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Science education

Fall 2012

Engineers in the Making

Intent on programming a machine to cut a section of sheet metal, six engineering students hunch around a worktable on an upper floor of a factory that designs and builds tooling and automation for the aerospace industry.

The space is bright and warm. A tinkerer’s dream of wires, tubes, tools, fittings, shelves, cords, and hardware surrounds them. The students scrutinize a screen, scribble in their notebooks, and scratch their heads. Determined to arrange a resistor ladder electrical circuit to tell the machine to move a single part before lunch, Josh Sackos frowns at a laptop. “You could just try to run it and see what … » More …

Fall 2011

Creature crossings: A lesson in teaching the nature of science

How quickly can you determine which expression most accurately describes the animated interaction below?

(click the play button to start)


But not so fast… (puzzle answer)

Whereas the 1 + 1 = 1 may be the obvious answer in expressing the interaction, 1 + 1 = 2 is equally valid given possible alternative explanations: Does the larger “creature” carry away the smaller creature as its young? Or maybe the smaller creature just flies away at a certain point? Do you have an alternative answer or explanation?

This is an example of how inference and analogy are as important to the acquisition … » More …

Fall 2011

Cross-cultural pen pals

One morning this spring a group of WSU students from Jeff Petersen’s Communication Studies 321 class fills half of a small lecture hall at Spokane’s Riverpoint campus. They have traveled here from Pullman to meet their pen pals, 5th through 8th graders from the Nespelem Elementary School on the Colville Reservation in north-central Washington. Though they have been communicating with the grade-schoolers by letters throughout the semester, they are meeting for the first time to visit, “play” with science, and talk about going to college.

The Center for Civic Engagement at WSU started the pen pal project last fall. As a part of its mission, … » More …

Fall 2011

Some of the most important things your science teacher taught you are wrong

There’s the science most of us learned as kids. Then there’s the science that scientists actually do.

The K-12 variety is more like a cooking class, but with chemicals, goggles, an occasional Erlenmeyer flask, the unforgettable smell of formaldehyde, and nothing you would want to eat. There, the scientific method is reduced to the formula of a lab report: hypothesize, test, gather data, evaluate, conclude, generally along the lines the teacher told you to expect.

Outside the classroom, science has over the centuries spawned revolutionary advances in knowledge and well-being. But in the classroom it’s, what? Predictable. Formulaic. Boring. All of the above.

Judy … » More …

Winter 2002

Mystery of the Martian mummies

One of the last places you would expect to find teenage girls in the middle of July is a science classroom. But for Rachel Milhem, Romany Redman, and nine others, the Washington State University Spokane CityLab Young Women’s Summer Science Camp laboratory was one of the hottest places to be last summer.

“I wanted to participate in this camp, because I really like science, and I thought it would be fun to analyze stuff, like maybe whether or not aliens exist,” says Rachel Milhem, a sixth-grader at All-Saints Catholic School.

Rachel, along with 10 other young girls, decided to spend some of her summer engaging … » More …