5 Earth facts to celebrate Earth Day 2016

5. Earth is a terrestrial planet meaning it has these characteristics compared with Jovian planets:

  • Smaller size and mass
  • Higher density of rock and metal
  • Solid surface
  • Closer to the Sun
  • Warmer surface
  • Few moons
  • No rings

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4. Earth’s continents used to be one giant super-continent called Pangaea that existed around 200-300 million years ago.

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3. Earth’s atmosphere is mainly nitrogen, followed by oxygen. So we breathe the second most abundant gas in our atmosphere.

2. If the Earth didn’t spin we would have nasty 200mph winds that blow from the tropics to the poles and back again. Our rotation, and the Coriolis effect, causes 3 convection cells per hemisphere that diverts air flowing north-south to east-west. Air is transported from hotter regions to cooler regions.

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1. Earth’s atmosphere formed after the world was created. The 3 sources of our atmosphere are:

  • outgassing
  • evaporation
  • surface ejection

We got our deposits of gases and liquids during the era of heavy bombardment during which asteroids and comets brought gases to Earth in frozen form. These were then deposited into the body of the planet.

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5 cool facts about our planets…

5. Venus rotates in the opposite direction to Earth so the Sun rises in the west and sets in the east. It also rotates very slowly so its days and nights are very long.

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4. The ‘no atmosphere’ temperature of Earth is 3 degrees Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius). Without the Greenhouse Effect our oceans would freeze over.

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3. Saturn is light and fluffy enough that its density is less than 1 gram per cubic centimeter – the density of water. So Saturn would float if placed in water.

2. Jupiter’s coloured bands are different cloud systems. The white stripes are called zones and the brown stripes are called belts. The winds in zones go one way, winds in belts go the other way. When you see different colours on the Jovian planets you are actually seeing clouds at different heights.

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1. Earth’s surface gets repaved every 100 million years. This is due to volcanism, tectonics and erosion. Large craters on Earth have been paved over.

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Top 10 Solar System facts so far…

10. The total number of stars in all the galaxies is comparable to the number of dry sand grains on all the beaches on Earth. There are about 100 billion galaxies and the total number of stars in all those galaxies is about 1000 billion per galaxy.

9. We are always in motion:

  • We spin around Earth’s axis at 1000 km/hr
  • We orbit the Sun at 100,000 km/hr
  • Our solar system moves randomly at 100,000 km/hr
  • Our solar neighbourhood orbits the centre of the Milky Way at 1,000,000 km/hr
  • Our galaxy moves randomly among our local group of galaxies at 300,000 km/hr

8. The Earth wobbles like a spinning top. The path the wobble carves out is called precession. It takes approx. 26,000 years for the Earth to complete one top wobble.

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7. Solar eclipses happen because of coincidence. The Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon, and the Sun is also 400 times farther away. These 2 factors are such that the Moon can completely overlap the Sun. In the distant past the Moon used to be a lot closer to the Earth so eclipses were not possible. Also, the Moon is slowly drifting away from Earth at 1 cm per year, so in the distant future it will be too far away to block the Sun.

6. The names for the 7 days of the week come from the 7 known objects known to change their position: Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The names come from the Norse-Celtic barbarians that overthrew Rome.

  • Sun-day
  • Moon-day
  • Tiu (Mars) – day
  • Woden (Mercury) – day
  • Thor (Jupiter) – day
  • Freya (Venus) – day
  • Saturn – day

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5. Astronauts orbiting the Earth are weightless because they are continuously falling toward the Earth, not because there is no gravity. There is plenty of gravity in space. Astronauts and the ISS are continually falling, but they never reach it, that is why they are weightless.

4. The human eye was the first astronomical detector, however, it can only detect 1 in every 1000 photons. Astronomy’s newest detector, the Charge-Coupled Device (CCD), captures 1 in every 1.1 photons.

3. The Sun contains about 99.9% of the total mass in the solar system.

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2. Our solar system formed from the gravitational collapse of a large cloud of gas and dust. This theory is called Solar Nebular theory. As the cloud collapsed is flattened out into a disk. Our young protosun is at the middle of the disk, where the temperature is hotter than the outside. This determined the difference in the types of planets that formed, rocky terrestrial planets on the inside and gas giants on the outside. When the Sun finally turns on strong solar winds burn away left over material from the disk.

1. The Apollo 11 mission boot prints on the surface of the Moon will remain for around 200 million years due to the lack of erosion, due to very little atmosphere on the Moon.

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Year 5, MARS & STEM in Term 1

What an awesome term of STEM we had in year 5! The main objectives were to learn about the planet Mars, space missions to Mars, the role of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the people that work there, discover if humans could live on Mars and what life would be like there.

So, lots of talk about lots of my favourite things: space, Mars, NASA/JPL, Adam Steltzner, The Martian, amazing technology, science and engineering, really inspiring stuff.

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As well as the main learning objectives I had planned at the start of the course, some extra opportunities arose to fit into the busy schedule to enhance the course further. March 14 was Pi Day and I planned a special lesson with help from a great resource I found from the NASA website called Planet Pi. I adapted the lesson slightly for year 5 and they coped with some new and tough maths admirably. This lesson highlighted how NASA scientists use Maths in their jobs to learn about planets and other celestial bodies. I explained the maths and formulae clearly and used some great visuals to help the girls understand the maths and why it was needed. I loved the example of using Pi to explore a planet, this was such a great lesson!

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Another great lesson we had this term, and which was a complete and unexpected surprise was the Skype with Andrea Boyd, an engineer with the European Space Agency. Andrea lives in Germany and was good enough to stay up late at night to speak to all of year 5 at 9am Sydney time. Andrea spoke about her education and career in the space industry, which was very interesting and inspiring for our young girls. Our students prepared some great questions to ask Andrea about space, the International Space Station, astronauts and more. Our girls did a great job, were beautifully behaved, very polite and engaged with this brilliant, young, Australian woman. We learnt so much about space and how astronauts live and work on the ISS. This was a really exciting lesson which everyone enjoyed! Big thanks go to Jackie Slaviero, founder of One Giant Leap Australia, for putting me in contact with Andrea and then for sending me an amazing pack of goodies from NASA.

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The students seemed to love our STEM lessons this term. Space is such an interesting, exciting and inspiring topic for young and old, and I was so pleased with how they engaged. I love the questions they ask, they are so curious and what to learn everything. As well as learning about Mars we learnt about black holes, the Earth and Moon, the ISS, the speed of light, galaxies and more. We could quite easily study space for the whole year, and I gladly would.

Next term… students continue their STEM journey to Mars when they work in engineering groups to design and build their own Mars rover, based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), aka Curiosity. Curiosity has been a common theme throughout the term and I talked a lot about it when I talked about JPL engineer and EDL team leader for Curiosity, Adam Steltzner, a really inspiring speaker.

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His TED talk ‘How Curiosity changed my life, and I changed Hers’ is one of my favourites.

We also looked at rover facts and a great video called ‘7 minutes of terror’ which details how the rover made it from the top of the Mars atmosphere travelling at 30,000 mph to the surface travelling at a few mph in just 7 minutes. Another must-see video!

Like I said, I could teach this topic all year and not get bored! I used this video for an Edpuzzle.com which included some questions about the EDL of Curiosity. A great resource for incorporating video into classes.

Students produced some wonderful work including ‘Selling Mars: selling land on Mars’ advertisements and a ‘NASA profile’ of an inspiring NASA scientist they found from the website We Are The Martians.

So next term… engineering groups, specific roles for each girl in the group, designing and making a Mars rover, making wheels and incorporating LittleBits electronics to make the rover move, engineering guide with project milestones, evaluations, presentations, creativity, teamwork and fun!

Let’s hope ours will look better than this one!

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Code.org visit to Ravo

On Wednesday 30 March Code.org software engineer Brendan Reville paid a visit to Ravo to talk with students about his life, career, Code.org and the Hour of Code. I met Brendan a few weeks earlier at the Future Schools Expo at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney and I was impressed with his talk and the fresh, positive message he made that day. I have been a fan of the Hour of Code and Code.org for a few years so he didn’t have to sell me at all as I was already using the great resources he was responsible for. I was very impressed when he told us he was the mastermind behind the Star Wars Hour of Code last year, one of my favourite coding tutorials. The Code.org tutorials are brilliant, clear instructions are provided, helpful videos explain important concepts, fun scenarios to learn and a whole heap of extra resources to help teachers deliver the content to their classes. The Star Wars Hour of Code introduction video below is a must-see!

At the conference Brendan also mentioned the full curriculums Code.org provide for free on their website. I had looked at these before and dipped in and out of them to use some coding resources and some of the great unplugged resources, but he inspired me to take the courses more seriously and I am now teaching course 2 to my year 3 classes. I love the mixture of unplugged activities and online activities to teach computational thinking, coding and other technology constructs. The first few lessons have gone really well and students have been thoroughly engaged in all the different types of activities.

