12 news stories that make STEM meaningful for students

Friday, July 27, 2018

 

More than 200 educators in Texas have gathered this week at Texas A&M’s K12 Summer Institute in Kerrville, Texas. Teachers swung into action during NewsHour Extra’s workshop which focused on how to make STEM meaningful through current events. Classroom resources are based on news stories of the PBS NewsHour and Student Reporting Labs. Check them out below!


Navajo Nation looks to new energy sources for running water

by Rachael Sanchez and Sarai Zamorano, English teachers, Mercedes High School in Mercedes, Texas

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: How does a lack of running water impact people’s daily lives?
  2. How can different groups work together to help solve major public health problems, like a lack of running water?
  3. How does Tina Vicente’s story help the audience connect to and understand the water crisis facing members of the Navajo Nation?
  4. Should the government share responsibility in providing access to clean running water on Indian reservations? Explain your answer.
  5. What other ideas could be explored to bring water to places similar to the reservation?
  6. Media literacy question: How did the video interviews help the viewer understand the different ways people are contributing to helping Navajo families?


Animal shelter allows students with disabilities to engage with community

by Robin Cogburn, Spring Meadows Elementary School, San Antonio, Texas and Shari Brister, Coronado Village Elementary School, Universal City, Texas.

Brief summary:

  • Special education high school students in Black River Falls, Wisconsin are developing essential skills that will enable them to join the workforce.
  • Students are learning a four-step process which can be completed independently and helps build confidence in their individual work ability.
  • One example of the four-step process involves students volunteering at the Jackson County Animal Shelter.
  • Around seven million animals are brought to shelters across the U.S. each year. Shelters rely on donations from the community for their daily operations as well as volunteers.
  • Black Falls students make items to donate to the shelter, such as blankets and toys. Animals benefit from the interaction of the student volunteers as well.
  • This public service allows students to take ownership and feel useful as they make a difference in their community.

Animal shelter allows students to engage with community from Student Reporting Labs on Vimeo.

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: How could community service provide students with disabilities important skills for the workforce?
  2. What types of jobs might these high school students be able to pursue from this volunteer experience? Explain and justify your response.
  3. What is the importance of a non-judgmental learning environment?
  4. What community service opportunities does your community offer that could also help students gain work skills?
  5. Media literacy question: What advantages does video bring to this story? Any disadvantages? Explain.

How technical centers could help Maine’s nursing shortage

by Lesley Vargas and Cecilia Garcia, English teachers, Mercedes High School, Mercedes, Texas

Brief summary:

  • Mid-Maine Technical Center in Portland, Maine, provides various career and technical education (CTE) options for high school students. One of its programs helps to certify students as Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA).
  • The program may help confront the nursing shortage Maine currently faces, since students are exposed to hands-on technical equipment and patient interaction at an early age.

Key terms:

Technical training, nursing shortage, career and technical education (CTE)

How Maine is training teens to fill the state's nursing shortage from Student Reporting Labs on Vimeo.

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: How might career and technical education (CTE) be a better fit for some students over a traditional classroom environment?
  2. How might CTE benefit small communities in the U.S.?
  3. Why is it important for youth to be exposed to careers that are in high-demand? Are there downsides? What careers are defined as high-demand which may interest teenagers?
  4. What issues should communities examine when it comes to the types of CTE programs they may want to offer?
  5. Media literacy question: What type of media other than video would you recommend in addressing the nursing shortage?

Will solar-powered cars become a reality one day?

by Brianna Jackson, physics and chemistry teacher, Somerville High School, Somerville, Texas

Brief summary:

  • The level of carbon emissions has been a growing concern across the globe.
  • Solar energy is one alternative to the issue of carbon emissions.
  • Dr. Andy Schoenberg, creator and founder of Sunzee Car in Utah, has created a purely solar powered car as an alternative.

