December 2006

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements

Happy Holidays!

During December, in the midst of the holiday season, it can be very difficult to keep students' minds on learning. However, we frequently receive reminders from our active planet of the power of the Earth system - whether from strong winter storms, avalanches, earthquakes, tsunamis, or volcanoes. This month's newsletter provides a number of links for you to use in bringing the Earth and space sciences to life for your students, including weather, climate, the carbon cycle, penguin research, meteor showers, tsunamis, and a growing list of upcoming events and opportunities for you to take advantage of. Our store has a new item - our beautiful Climate Change poster series - which reproduces in poster format the Climate Discovery Exhibit housed in the National Center for Atmospheric Research's Mesa Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. Be sure to check them out, as well as our Windows to the Universe logo merchandise.

In coming months, we plan to be offering more "Postcards from the Field" prepared by scientists engaged in geoscience research around the world, who are interested in sharing their work with students and educators. Keep an eye on the newsletter for information about these new resources, as they come available.

Windows to the Universe staff was delighted to meet so many of you at our professional development events at the Omaha and Baltimore NSTAs and in Puebla, Mexico at the 7th National Convention for Professors of Natural Science. We hope you enjoy our newsletters, and find them valuable.

As always, we really do appreciate your feedback about our website, our activities, and our newsletter. Please do use our comments form to let us know your thoughts!

Carbon Cycle Game
by Julia

Let your students imagine themselves little carbon atoms! Our new Carbon Cycle Game allows them to travel all around the carbon cycle, and find out about carbon reservoirs, greenhouse gases, climate change, and more. They will also answer quiz question on their way.

The teacher activity Using the Carbon Cycle Interactive Game in the Classroom has more hints about playing this game with your students. Other related activities are Carbon Dioxide - Sources and Sinks and Traveling Nitrogen Game. We have additional information on the website about cycles in the Earth system, including the water cycle, the rock cycle, and the nitrogen cycle.

Weather Versus Climate
by Jennifer

What is the difference between weather and climate? This might be an interesting discussion question for your class. Weather refers to the current atmospheric conditions (including temperature, precipitation, wind, humidity, barometric pressure) at a particular time and place. Climate refers to the general weather patterns expected in a given area (sometimes based on the 30-year average weather). Climate may also be applied more generally to large-scale weather patterns in time or space (e.g., an Ice Age climate or a tropical climate).

Or as a middle school student put it so well, "climate tells you what clothes to buy, but weather tells you what clothes to wear."

Bring these concepts home in your classroom by using an activity called Differences between Climate and Weather. The activity has students collect and plot local weather data and compare it to climate data for your area. The goal is for students to understand that daily weather data are highly variable compared to long-term climate data.

Of course, when mentioning weather or climate, it is always a good idea to reinforce what causes the seasons! The upcoming winter solstice on December 22 will provide an opportunity to bring this up in your classroom.

See More Climate and Global Change Classroom Activities from Windows to the Universe

What's it like in Antarctica?
by Lisa

The Penguin Science research program, including educator Jean Pennycook and the research team lead by scientist David Ainley, will be in Antarctica during December and January researching Adelie Penguins and how they are coping with climate change, as well as making a documentary film about the research. Jean will be sending virtual postcards to Windows to the Universe for the new section Postcards from the Field: Antarctica during the research trip. By perusing these postcards, your students will gain insight into what it takes to research and film a documentary about Adelie Penguins in Antarctica by reading the first-hand accounts. Check back often to read the latest postcards from Antarctica!

If you like science postcards, also take a look at Postcards from the Field: MILAGRO. These postcards are from scientists and educators who were part of a field campaign to study air pollution in Mexico City last March.

Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks on December 14th
by Randy

December brings another fine meteor shower for your viewing pleasure. Each year, the Geminid meteor shower lights up the skies around December 14th. This year should bring good viewing, since the Moon is a waxing crescent around that time and the skies should therefore be dark (which makes it easier to spot faint meteors). The source of the Geminids is a strange object called 3200 Phaeton, which may be an unusual asteroid or an "extinct" comet (astronomers aren't quite sure). Meteors may be visible for a few nights before and after the 14th, though the best viewing is expected on the 14th when more than 100 meteors per hour could appear (the intensities of meteor showers are notoriously difficult to predict!).

