February 2006

With the holiday festivities now a fading memory, we hope you're off to a great New Year sharing the geosciences with your students! In this month's newsletter, you'll note a focus on Pluto, with the launch of NASA's New Horizon's mission. We hope these links may help your students understand the science behind the new mission and the mysteries of the outer solar system.

Thanks so much to those 123 of you who responded to our survey in December regarding your interest in a "Teacher's Corner" in this newsletter. Respondents overwhelmingly said that they would like to have a section of the newsletter for sharing information with other teachers about the world (93%), and 77% said that they would contribute periodically. Please keep your eyes on the newsletter over the next few months for this new feature, as well as the email (in between newsletters) that announces the opportunity to post to the newsletter. Details on how to post will be provided at that point.

Finally, an update on the Windows to the Universe Educator Community. We now number 1,690 educators around the world, from 87 countries (including 1,246 from the United States). The top 14 countries for our educational colleagues include India (59), Canada (33), Mexico (31), United Kingdom (30), Australia (18), Pakistan (14), Spain (13), Philippines (12), Puerto Rico (11), Sweden (9), Nigeria (8), Jamaica (7), Peru (6), and Brazil (6). This is a great place to meet your colleagues from around the world! In the United States, our community includes educators from each state in the Union, including 123 from California, 92 from Texas, 79 from New York, 70 from Pennsylvania, and 58 from Illinois (followed closely by 57 from Florida!). If you're a teacher here in the US, this is a good place to share insights with your colleagues across the country.

Have a great February!

Roberta's Corner

Keep your eyes fixed on Windows to the Universe for an exciting event in Mexico City during March 2006 - MILAGRO (Megacity Initiative: Local and Global Research Observations)! Scientists from around the world will be joining forces with Mexican colleagues to study pollution originating in Mexico City, and following it downwind in order to understand how megacities affect the regional and global atmosphere. The MILAGRO research campaign is funded jointly by the Mexican government, the US National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and NASA. In late February, we will be opening a portal (in English and Spanish) to MILAGRO that will provide background information about the purpose of the campaign, air pollution, transport effects, impacts on health and the environment, research projects underway in the campaign, as well as "Reports from the Field" from scientists, educators, and students participating in the project. We'll give you a heads up when the portal is about to open!

Randy's Corner

Pluto, the icy world near the outer edge of our Solar System, has been in the news a lot lately. Its status as a planet is being debated, we've discovered two new small moons orbiting it, and the first spacecraft to visit the ninth planet has just left Earth. Astronomers have also located a large Kuiper Belt Object that may be bigger than Pluto, and which some folks are calling the "tenth planet". Check out these links to learn more about Pluto and the Kuiper Belt in which it resides:

These topics are relevant to "Content Standard D: Earth and Space Science" in the National Science Education Standards (Grades 5-8: Earth in the solar system; Grades 9-12: The Origin and Evolution of the Earth System).

Jennifer's Corner

Are you going to be teaching about the planets soon? If so, here's a very general Student Data Collection Sheet your students can use to research a given planet or moon of the solar system. It is part of the I don't know my solar system. . .please ex-planet! activity.

Having students do such a project touches on 5-8: Content Standard D: Earth in the solar system and 9-12: Content Standard D: Origin and evolution of the universe.

Lisa's Corner

February is Black History Month, an excellent time to honor the achievements of black scientists. Have your students read the biography of Wangari Maathai in our History and People section to learn about this extraordinary woman. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan scientist, started a very successful movement in Africa to combat deforestation. Nearly 30 years ago she founded the Green Belt Movement, which employs women of Kenyan villages to plant trees. Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in 2004.

The Windows to the Universe History and People section includes many short biographies of scientists, astronauts, and mathematicians. The scientist biographies are organized chronologically. Learning about how scientists work is part of understanding Science as a Human Endeavor and the History of Science (Content Standard G). The story of Wangari Maathai in particular also highlights how science is a part of managing Populations, Resources, and Environments (Content Standard F).

Marina's Corner

Last month I promised to let you know more about LITTLE Pluto. Well this is a great opportunity to focus on this tiny planet as just 2 weeks ago -on January 19th- NASA spacecraft New Horizons took off into space for a really long trip towards Pluto and further! To learn more about this important mission go to the NEW HORIZONS page.

Also, Chinese are celebrating the New Year! Chinese New Year starts with the New Moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. This year the celebration started on January 29th and will end on February 12th. The Chinese calendar is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements. The lunar cycle is about 29.5 days. In order to "catch up" with the solar calendar the Chinese insert an extra month once every few years (seven years out of a 19-year-cycle). This is the same as adding an extra day on leap year. This is why, according to the solar calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year. In order to know more about Chinese beliefs, visit our Chinese Mythology page.

Julia's Corner

Kids of all ages love coloring books! Check out our Solar System Coloring Book. It can be played online or be printed out in HTML or PDF versions. It includes information about Sun, planets, comets and asteroids.

We also have People Coloring Book with pictures and links to biographies of several famous scientists and astronauts.

Pilot Test an Educational Computer Game

Are you interested in pilot testing an educational computer game about alien life, evolution, invasive species, astrobiology, and the history of life on Earth? One of us (Randy) has been developing this game with colleagues at Michigan State University, and we're now ready to have students "test drive" the game and report on their reactions to it. If you're interested in getting pre-release access to this game to help us test it, check out this web site. This game was developed as part of a research study investigating gender differences between boys and girls with regards to educational games, in hopes that it will help us design girl-friendly games that are also appealing to boys.

Upcoming Windows to the Universe Professional Development Opportunities

Look for information in upcoming newsletters about our presentations at the following meetings:

  • National Science Teachers Association meeting in Anaheim, California (April)
  • Geological Society of America Regional meeting in Akron, Ohio (April)
  • Environmental Health Sciences Summer Institute in Austin, Texas (July)
  • EWOC (Education: Weather, Oceans, Climate) 2006 International Conference in Boulder, Colorado (July).

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