Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Math in the Movies / Science Daily:Mathematics

Summary: "When will we ever use this?" is a question pondered or posed by many math students. This article is about higher level math used in computer animation. "Trig for rotation and movement of characters, algebra for special efffects that shine and sparkle, calculus for lights" and geometry for most complex changes in elements of the scenery. It is necessary to run supercompters 24/7 to create animation. One second of film requires 6 days of computer time.

Classroom strategy: The math / computer science aspect required for animation could be a hook for some students to sustain their interest in math through high school and possbily for them to pursue mathematics on into college. Students could do research on the history of animation and careers in the field of animation.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

General Mills to drop sullied Smart choices product label

Summary: On Tuesday Oct 27, 2009, General Mills decided to drop the "Smart Choices" label. The "Smart Choices" food label was designed by food companies to help consumers understand the nutrition labels. The Food and Drug Administration and other watch dog groups said the label misled consumers. The label took two years to develop and major food companies had pledged to use the label. However, when food companies began putting the "Smart Choices" label on Froot Loops, watch dog groups were upset and the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to the food companies about labeling regulations.

Classroom strategies: Have students compare and contrast a "Smart Choice" food and another comparable food. Using the food pyramid, discuss what would make the food a "Smart Choice" food. If possible, have a nutritionist come and talk with students about smart food choices. Have students research and list General Mills cereals, then categorize them and use Excel to show their results. Use the food pyramid and have students measure out actual serving sizes for a balanced meal and the nutrition value. Use Chew on This, to research and discuss the chemistry of food.

Vitamin D and Kids: How Much Sun Should They Get to Stay Healthy?

Federal data shows that more American children are lacking in vitamin D because of more time spent indoors on video games and computers; less milk; and sunscreen. A senior author of the study recommends 10 to 15 minutes a day in the sun without sunscreen for children who can handle it. Drinking more milk and orange juice fortified with vitamin D and possibly vitamin supplements might be in order. The National Academy of Sciences is discussing the value of vitamin D. This article has links to other studies and value of sunscreens.

Lesson: Students at schools where recesses have been take away due to concerns over low testing scores should research more about the lack of vitamin D in kids. After investigating daily habits of kids diet, exercise, and sun time, students could create an ideal routine for diet, exercise, and sun exposure. Next they would write letters to the school administration and the local news media giving the reasons for the value of recess for exercise and sun exposure.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Robot Builds Brick Wall in New York City

Summary: Two architects in New York City are using a robot to build a looping brick wall right in the middle of New York. The robot known as the "R-O-B" is making a traffic island. Manhattan citizens can follow in real time from Oct 5 - 27th how the industrial robot uses innovative technology to transform the bricks into a loop. But this is no ordinary wall. The robot is programmed to use digital shapes and construction principle to make a three-dimensional composition. Over 7,000 bricks will be used in the design. R-O-B will move along the construction site on a flatbed trailer.

Lesson: What a wonderful field trip this could be. Students would actually be able to see how robotics can be used in such an ordinary task as building a brick wall and even incorporating the art while building the structure. Students could then experience making machines using Lego-blocks. If budgets allow, invest in some robotic kits to increase students' understanding about what makes a robot a robot, how robots sense, think, and act as well as the uses and limitations of working robots. Then host a classroom exhibit.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Silk's Superpower

Scientists are exploring the possibilities of using silk generated by other creatures besides silk worms, specifically spiders. Silk from the caterpillars of the silk moths has been used to make clothing for hundreds of years. It has also been used by surgeons, but some people are allergic to the sticky resin on the fibers. Scientists have experimented with silk from spiders for its strength and elasticity and the fact that humans are not allergic to it. Spider silk is so strong, it is used to make bulletproof vests. There are advantages and disadvantages of using spider silk.

Students can sort the advantages and disadvantages of silk from worms and silk from spiders. They can also design an experiment, using the inquiry process, that scientists could use to determine which type of spider silk is the strongest. To integrate writing, students can write a persuasive essay from the point of view of a spider convincing people who don’t like spiders that they are very useful.

