Tag Archives: science education

Irish teach nanoscience, nanotechnology and new materials to 5th & 6th classes (grades)

Ireland’s CRANN (Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices) located in Trinity College Dublin seems to be hosting both the AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) Centre and the NanoWOW education initiative. A Nov. 12, 2013 news item on Nanowerk describes NanoWOW and AMBER in more detail,

Ireland’s new materials science research centre has announced the launch of their new NanoWOW lesson plans. Designed for 5th and 6th class pupils the plans will introduce Irish Primary students to the world of nanoscience, nanotechnology and materials science.

Linked to the existing Primary science and maths syllabus while also including environment, history and art, the new lessons will enable school children to understand how the properties of materials can change on the nanoscale and provide opportunities for them to work like scientists through discussion, investigations and activities.

The Nov. 12, 2013 AMBER/CRANN news release, which originated the news item, gives more details about how NanoWOW is being launched during Ireland’s Science Week,

To celebrate the launch of NanoWOW, St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra are using this year’s Science Week theme, “Exploring the XTRA-Ordinary” to find out more about nanoscience and materials science amongst their students and staff. They have organised a number of CPD workshops to introduce primary school teachers to the NanoWOW lessons and will have guest speakers from AMBER visiting during the week.

Dr Cliona Murphy, Lecturer in Science Education, St Patrick’s College said “I think this is a wonderful initiative and we are very pleased to collaborate with AMBER on further developing the educational resources and bringing them to primary schools throughout Ireland.  The NanoWow investigations provide children with ample opportunities to work like scientists and to develop their scientific skills and knowledge.  Through engaging with the NanoWow activities the children are also provided with numerous opportunities to develop their language and thinking skills and to use a range of mathematical skills.  The NanoWow educational programme  provides children with first hand experience of the  ground breaking scientific research that is currently being conducted in Ireland and gives them an insight into careers that are potentially achievable for them.”

Prof. Stefano Sanvito, AMBER said, “The new NanoWOW lesson plans are designed to engage school children in a creative way that fosters their curiosity in nanoscience. We also want to develop their interest and understanding so they are aware of nanoscience as part of their everyday lives and the potential future career options that would be open to them.”

Prof. Sanvito went on to comment, “Ireland is currently ranked 6th worldwide for nanoscience research and 1st in the EU for European Research Council starting grants. With Nanoscience linked to €15 billion or 10% of Irish exports and 250,000 jobs in sectors like technology, biomedicine, pharmaceuticals, energy and more, the importance of making nanoscience relevant amongst school pupils is obvious for future development”.

The launch of the new NanoWOW lesson plans builds on the success of the “Nano in My Life” lesson plans for secondary schools which were launched by CRANN during Science Week 2011. Targeted at Transition Year students, the resource provides teachers with nanaoscience lesson plans free of charge. With nanonscience due to feature as part of the new Leaving Certificate, the NanoWOW lesson plans aim to build on this success and bring the subject to a wider audience.

Ireland’s Science Week is being held from Nov. 10 – 17, 2013, according to the 2013 Science Week theme webpage (on Ireland’s Science Week website),

Science Week 2013 – Exploring the XTRA-Ordinary

Every day we encounter XTRA-Ordinary processes that are behind the ordinary! From the water that comes out of our taps, to the grass that grows in our fields, to our body’s ability to heal itself and play sports – there are XTRA-Ordinary processes happening all around us. Science Week 2013 is calling on you to come and explore the XTRA-Ordinary too!

The objective of Science Week each year is to promote the relevance of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in our everyday lives and to demonstrate their importance to the future of Irish society and to the economy.

This year we want to show everyone in Ireland that there are scientific processes behind everything around us, most of which are taken for granted every day. Exploring the XTRA-Ordinary invites you to stop, take note and explore the processes that are happening around you every day.

Co-ordinated by Science Foundation Ireland, Science Week 2013 runs from 10 to 17 November 2013 and is a collaboration of events run by colleges, schools, libraries, teachers, community groups, researchers and students throughout Ireland.

For anyone wanting to know more about the NanoWow initiative and the lessons on offer, go here. As for AMBER, that was launched in October 2013 according to an Oct. 24, 2013 CRANN news release,

Minister Bruton launches new €58 Million SFI Research Centre- AMBER

Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER) Centre positions Ireland as a global leader in the areas of materials and medical device development for industry.

More than 45% of multinational jobs wins are connected to SFI research.
Directly supporting 99 highly skilled jobs.
Investment of €23 million from 18 industry partners across diverse sectors.
Industry partners include Intel, DePuy, Medtronic, Merck Millipore and SAB Miller.
Research programme will translate science into new discoveries and devices for a range of sectors such as the development of the next generation computer chips and new medical implants and pharmaceuticals that will improve patirnt care.

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton TD, together with the Minister for Research & Innovation, Sean Sherlock TD, today (Thursday) launched the Advanced Materials and Bio-Engineering Research Centre (AMBER).

The Centre is funded by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation through Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) in the amount of €35million. This funding is leveraged with an additional €23million from 18 industry partners.

