Post-its and Ponderings
A middle school teacher's thoughts on science, technology and learning

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bill Nye & Buoyancy

OK, I'll admit it. I love Bill Nye. Well, I am not exactly in love with William S. Nye himself, but I am smitten with his videos. Back in the midwest, I would often rent the videos to watch his "Try this at home" and "Consider the following" segments in order to supplement my own lessons.

However, now that I moved, my public library Bill Nye supply has been cut off. And the videos are quite expensive to purchase. Luckily, someone has been posting episodes on YouTube. I know, I know, I should feel bad about viewing copyrighted material for free. But, as you know, many teachers depend on the CASE* method. {UPDATE FEB 2010: Apparently, the videos have been removed due to copyright violation, and the user's account suspended.}

One recent example of how Bill Nye enhanced my teaching involves a 2nd grade unit on floating and sinking. I did all the traditional hands-on activites. We made clay boats and saw how many pennies they would hold. We measured the mass and volume of various objects using over-sized plastic graduated cylinders and looked for the pattern in the data. However, when I showed the class short clips from Buoyancy 1, Buoyancy 2, and Buoyancy 3, the students really solidified their learning.

In the "Buoyancy 1" clip, 0:58 to 4:34 is possibly the clearest displacement demonstration I have ever seen. I showed this 4 minute clip to my group of 2nd graders. They were more clearly able to understand the concept of the displaced water weighing the same as the submerged part of the boat, and they literally squealed in delight when they found out the water filled up the exact print of the boat. (Well, at least until they have the magic broken when they find out that only works for liquids with a density of 1 g/ml.)

I am now inspired to set up a similar contraption next year so that the kids can mass the displaced water, rather than indirectly figuring it out by measuring the mass of the object and the volume of the displaced liquid. I'll add that to the list of things Bill Nye (or at least his writers) has taught me.

* Copy And Steal Everything

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bill Nye for Adults?

I don't often publish similar posts on both my professional and kid-oriented blog. However, Bill Nye's "new" show warrants investigation by both age groups.

Bill Nye, the science guy. Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill!

This time he is making a science show for teens and adults. Go to the website and click "Menu" and "Episodes" to see clips and more. Each clip has some tabs - the best one, in my opinion, is called "the flip side." Here, he provides links to information about alternate viewpoints on that topic.

The entire 13 episode set can be purchased for $499. Apparently the first shows aired in 2005, but according to the website, some stations are still airing the show. There are also a few examples on YouTube (here's one on Cloning)... at least until Bill Nye pulls them off for copyright infringement.

Episode list:

1. Astrobiology
2. Psuedoscience
3. Addiction
4. Cloning
5. Nuclear Energy
6. Sports
7. Population
8. Race
9. Antibiotics
10. Genetically Modified Foods
11. Transportation
12. Global Climate Change
13. Evolution of Sex


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Why Teachers Should Travel

As I pulled up my Chicago roots and headed out west for new adventures, I learned why people say "getting there is half the fun." Granted, there is a whole lot of South Dakota that isn't much fun, but overall I had an amazing and satisfyingly geeky trip.

At one point during the long drive, a friend and I got to talking about teachers travelling. He mentioned that the government should subsidize travel for teachers. As continued on my trip, I couldn't agree more. I've taught earth science in 2001, 2002, and again in 2006, and I have read a lot of information on plate tectonics and watched a number Discovery Channel specials. However, this hardly compares to the opportunity to being there and experiencing things like lava tubes and thermophilic bacterial mats firsthand. It's the ultimate "hands-on" learning. This trip will make me a better science teacher. If only we could charter a plane for field trips....

I've posted some of the scientific highlights of my trip on my more kid-oriented blog.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

When Worlds Collide: Global Warming

Last week, my teammate stopped by and told me that he was going to be studying the Middle East and the politics of oil in his social studies class. Would I want to do anything about oil?

Well, we have already "covered" the environment in September, and we were currently studying plants, but I figured dead plants make up fossil fuels. Close enough.

So, my students and I looked into the science of fossil fuels and alternative fuels. (LiveScience has written its Top 10 ways to power the future.) We culminated our short study with selections from Who Killed the Electric Car? and The Inconvenient Truth. (LiveScience also updates us on current electric car technology.)

That night, at home, I was scrolling through the Chicago Tribune, when I came across Mayor Daley and Chicago's timely
response to recent reports (BBC, CNN) that humans are mainly responsible for global warming.

Similar to the fiberglass "Cows on Parade" from 1999, one hundred 5-foot-wide globes will be featured this summer in areas along the lakefront. Each globe will feature an artist's design to help "
bring awareness to the need for solutions to reduce global warming." (Chicago Tribune article)

Mayor Daley announced his plans on February 6 and plans to call the exhibit "Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet."

"We all share responsibility for global warming," Daley said. "We can all be a part of the solution."

Now, here's the even cooler part. After the globes hang out at the lakefront for the summer, they will be auctioned off. The money raised from the auction will be used to expand environmental programs and conservation clubs in the Chicago public schools. Now, that is a great way to give back to schools and empower our kids.

Art teacher Turtel Onli sponsors such a program at Kenwood Academy High School. He says,

"We want to help children make the transition from consumers to committed, passionate citizens"


Thursday, December 28, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Recently, I saw An Inconvenient Truth at my local library. I found it quite fascinating, although one of my students had previously described it to me as a "snooze cruise." Granted, for a 12 year old, watching 96 minutes of diagrams and charts might get a little boring. But the message isn't dull. In fact, I intend to show clips from the movie to my students in managable, discussable chunks. Not only will it foster a discussion on global warming, but it also provides a chance to incorporate some digital age literacy skills.

Many people believe the message is too important to ignore or even to pay for. Michael Eakes writes to encourage Al Gore to share his message freely. One educator responds to the "DVD Giveaway" with a similar request. Interestingly enough, I have very recently learned that someone DID post An Inconvenient Truth on YouTube. However, you'll have to watch it in parts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 or watch the trailer. UPDATE: a UK weblog has aggregated the clips onto one site.) It will be interesting to see how long the posting persists, or whether it is in copyright violation.

Personally interesting is the controversy over the recent educator "DVD giveaway" offer. When Al Gore first approached the National Science Teacher's Association (NSTA) with an offer to give away 50,000 DVDs to educators, they refused. Since then, there have been a flurry of articles and blogs speculating on the NSTA's reasons. NSTA cites a potential risk to funding from key supporters and a desire to abstain from political endorsements.

Some people, including John Stossel, claim that Al Gore is all hype, but it doesn't change appearance of this issues in recent news: the rise in ocean levels, the endangerment of polar bears, breaking off of ancient ice shelves, more? In fact, National Geographic actually consulted with Eric Steig, an earth scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, to check the facts of the movie.

He says the documentary handles the science well.

"I was looking for errors," he said.

"But nothing much struck me as overblown or wrong."

Just in case we are on the verge of global disaster, maybe we'd better start making some changes.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Microbes in the Flesh

On my maiden voyage into blogging, I passed this ship in the night.

Adopt A Microbe - This is the stuff science teachers dream of. Well done!

In fact, I think people underestimate the desirability of micobes in noninfectious forms. Who needs a teddy bear when you can cuddle the Ebola virus at night?

This makes me think fondly of one of my favorite sites, Microbe World, full of microbe news and experiments.