White House State of STEM (#SoSTEM) Recap

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Whether you are a student (of any level), a parent, or a teacher, you probably have been hearing about the importance of STEM within your respective schools, media and communities.  If you have an interest in STEM careers, issues, and innovaions, today the White House delivered  it’s third annual “State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math” event which featured special guests and officials from NASA, the federal government, and STEM industries.  Students ranging from elementary school to high school made up the local audience, asking questions and engaging in conversation, with STEM professionals to discuss the latest in innovations in STEM!  Speakers included senior officials with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, NASA, and a Women in STEM panel.  The core message from the multiple speakers and dignitaries was the need to inspire and motivate students to pursue STEM passions and careers.  You can watch the entire event here:

Here is a recap of some of the notable key points of the live event:

Chief Technology Officer of the United States, Megan Smith, opened the event by recollecting how she ended up becoming an engineer.  Ms. Smith worked previously as the Vice President for Google and was one of the individuals responsible for developing Google Earth.  She explained that when she was a child, Jimmy Carter was President and the nation was battling the concerns of energy crisis.  President Carter wanted to reduce our dependence on oil over time and put solar collectors on the White House.   This intrigued Ms. Smith and was the start in her interest in the applications of science and technology for the future.  Her current work has much to do about climate change and studying sea level rise.

Big Takeaway: When learning STEM, you have to start somewhere.  It takes small steps.  You have to crawl first, walk, then run.  Go out and try science.  Do sites like code.org and expose yourself to different interests in STEM.  It may be your passion!

 

Chief Scientist and Adminstrator from NASA, Charles Bolden, gave a welcome address to introduce the first panel for the event.  A former NASA astronaut himself, Mr. Bolden urged students to get interested and fired up in STEM.  On the day after President Obama’s State of the UnionAddress, he explained to students that exciting things are happening in the nation.  This includes the success of Orion and the plans and progress for getting people to Mars.

Big Takeaway:  What motivates you when things go wrong?  The knowledge that we can change things when things don’t go right.

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NASA Astronauts Barry E. “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts, and Italian Air Force Captain Samantha Cristoforetti  served as a live panel and spoke via satellite directly from the International Space Station.  Here are highlights from the Q&A session they did with the students!

Is life in space hard or easy?  Depends on what you are doing!  We are well trained and prepared for all different aspects…launching, science, protocols, and reentry.  Days are long and filled with many tasks.  Keeping mentally tied in all the time can be tiring.  Great environment to work in, fun, floor is ceiling and vice versa.

What is your favorite thing in space? It’s so cool floating!  After a few weeks, you get used to floating and being weightless.  Takes no effort to flip.  (Butch)

What do you have to do to become an astronaut?  There are many paths to becoming an astronaut-military pilots, scientists, engineering, medicine, etc..  The most important thing is to work hard and do well in school.  Choose a career before you become an astronaut that you really love.  It will make you a good candidate.

I heard you all 3D printed a tool?  Did you use it yet?  Yes we did!  We made several items via 3D printing.  They printed the same items on Earth (including a ratchet wrench) as we printed out here.  Everything is bagged up and will be studied.

How is it like being in a space suit when you are outside of the ship?  When you get in a space-walking suit, it is a one-man space ship.  It circulates cold water and oxygen.  It doesn’t have food, but it has a water bag.  The view through the vacuum of space is so clear.  You always send 2 people out at a time and you are never alone.

Before you first went out in space, what intimidated you the most and how did you overcome that?  I had to prepare astronauts to go out into space in suits.  I had their lives in my hands at stake.  It is a very detailed process.  You are in the suit for 5 hours prior to going outside.  The biggest tasks are with the person preparing you to go out.

What kind of work/research are you doing up in space?  We are studying materials science-measuring how materials as they cool they become course and how the molecules change as they solidfy.  We are growing and harvesting plants, and conducting fruit fly experiments.  We have worms that we fed bacteria (salmonella and ecoli) and are studying how the immune system is affected by the disease.

Big takeaway:   Find something you can be passionate about and follow it!

 

Dr. Jo Handlesman, Assoc Director for Science, discussed the latest in microbiology research studies.  She noted that only a few small number of organisms in the world will actually grow in the lab.  For every one we can grow in the lab and study, there are 100 others that we can’t grow.  How can we study bacterium, fungus, without being able to grow it on a petri dish?  We need current students to figure it out for the future!  We have also have 10 times more bacteria in our human body than we do cells. Some make us sick, and some help us.  It took us about 100 years to realize that most bacteria are good for us.

Big takeaway:  If people tell you girls can’t do science, don’t believe them.  Find people who encourage you (mentors, advisors, friends, relatives, heros) that tell you that you can do this.

 

NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan led a panel with members of OSTP leadership for a discussion on women in STEM.  The panel featured Lynne Murdock, Kathy Pham, Rachel Harrison-Gordon, Nicole Hernandez Hammer who represented multiple professions including park ranger, planetary geologist, computer science, mechanical engineering, and interdisciplinary scientist for climate change.  They discussed their motivations for pursuing science-from a love of Legos to a love of being outside.  Latest trends in technology that they urged students to consider pursuing for the future included healthcare data and climate change.  Ms. Stofan and Hammer articulated that we need to research how to deal with the effect that the sea level will rise and how are we going to adapt to new environments.  Ms. Stofan also emphasized how research in climate change includes heavy involvement with Mars studies!

Big takeaway:  Don’t let politics get you down.

 

You can find additional information on the event here and by following #SoSTEM.

 

 

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Bounce and Elastic Science Fun with Wubble Bubble Ball

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Toys are some of the best ways to allow kids to have fun and learn at the same time.  The Wubble Bubble Ball is no exception.

We’ve all purchased bouncing balls for our children, but this is one ball that gives you the flexibility to have teachable moments on properties of matter and forces.  Before I go into the educational aspects of this toy, let me share what it actually is!

At a first glance, you think it’s a standard ball you can inflate up to 3 feet.  However, once you start playing with it you realize it is more like playing with a real-life bubble.  The ball is extremely elastic and stretchy.  My 1 year old picks it up with ease by pinching it on the sides and can throw it over his head without toppling or falling over.  Large enough to play a huge game of toss, but delicate enough to not hurt littles ones in a game of dodge ball.  In fact, my 1 year old son loves it when we bounce it off of his head or if it bounces off of him!  My older girls are 9 and 13 and have sat on the Wubble, bounced on it, and laid on it.  Once of the best features that make this ball unique is that you can deflate the ball when you want to store it away and inflate it again for play.   When deflated, the Wubble Ball is the size of an average dinner plate.  This is perfect for not taking up room in your house!

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This is a great option for a holiday gift this year!  Selected as a 2014 Top Toy for the Holiday Season, the Wubble Bubble Ball is a Family Fun Toy Of The Year Award Winner (you can find all 25 winners featured in the November 2014 issue of Family Fun Magazine.  NSI President Frank Landi developed the Wubble™ Bubble Ball, at the request of his children’s dream to play with a real-life bubble, to keep children’s love for fun, active play alive.  It has since won numerous won numerous toy awards, including:

  • Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Best Toy Award
  • National Parenting Center Seal of Approval
  • Mr. Dad Approved Award
  • Parent’s Choice Award
  • Dr. Toy Best 100 Picks Award

So far we haven’t had any issues of the Wubble Ball popping although we have played with it both indoors and outdoors.  We have heard of instances from friends of it popping upon the first inflation or while playing with it forcefully.  The good thing is that the company offers a lifetime replacement guarantee. It costs $6.99 to replace a Wubble under the guarantee.  There are some tips to help ensure no damage is caused during inflation.  You can use a little bit of oil (whatever you have in your kitchen) to insert the pump into the Wubble Ball the first time. We found that you can inflate your Wubble Ball with an air mattress pump with an adapter as an alternative to the pump that comes with the ball.  Here’s a video that may also help with inflation tips:  “How to Inflate a Wubble Ball“.

So how can the Wubble Ball be used as a teaching tool?  Here are some science concepts that can be taught with this toy:

  • Elasticity as a property of matter
  • Matter can change shape (children can sit on the Wubble Ball, stretch it, etc.), but it’s composition doesn’t change (It still has the same amount of air and surface area on the ball).
  • Air pressure between molecules increase as you inflate that Wubble Ball and decrease as the Wubble Ball deflates.

Some scientific investigations children can conduct with the Wubble Ball:

  • Does temperature influence the performance of the Wubble Ball?  Especially during this time of year, children can take the Wubble Ball out during the day and during night (when the temperature drops) and compare its’ bouncing/stretching ability.
  • How does air pressure influence the performance of the Wubble Ball?  Have children observe any differences in how the Wubble Ball bounces, feels, stretches, etc. with different amounts of inflation on the ball.
  • Research the material(s) Wubble Balls are made out of.  Research other products that have these materials.  What other uses do you think this material will be good for?

 

Wubble Ball is available at Target, Toys R Us and online at www.wubbleball.com.

 

Disclaimer:  I received a sample of the Wubble Bubble Ball red to faciliate this review, but the opinions here are entirely my own.

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