Posts Tagged ‘authentic science education’

About a year ago I wrote a post about the grant game. Since returning from the NSTA conference in Indianapolis I have been writing as many grants as I can, both medium and large. Altogether, I have written seven different grant or program opportunity applications since September 2011. I have been quite successful this year, winning three of the seven.

The first success was to be selected, along with Carolyn Bushman of Wendover Jr./Sr. High School, as an Airborne Astronomy Ambassador for NASA’s SOFIA project. Much of the details are on my other blogsite, www.spacedoutclass.wordpress.com, since it is about astronomy instead of the chemical elements. I found this out in January, and was even interviewed by the local Fox news station (but the story never aired). From February through May I prepared for this opportunity by taking an online astronomy course through Montana State University. We will be flying aboard SOFIA (the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) sometime this school year. We are still waiting to hear which group of astronomers we will be teamed with and when we’ll spend a week at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center preparing for our night flights.

what if prize winner

Website describing my lesson plan for the What If Prize competition

The second success I had was the What If Prize competition. It involved writing and submitting a lesson plan related to astronomy that also involved engineering, math, and technology. I figured my chances were small, given it was an international competition, but it gave me an excuse to update my lesson plan on using trigonometric parallax to measure the distance to nearby stars. I was very busy all last fall editing a video for the Utah School Boards Association and finally got the video done and sent to the DVD duplicators three days before the What If deadline. I had two days to re-write the lesson plan, create new graphics, etc. and submit the whole thing right at the deadline (Dec. 31 at 12:00 midnight). I heard people shouting “Happy New Year!” as I hit the submit button. Then four months passed with no word and I had almost forgotten about the whole thing. I had finished the new version of the lesson plan, which was my real goal. But then, in April, I received an e-mail that I won first place! Here’s the website:  What if Prize announcement.

The award includes a $2000 stipend toward professional development costs. They gave a list of possibilities to apply to, and one certainly caught my eye: a week-long workshop on astrobiology in Hawaii.! But the deadline for that had already passed (Drats). I decided to create my own professional development opportunity and do something to advance the Elements Unearthed project and this blog. I have been neglecting it lately as my teaching career has moved more towards astronomy and astrobiology, but now I have the funds to come back to the story of the elements.

This is what I have decided to do: take about $1750 of the award and use it to travel through Colorado, visiting mining towns and taking as many mine tours and visiting as many museums as possible over a two-week period, documenting the whole thing on video. I have wanted to do this for several years, and did accomplish part of it two years ago when we visited Cripple Creek Mining District in 2010. The remaining $250 will be used to learn how to program apps for the iPad and how to write iTexts.

One of the sponsors of the What If competition is MIT BLOSSOMS, a program to create a series of STEM lesson plans on video that can be distributed freely online and in physical form to worldwide audiences, especially to schools in other countries that may not have Internet connections. I’ve spoken with Dr. Dick Larson at MIT about my parallax lesson plan, have written up an outline and complete script, and began filming it in June (the outside shots). I’ll continue to film it this August and September as my astronomy class begins. It was interesting figuring out how to use Walden School’s building as part the setting for the video, but the final results should be fun.

ACS Hach website

Website for the ACS Hach grant award. This year’s winners have not yet been posted.

My third success I found out in late June. I had applied to the American Chemical Society for the ACS Hach grant for $1500. We have been selected! (The website URL is ridiculously long. You can Google “ACS Hach grant.”  They should announce this year’s winners soon). It will allow me to move forward finally on the project to document the Tintic Mining District and to test the effectiveness of the EPA Superfund clean-up there. We will collaborate with Greg Thornock of Tintic High School, and our students will work together to do two things: to collect and analyze soil samples inside and outside the remediated zone to see if contamination still remains; and to interview local residents, collect photos and stories, and use it all to complete the video my students at MATC began in 2009. My ultimate goal is to edit and produce an hour video in three segments, on the early years (1869 to 1893), the middle years (to 1955), and the later years. Hopefully it will be good enough to air on KUED, Salt Lake City’s PBS station.

