September 2009

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements
Windows to the Universe Facebook Group

The School Year is Here!

The school year is already in full swing for some of you here in the Northern Hemisphere, while others are just about to start in again. I hope you've had a great rest, and are refreshed and ready for another school year. We have a number of new resources, completed over the summer and described below, that we'd like to share with you. Our new "Poles in Space" section surveys what we know about the poles of major bodies across the solar system, and presents a fascinating set of information. Another section of the site that has recently been enhanced and expanded is our Earth atmosphere section, with information on atmospheric structure, weather, clouds, and atmospheric phenomena.

In this month's newsletter, you'll also find information about a number of events coming up, including the equinox (September 22), the Great World Wide Star Count (in October), and our professional development workshops at upcoming NSTA Fall Regional conferences. I'd also like to announce that we will begin offering web seminars on climate change in the Spring of 2010. We'll let you know details as that opportunity gets nearer. Don't forget to check out the literacy frameworks for the Earth sciences, which we've brought together for your convenience on the website.

Also, there are numerous professional development and other exciting opportunities included in the Partners section of the newsletter. Some have deadlines associated with them, so be sure to check them out soon!

"Poles in Space" Section's Grand Opening

Our new Poles in Space section is completed and ready to use! We've just added two final sections on the poles of Jupiter and its moons and the poles of Earth's Moon. We've also added more than 50 images to the Poles in Space Image Gallery... take a peek, it may entice you!

Poles in Space is a cross-cutting comparison of features of the polar regions of the Sun, planets and moons throughout our Solar System. Where (besides Earth) can you see an enormous vortex in the atmosphere above a pole? [Venus & Saturn] Which planets have aurorae, like Earth's Northern Lights? [Several... and some moons, too!] Which planets are most and least tilted? [Uranus & Mercury] Want to learn more? [Yes!] Take a tour of Poles in Space!

Get Ready for The Great World Wide Star Count

This IYA Cornerstone Project encourages everyone to go outside, look skyward after dark, count the stars they see in certain constellations, and report what they see online. Star Count is designed to raise awareness about the night sky and encourage learning in astronomy. All the information needed to participate is available on the Star Count Web site. Be sure to download the 2009 Activity Guide (available in 8 languages) to prepare your class for this project.

Participation involves use of a simple protocol and an easy data entry form. During the first two years, over 16,000 individuals from 64 countries and all 7 continents participated in this campaign to measure light pollution globally.

At the conclusion of the event, maps will be generated highlighting the results of this exciting citizen science campaign. Mark your calendars and plan on joining thousands of other students, families, and citizen scientists counting stars this fall.

The Great World Wide Star Count will be held from October 9 - 23, 2009. For more information visit or email

Explore the Ever-changing Weather with your Students this Fall

The lower layer of the atmosphere, called the troposphere, is always changing. Weather describes how the atmosphere is changing at a specific time and place. When a front passes over an area, it means a change in the weather that may lead to rain, thunderstorms, gusty winds, or even tornadoes. Explore the Weather section of Windows to the Universe with your students and learn more about how weather changes. We have been adding new content to this area of the site so there is now more to explore!

The Teacher Resources section of Windows to the Universe includes a large collection of activities for K-12 students including several that allow students to explore the atmosphere and weather. Consider trying a weather classroom activity with your students this fall. Here are a few of

Other weather and atmosphere resources for educators on Windows to the Universe include the newly released Atmospheric Science Literacy Framework, which outlines the big ideas that everyone should know about the atmosphere. The NCAR Cloud Viewer, a printable cloud identification guide, is also available online. And try the Weather Crossword Puzzle, a reading and puzzle exercise available at three levels, and the Clouds and Art interactive.

The Scientific Method at Work

When there are different theories that all try to explain the answer to a scientific question or problem, how do scientists decide which one is right? This is a common problem in science, and we can find big unanswered questions with several different possible answers in every field, from physics to paleontology.

A good example of this is the question of why the dinosaurs went extinct—there are a lot of different theories that propose possible explanations, ranging from asteroid impacts to changes in mammals’ eating habits.

How do we know which is correct? We have to rely on the scientific method—we put together a hypothesis, we make predictions based on that hypothesis, we test our predictions, and then we adjust (or reject) our hypothesis in light of what we observe. In the example above, scientists have used this method to decide that some potential causes of the dinosaurs’ dying off (e.g., asteroid impacts, or increased volcanic activity) are much more likely than others to have contributed to the massive extinction that occurred at the end of the Cretaceous Period.

If you’re interested in reading more, check out our pages about the K-T extinction and scientific method.

