This month’s exciting STEM news – August, 2013

You asked, we listened. We got quite a bit of feedback expressing a deeply felt, passionate, and undying love for our last “This month’s exciting STEM news” feature. Since we could not allow such love to go unrequited, we bring you exciting STEM news from the month of August, 2013.

Ok, we’re being totally dramatic. But really, we think quite a few of you enjoyed this feature last month, so here is some cool news pertaining to the other 8 subjects featured on our STEM Works and Kids Ahead websites: 

The Animal Kingdom IconAnimal Kingdom

The discovery of a new mammal is an incredibly rare event in the 21st century. In 2013, however, scientists discovered a new mammal species called the olinguito,which lives in the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador. Read article.

Extreme Weather IconExtreme Weather

Wildfires have been a hot topic this month (no pun intended), as much of the country has been up in flames. Though fire in and of itself is not necessarily a weather phenomenon, oftentimes wildfires are caused by weather-related phenomena such as lighting. But enough talk, check out this slideshow of some of the weather the world experienced this month. Read article.

Medical Innovations IconMedical Innovations

It’s about time we all put aside our differences, especially since scientists have determined that all humans are 99.9% the same. Genetically speaking, that is. Read article.

Robotics IconRobotics

Robots are proving to be a source of inspiration for Ford as the company seeks to find better ways to help create safer vehicles. And not just any robots… space robots. Oh yeah. Read article.

Space IconSpace

Our skies treated us to a Perseid meteor shower this month. In case you missed this Perseid shower— so named due to the fact that its point of origin lies in the constellation Perseus,— here is a time lapse video of the show for your viewing pleasure . Read article.

Under the Sea IconUnder the Sea

Shark Week! Shark Week! Shark Week! Just kidding. It would totally be cheating to list Shark Week two months in a row… though this really was the month that brought us this year’s Shark Week. Instead, this month’s under the sea news brings the ocean to you. Literally. Due to the fact that many people have reported health benefits associated with the smell of salty sea air, a sea breeze generator is being developed for public consumption. Dibs! Read article.

Video Games IconVideo Games

A Stanford mathematician argued that video games are the perfect platform for teaching mathematics. No seriously. Read article.

Wind Energy IconWind Energy

Cleveland played host to the “Power Up for Offshore Wind” event this month. The event was intended to demonstrate to power companies that the demand for wind power in the area is strong. As a result, over 4,500 have pledged to buy offshore wind energy from turbines in Lake Erie. Read article.

So there, various STEM subject lovers. We’ve got you covered!

Assignment Exploration: Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks

Living in Utah for the last few years, I have been fortunate to live in relatively close proximity to a large number of the spectacular US National Parks. Being from the East Coast originally, we have discovered that a great time to explore these national treasures is when our family comes to visit. Since we’re moving back to the East Coast at the end of this week, we spent all of last week meandering through and exploring Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

Each of the US National Parks offers diversity and unique experiences and the Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks are no exception. The majority of Yellowstone is located in a volcanic caldera from a massive volcano that erupted about 600,000 years ago. As a result, this park hosts the world’s greatest collection of thermal features that make visits to this particular park a truly unique experience.

I learned A LOT during this trip and wanted to share some of the highlights and resources that I learned during this adventure. In addition to including some of the pictures I took during the trip, I’ve included a brief overview of some of the major geological features found in these two parks, namely the mountains, geysers, hot springs, and the wildlife (I know, they aren’t related to geology but they’re pretty interesting, and so cute!).

The Mountains

Grand Teton Panorama

Panorama of the Grand Teton Mountains

The Teton Mountains are a spectacular sight and the summit of Grand Teton reaches an oxygen-lacking elevation of 13,770 feet.  These mountains host glaciers that can be spotted all year-round; even during the 80 degree weather we experienced the Skillet Glacier could be clearly seen on Mt. Moran in the Teton range.

Skillet Glacier on Mt. Moran in the Grand Tetons

Skillet Glacier on Mt. Moran in the Grand Tetons

The mountains are fault-block mountains, created by the Teton fault and are still growing at a rate of about one foot every 300-400 years. That may not sound like a lot, but when you consider that in a human lifetime the mountains will grow about 3 inches, that’s pretty significant in geological terms! To learn more about the Teton Mountains and how they were created check out this great website dedicated to exploring this majestic area.

The Geysers & Hot Springs

The thermal features in Yellowstone are a result of the volcanic activity deep below the surface of the earth in this area. Hot springs are heated by the lava and molten rock that flow through the earth, and geysers are hot springs that periodically erupt. Hot temperatures deep in the springs vaporize the water and send bubbles to the surface. Once the hot spring overflows, the pressure decreases significantly causing the water to boil at a much higher rate (remember, water boils at lower temperatures when pressure is lowered). This boiling creates a lot of steam which then pushes water out the top of the hot spring resulting in a geyser!

