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Change the Equation Blog

The CTEq blog is the voice for STEM learning, offering insightful research and fun facts. We welcome your thoughts and encourage you to post your comments.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 11:09

Welcome back from the long weekend! We've got plenty of STEM fodder today. 

STEM gets shout-out in the inaugural address (Jan. 21, 2013) 

President Barack Obama was officially inaugurated for the second time in Washington over the weekend, and STEM made the inaugural address: When emphasizing that America needs "new responses to new challenges," the President mentioned the need to train math and science teachers to teach children the skills and knowledge they need for the future. We're eager to see how exactly the President the Department of Education emphasize this in the coming years. 

National public high school graduate rate at a four-decade high (Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2013) 

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released  updated data on te number of students who graduate high school within four years today. The numbers are promising: 78 percent of students across the country earned their diplomas within four years, a 40-year high. Notably, the graduation rate for Hispanic students jumped 10 percent, to 71 percent. African-American students have the lowest graduate rates, at 66.1 percent, whil Asian students have a 93 percent grad rate. 

For girls, teachers' gender matters, study says (EdWeek, Jan. 16, 2013) 

The question of whether teachers bias girls against math has been under debate for several years now, and a recent study only furthers indicates taht gender biases may affect academic performance. Presented at the American Economic Association's conference, new research shows that girls taught by a female teacher got a boost when the teacher had a strong math background, but performed lower than boys when the teacher did not. Boys' performance, on the other hand, was not affected by their teachers' academic backgrounds, regardless of that teacher's academic background. This comes after earlier research showed that girls taught by female teachers with high math anxiety eventually had lowered performance, as welll. 

Many hands make fractals tactile (New York Times, Jan. 22, 2013) 

A common worry with teaching students math is how to make it concrete instead of abstract. While for basic skills, like adding, that's fairly easy, physical representations of higher-level concepts. In California, the Institute for Figuring has led a project where participants help build a fractal, or a structure with interdeterminate dimensionality and one of the harder mathematical concepts to explain. Check out the fascinating photos and shapes they created. 

Friday, January 18, 2013 - 15:16

We're a day late on this, which surely would have disappointed the focus of today's Today in STEM: Benjamin Franklin. After all, Ben was the one who said, "You may delay, but time will not." Ben Franklin was born on this (yester)day, January 17, in 1706. 

Endlessly curious and observant, Franklin was a true American original -- a printer, politician, diplomat, civic leader, writer, and, most importantly for our purposes, scientist, inventor, and statistician. While most famous for "discovering" electricity with a key tied to the end of a kite (or not), Franklin also made major contributions to the nascent field of population studies, made strides in oceonography and meteorology, and performed early research into thermodynamics and temperature -- he  discovered the properties that eventually led to refrigeration. He was immensely practical, and invented items ranging from bifocals to swimming fins. Franklin did not graduate high school but helped found one of the first American universities. 

While not related to his scientific and mathematical acumen, Franklin also used his keen mind to make observations on human behavior. Many of his pithy sayings are for the ages. They include: 

  • Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise
  • A penny saved is a penny earned
  • Well done is better than well said
  • Those who surrender freedom for security deserve neither
Given the breadth of his interests, it's not a surprise that nobody in American history has since been able to make so profound a footprint on American life. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 14:49

This week's STEM news round-up includes the release of new science standards, as well as a guest appearance from Darth Vadar. 'Nuff said. 

Next Gen Science Standards released

We covered it last week, but Achieve and the NSTA released the final public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards, the set of newer science standards that will be up for adoption for all states. The latest draft addresses many suggestions from the last round of public comment, held last year, but is up for public comment through Jan. 29. Be sure to take a look through and add your input! 

EdWeek 'Quality Counts' reports released

Education Week released their annual state-by-state reports on education in each state. Take a look at how your state did! The metrics take into account STEM-important metrics like accountability systems, school funding, and teaching quality. 