Autumnal Equinox is September 22

This year, the Autumnal equinox will occur on September 22nd (the beginning of Fall for the N. Hemisphere and the beginning of Spring for the S. Hemisphere). 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.

Contrary to what is commonly believed, day and night are not exactly of equal length at the time of the March and September equinoxes. On the day of an equinox, the geometric center of the Sun's disk crosses the equator, and this point is above the horizon for 12 hours everywhere on the Earth. However, the length of the day is defined as the period when some sunlight is visible, and this also happens when the upper edge of the Sun is visible but its center is below the horizon. The date at which the length of day and night are closest to being equal is called the equilux. The specific dates of equiluxes are different for different latitudes.

Earth System Science Literacy Frameworks

Earth system science literacy means that we understand how our planet functions as a system of interdependent, interconnected parts, and that we use this knowledge to make decisions that affect Earth’s sustainability.

A set of conceptual frameworks have been developed to describe what we should know to be literate about the Earth system — the atmosphere, oceans, Earth, and climate. These frameworks describe aspects of the Earth when considered alone, and they complement each other in describing the entire Earth system. They are intended to be useful to promote informed decision-making in all sectors of society, and they are a resource for teachers to use in planning curricula. In order to help you with your planning, they are linked to science education standards and benchmarks. Check out these frameworks to see how they can help you with your science teaching!

Use these links to view each of the frameworks:
Atmospheric Science Literacy
Climate Literacy
Earth Science Literacy
Ocean Literacy


Starting a new school year is a big event for children of all ages, and getting a good start can help kids begin the year with confidence, both academically and socially. The transition to a new grade can be difficult for both children and parents, even when children are eager to return to class, because they must adjust to having to learn new and more advanced subjects.

The amount of adjustment needed depends on the child, but parents play a key role in helping their children manage the new pace by planning ahead. They can do this making sure students have access to appropriate resources that will help support their homework and foster excitement about learning!

When it comes to learning and loving Science, Windows to the Universe is your best Resource!

Navigating through our website is easy--just let the menus and links on any page in the site help you follow your interests. You can see how this works by visiting the Geology section. Once you're there, try going to... Minerals (and the Stuff They Are Made Of!) See the blue bar on top? That lets you choose the level that's most appropriate for each student. For instance, we can choose ‘Beginners level’. Each page level is filled with a wealth of information at the right age level, and also has links to fun games and activities like listening to a podcast like this one about Early life on Earth and the mineral mica!

Resources like ours will certainly help ease the transition to a new grade/level, and will promote a happy and successful start to the school year!

Wishing you and your kids a great year of successful learning!

Join Us at a NSTA Fall Regional!

Will you be attending one of the NSTA regional conferences in Fall 2009? We will! We would love to see you at one of the following events. Our presentations and workshops cover timely science topics like climate change, space weather and Earth system science. We try to show as many hands-on activities as we can and we always provide handouts. Please join us!

Minneapolis, MN

Time Location
Thursday, October 29 Climate Change: Classroom Tools to Explore the Past, Present, and Future 12:30–1:30 PM Minneapolis Convention Center, 200E
Thursday, October 29 Igniting Curiosity 12:30–1:30 PM Minneapolis Convention Center, L100G
Thursday, October 29 Activities from Across the Earth System 2:00–3:00 PM Minneapolis Convention Center, L100D
Thursday, October 29 Tackling the Global Warming Challenge in a Rapidly Changing World 3:30–4:30 PM Minneapolis Convention Center, 200I
Friday, October 30 Magnetism Activities, Earth's Magnetism, and Space Weather from Windows to the Universe 8:00–9:00 AM Minneapolis Convention Center, 200D

Fort Lauderdale, FL

Time Location
Thursday, November 12 Igniting Curiosity 12:30-1:30 PM Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, Grande Ballroom Salon D
Thursday, November 12 Tackling the Global Warming Challenge in a Rapidly Changing World 2:00–3:00 PM Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, Grande Ballroom Salon B
Friday, November 13 "Aha!" Is Just a Stone's Throw Away 9:30–10:30 AM Fort Lauderdale Conv. Center, Grand Floridian Ballroom B
Friday, November 13 Climate Change: Classroom Tools to Explore the Past, Present, and Future 9:30–10:30 AM Fort Lauderdale Conv. Center, Floridian Ballroom A
Saturday, November 14 Activities from Across the Earth System 9:30–10:30 AM Fort Lauderdale Conv. Center, Teleconference Room
Saturday, November 14 Magnetism Activities, Earth's Magnetism, and Space Weather from Windows to the Universe 11:00 AM–12:00 PM Fort Lauderdale Conv. Center, Teleconference Room

