I just found out about a neat free service for science educators.  It’s mostly for those in Colorado, but those outside Colorado are welcome to use it as well.  It’s a free email servicer for teachers to ask questions directly of a science education expert, who will go out and find the answer for you.  How fabulous!

It’s called MAST WebConnect.

Here is some text from their site:

The Problem
Obviously the problem is not that the Internet does not contain enough math and science education resources, but finding quality resources can be an overwhelming task for teachers and students alike. Teachers often do not have the time to do a quality web search or seek experts in the field.

The Solution
MAST WebConnect will answer your questions and find high-quality web-based Internet resources personally for you! Supported by the MAST Institute and the University of Northern Colorado, WebConnect is staffed by math and science educators and professors with access to these resources and references.

How it works.
The idea is simple. We know that the Internet provides a wealth of information, but sorting through and filtering that information to find quality materials can be an overwhelming task.
That is where we come in. Contact MAST WebConnect with any mathematics or science question, and our coordinators will find the information either by contacting experts in the field, or finding high-quality Internet sites.
MAST WebConnect has a pool of available volunteer mathematics and science experts to help with more difficult inquiries. These include college professors and working scientists within Northern Colorado.

Posted from the PHYSLRNR listserv.  This resource looks very nice, useful and well-organized.  You can browse by topic (looking for a teaching activity on atomic physics?) as well as a wealth of other resources (click on PER-Support to look for assessments or how to use active engagement in the classroom).

The AAPT, through COMPADRE has just launched the Physics Source; its digital library portal
for introductory physics courses.

The purpose of the “Source” is to catalog quality resources that are appropriate for introductory physics teaching and make them easily available to teachers of these courses. With your help, I hope that we
can make it our “source” for introductory physics teaching resources.
Please consider doing the following:

1) Remember to use the site when looking for intro phys information.
2) Improve the site by rating content and sending us critiques or
suggestions for improvement.
3) Suggest resources you use but could not find in the site.
4) Suggest resources that you have authored/developed and that are not
in the site.
5) Consider having COMPADRE host your content if it is currently
hosted at an unreliable server.

Again, for you K-12 educators out there… did you know the NSDL and NSTA offers free web seminars on science topics? These are very nicely done workshops, I’ve been to one, with a live presenter and chance to simulchat with other participants.

Here’s the schedule

Web Seminar 1
Date: Thursday, September 25, 2008
Time: 6:30-8:00 p.m. Eastern
Title: Celebrating Astronomy: A Star’s Story
Presenters: Susana Deustua and Cathy Ezrailson

Web Seminar 2
Date: Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Time: 6:30-8:00 p.m. Eastern
Title: Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears: Physical Science from the Poles
Presenters: Jessica Fries-Gaither and Dr. Carol Landis

Web Seminar 3
Date: Thursday, November 13, 2008
Time: 6:30-8:00 p.m. Eastern
Title: Energy and the Polar Environment
Presenters: Jessica Fries-Gaither and Dr. Carol Landis

Web Seminar 4
Date: Tuesday, December 9, 200
Time: 6:30-8:00 p.m. Eastern
Title: TBD
Presenters: NSDL or partner organization presenting team

You can also see the archived presentations from the past. Here’s the complete list!

Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy just spread the word about a sort-of-new NASA site with beautiful zoomable images from NASA.

Phil writes:

They have a ton of very cool images there, I must say. When they load, they are fitted to your screen, but then you can zoom in or out, which is fun. There are descriptions on the sidebar (generally tapped from the press releases, looks like) and there are animations as well. There are some nifty gizmos, like an “Embed This” link with pretty clear instructions on how to embed a given picture into a blog or web page –I embedded an illustration of the New Horizons spacecraft by my friend Dan Durda above — and of course there is the ubiquitous “Share This” link, too.

All in all, well done! It’s nice to see some folks at NASA figuring out this whole intertoob thing and doing a nice job of it. Kudos!

NASA Images is here.

The first day of class is coming up — here are some nice activities you can use on the first day, or anytime you need a warm-up activity.

One teacher suggests:

Look at the Nature of Science activities at the ENSI website. There are many, many fun and interesting ones to choose from and you can use them to launch a discussion (that could continue throughout the school year) about what science is and what it isn’t. All of my students, both at the secondary level and in methods classes love to do these activities. It’s a big site with many possibilities for evolution as well.

Another teacher tells us:

A first day activity I have used for 6th and 7th grade students is to have a classroom scavenger hunt, where each student (or partners) have an outline map of the classroom and a list of items to find. As they locate each item they must label its appropriate place on the clasroom map. I put silly things such as the stuffed crocodile as well as important things such as pencil sharpener, homework assignment, etc. It is a fun activity because it gets them up and walking around to find things, as well as consulting each other for help

Another recounts:

Scene memory. I give the students a series of scenes that they will need to investigate for a moment or two. After that, the students will need to remember as many facts as they can about the scenes. This is a nice way for them to begin the scientific process and begin working in groups if you would like that.

