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Educator Update

Monday, August 18, 2014

Jenny

2014 International Science and Engineering Fair

Recently, as I was driving to work I heard a story on NPR about a local 9th grader, Jonathan Berman, who would be attending the White House’s annual science fair for the second time, he was first invited for a project he did in 2010 when he was just 11 (link). Berman’s team created a bracelet that gently vibrates when repetitive motions are detected in order to discretely alert the person wearing the bracelet and encourage them to stop.

I was amazed by all that this young man has accomplished before such a young age. But this level of high achievement is not unique to this individual; kids all over the world are redefining what it means to be a teenager through the creativity, innovation, and thoroughness shown in their science fair projects. This past May, I had the great honor of meeting some of these science Rock Stars at Intel’s annual International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), which was held at the LA Convention Center this year from May 11 – May 16, 2014. ISEF is the largest pre-college scientific research event in the world, bringing more than 1,700 high school students from over 70 countries and territories together to showcase their research and compete for roughly $5 million dollars in awards in 17 different categories.

As a Grand Awards judge, I evaluated 19 of the 67 projects in ISEF’s Animal Sciences category. The caliber of science fair projects at this fair was unlike anything I could ever have imagined, certainly nothing like the projects I have judged at the local, state, and regional science fairs over the last decade. To give you an idea of what I mean by “high caliber” I’ll describe the projects that won awards in the Animal Sciences category this year:

  • One project examined the potential unintended consequences and negative effects of mosquito pesticides on staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis). The findings of this student’s study has important implications because Acropora used to blanket the Caribbean, serving as the primary reef building coral, but over the last 40 years they have experienced a 95% decline in their populations, and were the first corals to be listed on the US endangered species list in 2006.
  • Two students from India worked together to find a more effective treatment for Giardia, a intestinal disease that infects humans and other animals. After much research, and trial and error the students identified Rubusellipticus, a naturally occurring wild herb, was more effective, cheaper, and had far fewer side effects than all of the current medications used to treat Giardia. Their findings are important because Giardia is caused by an intestinal parasite that is ubiquitous in the environment and has a worldwide distribution. The world Health Organization estimates more than 200 million people are infected with the parasite every year, but in India (where these students are from) the occurrence is much higher with as more than 11% of their population infected at any given time.
  • Another student, motivated by the recent diagnosis of a close family member, set out to identify a compound that could accelerate adult stem cell differentiation. The student identified L-Leucine, which appeared more effective and could be made available at a fraction of the price of the existing compounds being used. The student had already received letters from pharmaceutical companies who want to work with him.

While interviewing each of these students I couldn’t help but wonder where they would be going for college, what they would be majoring in, and ultimately what they would be doing 10-20 years from now. It also made me wonder how students are becoming involved in Science Fairs these days? Is it part of a class they are required to take in school? An elective? Extra credit option? An after school club, etc?

While my once award winning “Splat” project wouldn’t have stood a chance against these contestants, I’m still glad my parents encouraged me to take them seriously because they helped to shape me into the scientist I am today.

Looking back on my own experience my elementary school required students to do a science fair project every year, but the projects were done at home. Teachers would offer assistance to any students that needed it, but for the most part it was up to our parents to help us with our projects. I was fortunate because my parents were very good at finding the right balance between helping me without doing the projects for me, which probably wasn’t too surprising considering my mom was a school teacher and my dad was a scientist. From infancy they had encouraged me to explore and question the world around me, as I got older they begun responding to some of my questions by saying something to the effect of “that would make a great science fair project.” They would help me by pointing out flaws in the project design and making sure I was using the scientific method appropriately, but they were careful to never give me the answers or do anything for me.

For any teachers and/or students reading this blog post, how are science fair projects used in your schools?

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Dr Jenny's avatar

Educator Update

Friday, January 24, 2014

Introducing Dr. Jenny!

Dr. Jenny headshotMy name is Jenny Lentz, or “Dr. Jenny,” as they call me here at the Aquarium, and I will be taking over the Teacher’s Blog from Alie. To give you a little background about myself, I joined the Aquarium’s education department last spring as a Marine Science Fellow. This was a temporary position designed to provide six to eight months of work experience and training in all aspects of the education department. Fortunately, at the end of my appointment I was offered a full-time position as an education specialist, enabling me to stay on long-term at the Aquarium.

