Category Archives: Science

Eyes on the Stars

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 5.02.25 PM

StoryCorps just posted a new short animated video that is incredibly inspirational and moving. “Eyes on the Stars” tells us about the perseverance and pioneering spirit of Ronald McNair, one of the seven astronauts killed in the Challenger explosion, as told by his brother.  There are so many lessons that your students can glean from this less-than-4-minutes video: the importance of reading, standing up against adversity, pursuing your dreams, civil rights, etc…

I had been thinking about writing a post about the StoryCorps animations for awhile, but hadn’t found one, yet, that I was ready to integrate into my classroom.  “Eyes on the Stars” was just published, and I’ve already seen it featured on two of my favorite blogs:  “It’s Okay to Be Smart” and “Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day.”  You can view more StoryCorps animations here.  As always, I recommend that you view the videos before showing them to your students and/or children.

You can also see more Inspirational Videos for Students on my Pinterest board.

The Tinkering Studio

Screen Shot 2013-01-14 at 7.18.16 PM

It appears that 2013 will be the year for great, new museums.  I mentioned the Museum of Mathematics last week.  This week, while researching the site I am blogging about today, I found out that the famed Exploratorium of San Francisco is moving to a new location.  Fortunately, The Tinkering Studio site, sponsored by the Exploratorium, is still up and running – though it appears that the Exploratorium site is not.  Hopefully, it is just getting an upgrade like its physical counterpart.

The Tinkering Studio is full of interesting ideas for, well, tinkering.  There definitely seems to be a resurgence of the maker movement, and this site can inspire many creative projects.  Each project is described, offers pictures, and gives reasons for its educational value.  Many also offer PDF’s with instructions on how to do the project.

I am going to offer this site as a resource for my 5th graders, who have a Genius Hour each week, and who are sometimes looking for ideas for their next learning project.  I’m also going to keep it in mind for my 10-year-old when she says, “I’m bored,” this summer…

"Light Painting" from The Tinkering Studio Activities
“Light Painting” from The Tinkering Studio Activities

How We Learn

Recently, Larry Ferlazzo published a couple of round-up posts that listed “The Best Videos for Educators in 2012 – So Far“.  I recommend you take a look at them.  (Here is a link to the second one.)  I pinned a few of them to my board of “Inspirational Videos for Students“, but this one probably would not be classified as inspirational.  However, it is a great metaphor for the way we learn, and why it is so important for us to stretch our thinking in new directions as often as possible.  If you are unable to view the embedded video below, you can also find it at

Goldie Blox

image from:

As I was cyber searching for holiday gifts this weekend, I began to arrive at an unattractive conclusion.  Despite all of our efforts to combat sexism, it is alive and well in our toy industry.  My daughter had asked for some Nerf products for Christmas, and I was dismayed to see that, on many of the websites, these were labelled as “Gender: Boy”.  Delving into the matter further, I noticed that many of the building or engineering toys I found were also given this label.  In addition, even if the items were not categorized for a specific gender, the product descriptions often referred to “he” or “him” as the toy recipients, and usually had photos of boys playing with them.

According to this article in Atlantic, 90% of America’s engineers are male.  This is no surprise to me, considering the enormous gender bias that we greet our children with from Day 1 of their infancy.  In order to even the playing field, we need to seriously reconsider the preconceived notion that we, Americans, have about how boys and girls should play.  As teachers and parents, we should offer our children all kinds of toys, despite gender bias, and without prejudicial language.  And toy manufacturers and reviewers need to move on to the 21st century, where girls and boys should not be forced into traditional gender roles.

Debbie Sterling, creator of Goldie Blox, is trying to raise the number of female engineers by offering a new toy which combines a story with a set of pieces for construction.  This unique approach to introducing girls to the joy of building things for a purpose is absolutely ingenious.  According to Sterling, a Stanford graduate, she spent a year researching what features in this toy would appeal to girls.  Then, through Kickstarter, Sterling raised the funding to produce her toy, and her website states that they are estimated to begin delivery in April of 2013.

Although I lament the fact that this toy will be gender-biased, albeit toward the female gender this time, I think that Goldie Blox is definitely taking a step in the right direction.  Before we can completely stop color-coding our playthings for boys and girls, we will need to convince the majority of Americans to rectify our language and our subconscious decisions that lead our children to believe that only certain types of toys are appropriate for each gender.  I hope that the press that Goldie Blox is receiving will begin a conversation in our country that might eventually lead to this toy revolution.

Little Bits Holiday Kit

Little Bits Holiday Kit

For those of you new to this blog, I am devoting Fridays during the holiday season to recommending “Gifts for the Gifted”.  You can see the three posts that I have done so far herehere and here.  You can also visit my Pinterest board on Games for Gifted Students.  A lot of these are not just for gifted students, but would be appreciated by many children – and adults.

Today’s recommendation happens to be one that I have not tried, yet.  But, I am ordering this kit for my 10-year-old daughter because it looks like the perfect combination of imagination and engineering.  The Little Bits Holiday Kit retails for $49, and includes the following items:

  • A double sided instruction sheet with quick start guide and project suggestions
  • A custom-made 9V battery + cable
  • A 9V battery connector.
  • Custom plastic screwdriver

7 littleBits:

  • • power
  • • pulse
  • • light wire
  • • dc motor
  • • bright led
  • • wire x2

The list above does not really do the kit justice, however.  There is so much potential in the various combinations of these parts, some of which is shown in the video below.  And, if you have a child or group of students that might be interested, Little Bits is also offering a “What are You Making for the Holidays?” challenge with a deadline of December 11th.  Inventors of any age are invited to submit sketches of a possible Little Bits design, and the winners will receive all of the parts to build their inventions.

If your child is interested in building, inventing, and designing, this could be a great gift to put under the tree!


How Many Balloons Would it Take to Lift the Empire State Building?

image from:

This isn’t, technically, an educational site.  But I definitely think that it could be integrated into math classes everywhere, and even high school physics.  Remember the movie, Up?  Well, Movato Real Estate decided to find out how many balloons it would really take to lift a house.  On this site, David Cross explains the logic Movato used for making this estimation.  If I were using this with a class, I would not show them the explanation (especially as the Playboy Mansion is mentioned as an example), but would ask them to derive their own method for performing this thought experiment.  Remind them of the different variables involved including the weight of the house and the size of the balloons.  Depending on the age of the students, you could give them some of the information included in Cross’ explanation, or give them links to the references that are cited in the article so they can research on their own.  Finally, you can have them give an educated guess about the number of balloons it would take for their own house to be lifted (possibly using to research square footage, if necessary), their school, or one of the famous buildings that can be found in the interactive.  Have them put in their numbers, click on “Up, Up, and Away”, and presto!

Movato gives you an embed code for the interactive, so you could easily post it on your own website for the students to use.

Coincidentally, when I was about to publish this post, I found this article describing a real-life re-enactment of Up, and an even more ambitious goal for the future!