Old Faithful eruption seen from Observation Point 200 feet above the geyser

Old Faithful eruption seen from Observation Point 200 feet above the geyser

Although Old Faithful is the most famous of the Yellowstone geysers due to its size and reliability, there are over 500 other thermal features in the park, including a much smaller, aptly named geyser affectionately called “Young Hopeful.” Who says that Park Rangers don’t have a sense of humor!

The Young Hopeful geyser

The Young Hopeful geyser

In addition to the geysers, there are numerous hot springs throughout the park. Since these springs are incredibly hot (some are over 200 degrees Fahrenheit!), the park service built miles of boardwalks around these features to make it easier for us to see these springs up close. One of my favorite parts of these hot springs is the spectacular colors that these springs emanate. Here is a great picture (not one that I took) of the Grand Prismatic Spring showing all of these colors in one spring.

Grand Prismatic Spring aerial view

The brilliant colors are caused by bacteria that live in and around the springs. Depending on the temperature of the water and other important features of the springs, these bacteria turn different colors. The Firehole Spring (shown below) provides another example of these colorful springs.

Firehole Spring

Firehole Spring

If you visit Yellowstone and go the Old Faithful area (which I would definitely recommend!), be sure to stop into the new Visitor Education Center just next to Old Faithful. If you can’t make it to Yellowstone but are interested in exploring the center just check out this great video tour of the facility.

The Wildlife

There is a plethora of wildlife in these two parks. Unfortunately, maybe due to the wildfires throughout the region during our trip, we didn’t get to see as many animals as we hoped. These animals live in a pretty harsh environment, with temperatures in the winter getting below 0 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas of the park. As a result, many of the animals hibernate for extended periods of time during the cold months. Did you know that Uinta Ground Squirrels can hibernate for up to eight months?

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Get Involved and Start Exploring!

If you can’t make it to the parks but still want to learn more, check out these great activities that will teach you and the kids you work with more about Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. You and your students can even become Web Rangers!

Exploring doesn’t always mean you have to physically go somewhere, take some time to explore the parks virtually through the National Park Service’s e-Field Trips; they’re pretty awesome!

Sunrise over Lake Yellowstone

Sunrise over Lake Yellowstone

Earth, the Final Frontier

Space Earth, the final frontier.

I was greeted this morning by this article, which explains how NASA scientists have recreated the aurora borealis in a lab. Seeing as how witnessing the Northern Lights is at the top of my bucket list, I was automatically intrigued with the prospect of avoiding a trip to the North Pole. But avoiding the trip and reducing the size of my bucket list were not the only things this article got me thinking about.

By The High Fin Sperm Whale (Self-taken photo) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

By The High Fin Sperm Whale (Self-taken photo) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s easy to wonder about things in the sky. The vastness of our atmosphere and the universe beyond it are as inviting to our imaginations as a blank canvas. As an adult I have grown into a space enthusiast, but even as a kid I was not exempt from endless star gazing, wishing on those that zipped across my line of sight.

Yet what about the things that are right here on earth? There is so much mystery that exists right in front of us if we have the eyes to see it. I admit that words like physics and geology (and even biology to a certain extent) used to invoke in me feelings of dread, but the more I learn about these fields of study, the more they intrigue me.

NASA scientists were able to recreate a beautiful atmospheric phenomenon using physical properties like magnetic force and charged particles. Science teachers have told me time and again about “the building blocks of our universe,” and an article like this provides a wonderful example of what this really means. Physics, geology, chemistry, biology—all of these subjects dance together to explain our world, our universe, and beyond.  Our planet and its components provide infinite possibilities for exploration and discovery.

I’ve said it before—I come from the place of a former sciencephobe. Yet in a way I credit my early aversion to science with a renewed sense of wonder in my adult years. I’m late to the science party, but now I am ready to rock! (get it?) So join the party by defending the following statement:

Earth, the final frontier.

By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

2013 Teacher Workshop CSI Unit Ideas

During the last session of our 2013 CSI Teacher Training and Professional Certification, teachers were sorted into groups to incorporate their CSI knowledge into CSI units for their own classrooms. These teachers created a myriad of ideas for excellent project-based CSI units applying to all grade levels. Since workshop participants were kind enough to share their ideas with us, we thought we’d pass these ideas along to the greater CSI and STEM communities. Here’s what they came up with:

I Am Not Who I Thought I Was

This unit is based on the recent case of Paul Fronczak, who discovered at age 50 that he is not related to his parents. In this unit students will “re-open” this case to help Paul discover who he really is. Activities such as DNA analysis, crime scene investigation, ear recognition, and others all apply to this unit.

