Friday, June 28, 2013

Summer Science Experiment: Mystery Markers!

Summer heat is officially taking over. Since your youngsters can't spend all day outside, bring them inside and embrace their inquisitive side with another summer time experiment that you can do right inside your kitchen. Even better, you'll enjoy this experiment as much as your kids will.

Here's what you'll need:
  • Bowl of water
  • Plain white paper towels, cut into strips
  • 3 or more different markers, including black (non-primary colors work best)
When you have all your materials together, get started!
  1. Draw a wavy line an inch from the bottom of each towel strip, using different color markers on each one. Make sure you note which color is on which strip.
  2. Dip each strip in to the water so that the bottom edge of the paper towel is submerged, but not the line of marker ink. Hold the strip in place as the water creeps up the paper towel.
  3. The marker ink will spread, revealing the different types of dye that make up each color. The young minds around you will this it's magic!
The lesson here is that most colors are actually made up of several different colors or dyes. Science-ly speaking:  as the paper towel draws the water out of the bowl, the water molecules bond with the different ink molecules and spread them. The process of separating these dyes is known as chromatography. 

To make it really interesting, have your young scientist cover up their eyes while you draw a line on a fresh paper towel strip. Dip it in the water and, once the ink has spread, have them open their eyes and try to guess which marker you used!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Indiana Making STEM Count

Earlier this month, Bob Rivers told Louisa Murzyn of that if there was a silver lining to business innovation in Indiana during rough economic times it would stepping up STEM. "Our businesses have sounded an alarm because they have to hire people from our of state," the Director of the Center for Science and Technology Education at Purdue University Calumet relayed to Murzyn.

Creating a pipeline of strong STEM students is easier said than done, though. The U.S. Department of Labor cites that only five percent of U.S. workers are employed in STEM fields despite the fact that they are responsible for more than 50 percent of sustained economic expansion. To go even deeper, STEM careers have garnered 26 percent more earnings than their non-STEM counterparts.

STEM job growth was three times that of non-STEM jobs in the past decade and is the runner up to health care as the fastest growing occupational category, but the growth still isn't enough. River communicated that Indiana really needs to step up their game and raise the bar all around. Key STEM fields in Indiana include advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, engineering and information technology.

Not enough STEM professionals isn't a problem in Indiana alone. In fact, it doesn't come as a huge surprise to many that the problem extends itself nationwide. Commentary on the STEM problem usually leads to discussions of testing and holding students, educators and institutions alike accountable for teaching science and getting students prepared to tackle higher level science courses. Rivers explained to Murzyn that an imperative part of the process is assessing student ability in science over the long haul and starting these assessments at the upper elementary level.

Also part of the discussion is exciting students about STEM fields. Since STEM degrees and certificates are not keeping pace with the growth of STEM jobs, many think that students are simply lacking excitement about the subject matter. In Indiana, Rivers thinks that lighting the fire in elementary school is essential because that's "where the pipeline starts." 

Rivers also told Murzyn that the composition of the STEM pipeline needs to include more women and underrepresented minorities. This argument has faced opposition recently, but the statistics still show that men dominate the STEM playing field. Nonetheless, Indiana is looking to solve these problems a step at a time with small improvement after small improvement.

Check out Murzyn's full article on building a STEM pipeline in Indiana and view more of Rivers' commentary on the issue.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Myth vs. Fact: Where STEM Really Stands

Earlier this week, a panel of educators and STEM advocates at the 2013 U.S. News STEM Solutions conference in Austin, Texas debunked what they deem to be myths about STEM. Though fixing the state of STEM in America is a hot topic, there are more misconceptions and misunderstandings about what's really happening than many realize.

Here's a look into the myths the panel discussed.

There are massive shortcomings across all STEM fields.
Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, said on Tuesday, "Not all STEM fields are created equal. If I look at biology and chemistry classes, they are probably 60 percent female, and there are a lot of students of color in those classes." 

This addresses the notion that STEM fields lack diversity and aren't particularly female-friendly.

Boosting STEM education is a matter of finding as many teachers as possible.
Before we produce an overload of qualified STEM educators, many in Tuesday's panel think we need to be aware of where the shortages fall. The problem now: colleges are producing gobs of elementary school teachers and not enough science teachers.

Testing can be a great thing.
How much should the education system really rely on testing? According to educators and STEM advocates, "teaching the test" can be incredibly counterproductive to helping students learn and grow educationally.

STEM has to seem "cool" for kids to be good at it.
The panel stressed that putting young students through the "uncool" basics of match and science may be mundane and frustrating at times, but these steps are crucial. A young student must understand these concepts and understand them before he or she can move of to the more exciting elements of science.

