Friday, December 28, 2012

Schools Going Digital by 2017

The debates over going entirely digital in the classrooms of today's and tomorrow's students can get pretty heated these days. A good percentage of educators and other advocates of e-textbooks are pushing for the transition. The opposition is standing its ground just as firmly, though. 

In a report released by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) in September titled, "Out of Print : Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age," it was said that textbooks should be a thing of the past by 2017. The report goes on to suggest that states and districts begin making the transition from print to digital instructional material with the next major textbook adoption cycle (which could be soon!), completing the transition by 2017.

Today's youth loves the digital realm and are being introduced to it at an ever-increasing younger age. Just a couple weeks I was in Toys-R-Us shopping for my nephew when I saw a toddler-proof iPad cover. I stood there for a second before telling myself, "You really shouldn't be surprised here." Take a look at the thing for yourself. This just shows that it's never too young to go digital.

Process this for a second: currently, states and districts spend around $5.5 billion on instructional material each year and many students are using textbooks with content that is seven to 10 years old. With the adoption of digital content, schools would be able to update material without any extra print costs. Hello, cost effectiveness!

Further, digital material can be more interactive than print material. Instead of being limited to text and a few illustrations, students can now access video clips, animations and virtual labs. Even better, content can be personalized to accommodate individual student learning needs and abilities. For instance, there are options to hear the text read aloud, instantly look up unfamiliar words and change the font size.

Now, to the teachers. There are major benefits for them too. With digital material, teachers won't be tied down to a singular textbook and the lessons it provides. They'll be able to bring different lessons together and will have the opportunity to get involved in creating and refining their classroom content. That has to sound good to almost every teacher out there!

The 2017 adoption target date was made so schools and districts could create a realistic plan for implementation. So of you oppose the idea of digital textbooks, it looks like they're making their way into classrooms whether you like it or not. Jumping on board might make the transition a little easier. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Science Classes of the Future

We've all heard it at least once in our lives: "When I was a kid..." Sure, there was once a time that you sat in a science classroom and watched your teacher scrawl on the board, drew a few pictures yourself on a worksheet and called it a day as the bell rang. Once you got home, you opened your textbook and studied more images of what was taught that day in class and that was that.

Now, there's much to be said about these teaching methods, but walk into a science classroom next year and as students learn how chemicals combine to form new substances they're manipulating foam or paper mache models to show how bonds are made, or moving electrons around on a computer screen or tablet, testing what happens when a transfer occurs.

As John Martin on CNN illustrates, science classrooms across America will begin to change next year when 26 states expected to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) implement the new standards in their classrooms. How students effected by NGSS learn will even be different than their older siblings did. 

The goal of NGSS is to have students gain an understanding of science, technology, engineering and math that makes them competitive on a global scale. So what does this mean? It means that students of the next generation will be making models, solving problems and getting messy - hands-on activities that lead to self-discovery and better understanding of subject matter.

Not surprisingly, the most noticeable differences will be seen in classrooms. Listening to lectures and then drawing a model or two will become a thing of the past. Instead, students will create models that represent a cell or an atom - often on a computer - and then use that representation to collect data and make predictions.

Now, if you're worried about the dollar signs that come along with NGSS, don't be. NGSS isn't about fancy, cutting-edge equipment; instead, it's about getting students engaged, involved and excited about STEM fields. Hopefully this will increase their likelihood to pursue STEM careers upon graduation from high school. 

Read Martin's entire report on the future of science classrooms and NGSS.

(And make sure you check out the video embedded in the article. Pay close attention to the first few seconds of the video and you'll see Swift scopes!)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Investing in STEM Opportunities for Students

Investing in STEM experiences and futures for today's youth is starting to become a trend that the education world doesn't want to end anytime soon. Just recently, students in Florida and Kentucky were given new opportunities to explore STEM through grants.

Thanks to AT&T Florida, nearly 150 Escambia County students will get the opportunity to explore STEM careers, through a grant received by the Escambia County Public Schools Foundation.  AT&T Florida gave the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations a $100,000 grant to create STEM workplace experiences.  

Pensacola News Journal reported that Ransom Middle and Escambia High will each receive $2,000 in grant money to give students hands-on learning opportunities outside the classroom that are directly linked to their coursework in STEM fields.

Ransom students benefiting from the grant money will build aquaponics systems to raise fish and provide plants for animals at the Roy Hyatt Environmental Center. An additional 22 multimedia student at Escambia High will take a hands-on tour of Nowak Enterprises, where they will get to see the multimedia production process. After that, using new cameras, students will come up with and produce short films for a project.

Over in Kentucky, the JPMorgan Chase Foundation provided their third grant through United Way of the Bluegrass to continue the successful STEM Academy, a community-based extended school day program in partnership with Fayette County Public Schools and First Bracktown, Inc.

The $70,000 grant was the third of a $170,000 total investmen by Chase in this program and will allow the STEM Academy to continue another year and expand to younger students. The program focuses on engaging African-American male middle school students in academically enriched out-of-school activities. To learn more on the grant, read Ky Forward's full report.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cheers to Computer Science Education Week!

Here's to Computer Science Education Week! Celebrated last week, CSEdWeek is designated as the second week of December to honor Admiral Grace Murray Hopper's birthday, December 9, 1906, as well as her extraordinary contributions to the computer science field. Hopper was a visionary in the field of computer science and her engineering in programming languages and computer system standards laid the foundation for advancements in computer science from the 1940s - 1970s. Last week, 3,398 people signed the pledge for CSEdWeek.

So what does it all mean? The Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education collaborates with various organizations and individuals for better STEM education and put together the facts last week. Here's some of what they found.