Freshman Class Amazing Race – Case of Whodunit

This unit is designed to help teachers gain “buy in” from incoming freshman students. During this unit, the students will find out that the principal has gone missing and it’s up to them to solve the case. This unit pulls in many different classes and utilizes CSI skills required from each of the subjects. For example, the drama and/or art department can set up the crime scene, and math and science classes can utilize biometrics activities, fingerprint dusting, and DNA analysis. Once they solve the crime, students would then create a video presenting their conclusion to be voted on by the student body.

Case of the Stolen Exam Key

This unit also pulls in many different disciplines to allow students to solve the case of the stolen exam key. This two-day unit would be led by the forensics department, but would incorporate gait analysis in math classes, identification/translation of foreign language spoken by witness in language classes, and report write-ups in English department. This case will ultimately end in a mock trial.

Graffiti in the Restroom

This is another interdisciplinary whodunit case that solves the case of graffiti found in the restroom. Paper chromatography will feature into this crime, and the history of graffiti can be explored by history classes.

What Does the Perfect Crime Look Like?

This unit examines how criminals get caught. Common crimes will be researched, allowing math classes to conduct statistical analysis, English classes to do character development, and science classes to conduct related CSI activities. This unit can also incorporate other variables to allow students to consider other possible mechanisms for getting caught. Students will then develop realistic “perfect crimes” and present them.

Whodunit? Case of the Stolen Phone

A phone was stolen by a staff member. This unit limits the amount of instruction, and instead incorporates question only. During this 6 week group project, students have to come up with the suspect, turn in notes, graphs, charts, pictures and case files. Students will spend one day per week of class time on this project, and the different methods of CSI investigation learned in class will be incorporated into homework.

Whodunit? Missing Money at a Car Wash

Evidence for this unit includes a grainy video and a size 6 shoe print. The suspects are the students, and students need to determine which technique will be most effective in catching the suspect. Students must chose 3 techniques of all the techniques taught, create a report, and reenact the crime. This is a 2 week project, and students will work in groups of 3.

Whodunit? Destroyed Science Lab

A professor finds a crime scene at a destroyed science lab. Elementary students will collaboratively work together to collect fingerprints, conduct paper chromatography, interview suspects, etc. Many grades will be included, and younger grades will do the soil sample for Texas TEKS.

Found Object – Find the Owner

Students will find the owner of a found object using CSI techniques. Students will be placed in groups and decide which methods would best allow them to solve this mystery.

Whodunit? Coffee Half-full

A teacher comes back to find her coffee half full. This problem will incorporate interdisciplinary curriculum, and different teachers will do different things. This inquiry-based learning scenario will bring the  kids and teachers together.

Accident at School

This unit allows students to determine the cause of an accident at school based on evidence such as ice and skid marks. Science and math classes can work together to assess the situation, English classes can write-up the accident, social studies classes can talk about which laws will apply, and theater classes can recreate the accident.


Many thanks to all of our workshop participants for coming up with such wonderful unit ideas! Do you have additional ideas for incorporating CSI into your classroom? Tell us about it!

Teacher Workshop Day 2

The second and final day of our CSI Teacher Workshop was a huge success. We kicked the day off with a focus on law enforcement careers, as Special Agent Ron Goates, NCIS, and Special Agent David Marshall, FBI, joined our teachers for a panel discussion.


SA Ron Goates (left) and SA David Marshall (right)



Participant Pamela Gantt-Lee and SA Goates


Participants take time to pose with SA Goates

These law enforcement officials revealed the diversity of the skill sets needed in their respective organizations and gave teachers practical information about how students can go about pursuing these careers. “It’s a world we don’t get to see on a daily basis,” explained participant Gavin Eastep, and participant Elizabeth Lattier was happy to find out that kids can bring such a wide variety of skillsets to these organizations.

Teachers then broke out into groups to continue yesterday’s exploration of subjects such as biometrics, change blindness, and soil analysis,

Hand geometry - one of the biometrics activities

Hand geometry – one of the biometrics activities


Mentor Jennifer Makins discusses change blindness.


Soil analysis activity

before turning their focus to DNA. A DNA extraction activity kicked off our two-part DNA segment, allowing teachers to learn first-hand how to extract DNA from a strawberry.

Like our campers, they smashed,




and took home their own sample of DNA.


Teachers then came together for a presentation on DNA electrophoresis. During this presentation, participants learned explored genetics, and learned how to conduct their own DNA electrophoresis experiment with their students.

DNA electrophoresis presentation

DNA electrophoresis presentation

After giving participants hands-on experience with some of our CSI activities, we decided to try something new. Participants spent the final session in groups applying their new CSI knowledge to create project-based units of their own. Teachers were paired with other teachers from their grade level and came up with wonderful ideas for how to incorporate CSI into their own classrooms.




During this session our teachers came up with a wide variety of wonderful ideas for CSI units at all grade levels. Stay tuned to read all of these wonderful ideas and adapt them for use in your classroom!

