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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, August 20, 2013 - 11:02

If it's Tuesday, it must be news-day. We're back with your quick hits in STEM. 

College-for-all vs. career education? Moving beyond a false debate, Hechinger Report, August 19

The Hechinger Report thoughtfully unpacks the tensions in between the college-for-all movement -- which aims to ensure that all students, regardless of background, complete a four-year degree -- and the potential role of career and technical education. It explores the competing egalitarian and pragmatic influences of both, and looks to potential solutions to have more students ending up in fulfilling, economically viable, positions. 

Q&A: Bill Gates on Teaching, Ed Tech, and Philanthropy, EdWeek, August 16

In a lengthy Q&A, education's biggest investor touches upon the role he envisions technology having in education moving forward. 

Why Jobs Go Unfilled Even in Times of High Unemployment, The Atlantic, August 19

The Atlantic has a great interview with Skills for America's future program manager Rene Bryce-Laporte, where they talk through the skills gap in higher education and new initiatives to increase students' job-readiness skills. 

Master's Degree Is New Frontier of Study Online, New York Times, August 17

MOOCs have been a little slow to take off, but Georgia Tech is potentially altering that with their new MOOC-based Master's. These degree programs will rely on MOOCs to help it offer at $6,600 Master's in computer science, a far lower price than the $45,000 on-campus degree. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 14:31

As summer winds down, we've got your STEM must-reads for the week. 

Common Core Curriculum Brings Big Shifts to Math Instruction, NPR, August 8

NPR goes behind the new math standards as a new school year starts to take a look at what it might mean for instruction. Did you know that the standard algorithm for math -- remember 'carrying the one' -- has been pushed to 4th grade to give students a deeper understanding of place value? 

Once common, perfect Va. SOL scores now rare with new tests, Washington Post, August 11

We wrote last week about lower scores in New York under new, Common Core-aligned tests, and that phenomenon is repeating nationwide, regardless of whether or not the state has actually opted in to Common Core. In Virginia, which isn't following Common Core, and where suburban D.C. districts often had many students make perfect scores on the state's Standards of Learning math exam, students are seeing much lower scores this year. While a fifth a students received perfect scores under the old exam, just one percent did under the new exam. Still, teachers appear to be standing strong on the standards, noting that newer tests give them a better picture of how top-performing students actually are doing. 

The Best Way to Teach Kids Math and Science? Zombies, Wired, August 14

Texas Instruments, a CTEq member company, has come up with an innovative new way to get kids interested in STEM: Zombies. Influenced by popular TV shows and movies like The Walking Dead, kids come in with a healthy interest in zombies. The program then uses that zombie interest to explore topics in math, chemistry, biology, and engineering. Turns out one way to make science come alive is to focus on the undead. 

Researchers see Video Games as Testing, Learning Tools, Ed Week, August 7

School districts are only now switching to computer-based Common Core tests, but designers and policymakers are already turning to the next generation of testing: video games. These assessments combine kid-friendly challenges, like getting robotic explorers to a new planet, with analysis of whether or not students have reached mastery of certain subjects. While expensive, they have the potential to engage students and be a powerful learning tool for students. 

Friday, August 9, 2013 - 15:34

It's been 20 years since Barbie sagely informed young women nationwide that "math class is tough," but young girls are still facing a host of societal messages that implicitly tell them STEM subjects just aren't for them. The latest? This T-shirt from The Children's Place, which was taken off the shelves after parents complained about the message to young children.

The glittery purple T-shirt reads, "My best subjects," with shopping, music, and dancing checked off. The box next to math is left unchecked; under it, it reads, "Nobody's perfect!" To quote Barbie's far superior, human cousin Cher Horowitz, from "Clueless," as if

Why is this problematic? Because, as a recent survey of American high schools showed, girls whose female role models hold traditionally 'feminine' occupations, like childcare, tend not to view careers in engineering and tech as possibilities. By contrast, those who live in communities where women tend to hold high-powered STEM jobs are more likely to take harder STEM courses. In those communities, the gender balance is nearly equal in high school physics. This sets them up for success in postsecondary STEM and the very jobs we need to fill. Analyses of international test scores find similar results: Countries with greater gender equity as more likely to have smaller gender gaps, and areas with more working mothers also have statistically smaller gender gaps, as well. 

Thus, having an anti-math message emblazoned on a T-shirt can be pretty subtly pernicious. Girls begin internalizing the message that math is 'for boys' by second grade -- around the age that they might pick up that T-shirt at the mall. We've discussed this kind of gender coding before, and while each example might be small, the sum total can be pretty overwhelming. 

There are a few new toys and games out there geared specifically toward getting girls interested in STEM, which is heartening. And The Children's Place T-shirt ultimately was pulled through parents protesting via Facebook and Twitter. But the shirt is part of a larger struggle against anti-STEM messaging for girls, and it's time we examined those pressures more closely. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013 - 15:38

A higher bar is exactly that — a higher hurdle to overcome. Yesterday, New York announced the results of its latest round of state testing, the first measuring students against a higher, Common Core-aligned test, and perhaps unsurprisingly, fewer students were able to clear the new bar. Statewide, only 31 percent of students were considered proficient in math; last year, it was 65 percent. In New York City, the largest district, just 30 percent were proficient, down from 60 percent last year and a high of 82 (under a different test) in 2009. 

