STEM Beats - August 2014

Guest Blog: I.B.M. and S.T.E.M.

August 21, 2014

Grace Suh is Manager, Education, Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs with CTEq member company IBM (on Twitter, @gracesuh).

IBM and education go together like peanut butter and jelly.  While working with educators to improve schools is my great passion, education – particularly STEM education – doesn’t just matter to me. It matters to IBM. We need a constant flow of leaders and forward thinkers who can respond effectively to client demands, who can innovate to keep IBM competitive in the global economy, and who can help make the world a better place. 

With this in mind, IBM is investing in our future workforce through targeted education programs that impact everyone from the earliest learners to young people preparing for college and career to science and math teachers who could benefit from the expertise of the best in their fields.  Through our signature P-TECH grades 9 through 14 schools initiative, IBM, school districts and higher education are working together to reinvent American education. P-TECH graduates will complete their six-year programs with both a high school diploma and an industry-recognized, two-year postsecondary degree. Equipped with these degrees, graduates will be prepared for entry-level careers in the IT industry or to continue their educations. 

This is important because those with postsecondary degrees will have much better chances of making it to the middle class – having fulfilling careers, raising families and giving back to their communities.  A high school diploma alone just isn’t enough in the 21st century economy, and all too often limits people to the low-wage lives of the working poor.

IBM’s P-TECH schools in Chicago and New York City are delivering promising early results, and have attracted the attention of government and thought leaders from across the U.S. and around the world. President Obama praised our inaugural school in Brooklyn in two State of the Union addresses, and visited the school in October 2013. P-TECH has been the subject of a Harvard Business School case study, and has been profiled in a PBS NewsHour special and in a TIME Magazine cover story. By this fall, the P-TECH model will have scaled to 27 schools in Chicago, Connecticut, and New York – and this is just the beginning!

IBM employees provide much of the power behind P-TECH – volunteering as mentors and role models, and facilitating worksite visits and internships for students in the program. Contributing their time, professional expertise and personal energy, these IBMers are personifying IBM’s greater culture of service by serving the communities in which we live and do business.

Raising student achievement in the U.S. is going to take the coordinated efforts of schools, community groups, government, and business.  CTEq has provided IBM with a forum to share our work and learn new strategies to strengthen our efforts in helping to improve STEM education.  Today, more than 50 businesses are engaging the public-private partnerships needed to replicate the P-TECH model.  By sharing information and best practices, CTEq is fostering dialogue and prompting the actions that can help all businesses make education a priority.

Tags: guest blog, technology, K-12

New Poll Reveals More Bad News for CCSS

August 20, 2014

Today's annoucement of results from the annual PDK/Gallup poll on public education reveals troubling news about Common Core.  The poll, conducted by Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK), measures the attitudes of Americans toward public schools, both in their communities and nationally.  The results show that, overall, the public is satisfied with their neighborhood schools, but are less so nationally, with 51 percent giving schools a C.  

But perhaps the most troubling news out of the poll has to do with Common Core. On the one hand, the poll reveals that knowledge and awareness of CCSS went up from only one-third of respondents last year to 80 percent this year.  However, we've reported on the misinformation and myths surrounding CCSS so it's not particularly surprising that 60 percent of Americans surveyed oppose the standards.

Besides the proliferation of misinformation around the standards, another reason behind these waning attitudes toward CCSS may lie in a question about the biggest problems facing schools: less than 10 percent of all respondents reported that the most difficult challenge for local schools is addressing concerns about education standards. 

Interestingly, the Education Writers Association, which examined the Education Next poll results alongside the PDK/Gallp poll, noted that the standards are suffering from a branding problem, "the standards’ lackluster support may have more to do with toxic branding." Furthermore, according to the Education Next results:

When the words “common core” were removed from the question, 68 percent of the general public supported uniform national standards for schools, said Paul Peterson, a Harvard government professor and one of the Ed Next poll’s co-authors. Add “common core” back to the equation, and support plummets by 15 percentage points, to 53 percent.

“I do think the name has acquired a negative patina – if you don’t use the words ‘common core,’ people are as supportive as they were a year ago,” Peterson told EWA. “There is a feeling out there that there’s some federal dictation of textbooks material. That’s what the opponents are harping about, and they are making headway.”

As always, we'll keep bringing you the latest CCSS news, good or bad, coming across our desks.  For more on the converation around today's poll results, follow the hashtag #PDKPoll.

Tags: Common Core, standards, STEM & the states

STEM & Pop Culture

August 20, 2014

You can see STEM popping up in many popular places these days, and we hope it's a trend that continues because it seems to be causing a shift in the mindset that enjoying subjects like alegbra and physics makes you "uncool."

Now, in stores, books, music, online, and on TV, STEM is finding a home in pop culture and more people are discovering all of the fun to be had!  Prominent online sources of pop culture content like Upworthy and Buzzfeed are creating fun, sharable STEM tidbits that often go viral.  Recently, STEM even made it to primetime with the reboot of the Cosmos series, which received critical praise, a large weekly viewership, and amazing social engagement.  

Whatever the source, it's always a delight to on our favorite show or visit our favorite websites and see STEM front-and-center!

Kevin Delaney, Director of Visitor Experience at the Museum of Discovery, wows the audience of the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. 