These last two successes will provide a great deal of material for this blog and for my chemistry class. Over the next several months, I should be adding at least three posts per week, as well as guest posts from my students. This has already been an incredible year, but my astronomy and chemistry students will have a rich selection of projects to work on and a chance to do some real science. I’ll report our efforts here.

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On the final day of the NSTA conference in San Francisco, I woke early and packed up, then went to find breakfast. I ran into Julie and Gary Taylor at the Hilton and we ate together at Mel’s Diner. Nancy Takashima (also of SSEP) joined us later. I then went to the last two sessions. All of today’s sessions were at the Moscone Center since the conference was winding down and only a few sessions were left. I wondered how many people would be left and felt a bit sorry for those sessions who’s fortune it was to be selected for Sunday morning, but actually the attendance was fairly good, since these sessions were the only thing going on (the dealer’s hall had closed the night before).

Chemistry Education Digital Library

Chemistry Education Digital Library website

The first session I attended was on the Chemical Education Digital Library, a series of chemistry resources available for educators online, with everything from the American Chemical Society to 360 ° models of molecules to living textbooks. It looks like a great resource, and when I have the time I plan on exploring it more thoroughly and perhaps submitting some of our videos and materials. Here’s the link: http://www.chemeddl.org/

The final session I attended was on digital storytelling through student video projects. The presenter (Roger Pence) gave some great rationale for using student-created video projects and also showed some of the handouts and other resources he uses with his students. He does this with sixth graders, and so the level of sophistication is lower, but they do research, write a script, record narration, and then chain images and videos into a final short project. Many of his tips will be useful for me as my students get deeper into creating their own videos next year.

I returned to my hotel and finished packing and checked out. The shuttle van picked me up and after we collected a few more passengers, we drove out to San Francisco International Airport. As I was waiting in line, I saw Martin Horejsi in line ahead of me, and we discovered we were on the same flight to Salt Lake. He would then connect with his flight to Missoula. We arranged seats next to each other and waited to board. Martin writes a column for The Science Teacher along with Eric Brunsell on Web 2.0 technologies in the classroom, and Martin was finishing a blog post for the NSTA site that included video clips he’d taken with his iPad of the dealer floor, including the robotic arm that was solving a Rubik’s Cube. It was fun to see him applying the very technologies he was writing about to create the blog. You can check out his post at: http://nstacommunities.org/blog/2011/03/13/high-tech-highlights-nsta-2011/

Screenshot from X-Plane

SR-71 from X-Plane's flight simulator game for the iPad

On the flight, I used Martin’s iPad to play a flight simulator game, but had to stop because I was getting a bit motion sick. Apparently trying to fly an SR-71 while flying on a commercial jet is just too much for my inner ear. Now that I have the award money from Explore Mars, I plan on using part of it to purchase an iPad 2 over the summer and use it to both explore and create apps and eBooks. One course I hope to teach next year is on game development using the Apple SDK and have students create small games for the iPad that would be useful for chemistry teachers to use for review of units.

I said goodbye to Martin at Salt Lake and my wife and kids picked me up. While waiting, I watched an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise on my MacBook Pro, which I had downloaded from iTunes. I remember a time when I taught with Mac Classics with 9 inch black and white monitors and dot matrix printers, and I was the only teacher at my school with any experience on computers. Times have changed – now we all must teach to digital natives who grew up with these tools. I am still amazed that I can sit in my classroom or a hotel room without any physical connections or books and find almost any information I need (including the two screen shots I’ve used in this post). I am literally pulling data and images out of thin air. It seems like magic to me.

If I were to summarize my visit to San Francisco and what I got from it, I would have to say that I especially focused on programs to get my students involved in authentic science projects (such as MESDT, GAVRT, and the Mt. Pisgah stellar spectra project) and project-based learning; on new technologies such as the iPad and how it can be used in science education; and on ways of teaching chemistry and doing demonstrations and science night activities. I made good contacts, met interesting people, saw some old friends, and came home re-charged and excited to continue teaching.

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