Many — including the state commissioner of education, John King — have already stressed that the new tests are only a baseline. That fact, however, needs to be reiterated. This test was Common Core-aligned, which is what students will be learning in New York from here on out, but it will only be in place for a few years. In the 2014-2015 school year, New York will begin administering the PARCC exam, along with 20 other states. Many other states will be administering the Smarter-Balanced test, a similar exam. These new tests are more rigorous, aligned to the Common Core, better equipped to measure actual learning — and more expensive. A few states, like Georgia, Alabama, and Oklahoma, have already dropped out, citing costs. Other states, like Kentucky, are wavering. 

Thus, the scores out of New York can easily be used by sabre-rattlers worried about the effects of implementing Common Core. But what the scores actually show is a clearer picture of achievement. It's not a pretty picture — the performance gaps between white and Asian and black and Hispanic students were certainly troubling — but it's a far more accurate diagnosis. The first step in solving a problem is defining a problem. More stringent tests and cut scores allow us to do just that. These tests, and these scores, help us better understand students' learning, and will help us better educate students going forward. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 - 13:53

A day late, but we've got some rich news items from yesterday. Click through for all your STEM news. 

The decline of science education in Mississippi: A view from the classroom, Hechinger Report, August 5

Our Vital Signs analysis last year showed that time for science nationwide is declining, and students scores are reflecting this short shrift. The Hechinger Report goes behind the scenes of one of the lowest-performing states in the country, Mississippi, and looks at how teachers and students are teaching science at multiple grade levels. The finding? Serious science instruction doesn't typically start until upper elementary, and many schools focus solely on test-prep science, putting students at a disadvantage. 

Board Cuts Back on Several NAEP Tests in Response to Budget Cuts, EdWeek, August 2 

NAEP tests are the latest victim of the federal sequester, and science is bearing the brunt. While math and reading will still be administered with the same frequency at 4th and 8th grades, science will be cut back to 1,000 students per state. Long-term trend testing will also be scaled back for the next cycle, and math and reading won't be expanded in 12th grade, as had previously been planned. The new Technology and Engineering Literacy Test will proceed as normal. 

To '60s Civil Rights Hero, Math Is Kids' Formula For Success, NPR, August 1

Bob Moses was a civil-rights activist and organizers whose influence may be on par with Martin Luther King's. These days, he's fighting a different civil-rights battle: ensuring that all kids have a strong grounding in math. 

World's first lab-grown burger is eaten in London, BBC News, August 5 

You read that right. Scientists took cells from a cow and grew strips of muscles in a lab, which they turned into a hamburger patty. While there have been quibbles over whether the taste is truly 'authentically' hamburger-esque, proponents are hailing it as a step forward in combating hunger as demand for meat rises. 

Monday, August 5, 2013 - 10:09

Can you believe it's been a year since the Mars Curiosity Rover landed on the red planet?  Remember the excitement you felt?  The rover has had quite a year, and we've watched with interest every step of the way.  We even got to visit the home of the rover, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, for the launch of iON Future late last year, to meet some of the team behind it and experience the excitement up close (you can check out our video from the event here).  We especially enjoyed meeting "Mohawk Guy" Bobak Ferdowsi, one of the engineers on the mission (and defintely the one with the coolest hairdo)!

Bobak Ferdowsi

NPR did a great year-in-review of what Curiosity's been up to, and we gotta say, the little rover has been busy!

"The landing site in Gale Crater was chosen because it looked like a spot where ancient rivers once spilled out onto a plain. One of Curiosity's objectives was to answer the question whether such a place could once upon a time have been hospitable to life.

The answer seems to be yes. The rover drilled into a rock dubbed "John Klein" and performed a chemical and mineral analysis of what it was made of."

Pretty cool, huh?  We can't wait to see what it gets up to next!  Check out NPR's video below.


Friday, August 2, 2013 - 10:17

The Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb and arguably hastened the end of World War II, unofficially began on today's date in 1939, as two of the world's most famous physicists, Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard, petitioned U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to start it. The Einstein-Szilard Letter, as it came to be known, warned of the dangerous bombs that were now possible due to scientific advances. It urged the president to corral the scientists working on new nuclear reactions in the United States to develop a bomb before Hitler's scientsts did. 

After receiving the letter, Roosevelt put together a committee to look into the potential of the bombs, and shortly before Pearl Harbor, approved the creation of the atomic program. Over the next four years, the project, codenamed Manhattan, would develop and test the first atomic bomb. While the most famous site associated with the atomic bomb is arguably Los Alamos in New Mexico, laboratories and offices were located in more than a dozen states and provinces. In June 1944, more than 129,000 citizens were employed by the project, though most had no idea what they were actually working on. Many scientists and physicists had emigrated from countries like Hungary, which had been taken over by the Nazis. 