The Association for Computing Machinery, one of the core partners of CSEdWeek, has assembled a collection of statistics on the nation's computer science education and job outlook:

  • 150,000 job openings in computing annually
  • 1/2 of all STEM jobs will be in computing in 2020
  • 22% job growth expected in computing by 2020
  • $78,730 earned on average by computing professionals in 2011
  • 19% of high school students took computer science courses in 2009, down 6% from 1990
  • 9 states nationwide award "core" credit for high school computer science courses
  • AP computer science exams comprise less than 1% of all AP exams taken

They added that jobs in computing are among the fastest growing and highest paying of almost any other profession. Despite these opportunities, the computing field faces a shortage of skilled workers and difficulty in keeping students in the pipeline. With significant barriers starting at the K-12 level, the number of students exposed to computer science is declining each year, and only a small percentage are receiving a rigorous education in the subject.

I know what you're thinking, what about the breadth of computer science jobs in the future? What's the story where you live? Well, the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) has gathered key computing education and jobs indicators by state and congressional district and assembled them into an interactive map and other easily accessible tools. Individuals can use the data to understand their local situation and to advocate more effectively for changes they would like to see in their schools, colleges and universities. Find out how your state or district ranks in computer science education and jobs at

To check out resources, events, articles and more about computer science education, visit

Monday, December 17, 2012

Active Explorer Moves STEM Learning to the Field

Active Explorer, a new mobile platform that aims to spark student's interests in the science, is taking STEM education to a whole new level. Now, smartphone in hand, students can leave the classroom and make science discoveries in the field. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) partnered with Qualcomm's Wireless Reach initiative and mobile virtual network operator Kajeet to create the program.

This new program is what every science teacher has been hoping for. If you want your students engaged in what they're learning, there's no better way to do it than through self discovery. With Active Explorer, educators are able to log in to their computer a create a "quest" that asks their student to collect certain data with the program on their smartphones. Students can take pictures, record audio and video, create a map, make sketches or even write notes based on their observations. After they're finished collecting all their data, a mere push of a button will upload their data to their teacher and their own web account, enabling them to create slideshows, posters and e-books to share with classmates.

Active Explorer was piloted with eight teachers and 120 students across grades 4 and 7 in four Washington D.C. schools this October. District Administration reports that the program's easy-to-use design doesn't require teacher training and that it's intended for after-school use, when students are most likely to make real-world connections beyond the classroom. That's not to say that Active Explorer can't be used in the classroom, though! Active Explorer can also be integrated into classroom activities.

The program, was created to increase student interest in STEM and to keep the U.S. competitive in global education. Active Explorer also resembles what those in STEM careers are doing more and more frequently these days: using mobile platforms to collect their data.

Active Explorer runs on Android phones, which must be provided by the school district, but is free to download. You can learn more about the program at its website,

Friday, December 14, 2012

Race to the Top District Winners Announced!

Earlier this week, the Education Department announced the 16 winners of the Race to the Top school district grants (RTTD). 61 Finalists had been announced recently out of an original 372 districts that turned in applications in November. A total of $400 million was due to go out, and winners ranged from $10 million to $40 million for a period of four years, depending on the population of the given district. The winners included urban and rural districts, small districts and large consortia, and public and charter schools. The only large, urban school district to win was Miami-Dade (FL), which also just won the Broad Prize.

Education Week reported that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the winners' circle includes "a really good mix" of both districts that are already education-reform leaders, and districts that have not received as much attention.
The winners, by order of total mean score, are as follows:

  • Carson City, NV (208.33)
  • New Haven Unified, CA (207.67)
  • Miami-Dade, FL (207.00)
  • Puget Sound Consortium, WA (205.33)
  • Guilford County, NC (205.33)
  • Metropolitan School District of Warren Township in Indianapolis, IN (205.00)
  • IDEA public schools, TX (203.00) [charter schools]
  • Charleston County, SC (201.67)
  • Harmony Science Academy consortia, TX (201.67) [charter schools]
  • St. Vrain Valley, CO (200.33)
  • Galt Joint Union, CA (199.67)
  • Iredell-Statesville, NC (199.67)
  • Middletown City, NY (199.33)
  • KIPP, DC (199) [charter schools]
  • Green River Regional Education Cooperative, KY (197)
  • Lindsay Unified, CA (196.33)

Congratulations to all of these school districts!
Read Education Week's full report.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

iON Future: Exactly What STEM Needed

Every day, professionals in STEM careers help people get better, discover new things, save the planet, build the future, solve mysteries and play with some very neat tools. Makes you wonder why getting today's youth involved in STEM can be so difficult sometimes.  Well say hello to Change the Equation's iON Future: The STEM Exploration Game!

iON Future lets you explore STEM careers, identify the ones that best match your interests and then play your way to your dream STEM future. Can you say genius?! What kid doesn't enjoy a good, engaging computer game these days. I know I can't think of one. Combining iON Future with all the other platforms designed to ignite excitement in students about STEM, the United States is moving in the right direction.

iON Future dispels notions that STEM embodies the traditional science, technology, engineering and math careers that so many students find daunting and boring. In fact, the site includes careers like 3D animator, athletic trainer, automotive designer, librarian and science reporter. Any child can find something they're interested in and then discover how it relates to STEM. It's exactly what STEM education needed to supplement classroom efforts.

Check out the website, create an account with your child or play as a guest - you may even learn something new!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Swift's Motic Cameras Magnify Learning

Close this windowThe Vandalia Drummer News ran a great story this morning on how microscope cameras are impacting the learning atmosphere of Butler High School - one biology experiment at a time.

