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June 2010

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Summer's Here!

Summer's here, and for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we're due a nice long break from our in-school educational responsibilities. I wish you all a wonderful break (hopefully at a place that looks like this!), and I hope your summer is restful but also gives you the opportunity to learn new things that you can bring back to the classroom in the fall.

I know that many teachers in the United States are struggling right now with the impact of major budget problems in their school districts - I've heard some real horror stories of some of the best Earth and Space science teachers in the country facing some very difficult choices - and sometimes those with these choices are the lucky ones. Given these difficulties, it's hard to keep focused on how important an understanding of the Earth sciences is for humanity, and life on this planet. When we look at the news today, with earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, ash clouds, and oil spills regularly appearing in the headlines, we are reminded on a daily basis of the importance of our science.

The National Earth Science Teachers Association is working to not only provide quality resources and programs to teachers, but also to represent our discipline and profession at the highest levels nationally and internationally. NESTA is engaged with numerous professional societies, agencies, and programs, working to promote the importance of quality Earth and space science education. A particular emphasis for NESTA is the need for a challenging capstone course at the high school level that is accepted for credit as a lab course at the university level. We are working with partners to advance this effort, and will keep you posted on opportunities to get involved. In the meantime, please join NESTA today if you're not already a member. NESTA offers numerous benefits of membership, including a monthly newsletter and quarterly journal, as well as programs offered across the country. Find out more about NESTA on the NESTA website!

Broad Impacts of April's Oil Spill

Many of us have been following the news of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and unfortunately, it's easy to see that this disaster will impact the U.S. and the world in a number of very different ways.

As of early May, the spill is now estimated to be increasing by more than a million gallons of oil per day, and the oil slick covers at least 2,500 square miles of ocean. It is clearly already having a major impact on the Gulf of Mexico environment, and as it gets close to the U.S. coastline, it threatens ecosystems within beaches, barrier islands, marshlands, and other coastal environments.

Apart from its effects on natural ecology, the spill is also having a dramatic impact on a number of industries including fishing, tourism, and shrimping. These industries are likely to suffer billions of dollars in losses, and this will in turn affect jobs and local economies in a major way.

As BP and the other companies involved work hard to stop the leak and contain the spill, why not use this story to show your students how environmental disasters have widespread effects, and explain why environmental stewardship is important for all of us!

Resources for Teaching About Oil Spills

To say that two things (or two people) are "like oil and water" means that those two things (or two people) do not mix well. In the case of an oil spill, like the recent spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we can say that the oil leaking from a well south of the Mississippi River Delta is not mixing well with the region's marine and coastal ecosystems.

I have collected educational resources that are available online on a new page for educators - Resources for Teaching About Oil Spills. From this page, you can access web-based content and classroom activities that address the science of oil spills and their effects on ecosystems. I hope you find these resources useful in your teaching.

Pacaya Volcano Erupted on May 27th

“Volcán” Pacaya is a composite volcano in Guatemala, near the city of Antigua. In 2003, while visiting Antigua, I took a guided tour of Pacaya. As we approached, the volcano’s dark pyramid shape dominated the landscape, and at night its dark silhouette blotted out the stars. When we climbed the 8,000 feet to the top of this volcano, we could see it was very active, and I could even see inside. From the maw of Pacaya, a hole about 20 yards across, came smoke and the sound of boiling soup.

On May 27, 2010, the volcano erupted, and shortly afterward there were also earthquakes in the vicinity. At about 8 pm local time, a major eruption blew ash 1500 meters into the sky, which later produced a rain of black sand that reached Guatemala City and villages up to 50 miles away.

A number of communities near Pacaya have been evacuated, and the volcano continues to show signs of further activity. As of May 29, seismologists are predicting more eruptions in the near future, and the world continues to watch Pacaya.

Hurricanes in the Classroom

Hurricane season begins June 1 in the Atlantic. What better time to teach about the perils of hazardous summer weather than now! The largest and most long lived of these summer weather events are hurricanes.

Hurricanes are tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Ocean. Have your students explore the Windows to the Universe section about hurricanes to foster understanding of how hurricanes form and the damage that they can cause in coastal areas, including damage from storm surge. Peruse the hurricane section of the Windows to the Universe image gallery for pictures of hurricane damage, satellite images of hurricanes, and illustrations to use in your teaching. And have your students explore the likely connection between hurricane strength and climate change in the activity Hurricanes and Climate. This data-rich activity gets students interpreting graphs and exploring geography as they consider whether hurricanes have become more common or more fierce.

