STEM Beats - June 2014

This Month in STEM, World Cup Edition - Goal-Line Tech

June 26, 2014

Whether you’re an avid soccer fan or just like to tune in once every four years, it seems like everyone’s talking about the World Cup!  But it’s not just the action on the field that’s getting all the attention - the tech is also front and center. That’s because, for the first time, goal-line technology has been incorporated into the tournament, allowing officials and fans a more accurate determination of whether or not a goal has been scored.


Each of the twelve World Cup stadiums has been equipped with fourteen state-of-the-art, high-speed cameras that provide over 500 images per second, allowing for constant 3D monitoring of the ball’s position on the pitch.  Each shot is confirmed or denied as a goal within one second of the play and the verdict is relayed to the match official on smart watches.  

At first, this may not seem like a big feat - I mean, it’s in or it’s out, right? Wrong!  This technology must be able to determine down to the millimeter whether or not the ball has indeed crossed into the goal.

Other international soccer tournaments and sports like tennis and cricket have been using similar technology for some time - in fact, some use magnetic fields to determine whether a ball has crossed over a threshold! - but it’s only now that FIFA has approved its use in the World Cup.  While the adoption of instant replays has been slow to catch on in the sport, the inclusion of goal-line technology in this year’s tournament seems to have been embraced by soccer fans that want the right call made every time.

Besides the pinpoint accuracy of goal verification and the major design behind Brazuca, the official World Cup ball, there is a ton of new tech that has been introduced this year in the World Cup.  Check out more examples of how technology is revolutionizing the world’s most popular soccer event - cooling jerseys, vanishing spray, super boots, oh my! - and make sure to tune in next week for another look at the STEM behind the World Cup!

Tags: This Day in STEM, technology, video

In Memory of Donna Sterling

June 25, 2014

This week, the STEM education world lost a leading educator whose work is improving science education across the country.  Dr. Donna Sterling, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia, passed away on Tuesday after a long illness. We got to know her through VISTA, one of the nation’s most effective STEM learning programs, which is helping science teachers throughout Virginia dramatically raise their game. VISTA is a living testament to the power of Dr. Sterling’s work: It will benefit children for decades to come.

Tags: STEMworks

This Month in STEM, World Cup Edition - What are the odds?

June 20, 2014

We're back this week to take a look at the STEM behind the world's biggest soccer event, the World Cup, where 32 teams are currently vying for a chance to compete for the sport's greatest prize. 

With about a week left in the first round of play, statisticians are showing off their STEM prowess as more and more fans are asking, "What are the odds of my team moving on?" 

Here at CTEq, we've been following the matches and making predictions using some great interactive tools from companies like Bloomberg and FiveThirtyEight that combine the math of statistics and probability with the software engineering that represents all of these data is a fun, user-friendly visual format. 

Beyond that, resources like these tell the story behind the tournament's headlines, like why some of the former defending champions have already eliminated, but with a statistical twist - it kind of reminds us of CTEq's STEMtistics!

Thanks to sports and math enthusiasts that love to crunch the numbers and make projections based on data instead of hunches, there is so much exciting information that's keeping soccer fans on the edges of their seats and hopeful that their squads can hold on and make it to the Round of 16.

Brush up on all of the predictions for Day 9 of the tournament and read about which matches to watch and what to expect from the rest of the Group Stage. 

Interested in how the U.S. team is shaping up against Portugal when they go head-to-head on Sunday?  Check out the STEM stats behind the matchup.  And stay tuned for next week's post where we'll look at more of the STEM behind the World Cup!

Tags: This Day in STEM, math, computer science, STEMtistics

Putting our Rhetoric to the Test

June 17, 2014

For decades, Americans have paid lip service to the need for schools to teach higher-order skills like problem solving and critical thinking. Common Core State Standards in math and English are the nation’s first major effort to turn that rhetoric into reality. We can’t afford to back pedal.

Common Core is bringing one critical fact into very high relief: students have to work much harder to learn higher-order skills than rote skills, and that requires a long-overdue cultural shift from schools, students and teachers alike.

See, for example Saturday’s New York Times story about Chrispin Alcindor, a 9-year-old boy struggling to master the more challenging material that has become a staple of some New York classrooms since the state adopted Common Core. Before Common Core, the Times suggests, Chrispin was used to “spouting back basic facts” or memorizing multiplication tables. Now, he must “explain [his] calculations and solve modern-day problems,” which is far more challenging. Thank goodness for that.

Instead of blaming Common Core for her son’s struggles, Ms. Alcindor takes steps to help him reach the higher standards. She turns off the television, locks away the xBox, and institutes tutoring sessions on evenings and Saturdays. If more parents follow Mrs. Alcindor’s lead, Common Core will have a transformative effect on U.S. schools. Chrispin seems to make slow and steady progress. It’s hard and often heart-rending work, to be sure, but the alternative is to set him up for much more crushing failures later on in life.

Yet there is no guarantee that Ms. Alcindor’s reaction will be typical among parents. Even if states implement the new standards flawlessly, millions of students will struggle, and millions of parents will be shocked. Anti-Common Core zealots will seize on their shock to advance their own ends, and some craven politicians will go along.

That’s why state and local leaders in this country need to step up to the plate and publicly embrace the challenge. They need to reassure parents that their children have not lost ground but rather that the standards .

There is much more at stake here than just Common Core. We are finding out whether we as a nation have the grit to do the very hard work of raising our standards. Change the Equation believes that we do. Let’s not let prove us wrong.

Tags: Common Core

This Month in STEM, World Cup Edition - Brazuca

June 13, 2014

STEM and soccer fans, rejoice!  The World Cup kicked off yesterday in Brazil and the whole globe is tuning in to watch the tournament over the next month.  Soccer enthusiasts are known for their spirited support of their squads and favorite players, but all eyes are on real the star of this World Cup: the ball.

Nicknamed "Brazuca," this tournament's official ball is being heralded as the best yet.  Brazuca's popularity is due to its new design, which features some cool upgrades including six polyurethane panels and a rough texture on its surface that maximizes favorable spin, air speed, and aerodynamics. 

Designing the ball for a sporting event like the World Cup is no easy feat.  Over the years, designers have aimed at creating the perfect ball for the sport's biggest tournament, but they don't always succeed in creating a winner.  At the last games in South Africa, players lamented the tournament ball's performance on the field, which scientists believe flew unpredictably (almost supernaturally!) through the air because it was a "too perfect sphere."  The official term for the issue is called knuckling, or when "at zero or near-zero spin, the seams of the ball channel airflow in an usual or erratic manner making its trajectory unpredictable." 

Needless to say, designers at Adidas were not taking any chances this year.  Over 600 of the world's top players helped to test out the new design, which took an amazing two-and-a-half years to complete, making it the most tested ball ever by the company.  Altitude, temperature, air density, and a whole host of other climate-related factors were taken into account when determining how to make the best ball for the best players.  For a more in-depth look at STEM behind the design, check out this video where scientists examine it layer-by-layer under an electron microscope!

So whether you're rooting for the Brazilian home team or chanting "I believe that we will win!" with the Americans, keep an eye out for Brazuca flying across the pitch and into the goal!  We'll be back next week with more STEM-flying stats about the World Cup but, until then, make sure to follow Brazuca throughout the tournament on Twitter for the inside scoop on all of the soccer action and more details about its exciting new design. 

Tags: This Day in STEM, technology, video