Bridge Disasters, Math and Literacy, and Will Christmas Cost More This Year!

[December 2012 MSP2 Newsletter]

Happy December! Thank you all for being members of MSP2. We want to encourage everyone to become an active member of the community and share your expertise and experiences by contributing to conversations, sharing resources, or joining one of our topical discussion groups. Thought I would get the ball rolling by sharing some resources that have crossed my desk in the last month. But first, don’t forget to take the Digital Readiness Survey and RSVP for the January Book Club online get-together!

With Best Wishes, Kim Lightle, MSP2 Team

Still Time to Take the Digital Readiness Survey
You can take a self-assessment that will help you determine how “digital ready” you are. The assessment was developed through an NSF grant with Project Tomorrow and MSP2. The survey will take 15 minutes, and you will receive your personalized and confidential results within 72 hours of completion. Three randomly selected participants who complete the survey will win $100 Amazon gift cards.

The self-assessment allows you to see where you are in your usage and perspective on digital content and also provides insight for MSP2 and the overall NSF grant to determine the types of professional learning opportunities needed by educators like you.

You can access the self-assessment at https://s.zoomerang.com/s/DigitalReadiness_MSP2. The Amazon gift cards will be awarded shortly after the deadline.

MSP2 Book Club January 2013 Selection: Twists in the Tale of the Great DNA Discovery – The Double Helix
A new annotated and illustrated edition of James Watson’s book “The Double Helix” adds interesting details about the rivalries in the race to decode the structure of DNA including information about Rosalind Franklin’s contributions. I read the original years ago and really enjoyed it. I’m really looking forward to reading the new edition and hope that you’ll join us on Wednesday, January 23 at 7-8pm EST to discuss the book. Click here to RSVP.

SCIENCE

Middle School Science Research Models (from MSP2 member Della Curtis)
Are you exploring strategies and ready-made curriculum products for student short and long term research/inquiry?  You might like to investigate the BCPS portal of Online Research Models for grades 6, 7, and 8.

The Online Research Models (ORM), developed by Baltimore County Public Schools, represent an exciting way to guide student research toward higher-level thinking that fully utilizes technology and digital content resources. The research models were developed by teams of library media specialists, teachers, and content specialists at Summer Curriculum Workshops in the Baltimore County Public Schools since 1998. Students who use the self-guided online research lessons are challenged to employ thoughtful reading, analysis, evaluation, and synthesis of information to create answers, not just find them.

The ORM are designed as web pages that present students with a clear research structure, including a research scenario, a learning task, rubrics and scoring tools, directions for use of various media resources, links to useful web sites, creation of a product or presentation, and reflection. Student collaboration is built in to the process. Internet access to the models serves to make curriculum information accessible to teachers, students, parents and the general public.

FabFems: Women in STEM
The “FabFems Spotlight” highlights women from the FabFems Role Model Directory. There are more than 100 FabFems profiles in the database and entries are added daily. FabFems are enthusiastic about the science and technology work they do and want to inspire a future generation of FabFems. Encourage girls to visit FabFems to search profiles, connect with role models, and find resources on career pathways.

Engineering Education “Today in History” Blog: Collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge
On November 7, 1940, at approximately 11:00 AM, the first Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge collapsed due to wind-induced vibrations. Situated on the Tacoma Narrows in Puget Sound, near the city of Tacoma, Washington, the bridge had only been open for traffic a few months. This website, originally designed to document research on dynamics of a linear model of suspension bridges, has been expanded to provide a comprehensive history of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster, along with photos, videos and analyses.

I added this item because I’m amazed every time I see the video of this disaster. Might want to keep this handy – engineering will become an integral part of science instruction really soon.

MATH

Benton Books: Math Girls 2 – Fermat’s Last Theorem
Continuing Hiroshi Yuki’s young adult fiction that explores “the beauty of mathematics, the excitement of tackling hard problems, and happiness of discussing them with friends,” MG2:FLT follows the mathematical journeys of Miruka, Tetra, and new “math girl” Yuri (who is in 8th grade). Topics covered include number theory, modular arithmetic, the basics of abstract algebra (groups, rings, and fields), proof by contradiction and by infinite descent, and Euler’s identity. The author says the book contains math problems covering a wide range of difficulty. Some will be approachable by middle school students, while others may prove challenging even at the college level. You can download the first two chapters for free from the website. I really enjoyed the first two chapters. See what you think! (Thanks to the Math Forum for this resource and the next.)