The cameras fit over the eyepiece of the school's existing microscopes and are linked via USB to a computer monitor at each lab station. While the students still mount their slides like normal, they manipulate them using the computer.  Since students don't have to pass the microscope back and forth, collaboration is encouraged and ample time is saved - two things every teacher values.

Butler High School biology teacher Kelly Stevens is quoted in the story as saying, "One of the downfalls of working with just one microscope is that only one student can see what's on the slide at a time. Now everyone sees the same thing in real time, and I can get around the classroom faster."

Coupled with Motic software, which allows students to capture video of their slides, make time-lapse photos and do side-by-side comparisons of their specimens, these cameras are generating a buzz at Butler. With the software, teachers can even "push" electronic documents from their computer to each lab station. Students then complete the assignment and "push" it back to their teacher, making for completely paperless labs. 

Stevens insists in the article that while the new technology is great, it doesn't do the learning for the students.

He told Vandalia Drummer News that, "students still have to learn how to use the microscopes; the technology doesn't do the work for them. We are doing the same things we have done in the past, this just takes it to a new level."

Can there really be a down side to this story? Unfortunately, yes. Just one classroom at Butler is hooked up with the new technology. This means that Stevens and the high school's other biology teachers must all share the space so all students benefit from the technology.

As Stevens put it, "The cameras have made us so much more efficient in the classroom. It would be nice if we could equip all of our biology classrooms with this technology."

Read the Vandalia Drummer News story.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Building a STEM Nation with "MissionSTEM"

While we all know that STEM fields need to be the focus of education reform these days, the statistics never get easier to take in. In 2009, more than 1.5 million U.S.citizens earned bachelor's degrees, but only a mere 4.4 percent were in engineering and just a small 1.1 percent were in the physical sciences.  Further, only 2.4 percent of the undergraduate degrees earned were in computer science and mathematics represented just 1.0 percent of degrees.

Not surprisingly, the National Science Foundation 's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics reported that a very small 0.8 percent of all bachelor's degrees earned in 2009 were by women in engineering and 0.2 percent of those earned were by African Americans.

For a country that wants to maintain status as a world leader in STEM, these numbers aren't just startling, they're unacceptable. Just recently, NASA took these statistics to heart and set out to change them. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that NASA wants "the nation's STEM degree programs to be more welcoming, supportive and accessible to all students."

With that in mind, NASA launched, a Web site created by NASA'a Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, to assist colleges and universities in strengthening their STEM programs.  The site connects NASA with its grantees, professional STEM organizations and other interested stakeholders in order to creatively address issues like recruitment and retention of diverse students.

Way to go, NASA! Emerging programs like this one and Change the Equation's iONFuture are steps in the right direction for the nation's STEM future. Combined with NGSS efforts and political legislation, the United States should be starting to move up the competitive STEM ladder.

So, where will we find the future of STEM? As Bolden says, "We will find it in every community, in every university and college and in students of every socio-economic background. The talent is out there. It always has been."

Creating programs like MissionSTEM is just the start. The rest of the battle involves making the commitment to encourage and support American students to pursue their STEM dreams. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas Science Activities

Christmas cheer is usually accompanied by chilly weather that keeps us all inside where it's warm and toasty. Nostalgic: yes. Always the best scenario: no. Having your kids cooped up inside during their holiday break only leads to one thing: headaches. Take a look at these Christmas science ideas - they'll have you and your little ones entertained and on a path of discovery!

With just sugar, water, some string or a lollipop stick a jar and some sellotape, you can grow your very own Christmas crystals! Add some sparkles and food coloring for extra cool looking crystals. Or, make the string you're using to grown your crystals into shapes like circles and stars for homemade ornaments!

Take some time to explore a mini Christmas tree. Go out and purchase one of those darling mini conifer trees that you've always wanted to buy and grab some scissors, a ruler and a magnifying glass. Start by looking at the tree and describing it. Ask your children what normally happens to a trees' leaves in the winter. Then ask them what's different about this tree. This is an excellent activity that contains valuable lessons about evergreens and isn't too messy.

But if messy is what you're looking for, try making some candy cane goo with your kiddos. Cornflour, water, peppermint essence and red food coloring is what you'll need for this activity. You and you're mini scientists will marvel at how the goo feels like a solid one minute and then a liquid the next! Notice that when you ball the goo up it's a solid, but when you drop it on the floor it turns to a liquid again. 

If you're experimenting after Christmas, celebrate the new year with a firework in a glass. Now, before you dismiss this idea because it sounds dangerous, know that this activity is totally safe, very easy and looks just like a firework without the bang and sparkle. Here's what you'll need: a tall glass along with a smaller glass, warm water, oil and food coloring. The science bit of this activity illustrates water's inability to mix with oil and that oil is less dense than water. You'll have to do the experiment to figure out the rest!

Find even more Christmas science activities here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Girl Scouts Attend "Cool Science"

U.S. Air Force photo by Julie Imada
Just last week, approximately 50 girls experimented with liquid nitrogen, Alka Seltzer rockets and food chemical mixtures at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Supervised by cadets, these girls were ages 5-7 and all belonged to Girls Scout Daisy and Brownie troops. At the Academy's workshop - titled "Cool Science" - the girls were able to see first hand how fun science can be through creative chemistry and physics experiments illustrated by the cadets.  Can I get three cheers for the Air Force Academy?! 

The Girl Scouts spent the day at the Academy working on simple hands-on, educational experiments like how to make ice cream with liquid nitrogen, how a film canister reacts with Alka Seltzer and how many chemistry books a tower constructed of paper and masking tape can support. 

