o The Frog Blog: January 2012

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Burmese Pythons Linked to Mammal Decline in Florida's Everglades

The increasing number of Burmese Pythons in the Florida Everglades is resulting in a dramatic drop in the numbers of small mammals in the area, a new study has revealed. A non native species, Burmese Python's have become one of the most dominant predators in the Everglades, devouring many small mammals like racoons and rabbits as well as larger mammals like bobcats and deer. There has even been cases of mammals attacking and eating aligators (with horrific effects).

The exact number of Burmese Pythons in the Everglades is unclear - over 900 were removed from the Florida's National Park in 2009 - but they have quickly become the dominant species there. Their presence was only first recorded in 2000 after many individuals bought the animals as pets and released them when they grew to their mammoth size (they are the 6th largest snake in the world and can grow up to 6m in length). Earlier this month, it was announced that there will soon be a ban on importing the pythons, but many feel it's too little too late. 

The new study, published in the journal 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Science' (PNAS), studied the numbers of mammals observed as road-kill in the 90's to similar statistics in the 00's. They found that the numbers of raccoons and opossums observed dropped by nearly 100% while there was a drop of over 94% in observations of white-tailed deer. The number of bobcats in the area is believed to have dropped by 87.5%. The study in the 90's found that rabbits were amongst the most common small mammal observed yet no rabbits were seen during the more recent road-kill survey. Many of these animals are known to graze on the water's edge, so may have been ambushed by the ferocious predator. The researchers also found that the declines in mammals coincided geographically with the spread of Burmese Pythons.

Suggested Pupil Activity: Find out more about the Burmese Python. Read Junior Frog Blog Reporter Lorcan Maule's essay on the world's sixth largest snake.

Choose Life, Choose a Job, Choose a Career, Choose STEM!

Choosing a third level course is an important decision and one that will have lasting effects on you and your career. As a Guidance Counsellor, I believe that decision is ultimately about finding a course / direction that suits your personality, aptitude and ability. However, it's also about looking to the future and about giving you the best opportunity to grow in your career. With the "official" closing date for CAO (Irish university applications) at 5:15pm tomorrow, my advice is to think STEM! 

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics and encompasses a wide range of training courses which help to develop critical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills. These skills are highly sought after and valued across a range of industries and a degree in science, engineering, technology or maths will provide a solid foundation for a future career. According to the IDA, the technology and science industries in Ireland are set to grow in the coming decade, providing well qualified young graduates with job opportunities. Saying that, the skills obtained while studying STEM subjects are highly transferable to other industries - areas that value critical thinking and analytical skills.

The Irish universities and IT's offer a wide range of STEM courses - at NFQ Level 6, 7 and 8. There is a STEM course for everybody and a quick search through Qualifax will help you find the STEM course for you. CareersPortal.ie has a brilliant section to help you find out more about STEM careers. You can explore hundreds of career possibilities through their website and view all the CAO courses in the STEM disciplines. There is also a large video library of people involved in STEM professions.

Let's face it - if you're studying for the Leaving Certificate this year, you are likely to face an extremely competitive jobs market in 5 years time. Choosing a STEM course will help you develop the skills that will help you get you that job - you will need to add a little bit of your other strengths to guarantee it's yours. 

Note: The closing date for normal CAO applications is tomorrow, however you don't need to finalise your course choices until much later. While the CAO system will shut for a few months, from early May you will be able to able to change your course preferences if you need - except restricted courses (including nursing) which need to be on your preference list by tomorrow.

Monday, 30 January 2012

UCD Physics Distinguished Speaker Series

To celebrate Dublin's "City of Science" status, the UCD Department of Physics and the RDS have organised a brilliant series of lectures over the coming months to whet your science appetite. They are bringing  some of the world's leading physicists to speak in Dublin about the latest developments in their fields of research. Here are some of the highlights:
  • February 14th - Metamaterials & the Science of Invisibility - Prof John Pendry (Imperial College) - RDS Concert Hall 
  • March 20th - The Moon That Thinks it's a Planet - Prof John Zarnecki (Open University) - RDS Minerva Suite 
  • May 15th - Lasers in the Fast Lane - Prof William Sibbett (St. Andrew's) - RDS Concert Hall
  • May 22nd - The Biological Physics of Sickle Cell Anaemia - Prof William A Eaton (National Institute of Health, USA) - RDS Merrion Room
All the talks have a 6pm kick-off time and are suitable for students aged 12 years and older. All of the talks are free but pre-booking is essential. For more information about these talks - and the UCD Science Summer School - visit their website here.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

YouTube Saturday - This is a Galaxy. Or is it?

