April 14, 2014

Gizmo of the Week: Water Pollution

April 14th marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Rachel Carson, a researcher and writer who started the environmental movement in 1962 with the publication of “Silent Spring.” Carson first became concerned with widespread pesticide use while working for the Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1940s.

Water polution“Silent Spring,” which documented the devastating effects of DDT on wildlife, brought environmental issues to the forefront and led to a ban on DDT use.

The Water Pollution Gizmo presents a variety of types of water pollution, including toxic, sediment, nutrient, and bacterial. Students learn about each form of pollution and identify the kinds of pollution that apply to a variety of real-world scenarios.

As an extension to the lesson, have students create public service announcements on how to reduce water pollution in their communities. This makes a great Earth Day activity!

Posted by Heather Jones at 07:57 AM in Science, Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

March 31, 2014

Use Gizmos to help students understand the science behind the search for the missing Malaysian jetliner

On March 11, Inmarsat, a London-based telecommunication company, contacted Malaysian government with key location information for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Inmarsat scientists measured MH370's radar ping against "example" flights to narrow down the search. The more flights they looked at, the smaller their field became, until they were tracked to a remote section of the ocean near Perth.

XkThe company used the 'Doppler effect' to find the area where plane crashed. You're probably familiar with the Doppler effect... when you hear an ambulance pass by, the change in pitch is an example of the Doppler effect.

Watch this Physics teacher explain the Doppler effect and the effect of an object’s movement in relation to the sound waves produced by it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-Uhiz0Tilk

Help students explore this real world concept with the Doppler Shift Advanced Gizmo. Students can investigate how the speed of the moving object is related to the magnitude of the Doppler shift.

Posted by Heather Jones at 07:40 AM in Current Affairs, Science, Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

March 19, 2014

Celebrate International Forest Day with Gizmos

639DETDid you know that March 21st is International Forest Day? This global celebration of forests provides a platform to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and of trees outside forests. Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than half of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. Forests also provide shelter, jobs and security for forest-dependent populations.

In celebration of National Forest Day, use the Forest Ecosystem Gizmo to teach students about the delicate balance within a forest ecosystem.  Or, have students try out the Measuring Trees Gizmo to investigate how precipitation affects tree growth, while reinforcing mathematic concepts like circumference and diameter.

If you're planning activities for International Forest Day, share them with the community on our Facebook page.

Posted by Heather Jones at 12:09 PM in Current Affairs, Math (Real World), Science, Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

February 24, 2014

Gizmo of the Week: Titration

Titration is a common lab method used to determine the concentration of one material that is dissolved or mixed within another.

1045DETDuring the process of titration, a chemist slowly adds an acid (or base) solution of known concentration to a base (or acid) solution of unknown concentration, called the analyte. An indicator changes color when the analyte is neutralized, and the concentration of the analyte can then be determined.

With the Titration Gizmo, students learn to calculate pH and explain the shape of titration curves. Students use titration to determine the concentration of an acid or base and explore titration of weak acids and bases, too.

After practicing with the Gizmo, your students will become whizzes at titration in no time!

Posted by Heather Jones at 03:03 PM in Science, Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

March 14, 2013

Happy Pi Day, from ExploreLearning!

How many diameters does it take to exactly cover the circumference of a circle? And what does this have to do with March 14? If you’re a math person, or just a fan of numerical oddities, I have a feeling you can see where I’m going with this.

It’s Pi Day, boys and girls!

So, first and foremost, please celebrate responsibly. But secondly, celebrate with Gizmos!

Some math Gizmos related to circles, cylinders, and pi:

Circles: Circumference and Area

Prisms and Cylinders - Activity A

Or, if you’d prefer a couple selections from our science Gizmo library:

Measuring Volume

Measuring Trees

So, from the math nerds at ExploreLearning, happy Pi Day to you and your students! We hope you have at least 3.14 times your normal amount of fun in class today.

Posted by Dan at 01:16 PM in Fun/Humor, Math (Real World), Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

November 02, 2010

Expert's Corner: Understanding Hurricanes

Mario JuncoMario Junco has been with ExploreLearning for four years as a project manager in Miami, Florida. He holds a bachelors degree in Meteorology from Florida State and a Master's Degree in Science Education from Florida International University. Mario taught science for eleven years in Miami Dade and has achieved National Board Certification in Early Adolescent Science.

The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1st and extends through November 30th each year. Here in Florida, and in other parts of the southern and eastern United States, tropical storms and hurricanes are a threat each year during this time period. The most notable recent example was the 2005 Hurricane Katrina: the sixth strongest overall hurricane in recorded history. It was the most costly natural disaster to date in the United States, causing an estimated $81 billion in property damage. More than 1,800 people lost their lives during the hurricane and subsequent flooding, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane.

Hurricane MotionMany people in the United States live on or near coastal areas and have to contend with the possibility of these destructive storms each year. Students may wonder how hurricanes form and why their destructive potential is so high. We have several Gizmos that can help you explain concepts related to hurricanes to your students. The Hurricane Motion Gizmo teaches students the real-life skill of tracking hurricanes using latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates.

As a hurricane approaches landfall, weather changes, such as cloud cover, wind speed, wind direction and barometric pressure, start to occur. (As an example, during hurricane Wilma in 2005, the lowest ever recorded barometric pressure of 882 mb was attained). Your students can see how barometric pressure changes by moving a hurricane closer to and further from specific weather stations on the Hurricane Motion Gizmo.

