The Space Station from Rochester…

March 30, 2009
Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Last Friday night, even with some cloud coverage in the sky, Joe Ricci of the Strasenburgh Planetarium pointed out the International Space Station and STS-119 Space Shuttle Discovery in the Northwestern Rochester sky.

Try again tonight at 8:49 pm. The station should be elevated to 63 degrees, one of the highest angles it can be seen in the Rochester sky. For future sightings, visit the Human Space Flight Sightings website and enter your state and city.

The crew began their journey on Thursday March 26th blasting off from Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket. Docking with the International Space Station at 9:14 am Saturday March 28th, Expedition 19’s mission is to resupply the Space Station with resources and crew members.

Expedition 19 is expected to return to Earth on October 11th after spending 6 months at the International Space Station.

Watch the Galaxy from a Live Telescope

March 26, 2009


Universe Today, Northern and Southern Galactic and Warren Rupp Observatory have connected a telescope in the southern hemisphere to the internet.  As part of the International Year of Astronomy, you will be able to explore the universe live.  This is an effort to get people interested in astronomy and science.

If you don’t see anything when you connect, it may be cloudy, it’s daylight or there are too many people watching and the connection has reached its limit.

To watch through the telescope go the Universe Today website and click on the image in the right menu, just like the one above.


Busy Parents CAN explore Science with their children!

March 24, 2009

timelapseScience Matters (formally known as Building a Presence) has posted a useful article detailing how busy parents can share scientific discoveries with their busy children. The bottom line is: we live in a world whose phenomena can be explored through science (and math!). Here are tips for you to try:

  1. See science EVERYWHERE (spring is a great time for outdoor observations)
  2. Lead science and math-based family conversations… your interest will develop your child’s
  3. Encourage children equally, and create fun learning opportunities at home
  4. Visit informal educational centers such as zoos, museums, and aquariums… even better, call your local town or city facilities and see if you can schedule a family tour (kids seem to love waste water treatment plants)
  5. Connect learning with your job, your spouses job, your brothers job, etc. When kids see a connection, they’re more likely to be interested.

Here are a few science experiments I have done with my own nieces and nephews with simple kitchen ingredients:

  • Baking soda and vinegar: feel the reaction take place… it’s literally cool; signifying an endothermic reaction
  • Baking soda and vinegar in a closed container: use caution… solids and liquids will combine to form an expanding gas
  • Cornstarch, water and food coloring: is it a solid, liquid, or gas?
  • Try taking time-lapse photography in the spring: take one picture every day of a growing or blooming plant

Enjoy science today!

Solving the “Algebra for All” Problem … Highlights

March 17, 2009


Yesterday, I attended the Solving the “Algebra for All” Problem conference by Edward A. Silver, Ed.D., Professor at the University of Michigan.  Here are some highlights of the conference, just in case you missed it.

Schools are being asked to offer Algebra earlier (in 8th grade) and for all students. Something that I didn’t know is that Algebra used to be taught in college.  Also, eighth grade algebra was taught just to gifted students.

The National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMAP) was established by President Bush in 2006.

One of the results of the NMAP discussed by Dr. Silver was:

– All school districts should ensure that all prepared students have access to an authentic algebra course, and

– Should prepare more students than at present to enroll in such a course by Grade 8.

Students are reaching Algebra without being prepared for it.  Therefore, they’re set up for failure.

Being prepared, based on the NMAP report, is to have:

  1. Fluency with Whole Numbers.
  2. Fluency with Fractions.
  3. Fluency with Particular Aspects of Geometry and Measurement.

Check the Benchmarks by Grade for the Critical Foundations on page 20 of the NMAP Report (page 47 on the pdf).

An authentic algebra course is “a course that addresses algebra consistently with the Major Topics of School Algebra” per the NMAP Report.

Check the Major Topics of School Algebra on Table 1 on page 16 of the report (page 43 of the pdf).

We already have algebra for all but not by ninth grade.

What are the driving forces behind all this?

– Global competitiveness

– Equity arguments

– Demand for higher standards

Students in the US are constantly behind students in other countries in mathematics achievement tests.  Check out our previous blog post about the latest results.  As a country, we are running the risk of not having enough of a technical workforce in the future.