Featured in the recent Stargazing Live series on the beeb, this excellent video shows how super-computers can be used to simulate how the universe works. Thanks to science teacher Lisa Darley for recommending this to us.

Friday, 27 January 2012

NASA Reveals Stunning New "Blue Marble" Image

NASA has released a new high definition composite image of our home - Planet Earth. Dubbed the new 'Blue Marble', the stunning image was taken from the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA's most recently launched Earth-observing satellite - Suomi NPP. This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth's surface taken on January 4, 2012. Click here for the ultra-high definition image.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Dublin City of Science 2012 Launches 'Festival of Science'

The varied members of Ireland's science community crammed in to the Convention Centre Dublin this morning to officially launch Dublin as the European City of Science 2012. Politicians, scientists, educators, science journalists, bloggers, policy makers and others were treated to a slick and inspiring launch, which genuinely created an air of excitement for the year ahead. The launch was MC'd by Irish comedian, TV presenter and science enthusiast Dara O'Briain (with whom I had a great chat to about science blogging and the nature of effective science programming), who spoke of his love of science and what it means for him to act as a science ambassador for Dublin City of Science 2012. He was joined on stage by Patrick Cunningham (Chief Science Advisor to the Government), Richard Bruton (Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation), Seán Sherlock (Junior Minister in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation), Aoibhinn Ni Shúilleabháin (Dublin City of Science 2012 Ambassador) and Andrew Montague (Lord Mayor of Dublin & former Veterinary scientist). Each spoke with passion on what the City of Science title meant to them and of the 160 events planned during the "celebration of science" to come over the next 11 months.

So what of these 160 events? Many of these will centre around the excellent science hub that is Science Gallery. Their 2012 programme of events is jam-packed with a brilliant range of exhibitions including Happy, Hack the City & the Dublin Maker Faire. But that's not all. This year's St. Patrick's Day Festival will have a science theme, 'Future Visions' & 'Amaze Your Head' will explore science using film, the Ark Project will fuse art and science through a series of programmes, 'Arcade Science' will bring science images to building gables and billboards and the National Concert Hall will present the 'Icarus: At the Edge of Time' - a musical adaptation of Brian Greene's book.

In July of this year Dublin's Convention Centre will play host to the European Science Open Forum (ESOF) - a biennial pan-European meeting dedicated to scientific research and innovation. It is expected that over 5000 scientists, business leaders, senior EU and Irish government officials and the science media will come together over the week in what is an extremely full programme of events. Some of the key-note speakers confirmed are top-drawer and include Rolf-Deiter Heuer (Director General of CERN), Craig Venter (the first man to create synthetic life forms), Jean Jacques Dordain (Head of ESA), three Novel Laureates (Peter Doherty, Jules Hoffman & James Watson), Mary Robinson, Bob Geldolf as well as giants of Irish science like Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Additional confirmed speakers include Bruce Albert (Editor of Science), Phil Campbell (Editor of Nature), Deborah Blum (former Pulitzer Prize winner), Ed Yong (Science Blogger at Not Exactly Rocket Science) and Dara O'Briain. ESOF 2012 is truly set to inspire, amaze and put Ireland firmly at the centre of world science.

The only word that comes to mind is WOW! The Dublin 2012 team deserve so much credit for creating such a full and enthralling programme of events, not only for the week of ESOF but for the whole year. Now it's over to you - the public (from 1 to 100) - to engage with the programme of events and discover that science is not boring but a truly wonderful field that can entertain and excite. I have no doubt you will. As a science educator, I hope I the programme of events will help to encourage more students to science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, both at second level and third level. 

This is a wonderful opportunity for Dublin and Ireland and I can't wait for the events to begin! Visit the Dublin City of Science Website for more information or follow them on Twitter!