Sun and Space Weather Movies

We've added three more movies to help illustrate processes and features of the Sun and space weather. Sunspots are the visible manifestations of "tangled" magnetic fields at the Sun's "surface". The first movie clip shows how the Sun's differential rotation tangles its magnetic field over the multi-year course of a sunspot cycle, producing these enormous magnetic disturbances. The second movie takes us on an imaginary flight beneath the surface of the Sun. We watch as magnetic field lines rise up and pierce the photosphere, producing sunspots. The movie concludes as a magnetic reconnection event generates a powerful CME (Coronal Mass Ejection - a "space weather storm"). The third and final movie is a space weather model-based visualization of a CME moving outward from the Sun and crashing into Earth. Besides illustrating space weather phenomena, this animation reinforces our understanding of size and distance scales in space... as we zoom in from a view that shows the Sun to a perspective that reveals our precious and tiny planet.

Learn about Tornadoes!

Although tornadoes can happen at any time of the year, they are especially common during the spring and early summer. May and June are the peak months in terms of numbers of tornadoes in the northern hemisphere.

The conditions that lead to the formation of tornadoes are most often met in the central and southern U.S., where warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico collides with cool, dry air from the Rockies and Canada. The area where tornadoes occur most often extends roughly from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, and from Iowa and Nebraska to the Gulf of Mexico. The center of this area, which includes parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, is often called tornado alley. Tornadoes can also occur elsewhere though, including all U.S. states, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

The weather section of Windows to the Universe provides information about these storms, including how tornadoes form, how meteorologists forecast where and when tornadoes will occur, and how scientists use the Enhanced Fujita Scale to determine the strength of a tornado. In addition, our Tornado in a Bottle classroom activity provides a great way to illustrate tornadoes for your students.

Solstice is Coming!

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 our planet. 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 June solstice is the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The situation is, of course, reversed in the Southern Hemisphere - where the June solstice is the winter solstice. 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.

Students often mistakenly believe that the seasons are caused by variations in Earth's distance from the Sun. This misconception doesn't make sense when one remembers that the seasons are opposite in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres - why isn't it cold everywhere on the globe when the Earth is farthest from the Sun? As Earth travels around the Sun in its elliptical orbit, its closest approach to our celestial furnace is in January, during the depth of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

To learn more about the solstice and seasons, check out these pages on Windows to the Universe:

Cousteau's Anniversary

June 11 is the 100th anniversary of the birthday of Jacques-Yves Cousteau - a famous French explorer, ecologist, author, filmmaker and researcher. He studied the sea and marine life and co-invented the aqua lung, an early underwater breathing device. But his most important legacy is in marine conservation efforts and educating the public about treasures of underwater life and the dangers of pollution. Cousteau wrote more than 50 books and created several films and TV series about marine life. He founded the Cousteau Society that continues his exploration and education mission. Sadly, today we are reminded of the fragility of marine ecosystems by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Windows to the Universe has many pages on Earth's oceans and marine life, including the Ocean Literacy Framework and postcards from scientists exploring the deep sea in the Alvin submersible: Eric Simms (2007) and Tim Killeen (2009).

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 in 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.

Table of Contents

Oil Spill Impacts
TR - Oil Spills
Pacaya Volcano
Sun Movies
Feeling the Heat


Summer PD Courses
NESTA's Busy Summer
Virtual Shuttle
AMNH Courses
Funky Nests
Informal Science
FAST Projects
Astronomy Workshop
Online with NOAA
Disney's Friends












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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 so, 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 18 through August 8. 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

Check Out NESTA's Summer Calendar

Did you realize that the NESTA (National Earth Science Teacher's Association) web site hosts a calendar of Earth science happenings around the U.S.? The calendar is easy-to-use and has links from the calendar to specific events. Check out the many exciting happenings occurring this summer!

Join NESTA today to support Earth and Space Science Education!

NASA Enables Students to Launch Virtual Space Shuttle

The final voyage of space shuttle Atlantis, which occurred on May 14, has prompted NASA to offer the ABC's of 3,2,1 Liftoff to students and educators throughout the nation.

This new computer simulation program will allow them to take on the roles of NASA engineers and launch the shuttle from their own classrooms. The program is based on software used for training at the shuttle Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Kennedy Launch Academy Simulation System, or KLASS, gives students the chance to monitor important shuttle systems during a launch countdown and decide whether they are "go" for liftoff. They will work together as a team and learn about the different activities that take place behind the scenes of a shuttle launch.

