Have You Had Your Daily Dose of Science Today?

One of my recent posts grew out of an article on Huffington Post that got me thinking about the language that scientists use, the words and phrases that capture how scientists think. Thanks to the modern invention of links I was able to read an abstract on the original research. In a way, reading a science article can become a bit like following Ariadne’s thread. You know the myth.

Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete, home of the famous Labyrinth and its fearsome Minotaur, to whom human sacrifices were made. Theseus volunteered to slay the monster to stop this horror. Ariadne fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of thread, so he could find his way out of the Labyrinth. Long story short, Theseus killed the beast and used Ariadne’s thread to find his way back out of the labyrinth.

In a way, we’re like Theseus in reverse. As curious adults, and science teachers to boot, we can follow the thread more deeply into a topic until we find our way through to understanding something we didn’t know before.

And that reminds me of Jim Effinger’s brain files. Jim has this wonderful way of helping teachers understand how they and their students construct knowledge — by reaching into the files they already have in their minds and connecting something new to something that was already there. Building good files makes it easier to construct new knowledge going forward. The more you know, the better you can make those connections and help students also forge them, using memorable images that fix scientific concepts and content firmly in their minds.

That leads me back to the title question. Have you gotten your daily dose of science today? At ISI, we focus on the pedagogy of science. But how do we as teachers build a rich store of science content, particularly the kind of gee whiz science stories that can be the perfect hook for our science lessons and an outstanding vehicle for engaging the curiosity and fascination of our students? And how do we do it with the limited time available … 15 minutes a day, if we’re lucky?

For me, it’s getting a daily dose of science, and there are some great resources to get you going.

Huffington Post is a good place to start. HP has a science page with a roundup of science news and stories running the gamut from astronomy to zoology. Stories tend to stick around for a few days, but if you have a quick five minutes, it’s easy to find something new and interesting, perhaps even something to share with your students.

For example, I bet middle school kids studying life science would find it fascinating to know that a snake can kill someone even after it’s been decapitated. Recently a chef in China who was making soup with the meat of an Indochinese spitting cobra died of a bite from its decapitated head … and the bite occurred 20 minutes after the head had been severed from the body. Here’s why:

“The snake’s venom apparatus and jaw muscles are all contained in the head — as are the nerves that control these muscles and venomous glands. Unlike humans, snake tissue can withstand long periods without circulating blood. The tissue doesn’t lose function as quickly as a mammal and the reflexes remain intact even after death.”

Isn’t that story an excellent illustration of the following NGSS standard?

LS1.D: Information Processing: Each sense receptor responds to different inputs (electromagnetic, mechanical, chemical), transmitting them as signals that travel along nerve cells to the brain. The signals are then processed in the brain, resulting in immediate behaviors or memories. (MS-LS1-8)

Wouldn’t your students remember this awesome story? Tell their friends? Talk about it at the dinner table?

Another great site to poke around in is the Society for Science’s page for students. The articles are short and include a glossary at the end of each story. You can learn amazing things by exploring this site. For example, I never knew that a brooding octopus will stay with her eggs, over 150 of them, protecting them from predators for as long as 4 ½ years – that’s 53 months without eating. Then she dies. No wonder!

Other sources for great “gee whiz who knew?” daily science reads are Discovery,which publishes in categories like earth, human, animals, technology, and adventure, Scientific American, and Science Daily.  National Geographic also publishes science news and their world famous photos likely to amaze both you and your students. And while you’re there, why not test your science knowledge by taking one of their many quizzes? In just a couple of minutes, I learned some things about backyard birds that I never knew before. For example, it never occurred to me that the American raven is considered a songbird, and it happens to be our largest one.

That makes me rethink my idea of song.

Really, there’s so much out there, and most of it is readily accessible for the general audience. It might even become addictive. Why not find your favorite sites and bookmark them?

Clearly, you don’t have to get all your science through reading. There are terrific video resources online too, as illustrated above by YouTube.

One of my favorite go-to sites is TED, which stands for technology, entertainment, design. Surprisingly many of the TED talks are on science.  TED talks are given by some of the most interesting thinkers from across the world and are required to be under 20 minutes. They are also required to be engaging … read, funny and/or inspiring. To stay with our cobra and octopus theme, here are two TED talks that have lots of juicy bits of information you can share with your students. For your units on the environment, biodiversity, or ecosystems, they would be perfect. You might like this talk on the king cobra and crocodiles by Romulus Whitaker, an environmentalist living in India and striving to save the rivers and their creatures. In another talk, underwater filmmaker Mike deGruy describes being hooked by an octopus when he was a child. Did you know that octopus play? I didnt. He also has an environmental message.  Through his consummate storytelling, deGruy brings it right back to your own backyard.  Just like mammalogist Larry Heaney, profiled in an earlier post, both men as children developed the passion for their life’s work through magical encounters they had with nature. Both talks are appropriate for middle school students because they contain exactly the kind of dramatic stories that children that age love. They would be perfect for Earth Day. And there are more TED talks on “animals that amaze.” So grab some popcorn and browse.

Don’t rule out television either. Once you start exploring the lineup, you’re likely to find some great programming from Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos to all the great series on Discovery and National Geographic. Check your local cable guide.

The point is to keep adding to your own appreciation of the world and in all its wonder and diversity … that’s the subject of science, after all … so that you can open up that same world to your students and inspire them for a lifetime of learning. Think of this as do-it-yourself professional development. It’s entirely yours to design, using the technology available to all of us today and with a huge entertainment factor to boot. And if you have recommendations to share, I’d love to hear about them. I’m getting hungry for a new dose of science.

Bon appétit!

~ Penny

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Filed under NGSS, professional development

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