By Debra Shapiro
Girls and Women in STEM Web Page
Developed by the Smithsonian Science Education Center with funding from Johnson & Johnson, this page offers a mix of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) resources to excite K–12 audiences about STEM. The resources—including lessons, quick activities, e-books, news articles, engineering design challenges, and curriculum—engage learners in STEM pursuits that encourage all students—especially girls—to consider careers in STEM fields. For example, activities such as Simulating Sutures (ages 7–11) develop critical-thinking skills as students design suture models with yarn (natural fiber), plastic lacing (synthetic fiber), and pipe cleaners (staples) and practice medical stitch techniques to compare the performance of each suture type.
Accompanying lesson materials include brief interviews with suture scientists Toykea Jones and Vivian Liang, who describe their jobs and share how they got started in their careers. Colorful infographics feature current information and statistics relating to timely topics such as Learning Science Through Inquiry, Digital Initiatives in STEM Education, and Transforming Science Education. Teachers can share the downloadable infographics with middle and high school students to help them see the benefits of pursuing STEM studies.
Girl Scouts at Home (With STEM)
At Girl Scouts at Home, Girl Scouts USA’s online platform, K–12 teachers can access engaging STEM activities “for every girl” (and boy!). The 14 activities—developed as part of the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, Manufacturing, and Design initiative and modified for publication on the Girl Scouts at Home platform—explore STEM topics such as nanometers, computer coding, engineering design challenges, and circuits. For example, students might use household materials to Build Your Own Touch-Screen Stylus; create rock sculptures kept in place by nothing more than shape, weight, and friction in Rock and Roll: Balancing River Rocks; or research mosquito behaviors, then play a game to Be Mosquito Smart. An educator guide with relevant details (e.g., time and materials needed, setup, and instructions) accompanies each activity.
Planting the Seed With Primary Sources
Help students of all ages explore the role of gardens and gardening in history with primary sources from the Library of Congress (LOC). A recent post in the Teaching With the LOC blog highlights images and blog posts from two teachers on the topic. One post, Primary Sources in Science Classrooms: Plants, Photos From Tuskegee, and Planning Investigations, suggests learning activities based on a historical photograph of workers in a Tuskegee Institute greenhouse. In the example, fourth graders use a modified version of the LOC’s Primary Source Analysis Tool to observe (I see), reflect (I think), and question (I wonder) to organize thoughts about the photograph, which spurs further research about the historic work undertaken at the Tuskegee Institute. Similarly, the post Preparing for Spring by Celebrating School Gardens has students examine a U.S. School Garden Army poster from 1918, then reflect on questions such as what was the “U.S. School Garden Army,” and why were the U.S. Bureau of Education and Department of Interior marketing it? These musings can help students consider their own gardening efforts and the larger purpose for gardens in school and community environments.
Mars Rover Perseverance Website
Excite K–12 students and space history fans of all ages about space exploration and beyond with these educational resources about Perseverance, the latest rover to land on Mars. The website from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum features articles, podcasts, videos, and even an augmented reality (AR) app to give visitors a front-row seat to Mars exploration and discovery. Listen to the podcast AirSpace: The Rover, which in 15 minutes examines the details of NASA’s Mission to Mars, including what makes the mission so special (hint: Think soil sample caches and the very first helicopter on Mars). Watch a live (archived) video chat with an aspiring astronaut and founder of "The Mars Generation," who shares the latest developments in and future plans regarding Mars exploration. Drive a rover, walk the Martian surface, and play robot geologist using the Mission to Mars AR app
In this game for grades K–2, students build physics and engineering understandings as they design solutions to mini-golf challenges. Originally created to supplement a physical science curriculum module for kindergarten from Smithsonian Science for the Classroom, How Can We Change an Object’s Motion?, the game asks students to manipulate wooden blocks onscreen and test big and small pushes to successfully guide a golf ball to the hole. The web-based game can be played on desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
Activities to Do With Children Outdoors
From creating nature-inspired poems and investigating nature mystery boxes to researching “green” careers and comparing soil samples, these simple, family-friendly activity ideas from Project Learning Tree enable K–8 students to learn about nature, build emotional and physical resiliency, and observe and appreciate the natural world—right in their own backyards! The activities, which are downloadable in both English and Spanish versions, include instructions, guiding questions, and additional resources. Several activities—e.g., The Closer You Look (investigating tree structure) and The Shape of Things (investigating shapes in nature)—also include demonstration videos.
