Category Archives: Science

APProval

Image With iPod Touches and iPads increasingly available in the schools, it’s lots of fun to explore kid-friendly apps to find the ones students will enjoy.  And that I myself enjoy, if truth be told.

One of my favorite science apps is Creatures of Light, a free app from the American Museum of Natural History. App users can explore the biology of bioluminescent creatures of land and sea, in a well-designed app that features photos, interactive maps and diagrams, and embedded videos. I even like the background music.

Another nice little app is Painting with Time, $.99 from Red Hill Studios. Children can use a palette of art tools to “paint” changes over time. For example, a child might choose a black and white photo of a forest. Using the painting tools, she can paint one slice of the picture with “spring,” another with “summer” and so on, until she has a layered painting showing aspects of all seasons. Other choices include how a city changes in the course of a day, how a woman’s face changes with age, or the changes in a mountain scene as a glacier retreats. It’s deceptively simple, but the app has a lot to offer. They have another app that explores climate change in a similar fashion.

There are a host of apps now that let the user identify common species of plants, birds, rocks, insects, and many other features of our world. The free iPhone /app WildLab Bird, part of a “citizen science” project, helps users identify birds and record their sightings. Each users’ sightings become part of the data that supports research at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  There are lots of teacher resources at the WildLab website, too.

Stay cool, now…

Over 10,700 bloggers have joined in a global conversation so far today, and the number is still climbing as I write this.  It’s Blog Action Day–and the topic is climate change.

I spent some time this afternoon looking at kids’ resources on climate change.  Now, if I have a pet peeve about the publishing world, it’s the continuing lack of quality nonfiction for early elementary kids.  There have been some marvelous strides forward, don’t get me wrong–things have improved greatly in the last ten years.  But I still find myself at purchase order time, swearing under my breath as I scan library periodicals, publisher catalogs and vendor websites trying to find excellent nonfiction for my young students.  Science books in particular are a challenge to find–some authors dumb down material to the point that the material is erroneous or incomprehensible.

So it’s a pleasure to discover some great print resources on climate change for the K-6 crowd.

  • Spend some time reading the I.N.K. Blog: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids and you’ll find lots of children’s nonfiction to celebrate.  Marfe Ferguson Delano blogged on INK about her new book, Earth in the Hot Seat: Bulletins from a Warming World (National Geographic, 2009), describing the decisions she made about how she presented the facts of global warming.  The book scored a starred review from SLJ.
  • For a younger crowd, there’s the picture book format Polar Bear, Why is Your World Melting? by Robert Wells (Albert Whitman & Company, 2008).  One third grade teacher I know used this book last winter as part of a persuasive letter writing project–kids wrote letters outlining their ideas for cutting back on carbon emissions.
  • Another nonfiction picture book: Why Are the Ice Caps Melting? The Dangers of Global Warming, by Anne Rockwell (Harper Collins, 2006.)

Heaven knows there’s a ocean of information on the web about climate change–umm, a rising ocean, thanks to the melting of polar ice.  Here are a few rafts to cling to:

Stay cool, y’all.

UPDATE:  I should have mentioned two other website / blogs:  Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears:  An Online Magazine for K-5 Teachers and Meltfactor.org, the blog of Ohio State professor Jason Box.  I also just picked up the children’s picture book, Once I Was a Cardboard Box…But Now I’m a Book about Polar Bears! by Anton Poitier.  It just happened to be in the Scholastic Book Fair we’re hosting.  It’s a cute concept–the book is printed on paper made from…well, a recycled cardboard box.  The text has two “stories” side-by-side: the story of the life and threatened extinction of the polar bear, and the recycling of the paper on which the book is printed.

The official Blog Action Day count was 13,398 blogs from 155 countries.

