Live long and prosper

No, he wasn’t a classroom teacher, though he did have a Masters in Education.  Or a scientist, though he played one as Spock on Star Trek.  But to so many of us, he was the catalyst that sparked a love of all things scientific, alien and was one of the founding fathers of the science fiction so many of us came to love.  His voice was one that once heard, was not easily forgotten.  How many of us as children and adults have giddily relished our ability to do the Vulcan Salute or mourned our inability to get our darn fingers to do it?

Leondard Nimoy died today and like his famous quote – his legacy will live long and prosper.

“The miracle is this – the more we share, the more we have.” Leonard Nimoy

A lovely short tribute to Mr. Nimoy:  The Man Who Was Spock

Rest in peace Mr. Nimoy.

Cool apps for middle and high school science

For part of a class for technology in the science classroom we taught mini lesson to our peers using technology.  Through the process of choosing and developing a lesson for middle school science, I discovered some pretty nifty apps that translate really well in the classroom and provide students with a hands on, visually appealing way to learn about science – specifically biology for the lesson I created.

I thought I’d post them here so other folks can see if they might work for their classroom planning purposes.

iCell 3-d cell model  – I used this one on my Microsoft Surface to take advantage of the touchscreen capability.  It gives students the option to see and interact with a 3-d model of a plant, animal or bacteria cell.  Each part is labeled with a definition that you can see when you touch the organelle.  The text can be adjust from basic, to intermediate to advanced.  This is what I used for my lesson.  It was free windows store download.

Adaptive Curriculum apps – I looked at several of their apps before choosing to use iCell.  Their apps are interactive, provide scaffolding of learning and built in assessments.  They do charge for their apps, but they are a relatively minimal cost at $1.99 to $2.99 for the ones I was considering.

Apps and screen time can’t replace all learning in the classroom, but it is a nice way to change the pace, keep students engaged and appeal to those learners who may be more visual in nature.

Videos and music for your science classroom

Videos can be a powerful teaching tool and are a great way to appeal to the different learning abilities of students.  Plus, they have the appeal of being on the big screen which students seem to really love even if it is only for a couple of minutes.   I have not used any videos in my lessons yet, but do plan to in the future both to enhance current lessons, introduce new units and to offer students a break from lessons that is still educational.

Here is one site I actually learned about from some fellow students last year.  The videos are short, colorful and cover a wide variety of scientific inquiries from a periodic table song, to answering questions like can plants think, does being cold make you sick and are silent farts worse (a question I’m sure middle schoolers would love to know the answer to). Their videos are colorful, and fun and they offer some really great information.


I’m also a huge fan of the channel called SciShow.   Like AsapSCIENCE, they cover a wide array of topics many of which would be great to use in a classroom.  They do videos on famous scientists, commonly asked scientific questions, and scientific phenomena – all in short entertaining videos that appeal to both the young and older crowd.

SciShow videos

Another favorite of mine are videos and songs done by the band They Might Be Giants.   They put out a great album called “Here Comes Science” a few years back and have numerous videos that go along with it.  They actually have a YouTube playlist just for videos for their songs geared toward kids.  I especially love “Why Does the Sun Shine (The Sun is Mass of Incandescent Gas)” and  “Put It to the Test.”  Entertaining and very very catchy.

I hope you’ll check out the links and find something that you like and maybe something you’ll even use in your classroom one day.    Don’t hold me responsible if you can’t get the They Might Giants songs out of your head!  😀

Computer Simulations – the pros and cons

The class where I intern is about to start their unit on astronomy and I know one of the sub-units is on the moon.  I found a simulator through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that provided a lunar phase simulator.

UNL Lunar Phase Simulator – click here!

I, personally, think it is a pretty fantastic simulator.  It offers numerous variables that the user can adjust, including ones that make figuring out what the simulation is showing easier to understand.  The simulation can be sped up or slowed down, additional panels can be shown or hidden that depict the moon phase and horizon diagram.

I think the powerful thing about a simulation like this is that, as stated in the National Science Teacher’s book, is that simulations can be used to give students the opportunity to see and participate in a scientific event that they may not be able to do on their own.  Sure, students could in theory go out and observe the moon through its phases and plot them throughout a lunar cycle, but with weather, light pollution, bed times, homework, etc it becomes a much more difficult plan to carryout.  Not to mention the time necessary to observe a full lunar cycle would make the unit too long.