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Nano-particle Vaccine Booster

Researchers from Duke University in the US have engineered tiny nano-particles which help boost the effects of vaccines in the lymph nodes of mice. The nano-particles resemble structures called granules which are released from mast cells (pictured above). Mast cells are found in the skin and help fight infection. They produce granules to communicate directly to the lymph nodes, making the immune response more effective. The mast cell granules contain a chemical called tumour necrosis factor (TNF) which help them move to the lymph nodes. The scientists' new nano-particles also contained TNF - meaning it would mimic the granules behaviour.

To make vaccines more effective, medical researchers commonly add a "adjuvant" -  a substance used to help boost the immune response. Most of these are chemical based and are believed to only enhance immunity at the site where the vaccine is injected - rather than going to the lymph nodes, where the most effective immune reactions occur. These new particles do move to the lymph nodes, making them more effective than their chemical cousins.

In the study, the team of researchers exposed vaccinated mice to lethal levels of flu virus. They found that the vaccinated mice were able to fight off the disease and had an increased survival rate than those that did not have the nano-particle boosted vaccine. 

The researchers outline how their nano-particles could used different signalling molecules (other than TNF) for different disease causing agents (like viruses or bacteria) that might require a different immune response. The results of the study are published in the journal Nature Materials.

Suggested Pupil Activity: Find out more about how nano-particles can or could be used in medicine. Here's a good place to start.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

ISTA PharmaChemical Ireland Teacher Awards 2012

The Irish Science Teachers Association have just announced details of the 2012 ISTA PharmaChemical Ireland Teacher Awards. The award is used to recognise teams of science teachers who do significant work in encouraging the uptake of science in their schools. Nominations are made by school principals with application forms available on the ISTA website and completed forms should be emailed to Tamara Lyons. The closing date for applications is Friday the 30th March. All applications forms received will be assessed by a judging panel consisting of representatives from PharmaChemical Ireland and the ISTA

The top three teams will be invited to participate in a seminar entitled “Encouraging the Uptake of Science Subjects at Second Level”. This seminar will be held in Trinity College, Dublin on Saturday 21st April (during the ISTA Annual Conference) where each team will present a 10 minute overview on the work done in their school to encourage the uptake of science subjects. All three teams will be presented with their prizes at the annual ISTA Conference dinner in the Alexander Hotel on Saturday 21st April. First prize is valued at €1,200 with Runner-up prizes to the value of €600.

YouTube Saturday - Japanese Giant Hornet

Today's science themed YouTube Saturday video goes back to nature - specifically how nature can oft-times be deadly! The Japanese Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia japonica) is a large insect, typically around 4cm long with a wingspan of 6cm, found in the Japanese Isles. It has a large yellow head with large eyes, and a dark brown thorax with an abdomen banded in brown and yellow. It generally feeds on other smaller insects - typically crop pests - and are seen as beneficial to agriculture. However, they also can prey on domesticated honey bees, sometimes killing thousands in a brief period. The video below shows how 30,000 honey bees are killed by just 30 hornets in a few hours. The Japanese Giant Hornets also have particularly strong venom and their sting is said to excruciatingly painful. In fact, over 40 people die every year from anaphylactic shock induced by hornet stings making it the most deadly animal in Japan!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Engineers Week 2012

Engineers Week 2012 runs from February 27th to March 4th, celebrating the wonderful world of engineering in Ireland through a comprehensive programme of events for the general public. The aim of the week is to create a positive awareness and spark enthusiasm about the engineering profession to people of various ages with little or no engineering background. 

There are loads of ways to get involved. There is a wide range of events running during the week including a national engineer volunteer day, and some great competitions (you can win a trip to NEMO in Amsterdam simply by participating in an event). Schools are also actively encouraged to get involved and can use the website resources to organise quizzes, host events, download activity sheets, download posters or simply find out more about engineering. Individuals and organisations can also submit their events for inclusion in the programme.

Since its inception in 2006, Engineers Week has grown in popularity with over 17,000 taking part in activities nationwide last year. The week is coordinated on a national basis by Engineers Ireland as part of the STEPS programme. Go on, get involved.

