High Tech Planetarium Takes Us to the Stars

Williams College Host Planetarium Show this Fall

Williams College in Williamstown, MA, invites families to experience the wonders of our universe at their Milham Planetarium, located inside the Old Hopkins Observatory at Williams College. Astronomy students at the college will host free shows for the public on Friday evenings at 8pm, September 12-December 5, 2014.

The Hopkins Observatory, built in 1836-38 by the first professor of astronomy at Williams College, Albert Hopkins, is the oldest extant observatory in the United States.

Audiences will be treated to shows hosted by Williams College students from their high-precision Zeiss Skymaster ZKP3/B opto-mechanical planetarium projector, installed in April 2005.  The Zeiss Skymaster is capable of demonstrating phenomena including: retrograde motions of the planets, phases of the moon, the varying temperatures/colors of stars, locations of neighboring galaxies, the mythological figures and zodiacal signs ascribed to constellations, the Southern Hemisphere’s sky, comets, artificial satellites, and much more.

For reservations (recommended) contact Michele Rech at 413-597-2188 or email at mcr4@williams.edu. Others will be admitted as space permits. Large groups should call for special appointments. Shows will last about 50 minutes.

The Hopkins Observatory is on a small hill on the north side of Main Street east of Spring Street in Williamstown and just east of Lawrence Hall Drive, on which planetarium patrons share parking with the Williams College Museum of Art. A campus map showing the Hopkins Observatory’s location can be found on the www.williams.edu or at 829 Main Street, Williamstown, MA.

- Submitted by Noelle Lemoine


Science Cafes Provide Unique Community-Based Learning Opportunity

Non-traditional Setting makes Science Accessible

Science Cafes, a grassroots movement to open science to everyone and to bring presentations and engaging conversations into casual community settings, have come to Western MA. Here we feature two that take place on Mondays in the Pioneer Valley…

For families living in western Massachusetts, there are lots of opportunities to learn about science topics present within our communities. Local museums offer endless science-related exhibits, and explorations of the biodiversity and natural history present within our local landscape take place year-round (we’re hardy in these parts!). However, opportunities to interact with actual scientists – the experts and researchers who make discoveries – are far fewer and further between. But now, thanks to two local Science Cafes, students can do just that!

In Hadley, the OEB Science Cafe brings monthly events to Esselon Cafe on Mondays. Run by graduate students and faculty of the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology program at UMass (hence the OEB title), the cafe’s topics follow along the theme of evolutionary biology and teach participants about topics ranging from the similarities between ants and humans to the way that a bird’s brain learns songs. Though the cafes are designed with adults in mind, self-directed teens and tweens with an interest in biology are welcome and can certainly learn lots by attending. Each OEB Science Cafe takes place from 6-7pm, and is free!

In Amherst, the SciTech Cafe meets at Amherst Brewing Company on the 4th Monday of each month. Covering topics within the realm of science and technology – a vast field, the cafe’s next two upcoming topics are the science of alien worlds (also known as space technology) and the science of sleep. Each event will include a talk by an expert, as well as time for questions and even a game!

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Monarch Butterflies: The Life & Science

Monarch Butterflies: Migratory Patterns & Citizen Scientists Opportunities

Tagged Monarch Butterfly

What to organize a Monarch Butterfly tagging effort? Monarch Watch has instructions and kits with tags for tracking.

Monarch butterflies make perhaps the most epic of all migratory journeys. Though their long trek can sometimes take up to four generations to complete, it spans an almost unbelievably large portion of North America. The butterflies begin high in the mountains of southwestern Mexico, and, come springtime, gradually work their way as far north as Saskatchewan, Canada and as far east as Maine and the southernmost parts of New Brunswick. The distinctive black-and-orange butterflies lay their eggs along the way, and depend on the availability of milkweed-filled habitat throughout their journey. While no one butterfly makes the round trip from Mexico to Maine and back again, the pattern of monarch movement across the continent is incredibly sophisticated and, at times, beautiful.

Because the monarch needs such specific habitat – young monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed – the opportunity to stop and lay eggs has become much more limited than it once was. Due to human development of land and genetically engineered farming techniques, meadows with milkweed can be rare, and the butterflies must try much harder in order to complete the full cycle of their journey. In order to track the changes in population and the preferred landing grounds of monarchs, a number of Citizen Scientist initiatives have been developed. All around the United States (with the exception of states west of the Rockies), butterflies are being tracked and studied – and your family can help as a citizen scientist…

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Learn About Local Food & Chemistry through Fermentation

The Art & Science of Fermentation: Lessons in Local Food Preservation

There’s lots of space for learning about food science when you turn your kitchen into a fermentation station!

This time of year, it’s so easy to forget how badly we longed for crisp pickling cucumbers and fresh local tomatoes during the winter – sometimes, it all comes in at once, and it’s all we can do to keep the bounty of our gardens and farm shares from going to waste. Gardening is, of course, a great way to expose kids to cycles of growth and the joy of producing your own food, and the cooking that eventually follows. A solidly planted garden brings with it a myriad of other kitchen-based learning experiences (measuring math, recipe literacy, and lots of fine motor skill development for small folks). But what do you do when you’ve cooked all you can eat and your self-sufficient kiddos have already mastered the ins and outs of your kitchen? Start fermenting! Read the rest of this entry »

Become a Citizen Scientist to Track & Document Bee Movements & Learn Lots Along the Way

You’re Invited! Help halt the demise of these important pollinators!

