Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Lessons for Independence Day

Chemistry_fireworksAs you are enjoying your holiday picnics, parades, and fireworks, reflect on the history and science behind Independence Day.

Revolutionary Perspectives,” of America’s History in the Making, reveals the political wrangling that led up to the Declaration of Independence and other state constitutions.

Watch A Biography of America, “The Coming of Independence,” to see how English-loving colonists were transformed into freedom-loving American rebels. Program 5, “A New System of Government,” presents the outsized personalities that came together to hash out new systems of government for the American people.

Do you know the lyrics for the Star Spangled Banner beyond the first stanza? If not, find the words and an audio clip in the American Passages Archives.

What causes the different colors of light in fireworks that make us ooh and aah? Find out in Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions, unit 3, “Atoms and Light.”  Click on the video link and start at 12:05 to see a colorful demonstration of various metals throwing off different colors of light when burned in The Flame Test segment.

Summer Learning: Games

cattraptionIs it too rainy or hot to go outdoors? Pull out the familiar childhood games of cards, Mousetrap, and Rubik’s Cube. Or learn the mathematics behind game theory in unit 9, “Game Theory,” of Mathematics Illuminated.  Why is poker considered an imperfect game? How do different cultures define ‘fair’? How can language use work like a game?

Mousetrap

Ever wonder where the concept for the original Mousetrap (published in 1963) game came from? It was inspired by Rube Goldberg (born July 4, 1883) a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, sculptor, and author known for his drawings depicting complicated and comical contraptions that perform simple tasks.  In workshop 3, “Transfer and Conversion of Energy,” of Science in Focus: Energy, see if you can tell where the energy comes from as you move through different stages of the Cat-Traption, a Rube Goldberg-style machine.  Try making your own Cat-Traption at home.

Rubik’s Cube

Erno Rubik, born July 13, 1944, is the Hungarian inventor of the Rubik’s Cube. Physics for the 21st Century, unit 9, “Biophysics,” section 5, Free Energy Landscapes, explains hierarchical states using a Rubik’s Cube. In biology, the distance between these states can explain, for example, how far two species are apart on the evolutionary tree.

What Students Can Learn From Scientific Studies (Topic: Genetically Engineered Crops)

DNA_GE interactive

Learn about the process of genetic engineering and how it is used to develop new medicines in the DNA interactive.

The Issue: Genetically Engineered Crops

Since the first genetically engineered (GE) crops were approved for commercial use 20 years ago, debate has raged over whether they help or harm the environment, and whether foods that contain GE crops are safe to eat. (This concern is the driving force behind campaigns to require mandatory labeling for products that contain GE crops.)

In May the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a multi-year study that reviewed several decades of evidence on these questions from studies conducted around the world. The study was carried out by 20 experts from fields including biology, medicine, crop science, ecology, law and sociology.

Broadly, the report concludes that there is “no conclusive evidence” that GE crops harm the environment through effects such as out-competing other species and reducing biodiversity. It also finds “no substantiated evidence” that foods from GE crops are less safe than foods from non-GE crops. But the study also raised some concerns. Notably, some insect pests and weeds have evolved to be resistant GE crops or to weed-killers, which makes them much harder for farmers to control.

In the Classroom

The National Academies report is an excellent focus for discussions with high school biology and environmental science students about genetic engineering and concerns over genetic modification of plants. The study’s website allows readers to search findings and recommendations from the report and see the evidence that the committee reviewed on each topic – for example, the effects of GE crops on biodiversity on farms, or the evidence supporting or refuting linkages between eating GE crops and developing cancer, food allergies, or other health problems.

Unit 13 of Annenberg Learner’s Rediscovering Biology course, “Genetically Modified Organisms,” provides a detailed overview of how scientists genetically modify different types of organisms. The expert interview with Rebecca Goldburg, senior scientist with the advocacy group Environmental Defense, summarizes major concerns about environmental impacts of GE organisms. And Annenberg’s Genetic Engineering interactive shows how human understanding of genetics has evolved and enabled us to modify organisms.

The study is also a good peg for discussing how scientists tackle problems that cross boundaries between different fields. To analyze the impacts of GE crops and recommend ways to manage them, experts need to understand many different areas, including genetics, plant breeding, ecology, insects, environmental health, sociology (to assess how using GE crops affects farmers and rural communities), and law. According to members of the study committee, they each learned much from discussing studies and evidence with their colleagues.