AMBER will work to translate science into new discoveries and devices for a range of sectors, particularly ICT, medical devices and industrial technologies.

It’s very exciting to see what they’re doing in Ireland. And, until now, I’d completely forgotten about Canada’s annual Science and Technology week. This year’s was held from Oct. 18, – 27, 2013. While this celebration seems to have been winding down for a number of years,, perhaps 2013 marks a revitalized event,

Thousands of Canadians across the country joined together on Friday, October 18th [2013] to establish a World Record for the largest science lesson. [emphasis mine] Thank you to all of the organizers and all of the participants who made this inspiring event possible.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be collecting all the required evidence and forwarding it to Guinness for the final number to be calculated and an announcement to be made. As soon as the process is finished we will announce the results on Science.gc.ca.

Of course, Guinness World Records traces its roots back to Ireland, From the History webpage of the Guinness World Records website,

10 November 1951

Sir Hugh Beaver, Chairman of the Guinness Brewery, is out hunting game birds by the River Slaney in County Wexford, Ireland, when he misses a shot at a golden plover. Sir Hugh wonders if the plover is the fastest game bird in Europe but can’t find a reference book that answers the question.

I’m sure the Irish could rival Canadians for the size of the science lessons they might wish to hold. Perhaps Canadians should offer a friendly challenge?

What happened? 2009 report says Canadian students are leaders in reading, math, and science; 2013 report says Canadian students are dropping out of maths and sciences

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) assesses reading, mathematics, and science skills every three years (they measure results from 15 year olds in participating countries) through their Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Canada has participated since 2000 (PISA was launched in 1997). As recently as the 2009 assessment (the 2012 assessment does not appear to have been released yet),, Canadian students were above average in many measures, from the Canadian School Boards Association 2010 (?) posting titled, PISA Results: Canadian Students Score High in Performance, Canadian Education System Scores High in Equity,

The results of the Programme for International Assessment (PISA) 2009 were released today at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Toronto. This report, which measures the “quality, efficiency and equity” of education in sixty-five countries and economies, is issued by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), in conjunction with the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Statistics Canada. This international assessment ranks Canadian students in three domains: reading, math and science. …

Highlights of both the international report and Canadian report include:

  • Canadian students continue to be leaders in reading, math and science. [emphasis mine]
  • The overall performance of Canadian students in math and science are well above the OECD average and remain unchanged from previous PISA results. Canada is outperformed only by seven countries in math and six countries in science.
  • The Canadian gender gap: females outperform males in reading, while males outperformed females in math and science.
  • Equity, a measure of how well a country can maximize its students’ potential, was ranked as extremely high in Canada. The combination of high PISA scores with high equity demonstrates that there is a small gap between highest and lowest performing students.

Three or so years later, it appears that we have high drop out rates in the sciences and maths, from an Oct. 8, 2013 news item on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) website,

… Canadians are paying a heavy price for the fact that less than 50 per cent of Canadian high school students graduate with senior courses in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at a time when 70 per cent of Canada’s top jobs require an education in those fields, said report released by the science education advocacy group Let’s Talk Science and the pharmaceutical company Amgen Canada.

Spotlight on Science Learning 2013 compiles publicly available information about individual and societal costs of students dropping out STEM courses early.

The answer as to what happened has something  to do with when the OECD programme makes its assessment. They measure skills in 15 year olds and generally speaking that means students in grade 10, which coincidentally, is the last year math and science are required courses in most provinces, from the CBC Oct.8, 2013, news item,

Even though most provinces only require math and science courses until Grade 10, the report [Spotlight on Science published by Let's Talk Science and pharmaceutical company Amgen Canada) found students without Grade 12 math could expect to be excluded from 40 to 75 per cent of programs at Canadian universities, and students without Grade 11 could expect to be excluded from half of community college programs. [emphasis mine]

This news about Canadian students and their failure to pursue maths and sciences according to the Spotlight on Science Learning report was included in the context (in the CBC news item) of another OECD report (released Tues., Oct. 8, 2013), which concluded that Canadian adult numeracy skills lag behind, from the Oct. 8, 2013 CBC news item,

The OECD released its first survey of adult skills Tuesday (Oct. 8, 2013), measuring the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills of those aged 16 to 65 in 24 countries, including 27,000 people in Canada.

While Canadians scored far above average at problem solving in technology-rich environments and their average literacy score was around the average of OECD countries, their mean numeracy score was “significantly below the average,” the OECD said, putting Canada 13th out of 21 countries. [emphasis mine]

The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, described the average score as “slightly below the OECD average,” but acknowledged the results suggested “this is one area that could be targeted by policymakers for improvement. [emphasis mine]

There’s a difference between ‘significantly below average’ and ‘slightly below average’ and shy of reading the report I’m not sure who to believe. In any event, our literacy skills are accounted to be good and we’re also good at problemsolving in technology-rich environments.  This latest OECD report is titled, OECD Skills Outlook 2013. Here’s more about it from the Outlook webpage (Note: Links have been removed),

This first OECD Skills Outlook presents the initial results of the Survey of Adults Skills (PIAAC), which evaluates the skills of adults in 24 countries. It provides insights into the availability of some of the key skills and how they are used at work and at home. A major component is the direct assessment of key information-processing skills: literacy, numeracy and problem solving in the context of technology-rich environments.