Read the full U.S. News & World News Report by Danielle Kurtzleben here. It's complete with quotes from the panel and more discussion topics.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Summer Science: Ivory Soap Explosion

Your kids are home for the summer and when bad weather keeps them from playing outside or heading to the pool, back up plans can be few and far between. Cue science experiments you can do with them in your kitchen! Why not do something that's fun and teaches your young ones a thing or two about science?

The Ivory soap experiment will do just that. In fact, it will probably produce a reaction neither you or your child were expecting. 

Here's all you'll need:
  • One bar of Ivory soap
  • A microwave
  • Paper plate or towel

Now, prepare yourself to be amazed. (Okay, maybe not amazed, but you will be surprised - as will the young scientist in your midst.)
  1. Cut the bar of Ivory soap in half and then cut each half in half, so that you have quarters.
  2. Put one quarter (one piece) of the soap bar into the microwave and heat for 1-2 minutes. You might want to put the soap on a paper plate or towel to minimize clean-up after the experiment.
  3. Now observe what happens! The reaction happens relatively quickly; around one minute, but definitely less than two.
  4. After you've seen what happens to the first quarter of the bar of soap, do it with the other three pieces you have left. Watching it react it in the microwave never gets old!
  5. After the soap has reacted, explore it through touch, smell and play. It will be dry and soft and have a texture similar to tissue paper.
To enhance this experiment even more, try adding water to the reacted soap and see what happens!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Education Reform Coming to Texas

A number of bills will be signed by Texas Governor Rick Perry today, vastly changing the way public education is oriented, reports 1200 WOAI news.

The barrage of reform in the bill is the first large scale move beyond initiatives started in the nineties and 1980s, all of which stressed testing and accountability.

A huge win for STEM: the bill allows school districts to move some students into vocational and technical fields which are considered critical for many of the jobs in booming STEM fields. Specifically, the bill states that "all secondary students will have the opportunity to participate in career and technology education programs."

The bill also does away with the 'four-by-four' system, which states that students have to take four years that include four college-prep courses.  Although the bill doesn't cut out standardized testing, it dramatically reduces the number of tests that students actually have to take. Currently, students can spend up to 45 days of the 180 day school year being tested. After Governor Perry signs the new bill, the number of tests students have to take to graduate from high school will be cut from 15 to five.

As a result of the bill, other changes include:
  • School districts must limit interruptions from announcements
  • The ability to remove students from the classroom for remedial tutoring is being reduced
  • Written permission from a parent is required before a student can be removed from a classroom
  • A student will be allowed to complete an apprenticeship for class credit in a technology program approved by the district
The bill also changes school district and accountability ratings from "exemplary" and "academically unacceptable" to the easily understandable "A" through "F" rating system.

Read more about the new bill  and what else it's changing.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Capture, Label & Report Using MoticNet

Are you looking to network your classroom? The digital era has brought technology to everything - even science! MoticNet is designed for and inspired by the success of digital microscopy and technology in science classrooms. MoticNet allows digital microscopes to be linked so that one teacher can have full and instant access to any student at any time.

If you've already networked your classroom, take a look at this video to touch up your skills on using MoticNet to capture, label and report in you classroom! If you haven't used MoticNet before, the possibilities really are endless. Integrating science with technology and even incorporating literacy, MoticNet helps you provide your students with a well-rounded lesson. Check it out!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Intel Science Fair has Students Solving Real World Dilemmas

For the participants of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, one of the best-known student competitions in the country, all of their experiments stay true to the scientific method and begin with a problem. 

The Romanian high school senior who won the $75,000 Gordon E. Moore award at this year's fair brought two big problems to the table: 1) a large number of fatal and severe car accidents are the result of human error, and self-driving car technology - which many believe can reduce these numbers - is still very expensive. So, Ionut Budisteanu invented a self-driving car that's just about $70,000 cheaper than Google's version.

"Because I am a high school student and I was trying to create a homemade self-driving car, I couldn't use the same technology [as Google]," Budisteanu said in an interview relayed by guest blogger Sean Meehan in Education Week. "They use a very expensive 3D Lidar [type of a radar], so I decided to try to remove that part as much as possible."

In the beginning, Budisteanu's attempts to remove the 3D Lidar only yielded a 60-70 percent success rate. He was able to significantly raise those numbers though by using a much cheaper lidar system to recognize larger objects, curbs, signs and lane markings. Now, Budisteanu's success rate is near-perfect. 

Currently working on graduating, Budisteanu's new connections in the world of computer science and Artificial Intelligence should come in handy since that's what he's planning on studying during and after college.

To read Meehan's full report and to learn more about the features of Budisteanu's self-driving car, click here.