Amazing New Collection of Hands-on, Interactive Resources

The Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, has launched an online collection of hands-on, interactive resources to help informal educators in nonclassroom settings, such as museums and science centers, engage school-age children in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology learning. The web site is called howtosmile.org.

The web site provides both an enhanced faceted and a visual search capability; list-making features that provide a public or private online space to collect favorite activities and add teaching tips and ideas on how to use an activity; user-contributed videos, and other creative community functions that encourage users to rate and comment on activities. Some activities are available in Spanish. Special activity collections target those with limited mobility and individuals who are vision impaired. Built using open source tools, howtosmile.org also includes an open infrastructure to allow institutions to contribute links to useful activities and a free widget to embed howtosmile.org search results on any web page.

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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. Post updated 4/12/2012.

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: A Middle School Perspective

Current events provide us with unique learning opportunities – ones that we need to take advantage of even if the consequences of that event are tragic. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is one such event. Not that it is the first oil spill that has had an impact on U.S. shores but it is by far the worst.

The last oil spill that most people can remember is the Exxon Valdez spill. It’s hard to believe that the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened in 1989 – 21 years ago. At the time, it seemed like we couldn’t ever have a worse spill. It was a watershed moment in U.S. environmental history and changed the way we consider and deal with oil and chemical spills in this country. On the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill a movie, Hindsight and Foresight: 20 Years After the Exxon Valdez Spill, was released. The movie reviews the initial stages of the oil spill, shows how it changed U.S. laws and regulations, and identifies challenges for the future as it asks the questions: What does the twentieth anniversary of the spill mean, and what have we learned? Maybe not a lot, unfortunately.

The following resources provide amazing and tragic images of the spill, a chemistry perspective, a visual perspective (just how big is the spill compared to your town), and a podcast and lessons and resources collected by the Ohio Resource Center.

Gulf Oil Spill Could Eclipse Exxon Valdez Disaster
Slide show from NPR. An oil spill that threatened to eclipse even the Exxon Valdez disaster spread out of control and drifted inexorably toward the Gulf Coast as fishermen rushed to scoop up shrimp and crews spread floating barriers around marshes.

C&EN Special Issue: Disaster in the Gulf
Chemical & Engineering News, the magazine that goes to all members of the American Chemical Society, has devoted a special issue to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The articles are mostly available to anyone, but a few of them are only available to ACS members. They provide important scientific background for the oil spill, much of it useful for classroom discussions.

How Big Is the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill?
See exactly where the oil spill is located in the Gulf of Mexico, and compare the size of the spill to the size of a city you are familiar with.

Oil Spills
The page has a number of visualizations and videos of the Deep Water Horizon incident as well as the Exxon Valdez along with general models of oil spills and software for modeling them. There are also teaching activities and materials for talking about these events in the classroom as well as a list of references that may be of use in the classroom. The content is targeted at undergraduate geoscience classrooms but if you are looking for a deeper understanding of what is happening this is a great place to go.

The Science of Oil Spills – Grades 6-8
The Ohio Resource Center has pulled together resources that support teaching and learning of multiple aspects of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Coast oil spill. You’ll find a 10 minute podcast where Terry Shiverdecker and Jessica Fries-Gaither discuss how middle school teachers can use an Earth science systems approach to incorporate oil spill activities into their instruction as well as lessons, activities, and information that focus on everything from environmental aspects to the dispersants that are being used. Resources for K-2, 3-5, and 9-12 are also provided.

Connect with colleagues and talk about what you are doing in your middle school science classroom at the Middle School Portal 2: Math and Science Pathways (MSP2) social network – http://msteacher2.org.


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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. Post updated 12/09/2011.

History and Nature of Genetics and Heredity

While Gregor Mendel’s contributions are certainly important for both their methodology and findings, they are not the only historically significant aspect of genetics and heredity. What were the cultural norms and views in times past? How did those views impact the advancement of science?

History of Genetics Timeline
This well-organized table starts with Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace in 1858, giving teachers a good foundation or review of how knowledge of genetics and heredity developed. However, it is interesting to ponder how people thought about reproduction and heredity prior to Darwin, since those concepts influenced the questions, if any, that were posed.

