Phase I Selection Complete

With a total of 48 topics proposed, we have narrowed our community’s submissions down to a final three:


Curli-Producing E. coli


Highland Christian School’s:

Genetically Modified Soy Bean Sprout


Whole Blood

Congratulations to the winners!  I’m so proud of the hard work that you put into your proposals.

P.S. We’re behind on the blog. We’ve been busy doing science!  I’ll try to get things updated soon!


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Mission Patch Design

We’re encouraging the Northwest Indiana community to become involved in our community’s participation in SSEP.  With that in mind, we are extending an invitation to participate in the Mission Patch Design Competition to all NWI members.

Click for more information.

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Metamorphosis of AASCC

We’re already two and a half months into the 2011-2012 school year!

Students that participated in STS-135 were able to take a look at their samples this summer.  Unfortunately none of their organisms maintained integrity, making it impossible for them to count the number of paramecium in each sample.  Discussions ensued regarding the hardiness of organisms for future space flight.

Speaking of future spaceflight, our students have now embarked on  experimental design competition portion of SSEP’s Mission 1 to the International Space Station!!!  Our consortium looks a little different this year as we extended opportunity to other independent, Northwest Indiana schools.  Avicenna Academy is collaborating with Forest Ridge Academy and Highland Christian School.

Our statement of works can be seen here.

Stay tuned for updates!

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Making it Official!

We received our certificate of flight authentication with our sample a few weeks ago.  I am looking forward to the return of our students so we may discuss our results in more depth and talk about our potential participation in the next round of SSEP.  I’m currently working on creating a collaboration here in Northwest Indiana.  I’m attempting to contact other private schools in an effort to build a private school science community, backed by the support I was able to secure during our participation of SSEP STS-135.  I’m also hoping to expand our network of professional scientists and professors to aid us on our journey.  If you are interested in having your student participate in the next round of SSEP as a member of the Avicenna Academy Science Community Collaboration, please contact me.

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Art & Science (Intuitive vs. Analytical)

Mae Jemison, US Astronaut, gave a talk at a TED conference in 2002.  She spoke on the importance of recognizing the need for a balance between art and science.  That’s today’s blog post topic as it’s an issue that was brought up at our FIT conference this past weekend.  Why is it that people feel that art and science are two completely separate and often opposite studies?

Dr. Jemison mentioned that art is intuitive and science is analytical and that society places an artificial schism between the two.  However, if you think of truly gifted artists or the most brilliant inventors and scientists, you will realize that they not only accepted but truly embraced both their intuitive nature and analytical tendencies in order to create.

As a scientist turned science educator, I see the importance of removing the societal tendency to separate the two.  We must find a way to encourage interest and fine-tune abilities and skills in both areas.

Dr. Jeff Goldstein, director of NCESSE and fearless leader of the SSEP STEM initiative, reminded us that vision without funding is hallucination.  Along the same vein, I believe that analysis without intuition is blind and intuition without analysis is frivolous.

There are huge bridges that need to be built in order to deliver quality educational experiences to this nation’s children.  Until we begin to use both intuition AND analysis in our educational policy decision-making, we will suffer the loss of greatness.  The time that we waste amplifies the loss.

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Reflections!…and limits?

I am currently in Kissimmee, Florida.  I drove down here earlier this past week to attend the final launch of the space shuttle Atlantis.  Two SSEP students, Amalia Hosken (my daughter!) and Heba Abuzer, rode down with me.  Two more SSEP students met us down here, along with their families…

I knew this experience would be memorable, but I had no idea how quickly the profundity of the situation would settle within our young students.  They did the work involved with SSEP and they did it with smiles on their faces.  In the beginning, I don’t think they truly grasped the magnitude of the experience because of their age.  That’s not a bad thing, by the way…

On Friday, the four SSEP students met up for the first time in Florida.  They wiped the sleep out of their eyes as I introduced them to Dr. Barret Caldwell, director of the Indiana Space Grant Consortium.  Without his assistance, we would not have been able to participate in this amazing program.  The girls knew who he was and were very excited to finally meet him.  They had previously sent him thank you cards, which he actually brought with him!!!  It was incredibly evident that his heart was in this project and in getting a piece of Indiana aboard the last ever space shuttle flight.

We arrived at KARS park, nearby the Kennedy Space Center, with four hours until launch.   People talked, played frisbee, wandered the facility and rested.  The excitement was palpable.  My crew, however, exhausted from non-stop activity since we left the great state of Indiana a few days earlier, napped in the van.  I attempted to sleep, but it was no use…due to cloud cover and potential storms, there was only a 30% chance of the launch actually happening that day and I was a nervous wreck.  I must have checked the news on my phone at least a hundred times in that four hour period.

After what seemed like an eternity, the time had arrived.  There was less than half an hour until launch and everything was looking like it was a go.  I woke up the kids and they reunited with our larger group.  We were ready and the countdown began…and, despite their being an initial failure at the T31 checkpoint, Atlantis blasted off.

