This is Your Brain on Engineering

GoldieBlox, the company devoted to encourage more females to develop interest in STEM, has had its controversies.  But I think they’ve done an excellent job with their latest PSA, a video that parodies the “This is Your Brain on Drugs” campaign.  The ad creatively shows the use of its toys to highlight the entertainment value of engineering and design.  However, it also sprinkles in some sobering facts about the relatively low participation of our gender in engineering careers.  I like that GoldieBlox offers explanations, resources, and links about each of these facts on its site.

For more information on STEM resources for girls, you might want to visit my recent post on Women Role Models, or this one that gives several links to books, games, and sites.

We the Geeks

We the Geeks

In the fortuitous way that things seem to often happen in my life, I spent a fabulous Saturday morning with my daughter at a free event designed to spark girls’ interest in all things STEM related, then 24 hours later stumbled across a “Women Role Models” video on We the Geeks that reinforced all of my strong feelings about this topic.

We the Geeks is a series of Google Hangouts sponsored by the White House.  The purpose is “to highlight the future of science, technology, and innovation here in the United States. “

In the latest episode, “Women Role Models,” several female guests are interviewed (you can see the guest list below), and give their insight on how to encourage more girls to pursue scientific careers. Many of the guests mention how influential their teachers and teachers were in stimulating their interest in science.  What I heard repeated several times, though, was how important the excitement of the adult mentors can be.  One guest said, “If you have an excited teacher, you’re going to be excited about it.”  Another guest advised that parents should “learn with the kids… stay excited with them.” The latter point is key because, as she pointed out, if parents show that they are intimidated by science and math, that “trickles down” to the children.

Some of the other past episodes of We the Geeks have included: “Celebrating Black History Month,” “Student Startups,” and “Don’t Be Bored, Make Something.”  I haven’t watched any of the other videos, yet, but they all look pretty intriguing.

(Here is a link to a collection of videos to encourage girls in STEM from Amy Borovoy at Edutopia.)

Guests who recently appeared on "Women Role Models" in We the Geeks series

Guests who recently appeared on “Women Role Models” in We the Geeks series

 

My daughter peers through a telescope at the sun during the Girls Inc Science Festival

My daughter peers through a telescope at the sun during the Girls Inc. Science Festival

Elements 4D

Chlorine This isn’t a new resource.  Drew Minock and Brad Waid (Congrats again, Brad, on getting on this year’s 20 to Watch List!) have mentioned the Elements 4D Cubes several times on their website as well as on their weekly show, Two Guys and Some iPads.  I thought the cubes looked pretty cool, but didn’t really see a use for them in my classroom at the time.  Also, I missed out on the Kickstarter campaign for the wooden cubes, and figured I would be out of luck unless Daqri started selling them.

The wooden Elements 4D Cubes are still not available to the general public. (I tweeted them last night, and they responded that they are planning to make them available for sale in the near future.)   And I still don’t really have a use for them in my current curriculum.  But I sense a Genius Hour project may be planned in the immediate future – because my daughter and I have been having a blast with the free paper version of the cubes for the last two days.

My daughter came home from school the other day and mentioned that they had begun studying the elements in her science class, and that she had to do a report on Chlorine.  She chuckled at the coincidence (she is a synchronized swimmer who spends a lot of time washing chlorine out of her hair), but didn’t sound too excited about the project.  We were busy that evening, but I had a fleeting memory that someone had mentioned something about the paper version of the Elements 4D Cubes, and I decided, before school the next morning, to give them a try. At 6:45 A.M., I cut out 2 cubes, glued them together, and downloaded the free app.  My daughter, who had just woken up, got a demonstration at the breakfast table.  My performance was not well-received – probably largely due to the fact that she is not a morning person.

After school, she came home and started playing with the cubes and the app. The next thing I knew, she was busy cutting out the rest of the cubes.  As I sat in our home office trying to think of a post to write, I could hear her Facetiming her friend so she could show her the app.  When that call was done, she gathered all of the cubes to bring to the office to show me all of the elements she was discovering, and the fascinating combinations that could be made. Suddenly, Chlorine is an incredibly interesting element.  My daughter had no idea that it is a gas in its natural state (as the cube clearly shows), or that it combined with Sodium to make salt. Every new discovery she made with the cubes was exciting. We took a lot of iPad screen shots. I encourage you to try it out for yourself.  Download the free iPad app, print off the free cubes (I highly recommend printing them on card stock if possible), and spend a bit of time cutting and pasting so you can give yourself hours of fun.

(For more Augmented Reality Resources, check out my page of apps and activities here.  Also, you might be interested in Daqri’s Enchantium app, which Drew Minock reviewed here.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Connect a Million Minds

Connect a Million Minds

Connect a Million Minds is a program that is sponsored by Time Warner Cable with the aim “to address America’s declining proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).”  The program includes some videos, a website, grants, and other initiatives. In today’s post, I want to focus mainly on a couple of sections of the website – though I encourage you to also visit the collection of videos that show how STEM is used in many careers that students may not usually associate with these subjects.