While our surroundings continue to bloom, take advantage of the late spring blossoms and the creatures that they attract by participating in some citizen science projects! Pollinator species of all kinds are declining in numbers as a result of environmentally unfriendly practices (like habitat destruction and herbicide use, among others), and by helping to collect data about pollinators, environmentally conscious folks of all ages can contribute to current efforts to support populations and ensure that they continue to exist for years to come.

In particular, families can use their citizen science efforts to help study populations of bees. Loved and celebrated for their role in pollinating some food crops that we enjoy, bees play a crucial role in ecosystems all around the world. This summer, instead of fleeing at the sight of a bee, families can practice photography skills, learn to identify insect species, and contribute data to studies of bee population distribution and the causes of population decline.

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STEM Opportunities at The Great Holyoke Brick Race

The Great Holyoke Brick Race: June 7th, 2014

Intergenerational collaborations can provide young students with hands-on lessons in the basic science of physics and principles of design at the 4th annual Great Holyoke Brick Race happening on Saturday, June 7th!

Take on the coolest gravity based physics experiment around at the Great Holyoke Brick Race!  Similar to the Boy Scouts of America’s traditional Pinewood Derby, the event requires that participants create their own miniature car to race down a specific track.  However, unlike Pinewood Derby, the cars are not wooden – the main piece of material is a brick!

Sponsored by Paper City Studios and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the race is open to participants of any age and from anywhere in the world (No need to be a Holyoke native!).  Entries can be created by individuals, or by teams of any size, allowing for lots of intergenerational collaboration and knowledge pooling.

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100+ Science Books to Support STEM Learning at Home & in the Classroom

Science Books to Support Self-Directed Learning & Interests

Experience is always the best teacher – and this is especially true for children! However, when kids are eager to learn about a topic, the experiences available might leave some space for supplementation. After you’ve explored the woods, caught critters, messed about with materials, and exercised all five of your senses together, it might be time to turn to print materials in order to help kids add specific language and detail to their understanding of scientific topics. And, in addition to being filled with lots of useful and fascinating information, science-themed books give children valuable practice reading and interpreting non-fiction material – a skill that will allow them to develop strong skills for self-teaching and answering their own questions.

Whatever topic children are learning about, there are age- and reading level-appropriate materials available. And, thanks to the creativity of children’s authors and illustrators, they’re not only informative but engaging and filled with photographs, diagrams, drawings, and other visuals that children in comprehending text. Read the rest of this entry »

Science on Screen Series at Amherst Cinema

The Law of Physics and Groundhog Day
Science on Screen Series at Amherst Cinema

What does the tradition of Groundhog Day have to do with learning science? Well, when you throw in a classic Bill Murray film, the three things combine for an interesting examination of time loops and the physics behind such a concept!

As part of the Science on Screen series, Amherst Cinema will screening Groundhog Day on Monday, February 3rd at 7pm. A comedic classic, the film features Murray as a TV weatherman sent out on his least favorite annual assignment – covering the emergence of Punxsutawney Phil from his hole. Much to his horror, Murrary’s character gets snowed in after the event, and wakes to find himself in a time loop where he experiences Groundhog Day over and over and over. Eventually, he is forced to get creative with his extra lopping time and works to become more in touch with himself.

Along with the film, the event will feature a discussion with Amherst College physics professor Dr. Kannan Jagannathan. Using the film as a reference, Jagannathan will discuss time travel’s presence in fiction and the roots of such stories in physics principles (or not!). While there is a place in science for examining the potential for time travel, there is much more space for examining the rules of physics broken within plots that include time traveling adventures. Jagannathan will point out instances of such rule breaking in the film, and will help viewers to understand Einstein’s theory of relativity and the ways in which it applies to the instances from the film.  Read the rest of this entry »

Put Some STE(A)M into Your Valentines!

Put Some STE(A)M into Your Valentines!

This Valentine’s Day, spread friendship and kindness throughout your community by participating in Hilltown Families’ 6th annual Handmade Valentine Swap! Participation is easy – all you have to do is sign up, make ten handmade valentines and drop them in the mail, and you’ll receive ten handmade cards in return. Not only is the event an opportunity for families to connect with others in their community, participation allows families the opportunity to be creative together – an activity that can lead not only to creative-free play, but can also offer hands-on learning in fields like physics, chemistry, geometry and cultural studies!  Read on…

Science & Fun of Chain Reactions

Dominoes, Popsicle Sticks & Rube Goldberg Machines
The Science (and Fun!) of Chain Reactions

There are lots of concepts that children learn that involve chain reactions. The interrelatedness of nature is, for example, entirely dependent on an intricately woven set of relationships. When one thing changes – the availability of a resource or the population of an animal, perhaps – everything else is affected. Human populations experience a similar phenomenon – such relationships are all around us! However, the abstract nature of interrelated relationships can be hard for kids to grasp. Explaining difficult concepts using metaphor or visual representations can he helpful, but what about something that kids can touch and see themselves – something that perfectly illustrates the idea of interrelatedness and chain reactions, but happens much more quickly than chain reactions do in nature or within human society?  Read more (and see) about chain reactions… you’ll be amazed!