KLASS was designed for sixth through 10th grade students to develop their science, technology, engineering and math skills. In addition to the launch simulation software, KLASS is offering 40 hours of lesson plans and interactive resources for teachers. These materials can be used for one-day lessons or one-year curriculums.

Visit the KLASS website to learn more, and to download educational materials.

NASA Opens Applications for 'Inspired' High School Students

High school students in the United States are invited to participate in NASA's Interdisciplinary National Science Program Incorporating Research Experience, or INSPIRE, through the program's online learning community. Applications are being accepted from Monday, May 3, through Wednesday, June 30, and NASA will make selections for the program in September. Selectees and their parents will participate in an online learning community with opportunities to interact with peers, NASA engineers and scientists. Students selected for the program will also have the option to compete for unique experiences during the summer of 2011 at NASA facilities and participating universities.

INSPIRE is designed to encourage students in ninth through 12th grades to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. The summer experience provides students with a hands-on opportunity to investigate education and careers in those disciplines.

For information about INSPIRE, visit the program's website and apply today!

Planning for Summer Already? Take an Online Graduate Course from AMNH

Join Seminars on Science in a summer session of our award-winning online graduate courses in the life, Earth and physical sciences from the American Museum of Natural History. Designed for K-12 educators, Seminars on Science courses connect classroom teachers with scientists engaged in current, real-world research. Each course is authored by leading scientists in their fields, and is then co-taught by an experienced classroom teacher and a researcher affiliated with AMNH.

This summer, Seminars on Science is offering eleven courses including: Earth: Inside and Out; The Ocean System; Evolution; The Solar System; Water: Environmental Science; Space, Time and Motion; Genetics, Genomics, Genethics and more. Free sample resources are available for each course at learn.amnh.org. Please see the website for the full course listing.

In-depth readings and assignments paired with rich web-based discussions ensure that educators come away from each class with a deeper understanding of both the science and the tools of scientific inquiry. All courses run for six weeks and are fully online. Each participant receives a CD of course resources suitable for classroom use. Affordable graduate credit is available for all courses (see website for details).

Registration is now open! Summer Session 1 runs June 7 - July 18. Summer Session 2 runs July 5 - August 15. Sign up now and receive a $50 early registration discount. For more information and to register, go to learn.amnh.org or call 800-649-6715.

Funky Nests in Funky Places

The "Funky Nests in Funky Places" environmental challenge is back! More than 600 people sent in entries to this Celebrate Urban Birds contest last year. Nests were found in hanging flower baskets, an old boot, a teacup, a coffee can--even on top of a clothespin, where a hummingbird built its tiny nest.

For the 2010 Funky Nests in Funky Places challenge, you may take photos, do a painting, write a story, or shoot a video showing a bird’s nest built in some out-of-the-way or out-of-this-world place.

Prizes you could win this year include Kaytee bird feeders and seed, sound CD's, books, posters, nest boxes, and more. If you're one of the first 50 entrants, you'll receive a copy of the "Doves and Pigeons" poster by Julie Zickefoose. Selected images and videos will be posted on the Celebrate Urban Birds website. We'll also be creating a 2011 calendar using some of the best entries.

Visit the Celebrate Urban Birds website for more information about how to enter. Send in your entry by July 1, 2010, and show us your funky nest. And while you're at it, try taking the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Bird Quiz and see how good you are at identifying common urban birds!

NASA To Fund Innovative Museum Exhibits And Planetarium Shows

Innovative planetarium shows and traveling museum exhibits are among nine projects NASA has selected to receive agency funding this year. NASA's Competitive Program for Science Museums and Planetariums will provide $7 million in grants to enhance educational outreach related to space exploration, aeronautics, space science, Earth science and microgravity. The projects are located in Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Utah and Washington.

"Science centers and planetariums contribute significantly to engaging people of all ages in science, technology, engineering and math," said James Stofan, acting associate administrator for NASA's Office of Education. "NASA wants to give the informal education community access to a variety of agency staff and resources while offering professional development opportunities for informal science educators and encouraging the formation of collaborative partnerships."

The selected organizations will partner with NASA's Museum Alliance, an Internet-based, national network of more than 400 science and nature centers, planetariums, museums, aquariums, zoos and related organizations. The projects will engage the public and educators by providing NASA-inspired space, science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning opportunities.