Gifts at the Windows to the Universe Online Store
by Roberta

Looking for the perfect gift for your last minute holiday shopping? Our online Science Store offers Windows to the Universe merchandise, as well as posters on climate change, which reproduce the Climate and Global Change exhibit we offer in the National Center for Atmospheric Research's Mesa Laboratory Exhibits. We are adding new items over the next several months for kids, teachers and the general public, so come back often!

Second Anniversary of South-East Asian Tsunami
by Roberta

December 26th brings the second anniversary of the massive tsunami in 2004 which brought destruction and death to many countries bordering the Indian Ocean in response to the massive earthquake which struck that morning west of Sumatra. Hundreds of thousands of people died in this disaster, which brought home the destructive power of Earth processes, and reminded us all how important it is to teach people how to respond to imminent natural disasters. The story of Tilly Smith, who put her knowledge into action on the beach in Phuket that morning because of a lesson she had at school, saving many lives, reminds me of how important your role as educators is!

The Kuril Islands earthquake (8.3 on the Richter scale) on November 15, 2006, reminded us of the link between earthquakes and tsunamis. A tsunami warning was issued for a vast region of coastline bordering the Pacific Ocean for a wave up to 6 feet, and many locations did observe a measurable wave. Surprisingly, just the day before on November 14, 2006, the New York Times ran an interesting article in their Science Times section, "Ancient Crash, Epic Wave", about research underway to determine if ancient chevron deposits distributed around the world record the destruction of mega-tsunamis up to 600 feet high, in response to the possible impacts of asteroids or comets. A session at the upcoming American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in San Francisco, California, on December 14th will explore the evidence linking these surface features with great impacts. Finally, a reminder that the Geophysical Information for Teachers (GIFT) workshop at the AGU meeting will focus on earthquakes and tsunamis (see partner announcement below).

Thinking of YOU!
by Marina

Holidays are fast approaching! These are days of family fun a connecting with others, a time to share a time to play. Perhaps a couple of cool online games can be a delightful family activity!

And for those who can’t be present but you definitely think about, send Greetings through a cool Virtual Post Card say from the north pole as a polar bear?.

Teacher Submissions

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Don't forget to share your ideas with your colleagues around the world!

Would you like to share information with other teachers around the world that subscribe to the Windows to the Universe newsletter? At this point, our newsletter reaches over 5800 teachers around the world in 129 countries. The Teacher's Corner is the appropriate place to share ideas for classroom activities, tips on how to use Windows to the Universe and its activities and interactives in the classroom, pedagogical approaches, and geoscience educational challenges you're facing in your school, district, state, or country. For information about how to post to the newsletter, as well as relevant procedural issues, click here.

Announcements from Partners

Click here to submit information about your program to the newsletter

San Antonio, TX, AMS Meeting and WeatherFest, January 13 - 18

The American Meteorological Society will convene its 87th Annual Meeting, January 14 – 18, at the H.B. Gonzalez Convention Center, in San Antonio, Texas. The conference kick-off event is the Sunday afternoon, January 13, public WeatherFest for students, families, and teachers in the surrounding community. Flyers and posters for distribution in your school are available in PDF format on the conference web site. The WeatherFest includes exhibitors from public weather/climate research agencies, corporations, and educational institutions. They will provide hands-on science education lesson plans, activities, and demonstrations for all ages; a weather show; and displays of science books, weather instruments, and gifts. On Monday and Tuesday, the Annual Meeting will include the 16th Symposium on Education. Oral and poster sessions will offer a wealth of information about K-12, popular, and university education initiatives, outreach and broadcast media programs, distance learning, and cyberinfrastructure for education in the atmospheric and related sciences. Come by to see us in the UCAR booth at the Weatherfest and in the conference exhibit hall!

Join NESTA, and Final NESTA Events this Year in Salt Lake City

The National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) is a nonprofit educational organization, founded in 1983, whose purpose is the advancement, stimulation, extension, improvement, and coordination of Earth Science education at all educational levels. NESTA membership (for only $20 per year, and less for a multi-year membership) brings access to a high quality quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist, an electronic newsletter, NESTA ENews, connections with the only nationwide professional association dedicated to the improvement of Earth and space science education at the K-12 levels, and many other benefits, including our events across the country. To join, simply fill out the membership form and send it, with your check, to the address shown on the membership form.