Snow Studies: Crystals & Frost

Snow Studies: Crystals & Frost

With chilly temperatures and icicles, we’re having the perfect winter for some great snow studies this year! The white coating that covers our landscape here in New England not only offers opportunities for winter sports, but it is also a great creative medium that can support science studies too!  The chemistry behind snowflakes and frost are just waiting to be discovered!

CRYSTALS

Kids can use snow, ice, and frost to learn about crystals – a concept that they’ll eventually encounter when they study chemistry, but will understand much better if they have some firsthand experience with them. Snowflakes are a beautiful form of crystals, each one showing off a microscopic symmetrical design of spears, points, indents, and cutouts. Be sure to read the book Snowflake Bentley (by the talented Mary Azarian), a true story about the Vermont man whose curiosity about snowflakes lead him to be the first to photograph them! It would be pretty tricky to make snowflakes at home, but with a magnifying glass and a small square of black fabric, you can take a semi-close look at them when you venture outside. See if you can identify a difference between the shape and size of snow flakes and the snowy clumps that fall during each snowstorm we get… Read the rest of this entry »

Science and the Sea Podcast

Science and the Sea Podcast
Understanding of the Sea and its Myriad Life Forms

What’s the longest creature in the sea? Why do clownfish swim in groups? What makes tsunamis different from tidal waves? Discover the answers to these questions – and many more! – via your iPod with the Science and the Sea podcast.

Recorded as a radio show, Science and the Sea is available to aspiring oceanographers, climatologists, and marine biologists on the web or via podcast subscription. While the podcast’s most popular episodes (on topics like bootlace worms, sea grasses, and the ocean’s sponge-like qualities) are always available, Science and the Sea offers only ten episodes at a time – but each week brings a new episode! The topics range in complexity and specificity from horseshoe crabs to challenges in tracking storms over the Atlantic, and can appeal to audiences of curious upper elementary students to adults well versed in all things ocean-related… Read the rest of this entry »

Citizen Scientist Opportunity: IceWatch

IceWatch: Citizen Scientist Project Exams Ecosystems via Ice

In addition to the sophisticated data that climatologists collect, some of the most valuable information helping to inform studies of climate change can be collected by citizen scientists! By helping scientists to identify changes in the beginning and ending of the coldest part of the winter, citizen scientists can become a part of studies of the climate changes taking place in regions all over the country.

This winter, families can contribute to climate studies by participating in IceWatch, a citizen science initiative that works to collect information about the ice-in and ice-out times of various bodies of water across the continent. By regularly observing a lake, pond, river, or bay, families can help to inform scientists about the length of the cold season which, when compared to data from past years, can help to determine the amount by which climate change has progressed regionally.

In order to participate, families of citizen scientists must first identify a local body of water to observe. The best places to observe are areas that are largely unaffected by human interference, such as dams, industrial outlets, or agricultural operations (such as large-scale livestock watering or fish farming). Here in western Massachusetts, many rivers and streams are dammed, but not all are actively being used for hydropower – meaning that they may still be suitable for observation. A little bit of research into the role of a dam up or downstream from your desired observation point can help to determine whether or not the body of water is affected by human interference while gaining a better sense of your local surroundings… Read the rest of this entry »

Literrariums: The Art & Science of Story Terrariums

The Art & Science of Story Terrariums

Creating a literrarium can engage the spirit of creative free play by interpreting the scene from a favorite work of literature or picture book in miniature while exploring the field of science and biology in its planning and care.

The intersections of science and literature are perhaps endless – stories can help to teach kids about everything from weather to atomic structure in an interesting, creative, and thought-provoking way. However, it is not often that a combination of literature and science results in hands-on gardening experience that serves as a beautiful and unique home decoration and reminder of a favorite story.

Literrariums – a combination of the words “literature” and “terrarium” – do exactly this! Also called story terrariums, literrariums depict scenes or represent themes from stories in miniature. A literrarium might be a three-dimensional representation of a favorite children’s book illustration, a woodland scene including important items or characters from a book, or a landscape showing a story’s setting. Whatever they represent, literrariums include lush greenery, as well as natural objects and other small-scale details that complete the scene – meaning that a literrarium project offers lots of space for creatively conveying the main ideas of a story while simultaneously learning how to effectively engineer the plants, mosses, and soil that may live inside.

Such a project has many uses.  [Continue reading...]

Calling All Budding Botanists: Audio Tour at Lyman Conservatory

Calling All Budding Botanists…
Smith College’s Lyman Conservatory Offers Audio Tour for Kids & Adults!

The audio tour can be tailored to visitors’ particular interests, and there are separate tours available for kids and adults. The kids tour contains thirty different recordings spread out through the nine differently themed houses of the conservatory.

With winter approaching, fall is transitioning from a brightly colored celebration of cooler weather to a chilly, shadowy, hunkered-down, hollowed-out version of its former self. While the change in seasons is fascinating to watch, it’s not unreasonable to long for greener surroundings. Luckily, Smith College’s Lyman Conservatory in Northampton has just what you need to enjoy a day full of bright, summer-style plant life!

With ten different indoor exhibits to explore, the learning possibilities offered by the conservatory are endless. Tours are available to large groups of visitors, but families and individuals are welcome to visit during the conservatory’s regular hours to explore the hundreds of different plants housed there.

Despite the lack of human tour guides for smaller groups of visitors, tours are still available! Throughout the conservatory are quick response (QR) codes which, when scanned by a smart phone, generate an audio recording of information about a particular climate or type of plant. Visitors who don’t have smart phones can rent audio tour wands (which serve the same function) for $1 per person… Read the rest of this entry »

Sing About Science and Math

University of Washington’s Sing About Science and Math Project: Songs for Teaching, Learning & Fun

For many young learners, rhythm and repetition can be a very effective way of learning new words and remembering the names of things. Children easily learn commonly sung songs with lyrics of all kinds, and we use their ability to learn lyrics as a way to share information. Take the ABC’s for example – it’s a song that we use to teach the letters of the English alphabet, it’s fun and easy to sing, and matching the names of letters to different parts of the rhythm helps to support children in remembering the order that the go in.

Songs don’t just have to be used to convey basic ideas to the youngest of learners, though – there are educational songs for kids of all ages and about all kinds of things! The University of Washington’s Sing About Science and Math Project offers an online database of over 7,000 songs that cover an immense variety of topics in technology, biology, environmental science, physics, chemistry, math, engineering, and medicine. The database, which has been growing since 2004, includes tunes for kids of all ages – meaning there are songs about the periodic table for kindergarteners, high school sophomores, graduate students, and grandparents, too, like this one by They Might Be Giants:

The site’s search function allows for parents and educators (and older students) to search by more than just topic… Read the rest of this entry »

Community Service: An Alternative to Halloween Candy

Community Service & Hands-On Learning as Alternatives to Candy Consumption

Halloween candy can be donated or repurposed for educational and scientific value by donating to members of the military deployed overseas to candy science experiments…

After the magic of Halloween has ended and bits of costumes have been strewn about the house, kids are left with fond memories and gigantic piles of candy. While the candy can be of moderate educational value, it primarily serves as an unnecessary dietary supplement that, if well-rationed, can hang around the house for months to come. As much as most children love to eat candy, health-conscious parents may not want the collected treats to hang around and be consumed. Never fear! There are lots and lots of alternatives to Halloween as it is most often celebrated…

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STEMBite: Bite Sized Videos Supporting STEM Education

STEMBite: Snack-Sized Science Videos

Add some science to these hot summer days with STEMBite, a YouTube channel that offers snack-size videos focused on topics in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and the things in our everyday lives that they are related to. Most of the videos are between one and a half and two minutes long, and are shot from the perspective of the narrator using Google Glass, who explores a different topic, item, and/or surroundings in each one.

Interesting topics include the form and function of animal adaptations and evolution (Form, Function, and Chickens), the physics of sound waves and the concept’s application to shower time singing (Physics of Singing in the Shower), the science and design behind the barcodes found on mass-produced items and price tags in stores (Barcodes), and many others STEM topics.

While most of the topics addressed in the videos are best for older students (grade 4 and above), the videos are short and use fairly simple terms to explain each idea. Younger students may absorb less than an older student would while watching, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t learn at all! Perusing the channel might be a great way to help kids develop curiosity in parts of science that they may not discover on their own – like simple machines or light diffusion. The narrator’s fun tone and the sometimes silly activities that he does help to draw kids in, and the examination of everyday objects helps to provide ways for students to see how each topic applies in their own lives. Try viewing videos related to some of the topics that your child studied in school last year, or ones covering some of the topics that they might encounter once they return in the fall. Not sure what they might be learning? Contact your school for a copy of the district’s curriculum frameworks, or access the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for science online at  www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/current.html.

DIY Tabletop Biosphere

Tabletop Biosphere
Summer Lessons in Biology

biosphere-day-4Looking for lessons in biology this summer with your kids?  Try making your very one tabletop biosphere!

What is a biosphere? Planet earth is a biosphere, an enclosed, self-regulating system with no intervention from outside the sphere.  And while sounding like something out of a science fiction novel, human-made biospheres exist on large scales (i.e. Biosphere 2 in Arizona) and on small scales, like in a jar on your windowsill!

To learn how biosphere work, you can create your own enclosed ecosystem in the form of a “tabletop biosphere” with some basic supplies and a trip to a local pond this summer with your kids.  DIY biospheres are both fun to construct, and can help youth to make connections between the processes and changes occurring in their small-scale biosphere with those occurring on a larger scale all over planet earth.

Everything within the biosphere is intricately connected, which is why it is important to have all aspects of the system –  scavengers, consumers, recyclers, cleaners, refuge/shelter, photosynthesis, a pH buffer, and an energy source.  Understanding how biospheres work and support themselves is critical in understanding the delicacy and interconnectedness of earth’s systems, which in turn helps teach the importance of protecting and caring for these systems. – Check out this video…

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Science in the Parks this Summer

Science in the Parks in Pittsfield
A Remedy to Summer Slide

Go on a hunt for frogs and the insects they eat at Science in the Parks. Through closer examination, kids can learn the importance ecology plays in the lives of animals in various habitats , like the way this frog is camouflaged among leaf litter and woodland flowers.  (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Public parks are accessible green spaces families can visit in the summer months to both observe and explore nature. Whether they be well-manicured or allowed to grow wild and free, our local parks offer a lot to learn and explore in terms of ecology, natural & local history, and creative free play.

Science educator Lisa Provencher is holding a Science in the Parks event every Saturday from June 22-August 17 from 10am-12noon this summer, an great opportunity for young students to use their local parks to further their understanding of ecology through science based methods.  Kids of all ages can come to four different parks around Pittsfield, MA and learn about watersheds and their impact on local ecology at this free program.

Participants will have the chance to do activities like test the pH of water, identify aquatic plants, and participate in a hunt from insects and amphibians.  They will also get the chance to identify invasive species and meet some live animals up close!

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Passport to Chemistry Adventure for Kids at Mt. Holyoke College, 2013

Passport to Chemistry Adventure at Mt. Holyoke College

[Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield]

Experiment with science at home, and work towards a chance to participate in a special chemistry adventure day at Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA.

Families can sign out chemistry kits from their local library and do experiments at home. Participating libraries include: South Hadley Public Library; Wilbraham Public LibraryEmily Williston Memorial Library (Easthampton);  Edwards Library (Southampton); and Mount Holyoke College Library (South Hadley).

There are kits available for K-2nd & 3rd-6th grades. Participating library patrons get a stamp on their “chemistry passport” for each kit they complete, and after accumulating five, they can apply to be part of a special chemistry event!

On Saturday, June 1st from 2-4pm, the college is hosting 2013 Passport to Chemistry Adventure – and the theme is energy! To apply, kids must submit a Chemistry Visa application by May 15th, using their chemistry passport stamps as proof that they are armed with enough chemistry knowledge to participate!

After applying, families will find out what time their activity will take place. Kids participating will get to take part in a fun, investigative activity that allows them to learn basic principles of chemistry. To sign up, visit www.mtholyoke.edu.

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Swarmageddon as Magicicada Emerge from the Warming Earth

After 17 Years, Cicadas Scheduled to Emerge from the Earth Along the Eastern Seaboard. Will They Be Emerging Here in Western MA?

This year, for the first time since 1996, a Magicicada brood will emerge from the ground all across the eastern United States.  This special species – unlike other cicadas – emerges every 17 years with the entire species growing and developing at the same time,  creating synchronized cycles of growth, reproduction, and death.  These insects go through a complicated and specialized series of stages of development as a group, taking 13-17 years to grow into adult cicadas and emerge from the ground.  They will lay eggs for the next generation simultaneously, continuing their synchronized cycle of regeneration.

Much like frogs and salamanders, the cicadas will emerge from the ground only when the temperature is right!  Magicicadas require a soil temperature of 64 degrees Fahrenheit, extending as deep as eight full inches into the ground – meaning that cicadas will show themselves much earlier further south, while southern New England soil continues to warm up.  Families can track and predict the burst of bugs by monitoring the temperature of the soil in their backyard – while western Massachusetts isn’t expected to have a huge number of cicadas (check out the web site: Massachusetts Cicadas), their existence is quite likely given that Connecticut and the Hudson River Valley in New York are both home to Magicidadas.

In order to predict the bugs’ appearance in your yard, track the soil temperature using a basic thermometer, which can be purchased online or at a gardening specialty store.  Families can also build their own cicada detectors, which will not only measure soil temperature, but will track the creatures’ movement!  Families with older students can learn valuable STEM skills by building a detector, and can use the data that they collect to contribute to cicada tracking and research.  RadioLab, an online resource for STEM-related projects and information, offers instructions for building and operating your own cicada detector, and also has information about submitting collected data.  Follow the instructions to become amateur entomology researchers, and help contribute to the recording of an unusual scientific phenomenon!

Citizen Scientists Wanted to Monitor Plants as the Seasons Change

Project BudBurst
Citizen Scientist Opportunity for Families & Students

For younger children, BudBurst Buddies is a companion to Project BudBurst that encourages young learners to follow the seasons by making simple botanical observations. Check it out at www.budburstbuddies.org – (Photo credit: Dennis Ward)

Students can learn so much by following the seasonal patterns of plants found here in New England. Each plant’s cycle is different, and varies depending on factors like location and weather patterns.  Tracking a plant through its seasonal changes can help us to better understand the subtle changes that take place in our environment, and says a lot about where we live.

This spring, families can track these plant cycles by volunteering as Citizen Scientists for Project BudBurst, a national project that tracks buds, blooms, and leaves as the seasons change.  The project is used to generate useful ecological data that can be used in studies of the environment and to track annual changes of seasons and climate.  The project is open to families and educators living in any of the 50 states, and participation can be a one time project or a year-long educational expedition.

Working together to gather information to submit to Project BudBurst is a great way for youth to develop useful nature-related skills and to gain knowledge and experience in plant identification, while volunteering as citizen scientists.  Students will need to learn the anatomy of plants in order to check for specific growth patterns, and they will gain practice using field guides while working to identify the plants that they find.  They will also begin to understand the biodiversity present in the area, and will examine the relationship that changes in the sky bring to their environment.  Recording data will help with development of basic data analysis, and presenting data in a useful format is excellent practice for nonfiction writing.  Students of all ages can learn by participating in Project BudBurst, and it could be used by homeschoolers, K-12 classrooms, and higher education.

For more information on the project or to sign up to contribute, visit http://budburst.org/getstarted.php.

Girls Connect: An Introduction to LEGO Robotics for Pioneer Valley Youth

Learn how to build and program LEGO robots!

Girls Connect

Girls Connect takes place March 9th in Holyoke and April 6th in Amherst. Pre-registration required. Girls ages 8-13 are invited to attend in teams of 5 to be part of the Western MA Girls Connect event. This cool all-girl introduction to FIRST LEGO League matches you up with coaches and professional engineers to learn how to build and program LEGO robots to do real-world tasks.

The idea of robots can seem like very sophisticated machines, created by highly trained robotics specialists.  However, robotic machines don’t have to be very complex – and even kids can learn to make them!

There are two opportunities coming up in the Pioneer Valley for youth to experiment with LEGO robotics. The FIRST LEGO League is offering two introductory workshops just for girls to learn about participating in the FIRST LEGO robotics competitions.  Called Girls Connect, the workshops are open to girls ages 8-13 living in Hampshire, Hampden, and Franklin counties.  The workshops will match teams of girls (5 per team) up with coaches, professional engineers and computer scientists in order to tackle the challenges presented.  Teams will use a variety of LEGO parts to program their robots to complete everyday tasks, similar to the challenges presented in regular FIRST LEGO League competitions.  The workshops will end with a friendly competition, and awards will be given to teams based on their finished products and their hard work in creating them.

Participation in the workshop can help girls learn about FIRST LEGO League and ways to apply basic principles of math, science, and engineering.  Participation in engineering activities can be empowering for girls, and can help them learn how useful the scientific and mathematical ideas that they learn in school can be.

The workshops will take place on Saturday, March 9th at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke, and on Saturday, April 6th at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Karen Sullivan writes, “Teams may attend either date, but not both. In order to receive registration materials, one adult member (teacher, parent, Girl Scout troop leader, afterschool program staff) of your team must join one of the following brief informational conference calls on Wednesday, February 27th at 7:30pm or Thursday, February 28th at 3:00pm (April 6th event only). Join the call by dialing 1-218-339-2699 Access Code 354432. Note, this is not a toll-free number; long-distance charges apply.”

To apply or receive more information, please go here.

Western MA Planetariums and Online Resources for Space Studies

Resources for Supporting the Study of Space Science

Hubble's Panoramic View of a Turbulent Star-Making Region

If, after diving head-first into all things astronomical, your student is completely enamored with space studies, consider entering Astronomy magazine’s essay contest! The grand prize is a trip to the 2013 Northeast Astronomy Forum in Suffern, NY, where the winner will be able to meet important people in the field of astronomy, learn about space programs and discoveries, and more! The topic for the contest is, “What I love most about astronomy,” and essays should be 300-500 words. Hurry, though – submissions are due by February 15th! More info at www.astronomy.com.

Studies of outer space can be mysterious and intriguing to young minds and there are many resources to support a students interest in the study of space, both online and in Western MA.

ONLINE RESOURCES

The website StarChild offers a wealth of information and basic internet-based activities that help students build their understanding of outer space.  Beginning with our solar system and moving outward, the information is grouped into two levels based on degrees of difficulty and background information needed in order to understand concepts.  Students can guide themselves through each lesson, learning astronomical vocabulary and facts about the universe.  At the end of each section, there are a variety of activities to do, such as identifying planets while in orbit, matching facts to their corresponding stars and planets, and pairing planets with their many moons.

Another resource online is NASA’s Afterschool Universe, “an out-of-school-time astronomy program for middle school students that explores basic astronomy concepts through engaging hands-on activities and then takes participants on a journey through the Universe beyond the Solar System.”

If you are interested in the Afterschool Universe program, visit their website at universe.nasa.gov/afterschool and their Afterschool Universe YouTube channel for more demonstration videos.

WESTERN MA RESOURCES

To experience astronomical phenomena in real life, visit a local observatory or planetarium in Western MA!  The Milham Planetarium at Williams College in Berkshire County, the Seymour Planetarium at the Springfield Museums in Hampden County, and the Bassett Planetarium at Amherst College in Hampshire County all offer planetarium shows and other learning experiences to visitors.  For other events, resources, and community learning opportunities, the Five College Astronomy Program, Springfield Stars Club, Arunah Hill Natural Science Center in Cummington, and the Amherst Area Amateur Astronomer’s Association hold events, workshops, and other astronomy-related events for the community year-round.

[Photo credit: (ccl) NASA Goddard Space Flight Center]

Young Scientist Challenge: Encouraging Students to Share Their Passion for Science

Young Scientist Challenge for Youth Ages 10-14

Whether or not students win the challenge, the process of creating a project to submit can be a valuable learning opportunity in itself. For more information www.youngscientistchallenge.com where educators will find Teacher Tools to full student excite about science, including lesson plans and videos & interactives.

Everything that we do has some science behind it – everyday tasks as simple as boiling water for tea and riding the school bus are all powered by fascinating phenomena, and scientific principles offer us with a wide array of possibilities for further innovation and change.  Curious about how something works or interested in making a new discovery?  Research it, and make it happen!

Students in grades 5-8 are invited to do just that in order to participate in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.  The challenge – prizes for which include a mentorship with a 3M scientist, a $25,000 cash prize, and more – asks students to create a short video explaining a solution they’ve found to a problem related to how we work, play, or relax.  Students should understand the science behind the solution, whether it’s related to physics and architectural design, chemistry and food science, or biology and our own changing bodies.

The challenge presents students with an opportunity to provide scientific innovation, just as a career scientist would.  Such a project will help students to learn skills for applying their science knowledge, will encourage students to pay close attention to detail in their everyday lives, and will help them feel empowered to create and discover.

A Look at the Girl Scouts: Science Curriculum & Healthy Relationships

The Girl Scouts: So Much More Than Cookies

Have you checked out the Girl Scouts recently? What an impressive institution! They are celebrating their 100th anniversary and they are better than ever. You probably know that the Girl Scouts support growing girls by encouraging responsible citizenship, generosity, and camaraderie. You might not realize, though, that there is a strong academic component to the organization.

The Girl Scouts have an actual curriculum with engaging and interactive materials. It is known as the Journeys (National Leadership Journeys) curriculum and it covers a lot of the same ideas considered in science class, but it is much more fun. Each scout gets a cheerful, but appropriately challenging, book full of activities and projects. One Journey, for example, is called “Power it Up.” In this Journey, according to the Girl Scouts website, “Girls learn about electronics and circuitry through a series of hands-on investigations. They explore Snap Circuits, learn about basic electronic components, and build different kinds of circuits. Rounding out this unit, girls develop soldering skills and make circuits that they can take home.“ Yes, Girl Scouts are wiring the world!

Another journey is called “ThrillBuilders,” in which girls explore the fundamental concepts of mechanical engineering to produce their own model circus. The ThrillBuilders curriculum comes with a box full of materials ready for a group of girls to explore.  In this video four hands-on activities girls complete with this program-in-a-box are illustrated:

Girl scouts have always worked to earn badges. The requirements for all of the badges have even been correlated by grade level, to state and national educational standards. What an asset to teachers and meticulous home-schoolers! More information about the state standards is available here: Program Connections to State (and National) Curriculum Standards.

The Girl Scouts, as an organization, are aware of the big picture. While the girls are learning about electricity, the Girl Scout Leadership Institute is thinking about things like: Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV (2011), The Resilience Factor: A Key to Leadership in African American and Hispanic Girls (2011), Beauty Redefined: Girls and Body Image Survey (2010), Who’s That Girl: Image and Social Media Survey (2010). They are actively working to understand the challenges that girls are facing! Furthermore, the Girl Scouts encourages all of this learning while also emphasizing the development of healthy relationships, the prevention of bullying, and the creation of peacemakers.

If you are interested in learning more about the Girl Scouts, meetings and troops are forming right now in Western MA. The Girls Scouts even have a program for girls who want to be “virtual” members and are seeking a safe place to be online. The Scouts are always seeking new troop leaders and there are many other ways to volunteer with the organization.  Here are some useful links to learn more about the Girls Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts and the programs they offer that are unique to this council:

UPCOMING EVENT: November 16, 2012

100th Anniversary Reception of the Girl Scouts of America

Girls enjoy Camp Bonnie Brae in Otis in the 1940s. Camp Bonnie Brae is one of the two Girl Scouts camps in the Berkshires; pictures and items from it and the other Girl Scout camp, Camp Marion White in Richmond, are part of an exhibit currently on display at the Stockbridge Library’s Museum & Archives. The exhibit also includes local historical uniforms and other memorabilia in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouting. (courtesy photo)

The Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives has partnered with the Girl Scouts of central and western Massachusetts to present an exhibit on the more recent history of scouting. This exhibit, A Century of Girl Scouting, includes photographs, manuals, and other memorabilia associated with Girl Scouting.  Camping, which has long been a part of scouting, will be highlighted.  Numerous uniforms worn by the different levels of scouts also will be on display.  In connection with this exhibit, the hope is gather more information about the history of local troops.  Former scouts and friends are invited to a reception on Friday, November 16, 2012, from 6-8 pm.  They are also are interested in capturing local memories on tape as part of the Museum & Archives’ Oral History Collection; please contact Curator Barbara Allen at 413-298-5501 or ballen@cwmars.org to set up an appointment.  The Stockbridge Library is located at 46 Main Street,  Stockbridge, MA.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Theresa Heary-Selah — Theresa is a teacher and a freelance writer, making her home in Greenfield, MA and Wright, NY with her family.  She teaches at S.H.I.N.E. (Students at Home in New England), a social and academic support program for middle school students in the Pioneer Valley, and writes about home-schooling and technology.  Theresa’s interests include home-schooling, gardening, cooking, hiking, and dancing.

6 Resources for Learning at Home During Frankenstorm While the Lights are On!

Hurricane Sandy and Halloween Offer Learning Opportunities Online

Hurricane Sandy might have schools closed while we await her arrival, but the learning can continue at home (so long as you have power!). Check out these online resources to brush up on math, chemistry, physiology, language arts and world & local history:

MATH

After you’ve battening down the shutters and have prepared your home & family for Hurricane Sandy (and still have power), let’s to use this event for real-world applications for learning. One online resource is “Math in the News” who takes current events as seen through the prism of mathematics every week. They are currently looking a probability maps for Hurricane Sandy.  Take a look with your kids at Math in the News and practice math skills:

CHEMISTRY

Who has Halloween candy laying around right now from events this past weekend or for passing out on Halloween night? Did you know you can use candy to conduct science experiments in the kitchen with your kids! Experiments include Acid Test using Pixy Stixs, Chromatography using M&M’s, Density experiment with Skittles, and many others!  Check out our post from last year, “Science Experiments with Candy” for ideas.

WORLD HISTORY

Here’s a succinct video about the history of Halloween produced by the History Channel: “Straddling the line between fall and winter, plenty and paucity, life and death, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating. In a number of countries around the world, as the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, people continue to usher in the winter season with gatherings, costumes and sweet treats.”

