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.