The 'perks arms race' for tech companies

It used to be that companies offered cash upon accepting a job offer, but these days the benefits for tech employees can extend far beyond signing. The Atlantic takes a look at the various cultural offerings start-ups give their employees. At Evernote, it's massages. At Facebook, it's treadmill desks. Learn more about what tech companies are offering in order to get the best talent to stick around. 

White House responds to 'Death Star' petition

Since the election, the White House has had allowed citizens to fill out online petitions on the issues that matter most to them. One of the most popular has unquestionablooking ly been the petition to add a Death Star to the national defense system. The White House finally responded with a memo entitled: "This is not the petition response you're for." Despite our disappointment at the quashing of a American Death Star, we're happy to see that it wasn't our only hope and that the U.S. space program has our interests in the skies covered. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 10:46

Next week's going to be a busy one in Washington, but here's another you shouldn't miss: Our STEM Salon on outcomes in afterschool programming, held on Jan. 23.

We'll be discussing the Afterschool Alliance's newest report, "Defining Youth Outcomes for STEM Learning in Afterschool," to be released that day. On the panel, we'll be joined by Anita Krishnamurthi, director of STEM policy for the Afterschool Alliance and project lead on the report; Ron Ottinger, executive director of the Noyce Foundation and a funder of the report; and Mark Greenlaw, vice president of sustainability and education affairs at Cognizant, which runs the afterschool program Making the Future.

Afterschool programming has increasingly become an outlet for millions of American children, and afterschool providers, when asking for funding, are being asked to define and defend their value. The Alliance's report looks at what kind of outcomes afterschool programming is best suited to deliver in STEM. For anyone interested in improving outcomes in math and science, the use of afterschool programming is crucial. Our discussion will be can't-miss, and we hope to see you there! 

Friday, January 11, 2013 - 11:37

She's most famous for disappearing over the Pacific in July, 1937, Amelia Earhart also was the first person to fly from Hawaii to California, which she accomplished on January 11, 1932. (Booth definitely sound like the right locale for January!)

Amelia Earthart was a pioneer for STEM women. Her mother sent her to the Chicago area high school with the best science program, and she admired women who had had great success in male-dominated fields. She trained as a nurse's aide in World War I and started learning how to fly in 1920, becoming only the 16th woman in the world to earn her pilot's license. After outlining her plans to create an organization devoted entirely to female flyers, she made her first transatlatnic flight in 1928, one year after Charles Lindbergh's flight. She leveraged her celebrity into endorsements and financing; eventually, she became the vice president of National Airways, one of the first commercial airlines. She continued to promote women in flight. 

After marrying -- her husband, George Putman, proposed six times before she accepted -- she kept her own name. She made her Hawaii-California trip after her first transatlantic flight. She advised women considering careers in aviation, and began planning her round-the-world flight. However, on the trip, she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared in the Pacific. Many theories abound about what specifically happened to her plane, but most likely, she crashed and perished immediately.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 16:23

The latest iteration of the Next Gen Science Standards -- science's equivalent to the Common Core in math -- ws released today. This latest draft is the final public draft of the standards, which have a March 2013 release date. 

The latest draft is marked change from an earlier version, according to Education Week. Ninety-five percent of the performance expectations have been changed. For instance, earlier drafts contained separate performance expectations for engineering, while the latest draft integrated engineering into the broader framework. A document outlining those changes was also released today. 

Be sure and take a look  at the standards. And, if you're so inclined, make sure to offer feedback by Jan. 29. 

Monday, January 7, 2013 - 17:31

Welcome back! We hope you all had a wonderful and restful holiday break. While many people had the last few weeks off, STEM news didn't stop. Check out the links below to get your STEM news fill. 

STEM Initiative Aims to Broaden Minority Student Access to AP Science, Math Courses (Diverse Education, January 4, 2013)

To help prepare more minority students for math and science in college, the College Board is expanding its support to high schools serving large population of black, Hispanic, and American Indian students through a new STEM Access program. The program is funded by a partnership between the College Board,, and Google. 