PHYSIOLOGY

Are your kids all about Zombies this Halloween? In this animated video from TEDed, Tim Verstynen & Bradley Voytek apply the various human medical possibilities that make zombies…zombies. Find out the physiology behind what’s happening in their brains to make them act as they do.  After watching this video check out the full lesson.

LANGUAGE ARTS

H-A-Double L-O-W-Double E-N spells Halloween! Remember that song when you were a kid just learning to spell? Here’s a cool video for this song for your young kids to watch for a fun way to learn how to spell Halloween

LOCAL HISTORY

Are your kids learning about or interested in the Salem Witch Trials?  National Geographic has an interactive resource on the Salem Witch Hunt, Discovery Education has tips for teachers and home educators on the Salem Witch Trials for grade level 5-8, the National Teacher Training Institute offers lesson plans on the The Salem Witchcraft Trials and The Crucible for grades 5-12, and Historian Elizabeth Reis uses primary sources in an education video on the history of the Salem Witch Trials at Teaching History.  The History Channel offers this short video to help tell the tale of this event in Massachusetts history:

Science Quest at UMass for Teens

UMass’ Science Quest
Saturday, October 27th

Science Quest is an exciting opportunity for high school students to visit the UMass Amherst campus and engage in hands-on science activities, demonstrations, and guided lab tours. All presentations are organized by UMass faculty members and designed for high school-aged students. Science Quest is a one-day free event happening on Saturday, October 27th in Amherst.

Students learn about a wide variety of STEM topics in school – everything from the periodic table to the Pythagorean Theorem – but often aren’t shown the interesting, practical, and often surprising ways that STEM topics can be applied to real life!

High school aged youth are invited to UMass’ Science Quest, an annual free event that offers students the opportunity to learn firsthand about science research, the practical applications of science knowledge, and the creativity that STEM work sometimes allows!

At Science Quest, students can take a tour of the school’s physics lab, to see how nanoscales are made; learn about both the political and technological sides of biofuels, solar energy, and fuel cells; and see crazy (but science-based) demonstrations of peanut butter being turned into a powder, ice cream made using nitrogen, and more!  The event will also include a panel discussion with current UMass students pursuing degrees in a variety of STEM-related fields, as well as a Q+A with UMass faculty and staff on the university’s programs and studies of STEM in higher education in general.

Registration is required – students may attend as part of a school or homeschool group, or on their own.  Science Quest will take place on Saturday, October 27th from 9:30am-4:30pm at UMass’ Integrated Science Building (661 North Pleasant St.) in Amherst, MA, and includes free registration, parking and lunch. Limited travel funding and PDPs for teachers is also available. For more info visit  www.umass.edu.

Volunteer as a Citizen Scientist on the Westfield River with Hilltown Families

Hilltown Families Event
Volunteer Opportunity: Citizen Scientist
Wednesday, October 17th @ 3:30pm
West Branch of the Westfield River

“Giving families a hands-on opportunity to be engaged in the study of their local ecosystem, can stimulate an interest in science in children and an investment in their local environment,”  says Sienna Wildfield, Executive Director of Hilltown Families. “By offering field experiences that supplement the education of our children, we can help foster a connection and investment in local community.” (Collecting samples from the Westfield River last year. Photo Credit: Sienna Wildfield.)

For the third year in a row, Hilltown Families will be partnering with Biocitizen in collaboration with the MA DEP in our long-term commitment to their stream monitoring project.  Families with kids interested in science, including biology and ecology, are invited to join us on the banks of the Westfield River on Wednesday, October 17th at 3:30pm (rain date: 10/21).  We will be collecting and inventorying benthic invertebrates (water bugs) using the rapid biotic assessment (RBA) technique. The type of bugs found in our collection will give us a gauge of the river’s health.

“How many times have you looked at a river thinking, how beautiful—and pulled out your camera to capture the swells of whitewater, a striking blue heron, or blazing maple tree in the autumn overhanging its banks?” says Kurt Heidinger, Executive Director of Biocitizen School of Westhampton, MA.  “A river is not just beautiful, though; it’s alive, and those who witness this life, this bios, never look at or appreciate a river the same way again,”

Stonefly nymphs are a bug we want to catch,” shares Heidinger. “They are a primary food source for brook trout and, like trout, require clear, clean, cold oxygen-rich water. If there is too much nitrogen or potassium (from fertilizer run off) in the water, algae will bloom and suck the oxygen out of the river. You won’t find many stonefly nymphs—and therefore trout.”

Sorting though collected samples. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

By doing a Rapid Bioassessment, we will continue to monitor a section of the West Branch of the Westfield River by netting benthic macro invertebrates (underwater bugs) and inventorying them. The percentage of certain insects we collect will quickly allow us to assess the quality of the river.

Last year in the wake of Hurricane Irene, samples collected were missing the large stoneflies and teeming samples of writhing, boisterous bugs found the year before. This year we’re looking forward to samples that speak of how the river is a superorganism whose health changes in respond to climatic influences.

“Giving families a hands-on opportunity to be engaged in the study of their local ecosystem, can stimulate an interest in science in children and an investment in their local environment,”  says Sienna Wildfield, Executive Director of Hilltown Families. “By offering field experiences that supplement the education of our children, we can help foster a connection and investment in local community.”

This is a free volunteer opportunity, however, space is limited. Appropriate for kids 7yo and older. Directions will be given following sign up. Families interested in participating in this citizen scientist opportunity, or similar opportunities in the area, can contact us here:

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