Pop culture has been embracing STEM and making kids and adults alike rethink the preconceived notions we have about it.  The days of the "math geek" and "science nerd" are numbered, as students overcome peer pressures to explore the topics that fascinate them, like robotics or architecture.  It's even becoming easier to (literally) wear your love of STEM on your sleeve!

T-shirt designs from HUMAN that let you show off your sense of humor and love of STEM at the same time.

It's also great to see girls getting particularly encouraged to turn their STEM dreams into reality.  Female STEM role models and positive messaging in pop culture are spreading the word: STEM is for girls too!  Awesome programs like those in STEMworks focus especially on empowering girls to develop their STEM skills and one day bring them to an awesome STEM job.  Companies across varied industries are taking a close look at their diversity (or lack thereof) and are working to attract women to their STEM workforces.

Toy company GoldieBlox created the most STEMtastic Super Bowl ad we've ever seen and inspired girls to get into engineering!

We're happy to see that STEM attitudes are changing in the U.S. because generating excitement for subjects like math has proven difficult.  In fact, according to the latest STEMtistic on the subject, 30 percent of Americans reported that they would rather clean the bathroom than solve a math problem!  But if students get access to quality STEM classes in areas of interest like coding, app design, and engineering, their interests can go from curiosities to college majors or technical certificates and land them STEM careers that they love!

We understand that people don't necessarily view STEM as part of their everyday lives like we do here at CTEq.  But more and more, STEMthusiasts are making their voices heard, pop culture is carrying the message, and one thing is becoming clear -- science, technology, engineering, and math are really as cool as we think they are!

Tags: women & girls, science, math, video

CTEq's Staff Explores the BIG Maze

August 15, 2014

Recently, our staff took a summer outing to the National Building Museum and explored its exciting new exhibition, The BIG Maze.  Set inside the expanisve atrium of the museum, the 60 square-foot structure soars 18 feet into the air at the corners, but cascades down to just about waist-high as you move to the center.  

According to its creator, architect Bjarke Ingels, it was designed this way in order to "create a maze that brings clarity and visual understanding upon reaching the heart of the labyrinth."  No matter what the reason, we think it made for a pretty spectacular view from the inside:

Did you know?  If you place your right hand on the wall of a maze and never remove it as you journey through it, you will (eventually) make it through to the end?  That's a pretty a-maze-ing STEM survival tip!

The STEMness of the BIG Maze can be found in the study of topology, which examines the mathematical principles of continuity and connectivity.  Simply put, imagine examining a space (a house, for example) in terms of the ways you can divide it (rooms) and the elements that keep the parts connected to the whole (doors and hallways).  Now add layers and layers to that analysis (homes become neighborhoods and cities and so on!) and apply it to ideas about complicated sets of numbers and networks -- now that's topology!  

The BIG Maze as viewed from the second floor.  Can you see the path through the labyrinth?

But topology isn't just for math and maze lovers; it can be applied to enzyme behavior in biology, analyses of large data sets in computer science, and even in describing the shape of the universe!  If you live in Washington D.C. or will be visiting in the next few weeks, be sure to stop by the National Building Museum and take one (or more) journeys through one of the best mazes we've ever seen!  Also, share your pictures from the center of the BIG Maze with @changeequation and @BuildingMuseum using the hashtag #BIGMaze!

Tags: math

This Week in STEM: Shark Week, of course!

August 13, 2014

This week, all eyes are on the Discovery Channel for perennial favorite, Shark Week.  Naturally STEMbeats had to jump on the bandwagon and look at this fascinating species from a STEM perspective.  There's a lot  to learn about sharks -- and not just the stuff of movie legends.  Everybody knows the great white, but there are more than 400 species of sharks found in the world's waters.  The largest type of shark, the whale shark is a "filter feeder," which means it feels on algae, krill, and other small species in the water.  This gentle giant is known to be docile toward divers, and provide an incredible (and maybe shocking) up-close experience!

Our fascination with sharks may have begun with Jaws, but it's continued thanks to Shark Week and what we are learning about them.  Did you know that, in some cases, shark populations are actually decreasing?  This piece from Smithsonian magazine discusses some reasons why:

Demand for shark fins, often served in Asia as shark fin soup for wedding banquets, New Year’s festivities and government functions, skyrocketed for decades, leading to estimates of 100 million sharks being killed every year.  This translated to a loss of about 6 to 8 percent of all sharks annually, a rate that cannot be sustained by populations that typically only increase by about 5 percent a year.

But the news isn't all bad for our finned friends.  Conservation efforts and tourism have actually helped boost shark populations and preserve their habitats.  The article also notes:

In places where tourism is critical to the local economy, the realization that sharks are much more valuable alive than dead has also prompted legal protection. More than 30 percent of the Maldives’ economy is based on shark eco-tourism, and in Palau it was estimated that a shark that brings in $108 dead is worth $1.9 million alive over its lifetime. As a recent headline in the New York Times noted in a story about shark tourism on Cape Cod (not far from where most of Jaws was filmed): “They’re Going to Need a Bigger Gift Shop.”

Sharks mean business!  And despite what the movies may have told us, it is safe to go in the water -- and maybe learn a thing or two.  What are you most looking forward to about Shark Week?


Tags: This Day in STEM, video