Archive for the 'Kids and science' category

Friday Sprog Blogging: paleozoic poetry

A little early this year, the elder Free-Ride offspring wrote these "sci-kus" for science class. They're like haikus, except with a few more syllables per line (7-9-7* rather than 5-7-5), because the names of geological periods require more syllables.

* * * * *

Cambrian oceans were full
Of sponges, trilobites, and snails
Invertebrate paradise

Ordovician fishes
Were the first, and coexisted with
Crinoids and cephalopods

Silurian plants survive
On land, and in the seas, fish with jaws
Have made themselves known to us

Devonian forests
Made up of ferns and conifers
Situated on land

Tree ferns, amphibians,
And insects in Carboniferous
Became the coal of today

At the end of Permian
Mass extinction of the sea's creatures
Farewell, sweet amphibians

*Two of these are actually 7-8-7. I'm guessing poetic license (or perhaps poetic learner's permit).

Wouldn't it be cool if they had the equivalent of driver's ed for poetry? What would they show instead of Red Asphalt to scare the kids off reckless poetry?

6 responses so far

Friday Sprog Blogging: You call this living?

As I mentioned on the Twitters, when, upon my return from ScienceOnline 2012, my family members hit me with the question, "What did you get me?" they were thrilled that the answer included science-y watercolors by Michele Banks (who, by the way, has a show ongoing).

Science watercolors by Michele Banks

My favorite is this cute phage, not least because it prompted a conversation between the Free-Ride offspring.

Phage watercolor by Michele Banks

Dr. Free-Ride: Isn't this cool?

Younger offspring: It looks like a bug with a balloon on its butt.

Elder offspring: No, it's a phage.

Younger offspring: What's a phage?

Elder offspring: It's a virus that eats bacteria.

Younger offspring: Aren't viruses and bacteria the same thing? Don't they both make you sick?

Dr. Free-Ride: Well, viruses and bacteria both fit in the category of "germs".

Younger offspring: Don't they both make you sick? Isn't bacteria the same level of bad as viruses? And why would a virus eat a bacteria? Wouldn't that make the virus sick?

Dr. Free-Ride: There are some bacteria that are totally benign that are probably living in your intestine right now, without which you would have a hard time getting all the vitamins you need, for example. So, there are some bacteria that actually do good work for you.

Younger offspring: Oh.

Dr. Free-Ride: But there are definitely other bacteria that can make you sick.

Elder offspring: Like E. coli for bladder infections.

Dr. Free-Ride: Yeah.

Younger offspring: TMI.*

Dr. Free-Ride: To be fair, some of the bacteria that are in you, doing fine without making your life miserable, are E. coli. It's particular strains of E. coli that can make you sick.

Younger offspring: Isn't it bacterium?

Dr. Free-Ride: Yes, bacterium is the singular, bacteria is the plural. So ... what's the difference between a bacterium and a virus?

Elder offspring: A virus isn't really living. The only thing that it does that is similar to living things is reproduce, and it doesn't do that by itself -- it needs a bacterium to reproduce.

Dr. Free-Ride: Say more about that. Is it like a photocopier, which reproduces but needs someone to push the button?

Younger offspring: Wait, if bacteria can help viruses reproduce, isn't that another way for bacteria to hurt us?

Elder offspring: It's not like the bacteria are doing it by choice!

Dr. Free-Ride: They are sort of being commandeered by the viruses, aren't they?

Elder offspring: Yeah. The viruses just attach on and then insert their genetic material.

Dr. Free-Ride: And say, "Hey, bacterium ..."

Elder offspring: "... do THIS instead of your normal life functions!"

Dr. Free-Ride: So, instead of your normal life functions, make more of the stuff that I've shot into you, which is basically virus-stuff?

Elder offspring: Yeah. And then when the bacterium gets too full of viruses? It goes BOOM! and all the viruses go find new homes.

Dr. Free-Ride: It explodes like an overheated spaghetti squash.**

Younger offspring: That wasn't really needed.

Dr. Free-Ride: Well, you know, sometimes it's good to have a mental image. OK, back to your claims that viruses aren't alive. Strictly speaking, we humans need other stuff in our environment to conduct our life functions. I'm always curious about how we decide where to draw the line between what counts as being a living thing and what doesn't. And I'll bet there are probably some people who think that viruses ought to be on the "living" side of the line rather than the "non-living" side. What's the justification for keeping viruses out of the club?

Elder offspring: They can't produce energy by themselves.

Dr. Free-Ride: Whereas you can? Didn't you recently have a conversation with an organelle that pointed out your shortcomings in this area?

Elder offspring: They can't produce energy by way of mitochondria or whatnot.