Brendan’s talk at Ravo was fantastic. He has had an interesting life and career so far and he inspired the students to take software design and coding as a serious career path. He talked about his schooling and university days in Sydney and at Macquarie University and how he started making computer games and first steps in coding. As a big Xbox fan he wanted to work for Microsoft so he moved to the USA to land his dream job. He talked about the great projects he was involved with at Microsoft, including developing user interface’s and the Xbox Music Mixer, as seen below.

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Wanting a new challenge Brendan moved to Code.org to be involved with coding and education and helping to deliver the world’s largest educational event – the Hour of Code!

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Reflection on completing an hour of code.

Brendan also spoke about the wide variety of skills needed to be successful when working for a tech company. It isn’t just coding skills that get you noticed, it is also skills including teamwork, creativity, communication, designing and more. He described his experiences of working for tech companies vividly and the year 9 and 10 students in attendance were enthralled.

Brendan delivered a positive and inspiring message to our girls that they can succeed in the tech industry and land their dream job for a great start-up or tech giant. Through the Code.org resources young people are learning some great skills that will benefit them not just in their schooling but also in their future careers that are sure to be dominated by STEM.

Thank you Brendan and Code.org! (And thanks for the cool Code.org stickers :))

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Code.org also has lots of other great videos to learn about computer science and technology such as the internet and cybersecurity.

Pluto, polygons and Sphero

Today’s Sphero lesson with my two year 4 classes focused on coding Sphero to trace polygons on the floor. Students were not very familiar with polygons and some of the other terms in the lesson, however, during the starter it was evident that some girls had some knowledge, enough for the lesson at least. Students were just about to learn about polygons in their maths class so this was a nice introduction.

So, a polygon is a 2D shape with at least three straight sides: triangle (3 sides), quadrilateral (4 sides), pentagon (5 sides), hexagon (6 sides), heptagon (7 sides), octagon (8 sides), nonagon (9 sides) and decagon (10 sides).

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To help set up the lesson and relate the learning to a real-life, STEM scenario I used a great article from NASA called ‘The Polygons of Pluto’. This blog article by Katie Knight, an undergraduate student at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee. Katie works with the New Horizons team to help map some of the unusual terrain on Pluto, seeking patterns and estimating sizes and shapes of some of its unusual features.

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This fascinating article talked about the work Katie does to study the geological features and ‘chaotic terrain’ of the surface of dwarf planet Pluto. This also raised an interesting discussion of what is a dwarf planet and why was Pluto downgraded from a planet to a dwarf. This BBC article provides a nice explanation of why Pluto was downgraded. The image below also states the requirements to be classified as a planet.

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I love lessons where I can relate the learning to space, and this was a great example. We talked about how NASA scientists use knowledge of polygons to study the surface of planets to try to discover what the terrain is made from, how big it is and how it formed. They also look for patterns that they try to match with other planets that could help unlock more clues about our solar system. Young girls are curious about space and mentioning NASA always seems to engage young minds. One day some of these girls could be working for a space agency such as NASA and perhaps they could even be coding robots on far away celestial bodies like planets and dwarf planets. This lesson could have gone in so many directions and we could have explored much more about space and NASA, but time limitations meant we could not venture too far into deep space. Perhaps a flipped activity here where students look for polygons on other celestial bodies, how many can they find, what shapes can they discover?! Example below is Eros, an asteroid famous for its close approaches to Earth.

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After describing how Sphero moves using a 360 degrees heading system it was time to start coding some polygons. We started with a square and moved onto a triangle. Some groups absolutely flew with the challenges and were able to complete them quickly. When they completed the challenges they moved onto extension tasks, including coding Sphero to display different colour lights on each side of the shape and coding the shapes in reverse.

Observing the groups at work is interesting. Some girls just want to play for the first few minutes while others start the challenge immediately and can’t wait to finish and show the teacher. However, all girls are engaged, all girls are participating, all girls are collaborating and communicating, all girls are problem-solving and using technology constructively. Using Sphero and an iPad means girls are not staring at screens the whole time, they are actively using technology by using a small robotics device that they love to make move and follow. They are active and mobile coders.

In the lesson girls learnt about polygons, Sphero heading, how to find the angle needed to draw any polygon, how NASA scientists use amazing technology to explore distant bodies and search for certain shapes and the information they can get from them. For me this lesson definitely ticked the STEM box many times over.