June 2009

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements
Windows to the Universe Facebook Group

Summer is Here!

Finally, summer is here (or will be soon) - at least in the northern hemisphere! I'm really looking forward to the break from getting up early in the morning to get my three children off to school. I'm sure you are all also looking forward to the break from having to get up early and prepare!

This month's newsletter provides links to a couple of new resources on the Windows to the Universe website, including a new classroom activity on the Urban Heat Island effect (developed with support from the NSF-supported CMMAP project) and new pages on the poles of Uranus. This summer, we will be completing our work on our Poles in Space section (developed with support from the NASA International Polar Year Education Program), with information on the poles of all major bodies in the solar system, as well as many major moons. We also provide timely reminders appropriate for this month, including information on the summer solstice, educational opportunities for summer vacations, the water cycle, and recent Hubble news. Finally, it's important to remember why Earth is "just right" via an analogy to Goldilocks. We're delighted that one of our Windows to the Universe Educators has provided a posting this month to the newsletter on the importance of being amazed! Remember, subscribing educators can submit postings to the newsletter via the link above, or, go to our Facebook group and join the conversation there! We're approaching 500 members already on Facebook, with a really amazing international group. We also highlight a number of opportunities this summer from our partner organizations - please check them out!

On a personal note, I wanted to share my appreciation of teachers out there. Our eldest child graduated from high school this May, and will be on her way to college in the fall. She did extremely well, and we are very proud of her. Of course, her teachers were critical in her education - by providing support and encouragement, by challenging her and setting high expectations - she is well on her way. From a proud mom, thank you all so much for all you do!

Are You Feeling the Heat?

Did you know that the air in urban areas can be 2 - 5°C (3.6 - 9°F) warmer than nearby rural areas? This is known as the urban heat island effect. An urban heat island can increase the magnitude and duration of a heat wave. It can also influence the weather, changing wind patterns, clouds, and precipitation.

In the classroom activity, Feeling the Heat, students learn about the urban heat island effect. They investigate how the trees, grass, asphalt, and other materials in their schoolyard affect temperatures. Based on their results, students hypothesize how the temperature of cities might be affected by abundant asphalt and concrete and fewer planted areas. These surfaces have a large impact on temperature.

In the second part of the activity, students explore a case study of the urban heat island in action. They examine data about how the number of heat waves in Los Angeles, CA has increased as population has grown. This part of the activity makes data analysis a kinesthetic experience as students each represent a decade and order themselves along a rope based on the data from their decade. Like good scientists, students look for patterns in the data and explore the possible reasons for those patterns.

Take a look at the Feeling the Heat Classroom Activity for more information.

The Poles of Uranus

We've added another planet to our "Poles in Space" section. This month we explore the poles of Uranus, the tilted planet. The spin axis of Uranus is tipped 98° away from the "normal" direction (perpendicular to its orbital plane). In other words, Uranus is lying on its side! The planet's poles take turns spending years in perpetual sunlight or continual darkness. A "hood" of clouds and haze covers the South Pole (but not the North Pole) of Uranus, possibly because the South Pole has experienced summer and extra heating by sunlight for the past several decades. The magnetic poles of Uranus are also askew; the planet's magnetic field is tilted 59° away from its spin axis. The poles of Uranus are peculiar indeed!

Summer Solstice

The solstice occurs this month on June 21. The solstices (summer and winter) and equinoxes (spring and fall) are astronomical events that mark our seasons. Because of the tilt of Earth's axis, the Sun appears to climb higher (in the summer) and sink lower (in the winter) in the sky as viewed from anywhere in the northern hemisphere. A solstice is a time when the Sun momentarily pauses in this apparent migration as it reaches the greatest extremes of its "wanderings" and begins to "move" back in the opposite direction. The word "solstice" comes from two Latin roots: "sol", which means "Sun", and "sistere", which translates as "stand still".

The solstice is commonly referred to as the start of summer (or winter), but it is actually the midway point of the season from an astronomical perspective. Since our planet's atmosphere and oceans "store" heat, temperature extremes tend to lag behind the dates of minimum (or maximum) heating by the Sun, so the coldest part of winter (or hottest part of summer) happens after the solstice. In many cultures the solstices and equinoxes also traditionally determine the midpoint of the seasons, which can be seen in the celebrations called midsummer and midwinter.

The solstices played an important role in ancient cultures. The megalithic structures like Stonehenge and Newgrange are sometimes aligned towards the setting or rising of the Sun on a solstice. In Europe, the celebration of Midsummer's Eve was from ancient times linked to the summer solstice. People believed that plants picked on this night had miraculous and healing powers. It was also widely believed that evil spirits roamed freely and witches congregated during this time.

Vacation time!

This is a time when kids spend a lot of time outdoors! This presents them and their families with the valuable opportunity to bond with nature. There are a few things teachers and parents can do to help children learn to respect and appreciate all of the wonderful things the natural world has to offer.