Phoenix, AZ

Time Location
Thursday, December 3 Activities from Across the Earth System 8:00–9:00 AM Phoenix Convention Center, 229A
Friday, December 4 Magnetism Activities, Earth's Magnetism, and Space Weather from Windows to the Universe 11:00 AM–12:00 PM Phoenix Convention Center, 224B
Friday, December 4 Math Activities in the Earth Sciences Using Interactive Multimedia from Windows to the Universe 2:00–3:00 PM Phoenix Convention Center, 221A
Saturday, December 5 Tackling the Global Warming Challenge in a Rapidly Changing World 8:00–9:00 AM Phoenix Convention Center, 222C
Saturday, December 5 Climate Change: Classroom Tools to Explore the Past, Present, and Future 11:00 AM–12:00 PM Phoenix Convention Center, 229A

Stardust Finds Amino Acid in Comet Samples

Scientists have found the amino acid glycine in samples returned from a comet. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which are essential for cellular life. A team led by Dr. Jamie Elsila at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center found the glycine in samples returned from Comet Wild 2 by NASA's Stardust space mission. Some scientists believe complex molecules that could serve as precursors to living systems might form in space and be brought to Earth by comets. If true, this may have implications for life on other planets. Do comets "seed" planets with key ingredients that help life get started?

Table of Contents

Poles in Space Open
Star Count
Changing Weather
Scientific Method
Science Literacy
NSTA Fall Regionals
Amino Acid in Comet


Climate Discovery PD
Free Courses AMS
Arctic Circle E&O
Snow Leopards
Women Geoscientists
Top Stars Contest











Teacher Submissions

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Last chance to register for fall courses!

Act now! Registration for NCAR's Climate Discovery Online Courses closes on September 17.

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? This fall, NCAR offers a series of online courses for middle and high school teachers that combine geoscience content, information about current climate research, easy-to-implement hands-on activities, and group discussion. The courses run concurrently from September 18 through November 8.

  • CD501 Introduction to Earth's Climate is designed to guide participants through the basics of climate science, integrating content, classroom activities, and community-building discussions to help middle and high school educators understand the answers to common questions about climate.
  • CD502 Earth System Science: A Climate Change Perspective explores Earth as a system from the perspective of climate and global change, describing the interactions between the various parts of the Earth system, including human activities, and how they all affect our climate.
  • CD503 Understanding Climate Change Today presents some of the current and predicted impacts of global warming on our planet and human societies. This course explores how climate models are developed and used to understand likely scenarios of future climate and how current scientific research is improving the quality of climate predictions.

There is a $225 fee per course. For complete course schedule and registration information, visit

Free courses by American Meteorological Society

Are you a K-12 teacher interested in Meteorology or Oceanography?

Each fall and spring semester the American Meteorological Society offers FREE courses for Graduate Credit (all materials are included free as part of the course). These courses are distance learning and there are groups of students across the U.S.

A few openings remain across the country and they are going fast. For more Information go to

The Arctic Circle 2009 Education and Outreach Opportunity

The Arctic Circle program, a series of artist and scientist-led expeditions to remote and fascinating destinations, seeks expressions of interest from educators, at the high school level, to participate in the Educational & Outreach component of The Arctic Circle 2009 (expedition Oct 5th- 22nd, 2009).

Science and art educators may join this pilot project where their classrooms will correspond with the expedition crew comprising 18 international artists, architects, and scientists.

The program procedure will involve email/ blog correspondence (questions and comments from classrooms) to be published on The Arctic Circle Blog, leading up to and during the expedition, and responded to by our crew so we may explore, together, many topics of interest.

Ideally, The Arctic Circle program will look to communicate with collaborating art and science classrooms from the same school.

Correspondence will be accomplished during the expedition via satellite communication. The Arctic Circle Edu-Blog will be updated daily for classroom interaction.

Educators interested in becoming involved are asked to email a brief letter of interest and introduction (~150-300 words) to before Sept 10, 2009. Selection will be made Sept. 15, 2009.

Those selected to participate in this pilot project will be given a full set of participation guidelines.

There will be a network of ~30 educators selected for this project from North America, the EU, and Asia.

Questions may be directed to Program details may be seen at

Available Now: Service Learning Unit on Conservation and Snow Leopards

Facing the Future, in collaboration with the Snow Leopard Trust, has just released Engaging Students in Conservation: Protecting the Endangered Snow Leopard, an interdisciplinary 1-2 week unit that includes five dynamic lessons and culminates with a service learning project. The unit is designed for 5-8th grade students in science and social studies. Though the lessons are designed as a comprehensive unit, each lesson can stand alone.