Cadet 4th Class Katherine Case saw the bigger picture when she said, "It's an important event because ti gives an introduction to young girls about the world of science, which is important because there aren't many females in the field."  She added, "when I was younger, I went to something called 'Girls in Engineering and Mathematic Science' that presented workshops on career fields in science and made me fall in love with the field. Now I'm pursuing that love."

These are the type of programs that we need to see more of! Programs that ignite an interest in STEM fields and leave young students with the desire to pursue a career in STEM. While it's important to target girls when they're young so that they don't grow up thinking that STEM fields are for boys, there should still be a push to get boys just as interested and fired up about STEM. 

The Air Force Academy has hosted this workshop every spring and fall for 10 years and hopes it continues to be a hit. Read more about the Nov. 10 workshop.

Do you know of great programs in your area that encourage young people to take an interest in STEM fields? Subscribe to our blog and let us know and you could win a Starbucks giftcard!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Microscope: This Year's Perfect Christmas Gift

The holidays are finally here. Christmas wreaths are going up in retail stores, radio stations are blaring holiday jingles and people are racing to get their holiday shopping complete. The perfect gift for anyone this Christmas: a microscope!

Choosing the right microscope can be difficult, though, so once you've decided if a compound, stereo or digital microscope is what you're looking for, here are some things to consider before making a final purchase. 
  • Construction: Sturdiness is an important quality when consider a microscope. While cheaper microscopes may look better to your pocket book, they won't last very long and are bound to have mechanical issues. Spend a little more for a microscope that will last longer.
  • Kid Features: If you're purchasing your child their first microscope, look at introductory scopes that include "student-proof" features like simple to use and large controls, "one-touch" spring loaded stage clips and built-in handling features that encourage proper handling.
  • Warranty and After-Sales Support: Make sure you look at the warranty of the microscope you're looking to purchase. This is often overlooked and should be an important factor in your purchase decision. Likewise, purchase a microscope from a manufacturer who quality assures their products and is available to answer your questions and help you use your microscope and software one it arrives at your home. 
Once you've looked into all these things, do it to it! You're ready to get the scientist in your life a great microscope! This is sure to make for a Christmas they'll never forget.

Friday, November 16, 2012

TI & Educate Texas Team Up on STEM Ed. Reform

Texas Instruments hosted "STEM Education: Key to Economic Success" on Nov. 1, the first of a series of education thought leadership programs, designed to inspire North Texas education leaders and corporate sponsors alike. For the sake of the future, let's hope this works - at least to some degree. The initial program was sponsored in collaboration with an initiative of Communities Foundation of Texas, Educate Texas.

Nationally recognized STEM expert Dr. Shirley Malcom was the featured speaker and she attracted 35 engaged STEM education leaders for the presentation and following Q&A. Dr. Malcom heads Education and Human Resources for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). At the event held on Nov. 1 at the Communities Foundation of Texas, Dr. Malcom was interviewed by Dee Chambliss of Educate Texas, an alliance of public and private groups that share the common goal of improving public education.

As reported by Educate Texas, here's some of strategies Dr. Malcom suggested to get students interested in science and engineering:

  • Positioning these fields as "helping professions." Many students today, particularly girls who are often underrepresented in STEM, are looking to "help people and make a difference in the world," she said.
  • Starting early in preschool and encouraging young children in simple math in everyday activities (i.e. counting the plates when setting the table, sorting socks).
  • Introducing science and math to students on their own terms (i.e. digital arts, using new tools).
  • Using the entire community for teaching and learning (i.e. Scouts, libraries, museums).
Dr. Malcom urged corporate supporters to make their stance on this issue known. Specifically she told them to "have more voice and make clear by their presence that there is advocacy for this - bring a voice of transformation." She also recommended that they "demand evidence of success just as if you were buying anything else." Dr. Malcom left those in the STEM fields with a simple, but more and more clear, message: be "visible and present to young people."

"It's a matter of helping people understand - parents, grandparents and students - the opportunities that exist to guide them and support them. It's everything from considering the toys we give to taking kids to libraries," Dr. Malcom said. "You can't teach everyone everything they need to know, but you can situate them for a lifetime of learning."

Well said, Dr. Malcom. Take note, people! STEM learning doesn't have to be dry, boring and for the boys. Today it can be fun, engaging, interactive and hands-on. In fact, this is more true today than it ever has been. And it involved beginning when children are young; before they can develop preconceived notions about science and match before ever giving them a chance. If you have suggestions on how to inspire today's youth and get them involved in STEM, let us know and you could be featured on our blog.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

More Students Interested in AP Science

An Advanced Placement Biology class in Virginia was recently standing-room-only as 27 students crowded around lab tables. Sound like a lot of students? That very same class had 30 students in it the next period. Woodside, the school where so many eager students are enrolling in more science AP classes, is among a group of schools nationwide that are pushing to expand access to AP match and science courses.

With STEM jobs on the rise more than ever before, the push for more AP math and science courses is coming at the right time. Just last year, the U.S. Commerce Department predicted that STEM jobs will grow by 17 percent between 2008 and 2018, compared with just under 10 percent for others.

Recent studies point out the pitfalls in STEM classrooms It's been suggested that U.S. students' match and science skills are slowly growing: in 2011, just 35 percent of eighth-graders were proficient in math and 32 percent in science, according to the U.S. Education Department's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). 

Another downer: last year, Achieve, made up of business and government officials, found that a mere 20 states (yes, not even half of them) and the District of Columbia required students to complete a "college-and-career-ready" curriculum to earn a diploma.