Many complex problems require scientists to team with colleagues from different disciplines. And even when scientists work within their own fields, their work increasingly requires collaboration and communications skills, as well as understanding of scientific facts and concepts. Annenberg Learner’s Michele McLeod examines why scientists need to collaborate and communicate in this recent post.

To explore this theme using the GE crops report, look at the panel members’ backgrounds and ask your students: What could this person tell you about GE crops? Or try the same approach with another inter-disciplinary problem, such as the spread of Zika virus. How could a weather expert, or a psychologist, help governments develop strategies for curbing Zika outbreaks? Discussions like these can help students think about what other science courses they may want to take, and about the power of teams to solve problems.

What’s On Your Summer Reading List?

Bookstackbylake123rfYou deserve to relax a little. What better way to relax and escape than by reading about what interests you? It is hard to find time to pick up books just for fun during the school year. Kick back with that book that has been calling your name all year, or choose one from the programs below.

Escape into exotic worlds of fiction by reading books like The Tale of Genji and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Watch Invitation to World Literature to hear how artists, dancers, and others connect with their favorite reads. Go to the Connections section to find modern popular interpretations of these stories.

Take emotional journeys and visit landscapes of the mind with some of America’s greatest poets in Voices & Visions. Elizabeth Bishop lived both in Brazil and Maine, and captured the spirit of these places and their people in her poems. Feel the pulse of land and water in “The Map” and the murmurings of old people in “The Moose,” in program 1.

Langston Hughes evokes the rhythm of the people and the landscape of the African continent in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” in program 6. Stream the video or play the audio while closing your eyes and seeing the words paint the images.

Brush up on American history and culture while reading works by great authors. Visit American Passages to find an extensive list of writers and to explore writers and their works by themes such as “The Spirit of Nationalism” and “The Search for Identity”.

If math and science are more your speed, peruse the bibliographies from Mathematics Illuminated and Physics for the 21st Century. For example, in Mathematics Illuminated, “Geometries Beyond Euclid,” the bibliography list includes Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory and Lederman and Hill’s Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe. Also, find book suggestions in the “Further Reading” sections of each unit in Physics for the 21st Century.

Read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and learn about her contributions to the environment on our blog.

What books will you read this summer?

Image copyright: perhapzzz / 123RF Stock Photo

Great Outdoors Month: Parks, Oceans, and Gardens

Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park. © luckyphotographer / 123RF

There’s no doubt we all benefit from outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking. Leisurely strolls in woods and along the beaches, while observing nature, help us relax and inspire meditation. Physical activity, including gardening, also sends endorphins to our brains, warding off depression, and makes us fit and healthy. During Great Outdoors Month, get moving and explore some of the U.S.’s national parks, urban centers, oceans, or even your back yard. The following resources offer some suggestions for appreciating the outdoors:

Ecosystems in National Parks

In any trip to a national park or forest you are likely to encounter flora and fauna that comprise an ecosystem. Get a better understanding of how all these organisms—predators, prey, and producers—interact and coexist. Try keeping an ecosystem in balance with the Ecology Lab from The Habitable Planet.

Yellowstone (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho)

Find pictures of Yellowstone in the archives for America’s History in the Making, unit 13.  For example, see a painting done by Thomas Moran as part of a U.S. Geological Survey expedition. Moran’s watercolors of Yellowstone were later used to convince Congress to establish Yellowstone as a national park.

Central Park (New York City)

Escape the hustle and bustle of New York City by ducking into Central Park. Learn about how Central Park was designed in 1857 and the design’s influence on urban natural spaces throughout the United States thereafter in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.”

Oceans

Oceans cover over 70% of the Earth’s surface. As the school year ends, many head to the seaside to relax in the sun and frolic on the beach. Explore and appreciate the ocean using the following resources:

phytoplankton

Marine phytoplankton. © United States Geological Survey. Image from The Habitable Planet, figure 12.

What is the structure of the ocean and what causes that painful “ear squeeze” in scuba divers? See The Habitable Planet, unit 3, “Oceans,” section 2.  Sections 6 and 7 describe the biological activity of the tiniest forms of ocean life, plankton, that form the base of marine food webs.

