Saturday, January 19, 2013

Feeding A Young Science Geek - Free Stuff

I've always thought that a big part of the "educational process" is the active encouragement of young minds.  That's more than just tutoring or answering questions; you can accomplish far more than one might suspect simply by making stuff available.  Toward that end (and yes, one of my daughters is taking AP Biology *grin*), I've been scouring the Internet for science materials that hit the sweet spot of "interest them, challenge them, but don't drown them", and I thought I'd share some of my finds with you.  Almost all of these resources are available in both electronic and print form at no cost to you; my only request is that, if you order printed copies, consider passing them on to your local high school science teacher(s) when you've finished them.

In no particular order, then:


The National Institute of General Medical Sciences offers a series of science education booklets with titles such as The Chemistry of Health, Inside the Cell, and The Structures of Life.  They range from 20 to 80 pages in length, and I find them extremely well-written.  They also offer several posters; I didn't order those, but the PDF versions look really nice.  One may also view, or subscribe to, Findings Magazine, which showcases cutting-edge research and includes puzzles and other activities.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute publishes a variety of science materials, on topics ranging from the age of the dinosaurs (their The Day the Mesozoic Died DVD) to evolutionary biology (The Making of the Fittest DVD) and modern genetics (The Genes We Share with Yeast, Flies, Worms and Mice).  One of the most interesting HHMI offerings is their Virtual Lab CDROM, in which one can "go in the lab" for five different projects.  Want to explore the nervous system of a leech, or perhaps use DNA sequencing to identify bacteria?  You'll do it through the Virtual Lab.  All items in the HHMI catalog are free.

iOS Apps

There are several iOS apps which provide a Periodic Table of the Elements, but I find Merck's to be the most comprehensive by far.  Simply put, this app seems to provide everything a typical scientist (or science student) might need "on the fly."  It covers not only the basics of the table, but everything from states of matter (as shown in the screenshot) to molar mass (as in "enter a chemical formula and see its molar mass breakdown") to boot.  Even if your interest is a first course in HS chemistry, this app will prove its worth in short order.

The Merck PTE is available for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, and requires iOS 3.1 or later.  If you're using the US iTunes Store, it's EMD PTE; in the GB iTunes Store, it's Merck PTE.

Grab this one now; it's that good.

Invitrogen Corporation has created a number of free iOS apps, including 3D Cell.  One can take a 3D tour of a typical cell, with extra information avialable for each major cell structure (e.g. Golgi apparatus, endoplasmic reticulum, et al.).  This app does exceed the "sweet spot" I mentioned earlier, in that it goes into details more suitable for college students and professional scientists, but the basic information is accessible to HS students.  (You can see Invitrogen's other apps in the App Store; scroll down and look for the "More Apps by Invitrogen" section on the left margin.)

Along the same lines, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has produced 3D Brain.  This app should be of interest to students of both biology and psychology (the AP Psychology exam requires knowledge of the relationship between brain anatomy/injury and various mental health conditions), so consider this a two-fer.

Both 3D Cell and 3D Brain offer extensive background information, including videos.

That's all for now; I'm sure that I'll revisit this topic in the future, simply because there's SO much material "out there".   I will say that I'm enjoying these things every bit as much as are my kids (perhaps a bit more!)...have fun.

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