Challenging Climate Change

Tornadoes in Queens, snowstorms in October, stranded polar bears. It’s clear we need to do some serious thinking – and acting – about climate change.
More than 100 teachers throughout the New York region have taken up the challenge and are implementing a new climate change curriculum into their middle school classrooms. Part of a two-year partnership between NYSCI and Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors, the My Carbon Footprint curriculum will give students the scientific foundation they need to understand climate change and its related issues. With hands-on activities such as analyzing layers of soil, deconstructing electronic products to determine their effects on the environment, and simulating the effects of sea level rise on a tabletop beach house, students will learn about scientific concepts related to climate change such as mitigation, adaptation, climate variability and more.
Last November, the teachers began the process by attending a professional development workshop at NYSCI, where they learned about the curriculum and tried out some of the hands-on activities. Within the next few months, teachers will introduce the climate change lessons into their classrooms, reaching approximately 12,000 students.
That’s good news for Queens residents, polar bears, and all who share the planet with them.

Ready, Set, Go!

The race is on to get our nation’s kids up to speed on science. With U.S. students getting low global rankings in science and math proficiency, the need for innovative ways to interest youth in the sciences has never been more urgent.

We’re leading the way with SciGames, a new project developed by SciPlay, The Sara Lee Schupf Family Center for Play, Science, and Technology Learning. SciGames uses technology to turn playground play into interactive games. For instance, by attaching speed sensors to a common playground slide, the slide transforms into a powerful educational tool. Instead of simply racing to the bottom of the slide, kids can experiment with different variables, such as what type of material to sit on as they glide down the slide. This turns the act of sliding down a slide into a fun game that explores science concepts such as friction, and kinetic and thermal energy.

SciGames will also include the development of a mobile app that teachers and students can use to aggregate the data collected during the games on the playground and to conduct analysis of that data back in the classroom. This bridge between formal and informal learning environments is a hallmark of our initiatives to improve and reform education in science, technology, engineering and math.

As a finalist for a $3.44 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the SciGames project is poised to reach approximately 8,000 New York students over the next five years. We are one of only 23 foundations, museums and schools that are finalists for an Investing in Innovation Fund, or i3, grant. The i3 program supports projects that will improve student achievement or student growth, decrease dropout rates, or close achievement gaps.

So get ready. If the kids get high marks in this race, we’ll all wind up winning.

Bling is the Thing

Late last month, 450 of New York’s top business and community leaders gathered to discuss important topics such as the need to engage our youth in the sciences, the challenge of mitigating climate change, the direction of our nation’s educational system, and … how to create your own bling.

Using an LED and a battery, the Create-Your-Own-Bling project was a big hit at this year’s Evening of Science and Inspiration, NYSCI’s annual fundraising gala, which raised $1 million to support NYSCI’s research and programs. Using a theme of Design, Make, Play, the evening included activities such as building paper air dancers, writing laser graffiti, and doodling in the dark.

This year’s honorees included Google, which received the Vision & Benture Award for bold corporate vision to establish a creative corporate environment for achievement in science and technology; Kevin Parker, head of Deutsche Bank Global Asset Management, who received the Global Science Award for world-renowned excellence in engineering, technology and visionary leadership; and John Slaughter, the first African-American director of the National Science Foundation and former CEO of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, who was awarded the Distinguished Leadership Award for transformation, ingenuity and excellence in science.

Banana Worm Bread, Anyone?

No carbs, lo carbs, cabbage soup, lemonade… heck, even princesses have their own diet. But could a food plan that includes bugs be the next big diet fad?

Many cultures throughout the world include insects in their diets, but here in the United States, the idea has yet to catch on. David Gracer is working to change that. An English teacher, writer and naturalist, Gracer advocates the eating of insects as an excellent source of nutrition and as an intelligent food choice for an overcrowded planet. Bugs, after all, are a good, and plentiful, source of protein, vitamins and minerals.

Gracer will be at NYSCI this weekend as part of the Dead or Alive Halloween event. He will talk about the value of insects in human diets and will even offer bug tastings all day. 