Once students learn about the variables involved in an approaching hurricane, they can conduct an experiment where they attempt to ascertain where an "invisible hurricane" is positioned based on given meteorological data. Teachers can also have students investigate these different weather variables further in the Weather Maps Gizmo and the Coastal Winds and Clouds Gizmo.

Greenhouse EffectThe 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons were extremely active, and many debate hotly whether this increase was due to something meteorologists call a multi-decadal cycle of active seasons or global warming. This topic could be fodder for a great discussion in the science classroom after the students have learned about increasing temperatures in the Greenhouse Effect Gizmo.

Making connections that link current events to science curriculum helps students understand both what's happening in the world and the science behind such events better. For more learning activities related to hurricanes and other weather factors, take a look at the Teacher Guides and Student Exploration Guides with any of the Gizmos mentioned above.

Posted by ExploreLearning at 03:43 PM in Current Affairs, Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

September 07, 2010

Expert's Corner: Back-to-school Inquiry Activities

Bridget MulveyBridget Mulvey is a science education doctoral student at the University of Virginia. Bridget holds a master's degree in geological sciences from Indiana University at Bloomington, and she taught middle school, high school and college science before starting her doctoral program. Bridget has taught professional development workshops on scientific inquiry and the nature of science and has presented research on whole class inquiry and the nature of science to researchers and teachers at national conferences.

As school gets back into full swing, teachers seek ways to engage students in science and set the tone for the year. One great way to do this is through scientific inquiry instruction using Gizmos!

Whether you're a pro or just getting started, Gizmos support your efforts to develop a positive classroom environment that facilitates inquiry. The simple and fun Pattern Finder Gizmo is accessible to young students yet can still be a great whole-class warm-up activity for older students.

Pattern FinderStudents observe, predict and then test predictions to identify patterns in frogs' jumps from lily pad to lily pad. Framing students' investigation with a research question such as, "What patterns can you identify in the frogs' jumps?" is a great first step toward inquiry. Students use observations as evidence that they analyze to answer the initial question.

This minds-on activity requires almost no initial scientific content knowledge and therefore offers all students a chance to be meaningful contributors to the class. This helps students see that science is fun and that they can do it.

Because pattern identification helps us make sense of the natural world, this activity can spark great discussions about the nature of science. For example, you could ask students if it is always possible for scientists to perform experiments. This discussion can highlight that direct experiments are not the only way we learn about the natural world. To learn about things out of our immediate reach, such as Earth's history or the cosmos, we can't control variables to actually experiment. When experiments can be performed, however, they are an essential part of science.

For more content-specific Gizmos appropriate for the beginning of the year, try Density Experiment: Slice and Dice. This updated take on a density lab lets students explore a big misconception about density — that size matters. To make this activity inquiry, pose a question such as, "What relationship does size have to mass, volume and density?"

Density Experiment: Slice and DiceIn this Gizmo, students "slice" off portions of aluminum, wood or other material and compare volume, mass and density for different-sized pieces. Students analyze this information to determine the relationships and thereby answer the research question.

These Gizmos support minds-on investigations that involve students in the processes of science. They also encourage students' input, helping students gain confidence in their scientific abilities. What a great way to begin the school year!

Posted by ExploreLearning at 03:33 PM in Current Affairs, Edu/Tech, Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

February 02, 2010

Expert's Corner: Earthquakes

Pam Larson

Pam Larson is the PD Manager and a national training consultant for ExploreLearning. Pam holds a Master's Degree in Science Education from Northwest Missouri State University and she taught middle and high school science before joining ExploreLearning.

On January 12, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck near the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. The earthquake caused buildings to collapse throughout the region, including the National Palace, National Assembly, and the Port-au-Prince Cathedral. Estimates of fatalities are higher than 200,000, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in history. Weeks after the disaster, Haiti still faces a vast crisis in housing and distribution of food supplies.

In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, your students may be wondering why an earthquake struck Haiti, and why so many lives were lost. Haiti occupies the western side of the island of Hispaniola. Hispaniola lies on the northern part of boundary between the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate. This is an example of a transform boundary, where the North American Plate is moving to the west and the Caribbean Plate is moving to the east. Use the Plate Tectonics Gizmo with your students to illustrate four types of plate boundaries and where they occur in the world.

In Haiti, the plate boundary is marked by two parallel faults: the Septentrional Fault and the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault. Like the famous San Andreas Fault in California, these faults are the source of frequent seismic activity. A magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince in 1770, and a magnitude 8.0 earthquake hit the Dominican Republic in 1946.


As the North American Plate grinds past the Caribbean Plate at a rate of about 2 cm per year, stress can build up on faults that are “locked.” Almost 240 years had passed since a major earthquake occurred along the Enriquillo Fault. At the epicenter of the quake (marked in red on the map), the ground ruptured over 4 meters (13 feet)! To help your students learn more about finding the epicenter of an earthquake, use our the Earthquake-Determination of Epicenter Gizmo, which teaches students how to determine the epicenter of the earthquake with real-time charts and the Earthquake-Recording Station Gizmo, which allows student to determine the distance between the recording station and the earthquake, based on timing between seismic waves.