Will Christmas Cost More This Year?
For the past 29 years, PNC Wealth Management has illustrated the cost of all the gifts involved in the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” This year, PNC has created a website to track down the gifts, because they have skipped town! Students go on a virtual trip across six continents, journey down the Amazon, battle the Loch Ness monster, and summon ancient Mayan spirits to find the missing presents. Along the way, PNC’s site covers concepts such as inflation and other economic trends. PNC’s partner, The Stock Market Game™, provides accompanying lesson plans in English and Spanish.

5 Dice: Order of Operations Game
I received an email from a middle school math teacher, Justin Holladay, asking for feedback on his first iPhone/iPad app. It would be great if you would provide feedback for Justin on the MSP2 site. I’ve started a discussion in the MSP2 Math group where you can add your feedback about the app.

You can read more about it here: http://www.mathfilefoldergames.com/5dice
Download the app for free: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/5-dice-order-operations-game/id572774867?ls=1&mt=8
Video: http://youtu.be/KfglfA1fGt4

About the Game: 5 Dice: Order of Operations Game, is a math app for middle school kids that helps them really like practicing their order of operations skills. The math game requires students to use higher order thinking to solve the target number by working backwards provided the answer but not the equation. The best feature about this simple math game is that teachers or parents are able to receive immediate feedback of their students’ progress through email.

Boggs’ Favorite Middle School Math Activities

The latest Math Forum Newsletter contained information about Rex Boggs, an international math middle level math educator. He has made accessible his all-time favorite middle school math activities — all freely downloadable. You can get to all of this content by clicking here. Boggs’ flipcharts come in two versions: annotated PDFs; and fully interactive .flipchart files, which require Promethean ActivInspire.

When not teaching middle school math, which he has done for 40 years in schools from New York City to Papua New Guinea, Boggs moderates the Technology in Maths Education User Group, tinspire Google Groups discussion, and math-learn Yahoo! mailing list — each featured in these pages before.

You can subscribe to the weekly Math Forum Newsletter by clicking here.

We Want Your Feedback

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org.


Take Your Class Outdoors for Organic Gardening

It’s warm outside. The sun is shining bright and white cumulus clouds drift in the blue skies. You notice your students’ eyes wandering outside as you are trying to find ways to keep their’ minds engaged in their science class. You are desperately wishing that you could take your students out of doors while also teaching content related to the National Science Education Standards.

Good news! Outdoor projects such as planting and maintaining a garden satisfy all aspects of scientific inquiry by inviting interactive and hands-on exploration. By creating a garden, students will be able to look at how energy moves throughout an ecosystem. Furthermore, such an activity fosters students’ ability to conduct original research by coming up with their own ways to collect data on a wide range of questions. Outdoor projects also allow students to make observations that are both qualitative and quantitative.

In 2009, Michelle Obama and Washington-area school kids planted the White House vegetable garden. Watch a video of First Lady Obama touring the organic vegetable garden and discussing her goal of educating children about healthy eating. Then read the accompanying article by Dan Shapley with your students. Seeing our government take action will help students to see the importance of their own school garden project. You can see more coverage of the White House garden on a Washington City Paper blog, which was recorded on April 8, 2010.

Connecting to Standards

Outdoor projects, such as planting and maintaining an organic garden, align with the following content standards for grades 5-8 from the National Science Education Standards.

Content Standard C: Life Science

Regulation and Behavior

-All organisms must be able to obtain and use resources, grow, reproduce, and maintain stable internal conditions while living in a constantly changing external environment.

Populations and Ecosystems

-For ecosystems, the major source of energy is sunlight. Energy entering ecosystems as sunlight is transferred by producers into chemical energy through photosynthesis. That energy then passes from organism to organism in food webs.

Background Information

What is organic gardening?

Organic gardening does not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Organic gardeners choose plants that are suitable to their specific climate and environmental conditions. It is also important to consider the soil, water supply, wildlife, insects, and even people. Organic gardeners try to minimize any resources the garden consumes, replenishing resources with organic matter.

Why should we garden organically?

When you grow vegetables organically, you are not only eating healthier but also creating a sustainable and more balanced ecosystem. Furthermore, obtaining produce from your own garden is often cheaper than buying it from a grocery store.

Organicgardening.com is an online resource that will answer many questions about organic gardening.

Learning Objectives

Creating an organic classroom garden can be a year-long endeavor, which encourages you to go outdoors with your students. By the end of the gardening project, your students will have:

-An understanding of how organisms may interact with one another.