If you like what you taste, you can make a bug-filled day of it by dining at nearby El Globo, where they serve quesadillas a los chapulines (grasshopper quesadillas), a Mexican specialty.

So hop, wriggle or worm your way over to NYSCI this weekend. You don’t want to miss this event – everyone will be buzzing about it!

Science, Muppet-Style

For the past two weeks, Sesame Street viewers across the country have been treated to a morning science lesson with NYSCI and a loveable muppet named Murray Monster. Murray, with help from a Spanish-speaking lamb called Ovejita, cheered on as NYSCI Science Instructor Adiel Fernandez gave short lessons that encourage kids to learn science through design and think like engineers. Adiel is an educator with NYSCI’s Sara Lee Schupf Family Center for Play, Science, and Technology Learning (SciPlay), which created the science lessons. 

The Sesame Street episodes, filmed in NYSCI’s Rocket Park Mini Golf, Rocket Park, and Science Playground, ran locally on PBS stations in New York and New Jersey, as well as in Nebraska, Montana, West Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Arizona and California.

See if you can spot NYSCI next week on Sesame Street on WNET Thirteen (October 20 at 10 am and October 21 at 7 am), WLIW21 (October 24 at 9 am), and NJTV (October 20 at 11 am).

Colorful Making

From post-it notes and highlighter pens, to color-coded staff calendars, Nancy Schenk utilizes color to help organize her tasks as executive assistant to our president and CEO, Margaret Honey. At night, Nancy uses color in a more creative way – to create her traditional rug hooking projects.

For the past six years, Nancy has been creating rugs of various sizes using rug hooking, a traditional craft where rugs are made by pulling fabric, ribbons or yarn through a base such as burlap. One of the most important steps in the process is choosing the fabric to be used in the rug.

“You don’t know how the colors and patterns are going to turn out in the end,” said Nancy. “You can guess what it will look like, but until you actually work on the rug, you don’t really know. That’s one of the things I like about rug hooking.”

Nancy will display about a half dozen of her rug creations at this year’s World Maker Faire, a two-day event celebrating creativity and innovation in everything from knitting to robotics. Nancy’s rug hooking projects will be on display at our Science Technology Library and will include two rugs made from patterns that she designed herself.

World Maker Faire takes place at NYSCI on September 17 and 18. If you’re the forgetful type, write the date on a yellow post-it note and stick it on your fridge!

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … a man walking around with metal wings

Most kids dream of being a superhero when they grow up. Adiel Fernandez, science instructor at NYSCI, gets to be one for two days this month.

Or at least he’ll look like one, thanks to his project Metal Wings, which he built for this year’s World Maker Faire. Inspired by X-Men superhero Archangel, the aircraft-grade aluminum wings have a wingspan of 12 feet and are mechanically controlled by motors. These motors, or more technically “servos”, will be connected to special gloves he has created that will allow him to open and close the multiple segments of the wings just by moving his fingers, giving the illusion that the wings are moving on their own. The beating of the wings will also be linked to Adiel’s heartbeat, although that aspect of the project may not be ready in time for the Faire.

Adiel came up with the idea for the project about a year ago when his brother showed him photos from a comic book convention. “Archangel is such an interesting character,” said Adiel. “His wings are so unique and different from any other winged superhero or villain. I can’t believe no one has tried to put together a set of wings like his.”

Although he has been “making” since he was a small child (he often took his toys apart to see how they worked), the Metal Wings project included some relatively new territory for Adiel: microcontrollers and metalworking. But in true Maker spirit, he tackled the project anyways.

Check out Adiel’s wings along with projects from more than 500 other Makers (all superheroes in our book!) at this year’s World Maker Faire, which will be held at NYSCI on September 17 and 18.

Hooking Up at World Maker Faire

Not many people can say they’ve hooked up with the four elements, but NYSCI Librarian Rebecca Reitz is working towards doing just that.

Wielding only a crochet hook, Rebecca will use yarn, beads, seashells and other decorative items to create her fiber art piece EARTH.AIR.FIRE.WATER. The first part of the project will focus on Earth and will be displayed at World Maker Faire, a two-day festival celebrating the do-it-yourself movement.