You can get the full report or summaries from here. As for the Spotlight on Science report, you can find it here on the Let’s Talk Science website. I’ve included the video about the report, which I think illustrates one of the key problems with Canadian children and science,

It’s (video) dull and it didn’t need to be.As for the report itself, it’s reflects a standard approach to this ‘problem’ of getting children to pursue the sciences and maths after a certain point. Personally, I think there’s a much interesting study on this topic of children and science, the ASPIRES project, in the UK, which I highlighted in my Jan. 31, 2012 posting,

One of the research efforts in the UK is the ASPIRES research project at King’s College London (KCL), which is examining children’s attitudes to science and future careers. Their latest report, Ten Science Facts and Fictions: the case for early education about STEM careers (PDF), is profiled in a Jan. 11, 2012 news item on physorg.com (from the news item),

Professor Archer [Louise Archer, Professor of Sociology of Education at King’s] said: “Children and their parents hold quite complex views of science and scientists and at age 10 or 11 these views are largely positive. The vast majority of children at this age enjoy science at school, have parents who are supportive of them studying science and even undertake science-related activities in their spare time. They associate scientists with important work, such as finding medical cures, and with work that is well paid.

“Nevertheless, less than 17 per cent aspire to a career in science. These positive impressions seem to lead to the perception that science offers only a very limited range of careers, for example doctor, scientist or science teacher. It appears that this positive stereotype is also problematic in that it can lead people to view science as out of reach for many, only for exceptional or clever people, and ‘not for me’.

Professor Archer says the findings indicate that engaging young people in science is not therefore simply a case of making it more interesting or more fun. She said: “There is a disconnect between interest and aspirations. Our research shows that young people’s ambitions are strongly influenced by their social backgrounds – ethnicity, social class and gender – and by family contexts. [emphases mine]

Families and support systems make a huge difference in children’s lives and their aspirations, scientific or otherwise.

In sum, up until 2009 Canadian children seemed to have good skills in literacy, maths, and sciences at the age of 15, which is the same year courses in maths and sciences are no longer required (in most provinces). According to the Spotlight on Science Learning 2013 report, most children choose not take those maths and sciences courses after grade 10 despite the fact that they are needed for most higher education. This lack of interest appears to be reflected in the OECD’s recent report, OECD Skills Outlook 2013, which noted that Canadian adults’ numeracy skills lag behind that of many of their counterparts in other countries (although we compare well with high literacy and other skills). While I find the Spotlight on Science Learning 2013 report interesting, the UK’s ASPIRES project has taken what seems to me a more fruitful approach to children and science.

Bottom line: I think we need more imagination in our approach and we need to better include the kids themselves (a couple of interactive demonstrations just aren’t involving enough), and we need to make science, etc. engaging for the entire community.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s NanoSpace online science ‘theme park’ and science literacy project wins web award

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s NonoSpace, which opened in Oct. 2012, was designed to improve science literacy according to the Oct. 18, 2012 news release,

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute today unveiled NanoSpace, an online “molecular theme park” populated with more than 25 games, activities, and animations to educate and excite young students about the world of atoms and molecules.

From playing “Who wants to be a Quindecillionaire?” in H2OPark, to solving the Polypeptide Puzzler in DNA Land, to button-jamming on Electronz and other retro-style games in the arcade, NanoSpace visitors are having too much fun to notice they’re also learning complex scientific topics.

NanoSpace is the latest platform from the Molecularium Project, which is the flagship outreach and education effort of the Rensselaer Nanotechnology Center. Many NanoSpace games and activities feature the characters Oxy, Hydra, and Mel from the Molecularium animated movies Molecules to the MAX! and Riding Snowflakes.

The mission of the Molecularium Project is to expand science literacy and awareness, and to excite audiences of all ages to explore and understand the molecular nature of the world around them. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and others, the project is a direct response to the challenge of inspiring more young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This is a significant workforce development issue, as the NSF estimates 80 percent of jobs created in the next decade will require some mastery of STEM.

“Science literacy—in every capacity—has never before been so important to our nation,” said Professor Richard W. Siegel, the Robert W. Hunt Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rensselaer and director of the Rensselaer Nanotechnology Center.  “We realize that not every kid wants to be a scientist, but learning the basics of science—involving molecules and atoms—is critical to the careers that will be available in the next decade, especially as the U.S. continues to fall behind. When learning is fun, it increases a child’s capacity to absorb and retain knowledge. That’s why we are excited to unveil NanoSpace. Kids are interacting, exploring, and having a great time while learning about atoms and molecules, and they are not even realizing they’re learning.”

This concept of “stealth education” runs through every aspect of the Molecularium Project. …

Almost one year later, it seems the project has been successful with its ‘stealth education’ concept, from a Sept. 25, 2013 news item on Azonano,

Faculty researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute were honored for their efforts in developing and creating the NanoSpace website, an online science “theme park” that aims to excite elementary and middle-school students about the world of atoms and molecules.