The Homeschool Scientist
Filled with hands-on experiments, curriculum choices, science resources, and expert advice, this website helps elementary and middle level educators in homeschool and classroom settings lessen their fears around teaching science and infuses lessons with fun. Search for activities by science discipline or topic, and browse the site’s collection of free printables, which address everything from notebooking pages on outer space to atom lessons and animal reports. Science activities include How to Make a Peep Blow Up a Balloon, Milk Fireworks, and How to Make an Easy Birdfeeder. The site also provides resources and tips (via blog posts) to help educators and parents stay organized when conducting science experiments at home or in distance-learning environments.
Science and Our Food Supply is a curriculum program published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that features inquiry activities (Teachers Guides), videos, and games to help students connect food safety, nutrition, and biotechnology topics to their everyday lives. For example, Science and Our Food Supply: Exploring Food Agriculture and Biotechnology (2020 Edition) highlights the use of modern agriculture technologies. The guide’s activities address topics such as selective breeding, DNA in food crops, genetic engineering (GE) methods, evaluating food from GE plants, and labeling processes for food containing ingredients from GE plants.
The website also has resources to increase students’ food safety knowledge. Dr. X and the Quest for Food Safety Interactive Video is a lively, 45-minute presentation summarizing content in the guide Science and Our Food Supply: Investigating Food Safety from Farm to Table. Food Safety A to Z Reference Guide is an online glossary of food safety information and definitions in an easy-to-access alphabetical format. Use these resources to build students’ understandings about food safety topics, then test what they know with the game Love a Million (Bacteria). Similarly formatted to the TV quiz series Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, this game—which includes game rules, question sets (four questions each), and an answer key—lets students have fun while teachers assess their knowledge of food safety science and safe food handling practices.
Infectious Diseases, Science Literacy, and Citizen Behavior: Helping Students Make Connections Using Historical Newspaper Articles
A recent post from the Teaching with the Library of Congress (LOC) blog summarizes an article that appeared in the Sources and Strategies column in the January/February 2021 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies. Written by the LOC’s Michael Apfeldorf, the column highlights three historical newspaper articles (from the LOC) about measles and actions citizens could take to protect themselves and their neighbors. The column also suggests teaching strategies for using them in middle and high school classrooms, such as close textual analysis and comparing and contrasting. As the historical newspaper articles were written in different time periods (one in 1913, another in 1955, and a third in 1963), the strategies provide valuable opportunities for students to delve into the historical connections between science literacy and citizen behavior.
Vax! Understanding Epidemic Prevention Game
Try this game to teach middle to college level students about the dynamics of epidemic spread and prevention. The interactive, puzzle-style game developed at Penn State University helps students understand how disease spreads across a network and how vaccines work to reduce the spread. In the game, players prepare for an outbreak by vaccinating a “network” (a series of connected dots) that models human social networks. Then an infectious outbreak begins to spread, and players are challenged to quell the epidemic by quarantining individuals at risk of becoming infected. Before playing the game with students, click through an interactive explanatory “tour” of the game to learn definitions and information about its key components (e.g., networks, epidemics, vaccines, and quarantining). A second interactive module explains how herd immunity works and how it differs among pathogens.
Metals in Aqueous Solutions
In this online simulation for grades 9–12, students conduct tests of various metals in aqueous solutions to determine the relative reactivity of the metals and record their observations. Through four simulated tests, students observe a total of eight metals in various combinations with the corresponding metal nitrate solutions and hydrochloric acid. Students interpret their collected data to construct an activity series—i.e., a list of elements in decreasing order of their reactivity—of the elements used in the simulation. (Note: Though all educators can access the online simulation activity for free, only American Association of Chemistry Teachers members can access the simulation’s accompanying teacher’s guide.)
A collection of 10 lessons from the Nature Conservancy explores environmental topics. Targeted for grades 9–12, Nature Lab’s lessons include accompanying teachers guides and videos and address topics such as urban runoff, biomimicry, and climate change. In addition, a Virtual STEM Career Fair promotes dynamic careers in those fields. Through a 45-minute video presentation and accompanying materials, students meet three STEM professionals working in dynamic positions in engineering, ecology, and advocacy. Visit the website for descriptions of all the available Nature Lab lessons and access the relevant Teacher Guides.
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