In this blog, I have been reporting on activities we did during the Mojave field study that have to do with chemistry and the elements, but since the purpose of the field study was to look at Earth analogs for possible Martian organisms, much of what we did is and will be recorded on my other blog site (www.spacedoutclass.wordpress.com). I will do much more with that site in late July as I prepare to teach astronomy this fall. At that point, the “wordpress” portion of the URL will be eliminated and the site will go “live” so to speak. I have many topics that need to be written about, including more on the Mojave experience.
But meanwhile, our last day in the Mojave was Friday, March 23. We prepared and launched a weather balloon, then each group presented their interim reports on the results of the study. I helped Mary Beth talk about the geology and soil chemistry analyses, and I also presented the 3D model of the test soil sample I worked on with Geoff Chu and his group (more on this in the other blog). I plan on having students at Walden School take the grayscale images and the actual altitude data and create 3D models and textures for each crust site which can be manipulated online.
I also took the opportunity to interview Dr. Rakesh Mogul, who was with CSU and is the organizer of this event, but is now moving to the NASA Office of Planetary Protection. He talked about the protocols that NASA uses to determine now clean a space probe needs to be so as not to contaminate a planet with our microorganisms and so as not to mess up our science results when looking for life.
Once I had packed up my video equipment and other gear, I drove back to Utah, stopping in Las Vegas to drive through on the Strip. It has been about 15 years since I’ve actually done this, and it’s changed quite a bit – gotten larger, more crowded, and not very enticing for me, since I don’t gamble (I’ve taken too many operant conditioning classes in college to ever do that). It was a long drive back, but the trip was very much worth it. All told, I took about 15 hours of video, which will now take some time to capture and edit. I hope to do at least some of it (the interviews) this summer.
I wasn’t home for long (about four days) before I flew out to Indianapolis for the annual National Science Teachers Association conference. Much of what I did there was related to space science and astronomy (including attending a luncheon where an astronaut spoke; the awards ceremony for this year’s Mars Education Challenge, where I was asked to be the official photographer while Bill Nye introduced the winners and handed out the awards; and my own presentation on the SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program). However, I did attend a number of excellent sessions that were related to chemistry and the elements.
On Thursday, March 29 I had to take the local buses from my motel out by the airport to downtown, and I was slightly late for the bus and had to wait 30 minutes for the next one, so I was a bit late getting into the conference. I went to the first session I could find in the booklet that was near where I was standing in the convention center and that sounded interested. It was a presentation on an activity that introduces the periodic table to students. The room was packed and I had to sit on the floor while the presenter talked. Something about him looked familiar, and suddenly I realized that the presenter was John Clark, a fellow SOFIA AAA. I had seen his photo on the discussion board.
His activity is done early on in a chemistry class, and involves handing 3 x 5 index cards to each student. They decorate their card, choose a name for their personal element and a symbol, then decide on properties of their element that describe their own personalities from a list, such as “science nerd” or “techy” or “drama king.” Other properties could be chosen from a list, such as number of electrons, etc. The students group themselves into “element” families according to the properties they selected, such as the colors they choose. From this they create a type of periodic table of their class, which the class as a whole has to discuss and justify. Not only does this get the students thinking about elements, properties, symbols, and other aspects of the periodic table, but it helps the teacher get to know the students better.
I also attended a session by April Lanotte on how to build your own cloud chamber, which worked quite well. I’d tried to do this with a kit in the past, but could never get it to work. The secret is to not allow any air in or out as the internal air must be saturated with alcohol fumes and cooled with dry ice before stray cosmic rays can be seen or radiation from an alpha or beta source as vapor trails in the alcohol gas. She had built hers out of an aquarium that was carefully sealed. She also showed us amore sophisticated digital cosmic ray counter. She is an Einstein Fellow this year, and I also attended a number of sessions on that program and on the Presidential Award program.
Another session I attended was by L. Diener (I didn’t catch her first name) on the science of chocolate. Since my students and I just finished videotaping a tour of Amano Artisan Chocolates in our town (more on this later), I was interested in attending and she presented a simple activity about solubility and chocolate. Take a piece of chewing gum, such as candy coated Chiclets, and chew it for a few minutes until the flavor begins to decrease. At this point your saliva has dissolved all the sugars and flavors that are water soluble. Then take a Hersey’s kiss and chew it with the gum. Suddenly the remainder of the gum dissolves in your mouth, because the chocolate’s cocoa butter will dissolve the remaining fat soluble portions of the gum. But as soon as the chocolate has melted and dissolved in your mouth, the gum will start to re-solidify, although there will be less of it. It can be a big gross to feel this happening in your mouth, but it is a great way to talk about food science and how various substances do or don’t dissolve in each other.
It was a busy conference. I walked through the dealers’ room and priced sensors and probeware for both the Vernier and Pasco systems, hoping that I’ll get some grant money to be able to use sensors with an iPad. I ran into old friends, such as Martin Horejsi (we were on the same flight going to Indianapolis, as he has to fly to Salt Lake from Missoula to pick up most connections) and Eric Brunsell. They were the only people from the Solar System Educators Program that I saw. But I did get to know some of my new associates, the SOFIA AAAs.
I did get a chance to do something quite unusual. I was selected (how I don’t know) to sit in on a panel discussion on NSTA’s The Science Teacher journal and on the NSTA website. We were given a nice luncheon, then were asked a series of questions by Tyson Brown, whom I had known before back when I was doing the NASA Explorer Schools program. It was a fascinating discussion, and I put in a plug or two for Martin and Eric’s column (Science 2.0). There were several people in the back of the room writing notes, and one looked familiar. Once we opened up the journal and started going through it, I realized who he was – Steve Metz, the editor. I have decided that I really must submit an article as soon as possible. But my schedule has become so crazy that I’m not sure when that will be or which of several possible topics to write on. For our participation in the panel, we also received a $50 certificate to use in the NSTA bookstore.
Much of what I did and learned will be written (eventually) on the other blog site, as it is more related to astronomy than chemistry. There is, however, one other presentation I went to that I want to discuss here, and that was a lecture on ingenuity and creativity given by author David Macaulay. He is writing a book on how ingenuity has brought about marvelous ideas and inventions through the ages, and he basically walked us through his own creative process in developing the book. When I first started teaching in California, I taught world history for several years and used films based on his books Cathedral and Pyramid in my classes. They were very well done, and he has since created such books as The Way Things Work.
Between this lecture and the panel discussion luncheon, I did a lot of thinking while waiting for the bus on Sunday morning (only to find it doesn’t run on Sundays, so the motel’s shuttle van driver took me downtown instead). But while waiting, I thought of several ideas for books and series of books I could write for NSTA Press, such as how to use authentic science data in the classroom. I’m doing more of this all the time, and many of the sessions I chose to attend were based on real data analysis. I realize that in some ways what I am doing is unique, since I blend science and computer graphics/3D animation technologies. Yet the one session I attended Sunday morning was all about this – the art of science, and Randy Landsberg of the U. of Chicago showed examples of collaborations between artists, the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, and the Adler Planeterium, including an incredible animation taking the viewer to the edge of the universe and another showing cosmic ray showers from the Pierre Auger data. I scribbled notes as fast as I could, and I still need to check up on all the possibilities. It was invigorating to see that others are pushing the edge and blurring distinctions between art and science, which is one of my goals as well.
It was an incredible conference. I was very involved, learned much, brought back many ideas, and made good connections.