April 2007

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements

Spring is Here - at least, in the Northern Hemisphere!

Thank heavens, Spring is here! It is just wonderful to see the grass starting to green up ever so slightly, to get rain - rather than snow - and to feel a pleasant, balmy breeze rather than a chilly wind. Of course, that unfortunately means that those of you in the Southern Hemisphere are heading in the other direction! Hopefully, you've enjoyed a warm summer, and are looking forward to the beauty of winter. Here at Windows to the Universe, we take these opportunities to remind you all of the content on our site relevant to the seasons.

The tilt of Earth's rotational axis and the Earth's orbit work together to create the seasons. As the Earth travels around the Sun, it remains tipped in the same direction, towards the star Polaris.

At the equinox times in the Earth's revolution, the Earth is neither tilted directly towards nor directly away from the Sun. In other words, both hemispheres receive roughly equal amounts of sunlight. Equinoxes mark the seasons of autumn and spring and are a transition between the two more extreme seasons, summer and winter.

This year, the Spring equinox occurred on March 20th (the beginning of Spring for the N. Hemisphere and the beginning of Fall for the S. Hemisphere). This is a great thing to note to your students and a great time to introduce or reinforce the concept of seasons. As you know, seasons are an area where many misconceptions lie (especially concerning the reason for the seasons!).

We are happy to announce a new resource on Windows to the Universe, developed in collaboration with the Chicago Botanic Garden - Project BudBurst! This new citizen science project with allow students, teachers, and anyone else to observe the timing of the onset of Spring, as determined by the leafing out and flowering of certain native species, and share their observations with others around the country! Enjoy!

Beginning of severe weather season!

No matter where you live, weather is an important part of everybody’s life. In the northern hemisphere, many people look forward to the beginning of spring and what the warmer weather brings. Spring not only brings the freshness of rain, the beauty of rainbows and the blossoming of flowers; it also brings a greater chance for severe weather! Some types of severe weather include: thunderstorms, hurricanes, lightning and thunder, and tornadoes! Thunderstorms form in a three-stage cycle.

A tornado may not have nearly as much energy density as a thunderstorm, but the energy in a tornado is concentrated into a much smaller area. This makes tornadoes very powerful (and dangerous)! In North America, tornadoes form mostly in an area known as Tornado Alley. Meteorologists use radar to forecast tornadoes and help determine where they might form. However, radar cannot detect actual tornadoes. People are needed to do that, these people are known as Tornado Chasers. Tornado chasers travel throughout Tornado Alley looking for fronts of severe storms and tornadoes in order to alert the authorities and be able to help reduce tornado-related deaths. If you live in an area where severe weather initiates tornadoes, make sure to learn about thunderstorm danger signs like weather fronts. If you want to know how strong a tornado is, the Fujita Scale ranks tornadoes by their strength! It is wise to be aware of thunderstorm safety and to heed any tornado notifications in your area.

Fun fact: In Greek mythology, Zephyr is the god of the west wind. It is said that Zephyr's breath caused the nymph Chloris to sprout flowers from her mouth. This Sandro Botticelli painting (from 1478), called "Primavera" shows Zephyr (far right) holding the nymph Chloris!

Space Missions in April

April is a good month to talk about space exploration. On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. He orbited the Earth once aboard the Vostok spacecraft. The flight lasted 1 hour and 48 minutes.

Exactly 20 years later, on April 12, 1981, the first space shuttle Columbia was launched, with two crew members aboard - astronauts John W. Young and Robert L. Crippen. It orbited the earth 36 times and return to Earth on April 14.

On April 24, 1990, space shuttle Discovery launched the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. Since its launch, it has been responsible for many ground-breaking astronimical observations and has transmitted awesome images of the solar system, distant stars, and galaxies.

Check out more manned and unmanned space missions on Windows to the Universe.

It's Time for Earth Day!

Earth Day is April 22!  Celebrated in 175 countries, Earth Day is a tribute to our home planet. It is also a time to consider ways that we can be kinder to our planet. Learn more by visiting the Earth section of Windows to the Universe.  There you will find information about the parts of the Earth system such as geology, life, water, and the atmosphere. Also, take a deep look at Earth's Climate and Global Change or the Earth's Polar Regions.