Also check out the brilliant Smart Futures competition for young digital creators!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Put Your Thinking Caps on for Google Science Fair 2012

The BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition is nearly over for another year (boooo) but never fear, there is still a place for you to stretch your brain (yayyy!). Last week Google launched their 2012 Science Fair, asking students from all over the world "what's your question?". And that's all science really is, a quest to answer the questions that niggle on my minds. The online science competition seeks curious young minds, from 13 to 18, to come up with original, creative projects which try to answer those questions. Google knows that not every genius get A's and the Science Fair is open to everyone - "mavericks, square-pegs and everybody who likes to ask questions"

The Google Science Fair website has everything you need. There are some top tips to ensure your submission is successful, essential "dos and dont's", full details on how the project will be judged and a massive section with all the help and resources you will need.. (The short video below will explain the process too). There is also a dedicated toolkit for teachers on how to get the best from your students.

There are some excellent prizes on offer too, from Google Chromebooks for regional winners to trips to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic Expeditions, scholarships from Google (up to $50,000 for the overall winner) and work experience opportunities in CERN, LEGO or Google.

So get your thinking caps on, starting thinking of your question and register online now!

YouTube Saturday: The Symphony of Science

Symphony of Science is musical project designed to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form. The project has produced twelve full length music videos to date, each focusing on a different scientific principle. The video featured below delves in to the quantum world, a musical investigation into the nature of atoms and subatomic particles. The video features Morgan Freeman as well as some of the world's greatest science communicators including Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, Brian Cox, Richard Feynman, and Frank Close. Visit the Symphony of Science website for downloads & more videos! You might not hear it in your local nightclub or on the radio, but I think it's funky!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Heroes of Irish Science - Jocelyn Bell-Burnell

The Irish Times today began a new series of articles on the Heroes of Irish Science. The first looks at the life and works of the Irish astronomer Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, who discovered pulsar stars, and is written by Ronan McGreevy.

THE ASTRONOMER Jocelyn Bell-Burnell is one of Ireland’s most accomplished scientists. While still a research student she discovered pulsars and went on to become a distinguished scientist who made important astronomical discoveries.

She is a true hero of Irish science for her many accomplishments and for her ongoing contribution to a better public understanding of science. Her discovery of pulsars is one of the famous stories in science and it is also one of the most infamous.

In 1967 Jocelyn Bell was a 24-year-old PhD student from Belfast, reading radio astronomy at Cambridge University and examining newly-discovered quasars (quasi-stellar radio sources), incredibly bright and incredibly compact structures of light and energy at the centre of galaxies. She spent months reviewing print-outs from a radio telescope when she noticed small rhythmic blips on the paper one night in July.

The blips turned out to be signals from a radio source which had never been conceived before, let alone discovered. At first it was called – half in jest, half with a nod to the remote possibility that they might be signals from intelligent alien life forms – Little Green Man 1 (LGM-1).

World's Smallest Frog Discovered

Researchers have discovered the smallest species of frog, and indeed vertebrate (or back boned animal), during a recent field study in Papua New Guinea. Paedophryne amauensis measures measures just 7.9mm from head to tail making it no bigger than a house fly (and two could fit across a smartie!). The newly discovered species lives amongst the leaf litter, perfectly adapted to its environment by its minuscule size. The researchers discovered the tiny frog species after collecting some lead litter and putting it in a bag.

Up until very recently the smallest frog species was believed to be the Brazilian Gold Frog, found only in the forests of Rio de Janeiro.The Paedophryne genus was only discovered in late 2011 and one must feel bad for Fred Kraus and his research team whose newly discovered species of tiny frog only held the title of smallest amphibian for a mere month. The new species, discovered by a group of researchers from various US institutions and led by Chris Austin from Louisiana State University, have a large surface area for their size and are prone to drying out. These frogs are not equatic and must stay in their moist leafy environment to avoid dehydration. They are likely a target for predators too, even large insects like scorpions, but their role in the ecosystem is obviously important as the numbers are high. Unusually the tiny species also doesn't have a tadpole stage either allowing them develop in the relative safety of the damp forest floor.

