Zoodles Blog Learn and Play Every Day

February 25, 2010

Judging the San Francisco Science Fair

Filed under: Family Activities,Schools and Learning — Erin @ 3:32 pm
Contributed by Mike Portuesi, Zoodles Engineering Team

Contributed by Mike Portuesi Zoodles Engineering Team

When I’m not building new product features here at Zoodles, I’m very involved with Astronomy as a hobby. It gives me the opportunity to engage the public, especially young people, and share my excitement with astronomy and science in general. One of the joys of my work as a citizen science educator includes judging duties at the San Francisco Middle School Science Fair.

02242010071This year’s fair included 210 entries, pooled from the winning projects at twenty-nine schools across San Francisco. Around 30 volunteer judges with career experience in science and technical fields break into teams of three to four people to judge entries across three grade levels (6th, 7th, and 8th) as well as three categories (Biological Sciences, Behavioral and Health Sciences, and Physical Sciences).  I was the team lead judging 7th grade Physical Sciences, which included 22 entries.

02242010049Every year, I’m impressed by the thought and creativity that go into the projects, and this year was no exception.  Some of the more notable entries I encountered include:

Clouds in a Jar – inspired by the notion of catching and bottling a bit of ‘magic’, the student tried generating clouds in a jar with a crafty process involving water, a match and a rubber glove.

Can my Laptop Get Better Reception? – in this case, the student, wanting better wireless network connectivity for his computer, built radio antennas from cookie sheets, wire strainers and Pringles cans, and judged their effectiveness.

02242010056Singing Wine Glasses – The student investigated how liquids alter the sound produced when you run a finger over the rim of a wine glass.  The student experimented with not only the amount of liquid, but the viscosity, including such odd ingredients as almond butter!

02242010064Our team rated each project in three areas:

Methodology – Did the student come up with appropriate “controls”, or standards of comparison for the experiment? Was the experimental procedure sound?  I look for experiments where the student investigates the “whys”, or the science principles behind the experiment, rather than just demonstrates an effect or makes simple measurements (as in one project that simply timed the speed of popular web browsers).

Creativity – Is this an original, offbeat idea, or did the student pull the project from a book like “101 Science Fair Projects”? The most creative projects, like “Clouds in a Jar”, were motivated by a student’s real-life observation, which piqued their curiosity and spurred them to learn more through discovery.

Communication – How well did the student present his or her hypothesis, procedure, experimental data and conclusions?  Are the charts and graphs clear?  As judges, we value clarity and completeness over slick presentations produced with fancy graphics software.

Science Fair Do’s and Don’ts

02242010061A science fair project is a perfect way you and your child can have a rewarding, enriching experience together, and maybe produce one of tomorrow’s generation of scientists and engineers.

Here’s some ways you and your child can work together to produce a winning entry:

  • Gently urge your child to come up with their own idea from real life that will motivate them and make them excited. These projects get the most time with, and discussion amongst, the judges.
  • Photos are a great way not only to spice up the look of the project, but also to give the judges a real flavor for what the student really did.
  • Let the child lead, and drive the direction of the project. You can assist the child with trickier bits, and suggest resources for more information, but don’t give them answers outright or do their work for them. Trust me: the judges can tell.
  • Make sure your child provides proper credit where credit is due, if he/she includes materials from elsewhere or gets help with various aspects of the project. Judges always react positively to honesty, but will mark down projects where they suspect another’s work used without attribution.
  • It’s okay to include background research in your final presentation, such as a report.  Even quoting Wikipedia works for me, if I have a feeling the child actually read and learned from it, rather than just hit copy/paste.  But make sure the background information is not the centerpiece of the offering. Judges want to see more than a book report, they want to see true creative, experimental effort on the child’s part.

February 19, 2010

Learning science with the Olympic Winter Games

Filed under: Family Activities,Schools and Learning — Erin @ 12:00 pm

One of the best ways to instill  a love of learning in kids is to find the teaching moments in everyday life, not just in school.  Well why not try the Olympics?


