All A Twitter About Math

Keeping up professionally takes time and effort and sometimes seems overwhelming. Following a few well-chosen educators or organizations can really help lighten the load. I am a big fan of Twitter. I am amazed at the wealth of wonderful resources that I discover through tweets. If you are interested in delving into the world of Twitter or perhaps are just looking for a few, good folks to follow, check out the following collections from the Best Colleges Online blog.

The 50 Best Twitter Feeds for Math Geeks

50 Essential Twitter Feeds for STEM Educators

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, subscribe via email, 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

Granite Helps Scientists Piece Together Rodinia

If you’ve taught plate tectonics at the middle school level, you’re probably quite familiar with the supercontinent Pangaea. But did you know that Pangaea was not the only supercontinent in earth’s history – just the last to date? Millions of years before Pangaea, another supercontinent known as Rodinia united all of earth’s landmass in an unusual configuration. While we tend to think of Pangaea as the “starting point,” earth’s land and ocean basins have been continually shaped throughout geologic time through a supercontinent cycle.

While Pangaea certainly gets more press, Rodinia was the star of an article in the July 11, 2008 edition of Science. As summarized in a National Science Foundation News release, John Goodge’s team was collecting geologic specimens in the Transantarctic Mountains when they discovered a single granite boulder atop Nimrod Glacier.

Andrew Barth (L) and Devon Brecke (R), collecting glacial moraine samples in the Miller Range of the Transantarctic Mountains. Photo courtesy of John Goodge, University of Minnesota.

Subsequent chemical and isotopic tests indicated that the boulder was strikingly similar to a belt of igneous rock running through the southwestern United States. These similar chemical and isotopic signatures provided support for the SWEAT (southwest United States East Antarctica) hypothesis, which states that East Antarctica was connected to the southwestern United States approximately one billion years ago, as part of the global supercontinent Rodinia.

The supercontinent Rodinia as it began to break up approximately 750 million years ago.

At the heart of Rodinia was Laurentia, or the precursor to most of North America. Debate exists, however, on whether East Antarctica, Australia, Siberia, or South China fit with the western margin of Laurentia. This geologic discovery provides three lines of evidence in support of an East Antarctica – Laurentia connection.

Researchers theorize that about 600-800 million years ago, a portion of Rodinia broke away, gradually drifting southward to become eastern Antarctica and Australia. This movement just predates the Cambrian explosion, a rapid diversification of life and sudden appearance of complex organisms. Goodge explains that “there are ideas developing about these connections between the geo-tectonic world on the one hand and biology on the other.” It is possible that the shifting and colliding of continents, erosion, and influx of minerals and chemicals into the ocean may have provided nutrients to support a growing diversity of organisms.

Connecting to the National Science Education Standards

As with a discussion of Pangaea or plate tectonics in general, this article provides an opportunity to meet the Earth and Space Science standard’s various concepts. According to the National Science Education Standards, “The idea of systems provides a framework in which students can investigate the four major interacting components of the earth system – geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and the biosphere. In this holistic approach to studying the planet, physical, chemical, and biological processes act within and among the four components on a wide range of time scales to change continuously earth’s crust, oceans, atmosphere, and living organisms.” The holistic approach described in the NSES is reflected in this study’s use of geologic evidence to explain an important biological phenomenon.

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

Rather than spark a new lesson, this current event provides an opportunity to revisit a familiar unit on plate tectonics, geologic time, and rocks and minerals. Most teachers include a discussion of Alfred Wegner and the evidence for his theory of plate tectonics, including similar fossilized plants and reptiles found in South America and Africa.

After students understand how Wegner used geologic and fossil evidence to reconstruct Pangaea, present the evidence from this most recent discovery. Ask them to explain how the same type of granite could be found in eastern Antarctica and the southwest United States. Once students conclude that the two continents must have been connected, re-examine a diagram of Pangaea, which shows an African-Antarctic connection, not a North America-Antarctic one. How, then, could these two places have similar rocks?

A reconstruction of the supercontinent Pangaea. Image courtesy of Kieff via Wikimedia.

Referring to geologic time may help at this point. Using a modified time scale, remind students that Pangaea existed approximately 200 million years ago, while earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old. What did earth’s surface look like before Pangaea? Lead students to the conclusion that other supercontinents, like Rodinia, existed well before Pangaea. Introduce the concept of the supercontinent cycle.

This type of discussion naturally progresses to the mechanics and processes driving the cycle: plate movement. The following resources from the Middle School Portal can help you teach about earth’s interior and plate tectonics. It may also be helpful to brush up on concepts related to geologic time, as these processes span millions of years.

Geologic Time: Eons, Eras, and Epochs

Plate Tectonics: Moving Middle School Science

Once students understand plate interactions (rifting, subduction, sea-floor spreading), take a global view. Using a world map, plot the locations of plate divergence and convergence. Challenge students to predict what the next supercontinent will look like. For example, current plate movement indicates that as the Atlantic Ocean basin grows, the Pacific Ocean basin is shrinking. In the future, western North America may be connected to Asia in the earth’s latest supercontinent. This story from NPR, Amasia: The Next Supercontinent?, tells the possible story.

Introducing Rodinia as part of a greater supercontinent cycle presents plate tectonics as a driving force in a long-term pattern of constructive and destructive forces. It provides another opportunity for students to consider the cyclic change: a fundamental principle in 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 This post was originally written by Jessica Fries-Gaither and published July 24, 2008 in the Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog. The post was updated 2/8/12 by Jessica Fries-Gaither.

