September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Student Experiments to See the Edge of Space

Posted: Friday, August 19th, 2016

by Joanne Michael

A view of Southern California from 90,000 feet.

A view of Southern California from 90,000 feet.
Click image for a larger view.

Three years ago, I had a dream- I wanted to work with my students to send a weather balloon with experiments into the edge of space. I had colleagues around the country that had done it with their schools, and I was loving every moment of their stories. Their students were coming up with the experiments, talking with scientists, spending months learning about meteorology, weather patterns, calculating the speed and trajectory- all things that I wanted to have my students experience. Not knowing how to fund it, or really how to do it in the first place, I tried writing grants, getting sponsors, talking to aerospace companies, but came up empty-handed. My school district is located in a very financially wealthy area, and so we do not qualify for many grants. In addition, I teach elementary school (I’m a hands-on science educator, teaching the entire K-5 school), and the majority of grants that my area would allow my to apply for were for middle and high school teachers- not elementary.

This past year, my district’s Education Foundation started a new grant- “Teachers Driving Innovation”, which provided funds for teachers to do out-of-the-box projects and experiences. After applying and winning a grant, 34 students were selected out of the school (1 or 2 students out of every class, and selected by their classroom teacher, to not promote favoritism by me), based on their love of science, personal drive, and ability to work with others.

High Altitude ShotClick image for a larger view.

High Altitude Shot
Click image for a larger view.

If a payload is under 4 pounds, and has no transmitting capabilities (with the exception of radio or GPS communications), the FAA technically can’t “do” anything. However, it is considerably better to let them know of what you are doing if you want to launch in a relatively populated area. Not only is it a pretty easy process, it teaches the students how to go about governmental procedures in an appropriate way, and how different organizations work with each other. Most locations can launch from their school’s field or parking lot without a problem. However, I teach in the direct flight path of LAX- we watched Endeavour land at LAX from our playfield! I was thinking about heading out into the desert, where we would be fine, but also wanted my students to be able to be a part of the launch, and knew that the majority would not be able to make the 2 hour drive each direction, due to other family obligations, cost of fuel, etc. After a long search, Goodyear donated their field for a launch site in Carson- where the airship is normally moored. I studied for and received my HAM radio license, to allow me to be able to send an APRS radio, and formed a partnership with a local HAM radio club to support and help train for inflating the balloon.

Next on my list was to get my students to learn about meteorology. I started contacting universities, professors, colleagues, and anyone I could think of that would be interested in a skype session with my students for 10 minutes. The incredible happened- KTLA in Los Angeles had a meteorologist that was interested in coming out and talking to my students- and we ended up making it onto the afternoon news! My students learned about high and low pressure, how weather balloons work, the different tools that meteorologists use, and got even more inspired about the project.

The morning of the launch, everything was as perfect as could be. The winds were absolutely calm, not a cloud in the sky, warm weather, and excitement filled the air. The crowd, filled with about 100 students, parents, community members, and friends, lined the edge of the Goodyear blimp mooring pad as the balloon slowly inflated with helium. My ground crew of students quickly got to work, putting to use what they had been learning, preparing for, and practicing for months. At precisely 9:09 AM on Saturday, April 16, the balloon was launched from the field, along with the realization that dreams can really come true.

Southern CA from 90,000 feet!Click image for larger view.

Southern CA from 90,000 feet!
Click image for larger view.

As the balloon soared to 97,000 feet above the Earth, some student families and I drove along the coast to try to recover it, as we all knew it was predicted to splash down in the Pacific Ocean. There is software online that if you input the predicted burst altitude, mass of payload, ascent and descent rate, date and time of the launch, and exact coordinates of the launch site, it can predict where the balloon would burst, and where it would touch down again. The prediction was accurate, and as we watched on radar, realized that we would not be able to recover it that day, as the winds were too strong on shore. We were not deterred by this recent change in plans, and began calling and contacting anyone who would possibly be willing to drive 20 miles off shore, in the hopes of capturing the balloon and its contents for later that day or even the next day. A small company called Xplore Offshore answered the phone, and was up for the challenge. Bright and early the next morning, they scoured the ocean, spending 4 hours out, armed only with coordinates that signaled where the payload was 12 hours before. They weren’t successful, and came back to shore- but determined to succeed.

The next day he went out again, this time with a second boat and updated coordinates. As they were out, a large wave pushed the payload out, triggering the GPS on board, and giving me brand new coordinates that were different than the ones we had been predicting. Unfortunately, they were too far offshore to be able to receive them! Phone calls and text messages went unanswered- and we were worried that once he came back in, he wouldn’t want to go out again- they have a business to run, and cannot continue scouring the ocean, especially when it is 20 miles off shore. I finally got a hold of him, begged, and he went out one more time, telling me that this was it- he couldn’t do it any more.

CCSAdAfter everything, he was able to retrieve the floating box of Styrofoam, encased in orange, floating out in the middle of the ocean. I went screaming from my classroom down the hallway to my principal, where we received a picture on my phone from the captain of the payload, balloon, and parachute, bobbing calmly in the ocean. After another moment of glee (and permission from my principal), I got in my car and drove to La Jolla, where I met the captain, my payload, and truly saw my dreams come true.

Was it a lot of work? Without a doubt- one of the most stressful experiences I’ve ever done as an educator. Was it worth it? Again, without a doubt- I had students that like science but are not interested in “school” that were begging their parents to get them to school early on their team days. Students are already asking me if they can be on the launch team for next year. Hearing a 5-year-old accurately explain to a group of adults why a balloon will burst in space is just extraordinary. I definitely know that I have some engineers and researchers on my team- kids that are going to change the world as we know it. All it took was a dream.

Written by Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael is a K-5 Science Specialist for Manhattan Beach Unified, former CSTA Upper Elementary director, and is a current CSTA member.

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.