Whether it was listening to a featured speaker discuss computers in science teaching, engaging in a hands-on workshop focused on the technology of solar energy or attending a symposium on nanotechnology, science educators had numerous opportunities to explore technology on the second day of NSTA’s Birmingham Area Conference on Science Education.
Featured speaker David Vernier shows attendee Richard D. Barrows of Orange Park, Florida, different technological tools.
This event is taking place at the Birmingham–Jefferson Convention Complex. This story discusses events taking place on the second day of the conference. To read a story about the first day of the conference, click here.
Dozens of attendees decided to start the day learning about technology by listening to featured speaker David Vernier. Vernier, CEO of Vernier Software and Technology, made a presentation titled Computers in Science Teaching: Thirty Years of History and a Look at the Future.
The presentation consisted of Vernier reviewing technological milestones from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and advancements during the past seven years.
In the 1970s, Vernier explained such milestones included the development of the Apple II. The 1980s saw the development of the IBM PC and the MS-DOS. Blackboards, overhead projectors, and film loops were other technological tools used during the 1980s.
Vernier noted that his company felt pressure to keep pace with the technological advancements of the 1980s. We tried to meet the needs of teachers, Vernier said.
In the 1990s, society saw the development of Windows 3.0 and Linux. Vernier also noted that more computers could be found in school classrooms, especially science classrooms.
Vernier explained that the average price for a computer averaged at about a $1,000 in 1993. “That was a lot of money,” Vernier observed. “It was not a surprise that schools could not afford a lot of computers.” Vernier said that the development of the calculator based laboratory (CBL) made computers a more affordable option for schools.
“Our sales with our company doubled over this,” Vernier noted.
Since 2000, technology trends in the science classroom have included the use of digital cameras, photo and video downloads, and data collection via the USB. Clickers and computers with GHz clocks have also been used in the science classroom, Vernier noted.
As far as the future, “I think computers are going to be cheaper and more plentiful,” Vernier told attendees.
Vernier explained that there are three reasons behind this. First, laptops have become smaller and less expensive. There are also Linux computers and open-source software. Computers have also been dedicated to data collection.
Vernier noted that another future trend is less expensive and improved sensors. There is a wide range of sensors such as wireless and USB direct sensors. Vernier also noted there is much international competition to develop sensors.
Another future trend noted by Vernier is having more computers in the lower grades. There is a growing message in society to get students interested in science at a younger age, Vernier said. “I feel more funding will be dedicated to this.”
Attendees search for beads representing different energy sources.
Exploring the future technology behind solar energy was the focus of workshop presented by Allan G. Phipps. Phipps, a science teacher at South Plantation High School in Florida, made a presentation to attendees about how his students built a solar car and engaged teachers in several hands-on activities about solar energy.
Phipps, who teaches Advanced Placement environmental science, explained that some of his students had recently expressed an interest in pursuing a career in environmental engineering. He then showed them a solar car and explained how it was part of an engineering project. Phipps explained to his students that if they wanted to do something similar they would need to find out if their high school had any such projects. The inquiry led the students to enter the Dell-Winston School Solar Car Challenge at the Texas Motor Speedway in 2006.
To participate in the competition, the students had to raise several thousand dollars. Phipps told his students he would match each dollar they raised with any grants he applied for.
“My students outperformed me,” Phipps observed, noting his students convinced BP Solar to donate $7,000 in solar panels. Phipps’s students also won more than $5,000 from the Tiger Woods Target Superstores Start Something program, raised more than $4,000 through the Adopt-a-Cell program, and solicited thousands of dollars from local companies.
After obtaining funding to build a solar car, Phipps’s students began construction of the vehicle. They road tested the car at Everglades National Park. Tests performed by students included learning how to fully charge batteries and change gears. Phipps’ students then competed in the challenge traveling from Red Rock, Texas to Newburgh, New York.
“Every time we stopped it became a community outreach event,” Phipps commented. Phipps’s students continue to perform outreach activities with the aim of educating the public about solar energy, solar cars, and solar racing. Phipps and his students have also developed an edu-tainment curriculum to share with schools and have sent thank you notes to their sponsors following their participation in the challenge.
Attendees were able to learn about solar energy by participating in hands-on activities under the direction of Phipps.
In an activity titled Renewable Energy versus Nonrenewable Energy, Phipps had attendees gather in a circle around a white sheet. Various colored beads were placed on the sheet. White beads were used to represent natural gas, red beads equated to uranium, oil was represented by blue beads, and black beads were used to represent coal.
Phipps then divided attendees into five groups informing each group they would have one minute to gather as many beads as possible in one color. After one trial, attendees were asked to repeat the exercise.
As you can see the topography, which is represented by the sheet, has changed, Phipps explained. Fossil fuels are limited but solar energy is renewable, Phipps added.
“I like the activity,” said Patricia Spenard, a high school science teacher from Columbus, Georgia. “This is good for physics and environmental science.”
Attendees Norma Street (left) of Woodstock, Georgia, and Julie Ayn Weisberg (right) of Lawrenceville, Georgia, observe presenter M. Gail Jones drop food coloring onto plant leaves.
An NSTA Symposium titled Nanoscale Science: Activities for Grades 6–12 enabled attendees to explore the field of nanotechnology. Based on the NSTA Press publication with the same title, this session enabled middle level and high school teachers to practice activities discussed in the book.
In one activity, teachers learned about the Lotus Effect using plant leaves and food coloring.
According to the publication, scientists are now mimicking nature at the nanoscale level in an area known as biomimicry. In grocery stores, for example, shoppers can notice how water beads up and rolls off on some plants like mustard greens and broccoli. These plants have a property known as the lotus effect.
Attendees were able to observe this effect by using eye droppers filled with red and blue food coloring and dropping the liquid onto plant leaves.
Each attendee received a copy of the Nanoscale Science: Activities for Grades 6–12 book to take back to their classrooms. Attendees will be able to continue their learning of nanotechnology following the symposium with two NSTA web seminars. These events will take place on December 18 and January 15.