One of the features of the Connect a Million Minds website is “Connectory.”  This is a page that allows you to search for STEM activities occurring in your area.  I did a search for my zip code, and was a little disappointed.  I am aware of a few upcoming events that weren’t listed.  Obviously, this database requires entries to be submitted from the local programs, and there does not seem to be two-way communication going on everywhere.   Parents are often asking me for camps, classes, and events, and I would love to be able to use this as a one-stop resource.  This has potential, but may need more media exposure to be fully realized.

Another feature of the site is the “Campaigns” section.  Currently, they are running a “STEM in Sports” campaign, which looks like it could really be beneficial for “hooking” some students into STEM.  It includes videos from some sports celebrities, such as Victor Cruz, Magic Johnson, Ian Poulter, and Jeff Gordon.  In the videos, the men relate their specific sports to STEM. (Notice that I said, “men.”  It would be nice to find some women to include in the sports section, as well!)  The “STEM in Sports” campaign also includes some resources for Parents and Educators to download that give suggestions for fun activities highlighting STEM connections in each sport.

If you are trying to find some STEM resources for students, try taking a look at Connect a Million Minds.  You may find something new that will spark a student’s interest in STEM.

 

Hello Ruby!

Illustration from Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas

Illustration from Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas.  Click here to visit her Kickstarter page.

If you are a regular reader, you probably know two things about me – that I am a fan of Kickstarter, and that I am a proponent of teaching kids how to code.  One of my more recent Kickstarter acquisitions was the Robot Turtles game, which is a board game that introduces young students the basics of programming.  My first graders loved playing it during “Hour of Code” week, and it was easy to transition them to other programming games like Kodable once they had that foundation.

Kickstarter apparently knows me well, because one of their recent e-mails highlighted a new project that will also help to introduce students to programming, “Hello Ruby.”

The name of the main character of the proposed storybook, Ruby,  comes from Ruby on Rails, which is described as “an open-source web framework that’s optimized for programmer happiness and sustainable productivity.”  I must admit that, though I’ve heard it mentioned quite a bit in coding conversations, I know absolutely nothing about it.  It sounds intriguing – and completely over my head.

Linda Liukas, who co-founded “Rails Girls“, a non-profit with the goal of encouraging women to embrace technology, wants to help dispel the mystique around programming by creating a children’s book and workbook to introduce the topic.  Ruby is the main character.  According to Liukas, “Ruby’s world is an extension of the way I’ve learned to see technology. It goes far beyond the bits and bytes inside the computer. This is the story of what happens between the ones and zeros, before the arrays and the if/else statements. The book and workbook are aimed for four to seven year olds.”

The drawings are whimsical and appealing, just like Linda Liukas.  If you watch the video on her Kickstarter site, you will find it easy to understand why, even though she only requested $10,000 to back the project, over $175,000 has already been pledged – and there are still 25 more days to go.

I can’t really recommend a product that I haven’t actually used, but I will tell you that I have backed this project because it looks very promising.  For those of you who are not familiar with Kickstarter, there are various levels available for you to pledge, and the money is not taken from you until the end of the funding period (and only if it is fully funded).  Also, if the funding surpasses the original request, there are usually “stretch goals”, which allow backers to receive a bit more than they originally expected. Liukas has already listed the stretch goals for “Hello Ruby” on the site. Also, you should note that delivery of this particular product (if you pledge at a level to receive something) is expected in August of this year.

It’s exciting to back Kickstarter projects – to get in on the ground floor of the creation of something that has the potential to make a great impact.  During the process, you receive e-mail updates, and get to learn more about what has to happen in order for a dream to become a reality.  If you haven’t done it before, I encourage you to take a look at the Kickstarter site.  It’s a great feeling to contribute to helping someone to transform their ideas to tangible products that could effect the world.

Illustration from the accompanying Hello Ruby workbook by Linda Liukas

Illustration from the accompanying Hello Ruby workbook by Linda Liukas.  Click here to visit the Kickstarter page.

Frontiers for Young Minds

Frontiers for Young Minds is a journal about neuroscience that is actually edited by kids between 8 and 18 years old.  According to this article from CBC News, the idea for the journal was dreamed up by Bob Knight, who serves as the editor in chief, and is also a professor at UC Berkeley.  It came “from the depths of my mind, in a moment when I was bored at a scientific meeting,” he told CBC News.

Students who are accepted as editors are paired with volunteer neuroscientist mentors to review submissions from professional scientists for the journal.  With the help of the mentors, students will determine that the articles are written clearly and make sense to young people.  You can find out more about the editing process, and how to apply to be a student editor, here.

This is a great opportunity for students, but it is also a great resource for teachers.  Current online articles include: “The Amazing History of Neuroscience”, “Why Sleep?”, and “How do we See Color?”  The site could be a great research tool for students of all ages.  (Great for Genius Hour!)  The graphics are “kidually” appealing, and the readability level , though still not primary level, is much more workable than many other neuroscience sites that are geared more toward adults.

I would love to see similar journals developed for other areas in addition to neuroscience.  Hopefully, this will be the first of many!