Dr. Free-Ride: Ohhh, so because we have mitochondria, we can lord it over the viruses? You think having mitochondria is a requirement for being alive?

Elder offspring: No, you just need to produce energy from something to be alive. Just reproducing yourself isn't enough. I'm pretty sure viruses don't get energy, they just reproduce.

Dr. Free-Ride: Wouldn't that suggest that they're even more advanced than us "living things" in that they don't need energy? I mean, they don't have to stop to eat. They're very nose to the grindstone, achieving the task at hand of making more of them.

Younger offspring: Except that viruses don't have noses.

Dr. Free-Ride: Think of how much more you could get done if you didn't have to stop to eat.

Elder offspring: But then I'd miss all the prettiful flavors.***

Dr. Free-Ride: For that matter, think of how many more of you there could be running around if you displayed the virus' seriousness of purpose about making more of you.

Elder offspring: Ewwww. No.

Dr. Free-Ride: No, not in one of those bizarre animal kingdom kind of reproduction methods. We're talking about you harnessing bacteria to multiply your genetic material.

Elder offspring: Yeah ... still no. One of me is enough.

Younger offspring: Yes it is.

Glaring ensued. As it does.
*Let the record reflect that the younger Free-Ride offspring was objecting to the general information that bladders can be infected, not objecting to an overshare of personal information (and indeed, it was general, not personal, information the elder Free-Ride offspring was sharing here).

**We did this accidentally not too long ago. It blew the door of the microwave oven open in spectacular fashion. It was still pretty tasty, and no one was hurt.

***In case you were wondering, this is a discussion that happened at the dinner table during dinner.

2 responses so far

Tuesday Sprog Blogging: #scio12 storytelling and critters not imagined by my offspring.

So, Friday was busy here. Spring semester classes started on Wednesday, people want add codes to add my courses, students are making sure they know where everything is in the online section of my "Ethics in Science" course -- the usual. But, I was also dealing with a larger than usual portion of ScienceOnline in my bloodstream* (as in the past it's been about a week earlier in the calendar than it was this year).

Anyway. As usual, the Free-Ride offspring met my return to Casa Free-Ride and normal life (such as it is) with a barrage of questions about the conference. What did you see? What did you do? What did you learn? Who was there? What did you bring us? (More on that last question in the next Sprog Blogging installment.)

Among other things, I told the sprogs about the storytelling event at the Friday banquet, organized by The Monti. The sprogs dig a good story; it's probably part of what got them interested in science. And, I decided they might enjoy listening to the podcast of two of the stories that we heard at the banquet, Ben Lillie's and Bug Girl's.

I'll admit, I recognized that maybe Bug Girl's story was on the edge of age-appropriate for my offspring (currently 10.5 and 12.5 years of age). However, they have always had a healthy interest in entomology and in parasites of various sorts. So, I threw caution to the wind.

In the process, I discovered that even though my offspring are well aware that humans approaching adulthood grow hair in a number of places that are not the head -- and even though they each have more than theoretical knowledge of the habits of Pediculus humanus capitis (thank you, afterschool program!) -- neither one of my worldly children had ever imagined that there might exist a critter that would regard a not-on-the-head tract of follicles as a hospitable environment. Indeed, the looks of sheer horror on their faces when they learned that there is such a thing as "pubic lice" was worth the price of conference registration.

Ours is a universe of wonders. Some of those wonders are exotic (and maybe gross) enough that they are hard to anticipate, until some intrepid explorer brings back reports of them, changing our sense of where we are and what we might encounter -- and, of how squicked out we might be in that encounter.

I did mention to the Free-Ride offspring that I told one of the stories at the banquet. The younger Free-Ride offspring especially has been trying to get me to disclose details of the story I told. My answer has been, "When the podcast of it goes up, I'll let you listen to it."

I expect that after the sprogs listen to my story, there may be a discussion on which I'll report here. Stay tuned.

*Also, as it turns out, in my hair shafts -- not at all faded from ScienceOnline violet to almost normal beginning of the semester brown. One hopes my students won't infer from my current hair color that I'm cooler than I actually am.

One response so far

Friday Sprog Blogging: I hugged ... hey, that's not Bora!

Jan 20 2012 Published by under Critters, Kids and science

An image from the elder Free-Ride offspring:

Hug a Tarantula. They Appreciate it Too.

So far at ScienceOnline 2012 I have not noticed any tarantulas, let alone sized them up for hugging. Should you encounter a tarantula in your immediate environment, use your own judgment on the hugs.

One response so far

Friday Sprog Blogging: Interview with a Chloroplast.