The results of the study are published in the Plos One Journal. Ed Yong has more information on the newly discovered amphibian. Click here to read.

Suggested Pupil Activity: Why not find out about the world's largest frog. Here's a good place to start.

Holy Crap!! Close the Toilet Lid to Prevent Spreading Harmful Bacteria

Flushing the toilet with the lid open can cause the spread of harmful bacteria, according to a new study by the Microbiology Department at Leeds General Infirmary in the UK and published in the International Journal of Hospital Infection. The bacteria in question is Clostridium difficile, a bacteria which can cause severe cases of diarrhoea.

The researchers used faecal suspensions of C.difficile, to measure the levels of the bacteria in the air and on surfaces (like towels, sinks etc) after flushing the toilet. To compare, they used both lidless and lidded toilets.

They found that air samples 25cm above a lidless toilet, which is about the height of the handle, contained the harmful bacteria, with the highest numbers coming from samples taken immediately after flushing. As one might expect, they also found that flushing the toilet with the lid on reduces the spread of the bacteria - by as much as twelve times!

Outbreaks of C. difficile in hospitals have caused several fatalities, including seven cases in Irish hospitals since 2007. C.difficile can be difficult to control in a hospital setting and they can linger on practically any surface.

The researchers conclude by suggesting that lidless toilets not be used in hospitals and other healthcare facilities in future to reduce the spread of the potentially harmful bacteria.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Irish Times BANG Science Monthly #8

BANG is back (with a bang). The Irish Times science monthly, aimed specifically at teens of all ages, returns just as the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition kicks off. Packed full of brilliant articles on what is happening in the world of science right now, BANG is a great read for any science enthusiast. In this issue Shane Hegarty looks at the spectacular space images snapped from a backyard in Dublin, Marie Boran looks at the scale of the universe, John Holden brings us some more "screen science", Aaron Meridith looks at what's been going on this month in science and there's a great look-back at some former winners of the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition and what they're doing now. Also in this edition, yours truly investigates when will they invent the invisibility cloak and Claire O'Connell looks at the science of Beyonce!

It's another jammed packed edition and it's free in today's Irish Times! You can also follow BANG on Twitter or Facebook - go on, get some science in to you!

When will they invent ... Invisibility Cloaks?

THEY HELPED Frodo Baggins escape the attentions of the eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings , and the young wizard, Harry Potter, dash past Prof Snape in Hogwarts. But when will invisibility cloaks escape from fantasy and enter reality?

Amazingly, that time might be closer than you think. Almost everyone has dreamed of becoming invisible, of sneaking around undetected from parents, friends or teachers. Engineers dream of cloaking buildings, maintaining the public’s view of the countryside or seaside, while military folk hope for invisible soldiers, tanks or fighter jets.

There are thousands of applications for invisibility cloaks but how would they work? Scientists across the globe have been putting their thinking caps on and have come up with a few possible ways of making someone or something invisible.

In the last issue of Bang, we revealed how carbon nanotubes might form part of a future space elevator. These amazing materials are extremely thin (just an atom or so thick), extremely light, stronger than steel and are excellent heat conductors. They are also a possible material for invisibility cloaks. Last year scientists in Texas were able to make a sheet of carbon nanotubes invisible by heating them up very quickly. They did this by utilising the mirage effect. Most people experience the mirage effect in deserts, seeing a puddle of water where no water exists. This mirage effect is caused by the severe heat difference between the very hot sand and the cooler air surrounding it. The sharp difference in temperature causes the light around to bend or refract. The desert wanderer actually sees a puddle of sky and not the longed-for oasis and must trundle on in search of that drink.

The scientists in Texas placed the carbon nanotube sheet in a petri dish of water and heated the sheet using electricity. The heat quickly transferred to the water, creating a mirage and making the sheet invisible. (See the video below) However, carbon nanotube sheets are not likely to yield fully functional invisibility cloaks just yet, but the Texas experiment demonstrates the potential of this fledgling technology. The more likely source of a functional invisibility cloak comes from research on metamaterials – artificial substances not found in nature.