I stood there, silenced by what I was seeing, and the SSEP students were jumping up and down, clapping and shouting and, I can admit it, I teared up.  I walked back into the air conditioned and relatively mosquito-free clubhouse and the students eventually followed.  They talked about how while they thought they’d be a little closer to the launch, it was “so cool” to see her go up.  Then one of the students turned to me, “what project are we going to do next year?”  It’s summer and they’re anticipating future work! 🙂

The day after the launch there was a scientific meeting held at the Florida Institute of Technology.  The SSEP communities converged to discuss our experiences and to talk about ways to improve SSEP and get the word out.  Two of Avicenna’s SSEP students attended the talk with me.  I didn’t attend my first science meeting until I was in my early 20s!  The fact that they had an opportunity like that was impressive.  And, the best part was that it wasn’t a typical science meeting/conference in that the attendees were not all (or even mostly) PhD level professionals in the field.  No.  The majority of the attendees were under the age of 18 and the next largest group were the parents of said students.  Teachers, scientists, and project partners were also present.  It was a wonderful mix of minds!

I’ve been asked several times this week to reflect on our experience with SSEP.  It’s difficult for me to be thorough when I’m so utterly exhausted (sleep has not been a priority on this trip!).  The truth is that the biggest feeling I have as a result of this project is hope.  I am proud of our students, no doubt.  I’m happy that our little school has been receiving so much recognition.  I’m excited to see the results of the students’ experiment.  In the end, though, I’m feeling hopeful that this project may be the beginning of a change in how this country views science education and, in fact, education as a whole.  The bottom line is that I have seen a change in my students’ motivation and depth of engagement.  I have seen them go from being passive learners to aggressively seeking out knowledge to help them in solving a problem at hand.  That’s what science is, by the way…

The word science is a derivative from the Latin “scientia” which means “knowledge”.  Science as a discipline, however, is the process of seeking out NEW knowledge.  Science should not just be viewed as a subject in school but rather as a way of life, a means of problem-solving, a path to getting to wherever it is we are trying to go.  While at the meeting yesterday, several people brought up the fact that too many educators are focusing on text books and what I call the “teacher’s edition” answers to problems.  We give kids text books, ask them to memorize vocabulary, toss a test at them and then wonder why it is none of our kids are passionate about learning.

So, I’m hopeful.  SSEP is a STEM initiative that engages students in a much different way than our country’s current educational system is accustomed.  I walked into a classroom and empowered students by telling them that we’re going to embark on a journey where they get to choose a problem that they want to solve and they get to determine a way to solve it.  I did not give them a step by step guide to follow and when we hit bumps in the road, the students themselves were responsible for navigating around them.  Ultimately this resulted in increased knowledge in several key scientific areas (biology, chemistry, physics) and in other areas such as mathematics and English (due to communication requirements).  My students range in age from 9 to 13 and they were operating on a level that approached and in some ways exceeded introductory college courses and instead of complaining about the work, they kept asking more questions and looking for more answers.  Excitement and motivation were fostered through empowering them.  I showed them that I believed in them.

I have never believed in limits.  While my parents may have disagreed when I was a child, I consider my fearless view a virtue that I want to imbue in today’s generation of students.  My students now understand and, I hope, someday will internalize my belief that the only limits that exist are the ones we place on ourselves.  And, since they’ve managed to put their intellectual property out into orbit prior to reaching the ripe old age of 14, I hope that they don’t ever doubt themselves enough to place limits on what they are capable of doing.

I hope.

(Student reflections will be coming in the next week or two.)

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T Minus 89 Hours

What progress!!!  Our SSEPers have worked hard to finish prepping their samples for flight.  We had a few hiccups in prep (real life science!!!!), but they were able to get back on track.  I have plenty of photographs to share, but for now I’ll leave you with these three:

We are fortunate enough to be having four SSEP students from our science community present at NASA’s last ever space shuttle launch.  Atlantis takes off at 11:26am EST from Florida and our student representatives and their families will be on ground, watching. 

Travel begins tomorrow and I hope to return with an exciting story and many pictures to share with you.  Here’s to hoping that there’s no delay in the launch!

…to be continued…

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AASCC visits Notre Dame (in pictures)

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School’s Out for Summer

Avicenna Academy’s school year has ended and our SSEP participants were able to get a small break before they were called back to duty.

This week we spent two days at the University of Notre Dame . Dr. Shaun Lee welcomed our students to the campus and introduced some new scientific laboratory equipment to the kids. The students learned the proper way to streak-plate bacteria and yeast in order to obtain the results they desire. They then had the opportunity to pellet the bacteria and yeast down, wash the samples and freeze them in preparation for flight in a couple of weeks!

It was another wonderful opportunity that was open to us because of our participation in this project. None of the students had ever visited the University of Notre Dame, so the size and beauty of the campus left an impact. As we returned to home, the students talked excitedly about the work they did, what they want to study in college and our upcoming trip to Florida to watch Atlantis take off for the last time.

Lab pictures coming soon…

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Avicenna Student Selected to Ask Former Astronaut a Question

In April, there was an event called Reaching for the Stars held here in Northwest Indiana. The goal was to increase awareness and interest in STEM education. Prior to the event, there was a contest held and the winners would have the opportunity to ask Captain Wendy Lawrence, former NASA astronaut, a question about her experience with space science and space travel. One of our students, who also happens to be a SSEP participant, was selected.

Click here to see Jenna at the Reaching for the Stars event

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