May 2006

We are delighted that approximately 800 additional teachers signed up for our newsletter at the National Science Teachers Association meeting in Anaheim, California last month! Also, a warm welcome to the 30 new teachers from Veracruz, Mexico, that signed up during our spur-of-the-moment training session at the beginning of last month! Welcome to all, and we hope this newsletter provides information and resources that are useful to you as you work to bring the geosciences to your students. This is the 9th monthly issue of our newsletter (see our archive of newsletters for previous issues), so it's about time we find out about how this new resource is meeting your needs. We've developed a short survey, and would really appreciate your responses! It will help us to continue to improve the resources we provide you here. You'll notice that this newsletter has an "end of the school year" tone to it, since many schools in the Northern Hemisphere are finishing their academic year next month. Never fear, though, our newsletters will keep coming all summer long!

Tornadoes and Magnetic Fields

Tornadoes are not uncommon this time of year across the southern and central United States. Our Earth weather section includes information about tornadoes, how they form, where they tend to form in the United States and around the world, and the Fujita scale. Check out our Tornado in a Bottle activity as a way to illustrate a tornado for your students.

Our website has many resources on it relevant to magnetic fields, including basic information about magnetic fields, as well as information about the magnetic field of the sun, the planets (see links from each planet's section on the site) and other bodies in the solar system (for instance, Ganymede). Planetary magnetic fields are very important - the Earth's magnetic field protects us from radiation from the Sun!

We also have several interactives which students can use to get an intuitive sense of how magnetic fields work (look under "Interactive Multimedia" on our Images and Multimedia Gallery. Numerous classroom activities also provide opportunities for you to explore magnetic fields with your students, including building your own magnetometer, Terrabagga, magnetometer extensions, and magnetic levitation in our Classroom Activities section.

Magnetic fields are relevant to "Content Standard B: Physical Science" in the National Science Education Standards (Grades 9-12: Motions and Forces).

Tornadoes are relevant to "Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives" in the National Science Education Standards (Grades 5-8: Risks and Benefits).

How far? How big? Distance and Size in Astronomy

It is indeed difficult for the human mind to grasp the vast distances involved in astronomy and space science. If you want help with this mind-bending challenge, and want to help your students as well, we've added a new page on Windows to the Universe just for you. "How far? How big? Distance and Size in Astronomy" provides links to various resources on our site that illustrate and describe the distances between and the sizes of astronomical objects. Most of these resources are highly visual images and interactive animations. So far, the focus of the page is mainly on our Solar System, but we'll be adding to this page in the future.

Some of my favorites:

These topics are relevant to "Content Standard D: Earth and Space Science" in the National Science Education Standards (Grades K-4: Objects in the Sky & Changes in Earth and Sky; Grades 5-8: Earth in the solar system).

Welcome new members!

We have hundreds of new members who signed up during NSTA conference in Anaheim. We are all very excited about this. Welcome! We hope that you find the news, highlights and activities in our newsletter helpful in your teaching. This was the first time at an NSTA conference, and it was a great opportunity to chat with teachers, many of whom are using our website on a daily basis. Thank you all for a wonderful experience!

Basics About the Biosphere

Living things become more active during spring in the Northern Hemisphere, providing a good opportunity to connect what’s happening outdoors with scientific background about the diversity of life on Earth. The Life section of Windows to the Universe contains a variety of topics related to Earth's biosphere. Take a look at our section about Diversity and Classification, which contains content about the three domains of life as well as classification into Kingdoms.

The Life section of Windows to the Universe also contains content about how the biosphere connects with other parts of the Earth system. Try the Traveling Nitrogen classroom activity to develop understanding of how this element moves between living and non-living parts of the Earth system. This activity addresses primarily Content Standard C (Populations and Ecosystems) at the middle school level and Content Standard D (Geochemical Cycles) at the high school level.

Getting ready for VACATIONS!

For many kids in the northern hemisphere, summer is a time when learning stops, but it doesn't have to be that way! As some lucky families get ready to go near the ocean to spend summer vacations, it is a great opportunity for teachers to encourage students to observe, develop creativity and improve vocabulary by observing, collecting data, taking pictures and creating stories. A great starting point for this is pointing your students to our Ocean Life, Table of Ocean Creatures, and Oceans and seas pages, as well as to our fun activity that recreates the interaction of fresh and salt water (estuarine systems) Par 5 . Ask your students to bring photos back from their vacations and be ready to share: What's in this photo? What is happening in the picture? Who is that? If they can write, have them write down the story they tell. They may also want to draw pictures to go with the story! Winter break in the Southern Hemisphere? A great time to get to know more about Climate changes with latitude to better understand why it is summer in the North and winter in the South, as well as all about Climate .

Classroom Activity about the Solar System

Are you going to end your year by teaching about space, the solar system, stars and galaxies? If so, check out the Great Planetary Debate Activity. It has students work in groups of two to research a given planetary body in the solar system. The students will then "defend their planet/moon" while competing against other teams in a Great Planetary Debate. This is a great alternative to the solar system report, poster board or travel brochure you may have used before.

I used this activity in my high school Earth science classes, and I have to say that students were more excited about this Debate than about any other activity we did during the year!

This activity addresses National Science Standards for 5-8 D: Earth in the solar system, 9-12 D: Origin and evolution of the universe and at all levels, Assessment Standard B: The ability to communicate effectively about science.

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