Earthquake in the News

A massive earthquake in Sumatra, Indonesia on March 6 reminds us that our planet is an active and ever-changing place. Blocks of the Earth's lithosphere moved along a large strike-slip fault, driven by plate tectonic motions. Learn more about plate tectonics in the geology section of Windows to the Universe. And try the Snack Tectonics classroom activity with your students.

A Recipe for Clouds

Many teachers present their weather unit in the spring. You can't teach about weather until you have talked about clouds!

Do you talk to your class about the 'ingredients' needed to make clouds? Cloud physics is extremely complicated and scientists are researching that area every day. Fundamentally though, you do need three main ingredients to create a cloud - water, a CCN, and a drop in pressure.

Cloud Condensation Nuclei (CCN) are vitally important in this 'recipe'! When water in the vapor form experiences a drop in pressure, it wants to condense, but it needs a surface to condense upon. That's where the CCN comes in. A CCN can be a speck of dirt, dust, pollen or even a piece of human skin or hair. Do you know what the most common CCN is? It's tiny bits of sea salt - released in sea spray. It makes sense when you think about how much of the Earth is ocean.

We have an activity on the site called the Three Clouds Activity. It will reinforce these concepts nicely. The Cloud in Bottle part comes with a great Student Activity Sheet that you are welcome to use in your classroom.

Would you like to share Windows to the Universe resources at your professional development event?

Occasionally, we're contacted by educators who would like to share one of our classroom activities or demonstrations at a professional development event at their school, or at a district or state-wide science teachers conference. We're happy to have you share our activities with your colleagues - just be sure you give credit to our project in your presentation and on printed materials you distribute. The full credit line (which should be used on printed materials) is "The source of this material is Windows to the Universe, at http://www.windows.ucar.edu/ at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). ©1995-1999, 2000 The Regents of the University of Michigan; ©2000-07 University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. All Rights Reserved."

Please do be in touch with us through our comments form to let us know about your plans, as we'd like to keep track of where our activities are being highlighted. We're also happy to send you materials to distribute at the event, such as brochures, cards, and possibly even other goodies, given sufficient advance notice and assuming we have enough materials on hand. When you contact us, be sure you let us know if you'd like materials, how many, by what date, and be sure to include your address.

Climate Change Presentation and Professional Development

A PowerPoint presentation on climate change, including the recent results released in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - Summary for Policy Makers, is available on Windows to the Universe. If you'd like to see the presentation, and use it for your educational purposes, please check it out at our Teacher Resources page for this workshop - click on the link for "Main Presentation".

Results from New Horizons at Jupiter

As I mentioned in last month's newsletter, the New Horizon's spacecraft that is on its way to Pluto (in 2015!) swung past Jupiter on February 28th. New Horizons took some great pictures of Jupiter and some of the giant planet's many moons during the successful flyby. Read more and check out a great image of a volcanic eruption on Jupiter's moon Io.

Table of Contents

Space missions
Earth Day
PD Event?
Climate Resources
New Horizons Jupiter
Climate Course
Leadership Workshop










Teacher Submissions

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Share your ideas with other Educators around the World!

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Survey of High School Astronomy Courses

When every high school is sweating to the reading and math testing of No Child Left Behind, how does an astronomy class manage to exist? And what does the class look like compared to those of previous decades? Hello, my name is Larry Krumenaker, a Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia, and I’m also a former high school physics and astronomy teacher. If high school astronomy teaching interests you, then I would like to invite you to participate in a survey of high school astronomy courses.

The substance of my dissertation will be looking at the current status and makeup of these courses, how teachers express why the course should exist, and how No Child Left Behind has affected astronomy teaching. The field has not been surveyed since the early 1980’s, since before NCLB and even before the full effect of national standards in science or standardized testing in general. The findings could help schools that want to have astronomy courses in the future, or maintain them in the present.

