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Education Newswire: July/August 1999

Helping Parents Grow Their Little Scientists

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) offers a new brochure entitled, “Help Your Child Explore Science.” The brochure provides guidance for parents on how to foster scientific thinking among young learners and how families can incorporate the skills of science into everyday life. The brochure also offers guidelines on how to become more aware and supportive of children’s science education at school. This valuable resource is built on the philosophy that parents can promote a scientific approach and encourage curiosity and investigation even if they have limited experience in science or have no scientific resources at home. For a free copy of this brochure, write to Parent Information, NSTA, 1840 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia 22201 or go to the website

Internet Astronomy Course

You may find the following paper on a web-based course of interest. In “An Internet-Based Introductory College Astronomy Course with Real-Time Telescopic Observing,” author David G. Iadevaia, Ph.D. (Pima College-East Campus, Tucson, Arizona) writes:

“Using current technology it is possible to demonstrate a method of distance learning that is both efficient, effective and can be applied to a physical science course. This method uses the Internet and the science course as an introduction to a college-level astronomy course, complete with laboratory and real-time telescope observation sessions. Not only do students in this course work in a highly interactive mode, but they are also able to make telescopic observations in real-time using only their Internet browser.”

Iadevaia’s paper was published in the January 1999 issue of T.H.E. Journal.

Student-Created Experiment for Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander Mission

The Planetary Society is looking for a student-created experiment to send on the JPL/NASA Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander mission. This exciting opportunity, open to young people 18 or younger (pre-college only), involves the creation of an experiment that may be incorporated in the mission’s Mars Environmental Compatibility Assessment (MECA) experiment package. All the information about this project, called the NanoExperiment Challenge, is available through the Planetary Society’s website at Application forms can be printed from the website and need to be returned by 31 July 1999.

Astrobiology in High School

The search for life on other worlds and integrating the sciences in an inquiry-based high school course is the goal of a high school course located at Students explore the fascinating field of astrobiology, learning and applying science concepts from topics in chemistry, biology, Earth and space science, physics, and engineering. The curriculum is in development at TERC, a non-profit research and development organization committed to improving mathematics and science learning and teaching. This project is funded by the National Science Foundation and the NASA Astrobiology Program based at NASA Ames Research Center. Visit and try out the first draft of an interactive Drake Equation for calculating the number of alien planets in our galaxy that might have life which could communicate with us. I found the exercise easy to use and good for students in that it allows them to recompute their results using different assumptions.

Looking for Opportunities in a Haystack

The MIT Haystack Observatory announces undergraduate research and education opportunities in radio astronomy. Haystack is a 37 meter telescope located in Westford, Massachusetts. Haystack’s program is still under development, but the goal is to provide on-site and remote access to the facility for research and educational projects to undergraduate faculty and their students. If you are interested in using the telescope for a radio astronomy project, contact Dr. Preethi Pratap at or visit Haystack also has a Research Experience for Undergraduates program.

The Answer To Multiple Choice Tests

ARGUS Intl. is test marketing their GradePlus unit for students taking multiple choice exams. According to their literature:

“[The] GradePlus is a hand held device that allows a student to input answers during any true/false or multiple choice test. After finishing the exam, the student places their GradePlus unit in front of the professor’s laptop computer and downloads their answers. The software immediately grades the test. This whole process takes less than 4 seconds. The student can then leave the classroom with their results.”

I have begun testing the GradePlus unit in a large (over 250 students) lecture course, “Life in the Cosmos.” The unit itself is extremely easy to use and virtually foolproof in protecting the student’s test results before they are read into the laptop. For a 95-question multiple choice exam, I found the readout time was approximately two seconds. Indeed, it took longer for the students to move in and out of position to send their results than it did to read and record their results.

I found several advantages to using the GradePlus unit. It replaces the bubble-in, or scantron, sheets that are commonly used in this type of testing. Because the GradePlus device displays only one answer space at a time, student copying during exams, unfortunately common in crowded classrooms, is practically impossible. The display is inset so it can only be viewed by the user. All this has allowed me to eliminate multiple versions of exams and scrambling of questions and answers. In preparing for an exam, I just copied my grading key into one column of an EXCEL spreadsheet. Not only does the student leave the classroom with a result (number correct/total possible), I leave the classroom with the test result on the spreadsheet. Although the laptop I used was a PC, the spreadsheet was copied onto a floppy disc and read seamlessly by my office Mac G3. The GradePlus unit has been a real time-saving device and one I plan on using in many of my other courses where this type of testing is appropriate. For more information, contact ARGUS at

LEO P. CONNOLLY can be found surfin’ the Net using his G3 at the Department of Physics, California State University, San Bernardino. He responds to messages sent to Comments and contributions are welcome.