Dive into Earth Revealed, program 4, “The Sea Floor,” to learn how scientists use technology to study the geology and biology of the bottom of the sea.

Explore the relationship between rocky landmasses and the energy of the ocean. See illustrations of wave movements and their impact on the shores in Earth Revealed, program 24, “Waves, Beaches and Coasts.”

Use cyclic functions to track the height of tides as they come in and go out in Learning Math: Algebra, session 8, part A, Cyclic Functions, Tides. At the bottom of the page, watch the video clip to see a “real world” example of how to calculate tides from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

Peer into the future of energy by examining how experimental ocean power systems harness energy and the challenges of using such systems in The Habitable Planet, unit 10, “Energy Challenges,” section 8, Hydropower and Ocean Energy.

Gardens

Do you have a green thumb? Why not use that thumb to help track the migration of monarch butterflies? Journey North provides schools and individual citizen scientists tools and information for planting butterfly gardens and monitoring butterfly activity. The data collected and posted on the Journey North website is used to track seasonal change.  This page lists the types of plants you will need to host both monarch caterpillars and butterflies.

You can also attract hummingbirds by growing plants with their preferred nectar. Find instructions on the “Unpave the Way for Hummingbirds” page of Journey North.

Visit a virtual garden in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.” Find a photo of the gardens created by Henry Hoare II and Henry Flitcroft at Stourhead Estate in Wiltshire, England. Be inspired by the symmetrical arrangements that reflect a nature-taming approach to gardening.

How will you enjoy the great outdoors this month and this summer?

It’s Over Already/Finally? Reflecting on the School Year

93rd st school classsmsqSummer is the perfect time to pause and look back at the school year. How did it go? What challenges did you face? What improvements can you make for next year? Is there anything new you would like to try with your students next year and how can you prepare this summer? The following resources offer guidance with your reflections.

What is your teacher metaphor? As a teacher, are you more of a conductor or an air traffic controller? Have you ever tried to define your teaching? The Metaphorically Speaking interactive in The Next Move workshop spurs you to think of a metaphor to describe your teaching to others, and also to help you develop a focus. Read what other teachers have used as metaphors for their own teaching. Share your own metaphor and how this metaphor influences or guides your teaching in the comments section!

Did you struggle with keeping your students’ attention or motivating them? Neuroscience & the Classroom  shows how brain research can inform instructional practices. Learn to effectively manage a variety of learning styles and attention spans. Use the course’s search function to find the topics you want to explore.

Connecting With the Arts, program 8, “Reflecting on Our Practice,” provides strategies for solo and group reflection to improve curriculum and refine lesson plans.

How can you encourage literacy in the home? How can you better support your English language learners? How can you work on comprehension skillsTeaching Reading Workshop, K-2, offers reflection worksheets for each session. Glean ideas from these reflection sheets, and adapt them to other subject areas and grade levels.

Consider creating informal professional learning communities over the summer or build your case to develop them during the next school year. Critical Issues in School Reform, videos on innovation in professional collaboration, outline group reflection activities (like the Tuning Protocol and the Consultancy) that examine student work and classroom instruction.

Image copyright: ljupco / 123RF Stock Photo

Fahrenheit Follows His Interests: Measuring Temperature

farenheit_celsius_thermometerGerman physicist and engineer Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit was born May 24, 1686 in Danzig. After his parents died in 1701, he moved to Amsterdam where he developed an interest in making scientific instruments. This interest lead to the development of reliable thermometers, the creation of the Fahrenheit temperature scale, and the discovery that water’s boiling point can vary depending on atmospheric pressure.

Learn how Fahrenheit developed the temperature scale that bears his name and compare his scale with others that measure temperature in Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions, unit 2, “The Behavior of Atoms-Phases of Matter and the Properties of Gases,” section 3, Measuring Temperature.

Students can practice temperature conversions based on the Fahrenheit, Celsius, Kelvin scales and more using the British and Metric Conversions interactive.

Physical Science, session 7, “Heat and Temperature,” answers the question, “Why do we need three sets of temperature scales?” Remember to examine common ideas children have about heat and temperature as a prelude to planning your lessons on the topic.

Share your ideas for teaching about Fahrenheit and measuring temperature in the comments.