More schools need to make Woodside their example. With AP courses open to all students regardless of grade-point average, students recruited heavily and trained after school, Woodside treats AP like a sports team. Since many students don't know what AP is or think it's for the valedictorians of the class, this approach can be very effective. 

Woodside also picks  up the cost of the annual exams, making it hard for students to drop the AP courses once they're enrolled. If a student persists, both teachers' and parents' signatures are required for the drop, allowed only after a student attends three tutoring classes. Even then, parents have to meet with a counselor to approve the withdrawal. As you can imagine, it rarely gets that far.

So here's the proof, people. The result of this approach is a 75 percent rise since 2006 in the number of students taking advanced math and science. Higher percentages of students in AP classes can only lead to one good thing: student success (even if your students don't score the highest on the AP exams). Read more about Woodside's AP approach.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Swift Helps Drive Science Education

In this changing classroom environment, we understand that teachers need more than products, they need resources and solutions. Let us be your information-hub and offer you the STEM support you need.

From handouts to presentations and microscopy lesson plans, Swift's resource center is where educators, students and professionals need to be. "Smart Teachers Expect More" and they get it here. Discover your STEM classroom with us. 

Swift is doing its part in driving science education. Let us know what are you doing to further STEM education today!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Resources for Women in STEM

By now, just about everyone who's anyone has reported on the low percentage of women in STEM career fields. In 2011, the Economics & Statistics Administration found that less than 25 percent of STEM jobs are held by women, even though they make up more than half of the workforce and college degrees in the nation. 

The United State can no longer deny that a glass ceiling is looming over these industries and that men and women are like are doing their best to throw stones at it. I won't discount the progress that has been made over the past few decades, but I will say that more efforts need to be made to ensure a more equitable place for women in these traditionally male-dominated industries. This ideal is something that these 40 essentials share!

Check out 40 Important Online Resources for Women in STEM!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rediscover Micrographia!

It was way back in 1665 that Samuel Pepys recalled in his diary that he stayed up till 2 a.m. reading an enthralling page-turner and best-seller. He called this text, "the most ingenious book I read in my life." I know, you're on the edge of your seat. What in the world could have kept Pepys up so late and led him to believe he read the best book he'd ever read in his life? If you're thinking it was a book about history, a play or the arts, you're wrong. It was none other than the world's first popular book about microscopic images!

With the short title Micographia: Or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made With Magnifying Glasses With Observations and Inquiries Thereupon - catchy, I know - the book was authored by famed scientist Robert Hooke. Want to get your hands on it?! Well, good news. The book is now available on Google Books for you to read for free.

As you flip (or scroll) through the book, you'll find wonderful drawings of everything from fleas through bark to the edges of razors. For all you microscope and science junkies out there, it's exciting to see what constituted cutting-edge scientific understanding in 1665! If you're interested, read Carl Zimmer's review to learn more.

Friday, November 9, 2012

STEM Education Could Be at Risk!

Something that no one in the fight for better STEM education efforts in America wants to hear is that we may be forced to take steps backwards. Unfortunately, that's exactly what may happen. In late October, students at an Arkansas high school got to meet Dr. James Gates, a noted African-American theoretical physicist.

As he spoke about his career and the importance of a STEM education, he told the students that, "There are half of million jobs that can't find Americans to hire because they don't have the skills level. These are the jobs you most want to have in the future."

Despite the fact that STEM education is crucial to the future of this country, the programs in place now are threatened. Last summer, the Congressional debt limit was reached and if Congress doesn't take further action - which seems very unlikely - mandatory reductions in federal discretionary spending levels will take effect in January. Education and STEM-related programs are falling subject to about a nine percent reduction across the board. 

If you're worried about the United States, which has been severely declining in STEM over the last few years, you're not alone. Gates sees the reality of the situation and didn't hold back in relaying it to the Arkansas students. 

"I worry about what will happen to my country. Investment in education is when we as a country always got richer."

Gates is a professor of physics at the University of Maryland in College Park, but also serves on reelected President Barak Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Serving in that role, Gates advises Obama on topics including the increasing need for STEM education in the United States.

Read more about what Gates' visit to Arkansas.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Swift Spotlight: M3600 Series

Say hello to the flagship model of the Swift educational line. The M3600 series continues Swift's tradition for innovation, quality and student-proof features while updating the well-known M3500 classic model series with a brand new design at the same time. If you're a high school teacher or advanced grade professor, this is the scope you want your students working with. 

The M3600 series includes cored and cordless versions, a built-in carrying handle and variable LED illumination. The M3602 models even have a built-in mechanical stage. The "student-proof" design of the scopes mean energy-efficient LED illumination, "one-touch" spring loaded stage clips and proper handling for you. If you haven't already considered adding a Swift microscope to your classroom, start with one from the M3600 series.

Get more information here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Energy Research in Front of K-12 Classrooms

Grad students from the University of Nevada, Reno are working with middle school and high school students this fall to present their energy-related science and engineering research to students. What better way to get students interested and involved than bringing the research to the front of their classroom?!

With a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, students from the College of Engineering will be going above and beyond most traditional graduate school requirements by providing valuable training in teaching, mentoring and communicating science and technology to local schools. The innovative curriculum that engages K-12 teachers and students in STEM is supported by NSF's "Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education" program.

Like so many other programs being implemented recently, this three-year program is meant to inspire interest in STEM. Through inquiry and project based activities, graduate students and the schools they team up with will encourage middle school and high school students to ask questions that lead them to their own discovery of knowledge and exploration of science. I mean, can it get any better? We need programs like this funded everywhere.

