For Science Without Right Turns, There’s Acceleration Nation

The NASCAR season has officially started in the United States, with the Daytona 500 scheduled to take place tomorrow.  In partnership with Scholastic, NASCAR has launched a program to help kids in grades 5-7 learn science, technology, engineering and mathematics lessons through racing games and puzzles.  The site is called Acceleration Nation.

One emphasis of the program is aerodynamics.  Lessons are organized around what the program calls the ‘three D’s’ of speed: drag, downforce and drafting.  The Acceleration Nation website has games and puzzles to test skills in math, engine knowledge and building ability.  The website activities and classroom lessons can be augmented by track-day experiences where kids get behind the wheel and can learn more about how the race cars work.

Participating classes have an opportunity to win money, and there are prizes available for those competing online.  You will need to register in order to win.

DC To Welcome National Math Festival

On April 18, the Smithsonian Institution will host the first National Math Festival in Washington, D.C.  It will be the culmination of a weekend of events in the city to recognize outstanding math research, educators and books.

On April 16 there will be a morning breakfast briefing on Capitol Hill to discuss mathematics education.  It will be followed by a policy seminar in the Library of Congress and an evening gala to support basic research in mathematics and science.

On April 17 the Mathical Book Prizes will be awarded.  The awards recognize books that both teach math and have high literary quality.  Five prizes will be awarded to books targeted to particular grade levels.  The books must be published within the last five years.

The Math Festival will start at 10 am on April 18, at several Smithsonian locations across the National Mall.  The schedule strikes me as filled with hands-on activities, with some displays and exhibits thrown in for good measure.  I do expect the Minecraft-themed math presentation to be one of the more popular that day.

More Science & Technology Entertainment For The Curious – Crash Course, New Atlantis, CuriosityStream

Elementary continues to incorporate science and technology issues (and people) into its storylines (the last two episodes involved a drug trial and forging rare plants).  However, the television is not the most reliable source for such content.

One former network head seems to be trying.  John Hendricks, who founded the Discovery channel (and retired from the now-sprawling family of networks in 2014), is developing a streaming service focused on science and nature content.  Called CuriosityStream, it’s scheduled to premiere in March.  Offerings will include both original programming and science content from providers like BBC Worldwide, Terra Noa, Japanese channel NHK and France’s ZED.

Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, has started an online astronomy show.  Called Crash Course Astronomy, it’s part of the stable of educational programs developed by Hank and John Green.  The brothers have been creating online educational videos since 2007 and were given a Google grant to continue their work back in 2011.  Now they fund their efforts through subscriptions.  However, the Astronomy program has been helped into existence through a partnership with PBS Digital Studios.  Here’s episode one.

Finally, there is a new theatrical production called New Atlantis in London worth checking out.  It runs through the 25th.  Set in the year 2050, the play focuses on efforts to address London’s water shortages.  A special part of this production is the involvement of several scientists in the immersive production.  You could literally ask a scientist or engineer about some aspect of the play as it is happening.  New Atlantis is part of a series called Enlightenment Cafe, which has tackled projects with science and/or engineering knowledge before.


Brinkman Shows How Rap Is Infectious

The Society for Applied Microbiology liked Baba Brinkman’s track “So Infectious” they arranged for him to make a video.

While the video is new, the song is not.  To follow the evolution of this rap (after all, Performance, Feedback, Revision), check out the first public performance of the piece from September 2013.

Clearly Brinkman has it down cold now, but you may also detect some lyrical changes and a slightly different beat between versions.  The changes happened quickly, as the version I posted about a year ago is much closer to the version in the video released this week than it is to the initial performance.

We All Sleep, But Can We Explain It?

Alan Alda has announced the latest topic for his Flame Challenge – sleep (H/T LiveScience).  This is the fourth year of the challenge, which is a contest for scientists to try and explain scientific concepts to an 11-year old.  Entries are judged by students.  The topics for previous years were flame, time, and color.  The deadline for entries is February 13, 2015.

While scientists are the contestants, the organizers need students to judge.  Teachers can sign up their classes to help review the entries, which can be in written, video or graphic form.  For the purposes of this competition, scientists can be retired, currently employed in doing scientific work, or working on (or holding) a graduate science degree.

There are two divisions for entries: written and visual.  Written explanations must be no more than 300 words, and videos can be no longer than 5 minutes long.  Winners in each division will receive $1,000 and a trip to New York City.  There the winning entries will be recognized at the World Science Festival and the winners will have a chance to meet Alan Alda.

The contest is sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society.  Alda, when not acting, is a visiting professor at his eponymous Center for Communicating Science at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.


New Things To See And Read – Boundaries and Master Classes

Two items of note for those looking for some new things to help broaden their horizons.

Boundaries is the first issue of Method Quarterly, a new journal focused on the scientific method.  (H/T to Alexis Madrigal and his 5 Intriguing Things newsletter.)  A mixture of interviews, fiction, reporting and essays, Method Quarterly strikes me as more of a kind with a literary journal or the magazine for an institute like the Wilson Center or the National Academies.  From the About page:

“The scientific method is much more than the technical details of experiments: it’s the culture of the lab, the politics of science funding, the art of experimental design, and the science of telling a good story. What gets left out of scientific publications? What don’t we hear about in popular articles about scientific discovery and technological innovation?

“Method features stories about science in the making. Rather than focus on discovery or futuristic potential, we want to think critically about process—how science actually gets done. We want to ask questions that open new conversations about science in the popular media”

I think that’s a good thing, and I encourage you to see if I’m right.

There are also more Master Classes available from the World Science University.  In addition to the three that started last month, you can now take more short courses on various elements of cosmological theory.  As is the case for the other courses, no formal training in mathematics and physics is necessary.  And the material will be covered in a few hours.

Zombie Classes Can Be Serious

College courses that take advantage of pop culture are nothing new.  Nor are courses focused on zombies.  But it’s rare for the producer of the pop culture to get behind the courses in a significant fashion.

That has changed (and I’m late to the party).

But Not Simpler (over at Scientific American) reported that AMC, the network that airs The Walking Dead, collaborated with the Canvas Network and the University of California, Irvine on an online course.  Running last fall, Society, Science Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead was an eight-week course running in tandem with the fourth season of the zombie program.  It was also quite interdisciplinary, as the expected course outcomes describe:

  • Describe how infectious diseases—like a zombie epidemic—spread and are managed
  • Apply various models of society and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to existing and emerging societies as a means for understanding human behavior
  • Analyze existing social roles and stereotypes as they exist today and in an emerging world
  • Debate the role of public health organizations in society
  • Describe how mathematical equations for population dynamics can be used to study disease spread and interventions
  • Apply concepts of energy and momentum appropriately when analyzing collisions and other activities that either inflict or prevent damage
  • Summarize multiple methods for managing stress in disaster situations

Over 65,000 people signed up for the course last year.  Given that demand, I’m surprised that I cannot find an instance where this particular course has been repeated.  Especially since Instructure (the parent company of Canvas) conducted a survey of more than 12,000 course participants.