Rensselaer and NanoSpace received a “2013 Best of the Web” award from the Center for Digital Education, in the category of Higher Education Website.

The Sept. 24, 2013 Rensselaer news release, which originated the news item, describes the agency bestowing the designation,

The Center for Digital Education’s “Best of the Web” awards recognize and honor outstanding education websites. The awards are open to all education institution websites in the United States, including K-12 districts, schools, colleges, universities, teachers, multi-class, parent, and student websites. The Center for Digital Education is a national research and advisory institute specializing in K-12 and higher education technology trends, policy, and funding.

“Educational institutions are constantly tasked with creating quality websites and applications to deliver services and enhance learning,” said Kim Frame, executive director of the Center for Digital Education. “This year’s winners are cognizant of this challenge and have developed innovative models to increase learning and promote achievement via the use of technology. The center congratulates them for creativity and dedication toward excellence!”

I decided to take a look at the Center for Digital Education and found this on their About the Center webpage,

The Center for Digital Education (CDE) is a national research and advisory institute specializing in K-12 and higher education technology trends, policy and funding. CDE advises the industry, conducts relevant research, issues white papers, and produces premier annual surveys and awards programs. CDE also hosts events for the education community. CDE’s media platform includes the quarterly Center for Digital Education’s Special Reports, centerdigitaled.com, email newsletters and custom publications.

The rest of the page includes links to their sales, research, corporate, etc. divisions. This looks like a ‘for profit’ endeavour and awards like “2013 Best of the Web” are classic public relations ploys. One of  the most spectacular examples of this ploy are the Nobel prizes.

You can go directly to the NanoSpace website here (be prepared to sign up) or you can go diectly to the Molecularium project website to find out more about both.

Canuck amongst Google Science Fair 2013 winners (which include a Yank, an Aussie, and a Turk)

I imagine 15-year old, Ann Makosinski, of Victoria, BC (Canada) has been excited for the last few months as her science idea has progressed from a submission to a semi-finalist to a finalist and, now, winner in her age category in the 2013 Google Science Fair online. A Sept. 24, 2013 news item on the CBC News online website gives details,

Ann Makosinski, 15, a student at St. Michaels University School in Victoria, claimed a trophy made of Lego for the 15-16 age category, at an awards gala Monday night for the international science fair, Google announced. Her prizes are a $25,000 scholarship and a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” from either CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), LEGO or Google.

The flashlight contains devices called Peltier tiles that produce electricity when heated on one side and cooled on the other. Makosinski’s flashlight is hollow, allowing one side of the tiles to be cooled by the surrounding air. The tiles are heated on the other side by the heat from the hand of the person holding the flashlight. That generates enough power to maintain a steady beam of light for 20 minutes.

Here’s a picture of the winners with their ‘Lego’ trophies,

Australian Viney Kumar, Canadian Ann Makosinski of Victoria, B.C., Elif Bilgin of Turkey and American Eric Chen, left to right, took home trophies at the Google Science Fair's gala award ceremony Monday night in California.  Courtesy Google

Australian Viney Kumar, Canadian Ann Makosinski of Victoria, B.C., Elif Bilgin of Turkey and American Eric Chen, left to right, took home trophies at the Google Science Fair’s gala award ceremony Monday night in California. Courtesy Google

The Sept. 23, 2013 posting by Clare Conway on Google’s official blog provides more details about this year’s contest and the other winners,

The top 15 projects were selected from thousands of entries submitted by talented young scientists from more than 120 countries around the world. These projects were impressive and represented a vast range of scientific ingenuity—from a multi-step system created for early diagnosis of melanoma cancers to the invention of a metallic exoskeleton glove that assists, supports and enhances the movement of the human palm to help people who suffer from upper hand disabilities.

It was a tough decision, but we’re proud to name the three winners of this year’s Google Science Fair:

The fourth winner, Elif Bilgin of  Turkey, won the Scientific American (SA magazine) award, from the SA June 27, 2013 press release,

On Thursday, June 27, Elif Bilgin, 16, from Turkey, was declared the winner of the second annual Scientific American Science in Action Award, powered by the Google Science Fair. Bilgin won for her project, Going Bananas! Using Banana Peels in the Production of Bio-Plastic as a Replacement for Traditional Petroleum-Based Plastic. In addition to the $50,000 prize, Bilgin will have access to a year’s mentorship and is invited to Google’s California headquarters in September to compete in the 15-to-16-year-old age category in the overall Google Science Fair.

According to Conway’s posting on the official blog, Bilgin also won the Voter’s Choice award.

Congratulations to all of the entrants!

First Canadian student team (Surrey’s Princess Margaret Secondary) wins NASA’s global space competition

Third time lucky for Sumit (Bhupinder) Rathore, a third-year Simon Fraser University computer-engineering student,  and Joe Sihota, physics teacher, who both coached a team of students from Princess Margaret Secondary school on to a win at the annual International Space Settlement Design Competition (ISSDC) at NASA’s (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.  From the Aug. 19, 2013 Simon Fraser University news release,

Grumbo Aerospace, the winning team of the annual International Space Settlement Design Competition (ISSDC) at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas, is the first such team to include Canadian high school students. [emphases mine]

Thanks to the tutelage of Rathore and physics teacher Joe Sihota, 10 Princess Margaret Secondary School students in Surrey became the first Canadian semi-finalists to make it to the competition’s invitation-only final.