This semester, the energy fellows are working on energy-efficient micro-vehicles, flight dynamics and trajectory planning of descent vehicles and earthquake and structural engineering. Research topics brought to middle school and high school students include energy harvesting using smart materials, nanomaterials for photovoltaics, hydrogen energy and storage, biomass and biofuels, geothermal, wind energy and efficient power grid systems. 

Part of the program: a traveling energy science/technology lab, the E-Mobile! The mobile lab will be outfitted with energy-related demonstrations, exhibits and hands-on projects to excite students and the community about engineering. Find out more about the partnership between the University of Nevada, Reno and Washoe County School District here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Prof. Shares $2.6M Grant to Gauge Success

A public policy professor was awarded a $2.6 million grant this week to help lead a research team testing the success and effectiveness of Advanced Placement high school science courses.

Director of GW's public policy program Dylan Conger will impose a four year study thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation to figure out how effective courses designed to prepare college-ready scientists are.

This is the first study of inquiry-based science learning and College Board, who administers the AP exams, couldn't be more excited. Just recently, College Board revised both its chemistry and biology offerings to test deeper knowledge of topics. Conger will work alongside researchers from the University of Washington and the nonprofit SRI International throughout the study.

Including over 4,000 students in 40 high schools, the study will track students' progress in the AP class and evaluate if the class affects the students' college and career performance in the long run. Conger, like many other advocates of advancing STEM education, believes that tracking the success of AP science courses is critical to understanding U.S. students' progress in technical learning.

Looks like this could be a good first step in helping the country compete globally in STEM fields. Learn more.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Making Sense of Density

Is teaching the concept of density to your students a struggle? Check out how Mr. Treadgold's 7th grade class uses a hands-on project to learn the abstract concept of density. They measure the mass and volume of different cylinders, create their own computerized spreadsheets in Excel for data and enter the formula to calculate density. By the end of the experiment, they're able to conclude on their own that density will not change as the shape and size of an object change, as long as the material it's made of stays the same.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Moticam X is Here - Go Wireless!

That's right, it's finally here! Say hello to the future of wireless digital microscopy and the all new Moticam X.  This all new microscope camera will transform almost any old conventional microscope into a wireless device capable of sending live high resolution images to your WiFi enabled computer, laptop, tablet or cell phone. Using the Moticam X, you can stream your images to up to 6 devices without the need of a router. Can you say jackpot?! 

Since the Moticam X generates its own WiFi signal, this camera can be used separate from your existing network. No additional router is required.

The Moticam X features a CMOS sensor with a 2.0 MP resolution and a WiFi resolution of 1280x1024 pixels. The optical calculation of the camera is 1/3 inch and the focusable lens is 12 mm. The Moticam X also comes complete with eye piece adapters, macro tube, calibration slide and Motic Images Plus software.

What do you say, why don't you unlock and unplug the power of your microscope with the new Moticam X? The possibilities here are seemingly endless! Jump onto the App Store for iOS devices or the Google Play Store for Android devices, download the MotiConnect App and get can't afford to wait another day. Don't have an iOs or Android device? That's okay. Use your WiFi enabled computer or the camera's IP address to view images from almost any HTML 5 supported Web browser!

Click here to learn more about the Moticam X.

40 STEM iPad Apps for Kids

With the need for students looking towards a STEM career path growing, it's no surprise that technology has figured how to do their part. With iPad apps that revolve around STEM appealing to children, there's a whole new way for them to learn without even knowing it.

These apps are great for giving your child practice, repetition and reinforcement: something that will definitely come in handy during the upcoming holiday breaks!

Categorized by math apps and science, technology and engineering apps, this site is a great tool for parents and educators a like.  Check it out!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Stylish Scientists

October 2012 marked the second annual list of the world's most stylish scientists by Furture-ish!

To be nominated for the list, Future-ish looks over 10 diverse variables including things like involvement in science, design, and culture, unique hobbies and of course, a great personal sense of style. The people that make the cut are changing the world with innovative research and changing a stereotypes every time they make an appearance expressing their oh-so-stylish selves.

Now these are the people we need to be looking at! And Future-ish agrees. They hope that they're list of diverse scientists will serve as role models to inspire everyone, from middle-schoolers and the Mom next door to movie stars and musicians, to become informed and engaged in the fields of STEM. At the end of the day, it is these fields that are shaping our future.

On this year's list: two of PBS's Design Squad Nation's very own. Judy Lee (#6) and Nate Ball (#4) each landed a spot on the list. 

Judy said: "I'm totally flattered and honored! I wish there were more awards out there that celebrated breaking old stereotypes. Congrats to everyone."

Nate said: "I'm amused and proud to be a role model in any way, not to mention as an apparently stylish engineer! If you look at some of those other entries, I'm actually wondering why more tech universities don't have modeling schools attached. I guess the list is proof that the words "stylish" and "engineer" aren't mutually exclusive after all!"

If you want to nominate someone for next year's list, send an e-mail with a picture of them and a short bio to Self nominations are welcome!

See this year's list.
Nate Ball in the fun engineering clip: Man vs. Sticky Note.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Today's Education Means Twitter School

That's right, I said it: Twitter School. We all know that social media is paving a way for itself in the classroom, and it was more obvious than ever before at the Advancing Improvement in Education Conference this month in Austin, Texas. As fifteen-year-old Adora Svitak stood in front of nearly 3,000 teachers, principals and administrators and gave them the tools they needed to implement Twitter and Facebook into their schools, the social media sphere rejoiced.

Svitak acknowledges that students today "live, work and play" social media." She also noted to her audience that when the characteristics present in social media don't exist in the classroom, it's easy to tune out.