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Flying by Mercury

Mercury image from Wikimedia CommonsOn October 6, the MESSENGER space probe will pass 124 miles above the surface of Mercury.  A group of six teachers, part of a NASA fellowship program, will be at Mission Control in Baltimore, sharing the experience with the world through a variety of web 2.0 tools.  One of the six is a fabulous, National Board Certified physics & astronomy teacher from the Fairport School District in upstate, NY.   Since he happens to be my husband, I can assure you he is as excited about this trip as any starry-eyed kid might be on the way to Space Camp.

Gene Gordon will be blogging & Twittering from Baltimore during the fly-by on October 6th.  If you would like to follow along, check out the details on his wiki at DragonPhysics.

There’s a great article about Gene in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. I note with pride that he’s wearing a “I Read Banned Books” t-shirt in his photo!

(NASA has really figured out how to use Web 2.0 tools to get the public excited about NASA ventures.  The Mars Phoenix feed is one of the most popular on Twitter.)

Picutre from NASA via Wikimedia Commons.

Photostory

A picture is worth a thousand words, so what’s a picture with words attached worth? How about if we add music?

If you haven’t yet played with Photostory, run right over and get it. Yes, it’s from evil giant Microsoft and it won’t run on your Mac (but you have iLife on your Mac, so no complaining!) but it’s easy, and it’s free. How easy? I’ve used it (with guidance) with kids in first grade. If you can browse for files, something everybody does, and have access to a computer microphone, you can use Photostory.
Photostory Screenshot
Basically, the program asks you to upload your pictures. Then you can add narration for each picture, add a pre-recorded audio file or some music, and save. It’s a little harder to get your video online that with Animoto (see below) but you have much, much, more control over your content, and no limits on length. Once you’ve saved your .wmv file, you can easily upload to Teacher Tube or to your own website or blog.

How could this be used? To record and share library or classroom events, to create narrated stories (just upload images of kids’ artwork instead of photos), to create slideshows without the hassle of all the “stuff” kids want to add to PowerPoints. I, for one, would like to see a student slideshow with no clipart and no flying text! With Photostory, the kids are focused on the images and the audio. Older students can add more sophisticated looking transitions, or alter the timeline to keep a particularly important image on the screen for a longer time. Titles and text can be added to any slide.

Here’s my video.

I did discover that Photostory has an annoying habit of “fading out” the last few seconds of your music or audio file, but I solved that problem by recording about 10 seconds of silence when I was done recording my voice. Worked like a charm.

Twittering in Outer Space

Even the New York Times is agog: there’s a valid, educational use for logging in to Twitter, the very popular “microblogging” service.
Twitter, a sort of lowest-common-denominator social website, has a very simple interface. You sign up for an account, and then you’re presented with a box that says, “What are you doing?” You can write in that you’re about to go jogging, you’re cooking dinner, writing your Pulitzer acceptance speech, etc. You can also “follow” other people’s twitter accounts, so that you can find out what all your friends are doing, too. Some people post to their accounts every so often; other folks post what they’re doing all the time. That’s pretty much it.

Veronica McGregor, the news services manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, created a Twitter account to keep the public up-to-date on every part of the Mars Phoenix Lander’s travels on the Red Planet. Twitter readers can find out what the Mars lander is doing all time, and read Ms. McGregor’s posts, written amusingly in the first person. Here’s a sample post: “I’m sitting on very flat surface here. Tiny rocks around my foot pads. The horizon is flat and looks perfect for digging!!!

So now astronomy buffs, NASA fans, teachers & students can all keep track of what Phoenix is up to. This is a pretty cool use of a web 2.0 tool–and plenty of other people think so, too. When the NY Times reported on the Twitter just yesterday, the MarsPhoenix Twitter account had about 9600 followers. When I started “following” the Lander today, it had over 14,000. You can follow MarsPhoenix, too: http://twitter.com/MarsPhoenix.

Twitter, as a “microblogging” service, is probably blocked by school district internet filters. But it’s probably worth it to unblock this Twitter page, so the kids can find out what’s up…up there.