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.