Teacher Workshop Day 1 Takeaways

We accomplished a lot during the first day of our two-day teacher workshop. Today’s session began with a presentation and discussion on project-based learning and inquiry-based learning by Dr. Dara Williams-Rossi. During this presentation, teachers learned how to approach the process of learning through projects and inquiries, and how this might be incorporated into their classrooms.


Teachers then gained hands-on experience with many of our CSI activities, including fingerprint dusting and sensor,


forensic anthropology,

DSC_0013 (2)

and gait recognition, to name a few.

DSC_0026 (2)

Participants had a chance to discuss how the activities might be modified to fit their classrooms and share any previous experiences they may have had with the subject matter.

At the end of the day our group came back together to discuss their main takeaways from the day.


In general, teachers

  • Appreciated the implementation of technology, such as the XBOX Kinect, into classroom CSI activities
  • Learned from their interactions with teachers of different grade levels and disciplines
  • Wondered how to pull engineering into the CSI framework

To hear more from the teachers, and to participate in the CSI conversation, head on over to Twitter and use #2013CSITeachers.

CSI Conversation

Logo_CSI Teacher CampWe are so excited to welcome roughly 100 local teachers onto our campus for our third annual CSI Teacher Workshop! We had a record amount of applicants for the two-day training session this year, which means that word has been spreading about our CSI programs. Though we opened this training up to more teachers than ever before, we still were not able to accommodate all of the applicants and interested teachers from across the country.

Though we were not able to accommodate all of the interested parties, we wanted to provide a way to facilitate a conversation between camp participants, mentors, staff, and the greater CSI community. To get the CSI conversation going, we have provided three questions for participants, as well as the greater community, to discuss throughout the duration of the workshop. These three questions are:

  1. What is your experience with CSI subject matter, and which of the activities from the workshop (see workshop schedule) are you most or least comfortable with?
  2. How can you incorporate these CSI activities and others into your classroom?
  3. How do you think these activities could be modified to fit the needs of your classroom?

You can discuss these questions via Twitter by using #2013CSITeachers, on our Facebook page, or by commenting directly to this post. But don’t feel limited to discussing these questions only. We also want to hear about your insights, “aha” moments, and experience with the subject matter and your fellow participants!


Back-to-school STEM Resources

So, it’s nearing that time again… The summer is coming to an end and our students/teachers are headed back to school soon. Because we didn’t want to leave your STEM needs unfulfilled next school year, we wanted to take this time to introduce you to the new(ish) STEM Advocacy section on STEM-Works. Those of you who are unfamiliar with this feature will find all sorts of information that you can apply to your classes, and those of you who are familiar with it know how great of a resource it can be!

The STEM Advocacy section provides access to lesson plans, publications, and virtual field trips all related to STEM subjects. You can search for these things either by age group,




or subject type.


Lesson Plans

In order to engage kids in STEM pursuits, it is often helpful to have lesson plans or curriculum geared toward improving inquiry skills or highlighting specific STEM content. This section provides exactly that type of resource. In addition to the Activities section on the websites, the Lesson Plans section provides educators and advocates with background information on activities and provides the framework for the content and skills promoted through the activity. Examples of the lesson plans included on our website include middle school ocean-related Scientific Naming Conventions Curriculum, a K-3 All About Energy lesson module, and a 4-8 Balloon Aeronautics lesson, among many others.


The Publications section includes a variety of different scholarly works as well as magazines and newsletters with information related to STEM. A few of these scholarly works include the Rising against the Gathering Storm reports and the 2012 report released by the US Department of Commerce. This section also includes magazines, journals, newsletter and articles geared towards adults and relating to STEM. Examples of these types of publications available on STEM-Works include Science News: Magazine of the Society for Science and the Public as well as the National Geographic Newsletter. Finally, this section also includes magazines and newsletters geared toward kids and families. Two of these newsletters included on the site are Science News for Kids and Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter.

Virtual Field Trips

Following an email request we received from one of our website users who lives in a rural area, we decided to find a way to introduce kids who may not have the means or opportunity to travel to major cities to take virtual field trips. These virtual field trips are all virtual experiences that classes, families or individual students can investigate without ever leaving their homes or classrooms. All of these experiences are free and offer students and advocates the opportunity to experience something that may have previously been out of their reach. Now you can afford to virtually take your students to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Grand Canyon, and even the International Space Station!

We hope that the STEM Advocacy section will be helpful to you as you gear up for the upcoming school year. And, as always, we are open to suggestions for cool pieces of content that you think should be featured on our website! Also, if you follow us on Twitter, watch for the hashtags #VirtualFieldTrip and #LessonPlan as we keep you apprised of our exciting content in these areas.

And if you don’t follow us on Twitter, do it! Do it now!