-An understanding of how changes in an organism’s ecosystem/habitat affect its survival.

-An understanding of how an organism can only survive if its needs are met (e.g., food, water, shelter, air).

-An understanding of how all organisms cause changes in their ecosystem and how these changes can be beneficial, neutral, or detrimental.

-An understanding of food chains and food webs (e.g., producers, herbivores, carnivores, omnivores and decomposers).

-An understanding of how natural occurrences and human activity affect the transfer of energy in an ecosystem.

-An understanding of how the number of organisms an ecosystem can support depends on adequate biotic resources and abiotic resources.

-An understanding of how organisms or populations may interact with one another through symbiotic relationships and how some species have become so adapted to each other that neither could survive without the other.

Activity

To get your students thinking about organic gardening and the components that it entails, have students come up with a design for a garden. This can be done online, bringing technology into the classroom. KiddoNet offers an online planner that allows students to design a flower garden. If computers are not available, the activity can be done using an 8.5″ by 11″ sheet of copy paper and crayons.

When students have completed their garden design, ask them to explain it in a think-aloud fashion. Use the following questions as a guide. (If students need help researching, you may want to give students the questions before they come up with their designs.)

- How big will your garden be? Why?

- Will it be located in a sunny or shady environment?

- Is the area warm or cool?

- How much rainfall does the area get?

- Is the area close to water sources? If not, what arrangements will be needed to ensure that the garden survives?

- What is the soil like?

- Is the location hilly or flat?

- How many plants do you plan to have in your garden?

- How many types of plants do you plan on having?

- What should you consider when choosing your plants?

- Are animals allowed to enter the garden?

- If so, what types? Are they important in the survival of the garden?

- Is there any symbiosis or mutualism occurring in the garden?

- What energy cycles do you expect to occur?

- What biotic resources are important to your garden?

- What are the relationships between the abiotic and biotic parts of your garden?

- How could you maximize diversity?

- How would increased diversity lead to an increased energy transfer throughout the garden?

- How would the presence of humans and pets affect the energy within the garden?

The type of garden or outdoor project that you actually engage your students in depends on the age of the students, financial means, and time constraints. You may want to consider applying for grants to finance an organic garden project. You can find a list of grant opportunities at the Middle School Portal/Getting Grants page.

Additional Information

Middle School Portal 2 has many resources about gardening. Try Thinking Green? Grow Your Own! Linking Agriculture, Gardening and Technology. This resource guide provides ideas and resources for integrating science and technology into studies of agriculture and gardening. It provides answers to these questions: What, and how, can students learn from gardening? How can gardening be accomplished in urban or suburban sites? What technologies enable agriculture and home gardening? What are the underlying science principles of these technologies? What is the economic impact of agriculture and home gardening? Some related careers are also highlighted.

We Want Your Feedback

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org.

This post was originally written by Brittany Wall and published May 27, 2010 in the Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog. The post was updated 4/23/12 by Jessica Fries-Gaither.

Human Sense of Smell Is More Sensitive Than You Might Think

ScienceDaily has brought us yet another interesting article related to the National Science Education Standards Life Science Content Standard. My guess is that middle school teachers’ and students’ olfaction capabilities might be a bit superior to the general public’s, given my personal experience in teaching middle school! Nonetheless, scientists from Northwestern University’s School of Medicine report that imperceptible levels of scents affect our judgment in unconscious ways.

The article, Subliminal Smells Bias Perception About A Person’s Likeability, does not explicate the researchers’ questions or hypothesis, but inference indicates their questions were: What concentration levels of scents can people consciously detect? How does scent affect human judgment of the likeability of other humans?

Three scents were used at several levels of concentration, from imperceptible to definitely perceptible. The scents were: “lemon (good), sweat (bad) and ethereal (neutral). . . . Study participants were informed that an odor would be present in 75 percent of the trials.” After participants sniffed a sample, they were shown a photo of a human face with a neutral expression and were asked to rate the person’s likeability along a six-point scale. Though no details are given on how the data was analyzed, the lead author is quoted as saying,

The study suggests that people conscious of the barely noticeable scents were able to discount that sensory information and just evaluate the faces. It only was when smell sneaked in without being noticed that judgments about likeability were biased.

How to Turn This News Event into an Inquiry-Based, Standards-Related Science Lesson

Do your students participate in a Science Day competition or activity? Then you know how hard it can be to help students find a topic they can relate to and apply the methods of science. Sharing this article with your students and accompanying it with a discussion of the methods of science used here might just be the perfect bridge to help your students find an accessible topic. Since particular sample sizes and data analysis methods are not described in the article, you and your students could brainstorm a variety of possible approaches.