I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. My parents instilled within me an appreciation for both art and science from a very young age. During our routine nature hikes and camping trips, I was always encouraged to explore and question everything around me, while also taking time to appreciate the beauty of the natural world. My passion for science and the environment drove my academic career. I graduated from Hamilton College with a bachelor of arts degree in environmental science with a marine concentration. My undergraduate thesis used radio telemetry and GIS (geographic information systems) to study the home range and habitat preferences of eastern box turtles. More recently, my graduate research focused on the declining health of the marine environment, specifically coral reefs, and creating a geospatial protocol that could be used to better understand the spatial nature of marine diseases. In May 2012 I graduated with a doctor of philosophy degree from Louisiana State University’s department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences and a geography (GIS) minor.

My current position at the Aquarium of the Pacific gives me the chance to work in a number of different areas. Depending on the day, you might find me in the classroom teaching one of our school programs, co-leading a summer camp, out on the floor of the Aquarium doing shows, or even out on a boat serving as the naturalist on one of our whale watch tours. I am also using my background in GIS and spatial analysis to develop different interpretive tools that we can use to help our visitors understand different types of environmental processes. If you would like more information on me or the work I am currently doing at the Aquarium, including some tutorials designed to show teachers how to use GIS in their classrooms, please visit my website.

I look forward to using this blog to announce upcoming events, programs, and opportunities at the Aquarium. In addition I hope this blog will serve as a forum where teachers and science educators can collaborate. If you have ideas for future blog topics, lesson plans that you’ve loved, or other suggestions, please let us know.

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Alie's avatar

Educator Update | New Opportunity

Thursday, January 10, 2013 1 Comment

Alie LeBeau

Starting the Year Off with Free Admission for School Teachers

We’re excited to start 2013 with Free School Teacher Month at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Over the past few years, we’ve had this opportunity in March, but we’re switching things up this year and giving January a turn. You can take advantage of this opportunity as many times as you like. Bring your friends and family, and they receive discounted admission at the door. Be sure to bring proof of eligibility (like a school or district ID) and then you and your guests can enjoy the Aquarium.

While you’re here, be sure to visit our penguins, our baby harbor seal Bixby, and Betty our newest otter, because they are all pretty adorable. Before your visit, download our Chaperone Field Trip Guides or ask for them at the Information Desk. They may help you plan your next school field trip. While you’re here, you can also pick up one of our three Out of the Box Science Trunks. They are free with a $100 refundable deposit and reservations can be made by calling our Guest Support Center at 562-951-1630.

Or feel free to enjoy a relaxing day away from school and know that the Aquarium of the Pacific wants to say a huge THANK YOU for all you.

Hope to see you around the Aquarium in January.

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Alie's avatar

Educator Update

Thursday, September 20, 2012 1 Comment

Alie LeBeau

Back to School (and the Aquarium) with Chaperone Field Trip Guides

As we start a new school year, we are excited to see old friends and new ones at the Aquarium. Penguins, otters, sharks, and more are waiting to engage and amaze your students. But the Aquarium is more than just an incredible animal collection. It is numerous resources to help you use the ocean to reach your students. Have you seen our rental trunks of shark jaws and otter skulls? Lesson plans to extend the experience? Chaperone Field Trip Guides to help your students and parent chaperones to move through the Aquarium? Preview the grade-specific pamphlets online, or get your copy when you arrive at the Aquarium.

When booking your field trip, be sure to take advantage of our reduced rate for trip occurring prior to March. Scholarships, including bussing, are also available, so complete We’re looking forward to a great 2012-2013 school year. Hope to see you and your students at the Aquarium soon.

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Alie's avatar

Educator Update

Monday, June 11, 2012

Alie LeBeau

Summertime at the Aquarium

Make the Aquarium part of your relaxing summer plans: visit the penguins, send the kids to camp, or enjoy a whale watching cruise. Hope to see you this summer.

This summer, the Aquarium has lots to offer, including a dozen new and adorable residents. The June Keyes Penguin Habitat includes interactive touch screens and above and below water viewing areas for you to come face to face with our charismatic penguins. Animal encounters, films, lectures, and a new webcam also give you an opportunity to get up close and personal with the Magellanic Penguins who now call the Aquarium home.

If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure, consider joining us for a Blue Whale Watch or simply sign the kids up for Day Camp. We hope to see you this summer.

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