STEM Beats - November 2015

STEMtistic on Display: Making Gains in Math

November 24, 2015

There are good things to celebrate in STEM, and the gains made by Latino students are chief among them. The percentage of Latino students who lack basic math skills has fallen significantly since 1992.

Source: The Education Trust, The State of Education for Latino Students, June 2014.

Tags: STEMtistics, math, minorities

STEM at the Thanksgiving Table

November 23, 2015

Arguably the best food holiday of the year is nearly upon us. Our stomachs are gurgling with anticipation of all the turkey, mashed potatoes, and other treats that will grace our tables this Thursday. But we couldn't let the holiday pass us by without diving into the STEM behind the perfect Thanksgiving meal.

Over on the Steve Spangler Science Blog, there's a detailed explanation of the perfect turkey. From examining the anatomy of the bird to a closer look at how moisture and even the perfect pan, the blog has the scoop on what can make a difference to your bird's tender perfection. Nothing is worse than a dry bird, so the blog recommends brining, "It does give the turkey extra flavor and moisture." And if you ever wondered about the difference between light and dark meat, the blog's got you covered: "Turkeys can fly, but usually only use it to escape predators. The muscles produce a lot of power and fatigue quickly. The breast should be cooked at a high temperature to bring out flavor and for a short time to keep it from drying out." And for dark meat, "Turkeys spend a lot of time walking on the ground. The leg muscles are made of red muscle fibers that are adapted for regular and continuous use. The protein uses oxygen to relax/contract so this tissue is rich in capillaries, which give it a deep color and rich flavor. Dark meat contains a lot of myoglobin and is rich in mitochondria, which produce energy for the muscle tissue. . . The dark meat should be cooked at a lower temperature for a much longer time to allow the connective tissue to break down."

Once you've got the turkey settled, it's time to take a look at the sumptuous side dishes. Our friends at Science Buddies have an experiment you can do at home to craft the perfect mashed potatoes. The project helps cooks, "investigate the effect of cooking time and mashing method on the consistency of one type of potato." If you're at all concerned about the health of your Thanksgiving meal (according to the nonprofit Calorie Control Council, "the average American may consume more than 4,500 calories and a whopping 229 grams of fat" in a typical Thanksgiving meal), cranberries are the way to go. Science Daily notes, "researchers have found that compounds in cranberries are able to alter E. coli bacteria, which are responsible for a host of human illnesses, in ways that render them unable to initiate an infection." How's that for good holiday news?

What's Thanksgiving without the venerable seasonal star, pumpkin pie? Would you believe that there's actually "pie-o-physics" involved in perfecting a pie? For more on that, we've got advice from former White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses. "Pumpkin pie filling is closer on the pastry evolutionary tree to flan or custard. Baking one requires some special considerations, according to Yosses." He said, "The eggs coagulate to form a silken smooth network. The egg proteins shrink as they cook, and you need to stop the process at the right time.” So, in order to avoid overcooking, Yosses advises, "lower the bottom of pie dish into cold water for about 30 seconds right after taking it out of the oven (take care not to splash water or burn yourself). This will stop the protein threads from continuing to cook." Sounds like delicious, delicious science to us. One final tip, prebake the crust before filling to achieve maximum flakiness.

If that doesn't prep you for super-STEM enjoyment of your holiday meal, we don't know what will. For more ways you can explore STEM and Thanksgiving, check out American Chemical Society's primer on the chemistry of Thanksgiving food. Want to play with your food? Left Brain Craft Brain has some activities you can do with your favorite Turkey Day treats. And whatever you do, have a wonderful (and filling) Thanksgiving!

STEMtistic on Display: Middle-skill Tech Jobs Multiply

November 17, 2015

It’s no secret that tech pays off. In fact, middle skill jobs in tech are growing significantly faster than those that don’t require tech skills. With Computer Science Education Week just around the corner, now might be just the right time to start developing your tech skills.

Source: Burning Glass and Capital One, Crunched by the Numbers: The Digital Skills Gap in the Workforce, March 2015.

Tags: STEMtistics, technology

Teaching STEM Effectively

November 16, 2015

Many students in schools across America are currently faced with STEM teachers who lack the knowledge and resources needed to teach their students effectively. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, only 30 percent of eighth graders are taught by math teachers with undergraduate degrees in the field. To discuss this problem as well as solutions for the future, the American Chemical Society recently hosted a congressional briefing on Teaching STEM Effectively, part of its Science and the Congress Project and CTEq was there. Laura Pence, Ph.D. a professor of chemistry at the University of Hartford, moderated the panel of speakers. Check out some of the lessons learned at the event:

A teacher’s perspective
Barbara Sitzman, a retired chemistry teacher from Chatsworth High School in Los Angeles, spoke about how connecting with other teachers after beginning her career helped her feel less isolated and teach more effectively. She emphasized the importance of teachers interacting with peers in order to think more creatively and discuss ideas.

Problems in teaching
CTEq CEO Linda Rosen spoke to the dire lack of adequately prepared STEM teachers in schools across the country. Less than half of all eighth graders have science teachers with an undergraduate major in science. Additionally, many teachers say they do not have most or all of the resources they need to teach science or math. Diversity in teaching is also an issue – while 40 percent of public school students were black or Latino in the 2011-12 year, only 13 percent of their math teachers were.