Rebecca’s EARTH project was inspired by a recent vacation in the Adirondacks. Using yarn with various hues of greens and browns, and lots of improvisation (inventing the patterns as she crochets), she has created afghan squares of various Earth-themed subjects, which will be exhibited at World Maker Faire.

“I like reinterpreting the world in crochet – a medium I love,” said Rebecca. “People find a form of expression that best suits their character, and I found crochet.”

Since she was a teenager, Rebecca has been crocheting a variety of items including hats, scarves, blankets and even some molecule-inspired jewelry. At last year’s Faire, she presented three-dimensional, crocheted mushrooms attached to real pieces of wood. And NYSCI’s Science Technology Library displays some of her yarn-bombing work year-round.

To learn more about her art, hook up with Rebecca at World Maker Faire, which will be held at NYSCI on September 17 and 18.

Blow, Blow, Thou Maker Wind

At this year’s World Maker Faire, event organizers and Faire-goers alike will be hoping for warm days with sunny skies. But one Maker will be cheering on the wind.

Karl Szilagi, NYSCI exhibit technician, will be presenting his project, Listen to the Wind at this year’s Faire. Comprised of 30 kites of various sizes attached to one main line, Listen to the Wind showcases the sound a kite string makes when it’s under tension. The sound created by the kites will be amplified and transmitted to a pair of headphones, which will be available to Faire-goers. Karl hopes that his project inspires people to think more deeply about the seemingly simple act of flying a kite:

“I would like visitors to take away from the experience an understanding of how the humming of a kite string can reveal powerful forces at work that are often inaudible and otherwise invisible.”

Karl became interested in kites in the late 1980s after seeing several people flying kites high in the air in Central Park. He then started creating his own kites and has since built approximately 1,500 kites, although this is his first kite involving sound. 

So what exactly does a kite sound like? Find Karl at World Maker Faire to find out!

Making Science Hip

Deconstruction Zone

How do you get someone excited about the technology behind a computer processor? By breaking it down into smaller parts. Literally.

NYSCI’s Deconstruction Zone at last year’s World Maker Faire was so popular with kids and adults that it is being brought back for this year’s festival, which will be held on September 17 and 18. With screwdrivers and pliers, kids and adults at the 2010 World Maker Faire took apart computer and electronic equipment with a goal of, well, to take apart computer and electronic equipment. And they had a blast doing it. Clearly someone forgot to tell them that it was a form of science education.

In this age of standardized tests, rote memorization, and textbooks, it’s easy to see why most students dread their science and math classes. Where, really, is the fun in traditional science and math education? But taking apart electronics? Now, that sounds fun! 

And having fun can lead to a deeper exploration of the sciences. In a recent PBS Newshour show, Dale Dougherty, editor and publisher of Make magazine and founder of Maker Faire, said

“I see making as a gateway to engineering and science. When I talk to engineers and scientists, I can ask them, what fascinated you as a kid? And someone said, well, you know, I used to take refrigerators apart.” 

World Maker Faire has hundreds of these kind of fun opportunities for visitors. The two-day event brings together hundreds of “Makers” who show off their inventions and encourage visitors to become Makers themselves and to create, build and invent. In the process, they show us the “fun” in science, technology and math. When you see trendy people with their cool inventions, suddenly science and technology doesn’t seem so boring or geeky anymore. And when you get to invent your own cool products, a career choice in the sciences seems not only possible, but appealing.

NYSCI has been exploring ways to harness the spirit of “making” to increase interest in the sciences. NYSCI and Maker Faire staff worked to ensure that the inaugural World Maker Faire included a large range of activities for children and families. And after the festival, NYSCI hosted a two-day workshop with more than 80 leaders in education, science, technology and the arts to explore how the Maker movement can stimulate innovation in education.

This year’s Faire will be even bigger than last year, with hundreds of additional Makers and even more activities for children and families. And more opportunities to show kids and adults, that science is fun—whether or not you keep your computer in one piece.