Dr. Silver mentioned that kids get confused as to what’s an equation although they know
they know the concept of equality. He said that we need to tell them that we’re taking and old idea and adding a wrinkle to it. We need to teach them the different kinds of equations. They have an idea that the “=” sign means to do something, to compile.


8 + 7 = __

8 + 7 = __ + 3

8 + 7 + __ = 9 + 6

They may think __ is always 15.

Equality as Balance (Relational)

Use a visual balance to show them equality between different variables/unknowns.

Important Role of Equalizing in Algebra

If a quantity can be expressed in more than one way, then these different expressions are equivalent.

Is there a quantity that you can express in two different ways?

What quantity can be expressed in terms of others?


How many squares are on the border of a N by N grid (picture at the beginning)?


4(N-2) + 4

2N + 2(N-2)

N2 – N-22


All are equivalent

Writing equations is not trivial. It is fundamental.

In the Q&A session it was discussed how we need to help students form arithmetic to algebra which is an abstract world that may not be easy for all to transition to.

Personal Note:

I think that as teachers, we need to try to put ourselves in the students shoes and figure out their thought process to be able to solve their confusion and help them learn.  This may be a difficult task for us, when algebra was probably easy for us, but it’s not impossible.

Don’t forget to check out the NMAP Report and to tell us what you think about all this.

Congratulations Cary Burke!

March 13, 2009

Congratulations to Cary Burke, the first finalist of the 2009 Excellence in STEM Teaching Award! Mrs. Burke is a High School Living Environment and Forensics teacher from Canandaigua Academy who uses creativity, humor, and singing to bring subject matter alive to students.

The STEM Award honors an activity Cary developed, called the Proteinia Game, which puts students in the role of a DNA cell during the process of a genetic mutation.

The game is structured as a traveling experience, in which the cell visits different countries: “DNAdia”, “RNAdia”, and “Proteinia”.  Everything is going well until the DNA cell encounters “a mean ol’ acid” who changes the cells’ travel plans.  The simulation includes: insertion, deletion, and substitution mutations which are beneficial, harmful, or neutral. Students carry a passport for each mutation which helps them compare the DNA strands.

Mrs. Burke has witnessed many “ah ha” moments during this activity as her students experience a genetic mutation. What has really stood out to her is that her students remember the experience far into the future, as she uses it as a  reference point for future learning.

Once again we would like to congratulate Cary Burke for winning the first round of the Excellence in STEM Teaching Award, and also recognize the exemplary work she does bringing science to students in a unique and memorable way!

A Chimp That Plans Ahead

March 9, 2009


Santino, a male chimpanzee at the Furuvik Zoo in Gävle, Sweden, started throwing rocks at the zoo visitors after he became the only male in the group, which was completed by four females.  He started gathering rocks and concrete when he was calm in the morning and while the zoo was closed.  Apparently he was preparing for the time of the day when he became agitated by visitors.  Primatologist Mathias Osvath of Lund University in Sweden thinks that his behavior is clearly identifiable as planning for a future mental state.

To read more about Santino and the implications of his actions, check out the Science Now article.

Camp Fair this Sunday!

March 5, 2009


Attention Parents:

The Genesee Valley Parent Magazine is hosting the 15th annual Camp and Summer Activity Fair to help you learn about some (more than 90) of the best local summer options. At this event you can meet camp organizers, counselors and administrators in person, and ask them the questions most important to you.

The RAC-CEMS keeps a list of STEM-related summer camps  and April break camps on our website… check back often as we continue to make additions.

Math Competitions

March 4, 2009


Today is World Math Day.  Kids around the world are competing with each other to win prizes.  To know more about it go to  If you or your students didn’t get to participate this year, put it on your calendar for next year!

Also, this Friday is the AMATYC Student Mathematics League Competition for Monroe Community College (MCC) students. This is Round 2 of the competition.  Two Year Colleges around the nation could have theirs between February 13 and March 7.  MCC student Bozhong Kang came in second and an MCC team came in fourth last year.  Way to go MCC!

Next week is the NYS-MATYC Competition for MCC students which happen to have the top spot for the state!  Prizes will be distributed at the NYSMATYC Annual Conference in Suffern, NY on April 5, 2008.  It’s probably not a coincidence that April is Mathematics Awareness Month.

Students go for it and enjoy your prizes!