And another has two possibilities:

“The Directions Game”
As students enter the room you hand them an index card. You can number the cards and the desks and have them sit accordingly OR you can tell them to sit where you want. Each card has a direction or statement on it. Once people are settled you explain that each person will, in turn, do or say the direction on the card. You may start by saying “Welcome to Ms. B’s Physics class.” One student’s card will say “After Ms. B. has said ‘Welcome…’ you stand, introduce yourself and say, “the pencil sharpener is there (point) in the back of the classroom.” ” There will be another student whose card indicates they will go next and on it goes. What’s nice about this is YOU don’t do ANYTHING. They say it all and remember it. It breaks the ice and is no stress for them because they have a script. The cards can have rules for the class, directions on where
things are or you can work in other things. You could also give them opportunities to share, little things like “stand up and say your favorite color.” You can make as many or as few as you want.

“Speed Lab sans supplies”
I had wanted to do that last year but was unable to as I was kicked out of my room for the first three days of school. I was put in the cafeteria on the first day with nothing. No syllabus, no supplies. I borrowed a portable whiteboard and a set of timers. I asked students to get into groups of three and somehow figure out their own personal times and group average times for four activities: walking, jogging, running, and a “funny walk.” We defined “funny walk” as anything other than walking, jogging, etc. that had to make your group mates laugh. I had no yardsticks so they had to come up with a way to do it without. They were actually really involved! Some used the length of the room as a distance, others used the tables, some used their own papers as distance units and only a few realized the tiles on the floor were a foot on each side. It worked out really well.

And one late arrival:

I went to a great workshop by John Sweeney and Antonia Corzine (St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School, Memphis, TN) at NSTA on what to do on the first day or two of school. I’m going to try it this year. He gives every student a piece of gum when they walk in the door of his classroom. Then he puts the students in groups of 3 and they blow 10 bubbles each. The student in the group that has the largest average bubble size becomes the official bubble blower, another one becomes the recorder and the last is the measurer with the calipers (ruler with paperclips attached). The task is to test two different brands of bubble gum to see which one enables the user to get the biggest bubbles. He said his room is just full of data everywhere and there is so much bliss. 🙂

The worksheets for the above activity are available here as a PDF (3.6 MB)

And one more!

How about having them draw a picture of what they think a scientist looks like. Most will draw a crazy guy in a lab coat. You could then discuss what scientists really do and explore stereotypes and assumptions, which leads to the differences between inferences and observations. I find that it really stimulates discussion and gets the kids involved.

From Pat’s Picks for STEM Educators. These “class warm-up” activities are good for anytime, not just the first day. Occasionally one finds a few minutes that need to be filled with a fun activity or an activity designed to stimulate discussion. See Pat’s original post with some great resources here.

And a first day activity about the nature of scientific inquiry — What sorts of things fall in the realm of science? First, estimate the sizes of objects, starting with a textbook, human, classroom, building, etc.  Then estimate the mass of each of these.

Plotting the graph of radius vs mass (on a log-log graph) yields a band of data points.  (Not quite a line, but the data points do hover close to each othere in a band-like manner) Observing the band one almost always asks are there things that exist outside of this band?  Science is an activity that is done with objects that we either directly or indirectly observe and then we quantify their attributes.  So the observed band is the current realm of entities that scientists can do science on.

Over the years I modified this activity to include having the students find the radius and mass of their house.   This requires making good estimations of size and also good approximations of calculations, such as knowing the foundation might be concrete and using the density of concrete with an estimated sze of the foundation, to find its weigh or mass. After plotting common objects and then some really big objects (sun, solar system, etc as well as the really small such as cells and sub atomic particles)  I spend a bit of time asking students what is the requirement for us to expand the current band?  Did other non-western cultures have the same band?- did they concentrate on observing different things?, etc.

Here is a list of useful resources for physics teaching:

Simulations and Computer Modeling

The National Science Digital Library just announced the creation of a new web resource for finding curriculum resources.

The Open Source Physics Collection provides curriculum resources that engage students in physics, computation, and computer modeling. Computational physics and computer modeling provide students with new ways to understand, describe, explain, and predict physical phenomena. The materials in the collection connect computational simulations, models, and tools with curricular resources

National Science Digital Library resources

Browse all the multidisciplinary resources at the National Science Digital Library in a new browsing interface.

Videos of Physics Demonstrations

A very interesting project called Physics Teaching Web Advisory has videos of physics demonstration and, even more interestingly, a way to ask master teachers about how they teach particular concepts in physics. You type in a question and it searches for the closest answer (which might not be that close) and a video comes up with the master teacher telling how they teach that topic and what demonstrations they use. Neat! One negative — it doesn’t seem to be well supported on Mac or browsers other than IE yet.

There is also a very nice set of over 200 physics demonstrations compiled at Weber State University. You have to actually download it from PASCO, but click here to see some samples of what’s available. Many seem to be pretty basic, but there is quite a range and the production quality is very high

List of Physics Resources

Pat’s Picks had a great comprehensive list of online physics resources, including physics education research, online magazines, pre-college science resources, astronomy instruction, and more. Bookmark this one, it’s a very nice list!

Hey, I just stumbled upon this very useful list of blogs from the National Science Digital Library — all having to do with education, digital technology, and inquiry, among other things. If you’re a STEM educator (that’s Science, Technology, Engineering & Math education, definitely check out this list. What a find!

Also check out the Top 100 Education Blogs… those are organized by topic,

College | E-Learning | Education News | Education Policy | Internet Culture | Learning | Library and Research | Specialty | Teaching | Technology