Aya Academy of Excellence


Atlanta Surges Into the STEM Sector

 

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On Friday, March 21, 2014, the city of Atlanta kicked off an eight-day celebration of all things STEM.  The event, The Atlanta Science Festival, was over two years in the making, according to one of its co-founders Jordan Rose of Emory University.  The leadership team and advisory committee pulled together several dozen disparate organizations throughout the region to provide educators, families and scholars a glimpse into the emerging STEM sector that has been embraced by the nation and that has been heavily courted by the city.  The old guard, including Georgia Tech and Emory University, leaders in engineering and bio-medicine, stood side-by-side with institutions which have newly recognized the significance of the sciences in other fields.

Throughout the week, the doors to community-wide centers were open to showcase ongoing programs and to provide support and engagement opportunities to the public.  Within three days, I traversed across throughout the city to participate in some of the most feted events offered during the festival.

Last year, during our Summer’s Cool academic camp, my students and I visited the Carlos C. Museum while we toured the campus of Emory University.  The three story museum’s collection spans thousands of years several continents.  The smattering of artifacts, including African masks, embalmed Egyptian mummies and  shards of Greco-Roman vases, became the featured resources of integrated STEM lessons.  Using a problem-based approach, students engage in an inquiry based on conservation methods employed by museums.  The teachers who presented during the event were highly enthusiastic about the activities they created.  Among the several showcased that evening, the fibers inquiry to test the acidity of paper was  the most accessible to all learners. This activity, which also included a reading about the Egyptian goddess Isis, would undoubtedly pique the interest of young people in the classroom.

The following day, I scooped up my ladybugs and headed over to Spelman College to see their all-girls robotics team, SpelBots.  The auditorium-filled expanse of giggly tikes were amused by Sugar and Spice, the two humanoid robots which responded to audio commands.  The kids were amazed by how the robots were able to move and interact with the people in the room.

Our three-day exploration into STEM was rounded out by a visit to the stellar Tellus Museum. This science center includes galleries featuring dinosaur fossil replicas, remnants from space shuttles and minerals from around the world. My ladybugs were enamored with the hands-on children’s learning gallery.  Within it, they were able to participate in several investigations related to light, meteorology and energy.  Although we did not have an opportunity to visit the onsite planetarium, we did have a chance to explore the Solar House constructed in 2002 by a team of Georgia Tech students. This phenomenal space showcased how different energy choices can positively impact our environment, including the use of LED lights, water cisterns and celestories.

Kudos to the Atlanta Science Festival team for delivering a high octane STEM experience to the city of Atlanta.  I’m sure this is only the beginning.

 


When Angela Speaks…

When Angela Speaks...

Someone needs to do a study on why there are so many males, often jocks, who comprise the social studies departments in this country. And within that study, it would be intriguing to read how their world view impresses upon the learner the historical record of our nation and world. While I was growing up, all of my social studies teachers were male. I loved to hear their accounts of the movers and shakers of the past…all interspersed with recollections of last Sunday’s big game. But to the ‘victors go the spoils.’ Those who hold the position of telling the history of society have the ability to shape that history based on their personal perspective.

While at the craft store Michael’s after church this afternoon, my daughter showed me a magazine and asked, “Who are they?’ The front cover was an image of the Beatles from the 1960s. Quite a bit of pop culture and history dissipates from one generation to the next. If we are not careful, significant people and events will fade from memory as well.

None of my social studies teachers taught lessons or provided activities based on the contributions of black Americans…or Latino Americans…or Asian Americans. That learning came later, independently. For families who want to instill a sense of legacy within their children, relying solely on the school’s curriculum may not be the most effective recourse. So how can families impart culturally relevant teaching at home and within their community? Here are a few ideas:

1. There are some cultures which invest in half day academic and cultural studies learning. Muslim families, Asian families and those following the Catholic and Jewish faiths, send their children to classes to learn the language and practices of their culture. Find or form classes with like-minded families.

2. Living literature. Some home-school families approach the learning of history and culture through reading novels and biographies. Create a reading list with the help of your local librarian that is thematic or chronological.

3. Multimedia. This approach is similar to living literature, except that it uses music, theatrical films and documentaries in lieu of books.

4. Dialogue. Engage people in conversation who have accounts of historical experiences.

Building historical memory aids in bridging understanding between generations and cultures, sexes. It assists with helping society in getting a pulse check to ascertain how we got were we are today based on the circumstances and people of the past. There are times when I get dismayed that the younger generation carries themselves in a fashion that does not honor the struggle of the past. However, it is difficult to hold them accountable to a history they are unaware of and therefore cannot appreciate.