ISSDC organizers, who are allied with NASA, the Boeing Company and the aerospace industry, invited student teams from 20 schools worldwide to the final.

Finalists, who had submitted winning semi-final designs for a space colony, then formed four new teams that were given company names. The companies competed for the final prize — a trophy, gold medals and a coveted list of résumé references consisting of NASA astronauts and aerospace engineers.

The competition is organized so that teams of high school students apply and if the team is successful and win a berth to NASA, it is, once arrived in Texas, broken apart and new teams formed for the final competition. Here’s a better explanation from my July 3, 2013 posting where the team was raising $10,000 for airfares and accommodation,

The competition invites high school students who are mentored by teachers (and in this case, Rathore, a student) to design a space colony for 10,000-plus people according to set specifications.

Student teams submit 40-page, on-line entries, which are assessed by aerospace industry engineers and managers allied with the contest’s sponsors, including NASA and the Boeing Company.

ISSDC organizers select eight teams as finalists that compete in a live competition to design another colony at the NASA centre. Four more teams, deemed to have submitted stellar first-round entries, are also invited to witness the final competition.

The competing teams are broken up to create new teams comprised of students from different countries, who are coached by a mentor attached to one of the original teams.

The new teams engage in 43 hours of non-stop research to design their final space colonial submissions, which are assessed by ISSDC organizers and NASA astronauts and space engineers.

The Internet is out of bounds as a source of information for the final teams. They must rely on their mentors, NASA’s library and a panel of astronauts and aerospace engineers as resources to design and present their colonies.

The winning team takes home an Oscar-type trophy embedded with a genuine meteorite and an impressive list of NASA astronauts and aerospace engineers as résumé references.

This is the third time that Rathore and Sihota have coached a team of students to the semi-finals and it is the first time Princess Margaret students have won the top prize. More from the news release,

As members of the Grumbo Aerospace company/team, the Surrey students won the approval of the nine aerospace engineers and retired astronauts judging the four final teams’ designs for a 10,000-plus, person-settlement on Earth’s moon.

Rathore, along with Jack Bacon, a pioneering space-technology engineer dubbed the next Carl Sagan, helped coach Grumbo Aerospace to its final victory. Previously recognized by NASA as a gifted teacher, Rathore credits competition seasoning, time management and his personal passion for lunar life with transforming his Surrey protégés into third-time-lucky victors.

“This year I was fortunate enough to have some of the old members returning from my last year’s team,” notes Rathore. “They were very familiar with the stress and unexpected challenges of the final. They were more mentally prepared for the time management required to make on-the-fly creative decisions about the final settlement’s design.

“’The location of the final settlement design on the Earth’s moon worked in our favour. As a huge fan of the moon, I was familiar with most of its settlement design-challenges. I supplied our team with a lot of research to help design requested commercial and industrial ventures, such as a manufacturing base and a tourism centre.”

In citing Grumbo Aerospace as the winning team, the judges praised its attention to detail and creativity in including elements such as hiking and wedding opportunities and self-repairing exterior structures.

The team’s manufacturing base produced computer components, orbital-computing installations, spacesuits and spaceship modules. It included a processing unit to convert lunar raw ore into finished products for use in space-based construction.

The team’s tourism base featured a hotel with earthly and lunar views, special vehicles for tourism travel to all the Apollo landing sites, a spacesuit for tourists and many tourism-oriented lunar-based activities.

Congratulations!

Alberta’s (Canada) science education gets shout-out from UK’s (United Kingdom) Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education, Elizabeth Truss

On July 11, 2013 Elizabeth Truss, UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education (H/T Nassif Ghoussoub’s Piece of Mind), spoke at an International Student Science Fair and cited Alberta’s science education and high performance, along with Singapore’s, in her speech,

So at primary, we want children to get a really solid foundation in the basics of scientific knowledge and language, backed up by more and higher quality practical work and experiments – building on the approaches to science education in high-performing jurisdictions like Singapore and Alberta.

Obviously, Truss is making a case for science and technology education as preparation for the future in a speech that amongst other things emphasizes “non-artificial intelligence,”

As the future comes hurtling towards us, the most important resource any country can boast is not physical, nor technological – but human.

Every leap forward, every flash of insight, relies not on infrastructure, capital or regulatory regimes – important as they are.

But on people. On their brains, their knowledge and their determination to succeed.

On the schoolchildren and students of today – the innovators of tomorrow.

We don’t know yet precisely what skills will be needed in the future.

But as technology transforms the working world – and jobs polarise between the low-skilled and the very high-skilled, highly-educated – we know that the value of high-level skills is growing.

The 21st century will need people who are equally comfortable manipulating numbers, words and lines of computer code; who have the skills and the knowledge to understand both foreign languages and mathematical equations. Rounded individuals who can analyse and think logically, who have mastered both arts and sciences.

Never mind Bitcoin, education is the currency of the future.

International evidence has proved that countries with successful education systems grow more quickly.

Given Truss is speaking at an International Student(s) Science Fair (this is the only site [ ISSF 2012] that seemed to fit the description), it does seem like she’s speaking to the ‘converted’. Students at an international science fair have shown a fair degree of interest and commitment and this speech while inspiring doesn’t address one of the major problems described in a rather interesting UK research project on children’s science attitudes. From my Jan. 31, 2012 posting,

One of the research efforts in the UK is the ASPIRES research project at King’s College London (KCL), which is examining children’s attitudes to science and future careers. Their latest report, Ten Science Facts and Fictions: the case for early education about STEM careers (PDF), is profiled in a Jan. 11, 2012 news item on physorg.com (from the news item),

Professor Archer [Louise Archer, Professor of Sociology of Education at King’s] said: “Children and their parents hold quite complex views of science and scientists and at age 10 or 11 these views are largely positive. The vast majority of children at this age enjoy science at school, have parents who are supportive of them studying science and even undertake science-related activities in their spare time. They associate scientists with important work, such as finding medical cures, and with work that is well paid.

“Nevertheless, less than 17 per cent aspire to a career in science. These positive impressions seem to lead to the perception that science offers only a very limited range of careers, for example doctor, scientist or science teacher. It appears that this positive stereotype is also problematic in that it can lead people to view science as out of reach for many, only for exceptional or clever people, and ‘not for me’.

Professor Archer says the findings indicate that engaging young people in science is not therefore simply a case of making it more interesting or more fun. She said: “There is a disconnect between interest and aspirations. Our research shows that young people’s ambitions are strongly influenced by their social backgrounds – ethnicity, social class and gender – and by family contexts. [emphases mine]

In that 2012 posting, I also featured a US project where researchers developed an intervention for stimulating more adolescent interest in science and technology studies by focusing on the adolescent students’ parents.

Both the UK’s ASPIRES project and the US project suggest getting children to pursue education and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields has more to do with family and social culture than is often recognized.

Adding a somewhat ironic wrinkle to this discussion is a finding from a study by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy program that 20% of all jobs in the US—not 4%-5% of jobs as claimed by the US National Science Foundation—could be described as STEM jobs. From the June 10, 2013 article for Fast Company by Ariel Schwartz,

…, STEM jobs aren’t limited to workers with advanced degrees–50% don’t even require a bachelor’s degree. Many of the more blue-collar STEM jobs are in fields like construction, plant and system operation, and repair (telecommunications equipment, aircraft, computer, office machine, etc.).

The irony is that family members who think that science careers are for other ‘smart and exceptional’ people may themselves have a STEM-based job/career. You can find the Brookings Institute report here. It should be noted this report The Hidden STEM Economy) has a unique definition of STEM, from the Schwartz article,

The Institute explains in a press release: “Previous studies classified workers as STEM only if they worked in a small number of professional occupations, but the Brookings definition classifies occupations according to the level of knowledge in STEM fields that workers need to perform their jobs. As a result, many nonprofessional jobs in manufacturing, health care, construction, and mining industries could be considered STEM jobs.”

Take for example, car mechanics. Today’s mechanics need to know about computers and fairly complex electronics, such as lithium-ion batteries, in addition to standard mechanics. (BTW, In the late 1980s, I had a coop student job at a school board where even then they trying to integrate electronics and information technology into their trades education programmes.)

If you have the time, I do recommend reading Truss’s speech (by following either the link to Nassif’s website or the direct link to the speech) and/or Schwartz’s article.

Monkey Tales games better than class excercises for teaching maths

Publicizing an unpublished academic paper, which makes the claim that a series of math games, Monkey Tales, are more effective than classroom exercises for teaching maths while trumpeting a series of unsubstantiated statistics, seems a little questionable. The paper featured in a July 8, 2013  news item on ScienceDaily is less like an academic piece and more like an undercover sales document,

To measure the effectiveness of Monkey Tales, a study was carried out with 88 second grade pupils divided into three groups. One group was asked to play the game for a period of three weeks while the second group had to solve similar math exercises on paper and a third group received no assignment. The math performance of the children was measured using an electronic arithmetic test before and after the test period. When results were compared, the children who had played the game provided significantly more correct answers: 6% more than before, compared to only 4% for the group that made traditional exercises and 2% for the control group. In addition, both the group that played the game and that which did the exercises were able to solve the test 30% faster while the group without assignment was only 10% faster.

Ordinarily, this excerpt wouldn’t be a big problem since one would have the opportunity to read the paper and analyse the methodology by asking questions such as this, how were the students chosen? Were the students with higher grades given the game? There’s another issue, percentages can be misleading when one doesn’t have the numbers, e.g., if there’s an increase from one to two, it’s perfectly valid to claim a 100% increase even if it is misleading. Finally, how were they able to measure speed? The control group, i.e., group without assignment, was 10% faster than whom?

The University of Ghent July 8, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, also includes a business case in what is supposed to be a news release about a study on maths education,

Serious or educational games are becoming increasingly important. Market research company iDate estimates that the global turnover was €2.3 billion in 2012 and expects it to rise to €6.6 billion in 2015.* A first important sector in which serious games are being used, is defence. The U.S. Army, for example, uses games to attract recruits and to teach various skills, from tactical combat training to ways of communicating with local people. Serious games are also increasingly used in companies and organizations to train staff. The Flemish company U&I Learning, for example, developed games for Audi in Vorst to teach personnel the safety instructions, for Carrefour to teach student employees how to operate the check-out system and for DHL to optimise the loading and unloading of air freight containers.

Reservations about the study aside, Monkey Tales (for PC only) looks quite charming.

[downloaded from http://www.monkeytalesgames.com/demo.php]

[downloaded from http://www.monkeytalesgames.com/demo.php]

In addition to a demo which can be downloaded, the site’s FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) provides some information about the games’ backers and the games,

Who created Monkey Tales?
Developed by European schoolbook publisher Die Keure and award winning game developer Larian Studios, Monkey Tales is based on years of research and was developed with the active participation of teachers, schools, universities and educational method-makers.

What does years of research mean ?
Exactly that. The technology behind Monkey Tales has been in development for over 4 years, and has been field tested with over 30 000 children and across several schools, with very active engagement from both teachers and educational method-makers. Additionally, a two years research project is underway in which the universities of Ghent & Leuven are participating to measure the efficiency of the methods used within Monkey Tales.

What is the educational goal behind Monkey Tales?
Monkey Tales’ aim is not to instruct, that’s what teachers and schools are for. Instead it aims to help children rehearse and improve skills they should have, by motivating them to do drill exercises with increasing time pressure.

Because the abilities of children are very diverse, the algorithm behind the game first tries to establish where a child is on the learning curve, and then stimulates the child to make progress. This way frustration is avoided, and the child makes progress without realizing that it’s being pushed forward.

There’s a demonstrable effect that playing the game helps mastery of arithmetic. Parents can experience this themselves by trying out the games.

What can my child learn from Monkey Tales?
Currently there are five games available, covering grades 2 to 6, covering the field of mathematics in line with state standards (Common Core Standards and the 2009 DoDEA standards). Future games in the series will cover language and science.

What’s special about Monkey Tales?
A key feature of Monkey Tales is its unique algorithm that allows the game to automatically adapt to the level of children so that they feel comfortable with their ability to complete the exercises, removing any stress they might feel. From there, the game then presents progressively more difficult exercises, all the time monitoring how the child is performing and adapting if necessary. One of the most remarkable achievements of Monkey Tales is its ability to put children under time pressure to complete exercises without them complaining about it!

Hopefully this Monkey Tales study or a new study will be published and a news release, which by its nature, offers skimpy information won’t provoke any doubts about the validity of the work.

Spirit of the law, the rule of law, Kiera Wilmot, and a science experiment in Florida

It’s tempting to ride my moral high horse regarding the Kiera Wilmot situation but on second thoughts I’ve decided to dismount. For those who are not familiar with the situation, Kiera Wilmot went to her Florida school on Monday, Apr. 29, 2013 and attempted a science experiment—unauthorized and in the school yard which resulted in an explosion that sounded like a firecracker going off. Shortly afterwards she found herself arrested, taken away in handcuffs, and expelled from school. She was charged on two felony charges (I believe) and will be tried as an adult.

As for the experiment, Wilmot brought a plastic bottle to school and, before classes started, decided to pour into it a quantity of household plumbing cleaner (Drano) and added a piece of aluminum foil resulting in smoke and an explosion that bystanders described as sounding like a firecracker. No one was injured and there was no damage. According to all the reports I’ve seen so far, Wilmot gets good grades and has never been in trouble.

Here’s the quote that Kyle Murzenrieder obtained for his Apr. 26, 2013 posting [as far as I can determine the incident occurred on Apr. 29 but, mysteriously, Murzenrieder's posting is dated prior to that) on the Miami (Florida) New Times blog,

"She made a bad choice. Honestly, I don't think she meant to ever hurt anyone," principal Ron Pritchard told the station [local Miami tv station WTSP]. “She wanted to see what would happen [when the chemicals mixed] and was shocked by what it did. Her mother is shocked, too.”

The story has attracted international attention. Richard Luscombe in a May 2, 2013 story for the UK’s Guardian newspaper recounts the events and provides a perspective from a US educator of educators,

The unsupervised experiment on school grounds ended with Wilmot, 16, led away to a juvenile detention facility in handcuffs, expelled and charged as an adult with felony possession of a weapon and making or discharging a destructive device, with a possible penalty of up to 20 years in jail.

The episode has pitted campaigners for a common-sense approach to school discipline against an unrepentant school district that insists it is just following rules, warning parents to advise their children that there will always be “consequences to actions”.

“This is totally insane,” Dr Kathleen Nolan, a lecturer in teacher preparation at Princeton University and author of Police in the Hallways: Discipline in an Urban High School told the Guardian.