I need teachers who have taught, or do teach now, a bona fide course in astronomy at the high school level. It doesn’t matter if you are a regular classroom teacher or a planetarium educator. If you are in a school that has had astronomy but dropped it, or a science supervisor or administrator in a school that has never had one, I would like to contact you as well. Your name and school identification information will be removed from the dissertation and future published articles so you can be assured of confidentiality. If you agree, you will participate in a survey which may take 15-25 minutes at most. Your voluntary participation in this project will take place during March or April 2007.

If you would be interested in helping assess the national view of astronomy at the high school level, please contact me by email at lkrumena@uga.edu. A more formal invitation to participate will be emailed to you. You may also mail an inquiry to me at Larry Krumenaker, Dept of Math and Science Education, 212 Aderhold Hall, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602.

Announcements from Partners

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NCAR Climate Change Online Course Offering: Introduction to Earth's Climate

Are you seeking a K-12 professional development opportunity that will enhance your qualifications, competency, and self-confidence in integrating Earth system science, climate, and global change into your science classroom? The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is offering a series of online courses designed for middle and high school science educators called Climate Discovery. Apply now to participate in the first part the series, Introduction to Earth's Climate.

Here are some comments from previous course participants:

"Great instructors who were responsive and enthusiastic, participants who were intelligent and thoughtful, with up-to-date content and activities."

"Thank you for offering such a great class! I can't wait to sign up for the other courses!"

"An excellent introduction to Earth System Science and also climate change issues. Everything was very relevant and appropriate."

"This was a very good course and quite worthwhile. A lot of work has gone into this by the developers. Thanks!"

Our next course starts April 13, 2007, and there are still a few slots available. Register soon!

Earth Science by Design Leadership Workshop

Submitted by Harold MacWilliams, TERC

For school leaders, college faculty, and staff developers.

Choose from two locations and times:

  • June 20-22, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • June 25-27, Portland, ME

Learn how the Earth Science by Design professional development program brings "Understanding by Design" to Earth Science. See how ESBD helps teachers enhance their content and pedagogical knowledge and how to facilitate this experience with teachers. Analyze examples of ESBD science units which teachers have created and hear how the ESBD approach has affected teachers. Work with staff developers who have conducted the ESBD program with teachers. Receive all materials needed to offer the program, including a copy of the ESBD Handbook for Professional Developers and access to the ESBD Web Site.

For more information and to register, visit http://www.esbd.org/.

Earth Science by Design(ESBD) is a year-long program of professional development which may be offered by a school, district, or other organization to middle and high school Earth science teachers. Funded by the National Science Foundation, ESBD is a field-tested, effective way to develop the pedagogical and content abilities of teachers.

Professional Development Opportunity in the Galapagos Islands!

Submitted by Allison Deines, Program Coordinator, Toyota International Teacher Program, Institute of International Education

The Toyota International Teacher Program to the Galapagos Islands is a unique study abroad opportunity for U.S. educators. This program to South America aims to inspire collaboration between U.S. and Galapagueño teachers and to build awareness of how to teach sustainability and environmental stewardship through a cross-curricular approach.

Applications are available online to participate in this fully funded 10-day study tour of the Galapagos Islands. Eligible applicants must teach full time in grades 7-12 and must have at least 3 years teaching experience by April 23, 2007. Twenty (20) classroom teachers of all disciplines will be selected to travel the Galapagos Islands to discover some of the world’s most unique animals, explore cutting-edge environmental projects, and participate in discussions with experts and community leaders.

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. sponsors these opportunities with the goal of expanding the global perspectives of all educators and their students. Full-time classroom teachers in grades 7-12 are encouraged to submit online applications for the Toyota International Teacher Program by April 23, 2007.

  • Apply online at http://www.iie.org/toyota
  • Program brochures may be requested by visiting the Toyota International Teacher Program website or by calling the Institute of International Education at 1-877-832-2457.

Application deadline: April 23, 2007

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The source of this material is Windows to the Universe, at http://www.windows.ucar.edu/ at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). © 1995-1999, 2000 The Regents of the University of Michigan; © 2000-07 University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. All Rights Reserved.