Natural Disaster Education – Resources to Help

March 24, 2011

On the afternoon of March 10, 2011, a massive 8.9 earthquake struck off the coast of Japan. 

In addition to the devastation caused by the earthquake, a tsunami was unleashed, racing across coastal Japan and radiating out through the Pacific Ocean. 

In the wake of such a catastrophic event, it is very important for students of all ages to understand the cause of such a disaster and the effects on human life and property.  It is important that students see how people in their communities, their country and all over the globe are affected by catastrophic events such as the Tsunami is Japan, the Haitian Earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, etc.     

There are many resources on the internet for teachers and parents seeking to help educate their students about natural disasters and their aftermath. 

Here are some we recommend:

FEMA for Kids – Learn about the different kinds of disasters, how to prepare and stay safe, and how to become a Disaster Action Kid.

NEOK12 – Kids science videos, lessons, quizzes and games for K-12 grade school kids that make learning fun and interesting.

Discovery EducationReady Classroom will provide elementary and middle school teachers with resources to integrate natural disaster preparedness information into their curriculum.

 PBS Teachers – Lesson plans, videos, and interactive games to provide teachers with resources on teaching about different Natural Disasters.

Earth Day 2011 Websites for Teachers

March 16, 2011


At the request of a reader of The STEM Blog, we have compiled a list of educational websites with Earth Day activities for teachers.

We hope you find these links useful – if your class does an Earth Day activity derived from this list please send a photo and brief description to and we’ll happily put you on the Blog! Has a list of projects and requests for projects submitted by a variety of individuals. The dates that the projects were submitted are listed as well. List includes all levels. It’s the 40th Anniversary of the holiday and this site has crafts, coloring pages and activities.  Celebrate Earth Day with free online games for kids, Earth Day puzzles, crafts and coloring pages. Colorful graphics and lots to explore for younger children.  Lessons, printables, and references are provided as well as fun hands-on activities for science and art, K-12. North American Association for Environmental Education provides a list of curriculum, resources, and ways to celebrate Earth Day. This site includes information about Earth Day and  activities (including online jig-saw puzzles, poems and a variety of word games). A variety of crafts for pre-school, kindergarten and elementary students. The EPA has a coloring book that can be downloaded as well as a document entitled ABC’s of Environmental Education. This site refers to Region 5 which includes the Great Lakes, but not New York State. Articles, crafts, activities, poems and reading materials are included in this site.  Worksheets, lesson plans and activities for kids (including materials in Spanish).

STEM Rich 2011 EcoFest at GCC Coming Soon

March 14, 2011

Lily Walker, 4, of Bergen with a sapling from the 2010 EcoFest.

Teachers, students, and parents – mark your calendars now for one of the area’s COOLEST STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) events of the year!

The 6th Annual CoolKids! EcoFest will be held Saturday, April 9th from 10 am to 2 pm in the student forum and cafeteria  of Genesee Community College (One College Road, Batavia, NY)

Seem like a bit of a hike from Rochester? It is so worth it!

I attended the event last year and was blown away by the number of STEM related hands-on displays, activities, and educational presentations. 

This year’s event will feature approximately  forty-five booths as well as a free pizza party for all at 12:30 pm and an exotic wildlife show at 1 p.m. on the Cool Kids Stage.

The most eye-opening part of the festival for me last year was its E-Scrap Drive.  Approximately 30,000 pounds of recyclables were collected last year! Trucks, bins, and barrels were teeming with old computers and sneakers. The drive will be part of this year’s festival as well. 

You are encouraged to bring the following items to the festival to be recycled:

OLD ELECTRONICS (drive up service available – TVs cost $5 to recycle – no businesses or agencies can recycle)

The following electronics are free to recycle:

~ Computers, laptops and printers
~ Fax machines
~ Cash registers
~ Wiring
~ Phones – cell and rotary
~ Stereos
~ Microwaves
~ Rechargeable batteries
~ Calculators
~ Typewriters
~ Peripheral computer equipment— mouses, keyboards, cables, modems, external drives, etc.

OLD SNEAKERS  (no metal parts!) for Nike-Reuse-A-Shoe Drive!

Paperback BOOKS (no hardcovers–or Romance novels) for Operation Paperback!

For each recyclable you bring from the list above, you will earn a raffle ticket to win a mountain bike.

The massive E-Scrap Drive at the 2010 EcoFest.

You can also earn raffle tickets by getting a FREE tire pressure check with Dunn Tire of Batavia (and a free tire gauge) and by getting your car checked for a mercury light switch by AAA. 

These events will be held in the parking lot along with a huge display of alternative energy cars (hydrogen, ethanol, electric and vegetable oil)

Read more about last year’s Eco Fest in my STEM Blog Article from April 2010.

by Caurie Putnam, Coordinator, STEM Mentor Program


Inquiry Based Science in Action at McQuaid

March 9, 2011

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In June 2010 I profiled McQuaid Jesuit science teacher Jeanne Kaidy on The STEM Blog.

Kaidy had just been named by President Barack Obama as one of 103 American teachers to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Kaidy, who has been teaching for thirteen years and is the chair of the science department at McQuaid Jesuit, attributed her recognition for the unique hands-on, inquiry based approach she brings to teaching science.

“I have an entirely inquiry and hands-on approach to teaching,” Kaidy said. “It appeals to kids who need tactile hands-on learning. That’s really what science is.”

Last week Kaidy invited me to see her approach in person when her AP Environmental Studies students presented their Mock Wolf Trial – a culmination of a month of research and preparation.

The excitement in her classroom was palpable when I arrived.

The boys – mostly juniors and seniors – were busy making final touches on their costumes.  Most had changed out of McQuaid’s signature navy blazer, khaki pants, and tie uniform and into clothes that represented the characters they would role-play during the trial.