A simulation like this one, allows students to participate in something out of their reach in a meaningful way.   As long as we as teachers, preface the use of simulators in a way that gives students the information they need to understand the simulation program, the information to introduce them to the process/procedure being simulated and follow-up with them during the lesson, the use of simulations can prove to a useful tool to bring that which would normally be out of reach to our students to their fingertips.

That is not to say there aren’t negatives to using simulations.  Teachers need to gage the complexity of the simulation they wish to use and see if it matches the level of their students.  A simulation that is above level will be nothing more than an entertaining game while one below level will encourage students to tune out the information.  There is certainly a sweet spot as far as finding an engaging meaningful simulation.

Also consider how difficult the simulation itself is to use.  The one I found is a bit more sophisticated some of the PHET simulations provided by the University of Colorado Boulder (  If I am going to teach middle school science, I would probably see what the PHET site had to offer first since they categorize their materials by grade level.

The textbook also discussed that instructors need to make sure to preface the simulation with useful information regarding scale, color schemes and dimensionality.  Make sure your students know these are 2-D simulations in a 3-d world and that color schemes used are more than likely for emphasis versus what they might actually look like in reality.

Like so many other tools that are technology based, the use of simulations can be a powerful teaching tool as long as the simulations are well vetted before being used.

Neil Armstrong & Apollo 11 artifacts

Neil Armstrong – the first man on the moon – passed away on August 25, 2012, but his wife found among his things a curious small white bag filled with what looked like space craft parts.  After conferring with the curator of the Smithsonian’s Apollo 11 collection, it was discovered that it was indeed a temporary stowage bag from Armstrong’s Apollo 11 mission containing lunar surface equipment.

Follow the link for a clickable image of all the items found.  They are currently on loan to the National Air and Space museum.

Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 stowage bag

The beauty of cymatics

Cymatics are the study of wave phenomena, especially sound waves, and their visual representation.  A friend’s son saw the video below in class and I’m so glad she shared the link.  What an amazing way to discuss wave functions.  It is visual and auditory and really, quite stunning overall.

I would love to utilize this video in a class some day – if nothing else to show students that science is indeed all around us – even in our music.

Upgrading Technology in your classroom – are CBLs worth it?

This week we discussed, used and read about computer based laboratory (CBL)  probeware in the classroom.  We were then asked to think about our experience and how we felt about using CBLs in our future classrooms.  I have to say, I have quite mixed feelings about them.

I can absolutely see the value in CBL probeware to introduce and facilitate the ability of my students to perform experiments or studies they would not otherwise be capable of doing on their own.  This is where CBLs shine in my opinion.  Even better, CBLs like the Vernier probes we used are by in large very user friendly.  Setting up a lab would not be incredibly time consuming – which is a huge consideration in classes that may only have 45 minutes of instructional time – and the computer interface is relatively simplistic and user friendly.

Downsides include the expense of the hardware and equipment, needing to tailor the laboratory activities themselves – which we discovered really do need some significant tailoring to make them more student friendly – and even though they are easy to set-up and learn to use, you would probably still need to dedicate a significant portion of at least one class period to walking the students through their use.

Here’s the other thing – our lives are so driven by electronics and technology.  Sometimes, I think doing an experiment that doesn’t involve either of those makes a bigger impact.  Tangible scientific results that students can create themselves is a pretty powerful tool.  For example, the class I’m observing in is building their own weather equipment.  Some groups are building barometers, some thermometers, some anemometers, some weather vanes and some rain gauges.  These are simple devices to make from every day equipment and the students are learning a lot about how and why these devices work to measure weather through the shear act of making them.  That is an experience you just cannot replicate using CBLs or by looking at a prebuilt barometer.

So, will I use CBLs in my classroom?  Absolutely if they are available.  The focus, however, will not be on using CBLs in every possible case.  I plan to include many other opportunities to create and engage with science without technology and computers.  If nothing else, I think the students will find that getting their hands involved in creating data and seeing experiment outcomes that they have created to be a powerful learning tool.