Reaching Out: World Autism Awareness Day

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. Why should you care? Stop and think about the following information: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 88 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Even more alarming is that this represents a 78% increase in rates of ASD since the CDC conducted its first report on the disorder in 2007. If communication is the essence of being human, we have a responsibility to help those who struggle with ASD.

According to the, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, ASD disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by:

  • difficulties in social interaction
  • verbal and nonverbal communication and
  • repetitive behaviors.

In addition, autism is much more complex than most people realize. As Dr. Nancy J. Minshew of the Center for Excellence in Autism Research (CeFAR) at the University of Pittsburgh points out, what we think of as autism actually encompasses a number of intricate disorders of brain development. Even more challenging is the need to understand what, at the genetic level, contributes to ASD. Doing so requires an enormous amount of first-hand information from those who struggle with ASD.  Fortunately, the National Database for Autism Research (NDAR) and other participating organizations (such as NIMH, NICHD, NINDS, NIEHS, and CIT/NIH ) are safely collecting and sharing information to better understand what causes and how to treat ASD.

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Fresh Start: Quadrantids Provide Early Morning (Meteor) Shower

According to NASA, the Northern Hemisphere will experience a spectacular celestial treat in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, January 4th. Around 2AM (EST), the 2012 Quadrantids (a meteor shower) will dazzle die-hard astronomers. Plan to catch the event? If so, brew some coffee and stay awake for the show!

Image of a rare early Quadrantid, captured by a NASA meteor camera in 2010Here are a few suggested activities/resources to keep you alert while you wait:

History, Poetry, Music, Math, and Science…a Perfect Storm of Learning


On this day, November 10th, in 1975, the freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald (a taconite carrier) sank during a storm on Lake Superior. All of the crew, 29 nine men, perished. The event was memorialized in the lyrics of singer Gordon Lightfoot‘s popular ballad, the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Though sad, this historical event presents an engrossing opportunity for students and teachers to collaborate and engage in interdisciplinary research. It’s a perfect storm of learning.  Delving into what lead up to the tragedy allows pupils to explore elements of:

Diving into this and other historical events, using them as case-study investigations into why and how things happen, makes learning more rewarding and allows students to integrate technology resources in a more meaningful manner.

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Water, Water Everywhere?

I discovered the CUAHSI Hydrologic Information System after listening to today’s episode of EarthSky on Georgia Public Radio. This looks like a useful resource for collecting real-world data for use in biology and environmental science classrooms. For example, if students are collecting information for a science fair project about the level of nitrogen in watersheds, they can turn to the Hydroseek search engine.

Inquiring Minds Want to Know


In a time of standardized tests and misguided attempts to cover lessons rather than help students understand and apply concepts in real life situations, we’re losing–if not outright outright ignoring–opportunities to inspire pupils to fall in love with science. Intersection‘s sciencebloggers Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum both suggest that we desperately need to get busy finding nascent scientists. Their book Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future is a sobering wake-up call.

We can do better. We must do better. We need new scientists and it’s up to us to find them.

How would you describe a potential scientist? Could you spot one in your classroom? Are you doing all you can to nurture these rare individuals? Why are they so rare to begin? Can anyone be a scientist? If educators are going attempt to answer these questions and help budding researchers bloom, they’d be wise to follow the work of Sloan-Kettering Institute Chairman Emeritus, Richard Rifkind.

Once a scientist, Rifkind is now a filmmaker who wants viewers to “stand in the shoes of a scientist at work in a lab, glimpse the world of research as it really is, and understand what it takes to fill an ample pipeline of future scientists.” He’s passionate about finding and cultivating a new generation of scientists. Toward that end, Rifkind has produced a moving documentary called Naturally Obsessed:  The Making of a Scientist. In addtion to producing the film he has also sharing rich resources for exploring ideas presented in the film via the Naturally Obsessed Blog.

Are you curious enough to investigate?

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