Rosen also spoke about STEMworks, CTEq's honor roll of high-quality STEM education programs, as solutions to this issue – many STEMworks programs are focused on teacher preparation. She also spoke about Change the Equation’s recently updated Vital Signs website, which displays national and state-level information about teachers, student performance, and preparedness for STEM college courses and careers -- and connects that data to the solutions provided in STEMworks.

Innovative teacher preparation
Mary Ann Rankin, Ph.D., talked about The UTeach Institute, a STEMworks program and prime example of a program that is preparing future STEM teachers for success. While working as the Dean of the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, Rankin helped create the UTeach program for undergraduate students to prepare them for careers as math and science teachers.

UTeach trains and supports future teachers while preparing them for success – it integrates a rigorous math and science major, research experience, field work, and inquiry-based teaching. The four-year program ensures that students participate in intensive field experiences and are adequately prepared to teach students. The UTeach Institute is also working towards more diversity in teaching – 35 percent of the participants at the University of Austin are Hispanic or African American, and 66 percent of the graduates teach in schools with a majority of economically disadvantaged students. UTeach has been so successful that it is now being replicated in partnership with NMSI in 44 universities across 22 states.

Empowering teachers through partnerships
Dr. Jamie Curtis-Fisk, Ph.D, of Dow Chemical Company spoke to the importance of empowering teachers through industry partnerships. Curtis-Fisk is an R&D Scientist for Dow and a Program Leader for the Dow STEM Ambassadors program, which connects employees to classrooms and teachers to foster learning through STEM volunteerism.

When Dow set out to assess what teachers need, they found that many of them lack curriculum support and real world connections – the Dow STEM Ambassadors help provide STEM teachers with both. To provide additional help and develop resources like lesson plans for teachers, Dow relies on partnerships with top science and education groups like the Smithsonian Science Education Center. Dow is a founding sponsor of the American Association of Chemistry Teachers to invigorate chemistry learning throughout the country and provide support to their teachers.  

Dow STEM Ambassadors also visit classrooms to work with students hands-on in related activities and inspire them to consider STEM careers in the future. The program aims to reach one billion people in the coming years. 

To learn more about the state of STEM in your area, visit the Vital Signs website. And to read about STEMworks programs like The UTeach Institute, visit STEMworks.

Guest Blog: Andrea Kimberlin, Miss Kentucky International 2016

November 12, 2015

How did you first discover your interest in STEM?
I grew up playing a lot of video games with my stepfather to help us bond since my mother remarried when I was 5 years old. Although I started with Tetris on the original NES, I was playing computer games regularly by 5th grade. As a Computer Programmer, my stepfather began repairing and building computers when I was young. I found all of it fascinating; I’d watch and try to help him so I could learn. I never stopped tinkering with computers after that; by the time I graduated high school I was building computers on my own and could troubleshoot basic issues.

What experiences led you to a career in technology?
My mom jokes that I was destined to work in IT because both of my parents are tech savvy and currently work in IT related fields; my stepfather is a Computer Programmer and my mom is an Auditor who focuses on data security. However, a class I took in high school had a greater impact on my career path. When I was in high school I decided to take a computer class at a vocational school for an entire year. I needed the credits to graduate and I had already developed an interest in computers after learning about the different computer components and how to troubleshoot them, plus I no other classes were appealing. In this class I learned more about the hardware components of a computer as well as basic networking. My experiences at the vocational school confirmed my decision to study Computer Science in college. I figured it was an area that I was passionate about and the job market was fairly decent, so why not?

What inspires you about STEM?
There’s always so much to learn in STEM, it’s like the never-ending puzzle. I love being able to not only solve problems but actually find problems that we didn’t know existed. Plus, technology is always advancing so the chances of getting bored are very slim. Working in a STEM field allows me to help people utilizing my skills and knowledge; not everyone has the proper mindset or critical thinking skills required to understand STEM subjects which gives my passion and advocacy a great purpose.

Who is your STEM hero?
In all honesty, my mother was probably my biggest STEM hero. Although she started as an Accountant before becoming an Auditor and focusing on data security, my mother was the one person who was always supportive of me and every dream I had. There were plenty of people who have tried to tear me down or discourage me in my life, but my mother was always there to pick me back up. When I was in high school I was teased by some classmates for being “too smart” or “nerdy”. At the vocational school I was teased by the other girls there for being the only female in the computer class. I even had a teacher tell me not to go to the vocational school because it was meant for kids who didn’t want to go to college. I certainly don’t recall any teachers encouraging me to pursue my passion for computers. My whole life growing up, the one person I remember who always supported my dreams was my mother. If it weren’t for her support, I’m not sure I would have continued to pursue a career in STEM.

Do you have any helpful advice for young people who are interested in finding their passion in STEM?
Although I’m sure things have changed since I was in school, you’re bound to still come across someone who will try to bring you down. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel inferior because of your passions. Instead, use any negativity you encounter as fuel to make you stronger. With enough ambition and determination, you can accomplish anything. If you’re truly interested in STEM, then there are plenty of resources out there and even people you can talk to for guidance. Never give up!

Andrea Kimberlin has a degree in Computer Information Systems and works as a Technical Data Analyst. She also holds the title of Miss Kentucky International 2016 and promotes #WomenInSTEM as her platform.

Tags: guest blog, technology