Jan 13 2012 Published by under Biology, Kids and science

Yes, it's been a while. This week, I was able to have enough of a conversation with the elder Free-Ride offspring to discover a homework assignment that looked ... a lot like a conversation about science.

In this case, it's a conversation between the elder Free-Ride offspring ("Me") and a chloroplast ("Chloroplast"). Big ups to my child's science teacher for giving assignments that can generate content for this blog (and for letting kids type their homework so I can copy the file rather than having to transcribe).

Me: So, what exactly are you?

Chloroplast: I am an organelle found in the cytoplasm of plant cells and a few kinds of bacteria.

Me: How many of you are there per cell?

Chloroplast: It depends on the organism. There are about thirty to forty of me per leaf cell, but in a certain type of single-celled alga, there is only one of me.

Me: What do you do for the organisms you are a part of?

Chloroplast: I capture the energy of the sun and use that energy, along with some carbon dioxide and water, to make glucose for the cell.

Me: Wow, that's amazing! Is that the process that plants use to make their own food?

Chloroplast: Yes, it is. That process is called photosynthesis.

Me: Is it anything like making a sandwich?

Chloroplast: What!? No! Of course not!!!

Me: Did I offend you? Or do you just not care for a nice, delicious BLT?

Chloroplast: Of COURSE you offended me! We chloroplasts don't use other organisms to make food! And especially not organisms that contain other chloroplasts!

Me: Okay, I'm sorry. How do you cook up some glucose in place of a sandwich?

Chloroplast: It's more like engineering than cooking, you know. First, I store energy from the sun and obtain six molecules each of carbon dioxide and water.

Me: How do you get the water?

Chloroplast: It's carried up to the leaves, where I live with my fellow chloroplasts, by the roots. Now, as I was saying, once I get those compounds, I use the light energy to remove their bonds. Then, I rearrange the elements and make them into a glucose molecules and six O² molecules. The glucose is used by the cell for its daily functions, and the oxygen is expelled from the plant by the leaf's stomata.

Me: Whoa! I didn't know that plants did chemistry!

Chloroplast: Believe it. Bask in our autotrophic glory, you inferior heterotroph.

Me: By the way, you do know that cooking is just a form of chemistry-

Chloroplast: Shut up.

Me: Okay, another question. Are all organelles as rude as the chloroplasts, or is it a unique feature?

Chloroplast: It's not at all unique. You should hear the nucleus sometime.

Me: Now then, I've been wondering about this. How do you absorb the light energy?

Chloroplast: I have a green pigment inside me called chlorophyll. It absorbs red and blue light. Chlorophyll is what turns plants a lovely shade of green, and not your ugly human skin tone.

Me: I have something else to do now. Thank you for your time.

Chloroplast: Wait! I'm not done gloating about my other superior features!

Me: Too bad. Good bye, you jerkwad of an organelle.

7 responses so far

Help high school "nerds" visit the Large Hadron Collider.

Last week, I got a really nice email, and a request, from a reader. She wrote:

I am a high school senior and an avid follower of your blog. I am almost definitely going to pursue science in college - either chemistry, physics, or engineering; I haven't quite decided yet! I am the editor of my school's newspaper, and I frequently write about science topics; I find science journalism interesting and possibly will pursue it as a career. 

I'm writing because this spring, 32 physics students from my high school will hopefully be taking a trip to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva. We are extremely excited to make the trip, as it will allow us to glimpse some of the most groundbreaking physics research in the world. Twenty-two of the 32 students going are girls, and we are all involved with the physics department at our school. Women are overwhelmingly outnumbered in the science classes at my school, especially the tougher Advanced Placement classes; thus, taking this trip with a majority of women feels like a triumph.

My correspondent is, this year, the president of her high school's science club, which is affectionately called "BACON: the best All-around Club of Nerds". If you look at the BACON website, you will see that they do some pretty neat stuff. They field a bunch of teams for competitions like the Science Olympiad, Zero Robotics, and the Spirit of Innovation Challenge. And, they launch weather balloons to capture video and still photographs in a near space environment, have a day of launching model rockets and flying model airplanes, and have created a giant tank of ooblek to run across.

Basically, the kind of science-y stuff that might make high school not just tolerable but fun, which I think is a pretty big deal.

Here's where we get to the request.

The planned high school trip bringing the 32 students from Virginia to CERN will be exciting, but expensive. So, as students have come to do for pretty much every field trip, the BACON members are doing some fundraising. Here's their fundraising page, from which we learn:

As we speak, scientists at CERN are conducting groundbreaking research and rewriting the science textbooks for future generations. It is imperative that our students gain an interest and understanding in such endeavors. A two-day tour of CERN will surely aid in our students’ comprehension of particle physics, the study of the mechanisms and interactions that underlie all chemical, biological, and cosmological processes. But more importantly, through exposure to the leading edge of physics research, this trip is intended to excite students about scientific progress and demonstrate the power of experimentation and collaboration outside of the classroom. ...