Among the costumes were: an environmental activist, a Yellowstone National Park official, the governor of New York, a dairy farmer, a deer hunter, a commercial land developer, an ecotourism tour operator and more.

The name of the mock-trial was “Bringing Back the Wolves” and the question posed was “Should gray wolves (Canis lupus) be reintroduced to the northeastern U.S. (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York)?

Kaidy set up her classroom like a courtroom – on one side were the plaintiff’s – the “Defenders of Wildlife” arguing that wolves should be reintroduced to the wild.  On the other side were the defendants – the State Government of Maine – arguing against the reintroduction of the wolves.  In the middle was the witness stand.

As the “trial” got underway it was instantly clear that Kaidy’s students on both sides had prepared.

To facilitate preparation, prior to the hearing each team had to submit finished copies of opening and closing statements, a list of questions for witnesses (with expected answers), a list of questions expected on cross-examination (with answers) and a complete bibliography.

Each student also had to submit a reflection paper and a position paper.

The trial was judged by teachers Kaidy asked to observe.  The teachers scored the teams on opening statement, questioning, closing statements, judges questions, team participation, and costumes.

While I personally favored the costumes and team spirit on the plaintiff’s’ side, as the trial progressed I could see more preparation on the defendants’ side come through.  Having grown up in the Adirondacks and knowing a bit about this issue myself, I thought the plaintiffs would have a slam dunk, but by the trial’s end it was obvious the defendants won.

Kaidy said this is not the first time this has happened. “Sometimes the defendants prepare more because they feel they will be the underdog,” Kaidy said. “We saw that today.”

I spoke to members from both sides of the courtroom after the trial and quickly forgot what side they were on – what stood out was how much they had learned.

“This experience totally changed my opinion about wolves,” said senior George Grobe. “I learned more by having to research the issue myself instead of just hearing about it from Ms. Kaidy.”

Junior Alex Bourdelais agreed.

“I like hands on work,” Bourdelais said. “I learned that with the re-introduction of any species you have to look at the direct consequences and the indirect consequences. Sometimes the indirect are more important like we saw today.”

And, junior John Buono enjoyed the experience so much he is considering a career in environmental law.

Kaidy was pleased with the trial.

“Both sides had a lot of team work and showed me they understood the ecology, economics, and politics of wolves,” Kaidy said. “Those are all parts of what environmental science is.”

As I was leaving the classroom I noticed a bumper sticker on Kaidy’s blackboard that said:

“The truly educated never graduate.”

I believe Kaidy’s approach to teaching will absolutely ensure that even as these young men leave McQuaid they will carry with them an inquiry based approach to learning that does not stop when the assignments do.

Article and photos by Caurie Putnam

TouchMath: A New Approach to Basic Math Instruction

March 6, 2011

As I know from personal experience, teaching math can often be a challenge.

Math has always come easy for me, so it’s sometimes difficult to empathize with many of my students who are unable to grasp basic concepts. 

In order to differentiate and reach the variety of learners in my classroom I am constantly looking for new instructional strategies and support materials to improve my instruction.    

Recently, I went to a professional development program run by an elementary special education teacher.  At this meeting I was introduced to a math instruction program called TouchMath.  TouchMath is a multisensory program that uses its signature TouchPoints to engage students of all abilities and learning styles in math instruction.    

Students start the program by learning to count numbers one through nine by touching each number at specific points, known as TouchPoints.  The students continue to build skills and move into learning addition and subtraction, and eventually multiplication and basic division. 

I have not had the opportunity to incorporate TouchMath into my instruction; however I believe that it can be an effective alternative to traditional math lessons.  In particular, it may be a beneficial strategy when teaching basic computation to students with special needs.  These students generally respond to a multisensory approach. 

Click here to find out more about TouchMath. 

By Katie Monroe, Graduate Student Assistant at the Rochester Area Colleges’ Center for Excellence in Math and Science.

Spiders Aid Important Research at U of R’s Laser Lab

March 2, 2011

Spiders – you either love them or hate them. The scientists at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) love them.

After all, they are very valuable little co-workers.

The U of R’s LLE was established in 1970 as a center for the investigation of the interaction of intense radiation with matter. The quest of the LLE is to establish a long-term energy solution using controlled experiments with fusion.

One of the groundbreaking aspects of this experimentation is the use of spider silk in target mounting – spider silk produced right in the LLE.

For many decades, biologists and material scientists have been researching spider silk – a web-like fiber that the spider prepares as a net, cocoon for harnessing prey, or dragline to lower itself. Of the six types of silk the common spider produces, dragline silk is the most resilient, elastic, strong and biodegradable.

At LLE, dragline silk is used to provide a stable, low mass mount for targets used on the OMEGA Laser System.

Steven Noyes developed the system for spider silk target mounting.

Here’s how it works:

• First a spider is suspended upside down so that dragline silk may be collected.

• Silk is then wrapped around a wheel and placed under UV light to bond the silk to the spokes of the wheel.

• The wheel is then bonded to the target mount.

The goal of using spider silk to hold the target is to simulate a mid-air suspension. The less intrusive the mount, the more accurate the testing results. That is why four strands of spider silk, 3 tenths of a micrometer in diameter are used to hold the target in place.

The target is a millimeter diameter fuel capsule that is fused to produce helium and energy upon being imploded by the 60 OMEGA laser beams.

The LLE is home to the most powerful laser in the world, the Omega Laser System. It is the hope of LLE to create a nuclear reactor that will use controlled fusion as a nearly limitless energy source. With the help of their miniature lab assistants, they seem well on their way.

For more information on the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, click here.