The 2010 Haiti earthquake is comparable in size to the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake that struck northern California in 1989. But, the Loma Prieta earthquake resulted in less than 100 fatalities. Your students may wonder why there was such a disparity in fatalities between the two earthquakes. First, the epicenter of the Loma Prieta earthquake was located in a thinly-populated region north of Santa Cruz, so major population centers were spared the most powerful shaking. Second, buildings in the U.S. are less likely to collapse because of stricter construction rules.

Making connections that link current events to science curriculum helps students understand both what’s happening in the world and the science behind such events better. For more learning activities related to earthquakes, take a look at the Teacher Guides and Student Exploration Guides with any of the Gizmos mentioned above.

ExploreLearning’s parent company, Cambium Learning Group, has responded to the call to support Haiti’s recovery and rebuilding efforts, by contributing $5,000 to the American Red Cross.

Posted by ExploreLearning at 03:24 PM in Current Affairs, Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

November 03, 2009

Expert's Corner: Show and Tell with Rocks

Kurt Rosenkrantz is science curriculum writer and Gizmo designer for ExploreLearning. Kurt holds a Master of Science in Geology from the University of Cincinnati, and a bachelor's degree in Earth Science from Harvard. He taught high school and middle school science for eight years before joining ExploreLearning.

A couple years ago my family and I left Charlottesville, VA and moved to North Carolina, where I've continued to work for ExploreLearning from my home office. The work continues to be great, but I have to admit it does get a bit quiet working out of your house. So I was thrilled when I recently got the chance to visit my daughter's elementary school classroom and help out with a science unit on rocks.

In my garage was a large box of rocks and fossils I had accumulated in grad school and in eight years of teaching earth science. There were large chunks of granite from New Hampshire; basalt, obsidian and pumice from volcanoes in western California; and of course lots of fossils-trilobites, brachiopods, horn corals, bryozoans, gastropods, and other specimens collected from the Ordovician rocks of southwestern Ohio. I had packed them up when I left California to join ExploreLearning, and they had been sitting in garages and attics ever since.

A week later I was in the class, sharing my rocks and fossils and talking about the time I got to dig up some dinosaur bones. The great thing about elementary school students, of course, is that they are enthusiastic about everything. I did get some unusual questions, however, like "are they still alive?" and "why aren’t they still moving?"

Visiting the classroom always brings me back to my teaching days, and also reminds me of how much energy a teacher both gives to and receives from their students. Try these Gizmos to energize your classroom:

All of these Gizmos work well when integrated into hands-on activities with rock samples in the classroom. For example, students can practice identifying hand-samples of rocks, and then try their skills with the Rock Classification Gizmo. Alternatively, students can learn how to measure a mineral’s hardness, streak, and density with the Mineral Identification Gizmo. They can then apply what they have learned to real mineral samples. Take a look at the Teacher Guides for these Gizmos for more ideas on hands-on activities that you can use with these Gizmos as well.


Posted by ExploreLearning at 03:15 PM in Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

April 07, 2009

Expert's Corner: Kite Power

Raman Pfaff is a senior architect for ExploreLearning. He holds a doctorate from Michigan State University in nuclear physics, and spent time as a professor of physics and education before co-founding ExploreLearning.

When I was a child, I lived on a farm in Michigan. One of the things I most loved was going out to our "big hill" to fly a kite. I was fascinated with trying to design a kite that could climb rapidly, perform acrobatic maneuvers, or be very stable so it would lift my kite camera into the sky.

While I have little time for flying kites as an adult, I started thinking more about them as I was reading about Earth Day. About 500 million people across the planet will take part in Earth Day events this month to bring awareness to the environmental challenges we face as a society. Producing enough energy for our society is difficult without trading off affordability and protection of the natural world. Research and field tests are starting to show that kites could be part of the solution - they are inexpensive and have little environmental impact.

A number of groups are currently working on generating power by flying kites. One method that is currently being tested is called pumping. Using this approach the kite is flown about 800 meters above the ground where the wind is stronger and steadier than it is near the surface. The tension in the kite 'string' turns a generator on the ground as the wind pulls the kite away. After the kite moves away a certain distance, the angle of the kite face is changed so that it can be reeled in using less energy than was generated on its way out. The result is that each in-out cycle generates more power than it consumes. Repeat the process continuously and you have a clean renewable power source.

One group used a similar method with a single 10 square meter kite to produce 10 kilowatts of power, which is enough to power ten family homes!

Enjoy Earth Day and if it's windy, go fly a kite. Back in your science classrooms, you can explore the energy used by many household appliances and understand how that relates to consumer costs and environmental impact with our Household Energy Usage. Or, explore how energy can get converted from one form to another in the Energy Conversions Gizmo.

Posted by ExploreLearning at 03:09 PM in Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

February 03, 2009

Expert's Corner: Darwin Day

Kurt Rosenkrantz is science curriculum writer and Gizmo designer for ExploreLearning. Kurt holds a Master of Science in Geology from the University of Cincinnati, and a bachelor's degree in Earth Science from Harvard. He taught high school and middle school science for eight years before joining ExploreLearning.

February 12, 2009 is Darwin Day, the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. This year also marks 150 years since the publication of Darwin's seminal treatise, On the Origin of Species, in 1859.

It is extraordinary that this rather shy, cautious, and often-sick man was responsible for the most important scientific revolution in history. Darwin studied to become a doctor and a clergyman, but never completed either of these programs; he preferred to study botany and zoology instead. Darwin's rather aimless life changed dramatically in 1831, when he was hired as ship's naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle.