We need money to cover the cost of travel, lodging, food, and tours. Specifically, the cost breakdown per student is as follows: $1000 for travel; $300 for meals; $300 for lodging; $100 for tours and exhibits. Thirty-two students are scheduled to attend, and without fundraising the total cost is $1700 per student. Unfortunately, not all students can afford this. Any donations are welcome to lower the per-student cost and facilitate this trip for all who want to go!

For donations of various sizes, they are offering perks ranging from thank you cards and pictures of the trip, to signed T-shirts, to something special from the CERN gift shop, to a video to thank you posted on YouTube.

If you want to help but can spare the cash for a monetary donation, you may still be able to help these plucky science students make their CERN trip a reality:

Tell your friends! Share this link with others: There are also other ways to help us besides monetary donations. Do you have any objects, gift certificates, coupons, or other items you could donate for a raffle? Do you have an idea for a fundraising event we could host? If you want to get involved, please email us: We are really looking forward to this amazing opportunity, and we appreciate any help you can provide. Thank you!

I know I'm looking forward to living vicariously through this group (since no doubt I'll be grading mountains of papers when they're scheduled to tour the LHC). If you want to pay some science enthusiasm forward to the next generation, here's one way to do it.

Meanwhile, I will inquire about whether the BACONite can share some highlights of their trip (and their preparations for it) here.

Cross posted at Doing Good Science

One response so far

A question for the hivemind: delivering something good for you in a way that might be bad for you.

Despite the dawning of the End Times (at least as far as our semester is concerned), I was able to find time for a chat with a colleague yesterday about a currently amorphous project that is staring to take shape. It's a project that's being spearheaded by other interests, but my colleague has been approached to take on what may be a significant role in it, and he's thinking it over. So, much of our chat had to do with the potential of the project along various trajectories it might take -- lots of "what if" since, as mentioned above, it's pretty amorphous right now.

Anyhow, one of the tentative aims is to improve kids' skills in and engagement with a particular broad subject area where the general perception is that kids need better skills and engagement. The tool to achieve this would be games that the kids would play on their own time (so it wouldn't gobble up valuable class time; I guess you need that to get kids ready for the high-stakes standardized tests and stuff). And, the research driving this strategy has, apparently, focused a lot on the neurophysiology of how kids interact with games to identify the features a game ought to have to get kids addicted to it.

For both of us, this seems like a red flag.

So, the question: Do you think it's a good idea (where "good" equals ethical or some other relevant value; feel free to specify it in your answer) to build kids' skills and/or competencies by means of a delivery device that is explicitly designed to be addictive? (In case it matters, we're talking about children younger than 13 years old.)

Does it matter what the actual skills and/or competencies are?

Does it matter whether the designed-to-be-addictive delivery method might itself be more attractive to the kids (and the adults they eventually become) than the various real-world venues in which the application of these skills and/or competencies are taken to be important?

Lay it on me.

17 responses so far

#scibloggers4students: This is going to get me to avoid procrastination how exactly?

The DonorsChoose Board of Directors rewards your procrastination... but only if you manage to actually make a donation before the end of the drive!

The Board of Directors is excited about the success of the ongoing Science Bloggers for Students challenge. But, between now and the end of the drive Saturday, the Board of Directors thinks we can do more to connect public school classrooms with the resources they need to make education come alive. So, to encourage you to give -- especially of you've been putting it off or letting someone else do it -- the Board of Directors is matching all donations to Science Bloggers for Students placed between the first moment of Thursday October 20th and the last moment of Saturday, October 22nd (midnight to midnight, Eastern time).
Here's how the match works:

  • At the end of the three day period, all dollars donated will be totaled, and the Board of Directors will match those dollars. If the donors put up $100, the Board of Directors puts up $100. If the donors put up $10,000, the Board of Directors puts up $10,000. For every dollar you give, you are soaking the Board of Directors for a dollar! Maybe that kind of power to double your impact will help you find a few spare dollars to give.
  • The number of dollars given by the Board of Directors will be divided by the number of people who donated, and gift codes will be issued to every donor (via e-mail) for an equal share of the matching dollars. So, if 100 people donate a total of $10,000, each donor will receive a $100 gift code.
  • Individuals will, in turn, have the chance to apply the funds to whatever classroom project they choose.