Food: Cooking Up a Tasty Lesson

Chem_10_cakeWhen you think of bringing food into your classroom, go beyond birthday cupcakes and end-of-year pizza parties by using the fascinating science and history behind our food and drink on Learner.org.

Brewing an aromatic cup of coffee requires the right amount of solutes in your solution, without releasing evil bitter flavors at the same time. Learn from baristas and coffee roasters the trick for making an excellent cup in “When Chemicals Meet Water: The Properties of Solutions” from Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions.

A proper balance of acids and bases is essential for baking a light and airy cake, making cheese, or avoiding poisoning by an overdose of lemonade. Find out how the pH scale works as we create and consume our favorite foods in “Acids and Bases: The Voyage of the Proton.”

The quest for exotic spices and foods spurred exploration and mixing of cultures. Food historian Jessica Harris explains that what we eat reveals our history and the culinary trends that were intertwined with major economic shifts. See the Hands on History segment in “Mapping Initial Encounters” from America’s History in the Making.

What is Huntington’s Disease?

Brain_12_Huntingtons

Dr. Nancy Wexler of the Hereditary Disease Foundation and Columbia University recounts her research on the demographics, symptoms, and genetic cause of Huntington’s Disease in The Brain, module 12.

According to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, Huntington’s Disease is an inherited brain disorder that results in the progressive loss of both mental facilities and physical control. The disease usually emerges when a person is between 30 and 50 years old and can gradually lead to death. There is no effective cure for the disease, but there are ways to relieve the symptoms.

In The Brain: Teaching Modules, program 12, “Huntington’s Disease,” watch as Dr. Nancy Wexler discusses her research on the demographics and causes of the disease. Look at the moral issues surrounding DNA testing to determine an individual’s risk of developing the disease.

Gene therapy, replacing defective genes with normal genes, is a technique researchers have investigated to treat diseases like Huntington’s. Consider the implications of gene therapy along with other types of genetic engineering using the DNA interactive.  Discussion questions can be found here.

Diet, exercise, and weight: Why we are what we eat

AAO_27

Researchers lead by anthropologist Herman Pontzer used GPS units and heart rate monitors to track the physical activity of the Hadza in Tanzania. Photo from Against All Odds, unit 27.

Anyone who has struggled to lose weight knows that it can be a long, difficult process. But a study published this month in the journal Obesity offered new insights into just how hard it is, and why: Dieters’ own bodies resist their efforts to shed pounds.

In the study, federal health researchers followed 16 contestants from the television show The Biggest Loser for six years after they competed in 2009. They found that most of the subjects regained all or nearly all of the weight they had lost – sometimes over 100 pounds. A few contestants were even heavier at the end of the study than before they entered the competition.

“It is frightening and amazing,” Dr. Kevin Hall, a coauthor of the study, told the New York Times. “I am just blown away.”

It’s the latest addition to a growing body of evidence challenging the idea that as long as people burn enough calories, they can eat as much as they want without gaining weight. In fact, experts say, it’s very hard to change how much energy our bodies use every day. We can’t control our basal metabolic rate – the energy we use for basic functions like breathing – which accounts for roughly three-quarters of our daily energy use. We can control how much we exercise, but that’s only a fraction of our total energy use. And when we dial that portion up, our bodies dial down our basal metabolism to compensate.

Unit 27 of Annenberg Learner’s statistics program Against All Odds describes a study by Hunter College anthropologist Herman Pontzer that illustrated this process. Pontzer measured daily energy use by members of the Hadza, nomadic hunter-gatherers who live on the open savannah in Tanzania. He found that although the Hadza were much more physically active than white-collar American or European office workers, they burned about the same amount of calories. Pontzer concluded that Hadza used more energy for physical activity than Westerners, but less when their bodies were resting.

Other factors also limit what we can accomplish through exercise. Use the running interactive in Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions to see how running affects body conditions such as fluid and electrolyte balances. These parameters limit how far we can push ourselves during strenuous exercise although elite athletes learn to manage them and push farther. Note also that the elite runners in this interactive burn 5 to 9 calories per minute, so even if they run for a full hour, they would consume fewer than 600 calories. That workout could be more than offset by eating a hefty sandwich.

These studies send a clear message for managing weight: what we eat matters much more than how much energy we burn, and is also more within our control. While exercise provides many benefits and can help us regulate our weight, physical activity alone is not an effective strategy for losing weight.