Can We Learn Literature, History and Social Studies through Graphic Novels?

In this lesson, students will think about how graphic novels convey traditional literature, history and social studies curricula in a new way, they will learn the mechanisms through which graphic novels interpret formal modes of learning, and they will research, identify and critically analyze a graphic novel, which they will then present to the rest of the class as a lesson in literature, history or social studies.

The Friendship Algorithm: How to scientifically choose your friends

Dr. Sheldon Cooper, PhD from the Big Bang Theory has come up with a hypothesis that may have revealed the formula to friendship, have your students learn about algorithms and see if they can crack the code to life’s biggest questions.

Flowcharts are used by coders and programmers in the tech startup and app development industry to graphically depict the algorithms the programmers want to convert to code. Students will view the example provided and attempt to produce their own algorithms to gain a basic understanding of programming and idea mapping.


How Street Smart Are You?

We’ve all heard the stories, the kid who couldn’t quite cut it in school but still found a way to beat the odds and become a success. Started from the bottom…well, you know the rest. Being “book smart” and excelling in the classroom is important, but it doesn’t paint the whole picture. Many successful people like Jay-Z, Mark Zuckerberg and even Katy Perry have reached their goals by making the most of the skills they have learned outside of the classroom, or what we commonly refer to as “street smarts”.

When we think of being “street smart” the assumption is that this pertains to someone who has learned how to adapt and survive in a tough neighborhood or has taken the code of the streets and applied it to the business world. Street smarts is actually a measure of one’s resilience, adaptability, resourcefulness, critical thinking and problem solving skills. All of which are key skills for the 21st century.

There are no rules that say you can only be book smart or street smart and not both. Street smarts also has nothing to do with the crime rate in your city and your ability to avoid danger. It is a measure of your ability to problem solve when presented with an unforeseen obstacle. Many jobs of the future will no longer come with instructions or training, computers will take care of most of the routine work. Jobs of the future will be based on one’s ability to react in the moment, think critically and solve problems that computers can’t. Street smarts have less to do with how well you know the streets, and more to do with adapting to change, overcoming obstacles and solving problems with limited resources.

Take the quiz below to test your street smarts and see if you’re ready to take on the world!

The Science Of Bioshock: Plasmids and Genetic Augmentation




Scientifically, the concepts behind the fiction are real.

Bioshock is a very popular, and terrifying video game franchise released by 2K Games and Irrational Games. The main storyline follows Jack, who finds himself in this hostile environment and figures out how to survive along the way. Jack learns about how to augment his DNA through the injection of various plasmids.  He would not survive without the abilities they provided – including shooting electricity, immolating objects, and telekinesis.  Though these augmentations are not yet a reality today, scientifically, the concepts behind the fiction are real. Plasmids, stem cells, and genetic modification all have real world applications.




In this first person adventure game set in an underwater city called Rapture, the city’s founder, Andrew Ryan, had created a utopia where scientific progress made changing our biology a reality.  The city was an experiment, with its people as its test subjects, harnessing God-like powers and wielding them carelessly with the idea that Man and Man’s progress creates his own destiny. Positively, it gave humans supernatural abilities.  Negatively, these abilities created monstrous and other horrific effects on humans.




The potential to change genetic makeup would become more possible.

Certain natural phenomena, and biotech advances enable the augmentation of DNA, including plasmids, viruses, transposons, and the introduction of synthetic DNA.

Plasmids are small loops of DNA found within bacteria that grant different traits and genetic advantages from organism to organism.

Viruses are expert genetic hackers that exist to replicate. They enter cells and control the cells’ DNA, making viruses an extremely useful tool in genetic research.

Transposons are short lengths of DNA that are able to move from one location in a genome to another.  Many transposons carry antibiotic resistance genes and other advantageous traits, spreading these traits throughout a population.

Synthetic DNA constructs can be introduced into human cells, existing independently from the rest of the genome—a human artificial chromosome (HAC).  The potential to change genetic makeup would become more possible.

There are a lot of potential benefits to DNA augmentation methods, fighting diseases and resistant bacteria to name a few.  Some themes that are at play within the Bioshock world include how to proceed when faced with choices to enhance and protect ourselves.  If given the ability to simply augment your genetic makeup to heal oneself, or gain powers, at the possible cost of unforeseen negative effects, what would you do?

Pro-Palestinian protesters take part in a demonstration against the violence in the Gaza strip, in Lyon

The Science Of Protest: How Our Brains Are Wired To Fight For Our Rights

(Credit: Reuters/Robert Pratta/AP/Charlie Riedel)

The recent tragic events surrounding the deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and the NYPD officers have struck a chord in a us all. However, today’s millennial generation of young people have taken to the streets more so than any other generation in recent history to express their feelings. Motivations, people’s beliefs, identity and emotions are key in generating a person’s willingness to protest. With or without social media, people who are deeply angry about an unjust situation, or who feel strongly connected with a particular issue, will always take to the streets.