Here is a short video on how a spider makes silk. Spider Silk

Science News For Kids

New Eyes to Scan the Skies

New telescopes will help save humans from extinction. One of the four proposed telescopes, located on a mountaintop in Hawaii is called Pan-STARRS. Nick Kaiser, a scientist who works on the project, says the Pan-STARRS telescope has been designed to find “90 percent of all killer asteroids, near-Earth asteroids bigger than 300 meters.” Smaller asteroids often crash into Earth, but if a giant “killer” asteroid were to strike our planet, it could mean the end of human civilization. Three new telescopes will be added to the collection to ensure that at least one telescope is functioning properly so that scientists will know if there is an asteroid on its way to Earth before it is too late. By using four telescopes instead of one, scientists hope to get a more accurate picture of space. If a giant asteroid were identified, astronomers would plot ways to deflect it or break it up long before it reached Earth.

After reading the article as a class, students can research the history of telescopes and their importance to science as we know it today. They can create a time-line of the history of telescopes and key inventors/scientific advances from the time of Galileo Galilei, to today. Students can then brainstorm methods that could be used to break up the killer asteriods before they hit the earth, and disucuss other relevant tools of astronomy that may be useful to utilize in their plan.

All Listeners Must Wash Hands

Story linked from NPR's Oct. 23rd Science Friday

Summary: According to a recent article published in the American Journal of Public Health, people are not washing their hands as often as they should. British researchers found that of 250,000 people observed, only 32% of men and 64% of women, washed their hands with soap. Over one million children die each year from diarrheal disease. Simple handwashing could significantly reduce those numbers by as much as half.

Lesson Uses: With H1N1 of major concern in our communities, it is imperative to encourage our students, one of the most vulnerable populations, to wash their hands often with soap. offers lesson plans and worksheets for grades kindergarten through six in English, Spanish, and French on handwashing. Lessons meet Arizona State Comprehensive Health Education readiness standard Strand 1, 1CH-R1, PO2. Set the stage with the book, Germs Make Me Sick!

Hola everybody!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fascinating Microscope Images

  • Summary: Each year Nikon sponsors a competition where scientists send in the best photos taken from underneath the lens of a microscope. This years top ten images include a sea star in the early stages of its life, cross sections of a plant and strands of cotton.
  • Lesson Uses: Have your students create a hypothesis or predict what the image is when displayed in front of them on the board. The students could possibly write down their predictions on a sheet of paper or could participate in a think-pair-share, possibly writing down their choices on a master class list. For more advanced students they could hypothesize how the images were taken, using what type of microscopes and method for creating the slide. These images can also be used as a non-fiction writing assignment, where the students would describe the details they see in the images.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Hello STEM Course Participants,

Being aware of news that is important to today's learners is one of the professional responsibilities of all teachers. Each member of our class will post to this blog on recent and newsworthy ideas to make science and math relevant every day to our students. 

Post one news story, your summary, and a strategy for incorporating this story in your classroom to our blog. Example from a previous class. Post to our blog at least once each week throughout the semester.

My example for the day:
  • Junk Food Turns Rats into Addicts
  • Summary: Paul Johnson of the Scripps Research Institute bought an assortment of typical Western fare, including Ho Hos, sausage, pound cake, bacon and cheesecake. Johnson fed rats either a standard diet of high-nutrient, low-calorie chow, or unlimited amounts of the palatable junk food. Rats that ate the junk food soon developed compulsive eating habits and became obese. 
  • Classroom Strategy:  
    • Provide students with food logs and have them track their food intake for one week
    • As a class, generate a list of "junk food"
    • Use Excel® to create graphs of the percentages of junk food consumed by individuals and the class as a whole
    • Discuss the implications of students' diet and their long term health based on inkormation from the news article.

Resources you might find useful: