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!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Career of the Month

NSTA's career of the month for October is inventor! Dean Kamen, inventor of the segway, is an incredible example of an innovator and entrepreneur. He holds more than 440 United States and foreign patents, many of them for medical devices like the portable dialysis system and an all-terrain wheelchair.  It isn't surprising that Kamen has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He also founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a nonprofit that runs robotics competitions to generate excitement in students about science and technology.

Kamen's advice to students: do what you're passionate about. As he told Luba Vangelova, "Nobody will get really good at something unless they're passionate about it. We all went to gym class, but those who wanted to excel at sports had to commit themselves to practice after school. Science and math are the same."

To find out more and to look at other interesting STEM careers, visit the NSTA website.

Selecting the Right Microscope

Swift knows that choosing the right microscope for your classroom can be confusing. Before you decide to buy, here are some important questions you should ask yourself:
  • Will you be teaching elementary, intermediate, high school or university students?
  • Do you need a microscope with special features like the ability to capture images?
  • Do you want a microscope that can be used in the classroom as well as out in the field?
  • Do you want a microscope that can integrate with your existing technology or with future technology?
Okay, now that we have the basics answered, it's important to evaluate the major microscope types. There are compound microscopes and stereo microscopes.

Compound microscopes are comprised of two lens systems: the eyepiece and the objective. They provide high magnification power and a two-dimensional view of specimens. Compound microscopes also have several eyepiece options including monocular (one), binocular (two) and trinocular (three, generally used with a camera). Compound microscopes are ideal for applications such as viewing blood samples, cells and cell structures, bacteria, pond water and liquids. It is generally thought that monocular microscopes are easier for young students to use.

Stereo microscopes feature lower magnification power and higher resolution for viewing the surface of solid, larger specimens. Stereo microscopes are equipped with both incident and transmitted illumination. Because of this feature, stereo microscopes may also be used for viewing translucent specimens like plants and pond water organisms. Stereo microscopes will provide a finely detailed, three-dimensional image of the specimen and are ideal for viewing coins, stamps, inspecting gems, fossils, rocks, machine and electrical components.
An SM100 Series Stereo

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Pond Water Safari with Mrs. Seay

Using Swift microscopes and other necessary supplies, science teacher Mrs. Seay gets her class completely involved in the task of identifying and classifying different living organisms found in local pond water.  Getting children science savvy with things they think are cool like microscopes and "cool" living organisms, Mrs. Seay has a good chance of encouraging some of her students to pursue majors and careers in science!  Every science teacher should check out this Teaching Channel video.

STEM Teachers: Be an Einstein Fellow!

The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program is now accepting applications for the 2013-2014 Fellowship Year. The Einstein Fellowship Program is available to current K-12 STEM educators with a demonstrated excellence in teaching and leadership.

Selected teachers spend 11 months in Washington, D.C., sharing their expertise with STEM program directors or policy makers. Einstein Fellows may serve in a Congressional office or in one of several government agencies such as the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  Fellows receive a monthly stipend and an allowance for professional travel and relocation. The fellowship year begins in late August 2013.

The goal of the Einstein Fellowship Program is to provide an opportunity for teachers to inform national policy and improve communication between the K-12 STEM education community and national leaders. The Einstein Fellowship Program was created in 1990 with support from the MacArthur Foundation; the 1994 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Act gave the DOE federal responsibility for the Program. The Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education administers the Program for the DOE Office of Science’s in partnership with the other participating federal agencies.

Applicants must be U.S. citizens, be currently employed full time in a public or private elementary or secondary school or school district, and must have been teaching in one or more STEM fields full time in a public or private elementary or secondary school for at least five of the last seven years.

For more information about the program and to learn how to apply, visit Applications for the 2013-14 Fellowship program are due by 11:00 pm EST on Dec. 5.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Send Your Teacher to STEM Camp!

Want to give back to your child's teacher and give them the opportunity to learn all about math and science? Well, here's your chance! Apply to send a 3rd through 5th grade teacher to the 2013 Mickelson ExxonMobil Teacher's Academy! Teachers, you can apply too!

The Academy was started by professional golfer Phil Mickelson and his wife, Amy. Working with ExxonMobil, they created a special learning environment just for teachers. The Mickelsons wanted to develop a program that inspires teachers from across the county in and math and science and equips them with tools to ignite their students' passion for these subjects, and that's exactly what they did. While they're at the Academy, teachers do lots of cool math and science experiments that they can share in the classroom. 