The National Earth Science Teachers Association will hold its final Share-a-thon and Rock and Mineral Raffle this year at the NSTA Regional conference in December, as follows:

Salt Lake City, Utah
December 8, 2006, Salt Palace Convention Center, Ballroom F

  • 14:00-15:00 - NESTA Share-a-Thon
  • 15:30 - 16:30 - NESTA Rock and Mineral Raffle

Roberta Johnson, Director of Windows to the Universe, will be there to coordinate the events and also represent our website. Stop by for a visit!

Get Ready for International Migratory Bird Day!

International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) is an annual celebration of birds, their amazing journeys, and their conservation. Created in 1993 by Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the program is now a project of Environment for the Americas, which provides education about the natural world in Canada, the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Educators looking for new resources, hands-on activities, and a framework for creating a bird education program will find a wealth of information through International Migratory Bird Day. IMBD offers educator workshops, ideas for creating a bird festival, hands-on activities, and plenty of fun items for any education program. Though the Day is scheduled for the second Saturday in May each year, participants are encouraged to celebrate and host a bird education program at the best time and particularly when opportunities to observe birds are best at their location. In 2007, the theme is Birds in a Changing Climate, and all materials will address the impacts of climate change on birds and ways that everyone can become involved in reducing their carbon contribution and help migratory birds. For more information, please visit the IMBD website or contact:

International Migratory Bird Day
2840 Iliff Street
Boulder, CO 80305
Call Toll-free: 1-866-334-3330
Office: 970-393-1183

Summer Opportunity - A Safari and Natural History Tour of South Africa

This natural history tour will provide educators with a firsthand exposure to the geological history, flora, fauna, Savanna ecosystems, settlement patterns, Zulu culture, rain forests, game management, mining, and natural history of South Africa. Participants will be involved in field studies, tours, game viewing, archaeology, spotlighting and general observations of this beautiful country.

Round trip airfare via South African Airways, luxury accommodations with private bathrooms, all breakfasts and many dinners are included. A guide/naturalist will be with our group the entire time. Make game drives, both day and night, in open safari vehicles which allow excellent opportunities for photography!

For the past twenty-three summers, Richard Duncan has taken educators to the South Pacific, South America, and Southeast Asia. Richard has taught science and biology for the past 30 years and is the recipient of state and national awards.

The cost is $5290 - (based on double occupancy) and includes all round-trip transportation from JFK (add-ons available), luxury accommodations with private bathrooms. Extension to Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls available.

For more information and a complete itinerary, please contact Richard Duncan at: 503.744.0794 or:

Toyota International Teacher Program - Application Deadline January 8, 2007!

Open to US teachers of all disciplines in grades 9-12 nationwide, the Toyota International Teacher Program offers a fully-funded, 11-day professional development experience in Japan. Sponsored by Toyota Motor Sales, USA, the program will take place June 22 - July 7, 2007 and provide 40 educators with an opportunity to bring ancient and modern Japan back to their classrooms. Participants will travel through Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and surrounding rural areas examining the history, education system, environment and industry of Japan. Since 1999, groups of American educators have journeyed annually to Japan to explore the country’s history, educational system, environment and technology. They have returned with renewed commitment as teachers and with fresh ideas for sharing first hand experiences and international perspectives with their students, colleagues and communities. In sponsoring the program, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. supports the involvement of today’s educators in the critical arena of international study.

To apply online, visit The application deadline is January 8, 2007.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact Joshua Beatty at or by phone at (toll-free) 877-832-2457.

Check out Energy Hog!

The Energy Hog website is where teachers can find information about classroom materials to download free energy education activities and lessons -

For questions, please contact:
Maria Ellingson
Alliance to Save Energy
Program Manager / Campaign Director
(303) 333-4570

Join the American Geophysical Union!

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) is the world's largest association of Earth and space scientists, with over 45,000 members worldwide. AGU offers numerous meetings annually, and leading publications in the geosciences. For teachers, AGU offers GIFT (Geophysical Information for Teachers) workshops at AGU Fall and Spring meetings with information and activities designed to be directly useful in the classroom, and a discounted rate for meeting registration. Becoming a member of AGU helps you to stay well informed and up to date in geoscience research. To join go to: For $20/year you receive the weekly news magazine, EOS, and the monthly journal, Physics Today, from the American Institute of Physics.

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements