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Freebee Friday: Under the Deep Blue Sea

Cameron nat geoJames Cameron, better known for Titanic and Avatar, recently went on a sea journey to the deepest part of the ocean. Nearly 7 miles down in the Mariana Trench, his one-man sub, Deepsea Challenger, took him to see things few humans have seen, and recorded it for all to look at and marvel. The video is a great science lesson about not only what lurks way down under and how you get there, but what you need to do to get back to the surface safely.


Ants on the Ceiling?

Ant_farm_revolution_photo1Most districts would shut down any school that had insects crawling on its walls and ceiling, I hope. But, Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm Revolution can safely keep the ants under control while opening a new view on biology. The twist is that the kids can better watch the ants crawling through their tunnels, carrying large loads and generally just being ants because rather than a traditional rectangular ant farm, the Ant Revolution is cylindrical, has LED lighting and a lens so the ants’ movements can be focused on the ceiling. It requires three AAA batteries, comes with a bunch of ants and costs $40.



Sensing a Change

TI Vernier If outfitting a science lab with the right sensors and computers is too much for you to handle, TI and Vernier have joined forces to create the TI-Nspire Lab Station. Based on TI’s Nspire CX color screen calculator and Lab Cradle along with Veriner’s DataQuest software and more than 55 sensors (from accelerometers to voltage probes), the lab suite is a great way to teach chemistry, physics, earth science and math. 



Earth Science in a Box

638016_sustainableearthlab_pp_full Of all the scientific curriculums, earth science is the one that requires kids to go outdoors and explore the world around them. Thames & Kosmos’s Earth Science Kit has the power to teach about the globe first hand with activities on energy conservation, renewable energies, natural resource usage, climate change prevention, waste and water management. On top of examining how pollutants can harm life and building a miniature waste water treatment plant, the kit has a wind power generator. It comes with a 48-page booklet that’s chock full of lesson ideas.

Small Things Made Large

USB_Microscope[1] Nothing lights up a science classroom like a digital microscope that can enlarge a spider or human hair on a classroom projector, but these devices have been hard to work and expensive. Califone’s USB Digital Microscope costs only $187, magnifies micro worlds 200-times and has automatic controls for brightness and color so whether you’re displaying video or still images, everything looks perfect. I really like the microscope’s filters that let the teacher choose among color, black and white, reverse image and three color filters. It’s small, comes with a stand and works with recent Windows releases as well as a variety of resolutions.

Day and Night

Daylights One of the hardest thing for kids to figure out is how daylight and nighttime work, but with Xump’s City Light Earth Globe, it’ll be as clear as night and day. Forget about fooling around with a globe and flashlight because the City Light Earth Globe shows where it’s day and where it’s night throughout the world. It costs $50 and should be part of every elementary school’s science equipment.

Weather or Not

Vantage vue Why teach the science of meteorology by assigning readings, drawing pictures of fronts on the board and explaining the role of barometric pressure when kids can feel the excitement of measuring and interpreting real-time weather data. If you thought that setting up a weather station was beyond your school’s technical and economic resources, Davis Instruments’ Vantage Vue is a complete system that is solar powered and connects wirelessly to an unlimited number of classrooms. Be careful, its starting price of $395 can rise quickly with accessories.

The center of attention for the Vantage Vue is what Davis Instruments calls the Integrated Sensor Suite (ISS). It’s a white and black plastic set of instruments and digital probes. Well built and durable, it sits atop a 1.25-inch diameter pole and mounting it on a roof requires neither an electrician nor a maintenance worker. Davis sells a $75 mounting tripod for schools with a flat roof or setting it up on a playground.
There’s a handy bubble level on the ISS so that it’s hard to mount it at an angle, but make sure you have a compass handy to align the device with North. The ISS captures data on a variety of physical parameters from temperature, barometric pressure and precipitation to wind speed and direction. In other words, it is a full weather data center.

Solar powered, the instruments are self-powered but require a backup battery that Davis says should last about 2 years of normal use. This might be easier said than done, if the device is set up on a roof with minimal access.

Vue console The data is sent wirelessly to Vue’s excellent LCD console, which makes setting the device up a snap. The console shows what’s happening at the moment as well as trends, but needs to be within about 1,000 feet of the ISS instruments. That range can be extended with a wireless repeater.

A big bonus is that the ISS can connect with an unlimited number of consoles, which cost $195 each. This way every science classroom in the school, and even the main office, can be outfitted with access to the latest weather info.

There’s another, less expensive way to send the data throughout the school. The company’s $295 WeatherLinkIP kit lets the ISS communicate with an unlimited number of computers anywhere in the building. It comes with an adapter that plugs into the console and the schools LAN as well as the needed software.

Just load the software on a computer and it can grab the data from the console and display it as a series of graphs. Double click on any area to drill down to view the underlying data and view trends. In another section you can plot any parameters for classroom analysis, for instance, the relationship between outside temperature, wind speed and the wind chill index.

Davis also sells the same software with a USB cable for connecting to a single computer for $165. While the IP software works with PCs and Macs, the USB version only works with PCs.

Weather station rain Using the software’s IP abilities, I connected the Vue to my network router and it worked like magic displaying the weather results on several different computers. The WeatherLinkIP package can transfer the data to a Web site.

I love that the software can produce a chart of data in the National Weather Service format for comparison with other stations. It covers the range of data collected, and includes sunrise, sunset, moon phase and a vague weather prediction. Click on any graphs and the recent historical data is shown.

Davis has lesson plans available for elementary- through high-school classes, and its Web site has current weather conditions from amateur weathermen (and weather-women) from Andorra to Venezuela; many countries have multiple weather stations listed.

Like an ala carte menus, the price of Vantage Vue starts low but adds up quickly. With the base equipment, an extra console, connection kit and tripod, the set up can push $800. It’s more than worth it because the system requires little maintenance and can open a world of science to a class.

Davis Instruments Vantage Vue

+ Complete weather monitoring system
+ Quick and easy set up
+ Wireless console
+ Impressive network or USB software
+ Online lessons

- Price adds up quickly
- Need to replace sensor’s battery every two years

Nature on Parade

C_DE_LIFE_Logo[1] If you thought that the makers of the “Planet Earth” series of nature shows couldn’t outdo themselves, you’re dead wrong. The latest streaming series of videos from Discovery Education is the 11-part “Life” show. All episodes in their entirely will be available on Discovery Education’s Streaming Plus site starting in March along with 9,000 other full-length videos and 71,000 clips. There will be special clips of interest and a variety of teacher resources that have been designed with state science standards in mind.  The group will be at booth 709.

Sparking Science Imagination

Prnphotos079818-PASCO-SCIENTIFIC Pasco Scientific’s SPARK handheld science teaching tool takes a big step forward with PC version of its SPARKvue software. With the power to make science – and especially labs -- more visual, students can use the SPARK computer or a PC with SPARKvue to create graphs, analyze data and even annotate items of interest. When they're done, they can print the material or create an electronic portfolio. Coming soon are dozens of SPARKLabs for PCs that cover a range of curriculum items for science teachers.

Down to Earth Education

Nasa Space may be the final frontier, but NASA has a shipload of educational resources for science teachers to use. At the NSTA show, they’re there and will present dozens of workshops and presentations from a survey of black holes to using remote sensing satellites to examine our planet. There’s a schedule of space-oriented seminars that are divided into those for elementary, middle- or high-school classes, although don’t ignore the Informal category; it has some of the most imaginative approaches to teaching science.



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