Joined by math and science experts from the National Science Teacher's Association (NSTA) and Math Solutions, teachers are taught fun ways to teach their students about math and science. When teachers return, they'll be ready to develop the next generation of science savvy citizens who will grow up to make the next breakthrough in medicine, in energy or in any other science or math field.

All expenses are paid for the one week program for the teachers selected. In 2012, over 200 teachers were selected.

You only have until Oct. 31 too apply, so you better do it quickly! To learn more about the program and to apply, click here.

STEM Education is Worth It...Literally

Student loan debt stories can make anyone cringe. We all know someone that has six-figure loan debt and is still working on finding a job. Look at the numbers on this table! If you're looking at college from an investment standpoint, your conclusion should be clear: STEM majors are where you're going to find the most bang for your buck.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Talking to Teens About STEM

Can there really be anything more difficult for a parent than sitting down with your teen and relaying the dangers associated with drugs?

A recent study by Intel says yes! Intel, a member of Change the Equation, found that parents would rather talk to their teens about drugs than match or science. I know what you're thinking - because I'm sure it's the same thing I was thinking - but since a large percentage of today's parents don't have strong backgrounds in science or math, they struggle coming up with stories to relay to their children. They are, however, able to come up with stories about how they feigned off drugs.

Many parents said they'd welcome a "one-stop shop with materials to refresh their existing, but unused math and science knowledge so they can better help there kids."

There's one more problem here. Parents aren't normally able to suppress their own dislike for math, relaying it onto their children sometimes unintentionally. In a survey that Change the Equation conducted just two years ago, more than one third of Americans admitted that they often say they can't do math. Just about one third said they'd rather clean the bathroom than solve a math problem.

Could refreshing STEM skills and changing attitudes be an integral part to the current STEM revolution - I think yes!

Check out Change the Equation's website for more!

We Couldn't Have Done it Without STEM...

Why all the buzz about STEM education, you ask? Just take a look back in history - without qualified people with knowledge in STEM fields, some important events and turning points would never have happened! Here are some highlights:

1950 - The National Science Foundation is's about time!

1957 - On October 4, The Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik. This not only began the Space Age and triggered the Space Race, it generated more developments in science and technology than ever before!

1958 - Hello, NASA! In July, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, creating NASA and sparking American interest in STEM.

1958 - The National Defense Act passed, generating $1 billion for 40,000 loans, 40,000 scholarships and 1,500 graduate fellowships for students in STEM fields. 1958 was a brilliant year in STEM history!

1974 - The American society was changed forever with the invention of the personal computer! 

1983 - This was a turning point. The National Commission on Excellence in Education published "A Nation at Risk." The report warned that the nation was at risk because of its mediocre education system. The report stressed that there was a particularly severe shortage in math and science teachers.

1992-1997 - The percentage of top-performing U.S. high school students who majored in STEM in college peaked near 30 percent...what happened?

2011 - President Barack Obama calls for the training of 100,000 new teachers in STEM over the next 10 years in his State of the Union Address, effectively moving STEM education to the forefront of America's education priorities.

To see the full STEM timeline, click here.

Today, 100Kin10, the largest STEM initiative, advocates for recruiting and training teachers who specialize in STEM fields. Measuring the progress of STEM education is hard to quantify and can't always be measured through standardized test scores and GPAs alone. Last year, STEM jobs made up almost a quarter of the professional labor force! With projections that STEM jobs will add 2.1 million jobs to the workforce between 2012 and 2020, it's safe to say that STEM is here to stay!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

STEM Vital Signs: Texas

As a leading high-tech state, Texas businesses need more STEM talent to stay competitive than ever before. Despite economic downturn, STEM skills are still in high demand in Texas. In fact, there are 2.5 STEM jobs for every one unemployed person compared to 3.3 unemployed persons for every one non-STEM job. Hello, people! Improving student performance in STEM in K-12 is crucial to help not only the Texas economy grow, but the entire nation's.

There are some highlights here, though. Since 2004, the State of Texas, with private sector support, has invested more than $100 million to create 65 STEM Academies serving more than 25,000 students. Texas also recently adopted new math standards and more rigorous assessment and it's paying off. Texas students are spending more time on elementary science, are participating more in hands-on learning and are making progress in math. 

Change the Equation's 2012 Vital Signs measure the health of the K-12 STEM enterprise state by state. Vital Signs was created in collaboration with the American Institutes for Research and was made possible by generous support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

To look at Change the Equation's full report on the STEM Vital Signs in Texas, click here.

To find out what the STEM Vital Signs are like in your state, click here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

"Learning Biology With a Digital Microscope"

After collaborating with TERC, a leader in STEM research, Swift Optical Instruments produced the first Swift Lab Manual for use with Swift digital microscopes and digital imaging software. Score! 

The lab manual is geared towards high school grade level (9-12) biology courses, but can certainly be adapted to other grades. With 20 hands-on activities, divided into four theme-based units, it is the ultimate learning resource for science classrooms. The activities in the manual can be done in order or individually with appropriate preparation.

The manual is linked with National and Key-State biology/life science standards (Texas, New York, California and Florida) along with four nationally recognized high school biology textbooks. This manual is proving to be your best friend in high school labs.

The activities in "Learning Biology with a Digital Microscope" give students endless opportunities to explore the living world around them. The teacher-friendly nature make it just as valuable to teachers as it can be for students. Easy to follow step-by-step instructional student sheets insure that all activities are classroom ready.

Learn more about Swift digital microscopes' greatest companion here.

Why STEM Education?

It's no secret that the U.S. needs to improve STEM education for future generations of youngsters. But, why is it so important? For starters, STEM jobs are expected to increase at a rate of 17 percent per year while non-STEM jobs are expected to decline by 10 percent. STEM careers will keep America competitive not only now, but in the future, and we have to get the nation's students ready for that future now.

U.S. students currently sit mid-pack in international comparisons of math and science performance. This isn't headline news anymore, but reports are now showing that some schools that are considered successful aren't keeping the pace in STEM subjects. Recently, a mere one-third of U.S. eighth graders showed proficiency in math and science.

So, what can we do? It's all about turning the tide and making STEM education more successful and desirable in the United States!

Start by sowing STEM seeds early. Students who have exciting and memorable experiences in STEM at an early age are more likely to stick with it and follow through. Studies suggest that if a student is interested in STEM in eighth grade, they're three times more likely to pursue a STEM degree.

Show students that STEM careers matter. Underrepresented groups like women and minorities from low-income areas need to see that there are people with similar backgrounds to them that turned things around or made it in a STEM-related career. This helps spark their interest.

Explain that STEM education means opportunity. Job security means more today than ever before and finding a job quickly after graduation is enough to entice any young person. More than 1 million additional graduates with STEM degrees will be needed to fill the growing number of jobs that require those skills - students need to know that now!

To check out Greg Tucker's full report on the issue, click here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Darwin Day 2013 is Approaching!

Attention teachers, administrators, educators and science enthusiasts: do you want to bring cutting-edge evolutionary science to your school and community? Who wouldn't?! Check out NESCent's 2013 Darwin Day Roadshow and apply to be a part of it.

NESCent (The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center) is an evolution center funded by the National Science Foundation. To celebrate Charles Darwin's contributions to science and society, NESCent sends their scientists on the road every year during "Darwin Day" (the annual, worldwide celebration of Darwin's birthday, Feb. 12) to chat with students, teachers and the general public about their research and career opportunities in science. Talk about getting inspired about science - this will do it! If you're selected, there's no cost to you and the NESCent scientists will even leave you with a collection of evolution teaching resources. I know, can it get any better?

For more information, and to apply to have your school considered, visit or contact Jory Weintraub at You only have until Nov. 9 to apply!

File:Charles Darwin aged 51.jpg
Charles Darwin at age 51

Digital Defined!

Are you having trouble understanding the lingo that goes with your new Swift digital product? If you are, it's your lucky day: we bring you digital defined! Here are six terms that cause confusion or frequently raise questions about digital scopes and their functionality.

  • Exposure: Refers to how long the shutter of the camera is open, not to brightness.
  • Field of View: The image that is seen through the microscope eyepiece may differ from the image that is seen on the computer screen. The quality of the microscope affects the quality of the image.
  • Frame Rate: The measurement of the frequency or rate at which a digital camera produces images called frames. 
  • Megapixel (MP): Refers to the number of pixels in an image and to express the number of sensor elements of a digital camera or the number of display elements of a digital display. For example, a camera with an array of 2048x1536 pixels is commonly referred to as a 5 MP camera.
  • Resolution: Live image resolution is most important in digital microscopy. This may be different than what is used in digital photography. When using a microscope as a teaching tool, it is important to see what is happening under the microscope. Live image resolution is the part that allows one to see a smooth, curved cell wall with pixilation. It is important to choose the right image chip that will give the right live image resolution. The more pixels, the better the resolution becomes.
  • White Balance: An adjustment that allows for better color correction.
So whether you have a digital microscope or a digital camera, get to know it - a better understanding always leads to better microscopy! 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

STEM Represented in 2012 MacArthur Fellows

Here's to a small victory in science education! Every year, the MacArthur Foundation makes a $500,000 investment in the future by handing out money to people whose work shows promise. The 2012 fellows were just announced and on this year's roster are a plethora of STEM representatives including a mathematician, a geriatrician, an optical physicist and astronomer, a neurobiologist, a medical microbiologist, a geochemist, a marine ecologist, a computer scientist and a bioengineer. Two of the winners were also named one of PopSci's Brilliant 10: Maria Chudnovsky and Melody Swartz. 