Key terms:

solar energy, renewable energy, sustainable energy, carbon emissions, global warming

Racing towards solar powered cars from Student Reporting Labs on Vimeo.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Essential questionWhat are the advantages and disadvantage of solar power over other fuel sources (oil, natural gas, wind, geothermal, coal, etc.)?
  2. What factors should affect whether or not a fuel source is used? By how much should each factor affect the use of a fuel source?
  3. If a fuel source can provide affordable energy to an area in need, but may cause damage to the environment, how do we determine whether or not to use this source? How would a community voice their concerns regarding this issue?
  4. Should these energy decisions be made at the federal, state or local levels of government? Justify your answer.
  5. Media literacy question: Is this video for, against, or neutral in regards to solar energy?

Scientists continue to learn more about the Zika virus

Read NewsHour’s What happened to Zika? and answer the questions below.

by Rosa Changizi, chemistry teacher, Jersey Village High School, Houston, Texas

Brief summary:

  • Scientists continue to study the genetic make up of the Zika virus in order to look at possible vaccination or antiviral medicines.
  • The 2015-2016 Zika epidemic made international headlines as the virus spread east from Africa and Asia toward North and South America.
  • While Zika often causes mild or no symptoms, it was discovered at the time that a pregnant woman could pass the virus to her baby. In some cases, the baby could be born with microcephaly, a serious brain malformation.
  • Knowing Zika’s structure and the order of its amino acids — its molecular building blocks — gives scientists more tools to figure out how the virus infects cells.

To dig deeper, read Loss of neural stem cells in the hippocampus of non-human primates.

Structure of the Zika virus at 3.1 Angstrom resolution – the highest definition of any enveloped virus to date. Image by Sevvana et al.

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: Why are infectious diseases complex to solve?
  2. Zika harms the developing brain, which hasn’t been a concern with other flaviviruses. Why do scientists think this is the case?
  3. Identify the Zika risks by countries and territories. Do environmental changes affect Zika outbreaks?
  4. What happened to Zika? Why does it disappear?
  5. What are some other examples of serious public health issues in history?
  6. Media literacy question: Is it important to connect personal stories of how Zika affects individuals and families to the science? Explain.

Growing oysters with eelgrass

by Karina Adrian, aquatics teacher, Humble High School, Humble, Texas

Brief summary:

  • The burning of fossil fuels means that carbon emissions are increasing, leading to the acidification of the ocean and damage to marine life.
  • Eelgrass and other aquatic plants might improve shellfish’s ability to survive ocean acidification by sequestering carbon.
  • Studies are being done near Seattle, Washington, on the effectiveness of growing eelgrass and kelp near or beside shellfish beds.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Essential question: How does ocean acidification affect aquatic life?
  2. George Waldbusser showed two oyster shells to compare Pacific oyster larvae grown in an eelgrass bed versus larvae grown outside of an eelgrass bed. What conclusions is he trying to demonstrate with these oyster shells? Explain the experimental design that must be considered before conclusions can be made.
  3. Describe how Caitlin Magel is taking random samples from the flats. Why are random samples important to her experimental design?
  4. Evaluate Joth Davis’s plans for growing aquatic plants with shellfish. What are some potential benefits with his plans? Drawbacks?
  5. Media literacy question: Who else might you interview for this story? Explain why.

Mysterious blob roams off California’s coast

by Dorinda Ma, English teacher, Mercedes High School, Mercedes, Texas

Brief summary:

  • In 2016, the Ocean Exploration Trust, a group comprised of marine scientists and students, encountered a mysterious, luminous, purple blob in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of southern California.
  • The discovery was made using an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV Hercules), which can descend 1600-1900 meters in just 30 minutes.
  • The purple enigma is currently being studied at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, where scientists have discovered the “blob” is actually a gastropod (snail). More research must be conducted before the snail can be deemed as a new species.
  • Only 5 percent of the world’s ocean is mapped, so the work of the students and scientists partnering with the Ocean Exploration Trust is unprecedented and valuable. 

