December 20th, 2012
10:23 AM ET

The science class of the (not too distant) future

By John Martin, CNN

(CNN) - Years ago, maybe years upon years ago, you probably sat in a classroom and learned how chemicals combine to form new substances. You watched your teacher write on the board, drew a few pictures and completed a worksheet. Maybe you read the textbook at home and studied images of electrons being shared and transferred to form chemical bonds.

If you step into a high school chemistry class late next year, the students might be learning the same thing. But they could be manipulating foam or paper mache models to show how bonds are made, or moving electrons around on a computer screen, testing what happens when a transfer occurs.

Science classrooms in America will begin to change next year, when 26 states are expected to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards. How those students learn will often differ from the education their parents, or even their older siblings, had.

Twenty-six states helped develop new science standards.

Whatever they're doing, they won't just be reading science translated into kid-speak by adults. They'll be making models, solving problems and getting messy, the standards developers said. They're expecting the next generation to gain an understanding of science and engineering that makes them competitive on a global scale.

“The Next Generation Science Standards… could potentially have a profound change on how we teach science,” said Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teacher Association. “Parents need to know it’s a different kind of classroom their child's going to see.”

So exactly what will change?


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December 20th, 2012
05:00 AM ET

Michigan cousins go after crayfish, hook a mastodon

By Kristina Sgueglia, CNN

(CNN) - An 11-year-old from Michigan said he was really going to wow his schoolmates with the "coolest" show-and-tell item anyone's ever brought to the sixth grade.

After all, it's not every day you get to show off a 13,000-year-old mastodon bone you and your cousin found in a stream behind your backyard.

"I thought it was a rock at first, but a couple minutes later I looked more at it, and I didn't think it was a dinosaur bone, but I wasn't sure," Eric Stamatin of Shelby Township Michigan told CNN on Thursday.

He and Andrew Gainariu, 11, from Troy, Michigan, were hunting for crayfish in the stream that extends from the middle branch of the Clinton River, as they often did, when they "got bored" and decided to build a dam.

They made an extraordinary discovery that June day.

John Zawiskie, a geologist and paleontologist at the Cranbrook Institute of Science confirmed in early November that what the "kids just being kids outside" discovered was not a rock at all, but an axis, a specialized second vertebrae behind the skull in the spinal column of an American mastodon.

"These animals have been extinct for 10,000 years," Zawiskie told CNN.

Read the full story

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Professor: Enter the Wu-Tang to teach high school science
GZA, one of the founders of the Wu-Tang Clan, wants to turn his talents to helping teach science in schools.
November 19th, 2012
04:50 PM ET

Professor: Enter the Wu-Tang to teach high school science

by Martin Rand III, CNN

(CNN) – Music has often been used to teach kids complicated concepts. Shows like “Schoolhouse Rock” and “Sesame Street” showed that music can help kids digest lessons, whether it’s how a bill makes it through Congress or words that begin with the letter Q.

Now, Columbia University Professor Christopher Emdin is taking that same logic and applying it to high schools in New York City. But rather than Mr. Chips or Elmo leading kids in sing-alongs, enter the Wu-Tang.

Along with Emdin, Wu-Tang member GZA and the founders of the hip-hop lyrics website Rap Genius will announce a program that utilizes hip-hop to teach science in 10 New York City public schools.

“Everything has already been tried,” said Emdin, an assistant professor of science at Columbia’s Teachers College. “We’ve already done a pilot, and it was successful.”

According to Emdin, during the project’s trial period, attendance, interest and graduation rates all rose after hip-hop was introduced into the classroom.

Science has been one of the harder subjects to teach to black and Latino students, who make up 70% of the city’s rolls, according to New York’s Independent Budget Office. The 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress said only 4% of African-American seniors were proficient in sciences, compared with 27% of whites.


