Posts about Education

Poor Results on Evolution and Big Bang Questions Omitted From NSF Report

Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

The section, which was part of the unedited chapter on public attitudes toward science and technology, notes that 45% of Americans in 2008 answered true to the statement, “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” The figure is similar to previous years and much lower than in Japan (78%), Europe (70%), China (69%), and South Korea (64%). The same gap exists for the response to a second statement, “The universe began with a big explosion,” with which only 33% of Americans agreed.

The USA continues to lag far behind the rest of the world in this basic science understanding. Similar to how we lag in other science and mathematical education. Nearly Half of Adults in the USA Don’t Know How Long it Takes the Earth to Circle the Sun.

Jon Miller, a science literacy researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing who authored the survey 3 decades ago and conducted it for NSF until 2001. “Evolution and the big bang are not a matter of opinion. If a person says that the earth really is at the center of the universe, even if scientists think it is not, how in the world would you call that person scientifically literate? Part of being literate is to both understand and accept scientific constructs.”

I completely agree. People have the right to their opinions. But those opinions which are related to scientific knowledge (whether it is about evolution, the origin of the universe, cancer, the speed of light, polio vaccinations, multi-factorial designed experiments, magnetic fields, chemical catalysts, the effectiveness of antibiotics against viral infections, electricity, optics, bioaccumulation, etc.) are part of their scientific literacy. You can certainly believe antibiotics are affective against viral infections but that is an indication you are scientifically illiterate on that topic.

2006 NSF chapter that included the results
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Innovation, America and Engineering: NAE Grand Challenges Summit

Innovation, America and Engineering: NAE Grand Challenges Summit in Raleigh, North Carolina:

Friday morning in Raleigh, a group of engineers from industry, academia and even government met to discuss the threat of America losing its global lead in innovation. The panel discussion was part of a Summit on the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges

Jeff Wadsworth, CEO and president of Battelle Memorial Institute, noted that high school graduation rates have fallen from about 86 percent in the Baby Boomer generation to about 72 percent today. He compared that to a 96 percent graduation rate in Denmark, 92 percent in Japan and the fact that China graduates three engineering students for every one that we do. It’s not news that international competition is stiffening against us, but the statistics he presented about how the U.S. measures up to foreign countries in K-12 metrics was gut-wrenching.

“Our historic lead in secondary education has disappeared,” Wadsworth said. “And as a leader of a large organization, I worry about education.”

Another panelist, Senator Ted Kaufman (D-Delaware) said the country was at a critical point in history. “We are in an economic war,” he said. “The future of our country rests on our ability to use STEM to solve problems.” Kauffman is the only sitting senator in Congress to have worked in the engineering field, and he repeatedly drummed out a message that policy could drive a solution to the STEM crisis.

A third panelist – John Chambers, chairman and CEO of CISCO – said he believed changing teaching methods in K-12 settings to be more collaborative, projects-oriented and skills-mastery oriented would be a good starting point.

the deans of the engineering colleges at both Duke and NC State universities announced today a new nationwide program targeting attracting school-aged children to the STEM fields. The Grand Challenge K-12 Partners Program will lean on engineering colleges throughout the U.S. to be resource hubs for K-12 students and teachers in their region.

Three more NAE Grand Challenge Summits are scheduled to take place next month, in Phoenix, Chicago and Boston. A fourth is scheduled for Seattle in May.

The importance of innovation and engineering education to long term economic success is one thing I believe strongly in and have written about here: Engineering Economic Benefits, Techonolgy Innovation Global Economy Changing, Centers of Technical Excellence and Economic Power. And is one reason I work for the American Society of Engineering Education (this blog is my own and not associated with ASEE).

Related: USA Losing Scientists and Engineers Educated in the USAInvest in Science for a Strong Economy

Infinity Project: Engineering Education for Today’s Classroom

The Infinity Project is a national middle school, high school, and early college engineering curricula. The math and science-based engineering and technology education initiative helps educators deliver a maximum of engineering exposure with a minimum of training, expense and time. Created to help students see the real value of math and science and its varied applications to high tech engineering – The Infinity Project is working with schools all across the country to bring the best of engineering to their students.

The Infinity Project curriculum is a complete, year-long course designed to complement the existing mix of math and science classes. Experience in classrooms all across the United States shows that Infinity keeps students challenged, learning and exploring from start to finish. Using The Infinity Project curriculum in the classroom, students learn firsthand how to use math and science to create and design a wide variety of new and exciting technologies that focus on topics of interest to students – the Internet and cell phones, digital video and movie special effects, and electronic music.

Engineering Our Digital Future is designed for early college students or high school students who have completed Algebra II and at least one science course. The course focuses on the fundamentals of modern engineering and technology in the information and communications age.

Related: Hands-on Engineering EducationEducation Resources for Science and Engineeringposts on engineering educationFund Teacher’s Science Projects

Electric Wind

photo of William Kamkwamba on his windmillphoto of William Kamkwamba on his windmill from his blog.