This is a great opportunity to spend someone else's money to help kids learn about electricity, or to help a biology classroom get microscopes, or to fund a field trip to a science museum (all projects you can support through my giving page) -- or to choose some other classroom project that is dear to your heart and that needs funding.
This is also a good time to show the world that Scientopia blog readers love science so much that they want to help public school classrooms get the materials and experiences in place so students can find their love of science, too. The Scientopia leaderboard is holding steady on the challenge motherboard in the number two slot, ahead of Discover Blogs and behind Freethought Blogs. With the match now in place, donations in any amount, even $10, or $5, or $1, will make a difference while giving those freethinkers something to think about.

(And remember, if you make a donation in any amount to my challenge giving page, you get to assign me a topic for a blog post. You know you want to ...)

2 responses so far

DonorsChoose #scibloggers4students: I am a donor.

When I was in school, my science teachers had the materials they needed for hands-on teaching.

Since my kids have been in school, there has never been a year where parents were not asked to provide the most basic school supplies -- even paper and pencils.

Materials for science experiments have become a luxury item -- and so has hands-on learning.

All our kids deserve better, so I AM A DONOR.

* * * * *

If you're a grown-up who's into science, chances are that some teacher or mentor-like person in your childhood did something to spark your interest, to expose you to cool experiments or patterns of scientific reasoning. Maybe it was a trip to see dinosaur skeletons at the natural history museum, or that baking soda and vinegar volcano, or the year your class grew fruit flies or silkworms. Maybe it was learning something unexpected about clouds, or about the digestive system. Maybe it was looking through a telescope for the first time, or discovering what the math you had learned was good for.

Kids today will have a better chance at having that kind of "a ha!" moment if their teachers have the materials and funds to make those moments happen.

If you can spare a little money, you can help make that happen. And, in the process, you can tell the current generation of school kids that their educational experiences matter to you. After all, these kids are going to be the scientists, doctors, engineers, teachers, voters, parents, and decision-makers of the future. What they know about science -- and how they feel about science -- will affect us all.

If you've already donated through Science Bloggers for Students, tell the world why you are a donor. Post a photo on your own blog (please drop a link in the comments), or email me a photo and I'll share it for you. I'm guessing there are even more reasons to be a donor than there are donors ... so far. (As I type this, the leaderboard shows 286 donors to the drive. By Saturday, can we bring that up to 500?)

And remember, if you donate through my giving page by the end of the drive (midnight October 22), you get to assign me a topic for a blog post!

Comments are off for this post

DonorsChoose #scibloggers4students: I'm not above bribing you.

You already know that the science-inclined precincts of the blogosphere are in the midst of Science Bloggers for Students 2011, in which we and DonorsChoose ask you to contribute funds to public school classroom projects which provide books, science kits, safety equipment and reagents, field trips, and other essentials to make learning come alive for students.

You may also recall that the drive this year runs through October 22nd. And, seeing as how that's more than a week away, you maybe have making a donation on the second (or third) page of your to-do list. Or, you figure someone else will do it.

A bunch of other folks (including me!) have donated funds to get the challenge rolling -- the overall total for the drive as I compose this is $13,733 -- but there are so many more classroom projects waiting to be funded. Inertia may be a comfortable default, especially in the face of need so great that its enormity is paralyzing, but if you can spare a few bucks you will be doing something tangible to be a force for good.

And, it's easy. Visit my giving page, check out the projects described there, enter the amount of money you want to give, and check out. It's as quick and painless as buying a book or a T-shirt online.

Plus, I'm prepared to make it worth your while.

Goodies from ThinkGeek:

As I type this post, just over 24 hours remain in this week's challenge (which ends midnight October 13th, Eastern time) to get the most new donors to one's giving page. ThinkGeek will be awarding $50 gift certificates to the five bloggers in the drive who picked up the most new donors this week. If you make me one of those bloggers, I'll be giving away a $50 gift certificate, a $25 gift certificate, and a $10 gift certificate from ThinkGeek to randomly drawn donors to my giving page.

But, you have to put me in the top five for number of donors to make the drawing happen. So seize that window of opportunity!

Set my blogging agenda:

Owing to the vicissitudes of my semester (and the youth soccer season, and the eldest Free-Ride offspring's first year of junior high), I haven't been posting as much as I might be. What do you want me to blog about here? What ethical issue in science should I explore for you? What scientific topic demands a sprog's-eye view? What questions would you like to ask me about my misspent scientific youth?

Until the end of the drive (October 22nd), if you make a donation of any size to my giving page, you get to assign me a blog post. Think of the power! Mwuahahaha!

OK, you know the facts. You know what to do.

4 responses so far

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