Protest is defined as a form of collective action and as participation in a social movement. What is it that drives young people to protest? Why are young people prepared to sacrifice a comfortable and carefree lifestyle, or sometimes even their very lives for a common cause? The research team at NuSkool has found some scientific reasons why we fight for our rights that may have more to do with brain science than we realize. Science can’t always explain what’s in our hearts, but it can help us understand what motivates one of the greatest youth movements in history.
We are the risk takers and the rule breakers
Science has proven that teens and college students are really ‘bout that life. Scientists have used brain scanning methods to study the changes that occur in the teen brain. Recent discoveries have shown that teenagers have well-developed emotions and feelings and are more willing to do dangerous things an adult would avoid, this is due to the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for weighing risk and consequences in the teen brain. When experiencing an emotionally-charged situation like a tragedy in the community like Ferguson, the brain is handicapped in its ability to gauge risk and consider the consequences. In most situations, teens can evaluate risks just like adults. But in emotionally heightened real-life scenarios, this rational part of the brain gets overridden by the reward center. Racism, oppression and injustices in the community are definitely triggers for this kind of reaction. Our brains have a reward center, involving the nucleus accumbens, which lights up with dopamine whenever we find something exciting, interesting or meaningful. In a study comparing the brains of teens to adults, scientists found that teens need extreme situations in order to get excited.
We are natural born followers
News flash: peer pressure is actually a thing. Oxytocin receptors in a young brain makes teens highly responsive to the opinions of their peers. Studies find that the brain’s receptors for oxytocin has a strong influence on social bonding and affects our emotional and behavioral responses to social encouragement or peer pressure. When our peers become angry or emotional over a situation, this activates our own brain’s prefrontal areas in response to emotional and social stimuli. During this time, we also have heightened awareness toward the opinions of our friends, so much so that we imagine that our behavior is the focus of everyone else’s concern and attention.

According to a study, which examined brain scans of teens using fMRI data, the presence of friends activated certain regions of the brain that were not activated when they were alone that increased their willingness to take part in antisocial behavior. Being in the presence of friends also doubled risk-taking among young people in their 20’s, increased it by fifty percent among teens, but had no effect on adults, a pattern that was identical among both males and females. So the moral of the story is…choose your friends wisely.
We are a living, breathing social network
One of the strongest emotions in a teen’s life that pulls someone into joining a gang, a sports team or joining a social cause is the need to be a part of something bigger than oneself…joining a movement.

Chris McGrath—Getty Images

Research suggests that people who experience both personal and group oppression are the most strongly motivated to take to the streets. Being part of something bigger than yourself is very important to today’s generation. Any events that harm that group by definition harm the individual, and they find themselves experiencing emotions on behalf of the group. The more people feel that group’s interests or values are threatened, the angrier they are and the more they are prepared to take part in protests to express their anger. Collective anger moves people to challenge the authorities and subdue other emotions such as shame, despair and obedience. Participating in protests strengthens the collective power of that group, and feelings of unity and support empowers people to stand together against the authorities. However, taking action doesn’t always mean people expect that group-related problems can be solved by their united efforts. Protesters find a way to overcome their defeated hopes to eventually protest again and raise consciousness to create solidarity. Is it science?… eh, maybe not. Is it real?…you bet. Does it change the world?… absolutely.

Before you decide to join a protest and put yourself at risk to fight for a cause, ask yourself the following questions:

Who or what caused the event?
How does the event influence my goals?
Do I have control and power over the consequences of the event?
Who can I call for help if I’m in danger or if I get arrested?


10 Steps to Make Summer School Not Suck

Summer is here, but you still find yourself in school. Maybe you didn’t pass a class that is required for graduation. Or maybe you want to take a class because your schedule during the school year is full. Whatever the reason is for taking a summer school class, sitting in a classroom for two hours every day for a few weeks isn’t your idea of fun. However, it doesn’t have to be so bad. Here are ten steps to make summer school not suck.

1. Have a friend sign up

Having a friend sign up makes summer school more bearable. Your friend is going to be by your side and make things easier. You can also do homework and study for tests together.

2. Ask for breaks

During the normal school day, your classes don’t last much longer than 70-80 minutes. However, summer school classes tend to be longer — most last about two hours. If you’re having trouble sitting for that long, ask the teacher for at least one break. This gives you time to get up and move around, since it’s not good to be sitting down for so long.

3. Ask if the class can go outside

Summer is usually more laid back than during the school year so ask if the teacher will take you outside. What better way to learn Shakespeare or science or whatever the subject than outside under a tree.

4. Engage yourself in the learning

Doing homework and studying for tests is hard enough during the regular school year. Think about how hard it is during the summer. You spend two hours in class, but then have homework to do, a research paper to write, or a test to study for. Do the homework and study every night so you don’t get behind.

5. Be respectful to the teacher

Your summer school teacher may be someone you don’t know, who doesn’t want to be there any more than you do. After all, summer is a time for him or her to be away from school as well. But teachers sometimes work part-time jobs in the summer to help pay bills or to earn extra money. Respecting and getting along with the teacher goes a long way and makes class more fun.