During the five-year, around-the-world voyage of the Beagle, Darwin observed related species that showed adaptations to different environments. He found fossils of animals that appeared related to modern forms, and observed island animals that were physically similar to mainland forms, but which pursued completely different lifestyles. Darwin gradually became convinced that evolution was the only logical explanation for these patterns.

After returning to England, Darwin puzzled about the mechanisms that could cause organisms to change over time. Darwin found his answer in a book by the economist Thomas Malthus. Malthus predicted that as human populations grew, the competition for resources would become more intense. Darwin realized that as organisms competed for resources, individuals that were born with favorable variations would be more likely to survive, reproduce, and pass on their traits to their offspring. Thus was born the principle of natural selection.

Although he had the framework of his theory in place by 1840, Darwin did not publish his ideas until 1859. In the intervening years, he slowly accumulated evidence from a wide variety of sources, from barnacles to domesticated pigeons. Darwin may have put off publishing indefinitely, but in 1858 he received a nasty shock.

An itinerant beetle collector named Alfred Russell Wallace had written to Darwin, describing his own theory of natural selection.(Although less famous than Darwin, Wallace is generally credited as the co-discoverer of natural selection.) Darwin realized that, after 20 years of work, he was about to be scooped! To his credit, Darwin did not burn Wallace's letter or bury it in the back yard. Instead he arranged that some of his papers, along with Wallace's letter, would be presented to the Royal Society. A year later Darwin published On the Origin of Species, and the rest is history! Today the vast majority of scientists recognize evolution by natural selection as the primary explanation for the diversity of life on Earth.

At ExploreLearning, we have a strong suite of Gizmos focused on evolution. The Rainfall and Bird Beaks Gizmo illustrates how rainfall affects the finch populations that Darwin observed on the Galapagos Islands. Natural Selection allows you to play the role of a bird, hunting for moths camouflaged on the bark of a tree. Evolution: Mutation and Selection and Evolution: Natural and Artificial Selection show a population of beetles that adapt to the color of the leaves they are resting on. Microevolution explores gene frequencies in a population of parrots, and Human Evolution - Skull Analysis allows you to measure and compare the skulls of our own ancient ancestors.

So celebrate Darwin Day, and enjoy the Gizmos!

Posted by ExploreLearning at 02:59 PM in Current Affairs, Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

September 08, 2008

High Energy Rap

The Large Hadron Collider is about to get cranked up. It will look at how the universe formed by analyzing particle collisions.

Scientists say the collider is finally ready for an attempt to circulate a beam of protons the whole way around the 17-mile tunnel. The test, which takes place Wednesday, is a major step toward seeing if the the immense experiment will provide new information about the way the universe works.

Scientists are excited about the new research tool, but even more people have gotten excited over a rap video that was created by a woman who worked as a student researcher at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at Michigan State University. That is where I earned my Ph.D., but as I recall...I didn't do much rap back then. I don't think I'll be starting now :)

Click here for the story of the rap video.
Click here for the YouTube page (full size video).
Click here to learn more about the Large Hadron Collider.

Posted by Raman at 01:42 PM in Fun/Humor, Science (Real World) | Permalink

February 06, 2008

Things are heating up

As the outdoor temperature fluctuates in central Virginia this time of year, it could easily be 26 degrees fahrenheit, but today's forecast is closer to 26 degrees celsius!  Is it unusually warm where you are?  This may be a good time to review why we have seasons, or view seasonal changes in 3D, or maybe even investigate the greenhouse effect.

Posted by ExploreLearning at 10:56 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

March 02, 2007

Lunar Eclipse on March 3, 2007

The first of two total lunar eclipses in 2007 is unique in that it is partly visible from every continent around the world. Here in Virginia it will occur at the same time as the moonrise. I'll try to get a picture if we have clear skies.

Several Gizmos can help you understand an eclipse. These include the Penumbra Effect Gizmo, the 2D Eclipse Gizmo, and the 3D Eclipse Gizmo.

More information about eclipses can be found at these sites:
NASA Eclipse Home Page
Lunar Eclipse Computer

Posted by Raman at 03:39 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

November 08, 2006

Mercury Transit

Every so often Mercury will be between the Earth and the Sun such that it is visible from the Earth. That is happening today and won't happen again until May 9, 2016!

For more information you can visit the Wikipedia article that discusses the transit.

Posted by Raman at 10:07 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

October 16, 2006

Using Seismographs To Look For Explosions

Investigating_seismographWhen you think about a seismometer (or seismograph) an earthquake is often the first thing you think about. In the real world seismometers have several uses. In recent news scientists throughout the world were trying to determine if a nuclear weapon was detonated in North Korea.

This picture shows data from multiple seismometers which scientists analyzed in an effort to understand the location and magnitude of the underground explosion.

To gain a greater understanding of what scientists try to do when looking at all those lines you can use our Earthquake Gizmos.

BBC News: Underground nuclear testing
Earthquake: Recording Station Gizmo
Earthquake: Determination of Epicenter Gizmo

Posted by Raman at 10:15 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

August 28, 2006

Pluto demoted

Well the verdict is in, and Pluto is out. In a vote last Tuesday, the International Astronomical Union voted on a new definition of "planet" that would exclude Pluto and other icy objects in the outer parts of the solar system. Ironically, the new definition stipulates that a planet has "cleared the neighborhood around its orbit," which would exclude the gas giant Neptune as well (Pluto's orbit  overlaps the orbit of Neptune). However, Neptune was officially reinstated as a planet by special footnote. Pluto (and other newly discovered bodies, such as Xena and Sedna) is now a "dwarf planet."