Taking note, first-time Twitter users in the audience learned how to sign up and began tweeting - thanking Svitak for her presentation, hashtag and all.

Svitak wrapped things up by saying, "Any good teacher knows how important it is to connect with students and understand our cultures. That could start with something like pursuing Reddit and knowing popular memes...Social media has definite benefits for education."

To read more and look at the to must-have apps for successful high school students, click here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

MoticNet: Your Classroom Assistant

MoticNet represents the next step in science classroom management. Designed for and inspired by the success of digital microscopes, MoticNet is a software program that allows digital microscopes to be linked together in a network so that one teacher can have full and instant access to any student at any time. Having a live image transmitted at high-speed directly from the microscope to the computer means that students no longer have to fight over who gets to look through the eyepiece. With MoticNet, teachers can promote team work and group thinking easily.

Just imagine the possibilities in the classroom! Each student has the opportunity to explore and present findings to other students with keystroke guidance from the teacher. Teachers are able to broadcast from their computer workstation to the entire class through the simple click of a mouse, making this a truly interactive experience.

With digital microscopy at its core, this integrated software includes other teaching tools and is the core of classroom networking. This must-have expands its usefulness outside of teaching with microscopes and becomes even more versatile in the classroom. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Community Colleges Crucial for New Scientists

It's been regurgitated more times than you can count the past few years: the United States needs to grow and diversify it's STEM workforce if it wants to remain competitive with other countries and the new global economy. Something I bet you haven't heard, however, is that community colleges are starting to become more and more important in this process. 

The stats say that more than 50 percent of lower-income and racial-minority students, along with 40 percent of all students, start off at community college. Of all these students, a mere 10 percent even consider a pathway in STEM. And usually, the students that do picture themselves in a STEM field initially change their minds as their studies progress.

The numbers get worse when you look at women. Of the 500,000 associate's degrees earned each year by women at community college's, a depressing five percent are in STEM fields.

Since finances are so important to a number of today's students, community colleges have the flexibility the budget-savvy student needs. The problem: while enrollment at community colleges is up, it's in large part due to one-year technical training programs. Not enough students are transferring to universities to obtain four-year degrees (what you need to get a job in the high-demand STEM fields).

So, how do we get get students to transfer to four-year universities after finishing up at a community college? That's were it gets tough...right now alignment between community colleges and four-year universities is the exception rather than the rule. Frequently, promising future scientists leave their major because certain credits don't transfer or because they don't feel invited into the science community at the university they're looking at. Alignment efforts couple with proper advising can change this!

Read some of Becky Wai-Ling Packard's commentary on the subject.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Buying a Microscope

You've figured out what microscope is best for you and you're ready to dish out the money for one that'll be worth it. Here's the top ten features to think about as you make this purchase. Remember, in many instances, you're investing in the future!
  1. Student-Proof Features: Things like locked-on eyepiece(s), one-piece head, retractable objective lenses and locked on stage clips can make a world of difference in the classroom.
  2. All-Metal Construction
  3. Built-In Cord Holder
  4. Unique Features like retractable sealed objectives, built-in carrying handle and Pointmaster eyepieces can make your microscope even better!
  5. Warranty: Make sure you're familiar with the warranty of the microscope you're looking to purchase.
  6. After-Sales Supports: This can be crucial when you excitingly unpack your microscope, think you're ready to go and then something doesn't work right. Technical and digital support can get you back up and running.
  7. Energy-Efficient Illumination: Cool light, low electricity use, long-lasting bulb, easy bulb access.
  8. Variable Illumination
  9. User Manual
  10. Standardized Design to Meet Curriculum Needs

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Keeping the 'T' in STEM"

In 1994, Laura Reasoner Jones started an after school club called Girls Excelling in Math and Science (GEMS Club) to encourage girls to engage in STEM activities and spark their interest in STEM career fields.  Over the past 18 years, Jones says they've had a ball and the girls have thrived.

This year, Jones wants to do something she hasn't done before: motivate girls to embrace technology as creators, not users. Since it's been easy to offer experiences and activities in the other three STEM components (science, engineering and math) Jones wants to focus her energy on breaking down the barriers that keep women and young girls away from technology.

Jones explains that early exposure to IT can build confidence in girls, and encourage them to pursue future educational opportunities in the field. Even better, careers in IT are plentiful, high-paying and meaningful.

Despite the facts, enrollment and participation in computing classes has been dropping steadily since the 1980s, and fewer and fewer women are graduating with computer science or IT degrees. There's two problems here: girls are missing out on great career opportunities, and the world is missing out on their talents and perspectives as women.

Jones says that there are several resources we can look at to overcome this dilemma. The National Center for Women and Information Technology offers educators 60 downloadable ideas, including Computer Science in a Box, which teaches the premises of computing without the use of machines. Then there's Alice (, a program that encourages children, particularly girls, to explore computer science and programming.

While the programs Jones mentions may spark an interest in IT, a girl won't really be enticed unless she feels comfortable in the area. Jones encourages everyone to look around the computer lab/room where girls learn. If the room looks like a locker room or "man cave," educators may want to consider transforming the room to a place where girls and boys of all cultures are welcome with posters of successful men and women alike. 

We can all work together to make technology inviting and not intimidating for girls - let's do it!

To read more of Jones' commentary, click here.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Secret Life of Scientists

The misconception that science is a rigid subject for people who play by the rules is enough to turn any girl away from it - and lately it has been. In an effort to bridge the gap between girls and STEM fields, STEM4Girls has compiled a number of videos from various mentors in STEM related fields, showing young girls that women in STEM careers are ordinary women with a passion for what they do - that's all that matters.