Gardening with kids is not only fun, but also it presents parents with the opportunity to teach science concepts. It shows youngsters how all things work together in nature to help sustain life, even the creepy crawly critters.

Picnics and camping are another great way to give kids the chance to experience your town's various ecosystems firsthand. The purpose of a picnic or camping trip is to give children an appreciation for nature, so try to keep the trip as outdoorsy as possible. Just lying on the grass and finding figures in the clouds is a fun activity while learning about sky conditions! This is a great way to learn about weather!

You can also accompany your kids on a nature walk and help them collect materials for a nature collage! This is another fun way to help them gain an appreciation for the great outdoors. Twigs, blades of grass, pinecone pieces, leaves and feathers make excellent materials for nature collages.

Want more earthy activities? Take a look at our Climate, Water and Life hands-on activities! Remember to leave all electronics at home so Earth can be your focus!

The Water Cycle

Water is always on the move, and summer can be a great time to learn more about the water cycle. While you're on vacation, notice what is happening with water all around you. It can be in the atmosphere, in the form of water droplets in clouds or in the form of precipitation falling as rain or hail. Water collects in rivers, lakes, and the ocean, and can be found in plants on the land. It also falls as snow and ice and is stored in glaciers and other types of ice.

Water moves through the water cycle through various processes, including precipitation, evaporation, transpiration, and condensation. During the water cycle, water changes state between liquid, solid (ice), and gas (water vapor). It is recycled over and over through the cycle, and stays in some places longer than others. For example, a water drop usually spends a lot longer in the ocean than it does in the atmosphere.

Encourage your students to notice water in its many forms this summer!

There's No Place Like Home!

In the familiar children's story Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks found a porridge that was just right. There is a Goldilocks idea in science that says that the Earth is just right for living creatures.

There are so many factors that make our home planet just right - far too many to discuss in detail in such a short article. Do consider just a few of the things that make Earth habitable by all living creatures.

The temperature of Earth is just right for flowing water on the surface, and for rock that allows for continental drift. With continental drift, particles of the atmosphere, which become trapped within the ground, are brought back to the atmosphere through eruptions of volcanoes. These conditions cause refreshment of the planet's atmosphere. A medium-sized atmosphere helps keep temperatures just right through the greenhouse effect.

The atmosphere also contains oxygen that is needed by most creatures. And the atmosphere works to protect life, as the ozone layer filters out the Sun's harmful rays.

The Earth has yet another layer of protection - the magnetosphere including the radiation belts prevent most of the particles from the Sun, carried in solar wind, from hitting the Earth. Some particles from the solar wind enter the magnetosphere, creating the harmless auroral oval light shows. Other particles become trapped in the radiation belts, making the belts an extremely dangerous place for humans or animals to stay in without protection. But, most of us remain safe here on Earth, which is just right.

It's worth thinking about how wonderful and unique this home of ours is and it's worth taking care of this planet of ours! After all, buyer's market or not, moving is such a pain!

Astronauts Overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope

Last month, NASA completed the last of five planned servicing missions to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Launched in 1990 from the Space Shuttle Discovery, HST has spent almost 20 years in orbit, collecting spectacular observations of galaxies, nebulae, stars, and planets. Each of the five servicing missions extended the life of this well-traveled observatory, as well as upgraded its scientific instruments.

The seven astronauts onboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis performed five spacewalks during their 11-day mission. Their hard work certainly paid off! HST now has a brand-new camera and spectrograph, along with new gyroscopes, batteries, insulation, guidance sensors, and a new data-handling computer. The astronauts also repaired an older spectrograph and survey camera. If you think this seems like a lot of work for a single mission, you're right! Since this was the last time a Space Shuttle will visit HST, NASA planned as many repairs and upgrades as they could during this ambitious mission. It is hoped that these upgrades and repairs will add another 5 to 10 years to HST's operational lifetime.

Did you know that HST has traveled more than 4.8 billion kilometers since its launch? That's about 32 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun and more than 80% of the average distance between the Sun and Pluto!

Table of Contents

Feeling the Heat
Poles of Uranus
Summer Solstice
What to do?
The Water Cycle
Hubble Repairs


Polar Express
Field Test Teachers
Summer PD Courses
Top Stars: Hubble
Smithsonian Academy











Teacher Submissions

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Astonishment in Research

Greeks affirmed that to be wise it was necessary to maintain and to recover our capacity for astonishment. But unfortunately, astonishment has not yet made it to our schools and it is necessary to make it an active part of "education" in all institutions. I invite everyone to seek for creative ways of integrating strategies to bring astonishment back to every classroom and make it part of the scientific process. Some ideas: stereograms, optics, metaphors, discrepancies, getting back to nature, i.e., CHANGE the OUTLOOK of everything we do. Best, Vicente (Casa de la Ciencia y el Juego Pasto Nariņo Colombia)

Announcements from Partners

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NASA's Polar Express

The NASA Polar Express is a one-stop shop for classroom activities, reading materials, educational tools, and NASA images on polar exploration. Some of the topics covered include the history of winter, exploring ice in the solar system, and International Polar Year related materials. These resources are provided by NASA as part of their involvement in the International Polar Year (IPY), but the content covered will be relevant for you and your students beyond the scope of the IPY. Be sure to check out these resources!