The project worked quickly, and made huge strides in the understanding of nuclear reactions. Almost six years to the day after Einstein and Szilard sent their to Roosevelt, a new president, Harry Truman, dropped the first of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945. Three days later, a second bomb followed at Nagasaki. With the two, the world war was over. 

The use of the atomic bombs is still debated today. More than 100,000 people, most of them civilians, were killed in the blasts, and tens of thousands more were critically injured. Szilard, who had helped kickstart the development of the bomb, circulated a petition in July 1945 asking President Truman to actually witness an atomic bomb blast prior to ordering it used on people, so that he could understand the destructive power. More than 155 Manhattan Project scientists signed it. However, President Truman did not see the petition prior to the bombings in Japan. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 10:37

If it's Tuesday, it must be news-day. We've got all the STEM news you need. 

Math Teachers Find Common Core More Rigorous Than Prior Standards, EdWeek, July 29

A survey of middle school math teachers in 43 states shows that 87 percent find the new Common Core State Standards to be more rigorous than their current or former state standards. However, while teachers are familiar with the standards and intrigued by the potential they offer, more can be done to help them incorporate Common Core into lessons, determine what materials best support CCSS aims, and plan and reflect regularly. 

For Female Scientists, There's No Good Time to Have Children, The Atlantic, July 29

It's not a new problem, but The Atlantic's got a strong look at the dilemma of married female scientists in academia, as well as a few potential solutions to the problem. Currently, married women with young children are 35 percent less likely to get tenure-track positions when compared to married men with young children, but unmarried, childless women hold a slight edge over unmarried, childless men. The solutions will take cooperation and buy-in from professors and administrators of both sexes, but may offer some hope. 

Computer Science Gets Plug in House Bill to Revise ESEA, EdWeek, July 29

The House's rewrite of ESEA gained many STEM detractors during its debate and passage earlier this month, but there was one notable STEM add in the bill: Computer-science teachers are now eligible for professional development funding through ESEA. The support for the amendment was bipartisan. Check out more on the add at EdWeek.  

Where Are All the Women Tech Entrepreneurs?, Forbes, July 29

Frida Polli, a female tech entrepreneurs launching her own business, reflects on her own experiences to determine why only 3 percent of new tech companies are founded by women. Some of her theories? Leadership qualities are often seen as 'unfeminine,' subtly discouraging girls and women; the desire for a work-life balance; and implicit sexism. For those interested in women and tech it's a good distillation and starting point for conversation.

Social Media is a must for America's STEM education future, eSchool News, July 15

Social media has exploded -- students these days aren't just on Facebook, they're on Twitter, Vine, Instagram, and many other sites. This has a great list of ways to reach and engage students about STEM across these many platforms. 

Friday, July 26, 2013 - 10:37

While today is the anniversary of the launch of Apollo 15 and the first indictment under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, today we're spotlighting an anniversary from yesterday: The birthday of Louise Brown, the world's first baby conceived using in vitro fertilization. She turned 35 yesterday. 

Louise's parents had been trying to conceive for nine years prior to turning to IVF. Her mother, Lesley, was implanted in November 1977 by Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards. Edwards later won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work (Steptoe passed away by the time the Prize was awarded). The two had been working on finding an alternative to conception for 11 years before successfully implanting Brown. More than 80 pregnancies failed within the first few weeks, but a tweak in the procedure made this attempt successful.

While the medical advance was met with cheers, it also raised several ethical questions about the role that science and medicine can play in the every day lives of citizens. Despite this, the procedure has moved from experimental to commonplace. Approximately one percent of children in America are born through IVF each years. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - 17:18

A day late, but we've got the STEM news to read this week. 

STEM Coalition Opposes House GOP Bill to Rewrite No Child Left Behind, EdWeek, July 18

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an updated version of No Child Left Behind on Friday, which you can read all about here. Prior to its passage, though, a group of STEM came out against several provisions in the rewrite. Read to find out why. 

Community college opens doors for women, USA Today, July 21

This column from last week looks at the role of community colleges in preparing a strong STEM workforce. Community colleges are fertile ground for STEM due to their affordability, accessibility, and potential to work with the community.

In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters, New York Times, July 22

School, poverty, and career are inextricably intertwined, and a new, massive study out of Harvard takes a county-by-county look at how likely students born in the lowest quintile are to ascend to the top quintile of earners later in life. The result shows that poor children's chances of rising vary greatly by metropolitan area, and shows how some cities, such as Atlanta and Memphis, have notably dimmer prospects for poor children. This is important because as we look to equip students with the science and math knowledge they'll need in the 21st century, we must also work to ensure that students from all cities have chances to learn.  

MIT technology trailblazer is a critic of computerized learning, Hechinger Report, July 23

Mitchel Resnick, the LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research at MIT -- holder of probably the coolest named professorship in academia -- and creator of two major educational technologies, the LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Kits and Scratch, gave an extensive interview on the role of technology in education to the Hechinger report. He covers why learning coding should be like writing, but also expresses caution about the use of data to drive educational decisions. 

How to Make Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream,

And finally, in honor of National Ice Cream Month, a science experiment for all ages. 

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