Monthly Archives: September 2014

Random Tidbits of Interesting Stuff

Good morning. It’s the last day of September, and if I lived in a temperate area, I would be anticipating the arrival of autumn’s cool weather and colorful leaves. Alas, I live in Dar es Salaam, where it’s hot, and the arrival of October just means it’s getting hotter.

At least the rising heat in Dar is a result of normal seasonal fluctuations caused by Earth’s tilted axis of rotation. That may not be the case for much of Europe and North America, according to a new study from Rutgers University, USA. Jennifer Francis claims that the ‘extreme’ weather events, which are becoming more and more common in North America, are tied to changes in Arctic sea ice levels.

Crazy weather and the jet stream. Image: screen capture from New Scientist.

Crazy weather and the jet stream. Image: screen capture from New Scientist.

And because I always read stories about the science of coffee, you should check out this article from New Scientist, outlining how researchers could use the gene sequence of robusta beans to brew the perfect cup of Joe. I’m not sure I like the idea of a scientifically-produced cappuccino. It still seems like it should remain art rather than science…

I was searching through again over the weekend, and this list of top picks for science apps has been sitting open on my browser since then. I haven’t had a chance to explore these apps in depth, but there seem to be some pretty good ones in this list.

And last but not least, the obligatory astronomy plug: Jupiter’s moon Europa, one of the best candidates for finding life elsewhere in our solar system, is covered by a thick layer of ice that moves around in much the same way that tectonic plates shift on the surface of our home planet.

Zero Shadow Day is Coming!

Good morning! Some exciting tidbits in my news feed this morning (exciting for us science and astronomy nerds, at least) – the Day of Zero Shadows is rapidly approaching Dar es Salaam! Thanks to our local space gurus at Astronomy in Tanzania for this update.

Screen capture from Zero Shadow Day, Rugved Pund,  Jyotirvidya Parisanstha,  Pune, India.

Screen capture from Zero Shadow Day, Rugved Pund,
Jyotirvidya Parisanstha,
Pune, India.

Between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer, the Sun is directly overhead exactly twice every year, and when that happens, objects cast no shadow whatsoever. It’s all due to the perfect alignment of that place on Earth’s surface with the Sun, 153,000,000 km away. You can find some more information on Zero Shadow moments here and here.

For my room in the science building, my Zero Shadow Moment will happen at exactly 12:10pm on Saturday, 11 October 2014. It’s not like a Mayan end-of-times prediction (which was falsely misinterpreted by archaeologists, by the way), but it’s a cool twice-a-year phenomenon that’s unique to only a few places on the planet. And the fact that it’s dependent on a giant ball of hydrogen and helium gas undergoing nuclear fusion 8.3 light minutes away just adds to the cool factor. Check out this online calculator to see if you can’t see your shadow either, wherever you live

New Way to Search for Cool Apps for School

Good morning. I don’t think of myself as someone who promotes or endorses products or services for commercial gain – I’m just a science teacher, after all – but I find myself constantly surprised at the sheer quantity of high-quality, exciting, engaging, and entertaining educational material available online these days. (How’s that for alliteration?)

At the end of the day yesterday I stumbled across, a new website that includes a rating system for different educational apps and programs. According to the Graphite home page, “Graphite is a free service from Common Sense Education that makes it easy to discover the best apps, games, and websites for classroom use.” It’s a pretty intuitive site to navigate, with filters for age groups (K-12), subject areas, platform (iOS, Android, Windows, Linux), and product type (app, online, software). Ratings are based on both content and

Screen capture from the Lawrence Hall of Science.

Screen capture from the Lawrence Hall of Science.

One of the things I like as an educator AND as a parent of two school-age children is the “Field Notes” section, where people who are actually using the applications describe what they’re doing and evaluate how well it works.

Here’s a quick list of a few things I found through Graphite that may apply to my classes, and which you may find useful as well:

Screen capture from California Academy of Sciences.

Screen capture from California Academy of Sciences.

More Science Video Resources

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve stumbled across some valuable resources this morning – I shared them via Twitter – and they inspired me to share some more science-y things. Here are a few more channels I follow regularly on YouTube, all of which are great for support and/or inspiration in your scientific endeavors.

First up today is Numberphile. Numberphile makes videos about numbers, and since science and mathematics are so inherently intertwined, this channel is kind of a natural pairing for a lot of what we do in our studies of physical science and astronomy. Lots of entertaining and fascinating stuff here.

Next is The Bad Astronomer. As you might guess, this channel focuses heavily on astronomy and space science. Mostly it’s a collection of cool informational videos that don’t seem to be organized around any one central theme – just neat stuff about outer space.

The Science Channel is a really broad, very well-curated channel dedicated to all the major branches of science. Check out their playlists to filter your search down to specific topics or subjects within a given field of study. Highly professional.

Finally, I’ll link to NASA’s official YouTube channel. Here you’ll find literally hundreds of videos assembled by a large team of scientists working on a wide variety of projects at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, USA.

Tanzania in the science headlines?!?

I can’t remember the last time Tanzania made the science news. Maybe during the Leakeys’ days working at Olduvai Gorge, unearthing the history of early hominids? In any case, it’s a rare event, but some archaeological work in southwestern Tanzania just made the science news in one of America’s biggest papers: the Los Angeles Times

Tanzania dinosaur

Image from screen capture: LA Times Science Now, 10 September 2014.

It turns out that gigantic herbivorous terrestrial dinosaurs roamed this part of Africa about 100 million years ago, when Africa and South America were part of a large supercontinent called Gondwana. The article also nicely summarizes how the fossil record continues to boost our understanding of the process of evolution by natural selection. Give it a read.

Happy learning!

How to be a more productive student (or “How to waste less time and have more time for fun”)

I don’t normally pass along posts from content generators such as the Huffington Post, but the article below popped up in my Twitter feed a little while ago, and even though it’s written for working professionals, I think there are some really useful hints for students.

The ones that really stand out for me are pretty basic: 

  1. Turn off email and IM! I respond to messages only at specific times in my day, so that my normal work isn’t constantly interrupted. 
  2. Take a 10-minute break every hour. Step away from whatever you’re doing and focus on something not related to work or school. Your mind will be fresher when you come back, and you’ll actually get more done than if you’d kept working. Just make sure the 10-minute break stays 10 minutes.
  3. Do the quick tasks now. That way, they’re out of the way! 

Some other ways I’ve found to be more productive are simply to start using the shortcut keys on the computer:

  • command-C (ctrl-C for PC users) to copy
  • command-V to paste
  • command-X to cut
  • command-Z to undo
  • command-S to save
  • command-F to find a word on the page/website

I’m continually surprised at how many people spend hours every day on a computer but still don’t know these basics. Saving a few keystrokes or mouse clicks with every interaction makes it possible for your hands to keep up with your brain, which makes it easier to get your work done. Which makes it easier to play! 

Happy learning! 


Grow a Tiny Forest Anywhere!

This video recently came through in my daily feed from TED. I love trees. If I have a logo, it’s a tree. Specifically, my logo would be a baobab (Adansonia digitata), which is probably the coolest tree I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. I camp under an amazing one in Mikumi National Park, about 5 hours from Dar es Salaam, every May. Same tree, year after year.

But I digress. In the video below, Shubhendu Sharma describes how his firm has applied industrial manufacturing processes learned from Toyota to the planting of biodiverse forests. It’s pretty cool what they’re able to accomplish in a short period of time in tiny little spaces.