BSCS Seeks Field Test Teachers!

I am pleased to announce a field-test opportunity for an important research project funded by the US Department of Education!

BSCS is seeking eighth grade middle school science teachers to field test a standards- and inquiry-based unit between November 2009 and March 2010. The overall goal of the project is to improve learning in science for all students. Teacher-collaborators will choose one major content area from an eighth grade multidisciplinary science program currently under development (Life Science, Earth/Space Science, Physical Science, or Science and Society) and will teach a unit on that content area to their students. Teacher and student feedback will play a key role in influencing the revision of the materials.

As a former classroom teacher, I can assure you that BSCS is developing this program with the best approaches to student learning in mind. These approaches are based on current research in learning and teaching for conceptual understanding and include literacy strategies, sense-making strategies, and a constructivist approach to teaching/learning science. Each unit addresses standards that closely align with state and national standards for eighth grade science.

Submit your application by 15 June 2009 to be given priority status and receive a free gift bag. The final application deadline is 25 September 2009.

Sue Kowalski
Science Educator, Field Test Coordinator

Don't Miss These Summer PD Opportunities!

Are you a middle or high school teacher looking for a summer PD opportunity? Would you like to learn more about the science of climate change in the Earth system? If you are, please consider participating in NCAR's Climate Discovery online course series. This summer we are offering three courses that combine geoscience content, information about current climate research, easy to implement hands-on activities, and group discussion.

  • CD 501 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.
  • CD 502 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.
  • CD 503 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.

The courses run concurrently from June 19 through August 9. There is a $225 fee per course and optional continuing ed credits are available for a small additional fee. For complete course schedule and registration information, visit http://ecourses.ncar.ucar.edu

New JOIDES Resolution Web Site!

Check out this brand new resource! The /JOIDES/ Resolution (JR) scientific ocean drilling ship, run by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, is currently out at sea collecting core samples from the ocean floor to study questions about Earth's history, climate, and more. The core samples are studied by teams of scientists including paleontologists, geochemists, paleomagnetists, and more. You and your students can follow her adventure on the new JR website at http://joidesresolution.org/.

Through the website you can interact with scientists, watch daily or weekly videos from on board, track her location, play games, and share in the scientific adventure through daily blogs, Facebook, Twitter, My Space and more.

Also, visit the Deep Earth Academy website (http://www.oceanleadership.org/learning) for lessons and resources based on real data obtained by the drilling ship. Also posted on the website are opportunities for teachers to get involved.

Top Stars: Educators Invited to Submit Examples of Inspiring Uses of Hubble in Education

For almost 20 years, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has inspired and engaged educators and students of all ages. U.S. formal (K-12, college) and informal educators -- both individuals and teams of up to four members -- are invited to submit their best examples of using Hubble in science, technology, engineering or mathematics education.

Entries will be accepted from May 2009 to January 2010, and may include any combination of text, graphics, video and photos. Selected entries will be recognized as "Top Stars."

Educators selected as Top Stars will have their entry featured on the Top Stars Web site and will receive the following recognition and awards:
-A high-quality photo print (48" x 24") of a Hubble image;
-Invitation to attend via teleconference a special briefing by a Hubble scientist or engineer; and
-Recognition as Top Stars on NASA Web sites.

The Top Stars Web site is accepting applications now! For more information, please visit: http://topstars.strategies.org

Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers: Earth's History & Global Change

National Science Resources Center/Smithsonian Institution July 26-31, 2009, Washington, D.C

As part of its annual program of teacher events, the National Science Resources Center (NSRC) is conducting a week-long academy for teachers (of grades 6-12) on Earth's History and Global Change. The academy utilizes the unique resources of the Smithsonian Institution's museums, as well as scientists from organizations, and laboratories around Washington DC to explore concepts and content relating to the formation of our planet, and the evidence for planetary change through natural processes and human intervention. Sessions will include behind-the-scenes access to museum collections, special museum floor visits, interactions with scientists in research laboratories, hands-on inquiry-based sessions, and more. Topics investigated include planet formation, volcanism and plate tectonics, geological evidence for different paleoenvironments and recent changes in our oceans and atmosphere.

The course is residential. Course fees include hotel accommodation near the National Mall, some meals, and transport to session venues. 3 graduate credits, (for an additional fee of $300) are available from the Virginia Commonwealth University.

For additional information on the course fees, registering online, the nature of this course, and others like it, visit http://www.nsrconline.org/professional_development/SSEAT_overview.html or contact Juliet Crowell at the NSRC by email at crowellj@si.edu or phone at 202-633-2968.

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