And Still We Evolve: Section Five: Heredity and Modern Genetics
This self-published handbook addresses ancient views (we cannot call them theories since they lacked supportive empirical evidence resulting from rigorous experimentation) of preformation, incapsulation, and epigenesis. Though your students may not admit it, they could have held, or may still hold similar views themselves.

A Mendel Seminar
A lesson for high school students in advanced biology revolves around Mendel’s original paper, Experiments in Hybridization (1865). The structure and support provided in annotations enable the learner to make sense of, and gain insight into, Mendel’s reasoning, methods and conclusions.

Thomas Hunt Morgan and Sex Linkage
This article summarizes Morgan’s work and includes tables and graphics for a clear presentation. It includes a section titled The Context of Morgan’s Discovery, from which the following quote is extracted, giving insight into his views:

Morgan, however, had long resisted the idea that genes resided on chromosomes, because he did not approve of scientific data acquired by passive observation. Furthermore, Morgan was not convinced that traits couldn’t morph into new forms in an organism based on the blending of parental contributions, an idea leftover from pre-Mendelian scientists. Morgan was sure that . . . researchers who promoted the chromosome theory of inheritance were looking for an easy answer as to how independent assortment occurred in gamete formation, because he believed they ignored counterevidence in the face of excited conviction. In fact, he thought that the concept of genes was at best an invention intended to link the mysterious paths of chromosomes :and discontinuous inheritance patterns.

This post excerpted from Middle School Guide to Reproduction and Heredity


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. Post updated 11/18/2011.

Citizen Science, Real Data, and Web 2.0 Combine in Snowtweets Project

Real data and citizen science projects are wonderful ways to engage students, but they often are best conducted during the fall and spring. What’s a teacher to do in the colder months of winter?

 The Snowtweets Project from the University of Waterloo has one answer. The Snowtweets Project provides a way for people interested in snow measurements to quickly broadcast their own snow depth measurements to the web. These data are then picked up by our database and mapped in near real time. The project uses the micro-blogging site Twitter as its data broadcasting scheme.

Participants can use a data visualization tool called Snowbird that allows them to explore the reported snow depths around the globe. The viewer shows where the reports are located and how much snow there is at each reported site.

How can you participate in Snowtweets?

1. Register for a free Twitter account at www.twitter.com.

2. Measure the snow depth where you live, work, or play.

3. Use your Twitter account to tweet the information to the project.

See more detailed instructions at http://snowcore.uwaterloo.ca/snowtweets/snowbird/.

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. Post updated 4/12/2012.

Pandemics and Their Numbers

Everywhere our students are hearing about the HINI influenza. Their interest offers an opportunity to co-teach with a science teacher in an investigation of what we know and don’t know about this pandemic. The New York Times has created an interdisciplinary lesson Pandemic Panic: Researching the 2009 Influenza A (H1N1) Pandemic that asks students to inquire into the current influenza as advisers from multiple perspectives and to share factual information they learn with their classmates and school communities.

The lesson opens with students considering “what we know” and “what we want to know.” The investigation begins as student groups take on such roles as “health advisers” or “economic advisers” or “historical advisers.” “Statistics advisers” could be added, in my opinion. What do the numbers tell us? FluView from the CDC 2008-2009 Influenza Season Week 38 ending September 26, 2009, gives great graphs of several types, some with an over-abundance of information that students will have to sort, select, and make sense of for themselves and their classmates. Statistics and percentages are topics that take on real meaning here.

If the class becomes interested in other diseases that have affected the world, they could research such epidemics as yellow fever. To get them into the story, look into Yellow Fever and the Reed Commission. They could research the number of victims over time and create a timeline from when the disease first reached the present United States up to the discovery of how to control it. A google search on “number of victims from yellow fever” brings up a few good sources, such as an August 10, 1879, article from The New York Times and another from September 24, 1897. Fascinating! But students will need to find other resources as well—encyclopedias and other books, offline as well as online. 

If the information found is sufficient, they could calculate rates of change over the course of different decades. Were there times when the disease rates rose more quickly? When they did not change at all? You could explore with them the concept of the slope of a line, what it actually tells us. Your students will find that numbers tell interesting stories! 


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. Post
updated 12/07/2011.