6. Get your sleep

While summer is the time for you to stay up late watching movies or hanging out with friends, you still need your sleep. You can’t sleep in class, or you won’t do well. Going to bed at a decent time will help lead to your success.

7. Take care of yourself

If you got up late and hurried to class or didn’t feel like eating breakfast, ask if bringing a snack or, at least, a bottle of water is allowed. Eating and drinking helps us stay awake when we’re bored. If you get dehydrated, you get sleepy and have trouble paying attention in class.

8. Be on time

During the school year, you are expected to be on time. If you’re late, you get a tardy and too many tardies add up to you not earning your credit for summer school. You certainly don’t want to lose the credit if you have almost made it to the end of summer school.

9. Stay positive

No matter how bad summer school really is, remember to stay positive. Doing some of things suggested above will help with that. Ask your teacher and see what he will allow you to do.

10. Remember why you are there

No matter the reason as to why you are there in summer school, the important things to remember are to do well, respect the teacher and his rules, and earn your credit. You don’t want to waste your summer.

loki-lego-launcher.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smart thumbnail

Watch Two Girls Launch a Weather Balloon into the Stratosphere

Space! You can reach it!

Two Seattle girls, aged 10 and 8, decided it would be fun to plan the construction and launch of a weather balloon into space.  They achieved their goal, took a video of the whole process and launch, and have even impressed NASA.



Designed to Rise:

They learned how to create a design for their spacecraft from the web and created a design using materials bought and some from home.  Trial and error changed the design from using PVC pipes to old arrow shafts to keep it light weight.  Overall, the design of the craft resembled a triangle, or pyramid.  They planned for the craft’s landing and even added styrofoam balls in the event of a water landing.  The standard weather balloon they used for the ascent was filled with Helium, and the whole spacecraft was strategically launched from a specific point where they would be most likely to recover the craft upon its return to earth’s surface.

Pop Goes the Weather Balloon:

As the weather balloon traveled further from the Earth’s surface, the air pressure around the balloon decreased drastically. As the air got thinner, the balloon’s casing got tighter. This is due to the gas expanding within the balloon. The expanding gas caused the balloon to reach full capacity and it popped.  This is how weather balloons work, and these girls planned for its popping to initiate the spacecraft’s return to earth.

The girls collected data during the launch.  The Balloon ascended at a very constant rate – an average speed of 35 kilometers/hour. There was a peak speed recorded, of 110 kilometers/hour as the craft left whats called the Tropopause, right before entering the Stratosphere.  They noticed a temperature drop as it got higher up, but then it changed at got higher as the craft left the Troposphere and got into the Stratosphere.

The Earth’s Atmospheric Layers:

The atmosphere is divided into five layers. It is thickest near the surface and thins out with height until it eventually merges with space. The troposphere is the first layer above the surface and contains half of the Earth’s atmosphere. Weather occurs in this layer. Many jet aircrafts fly in the stratosphere because it is very stable. Also, the ozone layer absorbs harmful rays from the Sun. Meteors or rock fragments burn up in the mesosphere. The thermosphere is a layer with auroras. It is also where the space shuttle orbits. The atmosphere merges into space in the extremely thin exosphere. This is the upper limit of our atmosphere.

The girls’ spacecraft’s weather balloon popped at 78,000 feet, or about 15 miles into the atmosphere, which puts into the Stratosphere.

This picture above is the girl’s notes following their successful mission – inspiring! – from GeekWire

The Higher Up, the Lower the Pressure:

Atmospheric pressure is the pressure exerted by the weight of air in the atmosphere of Earth.  In most circumstances atmospheric pressure is measured by the hydrostatic pressure caused by the weight of air above the measurement point. On a given plane, low-pressure areas have less atmospheric mass above their location, whereas high-pressure areas have more atmospheric mass above their location. Likewise, as elevation increases, there is less overlying atmospheric mass, so that atmospheric pressure decreases with increasing elevation.

These girls took all of these factors into consideration when planning their weather balloon spacecraft.  It’s amazing what careful planning, passion, and ingenuity can do, even at a young age.

The girls – Rebecca and Kimberly Yeung – photo by GeekWire

Are You Smarter than a 9-Year-Old? Using Caine’s Arcade to Teach Probability

In this lesson, students build their own cardboard arcade games that are fun to play and allow them to compare and contrast theoretical and experimental probability. They learn to understand that probability is a chance event between 0 and 1, explore the concept of approximate probability, find the probability of compound events, decide if a specified model is consistent with results, and analyze strategies using probability concepts.

Vampires: Is There Truth to Their Legend?

In this lesson, students learn operations of real number exponents by using the current population to prove the existence or non-existence of vampires.

Students apply critical thinking and mathematical reasoning skills to develop their fluency in exponential growth (Grades 6-12 should be able to complete every step of the procedure. Some assessment items are more appropriate for high school only. See the listed standards for appropriate leveling).