Wednesday, October 27, 2010

E. Michigan University - Day II; Weather in a Bottle

One question that I truly enjoyed most today was "How does a plant grow?"
Basically the plant takes mineral elements and water from the soil, carbon dioxide from the air, and energy from the sun and then builds extremely complicated products, which it uses for plant food, which in turn makes the plant grow. If the soil is missing one of the these catalysts then it will not function and the plant won't grow.  

As you can see the soil plays a very important part in this - but as important is the Sun. Which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Professor Scherrer, the PI of the HMI instrument on Little SDO. Back in the 1970s he said "The Sun is the only Star we know to grow vegetables!".

Understanding how plants grow, the impact soil and weather have, is an important lesson. One that we sometimes take for granted. For space travel it is even more important - unless you bring it with you on board, there is no soil in space. Maybe someday we will discover an Earth-like planet. Until then...

So after putting on a student hat for a day, I was ready to don the Graduate Student Instructor hat again for a day of presentations by our students in the Earth Science for Elementary Teachers class. The presentations were on Earth Science lessons the students thought would be fun for kids to learn, and a possible activity they themselves would use in their classroom some day. The presentations were to be 5-10 minutes in length but because this is a small lab, that rule, well, we could ignore it slightly. 

Trish teaching me about Randy the Rain Drop
First we learned about what it takes for plants to grow here on Earth and in this experiment it was demonstrated what happens when a plant grows without light, without soil, and without water! What was really neat, I thought was that the plant that grew in the closet away from the sunlight was white! It wasn’t green like the control (which is needed in every experiment!). 

Moving away from plants and what it takes for them to grow, we focused on one important aspect of growing plants and that was the water cycle! We were read a book about Randy the Rain Drop and discussed the various aspect of the water cycle that occurs during the story. From the water cycle we then moved on to “how to make a cloud in a bottle!” which was really neat. Though during the experiment we did have to use matches, which you young chicks out there shouldn’t play with! 

We then moved from up in the air to the crust and below and learned about the various layers of the earth. During this lesson, a student shared with us how a simple thing, such as an apple, can be used to model the layers of the Earth! The skin is your crust, the fleshy part your mantle, the tough part around the seeds in the outer core, and the seeds themselves are the inner core. Though, I was tempted to snack on the apple, even though snacking on experiments is frowned upon. Speaking of layers, we then had a lesson about the 4 major spheres of the Earth; Biosphere, Hydrosphere, Atmosphere, and Geosphere. With this activity we got to color, it was nice to be able to color again for an assignment; you don’t get to do that often in college!

To round out the day we jumped back to learning how to make our own model of the water cycle. We used a large bowl, a cup inside the bowl, water, plastic wrap, and a rubber band for this; that was all! You then just leave the bowl out in the sun light, like in a window or on a table that gets sunlight and observe what happens over a few days time! Lastly, we went a little in depth and learned about weathering and erosion, these were demonstrated to us using various items found in the home. Water poured over sugar for mechanical and chemical weathering, applying a little wind to a pile of sugar as erosion, and some hydrochloric acid and a limestone rock. 

Once my time teaching was up it was time to sit in on office hours (these sure are boring for a rubber chicken – luckily I was able to be kept occupied by watching NASAtv) where students came to get help with identifying rocks and I helped grade papers! I hope they can understand my chicken scratch. I also had the famous college student food staple of pizza for lunch (I know, when I go back to JSC they’re going to have to put me on the treadmill for double time!).

Also, a student brought in some real fossilized teeth and bone for faculty and members of the Geoclub to identify; I got to help with that too! I also tried out a Halloween costume, chicken shark, or chicken vampire… it didn’t work out, my beak was only big enough to hold one tooth! These were some big teeth, not any fish I would want to run into! 

I also had time to check my Facebook and Twitter, which is always fun; reading about the excitement of the NASATweetup is just making me more excited!!! 

Helping out another GA pick his classes. Greg needed my chicken wisdom. 
Kyle showing me his water cycle model - and I am displaying my support for Sparty - Go Green! 
Class, I am Miss Camilla. I am teaching the different spheres of the earth.


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