NASA Moves 'FAST' For Reduced-Gravity Flight Testing Tech Projects

NASA selected 17 technology demonstration projects for reduced-gravity aircraft flights to demonstrate whether emerging technologies can perform as expected in the reduced-gravity environment of the moon and Mars, or the microgravity environment of Earth orbit. NASA selected the projects through its Facilitated Access to the Space Environment for Technology program, or FAST.

Reduced-gravity conditions can be simulated for periods of 25 seconds in an aircraft flying repeated parabolic trajectories. The FAST program can reduce the risk of using new technologies during space missions by providing an opportunity to prove how they work in a reduced-gravity environment. The selected projects will address challenges such as monitoring human health, managing liquid propellants in microgravity, maneuvering vehicles, assembling structures and manufacturing in space. Other experiments will test components for new types of space propulsion, life support systems and tools for advanced biology research.

For a complete list of the 17 selected projects, their organizations, partners and information about previous FAST flights, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/offices/ipp/innovation_incubator/FAST/index.html.

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GALILEO: A Hands-on Workshop on Astronomy

Sat, July 31-Sun, August 1, 2010 (9 am-5 pm)
Summers-Bausch Observatory, University of Colorado, Boulder
Part of the 122nd Annual Meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific

One unit of Continuing Education Credit available. Space is limited; early reservations are strongly recommended!

In this hands-on workshop for everyone teaching astronomy or space/earth science in grades 3 - 12, participants will explore Galileo's life, work, and legacy, and learn to do a wide range of hands-on, classroom-ready activities. They will each receive a Galileoscope, a new small telescope especially prepared for last year's Galileo anniversary celebrations, that lets you make some of the same observations that Galileo did 400 years ago, plus a packet of resource guides and background information on astronomy and astronomy teaching and a memory stick with some wonderful short videos from the Fiske Planetarium. There will be special emphasis on understanding the Moon and its recent exploration, and a segment on preserving the dark night sky against the "pollution" of city lights. Participants will break up into elementary and secondary groups for parts of the workshop to make sure all teachers receive age-appropriate materials for their students.

No background in astronomy will be assumed; both new and veteran teachers should gain new information and effective teaching techniques from the workshop.

Cost: $70 for the weekend
Fifteen Colorado teachers who register will have their registration fee reimbursed thanks to NLSI

For more information and to register, please see the meeting web site.

Two Online Courses Available from NOAA

“Why Do We Explore?” - Okeanos Explorer Online Teacher Professional Development Series Date: June 21 – July 2, 2010

This two-week online professional development offering will introduce participants to the new Education Materials Collection for the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, the first Federal ship dedicated to ocean exploration. Entitled “Why Do We Explore?,” this offering has been designed to include a keynote address by ocean explorers who have made significant ocean discoveries, inquiry-based lessons for all grade-levels, and facilitated online reflective conversations about the importance of ocean exploration on a global scale. Areas of focus include climate change, energy, human health and ocean health.

The workshop is free for all participants and will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Educators will have the option to receive one graduate credit ($90) or obtain a certificate of completion. To register, please visit http://coexploration.org/oe/

“How Do We Explore?” - Okeanos Explorer Online Teacher Professional Development Series Date: October 11 - 29, 2010

This three-week online professional development offering will introduce participants to the new Education Materials Collection for the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. Entitled “How Do We Explore?,” this course has been designed to include instruction on topics including searching for anomalies, selecting sites for exploration, communication tools including telepresence technology, mapping techniques, water column study and operating remotely operated vehicles. It will include inquiry-based lessons for all grade-levels, and facilitated online reflective conversations about how we approach the study of our largely unexplored ocean. The workshop is free for all participants and will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Educators will have the option to receive one graduate credit ($90) or obtain a certificate of completion. Registration information will be posted in July 2010.

Disney's Friends for a Change - Project Green

If you're looking for a way as a parent or as a teacher to get your teens and tweens involved in a fun, safe environmental movement, you should take a look at Disney's Friends for a Change - Project Green. It encourages kids to get involved to help the planet in a variety of ways. And as you can imagine coming from Disney - they make things just plain fun!

They also offer grants to help kids achieve their goals with local environmental projects. Take a look!

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The source of this material is Windows to the Universe, at http://windows2universe.org/ from the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA). The Website was developed in part with the support of UCAR and NCAR, where it resided from 2000 - 2010. © 2010 National Earth Science Teachers Association. Windows to the Universe® is a registered trademark of NESTA. All Rights Reserved. Site policies and disclaimer.