Students Rush to Web Classes, but Profits May Be Much Later (New York Times, January 6, 2013)

Massively Open Online Courses -- like Coursera and Udacity -- offer millions of students the chance to take college courses, and have become the Next Big Thing in education and edtech. How to profit and sustain growth, however, is another question. 

Federal Effort Aims to Trainsform Learning Technologies (EdWeek, January 3, 2013)

Higher-ed has MOOCs, but cyberlearning has permeated -- and begun transforming -- K-12 education as well. The National Science Foundation has created a new program, Cyberlearning: Transforming Education, to study the effects of educational technology  on learning. 

One Family recalls living on Mars time with NASA rover Curiosity (LA Times, December 31, 2012)

The Martian day is only 39 minutes longer than a day on Earth, but those minutes add up quickly! When a NASA scientist, David Oh, went onto Martian time to track Curiosity, his entire family decided to make the switch as well. It wasn't as easy as one would think. 

FYI: What Kind of Dinosaur Meat Would Taste Best? (Popsci, December, 20, 2012)

The answer to the question that every fourth grader has wondered at one point or the other. What kind of dino meat would be the tastiest? Would any "taste like chicken"? Hint: A T-rex isn't a good T-bone. 

Monday, January 7, 2013 - 09:52

As a STEM learning advocate who is also the father of a three-year old girl, I’ve been keeping my eyes and ears open for subtle messages that might turn her off of math or science.

Well, it turns out that such messages are not always so subtle.

A trip to the bookstore last week drove that lesson home. My wife and I bought a pair of sticker and activity books without carefully checking the contents. (Let this be a lesson to us.) One of the books was blue and the other was pink, so we should have guessed something was amiss.

The blue book featured outer space, dinosaurs, and trucks, among other topics. The pink book? Home, animals, and toys, among other topics. To their credit, both books addressed topics like number and shapes. Yet the differences were stark. The blue book was full of images of science and technology—and little boys. The pink book? Clothes and kittens—and little girls. Boys were invited to explore the wider universe. Girls were confined to a much narrower sphere.

Research shows that girls have internalized the message that math is for boys as early as second grade. My wife and I got a stark reminder that the grim work of socialization starts much earlier than that. It’s our job as parents, teachers and community members to counteract the rotten influences our daughters will encounter.

I guess our experience at the bookstore shouldn’t surprise me, but somehow it still does. After all, it’s 2013, people!

*Submitted by Claus von Zastrow, CTEq COO and director of research

Friday, December 21, 2012 - 09:57

Change the Equation is taking a break from blogging over the holidays, but we'll be back next year to bring you all the STEM news that's fit to print . . . or blog.  We hope that you and yours enjoy the end of the year and holiday season, and we'll see you in 2013!




Snowflake science


Happy Holidays from Change the Equation

Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 11:08

If doomsday legend is to be believed, tomorrow the world is ending.  So says the Mayan calendar, right?  Not so, say our friends at NASA (and, to be honest, they're not alone).  Here's more on that:

The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012 and linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar at the winter solstice in 2012 -- hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012.

Oddsmakers agree with NASA.  From this article in the Examiner, "The New York-based oddsmaker put the odds of the world ending Friday at 300 million to 1. That means someone is more likely to win the Powerball lottery jackpot (175 million to 1), witness Michael Jordan's return from retirement (50 million to 1) and see the Chicago Cubs win the World Series next year (1,500 to 1) than die in the apocalypse."

So did the Mayans know something we don't know?  Probably not.  In fact, NASA goes on to say that, "the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then -- just as your calendar begins again on January 1 -- another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar."  What a relief. 

That, of course, leaves us wondering, does the next cycle of the Mayan calendar have cute kittens or Elvis on it?  Guess we'll find out tomorrow . . . or not.

Learn more about why the world isn't ending tomorrow from NASA, here.

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