An Oakland science teacher’s message to Obama

Katie Noonan, a science teacher at Oakland High School, puts national education politics into a local context.

Oakland High School students

I heard about President Obama’s Educate to Innovate science initiative yesterday while driving 13 tired students back from a four-day intensive workshop in geospatial technology in Sacramento.

My students gave up four days of their Thanksgiving vacation, slept on the floor in classrooms, ate cheap food we cooked ourselves, and put in 15-hour days in the field and computer lab to develop real science technology skills. They collected GPS waypoints and created a computerized map of River City High School. They produced seasonal climate maps of U.S. cities from data they collected on the Internet — original products that took up to eight hours to complete. Continue Reading


Ew, what’s that smell in Room 345?

photos courtesy of Katie Noonan, science teacher at Oakland High School

The small one weighed 20 pounds. Hoisting the big one onto a scale was out of the question, so the kids in Katie Noonan’s tenth-grade biology class at Oakland High School skipped that part and went straight to work with their forceps and scissors.

Two Humboldt squids were the source of the excitement — and the smell — coming from Room 345.

The frozen specimens were delivered to Noonan’s classroom through the Squids-4-Kids program, a partnership between Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University and NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service in Santa Cruz, CA.

Continue Reading


Kids: Want a crash course in astrophysics? Juggling?

photo courtesy of Shuai Chen, co-founder of Splash

If you know a middle or high school student who has a free day this weekend and might be interested in, say, neuroscience, dancing, artificial intelligence, juggling, or painting, keep reading!

More than 100 Stanford University students are playing teacher for the weekend in a marathon learning session on the Palo Alto campus. It’s called Splash, and it runs Saturday and Sunday. The full price is $40 for both days (and $20 for siblings), but the event organizers say that participants who can’t afford the fee can just say so and they don’t have to pay anything.

You can learn more about Splash, and its (literally) 209 course offerings, here. This is the third time students have organized the event, and they expect up to 1,000 kids to participate. Those who haven’t registered online can just show up on Saturday or Sunday.

Can’t make it this weekend? They’re planning another one in April.


Free digital textbooks are up: Any takers?

Remember Arnold’s digital textbook initiative that we discussed in June?

Well, a review of 16 of these newfangled `books’ came out yesterday, and the materials — all free — are posted online.

It looks like they’re all for high school math and science: geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, calculus, physics, chemistry, biology/life science and earth science.

Ten of the textbooks reviewed covered at least 90 percent of the state content standards for the subject, and four met all of them. Only three of the 16 really bombed the review. (Step it up, Earth Systems!) Continue Reading


A passion for math, science and new ideas

Alanna Reyes is one of 66 teens who spent five weeks immersed in math and science at UC Berkeley this summer. The senior at at Lynbrook High School in San Jose describes her experience at SMASH, an honors program for low-income students. -Katy

courtesy photo

“Is that Relient K? I love that band!” I said to my roommate.

“Yes, it is Relient K. I thought the song fit the weather this week,” she said as she started singing the words. “And on and off, the clouds have fought for control over the sky…”

I looked at the cloudy sky outside of our dormitory window. Even the gloomy day couldn’t dampen my excitement about getting out of the dorm room and meeting the other SMASH scholars before class. It was July, and I was spending five weeks of my summer at UC Berkeley’s campus with more than 60 other high school students.

More than an academic program, SMASH had become a supportive community for me. Not only do SMASH scholars have access to teachers every night during tutorials for two whole hours outside of class, we draw strength and support from other scholars and our Resident Assistants.

Speaking of tutorials, it was time for me to leave the dorm and get to the Tech II tutorial in LeConte Hall. Continue Reading


First-year Oakland teacher up for award

Emily Orologio has only just finished her first year teaching, but her hard work and talent might earn $10,000 for Frick Middle School in East Oakland.

Orologio is a seventh-grade science teacher at Frick, and one of five Bay Area teachers nominated for Comcast’s 2009 All-Star Teacher Award. You can watch a video of this star rookie and vote for the winning teacher here.  

Members of the public can vote – once! – through July 8.


Jemison: More women and minorities needed in the sciences

Dr. Mae C. Jemison, a physician and former astronaut, was the first African-American woman to travel in space. She is in town this week for a conference on science education, designed to urge industry leaders to do their part to bring more women and minorities into the science and technology fields, and I asked if she would write a piece for us. Here it is. -Katy

I travel a lot.

In my travels, I get to meet lots of people from all walks of life. Many of them ask me when I first got interested in science.

The truth is, I can’t remember when I wasn’t.

Like most kids, I was born curious about the world. As children, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what’s what — like the fuzz between the couch cushions, asking our parents why the sky is blue and being both fascinated and frightened by thunder and lightning.

Growing up and deciding to become an astronaut wasn’t hard. But finding people who looked like me – female and African-American as images to assure and guide me – that was difficult.

Today, much has changed yet much remains the same. Yes, we’ve elected our first African-American president, something of which we should all be proud, but as a country we haven’t done a very good job of bringing women, African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans into Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) fields … and today, we need them more than ever.

While these groups make up roughly two-thirds of our nation’s workforce, they represent only one-quarter of the STEM workforce. That has to change. Why? Continue Reading


Documentary explores California’s science deficit

Many consider California to be a cutting-edge state, brimming with innovation. So why do its schools rank among the last in the nation on standardized science tests?

KQED explored these questions in a 25-minute documentary, “Under the Microscope: Science Struggles in Schools.” I meant to post this on Tuesday, the night it aired, but you can watch the 25-minute show here:


Franklin, Grass Valley score huge science grant

I have some good news to report this morning: Franklin and Grass Valley elementary schools have received almost $1 million in NCLB funding to improve their science teaching over the course of the next four school years (including this one). Teachers will be working with each other, and with science and education faculty at UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Hall of Science, to bring science to life for the kids.

I know I’ve already posted this video about the quality (and quantity) of science teaching in Bay Area elementary schools. But that was almost a year ago, and I think it shows why such an effort is so important:

Teachers: If you teach science (alone or along with other subjects), what kind of support would help you the most?


Is science evaporating from California’s schools?

In most of the elementary classrooms in California – 80 percent – science is taught for less than an hour a week, researchers from UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science found in a study released yesterday. The researchers found that 16 percent of teachers said they spent no time at all on science.

Here is the article the Tribune published on the subject. It looks like the YouTube video was created by someone at the Lawrence Hall of Science.