Metamaterials are unique combinations of two or more substances – not chemically combined but physically combined – that have a surface size smaller than the wavelength of light.
Metamaterials are normally made by adding loops or circles of metal, usually copper or gold, to another material, e.g. a fabric of silk. The effect is that some physical properties of the fabric can be changed, including one called the refractive index.

All natural substances have a positive refractive index but some metamaterials have a negative refractive index, meaning they seem to bend light waves in a different direction to normal materials. In theory this could make some metamaterials invisible. This all sounds crazy, but scientists have created a number of metamaterial fabrics which are able to bend certain wavelengths of light around them. So far they haven’t been able to bend visible light, only larger waves like microwaves, but the research proves that metamaterials have the potential to bend visible light and could help us make that invisibility cloak. So, invisibility cloaks might not be around soon enough to make your Christmas list next December but, with advances in nanotechnology and more research in to metamaterials, you might not have to wait too long for some invisible mischief.

Get Inspired at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition

The opening ceremony of the 48th BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition gets under later today at the RDS, launching the largest event of its kind in the world. (The opening ceremony will be streamed live on the RTÉ news website) This year BT received record numbers of entries (over 1700) from over 350 schools from all 32 counties and the first round of judges have whittled these down to the top 550 which will present their findings on the exhibition floor. The event will attract thousands of visitors during the week who are sure to be amazed by the continually high standard of projects on show. The students will be judged in four categories (Biology & Ecological Sciences, Chemical & Physicalal Science, Social & Behavioural Science & Technology) and in three age groups (Junior, Intermediate & Senior). The winning project will take home a cheque for €5000, a trophy and the honour of representing Ireland at the European Young Scientist Exhibition later in the year. (Incidentally, last year's young scientist winner, Alexander Amini, also won the top European prize in September for his use of sensors to analyse a person's movement as they played tennis).

The BT Young Scientist Technology Exhibition at the RDS, opens to the public on Thursday morning at 9:30am and runs until Saturday afternoon. Tickets can be bought at the door, €12 for an adult, €6 for concession/student and €25 for a family of two adults and up to three children. Teachers can find out all they need to know about booking a school trip to the exhibition here. For more information visit the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition website and be sure to check out their "Get Inspired" section - it's brilliant!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

New Horned Snake Discovered in Tanzania

Scientists have discovered a previously unknown species of snake during a recent biological survey in Tanzania. A species of bush viper, the new snaked goes by the name of Matilda's Horned Viper (Atheris matildae), and is described as having hornlike scales above its eyes and measuring approximately 60cm in length. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) researchers who conducted the survey named the new species after the daughter of study co-author Tim Davenport, the director of WCS's Tanzania Program.

The brightly coloured viper is only found in a small stretch of remote forest in a mountainous region in south-west Tanzania. The area is already severely degraded as a result of logging and charcoal manufacture, and the quality of the habitat in continuing to decline, according to the study authors.

The researchers have kept the exact location of the snake's habitat a secret to protect the species from poachers who illegally hunt rare exotic animals. Animal trafficking is big business in Tanzania and this rare snake could easily be sold as pets. Poaching is a major threat to wildlife in Africa, more so than disease or deforestation. The new species is soon to be classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The discovery of Matilda's Horned Viper is described in the December issue of the journal Zootaxa.

Ruairí Quinn Launches SAILS - A "New" Approach to Science Education

Today the Minister for Education & Skills Ruairí Quinn launched a new €3.75 million programme for science teaching and learning. Dubbed SAILS, which stands for "Strategies for Assessment of Inquiry Learning in Science", the new programme aims to promote the sciences in second level by training teachers to impart critical thinking and analytical skills to their students. The programme will see thirteen partner organisations and higher education institutes from twelve EU countries cooperate to formulate new strategies in teacher training to develop these skills and ultimately improve the number and quality of students studying science, technology, engineering & maths (STEM) subjects at third level.

While I am always glad to see new thinking (and funding) in the realm of science education, and equally delighted to see companies like Intel take an active interest in second level education, I am struggling to see what exactly is new about this! I would also love to know how the €3.75 million will be spent, what way will the training be given, who will give the training and over what time scale? I don't necessarily agree with the sentiment that science teachers don't currently impart critical thinking or analytical skills to their students, but if this is true then the State Examinations Commission must take some of the credit. They have continually produced examinations that promote regurgitation of facts rather than the ability to think critically. Teachers must work within a system that is flawed. If Ruairi Quinn is serious by improving the levels of critical thinking amongst second level schools then significant changes to how science is assessed will yield tangible results.