In Sandy, opportunities for science education
October 30th, 2012
04:27 PM ET

In Sandy, opportunities for science education

by Zaina Adamu, CNN

When Ted Turbiasz, 36, first heard about Hurricane Sandy, he gathered his two children in their backyard and put them to work. Collectively, they built a do-it-yourself weather station equipped with a rain gauge and wind indicator, and connected their home television to feed live video of the storm. They topped it off with a specially-made banner held on with green duct tape and labeling the unit as “Aidan’s Sandy Weather Station.”

The purpose of it all was to “teach them that weather is something that can be monitored," Turbiasz told CNN's iReport.

With more advanced technology and resources, forecasters are doing the same. They predicted the magnitude of Sandy with the help of satellite images from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. JPL's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder tracked the storm and captured a high-resolution photo that meteorologists used to determine the storm's size.

Other sophisticated technology helps predict life-threatening hurricanes, as well. Take for instance the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s supercomputer, Yellowstone, which is able to render short-term weather forecasts in less than 10 minutes and can compute 1.5 quadrillion (a million billion) mathematical operations a second, equivalent to 7 billion people performing more than 200,000 calculations every second.

Read the full story from our Light Years Blog
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Space school, Day 5: How to launch a ship to low-Earth orbit
Montse Cordero, left, with her housemate Alex Carney, right, in front of the vacuum chamber at Johnson Space Center.
July 29th, 2012
10:43 AM ET

Space school, Day 5: How to launch a ship to low-Earth orbit

Editor's note: Montse Cordero is a 17-year-old student from Costa Rica participating in the Foundation for International Space Education's United Space School, a two-week summer program in Houston. She'll be blogging about her experiences in the program here. Need to catch up? Check out all her previous posts here.

Day 5

I'm starting to get the feeling that all of these posts start the same way, but it's for a good reason: Every day is absolutely amazing in its own way!

Today started early again. Before school, our host took us to see some big vacuum chambers used for testing at Johnson Space Center. There are two chambers in the building: one, that is pretty gigantic, where they will test the James Webb Space Telescope, and another one that’s smaller.

The smaller one is actually human rated, so they’ll test space suits there (with people inside!). The big one takes over 12 hours to reach testing level of vacuum, and the smaller one will take more than eight. They are both quite impressive, we really enjoyed seeing them and learning about them.

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Space school, days 3 & 4: team assignments, astronauts, flying
Montse Cordero and fellow USS student and housemate Alex stand in front of NASA's Space Exploration Vehicle.
July 28th, 2012
10:37 AM ET

Space school, days 3 & 4: team assignments, astronauts, flying

Editor's note: Montse Cordero is a 17-year-old student from Costa Rica participating in the Foundation for International Space Education's United Space School, a two-week summer program in Houston. She'll be blogging about her experiences in the program here. Need to catch up? Check out her first post: Getting ready to explore space school, and her log of the first two days.

Day 3

I’ve been a space geek for a pretty long time, so being at space school is like a dream come true. I’ve wanted to learn everything related to space since I was a little girl. Influence from my parents and going to Space Camp, along with a few other factors, got me to where I am now, but I never imagined I’d get to do things like the ones I’ve been doing these days. The most amazing part is that it’s only day two!

Today started early at Johnson Space Center, where we visited their acoustics laboratory. The laboratory is where they test spaceships and their components before they fly to make sure the vibrations from the launch won't damage them. From there we went to the University of Houston, Clear Lake where our classes take place. It was pretty exciting; we knew we were getting our team assignments.

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Has America really underinvested in science education?
July 27th, 2012
05:20 PM ET

Has America really underinvested in science education?

By Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Alex Berezow is the editor of RealClearScience. Hank Campbell is founder of Science 2.0. They are authors of the forthcoming book Science Left Behind. The views expressed are their own.

On Global Public Square last month, Fareed Zakaria made the case that the U.S. economy is struggling in part due to poor investment in science. He based this conclusion on two claims: First, that federal research and development (R&D) investment has declined over the past several years and, second, that American students have fallen behind in science education.