Recently we caught wind of an amazing partnership between NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation to create a project called Science of the Olympic Winter Games. Through the partnership, NBC Learn and the NSF have produced 15 short, engaging videos where Olympic athletes – many of whom are starring in the 2010 Winter Games – explain the mechanics behind their sport.

figureskating_thumbIn one video, figure skater Rachel Flatt practices her routines in front of a phantom camera that captures her motion at rates of up to 1500 frames per second.  Sports science professor Deborah King then breaks down each of Rachel’s moves – from her quadruple toe loops to her basic spins – explaining concepts like angular momentum, vertical velocity, and other laws of motion.  Deborah even uses the spinning chair in her office to demonstrate the concepts herself!

slapshot_physics_thumbThe dynamic videos, which you can watch at NBC Learn, use the thrill and competition of the Winter Olympics to teach physical concepts like the air lift in ski jumps, the forces involved in a hockey slapshot, and the careful design behind ice skates, snowboards, safety gear, and even the suits athletes wear.

Pair these videos with their accompanying lesson plans at Lessonopoly.org, and you’ve got a slew of amazing science lessons in your back pocket.  Elizabeth Rhodes, the developer of the curriculum, said her hope was that kids would watch the Olympics and realize,

Science isn’t something that’s in a book; it’s out there on the ice, it’s there with the skiers, it’s in the hockey and curling.”

When the Olympics are over, the learning doesn’t have to stop there.  Thousands more math and science lessons can be found at Lessonopoly.org, an ambitious project supported by the Silicon Valley Education Foundation that lets teachers share their materials and make them freely available online.

Read more about this partnership in the San Jose Mercury News article, “Students learn the science of Olympics.”

February 16, 2010

Calling all teachers!

Filed under: Schools and Learning,Zoodles Blog — Erin @ 6:46 pm

Are you a teacher who’s tried to use Zoodles?  Whether your school has SmartBoards and computer labs, or nothing at all, Zoodles is interested in hearing about your experiences using Zoodles in the classroom.

1877_255Teachers today have interesting ways of using Zoodles – whether it’s playing games as a class on the Promethean board, or setting up multiple student accounts in the lab – one per grade – we’ve been fascinated by all the ways that teachers have adapted Zoodles to meet their needs.

With that said, we’d really love to make Zoodles something that adapts to you, rather than the other way around.  So if you or anyone you know is a teacher who’s interested in giving Zoodles feedback, send us an email at feedback [AT] zoodles DOT com, and we’ll work with you to set up a 20 – 30 minute call.  In exchange for your time and good will, we’d be happy to give your school a year of Zoodles Premium in return.

Thanks so much, and we hope to be talking with you soon!

February 1, 2010

American Girl Review

Filed under: Schools and Learning,Zoodles Blog — Erin @ 5:28 pm

Contributed by Debbie H. Zoodles Education Team

In the process of working for Zoodles in the past ten months, I’ve encountered a wide array of different games for children. Every so often, games will pop off the page and become part of your daily conversation. Most recently, I have been really excited and consumed by the American Girls games. They are designed with a function that meets the needs of learners: they teach facts about the United States and world cultures. In addition, the design meets the needs of children in ways that are fun — I find the games engaging at my age, and I have no doubt that I would have also enjoyed them as a child playing on Zoodles.

amgirlThe foundation of the games are the different American Girls, each of whom hosts games that uniquely suit her personality, background and culture. By creating three-dimensional representations of different types of girls, Zoodles players will be able to identify with the different American Girls characters. American Girls doesn’t reinvent the wheel- they redesign it in a way that is purposeful and unique.

2359_255In “Kit’s Railway Adventure,” girls are able to see the United States from the perspective of early settlers. Through a series of visits across the country, Zoodles players are exposed to early colonial history.

samIn “Samantha’s Scavenger Hunt,” your child learns about United States history and culture by going on a scavenger hunt with Samantha in 1904, New York. Concepts of early times are taught in fun ways- only second to visiting Jamestown and Williamsberg!

wordIt’s also encouraging to see that the American Girls site also acknowledges immigration and girls from all over the world. For example, in “Rebecca’s World Word Search” children play their favorite word search games, but are exposed to new, sophisticated words about Russian culture.

russianLikewise, in “Rebecca’s Russian Doll Mix-up,” children can play their favorite matching game but learn about a new culture at the same time.

joIn “Josefina’s Santa Fe Market Adventure,” Zoodles players learn about economics and the roles of buyers and sellers, as well as basic Spanish language vocabulary by going on an adventure looking for goods at the Market.

If your child ends up on the American Girls site, you will be in good hands. We look forward to hearing what your child thinks of the new games on Zoodles!

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