The Mysterious Purple Blob from Student Reporting Labs on Vimeo.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Essential question: Why is it valuable to investigate unexplored areas of Earth’s oceans?
  2. What are the possibilities of discovering new species underwater?
  3. Why do you think only 5 percent of the planet’s oceans are mapped?
  4. If you were the lead scientist to discover the purple blob, what would you name it?
  5. Media literacy question: What details would you add to this report to make it even more interesting or complete?

CRISPR does not always mean clearer

by Linda Blanchette, physics and chemistry teacher, Montgomery High School, Montgomery, Texas

Along with watching the video, be sure to read the latest news on CRISPR, CRISPR causes significantly greater DNA damage than previously thought, study finds.

Brief summary:

  • CRISPR is a powerful new tool for editing genomes. It allows scientists to modify gene function and change DNA sequences, which may help cure people of life-threatening diseases one day.
  • The invention of CRISPR has also raised many scientific and ethical questions.
  • An Oregon lab showed that an embryonic mutated gene could be erased through “germ-line editing.” In order for a healthy embryo to be edited and one day implanted in the mother, embryonic research is needed. One aspect of the debate focuses on the ethics of using human embryos in scientific research.

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential questionWhat are some potential positive and negative effects of CRISPR?
  2. Who benefits from germ-line editing?
  3. Define and explain the efficacy of germ-line editing on various types of gene therapy such as “single-gene problems” to problems or diseases that have multiple genes affected.
  4. If you can edit a specific gene, what other alterations can you possibly apply or create?
  5. Argue for or against germ-line editing based on the following concerns: 
    • Embryonic research
    • Involvement of other factors from research to clinical trials
  6. Media literacy questionDiscuss the progression of genetic tampering from the Rampage video game to Dwayne Johnson’s Rampage movie to CRISPR’s recent gene editing milestone used to treat hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
    • How could Hollywood films help or hurt people’s understanding of genetic editing?

How DNA could help us find our family from 10,000 years ago

by Ernesto Gonzalez, chemistry  teacher, Mercedes High School, Mercedes, Texas and Jess Lunsford, life sciences teacher, Humble, Texas

Brief summary:

  • The greater the difference between DNA sequences, the more they might tell us how closely related two people or even two different species are, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School. Identical or close to identical DNA indicates a close evolutionary relationship.
  • By studying ancient DNA samples, Harvard scientists have revealed that Neanderthals and ancient humans (Homo sapiens) mated some 40,000 years ago. Some modern humans still have small traces of Neanderthal DNA.
  • DNA samples found in Russia in 2016 were “different” enough to be considered a never-before known species, called Denisovans.

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: How could DNA be used to learn more about living species from Earth’s past?
  2. DNA evidence indicates that species can mix and converge into modern humans. Do you think it’s likely that modern humans could “split” into new species? Explain your answer.
  3. How could this technology be used in species other than humans?
  4. What phenotypic changes do you think may have occured between early humans and modern humans in the last 5,000 years? 10,000 years? 40,000?
  5. Media literacy question: What other STEM fields might be involved in DNA research? Who else would you like to interview for this story and why?

Tiny homes are big in Texas

by Tammy Castillo, South Texas High School for Health Professions, Mercedes, Texas

Brief summary:

Alan Graham, CEO and founder of Community First Village, created a community of 25 tiny homes for people who are homeless in Austin, Texas. He calls it a “250-bedroom, 18 million dollar mansion.” The community has a farm and garden that helps to feed residents healthy, wholesome food.

These tiny homes are making a big impact in Texas from Student Reporting Labs on Vimeo.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Essential question: How does STEM allow people to practice our humanity?
  2. Who is responsible for helping individuals who are living on the streets? Explain.
  3. What should the government’s role be in helping individuals or families who are homeless?
  4. How is this community of tiny homes improving the quality of life for individuals who live there?
  5. What do you think might happen to the people who live in this community if it did not exist?
  6. Media literacy question: If you were the producer, what questions would you have asked Alan Graham and why?