Unlike textbooks, ExploreLearning was able to respond to the change quickly by adding a few notes to our Solar System Explorer Gizmo. We left Pluto in because it has such an interesting orbit, but made sure we referred to it as a "dwarf".

On the topic of planets, check out our brand-new Orbital Motion - Kepler's Laws Gizmo. In this spectacular new Gizmo, you can change the position, mass, and velocity of a planet, then observe its motion around a central star. It was a great surprise to me that almost any starting configuration results in a stable orbit - things don't gradually spiral in to the star as you might expect. Just as Kepler did in the 17th century, you will discover that the planetary orbits conform to some very interesting laws.

Posted by krosenkrantz at 10:29 AM in Science (Real World), Site Announcements | Permalink

August 16, 2006

Mercury, Venus, and the Rest?

thumbnail image of Solar System Explorer Gizmo As a student I only had to remember the name of nine planets in our solar system. I managed to remember all. Currently almost 2,500 astronomers are meeting in Prague and working on a definition for what a planet really is. There is a chance we could end up with twelve planets, dozens more, or maybe just eight! If changes occur we'll be sure to update our Solar System Explorer Gizmo the following day.

Posted by Raman at 09:12 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

August 11, 2006

Electrons and Northern Lights

Physicist James A. Van Allen passed away earlier this week. During his very long career he did a wealth of research in magnetospheric physics. The Van Allen belts were named after him in 1958.
One of the highlights of this early research was the 1953 discovery of electrons believed to be the driving force behind the northern and southern lights.
For more information go ahead and read the Wikipedia entry about his career.

Posted by Raman at 02:50 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

March 28, 2006

Solar Eclipse Reminder

Just a reminder, the total solar eclipse is on Wednesday, March 29! The eclipse will be visible from Eastern Brazil, Africa, and Central Asia, from 8:34 to 11:48 GMT (that's 3:34-6:68 EST). To see the eclipse, check out the Exploratorium eclipse page

And don't forget to check out the 3D Eclipse Gizmo to learn more about why an eclipse happens.

Posted by krosenkrantz at 12:39 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 20, 2006

Vernal Equinox ahoy!

The vernal equinox occurs today (Monday) at 1:26 pm EST (6:26 pm GMT). This is considered to be a "day of balance" around the world — every location on Earth has approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night on the equinox.

There are many interesting questions to explore around the equinox and seasons in general.  For example:

  • Why do seasons occur in the first place?
  • What are the seasons like in different locations on Earth?
  • What would the seasons be like if the Earth's axis were more tilted, or less tilted? (actual tilt is 23.5 degrees)

We have several Gizmos to help study these questions and more, including some Gizmos in 3D (very cool stuff):

So, if you're in the northern hemisphere... Happy Spring from ExploreLearning!

Posted by Dan at 12:40 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 13, 2006

Eclipses Are Coming

March is the month for eclipses in 2006, and two are coming soon.

Tomorrow night, March 14, there will be a penumbral lunar eclipse at moonrise, visible from the east coast to the midwest (the eclipse will be over before moonrise on the west coast). The effect will be very subtle, as the full moon will only be partially shaded by earth's penumbra. Look for the full moon to be slightly less vibrant than normal.

On March 29, a spectacular total solar eclipse will be visible across much of the Earth, although unfortunately not from North America. The moon's shadow will first hit Brazil, then move across the Atlantic into West Africa (Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria). The shadow will then cross the Sahara, pass through northern Egypt into the Mediterranean, and then move across Turkey, Kazakhstan, Russia, and finally Mongolia.

For more details about the coming eclipses, try the NASA Eclipse Home Page. You can also watch a live webcast on the Exploratorium website

At ExploreLearning, we have also gotten into the eclipse spirit with two new eclipse-related Gizmos. To learn how eclipses happen and why they are so rare, check out 3D Eclipse. The Penumbra Effect Gizmo demonstrates how a partial shadow, or penumbra, is formed.

Happy eclipse hunting!

Posted by krosenkrantz at 01:48 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 23, 2005

Cow Tipping: Torque in the Real World

Cow_tip_smallIn the next month about 30 new Gizmos will be showing up on the ExploreLearning web site. One of these deals with torque and moment of inertia. Many students often think that such things have no real application, but a friend of mine recently sent me a link that takes a rather entertaining view of the subject - cow tipping!

Link: Cow-tipping myth hasn't got a leg to stand on

Posted by Raman at 09:38 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

November 07, 2005

Herbie Goes High Tech

HerbgardenPhillips Design has developed a prototype of a kitchen Herbarium that can automatically change its growing conditions based on what herb you have placed inside it. Read more about the interesting design concept here (scroll about halfway down the page), which uses RFID tags placed inside seed/soil packets.

The Herbarium might be a useful real-world example to discuss in your science classroom if you are using our Seed Germination Gizmo.

Posted by Paul Cholmsky at 02:34 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 25, 2005

Scotty's Transparent Aluminum

For those Star Trek fans out there you'll remember that Scotty traded the secret of transparent aluminum in an effort to save whales on Earth. It looks as though that material is now being made here on our planet.

A transparent material tough enough to withstand armour piercing rounds is being tested by the US Air Force.

Aluminium oxynitride, known commercially as ALON, could replace the existing bullet-proof glass on military vehicles, which is heavier and less tough.