Next Generation Science Standards Framework Released

JULY 19, 2011 – The National Academies of Science released a framework today that will serve as the foundation for the creation of Next Generation Science Standards. The Framework for K-12 Science Education describes key ideas and practices in the natural sciences and engineering that all students should be familiar with by the time they graduate from high school.

The Framework was developed by a committee representing expertise in science, teaching and learning, curriculum, assessment and education policy. The National Research Council (NRC), the staffing arm of the National Academies of Science, coordinated the development of the Framework, which will be used as the basis for a state-led effort to create new K-12 science standards. Achieve will manage the process for developing the new standards.

“The National Research Council, working with the science and education communities, has done an excellent job creating a framework for the next generation of science education standards,” said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve. “This was a thorough and rigorous process and the NRC is to be congratulated.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Commerce released a report showing that jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields have grown at a much faster rate than non-STEM jobs over the past 10 years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

“In order to be scientifically literate and compete for the jobs of the future, our students must have a rigorous science education,” Mr. Cohen said. “This Framework is an important step in making sure all students have the opportunity to pursue postsecondary education and meaningful careers.”

Over the next year, content experts from states across the nation will work together to create science standards based on the Framework. The process will include the opportunity for input from those in the field, including K-12 educators, the scientific community, higher education, business leaders and the general public. The new standards should be released in late 2012.

“Creating the next generation of science standards will be a state-led process that takes into account the views of all stakeholders while staying firmly rooted in the NRC’s Framework,” said Stephen Pruitt, vice president for Content, Research and Development at Achieve. “The goal is to create a strong educational foundation in science so our students have the scientific background they need to be competitive in the 21st century.”

Upcoming Free MSP2 Webinars

We have some excellent webinars scheduled in the month of October – presented by MSP2 teacher leaders and staff. Please share these opportunities with your colleagues. All presentations will be recorded and available on the MSP2 Webinar Archive page. Hope to “see you” online!

Beaks and Biomes: Integrating Science and Literacy
Thursday, October 14, 2010 from 4-5pm EST
For more information:

The series is sponsored by Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an NSF-funded project that provides professional development and instructional resources to elementary teachers (but lots of middle school teachers use them too).

This life science unit uses scientific inquiry, literacy instruction, and a multigenre text set to examine adaptations, migration, and ecosystems. Leave with a unit framework you can directly incorporate into your classroom! Note: This session builds on concepts presented in our first two seminars: Informational Text and Multigenre Text Sets and Inquiry, Literacy, and the Learning Cycle. You’ll get the most out of the session if you’ve participated in the previous seminars, or view the archives at

MSP2 Book Club: Discuss The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 from 7-8pm EST
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How did cells taken from a poor black woman in 1951 come to unlock some of the biggest advances in science? Hope you’ll join me in reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. For a really good overview go to

21st Century Skills and…
Thursday, October 21, 2010 from 7-8pm EST
For more information:

The U.S. is in critical need for a qualified workforce equipped with skills beyond the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. The U.S. future workforce needs employees with critical thinking and problem solving, communications, collaboration and creative and innovation skills. We as educators will need to tweak what we already are doing in order to prepare our students for the challenges and opportunities that await them in the 21st Century. Learn how you can incorporate these skills in to your instruction to meet the needs of the 21st century employer.

Virtual Field Trips
Thursday, October 28, 2010 from 8-9pm EST
For more information:

The world becomes a smaller place if you can expand your classroom beyond its walls and location. Purposefully used, virtual field trips can enhance learning and support content mastery.

This webinar provides a framework to expand teaching strategies by incorporating digital technology to explore the world, inquire about big ideas, and create authentic experiences. See examples of virtual field trips around STEM concepts. In addition, learn about tools used to create your own virtual journeys and how to access resources for established field trips.

Math Competitions: Go, Team!

If you want to encourage your middle school students to” be the best they can be,” here are two competitions for you to consider.  Both are national and aimed at promoting high achievement through regular math meetings.  At least one person on staff will have to head the program, teach the high standard mathematics required on the tests, hold practice contests, and generally push, encourage, and applaud.

MATHCOUNTS is a national competition developed for U.S. middle school students. Its program promotes mathematics achievement through grassroots involvement in every U.S. state and territory. You will find here all the information on how to register and how to prepare your students for the yearly competitions held throughout the country.

Math Olympiads for Elementary and Middle Schools
Created for grades 4-6 and 6-8, this program aims to enhance students’ problem-solving skills. I especially like the two grade ranges. Math clubs meet weekly for an hour, when students explore a topic or strategy in depth, or practice for the contests. All information on how to structure the clubs and prepare students is included here. 

Finally, a third contest, not strictly mathematical, but you and a science teacher might find it challenging for your students who like to work “hands-on.” The West Point Bridge Design Contest is a challenge for U.S. students age 13 through grade 12. The purpose of the contest is to provide middle school and high school students with a realistic, engaging introduction to engineering. They can learn about how engineers use the computer as a problem-solving tool, about truss bridges and how they work, about engineering through a realistic, hands-on problem-solving experience, and about the engineering design process. Students design a truss bridge using the award-winning West Point Bridge Designer software (absolutely free!). At the site, you can register for this year’s competition and also learn how to set up a local bridge design contest.

Good luck to your team!!!

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 Post updated 4/18/2012.