Tomatoes on Mars. Peas on Earth

Ok, bad pun! But growing produce on Mars is quite a work in progress, by the folks at MarsOne. Tomatoes, especially.

Despite the Matt Damon agro project, growing food is not going to be easy, from accounts I have read. I know of a teacher who is germinating plants on moon-like soil.

In this blog post by Natasha Schön, she talks about biomass measurements, and the first tomato that grew in martian-simulated soil. Schön explain the need for more work on this:

One of the follow up experiments will be to investigate if the produced seeds are viable. It would only make sense to cultivate crops on Mars or the Moon if the follow up experiments are a success and the seeds are able to form new plants. If the seeds are not viable, a constant stream of new seeds would have to be flown in, making Mars farmers highly dependent on seed deliveries from Earth. 

And yes, they also tried growing peas.

And to justify the bad pun (in the title of this post), there is a children’s book titled “Peas on Earth.”

I believe it has a sustainability angle!

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Cheap camera, free eclipse: Quick Ed-Tech lesson

This week’s Blood Moon and the coincidence of a lunar eclipse was made for science teachers.

DSCN1174Or for an Ed-Tech teacher incorporating a lesson in photography –how to frame a slow-moving event; how to compensate for lighting; using camera shake to your advantage.

The camera was a Nikon Coolpix, less expensive than the lens of my trusty older SLR.

Which brings me to the point about technology. How often does we allow technology get in the way of what we are experiencing in the moment? I’ve been trapped in presentation software just to make a point that would have done just fine with a hand-held device – a sheet of paper.

In Ed-Tech, which is what I teach, I like the focus to be more on the ‘Ed’ and less on the ‘Tech.’

The above image was blurred as you will notice. The ‘shift’ was accidental, but makes the point (simulating an orbital path) about light and shadows. I just used this in a 2nd grade class on editing and manipulating shapes. Nothing like a current event to get ideas – design-related, science-based- flowing.

Lessons From Hubble

It is the 25th birthday day of Hubble Telescope.

In case you missed it, last Friday, April 24th was the day NASA sent up a giant piece of technology that looked like a tin can, but with an amazing lens.

Hubble orbits some 347 miles above the earth, and travels at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour! Think of it as a high-speed camera that could probe the universe, and provide us with images and ‘events’ going on in deep space. Like this one.



This one is called ‘Eagle Nebula’

To teachers, this opens up a vast library. Take the official Hubble website www.Hubblesite.org. Among other things, teachers could:

And much, much more.

 

When machines break, and coffee cups burn – just another day in science

In teaching technology we like to say that it’s OK mess up the first time.

This is counter to how we like things to run smoothly. You know: neat transitions, good closures etc. A formula, in other words. Even when doing a demo, you probably want your audience to see the end result.

But I’ve realized that in many lessons – life lessons, and class lessons– the best thing that could happen is for something to fall apart, if not crash.

Earthquake simulatorTake this ‘earthquake machine’ we built from two-by-fours, scrap metal, and some springs. The plan was to simulate tectonic plate movement that brings down buildings. This was for our STEM Night, which happened on Tuesday.

On the day of the event, when a bolt was turned by a power drill, the rickety contraption ran into a few issues. The wheel began to crack. And we had no proper Plan B (a replacement). Plan C was to manually shake the spring-based table. We settled for Plan D – Duct tape! Which looked messy, but worked.

In a sense, I loved that uncertainty. It becomes an opportunity to tell students that this ‘problem-solving’ stuff we go on about, is real –even for us.

Then the next day, last morning), Channel 10 News’ weather guy showed up and I had to demo the cranky machine. More issues.

  • Problem #1: The drill that drove the machine, had been taken home! We scrambled to get one in time.
  • Problem #2: Cory McCloskey wanted to repeat the ‘quake’ and …of course, it failed on camera. Nice.

You cannot plan these things. What looks bad, actually informs the story. McCloskey was here to do the weather report on Earth Day, and connected with the story of how humans might solve earthquake issues. (Actually, this just in the news: earthquakes are caused by humans drilling but not the kind you see above !)

Fox 10 News visits SRES (35)He then spotted the solar oven we had used the day before. I had left my coffee cup inside one of the pans to keep my cup of joe warm while the kids were all gathering for the media truck.

A solar oven can reach up to 250 degrees in 30 minutes. So does the plastic cap, which warped out of shape as you can see in the picture below.

The weatherman’s parting comment: “We’re burning coffee cups in here…”

Indeed. We’re doing messy, fun, science here. Things break. Or bake. You can’t touch this.

 

Solar baking AfterIMG_0659 STEM Night 2nd Red Camera (12)

NASA’s one-year space experiment opens rich possibilities for teachers

This morning was the launch of the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft, carrying 3 astronauts. There are two Russian cosmonauts, Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, and US astronaut Scott Kelly.

They will spend one year on the International Space Station! This will be the longest stay in space. NASA 'Star Wars' Expedition 45 Poster

To mark this momentous step – a step toward a human mission to Mars –NASA released this poster.

Scott Kelly’s twin brother, Mark will be part of a long-term study by NASA. Mark is a veteran astronaut, and the husband of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.

Given NASA’s sense of humor, I could see a lot of possibilities down the line, making science seem a lot more fun, and accessible. I am already planning a Photoshop class around this. Stay tuned!

There are plenty of Ed-Tech & STEM lessons we could build around this experiment. Such as:

Data collection. A class could monitor and collect data generated by NASA on this experiment, and generate hypotheses, charts, reports. They have already begun posting some ideas here.

 

Math/International Space Station report. The ‘habitable volume’ on the ISS is 13,696 cubic feet. How does that translate into cubic meters? Or in dimensions, what is its approximate size in terms of square feet?

 

Digital Storytelling/Video Editing. NASA has released B-roll of the ISS. I would love to get students to create a story using this footage, and some video they shoot. Perhaps do a fictional story of what they might do when (not “if”) they work for NASA!

ISS Orbit path

 

Plotting the orbit of ISS. I subscribe to ‘station tracker’ that send me a text message as to when the ISS passes over my city in Arizona. They could do so here, and get updates via email. Using this kind of data, students could learn not just about space, but also about compass directions, and use protractors and related math skills.

Don’t Let Google Mislead You!

This month I am running a challenge about Thomas Edison’s inventions. The student who tells me the most number of Edison inventions, wins a technology challenge prize.

Many students (wrongly) assume that Edison invented the light bulb. This is because we have often heard about the incandescent bulb and Edison. However, Thomas Edison was simply improving earlier inventions of the bulb by scientists such as Humphrey Davy and Allesandro Volta.

Google somewhat contributes to this famous mistake – Try Googling “light bulb inventor.” Who pops up on the right, in a highlighted area about the Incandendescent Bulb?

Perhaps Google aimed at rectifying this by featuring the Google Doodle (below) yesterday for the birthday of Allesandro Volta.

Salt River Elementary featured in Dept. Of Interior News

I covered the visit of US Secretary of interior, Sally Jewell to my school, here on the school website.

It was exciting that she also visited my class, and had a talk about robotics and science. At that time, little did we know how it would figure in the grander scheme of things…as a Listening Tour, of Native youth.

The department’s video below included several pictures of her engaging with our students. Two of the students you see in this are potential podcasters in my class on audio. Three are in robotics.

More from the Department of the Interior’s communication channel called ‘This Week at Interior.’

Local NPR Station, KJZZ covered the visit here.

Here she talks  to two of my students, and watches a demo in my class.

 

 

And this from Cronkite News at ASU.