Matematician Maria ChudnovskyMaria Chudnovsky investigates the fundamental principles of graph theory. Although her research is highly abstract, Chudnovsky is laying the conceptual foundation s for deepening connections between graph theory and its relationship to other branches of mathematics, such as linear programming and geometry. Chudnovsky is an associate professor for the department of industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia University. 

Bioengineer Melody Swartz
Melody Swartz applies principles and methods from engineering and physiology to discover the mechanisms controlling the movement of biological fluids through tissue and the implications for health. She uses a large toolbox of concepts and methods from biophysics, cell culture, molecular genetics, engineering and immunology  Swartz is a professor at the Institute of Bioengineering in Lausanne, Switzerland.

To check out all of the 2012 MacArthur fellows, click here!

We are All Born Scientists

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley suggest that young children think and learn about their surroundings just like scientists think and learn in advanced experiments.  The parallel isn't hard to see if you really think about it.  Scientists form hypotheses, test them, analyze their findings and learn from their actions as well as the actions of others. Cue child's play!

Kids approach the world and their surroundings on a learn by doing basis. The scientists at Cal state that youngsters learn using probabilistic models, engaging with the world through patterns and using those patterns to make predictions. Just like scientific experiments can, this sort of behavior can lead to drastic reformulations of different world views.

This new research adds to a growing body of evidence that early childhood education is crucial. It also supports the notion that making preschool more academic can be detrimental and shy children away from STEM right out of the gates. Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology and philosophy at Cal and the lead author of the new study, says the children, especially of preschool age, shouldn't necessarily participate in strict lessons and take home flash cards. Instead, she thinks they should be encouraged to examine cause and effect by playing with things and seeing how they work.

Gopnik's research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and published in Science last Friday.

To read more about the study and what Gopnik had to say about it, check out Rebecca Boyle's article.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

10 Tips for Better Microscopy

Fiddling with coarse focus knobs and fine focus knobs can get really old, really fast if you're not sure what you're doing. Here are 10 tips that will have you using your microscope like a pro. Even if you're comfortable with your microscope, these tips will perfect your skills - there's always room to learn something new, right?

1. A compound microscope gives a two-dimensional, flat image. Use a compound microscope for specimens that are to be examined using a slide preparation method (micro). There are monocular, dual-view, binocular and trinocular compound microscopes.

2. A stereo microscope has a binocular body and gives a three-dimensional image. Use a stereo microscope for specimens that have depth or are large in size and require a working distance (macro).

3. Start to focus using the lowest magnification! In a compound microscope, this is the 4X objective and in a stereo microscope, this is the 1X objective. Make sure the objective "clicks" into place before beginning.

4. Always place the specimen to be viewed in the center of the stage or stage plate. If you're using a compound microscope, make sure the slide is placed on the stage with the center over the light.

5. This may sound like a no-brainer, but make sure a slide is right-side-up when viewing it. This is especially important when you're looking at a prepared slide. If it's upside down, it won't be in focus on high power (40X)!

6. When focusing in on an image, use the coarse adjustment knob first, then the fine focus knob. If done correctly, you should be able to change between objectives with just a minor fine focus adjustment. Fun fact: this means the microscope is parafocalled.

7. When you want to adjust the illumination, use the intensity control and condenser or diaphragm.

8. Remember, when using higher magnifications, it is necessary to adjust the light source.

9. Proper care and handling is a must! This will give your microscope a happier, longer life. Always carry a microscope by sing two hands; one hand around the arm and the other under the base.

10. Just like you enjoy being clean, so does your microscope. Keep your microscope clean. To clean the lenses, remove any dust or dirt with a camel brush or canned air. Moisten one end of a Q-tip with lens cleaning solution while keeping the other end of the Q-tip dry. Clean the optical surface by moving the moist part of the Q-tip in a circular motion. Using the dry end of the Q-tip, repeat the same motion to dry. Insider tip: a solution of Windex and vinegar works well. Finally, when you're microscope isn't in use, use a dust cover to store.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Achromatic, semi-plan, plan achromats, phase...what do they all mean? Achromatic, semi-plan, plan achromats and phase are all types of objectives. Since they can be confusing and a tad daunting when you're feeling your way through the microscope world for the first time, here's some explanations to help you understand their differences.