"The substance itself is light years ahead of glass," says Lieutenant Joseph La Monica, head of the transparent armour research project at the Air Force research laboratory in Ohio.

ALON is a ceramic compound made from aluminium, oxygen and nitrogen, and has similar optical and structural properties to sapphire ...

So much science fiction becomes fact. I'm still waiting for a transporter :)

Posted by Raman at 09:00 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 19, 2005

Bone-eating snot-flower

From an article on BBC News, "A new species of marine worm that lives off whale bones on the sea floor has been described by scientists. The creature was found on a minke carcass in relatively shallow water close to Tjarno Marine Laboratory on the Swedish coast."

The new species has been named Osedax mucofloris, which literally translates to bone-eating snot-flower.

Names like that are fun. Gizmos never seem to end up with cool names like that.

BBC News Story

Posted by Raman at 01:19 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

September 02, 2005

EL Team Member Pens Science Scope Article

Congratulations are in order for ExploreLearning's Science Curriculum Specialist, Kurt Rosenkrantz, whose article "Celestial Mechanics" featured in the September 2005 journal Science Scope published by the National Science Teachers Association.

Kurt's article describes how simple instruments can by used to find your position on Earth.

Great work, Kurt. (And if I'm ever lost, I know whom to call for help.)

Posted by ExploreLearning at 11:16 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 01, 2005

Not Doing Copernicus Proud

More sobering news regarding problems with basic scientific literacy in our culture, a white paper (PDF) on the Public Understanding of Science reveals the following:

Only half of US adults know that the Earth rotates around the Sun once each year (NSB, 2000). One in five US adults say that the Sun rotates around the Earth, and 14 percent of US adults think that the Earth rotates around the Sun once each day (see Figure 2). A comparative study with Britain in 1988 found that only one-third of British adults understood that the Earth rotates around the Sun once each year … The level of adult understanding of the solar system shows little change over the last decade.

It's ironic that at one time the work of Copernicus et al was suppressed by those in power because ideas like the earth revolving around the sun were so revolutionary and presented a threat to the established view. Now, centuries later, the concepts of celestial mechanics are readily available and are universally taught, yet 1 in 5 US adults still hold a 15th Century understanding of our solar system.

On a positive note, anyone taking even the briefest look at the Rotation/Revolution of Near-Earth Planets Gizmo will come away with a clear understanding that the Earth does indeed rotate around the Sun.

Posted by ExploreLearning at 09:25 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 31, 2005

Want Enhanced Spatial Memory? Eat Oatmeal

From the Washington Post:

In this month's edition of the journal Physiology and Behavior, Tufts University psychologists report on two experiments they conducted on 60 schoolchildren. For breakfast one day, the researchers fixed the youngsters oatmeal made with milk and then had them take a battery of classroom tests. A week later, the students ate Cap'n Crunch cereal with milk and then were tested. During a third week, they skipped breakfast one morning and just took the tests.

Simply eating breakfast produced better test results than missing the morning meal -- findings that echo results of numerous other studies. But the researchers also discovered that boys and girls performed better on the tests when they ate oatmeal than when they had Cap'n Crunch. (The research was funded by Quaker Oats, maker of both products used in the study.)

After eating a bowl of oatmeal, boys and girls aged 9 to 11 showed enhanced spatial memory, a skill that helps with drawing and doing puzzles. Spatial memory can help not only with art, but also with geography as well as some technical skills used in math and science. Girls, but not boys, also displayed better short-term memory after eating oatmeal. [Emphasis is mine.]

Meanwhile, if you or one of your students want to skip breakfast (oatmeal or otherwise) with the reasoning that it's part of the new super low calorie diet that'll have you living to age 125, well, consider this:

Starving -- officially known as caloric restriction -- may make worms and mice live up to 50 percent longer but it will not help humans live super-long lives, two biologists argued on Sunday.

They said their mathematical model showed that a lifetime of low-calorie dieting would only extend human life span by about 7 percent, unlike smaller animals, whose life spans are affected more by the effects of starvation (Yahoo News).

OK. Now I just need to find a way to make oatmeal more palatable, so I can start eating it for breakfast. I find it rather bland. Any suggestions?

Posted by ExploreLearning at 10:30 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

August 30, 2005

Science Literacy Lags

Sobering news regarding the state of "scientific literacy" in the United States:

Dr. Miller, 63, a political scientist who directs the Center for Biomedical Communications at the medical school, studies how much Americans know about science and what they think about it. His findings are not encouraging.

While scientific literacy has doubled over the past two decades, only 20 to 25 percent of Americans are "scientifically savvy and alert," he said in an interview. Most of the rest "don't have a clue." At a time when science permeates debates on everything from global warming to stem cell research, he said, people's inability to understand basic scientific concepts undermines their ability to take part in the democratic process (The New York Times).

How true. If you don't know what a cell is, you won't have much to work with as far as the stem cell debate goes.

Now if that isn't sobering enough, how about this? A Tufts University School of Medicine report suggests that most published research findings may be false.

Posted by ExploreLearning at 03:13 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 03, 2005

Fireworks in Space

For those that are enjoying the Fourth of July weekend, be sure to keep an eye on the Deep Impact Mission. A 327 kg 'bullet' will be colliding with a comet late in the evening. What will happen? No one is positive, but hopefully a lot of data will be obtained so we can have a better idea of what comets are made of.

