Lake Ontario is Rising

February 27, 2009
Lake Ontario Trends

Lake Ontario Trends

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported on Monday that Lake Ontario is now 8 inches higher than it was last year at this time. The number, reported by the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers, is the third highest increase seen in one of the Great Lakes behind Michigan and Huron both tied at 1 foot.

What does the rise in level mean for the Great Lakes?

While excessive rising of the water level may cause flooding and higher rates of erosion, a moderate level provides routes for “commercial navigation, recreational boating, marinas, beaches, fishing, cottage and homeowners, and the aquatic ecosystem.” [1] While Lake Ontario’s levels are indeed increasing, they are doing so at a healthy rate… hardly to the extent as the highs of the mid 1980’s or the lows caused by El Nina in the late 1990’s.

The Great Lakes provide rich learning experiences for local students… does your class use Lake Ontario or any of the local streams to explore environmental trends?

1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Click to access lakelevels.pdf

What are the Chances?

February 25, 2009


You might have heard about the recent space collision… the one where two satellites crashed, creating “hundreds if not thousands of pieces of tracked debris”.[1] One satellite was a functional communications satellite in an orbital flock of 65. The other, was a defunct satellite launched in 1993 by Russia. The combined result of the collision is debris in excess of three thousand pounds.

What happens with this space junk? The pieces that stay in orbit, will pick up considerable force, and pose a threat to other satellites. According to, a 1/10 inch piece of debris in Earth’s orbit will have the comparable force of a bowling ball traveling at 60 mph. Given the increase in space traffic , how likely is it that similar collisions will occur on a more regular basis?

Here are some quick facts:

  • Our highest-flying satellites hang in space at about 22,000 miles (1/10th the distance to the moon)
  • The lowest-flying satellites hang in space at about 100 miles (also known as a Low Earth Orbit -LEO)
  • The accepted formula used to find the volume of a sphere is:


  • There are currently at least 17,000 objects measuring 4 in. or greater circling the Earth
    • 200,000 objects in the 1-in.-to-3-in. range
    • tens of millions smaller than an inch

Given this information, what do you think the chances are of another collision happening within the next year? When responding, please describe the steps you took to solve the problem… we’re interested in learning from each other.


Did you know there’s a comet visible this week?

February 24, 2009

Comet Lulin

Comet Lulin

Comet Lulin is visible in our sky this week.  It’s passing “close” to the planet Saturn and the star Regulus in the constellation Leo.  An article by Nancy Atkinson helps you find it in the sky.  The article mentions that you can see it with good binoculars.

Here in the Rochester area we might have a small window of opportunity to see it tonight, Wednesday or Saturday night (based on the weather forecast on

How Do You Make a Teacher Great?

February 23, 2009
How I'm trying to change the world NOW

How I'm trying to change the world NOW

A few weeks ago, great thinkers from around the world converged at Palm Springs, FL for the annual TED conference.  Bill Gates was one of this year’s keynote speakers, posing two questions to the audience:

  1. How do you stop a deadly disease that’s spread by mosquitoes?

  2. How do you make a teacher great?

His first question focused on the historical evolution of human genetics to adapt to and overcome diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. Gates also focused on the economic distribution of countries who have successfully dealt with malaria. He calls on the collaboration of communicators, social scientists, mathematicians, drug companies, and world governments to provide the road map and tools for recovery.

Secondly, Gates’ focus on teaching excellence called for the development of a strong system of teacher recognition. He proposes that testing data, and video analysis be used to recognize and reward good teachers. According to Bill Gates, top teachers increase the performance of their students by 10% each year. Teachers need to be told how good they are! He praised a system of education called “KIPP” and recommended the book “Work Hard. Be Nice.” by Jay Matthews.

If you know a great teacher that should be recognized for their work, please consider nominating them for RAC-CEMS’ Excellence in STEM Teaching Award. The next round of nominations will be reviewed the second week of  April, and the award winner will be announced on April 18th.

STEM Video Games???

February 20, 2009


Microsoft Corp. wants to find out if non-educational video games improve learning skills and higher-order cognitive capability.  They want to find out if fun, not-so-violent video games can get students interested in STEM.  Research by the University of Wisconsin has found that  playing “World of Warcraft” encourages scientific thinking.  In some games you have to track your supplies, life meter, etc. and analyze to then decide what you need to do to survive and be successful.  Those games where you have to strategize are usually war related.

If there were fun, not-so violent games out there that indirectly taught children and youth problem solving and analyzing skills and encouraged them to go into STEM related fields, would you recommend them? would you buy them for your children?

What do you think about this?

