Friday, July 27, 2012

Girls Got Game: Techbridge Hosts the League of Extraordinary Gamers

This month's guest blog is from Techbridge, an organization based in Oakland, CA dedicated to promoting girls' interest and skills in STEM.  Techbridge also develops resources for teachers, role models, families and partners.  The organization has served over 5,000 girls in grades 5-12 since the organization was founded in 2000.  This piece was written by Linda Kekelis, Executive Director of Techbridge and Eliza Smith, Administrative and Operations Assistant.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Mars "Curiosty" landing on August 5

The Mars rover “Curiosity” will land on the red planet on Sunday August 5, 2012.  Here are some great ideas from NASA to get the kids (and adults) in your summer science program excited about this once in a life time event!

  • Host a Mars Gazing Party

On August 5th 2012, viewers can observe Mars in the night sky with a telescope or with the naked eye. At sunset, Mars will sit low in the western sky just above the horizon. Viewers will be able to see the orange planet Mars in between Saturn and the bright star Spica. At this point in its orbit, Mars will be roughly 300 million miles away from Earth and the Curiosity Rover will be only hours away from arriving to this distant orange dot in the night sky.

  • Get an overview of Mars
Basic Information on Mars
Mars Image Collection
3D Images

  • Information about the “Curiosity” landing spot
Destination Gale Crater: August 5, 2012 at 10:31 pm PT
Gale's Mount Sharp Compared to Three Big Mountains on Earth
National Parks as Mars Analog Sites

  • Videos
Curiosity Rover Animation
Building Curiosity: Landing System Drop Test
Seven Minutes of Terror

  • Additional Information
Official Websites:

  • Tune in to live coverage of the "Curiosity" rover landing
NASA Media Services Information for Curiosity Rover Landing on 8/5/2012
Landing Coverage begins at 12:00 a.m. EST (9:00 p.m. PST) on the NASA TV Cable Channel:

Also, lesson plans and training are available at the following website: has a Google map for displaying your Mars MSL events!

Happy space exploring, and stay curious!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Oil Spill! Connecting STEM activities to real world problems

I recently had another opportunity to observe a science program in an after school setting, this time at Greenleaf Elementary School in Oakland, CA.  The rising fifth graders have an hour and a half of STEM programming after lunch every afternoon, and the day I visited they did an activity about cleaning up oil in the ocean.  They worked with trays filled a few inches with water, feathers, straws, cotton balls and sponges.

I think it's especially challenging to lead activities like this, where the materials you have to work with are analogies of what really happens in the real world.  I was impressed with the ways the facilitator drew connections between the activity they were doing and what happens in the real world.

The facilitator started the activity by asking the kids what they already knew about oil spills.  I was struck by how many hands went in the air, and details the kids knew including the catastrophic spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The group discussed what kinds of engineers help solve the environmental problems caused by oil spills - chemical and environmental engineers.

In groups, the kids examined their 'oceans' of water, with oil floating on top.  They discussed and wrote observations in their science notebooks.

The facilitator introduced some terms and definitions and then passed out materials the kids would use to try to clean up the oil.

As kids formulated their plans for working together to get the oil off the feathers and out of the 'ocean', the facilitator passed around photos of actual oil spills and the effects they have on wildlife.  Then it was time to work together to figure out how to use materials to clean up the oil.

During the discussion after the activity, the kids all said that they enjoyed this activity even though it was very difficult to get all the oil out of the water and off of the feathers.  

In order to help kids make connections between the science activities we do after school and science in the real world, here are some things we see quality programs doing:
  • Ask kids what they already know about related issues
  • Show kids pictures, news articles or videos
  • Introduce kids to a scientist who works on the problem in the field
  • Take a field trip
  • Participate in a citizen science project to help a scientist conduct a study on a related issue

Let us know some ways that your after school science program connects kids to real world science!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Bringing Science to Creative Writing

Earlier this month we were proud to announce our partnership with 826 National and Time Warner Cable's Connect A Million Minds to help bring science content to the stellar 826 National creative writing programs in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York!

Last week, Coalition Director Dr. Carol Tang presented a taste of what science in a creative writing program can look like at the 826 National Staff Development Conference with Dr. Rebecca Smith, Co-Director of the Science & Health Education Partnership at University of California, San Francisco.  What they presented yesterday was a small piece of the pilot curriculum they have written for 826 National that incorporates science concepts into creative writing.

Rebecca started the session by asking participants to imagine that they are space explorers and they have just received samples from a new planet.  Carol passed out samples of a gooey, sticky, interesting substance, and encouraged everyone to explore.  With toothpicks, knives, cookie cutters and of course their hands, everyone started poking, observing and testing the stuff.  The room was full of laughter and conversation as people compared and discussed the mysterious sample from another planet.

If you are familiar with oobleck, then you know exactly what was happening in the room!  People were discovering the strange properties of this non-Newtonian fluid, which sometimes acts like a solid, and sometimes acts like a liquid.  But instead of telling us what this stuff was, Carol and Rebecca just continued to let everyone explore and experiment.  This is one of the most important parts of informal science education - resisting giving away the answers extends and prolongs exploration and deepens the experience for the learner.

Then Carol and Rebecca challenged everyone to work together to think about how they would go about building a spaceship that could land on a planet made of this stuff.  The tables were full of more conversation.  At my table, someone noticed that the goo becomes instantly loose and liquid when water is added.  This gave someone else the idea that the spaceship should have a way to suck up moisture from the planet through the bottom of the spacecraft, retain it, and then recycle that liquid back to the planet to release the ship when it's time to take off again.

Rebecca reminded us that an important part of being a scientist is sharing what you've discovered.  As we shared out our ideas with the other groups we learned what other people had observed and tested.  Then Carol shared some facts about oobleck and states of matter.  When we stepped back to debrief about the activity, the 826 staff thought of some creative writing skills are supported by a science based activity like this, including observation, brainstorming, experimentation and summarizing.

The pilot program that the Coalition for Science After School helped create for 826 National incorporates hands-on explorations that inspires writing, builds inquiry and hypothesis-testing skills, fosters identity with scientific endeavors, creates relevance for scientific principles in youth's lives and makes science fun.  

Rebecca talked about how these messy explorations can inspire writing for kids.  "If you think your writing packets look messy, you should see a real scientist's journal!" she joked.  We are so pleased to have been able to collaborate with her on this project, and to bring science activities specifically designed for out-of-school time to 826 National.  We can't wait to hear how this pilot program goes and we look forward to more opportunities to partner with outstanding after school programs to deliver high quality science experiences!