This unit, valued at $14.95, is available for FREE download.

Engaging Students in Conservation: Protecting the Endangered Snow Leopard includes:
Five hands-on lessons
An introduction to snow leopards and their ecosystem
An exploration of the human-wildlife conflicts that exist where people and snow leopards overlap
Opportunities to develop 21st century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and global perspective
An examination of community-based conservation
A service learning project related to the protection of snow leopards in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan

These lessons were developed and piloted by teachers and conservation experts including the Snow Leopard Trust, the world’s leading authority on the study and protection of the endangered snow leopard.

“The students were actively engaged in all of the lessons presented and really took on the roles and emotions of the activities.” –Science Teacher

“I used different parts of each lesson with each class’ ability. The many choices of activities allows for differentiation over a large expanse of abilities.” –Science Teacher

To download this unit today, visit

Women in the Geosciences Day - October 15

Each year the American Geological Institute (AGI) organizes Earth Science Week, the geoscience community’s premier public awareness campaign, to promote understanding of the Earth sciences and encourage stewardship of natural resources. Since its inception more than a decade ago, the annual celebration has grown significantly. More than 20 million people learned about the geosciences, and the campaign, through Earth Science Week in 2008.

This year, the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG), in conjunction with AGI, is proposing to initiate a “Women in the Geosciences Day” which will take place on the Thursday of each Earth Science Week (the second full week of each October). October 15 will be the 2009 Women in the Geosciences Day.

We are asking for your support in this inaugural “Women in the Geosciences Day.” Here are suggestions for activities: - Invite a female geoscientist as a colloquium/lecture series speaker on October 15 (or as close as possible to Oct 15th)
- Visit your local high school to talk about what Geoscientists do
- Organize events with female speakers at a local museum
- Organize a Girl Scouts/Boys Scouts event for Rocks Rock badges
- Take a 4H group on a field trip to look at rocks, minerals, soils, etc.

In all events, we encourage the participation of your female members. If you would like to contact a local AWG member for help, please contact us for a list of members.

Additionally, if you do hold an event, we would appreciate hearing about it. Please send us a note at We can also help by advertising your event in our eNews announcements.

Call for Researcher Applications - PolarTREC

PolarTREC is currently accepting applications from researchers interested in hosting a teacher on their polar research projects during the 2010 arctic or the 2010-2011 Antarctic seasons. Apply at

Deadline: 20 September 2009

An informational webinar for researchers will be held on Tuesday, 8 September 2009 at 2:30 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time (12:30 p.m. HDT, 3:30 p.m. PDT; 4:30 p.m. MDT; 5:30 p.m. CDT; 6:30 p.m. EDT). Register at

Phone: 907-474-1600

NASA Top Stars Contest--First 2 Top Stars Named!

Remember--the NASA-Sponsored "Top Stars" contest is going on now! The goal of this contest is to recognize educators across the country who are using the Hubble Space Telescope in inspiring ways for science, technology, engineering, or mathematics education.

Winners will be selected periodically throughout the 2009-2010 school year, and this month the first two Top Stars were chosen--Andrew Fraknoi of San Francisco, CA, and Sheree Kearns of Jacksonville, FL. Andrew earned Top Stars honors for his creative use of Hubble images in the "Astronomy for Poets" class he teaches at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA, and Sheree was selected for her innovative use of Hubble images and information in creating educational games for teaching astronomy.

There's still plenty of time to submit your own entries, and anyone interested in can find more information at the Top Stars website.

A Perfect Time to Join NESTA!

Are you headed back to school soon? What a perfect time to join the National Earth Science Teachers Association! Membership benefits are many and include receiving The Earth Scientist (a quarterly journal), full voting privileges, access to members-only areas of the NESTA web site and the monthly e-mail newsletter that shares new resources, opportunities, alerts, and upcoming events. There are also many special NESTA events at professional meetings. Plug into this supportive network. Cost is low! Join today!

The QuestBridge National College Match

The QuestBridge National College Match helps high-achieving high school seniors gain admission and full four-year scholarships to some of the nation's most selective colleges. If you are the teacher of a promising student who has excelled academically while facing economic challenges, encourage that student to apply.

The QuestBridge National College Match application provides students with a single, free application to our partner colleges. It is designed to offer high-achieving students the opportunity to highlight their strengths and the obstacles they have overcome. The application is available on the QuestBridge web site ( and is due September 30th, 2009.

QuestBridge is a venture of the Quest Scholars Program, a nationally focused non-profit organization that has worked since 1994 to connect outstanding students with college admissions, scholarships, and other educational opportunities.

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