Deep Impact Mission Home Page (NASA)

Posted by Raman at 04:23 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

July 01, 2005

Taking "Real World" Science a Bit Too Far

Generally we applaud cases where teachers make their lessons in science and math analogous to real life situations, but this is taking the science behind combustion and oxidation a wee bit too far …

HOUSTON - A chemistry teacher who was months behind on her car payments gave passing grades to two failing students after asking them to steal her Chevrolet Malibu and burn it so she could collect on its insurance, authorities alleged (Dallas News).

I guess it's time for us to get busy making a combustion Gizmo.

Posted by ExploreLearning at 10:14 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 21, 2005

Fly me to the Moon...

OK, so the Cosmos-1 won't fly me to the Moon today, but in the future the technology it uses could be the propulsion that could take me to the furthest reaches of our solar system, and maybe beyond.

A solar sail spacecraft is set for launch later today which will perform a very limited test of this new (and straight from science fiction) technology.

Good Luck!

BBC News Story
The Planetary Society
CNN followup story on failure of Cosmos 1

Posted by Raman at 09:12 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

May 25, 2005

To boldly go where no probe has gone before.

Eleven years after the first episode of Star Trek, the Voyager probes were launched. Twenty eight years later Voyager 1 has gone beyond the termination shock and is flirting with deep space where the solar winds are around two million km/h. More than 10,000 days of travelling through our solar system. Wow. I'll bet the Earth looks very small from way out there.


Posted by Raman at 08:43 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

April 06, 2005

The little rovers that could

Originally scheduled for just three months of operations, the two Mars rovers have been operating for 14 months, and have recently been scheduled for another 18 months of adventure.

Posted by Raman at 03:48 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

March 30, 2005

"Feel Good" Education Story of the Year (A Must Read)

If you want an incredibly uplifting story of teacher and student achievement, please read Wired's "La Vida Robot," the story of a team of undocumented Mexican immigrants at a West Phoenix high school who competed in a contest to build an underwater robot that could survey a model of a sunken submarine. (And won!)

I don't even want to pull a quote from the story, as you need to read the whole thing for yourself.

Posted by ExploreLearning at 11:31 AM in Edu/Tech, Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 25, 2005

Summer Vacation in Jurassic Park


Summer is still a few months away, but when I read this story, all I could think about was the Jurassic Park movie from a few years ago. I'm sure that the park won't be ready this summer, but maybe one day ;)

Dinosaur experts have extracted samples of what appear to be soft tissues from a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil bone. T. rex is perhaps the most famous dino and Montana has yielded excellent fossil specimens.

I wonder how a T. rex cell would compare to a human cell?

"Eventually, you do plan to have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour, right?" -- Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park (1993)

Posted by Raman at 10:01 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

March 02, 2005

Push and Pull: Fans in Action

Picture of fan cart gizmo The current issue of the The Physics Teacher magazine (March 2005) contained an article about building fan carts for studying Newton's Laws in your classroom. A wealth of studies can be performed in the lab with the carts. If your students need to spend additional time experimenting with the carts feel free to let them explore the Fan Cart Gizmo, which allows you to perform almost every experiment discussed in the article (everything but the torque/angular acceleration experiment).

The Gizmo is a great tool for using during classroom discussions, in your office when students have questions, when you are preparing a quiz or test and want images, or for students in the evening when they are reviewing content at home.

Feel free to explore Newton's Laws with the Fan Cart Gizmo!

The Physics Teacher home page

Posted by Raman at 10:03 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 23, 2005

Fish Science

Picture of bird beak gizmoThe American Association for the Advancement of Science recently held its annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Scientists presented research that shows the shrinking size of fish due to their overexploitation has dire consequences for the recovery of depleted stocks. Fishing drives natural selection for smaller fish that grow more slowly and have reduced reproductive potential.

If you want to learn more about natural selection, take a look at the Rainfall and Bird Beaks Gizmo!

BBC News Story: Fish shrinkage threatens survival

Posted by Raman at 03:59 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

January 14, 2005

Huygens on Titan

As I child I was stuck to the television as I watched the first landing on our moon. Today the Huygens probe has successfully (hopefully) landed on Titan, a moon of Saturn. Science is amazing.

Links of interest:


Posted by Raman at 10:07 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

January 04, 2005

Ten-year-old's Earth Science Knowledge Saves Family

In yet another example of how what we teach and learn in science and math classes has "meaning" in the real world, comes this story of Tilly Smith:

A British girl aged ten saved 100 tourists from the tsunami — thanks to a geography lesson.
Tilly Smith, who studied the huge waves in school two weeks before Christmas, realised a Thai beach was about to be swamped when the tide shot out (The Sun).

Tilly's family, from Surrey, England, was enjoying a day at Maikhao Beach last Sunday when the sea rushed out and began to bubble.

The adults were curious, but Tilly froze in horror.

"Mummy, we must get off the beach now!" she told her mother. "I think there's going to be a tsunami."

The adults didn't understand until Tilly added the magic words: "A tidal wave."

Her warning spread like wildfire. Within seconds, the beach was deserted — and it turned out to be one of the only places along the shores of Phuket where no one was killed or seriously injured (NY Post).

What an amazing story!