The first claim, while true, only tells part of the story. As we discuss in the upcoming Science Left Behind, American R&D investment has been relatively consistent for the past 30 years, never dropping below 2.3 percent of GDP. Though the federal portion of U.S. R&D investment has fallen during this period, the private sector has actually picked up the slack. Indeed, the most recent estimate for 2012 shows that the U.S. will spend approximately 2.85 percent of its GDP on R&D.

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Report: U.S. science students run simple experiments, but can't explain results
Students competed at the Google Science Fair last year -- but in schools, many struggle to explain experiment results.
June 19th, 2012
12:23 PM ET

Report: U.S. science students run simple experiments, but can't explain results

By Sally Holland, CNN

Washington (CNN)  - American students can successfully conduct simple science experiments at school, but aren't able to explain the results, a new report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows.

Results released today reveal that America's fourth-, eighth-, and 12th-graders struggled when investigations had more variables to manipulate or required strategic decision-making while collecting data. Many weren't able to explain why certain results were correct.

It's the first time the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation's Report Card, measured how students performed on hands-on and interactive computer tasks like a professional scientist might. While traditional standardized tests grade students on what they know, people in the workforce are measured on how they apply what they've learned in school. This analysis moves away from "paper and pencil" tests and should allow for a different type of analysis by education experts.


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June 7th, 2012
03:30 PM ET

Can jumping spiders kill in space? Student's experiment set for orbit

By Jon Jensen and Rima Maktabi, CNN
Editor's note: Each month, Inside the Middle East takes you behind the headlines to see a different side of this diverse region.

Alexandria, Egypt (CNN) - Can jumping spiders still hunt for their prey in space?

It may sound like science fiction or the start of a bad joke, but this is an experiment that will be carried out on the International Space Station later this year, thanks to Egyptian teenager Amr Mohamed.

Mohamed, 19, from Alexandria, came up with one of the two winning entries from around the world for the YouTube Space Lab competition, backed by Professor Stephen Hawking, which asked students to design experiments for space scientists.

The idea behind Mohamed's experiment is to study how the zebra spider, which jumps on its prey rather than building a web, will hunt when it is in zero gravity.

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Exploring the universe in high school
Charles S. Owen taught at Thomas Jefferson University for 25 years and was also an influential high school science teacher.
May 9th, 2012
04:06 PM ET

Exploring the universe in high school

Courtesy CNNBy Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Editor’s Note: In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week this week, we’re asking our colleagues at CNN to share their stories of teachers who have inspired them.  Elizabeth Landau is a writer/producer for

Last week, on the occasion of my 10th high school reunion, I caught up with some of the teachers who motivated me to become a better thinker and more confident person over the years. But the science corridor of the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania held a special sadness for me as I thought about a teacher who is no longer there, and to whom I would love to be able to say: “Guess what? I write about science for CNN!”

When I was 16, I had no idea what I was getting into when I signed up for physics with Charles Owen – I’d merely chosen it over biology for my junior-year science elective because the idea of frog dissections grossed me out. But physics felt natural to me, and exciting. Dr. Owen explained, with demonstrations and thoughtful diagrams, how aspects of the universe such as momentum, acceleration and gravity could be described with formulas. I was simply amazed that, in the absence of air (in a vacuum), a feather and a bowling ball would fall at exactly the same speed, and that I could use an equation to prove it.

Just when I felt comfortable with the year’s material, Dr. Owen approached me to ask if I wanted to take Physics B Advanced Placement exam. This seemed outrageous at first – his course was not specifically geared toward any standardized test preparation. But he assured me that if I read a few additional textbook chapters on my own, and met with him a several times after school, I would be fine. It was the first time I’d undertaken a real “independent study.” I enjoyed having one-on-one discussions with Dr. Owen about everything from relativity to circuits.

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