Governors Urged to Tap Into “Informal” Science Education

Via Education Week, a new report from the National Governors Association identifying  “informal science education” (i.e., science learning outside the classroom) as a frequently overlooked vehicle for helping states advance their STEM goals.

The [National Governors Association] document urges governors to “explicitly” include informal science education on their action agenda to improve STEM learning among young people and have representatives from informal science institutions (such as museums and zoos) be a part of state STEM advisory councils. […]

Opportunities for such “informal” learning come through a variety of venues and activities, such as science centers and museums, zoos, robotics and rocketry clubs, online games, and science competitions, to name a few. […]

The NGA issue brief suggests that “informal science offers states a powerful, low-cost way to help achieve the goals of an overall STEM strategy.” It notes that most quality programs “involve little if any direct state funding and do not compete with other state education dollars or classroom time.” […]

[A] key challenge is that many states fail to recognize and promote the role informal science learning activities can play in “buttressing” other state activities in STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“Thus, the state may be adopting more rigorous math and science standards, and providing more rigorous preparation for STEM students, while not taking full advantage of after-school programs or teacher professional-development opportunities provided through informal science institutions,” the report says. “As a result, school districts engage with the informal science community in a patchwork fashion, with robust activities in some areas and none in others.”


A Chinese perspective on the spring equinox

A different perspective courtesy of Deborah Byrd at

In Chinese thought, spring is associated with the color green, the sound of shouting, the wood element, the climate of wind, things sprouting, your eyes, your liver, your anger, patience and altruism—and a green dragon. Not surprisingly, spring is also associated with the direction east, the sunrise direction as Earth spins us toward the beginning of each new day.

What’s this about? It’s a system called Wu Xing by the Chinese, which translates to the Five Phases or Five Elements. Phases describes it better, because it’s a description of nature, which as we all know never stops moving.

Everything you need to know: Vernal or spring equinox 2012


The March equinox signals the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. It marks that special moment when the sun crosses the celestial equator going from south to north. In 2012, this equinox comes early. It’ll be on March 20 at 5:14 UTC, or 12:14 a.m. Central Daylight Time for us in the central U.S.

Why is the equinox early in 2012? The reason is, in part, because 2012 is a leap year. If this year weren’t a leap year, this equinox would come on March 21—not March 20—at 5:14 Universal Time. The equinoxes for the coming three years—2013, 2014, 2015—will all fall on March 20 as well. But—with each passing year—each equinox will come nearly 6 hours later by the clock. In the year 2016, the equinox would fall on March 21—if 2016 weren’t a leap year.


Auroras Underfoot

From NASA by way of comes this amazing video of auroras taken from the International Space Station.  Just breathtaking.

NASA Goddard rocks the Moon

Beautiful animation of the moon moving through its phases through an entire year, courtesy of NASA, via the Bad Astronomer!

Make sure to check the linked post for an explanation of the Moon’s librations, the crazy rocking and tilting motions that appear to be going on!

Stars and planets in the daytime

An important, and difficult, concept: There are always stars in the sky, even during daytime.  Deborah Byrd from explains:

People often ask if stars are up there, beyond our blue sky, during the day.

The answer is surely yes, because Earth is a planet in space, surrounded on all sides by stars. The image at right is Venus and the moon, seen through a telescope, in daytime. Venus is the most commonly seen daytime sky object, after the sun and moon. Meanwhile, the chart at the top of this post shows the stars toward the southeast at morning in late February or early March. Of course you really can’t see the stars, but they are there.

When is the next Blue Moon?

Unless you’re thinking of the 1934 popular song (yes, it’s really that old, I looked it up), there are a couple of different schools of thought about what exactly constitutes a Blue Moon. fills us in:

In the 21st century, according to folklore, the name Blue Moon has two meanings. A Blue Moon can be the second full moon in a calendar month. Or it can be the third of four full moons in a single season. There will be two full moons in a month on August 31, 2012 – the next scheduled Blue Moon. […]

In recent years, a controversy has raged – mainly among purists – about which Blue Moon definition is better. The idea of a Blue Moon as the third of four in a season is older than the idea of a Blue Moon as the second full moon in a month. Is it better? Is one definition right and the other wrong? After all, this is folklore. So the folk get to decide, and, in the 21st century, both sorts of full moons have been called Blue.