Erika Ebbel was studying at MIT when some friends signed her up for a pageant. After realizing that the skills she needed to compete in pageants were important skills to have, Ebbel signed up for another pageant, won it and qualified for the Miss Massachusetts pageant. Ebbel would win that pageant as well. Her story is a great example of how a woman can pursue a STEM career and embody all things beautiful at the same time. 

Watch Ebbel's video below. To view more mentor videos, visit STEM4Girls' website.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Abdul-Jabbar Promotes STEM Education

File:Kareem Abdul Jabbar crop.jpgThat's right, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer, will serve as California's After-School STEM Ambassador for the next year, promoting the importance of STEM subjects.

"If America is to maintain our high standard of living, we must continue to innovate," Abdul-Jabbar said in a statement published by Education Week. "We are competing with nations many times our size, and STEM learning represents the engines of innovation. With these engines, we can lead the world, because knowledge is real power."

In his new role of After-School STEM Ambassador, the NBA great will make appearances at after-school programs around California to promote STEM education. This will be just another effort on Abdul-Jabbar's part, who has invested a considerable amount of time promoting STEM education the past few years. Through his Skyhook Foundation, Abdul-Jabbar has been actively pushing the importance of STEM education and STEM-related fields.

Abdul-Jabbar was spotted at the U.S. News and World Report's STEM Conference in Dallas earlier this summer pointing out the cultural shift that's necessary to make STEM jobs more attractive to younger generations - especially those in lower-income communities. 

Abdul-Jabbar's role as STEM ambassador in California could take on a particularly high importance in turning around the state's high-quality science instruction. We'll have to stay tuned to see how it goes!

Read more about Abdul Jabbar's involvement in STEM education here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Texas Teacher Named BELS Recipient!

The National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) recently named Julia Lawrence as the recipient of the 2012 Biology Educator Leadership Scholarship (BELS). Lawrence is a science teacher at McCowan Middle School in Glenn Heights, Texas, just outside of Dallas. Like several other middle school teachers, Lawrence teaches biology, chemistry, physics and earth science. Lawrence says that it's biology that she "really enjoys."

Lawrence has a Bachelor of Science in Biology/Chemistry from Texas Southern University and a Master of Education from Walden University. Before teaching, she was a chemist and lab analyst in the private sector. Lawrence will be using the BELS to pursue a Doctorate of Education in Educational Administration from Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

Lawrence will be officially recognized at the BELS Benefit Dinner at the NABT Conference on Friday, Nov. 2. Lawrence was honored to receive this award.

Microscopes 101

Microscope lingo can have any first-time user or owner confused. Swift has put together a list of basic definitions that will have you understanding your microscope and sounding like a seasoned scientist in no time!
  • Chromatic Aberration: When lenses fail to focus two different parts of the spectrum in the same focal plane, they suffer from chromatic aberration.
  • Condenser: The function of the condenser is to provide full illumination to the specimen place and to enhance the resolution and contracts of the object being viewed.
  • DIN Optics: A German Standard for the manufacturing of microscope lenses. Optics are interchangeable from one DIN microscope to another. (DIN: Deutsche Industrial Normen)
  • Diopter Adjustment: The ability to adjust the focus for one eyepiece in a binocular or trinocular microscope to compensate for the different in vision between the user's eyes.
  • Focal Length: Parallel rays of light after refraction through a lens will be brought to a focus at the focal point. The distance from the optical center of the lens to the focal point, in the focal length, or focus.
  • Numerical Aperture (N.A.): A measure of the light gathering capabilities of an objective lens. The concept is comparable to the F-value in photographic lenses. In general, N.A. values less than 1.00 are dry objectives, while values greater than 1.00 require oil as a medium. The N.A. value can be found on individual objectives. NOTE: Condenser lenses are part of the optical system and are also assigned a N.A. value. The condenser system on a scope should match the N.A. of the highest power objective on the microscope.
  • Parfocal/Parcenter: A microscope system that is parfocused/parcentered enables the user to switch objective lenses (change powers) and still have the specimen in focus and centered in the field of view.
  • Working Distance: The distance between the front lens of the objective and the cover glass when the lens is focused on the specimen.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Project Lead The Way Makes STEM History!

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is the leading provider of rigorous and innovative STEM education curricular programs used in middle schools and high schools. The organization recently released the official 2012-2013 school year registration numbers and what the data reflected was astounding: nearly a 20 percent increase in schools offering PLTW courses to America's students was seen. Cheers to a small victory in STEM education!

For the 2012-2013 school year, PLTW added 1,004 new programs and 747 new schools. The addition of these programs bring the total number of PLTW programs to 5,211. The total number of middle and high schools offering PLTW to their student's is now 4,782 - numbers higher than ever experienced in PLTW history!

The programs mentioned refer to the organization's three middle and high school offerings: the high school engineering program, Pathway to Engineering (PTE); the high school Biomedical Sciences (BMS) program; and the middle STEM curriculum, Gateway to Technology (GTT).

This sudden increase in PLTW programs in America's schools is hopefully a sign of the nation's education priorities and an indication of more STEM growth to come.

Read more about PLTW and their most recent numbers.

Take Your Science Class to the Next Level

A common pain point in science classrooms today is the lack of student engagement; especially in elementary school science classrooms. Since getting children interested in science at this age is so crucial, modifying your science classroom to insure student engagement and overall interest is more important than ever before.

Ms. Maronpot, a third grade science teacher, had Dr. Royce, a science expert, come and observe her class and give her feedback on what she should incorporate into her classroom to make it better.  Watch the Teaching Channel video below to see what Dr. Royce said! This advice can be modified and adopted for any science level!