Steven D, a retired lawyer (not licenced to practice in Florida), provides a legal perspective on the charges Wilmot is facing in his May 2, 2013 posting on the Daily Kos,

Was Kiera’s science experiment a “destructive device” that she willingly made, possessed and intended to use as such?

In Florida, a person commits a felony when he or she “willfully and unlawfully makes, possesses, throws, projects, places, discharges, or attempts to make, possess, throw, project, place, or discharge any destructive device.”

No report I’ve seen suggests that her the result of her “experiment” caused any bodily harm to anyone or any property damage.  However, for the sake for argument let’s concede that her science experiment was a destructive device.  That doesn’t end the inquiry, however, regarding her guilt.  You see the law clearly states that for Kiera to be guilty of a felony, she must have both constructed her “destructive device,” and used it, willfully and unlawfully.  In short, the issue of her intent again appears, and it should give any prosecutor pause before pursuing felony charges against this young woman.  Why?  Because she herself has stated she just wanted to see what would happen when she mixed the aluminum foil strips with the chemicals in her toilet cleaner. ….

It’s well worth reading the full piece for the way Steven D. breaks down the language used in the laws under which Wilmot is being charged and examines the case. If I understand his points correctly, the prosecutor will have a very hard time proving there was any attempt to harm or cause damage to anyone or anything, which is what those laws are designed to discourage.

Scientific American is covering this evolving situation in a number of ways. Ashutosh Jogalekar (Ashutosh [Ash] Jogalekar is a chemist interested in the history and philosophy of science, according to the  description on his blog, The Curious Wavefunction; a member of the Scientific American blog network) wrote an essay on science, scientific query, youth, and Kiera Wilmot titled, America hates science, for Scientific American which was also published on Salon.com (Note: Links have been removed),

She [Wilmot] definitely deserved to be reprimanded and perhaps even punished in some way, maybe by putting her on probation. But when you arrest and expel students for slaking their scientific curiosity, whatever the other consequences of that action, be advised that you are almost certainly sacrificing a valuable scientist at the altar of arbitrarily wielded state and school power.

The latest incident however is only a reflection of, on one hand, the draconian measures that our educational and political institutions are taking to achieve the ostensible goal of “disciplining” American children, and on the other hand, the public obsession with chemophobia and “chemicals”. The absurdly named “chemical free” chemistry sets are already depriving students of the joy of chemistry. When I was growing up my chemistry set had a lot of potentially harmful chemicals like copper sulfate and potassium ferricyanide. On every bottle there were clear labels advising us of the hazards of that particular chemical, antidotes against poisoning and the phone number of the poison center. None of these labels deterred me or my parents, and the set opened up the wonderful world of chemistry to me.

Society’s ardent wish to enforce this principle of maximum precaution – whether it involves reacting to terrorism or to school pranks – is turning schools into straitjacketed environments with armed guards and law enforcement where misdemeanors, pranks and honest mistakes that would have gotten a student detention twenty years ago are leading instead to arrests and expulsions. The school environment in many states has turned into an overactive immune system.

Jogalekar is expressing a sentiment echoed not only by Dr. Kathleen Nolan in Luscombe’s UK Guardian story but elsewhere too, as per Tim Elfrink’s May 2, 2013 posting for the Miami New Times,

As the tale of Kiera Wilmot — the Bartow, Florida student expelled and charged with two felonies over a science project gone wrong — went viral yesterday, a wide movement to support the 16-year-old blossomed from blogs to radio shows to Change.org petitions. Best of all, though, has been a Twitter campaign by scientists and science fans with a simple premise: writing about the craziest stuff they’ve blown up over the years, all in the name of science. [emphasis mine]

The difference, of course, is that they were congratulated on their curiosity or slapped on the wrist, not hit with life-altering felonies.

Andrew David Thaler of the Southern Fried Science blog has started at least one of  the Twitter campaigns (this is the tag: #KieraWilmot) and you can find his commentary about the situation and tweets here on Storify.

While I am in agreement that the response to Wilmot’s ill-advised experiment is an extraordinary overreaction, I can understand the impact the act of setting off an explosive device in a schoolyard a scant two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing incident (April 15, 2013) where four people were killed (including one of the bombers) and many others injured likely had on the authorities. The timing is spectacularly bad and points to a degree of self-absorption that one might expect of a 16-year-old.

That said, I think rather than trying Wilmot as an adult on two felony charges for a science experiment, it might be more useful to involve the community (Wilmot and her family, the other school children, the teachers, the administrators, and the parents) and have them review Wilmot’s actions and determine the appropriate response to her transgression.

Laws are meant to help us maintain social order. It seems to me that the spirit of the laws under which Wilmot is being charged is aimed at protecting the community from violence and harm and that spirit is being violated although authorities may be following the rule of law. Wilmot is a member of the community and she is being harmed by an unthinking response from adults who really should know better.

ETA May 3, 2013 4:45 pm PDT: Here’s a petition you can sign, if you are so inclined: https://www.change.org/petitions/polk-county-state-s-attorney-drop-felony-charges-against-16-year-old-kiera-wilmot