Posted by ExploreLearning at 11:02 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (5)

December 21, 2004

Holiday Reading on Bonds

Portrait of Linus PaulingIf you have ever wanted to know everything there is to know about the Nobel Prize winning Linus Pauling, you should visit the Linus Pauling: The Nature of the Chemical Bond web site. The site is extensive, and contains over 800 scanned documents, photographs, audio clips, and video excerpts covering the life and research of Linus Pauling.

I have a feeling this site will keep me busy during the holiday break!

Posted by Raman at 03:11 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

December 07, 2004

Discarded Cell Phone Case = Seed Germination

If you're using our Seed Germination Gizmo in your science classes, an interesting real world tie in can be found in this recent news story as reported by CNN:

Materials company Pvaxx Research & Development, at the request of U.S.-based mobile phone maker Motorola (MOT.N), has come up with a polymer that looks like any other plastic, but which degrades into soil when discarded.

Researchers at the University of Warwick in Britain then helped to develop a phone cover that contains a sunflower seed, which will feed on the nitrates that are formed when the polyvinylalcohol polymer cover turns to waste.

Is that cool or what?

Posted by ExploreLearning at 10:20 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 06, 2004

Collaborative Acid Rain Project

I recently heard about a project for teachers that wish to integrate the web with the classroom to help investigate, and perform research, on a real-world concern - acid rain.

Spring Acid Rain Watch is a collaborative project that involves classes from many regions of the province and the world who communicate using a simple Internet technology. Together, the classes form a team of researchers who share their process, their data and their analysis. The age group aims for 10-14 year olds. Participating teachers can receive technical, scientific and pedagogical help on-line.

The project will run from January 31 to April 30 2005. Interested teachers can register and their class can become part of this team. More information of the project can be found on the project web site. (the site can also be viewed in French!)

Since you will need to know about acidity when performing measurements for acid rain, feel free to drop by the pH Analysis Gizmo where you get to test the pH of many common substances.

Posted by Raman at 04:22 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

October 15, 2004

Mars Rovers Still Roving!

Although they aren't getting the press that they were getting in the summer time, Spirit and Opportunity are still operating on Mars! Both were expected to last for 90 Martian days, but have been operating for three times that long. Wow.

Mars Exploration Rover Mission Site

Posted by Raman at 09:15 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

October 04, 2004

Soaring to Space

SpaceShipOne soared in to space today to claim the Ansari X-prize as the first private space ship to make it to space twice within two days carrying a mass equivalent to three people.

For more information:

BBC News story
CNN News story

Posted by Raman at 11:58 AM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 28, 2004

District Administration Magazine: NCLB & Science in the news

In District Administration magazine's cover story last month, writer Rebecca Sausner focuses on the "next wave" of No Child Left Behind requirements for states and districts in the coming year: those related to science. In the article titled "Ready or Not," she emphasizes the challenge states face in developing and administering large-scale assessments that effectively measure students' scientific abilities. The story explains why science is different from reading and how states are working to create challenging standards and methods to test for true conceptual understanding.

The article goes on to say that

Educators from the Secretary of Education on down say inquiry-based learning is probably the best way to teach science, and it follows that hands-on experiments may also be the best way to assess students' understanding of concepts and the scientific process. And while hands-on science testing can be done on a small scale, it's cost prohibitive for an entire state...'But by using simulation you can simulate those experiences and give students the chance to demonstrate what they know,' says Assistant Secretary of Education Susan Sclafani...Aside from testing students on a deeper level of science understanding, computer-based simulations will generate zettabytes of data about how students solve problems, another boon to the science education community.

"From an assessment perspective, anything you do on a computer you can keep track of--how people solve problems, how many times they rotate an object, how they collect data," says David Kumar, professor of science education at Florida Atlantic University. "You can collect a lot of that kind of data, which would be useful psychometrics."

District Administration notes that most of the money for research in this area comes from the National Science Foundation (NSF). We at ExploreLearning should know because we have a Phase 2 SBIR grant from the NSF to develop a new approach for assessing learning in math/science courses. We are currently designing a revolutionary new product that uses Gizmo-like simulations to measure conceptual understanding and the ability to reason in a scientific manner -- using this product, we are confident that precisely the kind of assessment envisioned in the "Ready or Not" article can be scaled to large student audiences in a cost-effective manner.

To read the article, which includes quotes from NSTA Executive Director Gerry Wheeler, go to http://www.districtadministration.com/page.cfm?p=832.

Posted by Michael Latsko at 05:02 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 07, 2004

Venus Dances and Transits

Venus will be moving between us (here on Earth) and the Sun tomorrow. It will be visible in many parts of the world. For more information you can read this BBC article (and they have links to many other web sites).

For visibility regions, visit this NASA site.

Posted by Raman at 10:46 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink

May 14, 2004

Double Helix, or Twisted Ladder?

Scientists are constantly trying to use alternative methods and simplification to explain science to students, politicians, and the public. With science becoming more complex every day, this is a constant struggle.

"Wieman said he had reduced the number of snoozers at his lectures by using cartoons and a toy machine gun that fires pingpong balls (mimicking light particles) at a basketball (an atom)."

Read the complete LA Times Story for a bit more on how scientists try to explain things like string theory, spectropolarimetry, and DNA.

Posted by Raman at 04:57 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 11, 2004

One Mile on Mars

Spirit and Opportunity continue to explore Mars. While travelling to Columbia Hills, Spirit passed the one mile mark. Simply amazing when you think about it.

Mars Exploration Home Page

Posted by Raman at 02:10 PM in Science (Real World) | Permalink | Comments (0)