Smart Futures Competition for Schools

Smart Futures, a national campaign for the promotion of careers in information and communication technology (ICT), are holding a brilliant competition asking second level students in Ireland to create a piece of digital media. The theme of the digital content is “Smart Futures” but students can interpret the theme whichever way you wish. 

The competition is open to all second-level students living in and attending school in Ireland and only individual entries are allowed. There are eight categories (animation, audio, game, mobile app, podcast, tech article, video or website) and you can enter as many categories as you like, but only one submission will be allowed per category. There are some excellent prizes up for grabs including an Xbox Kinect, smartphones, HP laptop, iPad, Samsung Home Cinema and lots more. There are even student work experience placements with top ICT companies on offer. If you're a teacher why now download a Smart Futures Competition Poster for your school here.

Smart Futures is a national campaign for second-level students in Ireland highlighting career opportunities in information and communications technology (ICT) in association with e-Skills Week 2012. As well as this brilliant digital media competition, there is also an online careers fair from 23-27 January 2012. Their website is regularly updated with career stories, weblinks, videos and other smaller competitions. Visit smartfutures.ie for more information or follow @Smart FuturesIE on Twitter.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

YouTube Saturday: Why the World Won't End in 2012

Ok, I've some bad news ..... the world will not end in 2012. There I said it. I know that's going to upset loads of people but, personally, I'm happy with how this might pan out. It will mean, for one, at least another year of the Frog Blog (Arrrggghhhh .... RUN)! So, why won't the world end this year? Well watch and find out for yourself ......

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Collaborative Learning at CoderDojo

Science Gallery is hosting a cool hangout for teens interested in computer coding. The CoderDojo is a club for young people, held every Saturday afternoon, that "puts the real power of the internet and technology in the hands of the Irish youth". It's a great opportunity for young people to come together and learn more about coding, web and app design and, of course, to have some fun! The idea is to share what you are doing and to learn from each other! The Dojo is open to anyone aged 10 to 18 and you'll need to bring a laptop (if you have one) and lunch. Anyone below the age of 16 will need to be accompanied by a parent!

CoderDojo's are held in several locations around the country: in Kerry; Cork; Kinsale; Limerick; Drogheda and in Dublin's Science Gallery. There is also a dojo planned for London! To find out when and where your next session is occurring visit their website. The next CoderDojo in Science Gallery takes place this Saturday, January 7th, from 12:30pm to 3:30pm. Those interested are asked to pre-register on the Science Gallery website. We'd love to hear from people involved in CoderDojo. Leave a comment below and share your experience!

IASTA 'Farming with Nature' Poster Competition

The Irish Agricultural Science Teachers' Association have launched a new poster competition for students of Leaving Certificate Agricultural Science. There are some great prizes on offer, for both the winning student and their school! Entrants are asked to produce an A3 poster detailing “How can we, as farmers, protect water quality & in-stream biodiversity?”. This is IASTA's second competition with an eye on biodiversity recognising water quality as key to many biodiversity issues. The competition is looking for interesting ideas from students on how we can safeguard surface and ground waters that run through and around our farms?  Entries will be marked 75% on original written content and 25% on creative use of supporting graphics/images. Extra marks will be awarded for entrants who demonstrate practical solutions which are relevant to their own locality !

The closing date for receipt of entry is January 31st with the winners being announced in February in the Farmer's Journal. This competition is organised in association with  Biodiversity Policy Unit at National Parks & Wildlife Service, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Coomhola Salmon Trust

For more information and to download the application form and competition poster visit the IASTA website.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Happy New Year

The Frog Blog has been very quite over the past few weeks - frankly I needed time to recover from a crazy December - but January is here and the turkey withdrawal symptoms are finally gone and I'm looking forward to seeing what 2012 has to offer. With Dublin now officially the European City of Science, 2012 is already shaping up as a inspiring science blogging year. Fingers crossed. Happy new year!