Link to article

What it Takes for Students to be Proficient in Science

February 15, 2009


Based on a report: Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-8 by the Committee on Science Learning, Kindergarten Through Eighth Grade, students need to acquire specific knowledge and skills, participate  in certain practices and become fluent in them to be considered proficient in science.

The report says:

“Students who are proficient in science:

1. know, use, and interpret scientific explanations of the natural world;

2. generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations;

3. understand the nature and development of scientific knowledge; and

4. participate productively in scientific practices and discourse.”

It then continues saying that these strands of scientific proficiency are not independent of each other.   They’re intertwined.  The report explains each one in detail and provides recommendations of how to improve science education in grades K-8.

Link to the report

Support and Inspiration for Young Women Scientists

February 11, 2009

womenmicroscope is a new website aimed at supporting and inspiring young women who want to get into STEM related fields. Its mission statement is very similar to ours.  Under the microscope also seeks to become a social networking website for students, working scientists, teachers, counselors, and parents.

One of the main tabs in the website is the inspiring stories of women in STEM fields.  You can share your story with them to help inspire new generations into following your steps.  I read some of the stories and most of them praise one or more of their secondary grade teachers as being some of the first people that inspired them to pursue a STEM related career.  It also goes to show that effective teaching has the great reward of knowing that students are able to follow their dreams or continue developing skills that they learned in high school.

I hope you find this website useful for you, your students, and/or your children.

Microsoft vs: Apple

February 10, 2009
Which technologies rule in your classroom?

Which technologies rule in your classroom?


According to, Microsoft is gearing up to introduce their own smartphone. The company will also be launching an online application marketplace similar to Apple’s.

Surprisingly, while these two companies are usually the most talked about, they rank only 3rd and 5th in the worldwide smartphone marketplace… behind Nokia and Blackberry devices.

How do these companies rate in educational technology? Through my own experiences, I can see how students would benefit from Apple’s visual design… making applications accessible to students. On the other hand, it seems that Microsoft, because of it’s widespread use, may be more familiar to students.

Do you and/or your students prefer one or another? How much  classroom time can be devoted to using technology applications?

RAC-CEMS STEM Teaching Institutes

February 6, 2009


Can you believe it’s already time to start thinking about summer? What a great time to look at the professional development opportunities that are available.

RAC-CEMS is pleased to announce that we will offer unique opportunities for learning and improvement by sponsoring seven STEM Teaching Institutes.

2009 STEM Teaching Institutes:

  1. Developing Mathematical Ideas: Building a System of Tens
  2. Inquiry in Earth Sciences
  3. Using Zebra Mussels for Good, Not Evil
  4. Finger Lakes Ecology Watershed Workshop
  5. Inquiry-based Interdisciplinary Mathematics, Science, Technology and Literacy
  6. Math, Science, and Technology Institute
  7. Hands-on Environmental Science Activities using GLOBE

Visit our webpage for detailed information and links to an online application.  Online applications will be available March 2nd and are submitted directly to The Center for Excellence in Math and Science.

The institutes span grade levels and subjects areas, with emphasis placed on Math and Science. Each STEM Institute supports the NYS Learning Standards using active learning to deliver a high quality professional development experience.

We welcome any questions or comments regarding the Institutes via email or by responding to this blog. We appreciate the community’s continued support, and look forward to seeing you this summer!!!

Keeping a Balance between Technology and Traditional Techniques in a Classroom

February 4, 2009


A new research study conducted by Patricia Greenfield, UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center, Los Angeles, concludes that learners have changed due to the exposure to technology.

The question arises as to how much technology should be used in schools?

Here are some of the results of Greenfield’s research, as reported in Science Daily:

– reading for pleasure…enhances thinking and engages the imagination in a way that visual media such as video games and television do not,

– reading develops imagination, induction, reflection and critical thinking, as well as vocabulary,

– visual media gives students a better picture of what they know,

– visual media helps students process information better,

– real-time media (television or video games) does not allow time for reflection, analysis or imagination,

– multi-tasking prevents people from getting a deeper understanding of information (this includes allowing students to use the Internet during a class),

– playing realistic video games improves the ability to multi-task.

My take on this is that everything should be done in balance.  We need different skills to accomplish different tasks in life.  As teachers, we need to help students develop different skills.  If the traditional methods of teaching and introducing technology to the classroom serve different purposes and develop different skills then their use should be matched to the objectives of a lesson and to the learning styles of the students.

It is good that research has been done on the subject and we now know with certainty the results of the use of traditional techniques versus technology and, as teachers, can plan accordingly to best serve our students.

What do you think?