Imagination Stations: Setting Up Science Inquiry Stations

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Clanking of metal. Whirling of water down a drain. The sprouting of thistles through densely packed earth. Rays of light streaming through the panes of an arched window forming ripples of rainbows. The wonders of science are ever-present in our daily life and by closing textbooks and opening our eyes, our children can delve deeply into learning that is meaningful.

I recently crafted an after-school curriculum for a local Atlanta program seeking to raise the science and math thinking of their students. After combing through the Common Core Standards, I assembled a few dozen activities to pique children’s interests while aiding their understanding of life and earth science. Within the next year, our organization is seeking to establish a share space for families to engage in academic learning. This space, The Community Classroom, will have a robotics lab, art studio and a technology lab with supplies to explore, create, build and program. Here are a few of the activities our maker space will carry that families can participate in today with everyday objects they have at home.

General Notes:
Store and collect basic supplies in a closet or bookshelf space.
More unique items can be found in thrift stores, like Goodwill.
Use a file sharing system, like Google Docs, to store activity how-to sheets.

Imagination Station One: DNA Extraction
SUPPLIES

  • Strawberry
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Dish detergent
  • Salt
  • Zip-lock bag
  • Water
  • Measuring utensils
  • Beakers (Substitute a Plastic Toothbrush Holder)
  • Tweezers
  • Spoon

Strawberry

What to Do:

  1. Into a beaker, pour 2 drops of dish soap into 1/4 cup of water.
  2. Add 1/4 tsp of salt.
  3. Mix to form the extraction solution.
  4. Place 1 strawberry and the extraction solution into a plastic bag.
  5. Squeeze out the air from the bag and tightly seal it.
  6. Mash the strawberry and extraction solution.
  7. Open the bag and pour the mixture into a beaker.
  8. Add a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol to the solution.
  9. Using tweezers, remove the white, fluffy strings at the op of the mixture.
  10. You’re DONE!

The Science: Our DNA, a series of individualized codes, is the blueprint of body. Like the strawberry, our DNA can be extracted and scientists can study it to see a sequence of codes that are used o determine how our body develops, including how our hear grows and how our eyes are shaped.

Imagination Station Two: Cotton-ball Catapult
SUPPLIES
Craft Sticks
Spoons
Large Markers
Masking Tape
Cotton-Balls
Rubber-Bands
Measuring Tape/Ruler

Cotton Ball

What to Do:

1. Attach a spoon to a craft sticks securely with a rubber band near the top end.

2. Using a rubber band, secure a second craft sticks to the opposite end of the first one to make the edges touch.

3. Slide a marker between both craft sticks.

4. Launch a series of cotton balls with the catapults.  Change the trajectory (height and distance of the path the object travels) by pressing down the spoon with varying degrees of softness or hardness.

5. Alter the location of the rubber bands to test whether this change alters the trajectory of the object.

6. Test your accuracy by propping masking tape upright to attempt launching the projectiles (thrown objects) through the center of the tape.

The Science: The Concept of Variability checks the degree of change for a set of data (in this case, the number of launches).  Learners should track how each change they make impacts the results.

Imagination Station Three: Lego Re-Loaded
SUPPLIES
Bags of Legos, Duplo or Standard Size
Index Cards

Lego Bundle

What To Do: On separate index cards, write the following Lego challenges to design each over time –

1. Tallest Tower – Within the next 60 seconds, create a Lego structure that is as tall as possible.

2. Vessel – Create an object that can hold something within the room you are in during your build.

3. Bridge – Develop a structure which connects to areas in the room you are in during your build.

4. Dream House – Design a futuristic home with at least two rooms and an outdoor space.

5. Go Green – Create a tool which can be used to harness energy.

6. Lego Logo – Re-create a famous logo or symbol.

7. Vehicle – Design a means that can transport people by land, sea or air.

8. Mutation – Design a structure that can transform into a living animal or plant.

9. Ecosystem – Build a habitat for an animal or plant to live.

10. Monument – Re-create a famous structure.

The Science – Building requires the participant to use problem solving skills and imagination. While creating structures, learners will employ engineering principles, including stability. Learners will employ the engineering design process to assist in employing their critical and innovative thinking.

Engineering Design Process

Books For Fun – Graphic Novels (Comic Books) have a fun, storytelling platform which appeals to both boys and girls.  Decoding Genes with Max Axiom by Amber J. Keyser is a good read for kids interested in learning more about DNA and genetics.

Decoding Genes Book

Hands-on learning is a platform to develop thinking skills through involvement.  The maker space movement, often spearheaded by public libraries and schools, is a noteworthy trend that empowers learners, both young and old, to develop new skill sets.  Our Community Classroom seeks to do just that by equipping families to learn collaboratively.  In an upcoming post, we will add  a few more of our proposed Community Classroom imagination stations families can try at home and will discuss how to align inquiry stations with a standards-based curriculum.



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