools in Action," will wrap up the Town Hall series on August 20 and offer perspective from STEM school supporters, administrators and teachers.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Make a Patriotic Density Column in Honor of the Fourth of July!

Trying to figure out what you're going to do in between the morning parade and the evening fireworks tomorrow? Right before you head out to grill some burgers or join some friends at the park, intrigue your children (and yourself) with a patriotic science lesson!

This July 4th chemistry lesson celebrates America and ends up being a red, white and blue display of density layers. (Note: Kerosene lamp oil is toxic and flammable. Because this experiment includes using kerosene lamp oil, adult supervision is required.)

Here's what you'll need:
  • Milk
  • Red Kerosene Lamp Oil (Sold at your local home improvement store)
  • Light Corn Syrup
  • Blue Food Coloring
  • Clear column or cup
Here's how you'll do it:
  1. Mix blue food coloring into the corn syrup until the desired color is attained.
  2. Slowly pour the same amount of the colored corn syrup, kerosene lamp oil and milk (in any order you wish) into a clear column or cup. Here's a hint: You get minimal mixing by slowly pouring each liquid over the back of a disposable plastic spoon.
  3. Now observe and enjoy! The most dense liquid is at the bottom of the column or cup and the least dense liquid is at the top. Were you predictions about the order of the colors correct?!
To make the density column more exciting, light the top layer (the lamp oil) on fire!

*Fuel kerosene is also sometimes available in a blue color, so if this is what you have, use it and just make the light corn syrup red with food coloring.

Check out this video for a demonstration of a patriotic density column. 
This woman makes her's in a shot glass!