Achromatic Objectives: Lenses that bring parts of the color spectrum into the same plane of focus. Achromats are standard on any quality microscope. They may be designated as flatfield objectives, but typically deliver between 60-70 percent flatfield.

Semi-Plan Objectives: Objectives that are corrected to attain a flatness of field around 80-85 percent.

Plan Achromats: Objective lenses delivering nearly 100 percent flat field.

Phase: Objectives create the effect of "staining" by changing the optical light path without actually staining the slide. The benefit is that the specimen remains viable and intact.

High Schools Can't Make the STEM Cut

It's not new news that high schools aren't meeting the STEM demands, but the numbers behind the headlines are shocking. Take computer science for example. While computer scientists are in high demand in the United States, only a handful of high schools actually offer any advance training in the subject - and sadly, that number is shrinking.

Here are the facts:

  • Of the more then 42,000 public and private high schools in the U.S., only 2,100 high schools offered the Advanced Placement (AP) test in computer science last year. Brace yourselves - according to a recent Microsoft report, the number of schools offering the AP test in computer science has gone down 25 percent over the past five years!
  • Most schools that offer computer science don't allow it to count toward graduation. Only nine states - Georgia, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Virgina - allow computer science credits to fulfill core math or science requirements.
  • The other 41 states simply don't regard computer science as either a math or a science.
  • There is an estimated 120,000 new jobs requiring a bachelor's degree in computer science expected in the next year along. Yes, people, 120,00! On top of that, nearly 3.7 million jobs in STEM fields are currently waiting to be filled.
Contributing to the problem, finding qualified computer science teachers is troublesome. Dwindling budgets and strict pay structures makes the task even more difficult. 

On the brighter side, the Microsoft Technology Education and Literacy in School program is currently training tech professionals to work as part-time computer science teachers in high school. The company has big plans over the next three years that include investing $500 million to expand STEM education broadly!

To check out Kelsey Sheehy's full report on the matter, click here.

The 5 Most Educated Countries in the World

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released its Education at a Glance 2012 report last week. The report, which includes vocational training as part of high education and post-secondary education, ranked the United States as the fifth most educated country in the world. While the U.S. is home to some of the most renowned institutions of higher education, it's growth rate for higher education is a mere 1.3 percent per year - which is rather low in comparison to the OECD average of 3.7 percent.

The report also analyzed the age of those enrolled in higher education and although the U.S. is one of the world leaders in higher education for people between the ages of 25 and 64, it ranks just 14th globally for the percentage of those enrolled aged 25 to 34.

The countries ahead of the U.S. for most educated countries in the world are Japan at four, Israel at three,  and Canada at two. Russia is the reigning holder of the most educated country in the world after seeing a 78 percent increase in post-secondary foreign students between 2005 and 2010.

While fifth isn't last, it looks like STEM isn't the only thing the United States education realm needs to look at to keep future generations competitive educationally.

To view the Christian Science Monitor's full story, click here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

New Nanotechnology Center at UT Austin

nanometer chart
Watch out nanotechnology! After a newly-announced $18.5 million National Science Foundation (NSF), UT Austin is well on  its way to becoming one of the leading nanotechnology research centers in the United States. The new NSF Nanosystems Engineering Research Center will be known as the Nanomanufacturing Systems for Mobile Computing and Mobile Energy Technologies and will focus on things like mobile computing, nanomanufacturing, electromagnetic systems and environmental and health sensing.

William Powers Jr., the president of UT Austin, said:

"Nanotechnology is one of the most important frontiers there is. Nanoscale breakthroughs will usher in inventions and solutions we can only dream of today, and thanks to the National Science Foundation and our academic corporate partners, The University of Texas at Austin will be right at the cutting edge.

To read more about the new nanosystems engineering research center, visit Biotechnology Calender, Inc.

Microbiology and Microorganisms for Kids!

You don't have to have a microscope to learn about microbiology and the role of microorganisms. Microorganisms may be tiny, but they are extremely important to living things. Important to life on Earth, microorganisms are play a significant role in the nitrogen cycle and act as decomposers in several ecosystems. Microorganisms call food, plants, humans and many other things home. Without a microscope and with this engaging game, learn about bacteria that live in decaying leaves, diseases, moldy fruit, yeast in breads, bacteria in yogurt and salmonella in uncooked food. Take some time to sort the different types of microorganisms and enjoy this fun science game for kids!