You could follow up by going through your local library’s electronic periodical data base to find the researchers’ original report in the December 2007 issue of Psychological Science, “Subliminal Smells Can Guide Social Preferences” by Wen Li, Isabel Moallem, Ken A. Paller, and Jay A Gottfried, and sharing with your students the methods these researchers did use. A discussion of the pros and cons of their methods as compared to those brainstormed by your students could round out your lesson.

The ScienceDaily article can also be used as an introduction to a unit on the senses (i.e., structure and function in living things) or on regulation and behavior, both topics within the NSES Life Science Standard. After sharing the article with students, ask: From an adaptive perspective, what value might there be in this phenomenon of imperceptible levels of scent causing unconscious behavior? Are humans the only organism likely to display this trait? How do you know?

Here are some additional resources that are part of the Middle School Portal 2 collection to facilitate your instruction regarding structure and function in living things, olfaction, methods of science, and regulation and behavior: Structure and Function in Living Systems; Enose Is Enose Is Enose; Discovery, Chance and the Scientific Method; Regulation and Behavior.

We Want Your Feedback

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org.

This post was originally written by Mary LeFever and published December 13, 2007 in the Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog. The post was updated 4/23/12 by Jessica Fries-Gaither.

Consumer Safety: Antifreeze in Toothpaste

We’re ever thankful when our students come to school with freshly brushed teeth, but could there be a circumstance under which you would suggest your students not use toothpaste? In May of 2007, BBC News reported that the Chinese government was investigating charges that toothpaste containing diethylene glycol, also known as antifreeze, had been exported to other countries.

In the following months the New York Times, Fox News, and others identified the tainted brands of toothpaste and locations where they were sold. Some brands were found to contain the compound even though it wasn’t listed as an ingredient. Unfortunately for China, the tainted toothpaste adds to a growing list of product-safety breaches, including a similar incident with cough syrup in 2006 and, more recently, the use of lead-based paints in children’s toys.

In the United States, the Consumer Product Safety Commission provides information and issues safety alerts on consumer products. In the wake of the incidents involving lead-based paint on toys, the Commission reached an agreement with China, requiring imported toys and some other products to meet U.S. safety standards. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration got involved with the tainted toothpaste issue, developing a web page devoted to the problem.

To what extent should individuals rely solely on government agencies to look out for their personal safety? How much scientific literacy do consumers need to be able to read labels and make informed decisions regarding their own health and safety? These questions are addressed in an October 1, 2007, article in the New York Times, The Everyman Who Exposed Tainted Toothpaste. This article tells the story of how one person, Eduardo Arias, brought the issue of tainted toothpaste to the attention of the world.

Arias is a Panamanian government employee responsible for reviewing environmental reports, but that’s not the reason he recognized the compound in the list of toothpaste ingredients as toxic. Rather, he was made aware of diethylene glycol’s toxic effects when, in 2006, almost 100 people died after consuming tainted cough syrup from China, another story reported by the New York Times. Bringing the danger of the tainted toothpaste to the attention of the proper authorities required Arias to cut through the government bureaucracy at three levels and cost him a considerable amount of personal time. His story exemplifies the human side of safety in society and personalizes an issue that could easily be perceived as something the government is solely responsible for. His story should inspire others to do the right thing, despite the probable inconvenience doing so brings.

How to Turn This News Event into an Inquiry-Based, Standards-Related Science Lesson

What’s so dangerous about diethylene glycol? Why would it be used in toothpaste? How can average citizens be proactive in maintaining their own and others’ safety when it comes to consumer products? These are questions for inquiry that align with several of the National Science Education Standards in the areas of Science as Inquiry, Physical Science, and Science in Personal and Social Perspectives.

The intention here is not to scare middle school students, but to show them there are mechanisms in place to maintain our safety, and these mechanisms require active, informed, scientifically literate citizens. We all have a responsibility to stay informed. Teachers have a responsibility to assist students in learning where and how to access the needed information as well as how to evaluate it for its authenticity, validity, and usefulness. This approach provides opportunities to integrate skills and knowledge in language arts, social studies, and science.

We Want Your Feedback

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org.

This post was originally written by Mary LeFever and published October 3, 2007 in the Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog. The post was updated 4/23/12 by Jessica Fries-Gaither.