Could all schools have their own gardens?

by Jim Manley, science teacher, Coppell Middle School West, Coppell, Texas

Brief summary:

  • Aspiring Eagle Scout Mya Davis rallies over 50 students to help start a campus gardening project at West Ranch High School in Stevenson, California.
  • Davis’s goal is to better the environment and build the work ethic of himself and others.
  • Such beautification projects will allow high school campuses to better reflect a warm and welcoming learning environment, Davis says.

Teen initiates campus gardening project from Student Reporting Labs on Vimeo.

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: How important is it for a school to look beautiful?
  2. Is it important for students to play a role in high school campus projects, like building a garden? Explain.
  3. What are some ways you could find out how to make your campus a more welcoming, nicer place to go to school?
  4. How could you persuade the decision-makers to allow students to change the campus?
  5. Media literacy question: Would you include a question on the costs involved in initiating a campus beautification project at your school? Explain.

The science behind Hawaii’s bubbling lava

by Leanna Lopez and Reymundo Quiroga, science teachers, Mercedes High School, Mercedes Texas

Brief summary:

Kilauea is the youngest and the most active volcano in Hawaii. Sulfur dioxide is released from volcanic vents, which is harmful if inhaled. Several homes and buildings were destroyed by the lava released by the volcano starting this past spring. The volcano continues to erupt and may continue to do so for years.

Discussion questions: 

  1. Essential question: What causes volcanoes to erupt?
  2. Describe how the fissures begin during an eruption.
  3. How do scientists monitor volcanic activity?
  4. Why do you think the sulfur dioxide is harmful to humans, other organisms and the environment?
  5. Media literacy question: When you see images on television or the internet of a volcano erupting what comes to mind? Is it possible to balance images showing the power of volcanoes along with the human devastation they may cause? Explain.

Using modular system student introduces the basics of  robotics  to the classmates.

by Soheila Solimani, industrial technology teacher, Hamilton Middle School, Cypress Texas

Brief summary:

  • A Northern Virginia startup is using new technology and a sense of humor to care for the elderly: Rudy the Robot.
  • Anthony Nunuz, CEO of INF Robotics, was inspired to build a robot that would help keep the elderly safe and provide companionship after his grandmother took a fall when he was young.
  • There are currently four prototypes of the robot in the Washington D.C. area. There are still issues to work out with Rudy, but it’s important that robots are able to do the following: Sense and detect changes in their environment as well as think and make decisions based on input.

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: What are some advantages and disadvantages of having robots like Rudy in the home?
  2. What are some challenges that Rudy is able to assist Olga Roberston with?
  3. What improvements would you make to Rudy?
  4. In addition to the elderly, who else might benefit from a robot like Rudy?
  5. What types of interaction can real humans provide Robertson that Rudy cannot?
  6. Media literacy question: How does including Robertson’s voice in the story affect your understanding of robotics?

NASA scientists track methane leaks from the air

by Cherry Guentzel, earth and space science / AP Environmental Science teacher, Vista Ridge High School, Cedar Park, Texas

Brief summary:

  • Riley Duran is using NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab’s Airborne Visible/ IR Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) in California to detect plumes of methane in the atmosphere.
  • Methane comes from the following places: 33 percent from oil and gas production, 33 percent from livestock (belches and manure) and 16 percent decomposition of organic waste in landfills.
  • The State of California is funding flights to help find and stop the source of methane leaks. Methane is 85 percent more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: What factors contribute to global warming?
  2. How significant a problem is methane in global warming?
  3. What can be done to stop methane leaks?
  4. How effective is NASA’s method in detecting and stopping the leaks?
  5. What health effects do methane leaks have on humans?​
  6. Media literacy question: Were representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) included in this story? Why was this the case? How could you find out, if you are not sure?

Visit PBS NewsHour Extra for more education resources designed to help teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories@NewsHourExtra

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