I have written about William Kamkwamba before: Inspirational EngineerHome Engineering: Windmill for Electricity. And along with the post, Make the World Better, donated to his cause. His new book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, is quite enjoyable and provides an interesting view of how he persevered. His talk of the famine, not being able to afford school and putting together a windmill using scrape parts and a few books from the library (donated by the American government – much better foreign aid than all the military weapons that are often counted as aid) is inspirational. And should help many sitting in luxury understand the privileged lives they lead.

“I’d become very interested in how things worked, yet never thought of this as science. In addition to radios, I’d also become fascinated by how cards worked, especially how petrol operated an engine. How does this happen? I thought? Well, that’s easy to find out – just ask someone with a car… But no one could tell me… Really how can you drive a truck and not know how it works?” (page 66)

“Using Energy, and this book has since changed my life… All I needed was a windmill, and then I could have lights. No more kerosene lamps that burned out eyes… I could stay awake at night reading instead of going to bed at seven with the rest of Malawi. But most important, a windmill could also rotate a pump for water and irrigation.” (page 158)

William set out to demonstrate his windmill for the first time to a skeptical crowd saying (page 193)

“Let’s see how crazy this boy really is.”… “Look,” someone said. “He’s made light!”… “Electric wind!” I shouted. “I told you I wasn’t mad!”

I like how the story shows how long, hard work, reading, experimenting and learning is what allowed William to success (page 194-5)

For the next month, about thirty people showed up each day to stare at the light. “How did you manage such a thing?” They asked. “Hard work and lots of research,” I’d say, trying not to sound too smug…
[to William’s father] “What an intelligent boy. Where did he get such ideas?”
“He’s been reading lots of books. Maybe from there?”
“They teach this in school?”
“He was forced to drop. He did this on his own.”
The diagram demonstrated twenty-four volts being transformed to two hundred forty. I knew voltage increased with each turn of wire. The diagram showed the primary coil to have two hundred turns, while the secondary had two thousand. A bunch of mathematical equations were below the diagram – I assumed they explained how I could make my own conversions – but instead I just wrapped like mad and hoped it would work. (page 200)
Soon I was attacking every idea with its own experiment. Over the next year, there was hardly a moment when I wasn’t planning or devising some new scheme. And though the windmill and radio transmitter had both been successes, I couldn’t say the same for a few other experiments. (page 215)

William is now attending the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, with an amazing group of classmates. See how you can support the Moving Windmills Projects.

Related: Teen’s DIY Energy Hacking Gives African Village New HopeMake the World BetterWilliam Kamkwamba on the Daily ShowWhat Kids can Learnappropriate technology

Siftable Modular Computers

Pretty cool. I must admit I don’t really see how this would function outside of specifically designed situation. I can imagine it could be very cool for education, especially of young kids. Siftables act in concert to form a single interface: users physically manipulate them – piling, grouping, sorting – to interact with digital information and media. David Merrill and Jeevan Kalanithi originally created Siftables at the MIT Media Lab and have formed a company to commercialize the product and have received a grant from NSF to continue the work.

Related: Cool Mechanical Simulation SystemVideo Cat CamArduino: Open Source Programmable HardwareWhat Kids can Learn

Presidential Science Teaching and Mentoring Awards

Related: President Obama Speaks on Getting Students Excited About Science and EngineeringPresidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering MentoringFund Teacher’s Science Projects$12.5 Million from NSF For Educating High School Engineering Teachers

Remarks by President Obama on the “Educate to Innovate” Campaign and Science Teaching and Mentoring Awards, January 6, 2010

To all the teachers who are here, as President, I am just thrilled to welcome you, teachers and mentors, to the White House, because I believe so strongly in the work that you do. And as I mentioned to some of you, because I’ve got two girls upstairs with math tests coming up, I figure that a little extra help from the best of the best couldn’t hurt. So you’re going to have assignments after this. (Laughter.) These awards were not free. (Laughter.)

photo of President Obama with science teachers at the White HousePresident Barack Obama with Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching winners in the State Dining of the White House January 6, 2010. (Official White House photo by Chuck Kennedy)

We are here today to honor teachers and mentors like Barb who are upholding their responsibility not just to the young people who they teach but to our country by inspiring and educating a new generation in math and science. But we’re also here because this responsibility can’t be theirs alone. All of us have a role to play in building an education system that is worthy of our children and ready to help us seize the opportunities and meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Whether it’s improving our health or harnessing clean energy, protecting our security or succeeding in the global economy, our future depends on reaffirming America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation. And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today, especially in math, science, technology, and engineering.

But despite the importance of education in these subjects, we have to admit we are right now being outpaced by our competitors. One assessment shows American 15-year-olds now ranked 21st in science and 25th in math when compared to their peers around the world. Think about that — 21st and 25th. That’s not acceptable. And year after year the gap between the number of teachers we have and the number of teachers we need in these areas is widening. The shortfall is projected to climb past a quarter of a million teachers in the next five years — and that gap is most pronounced in predominately poor and minority schools.

And meanwhile, other nations are stepping up — a fact that was plain to see when I visited Asia at the end of last year. The President of South Korea and I were having lunch, and I asked him, what’s the biggest education challenge that you have? He told me his biggest challenge in education wasn’t budget holes, it wasn’t crumbling schools — it was that the parents were too demanding. (Laughter.) He’s had to import thousands of foreign teachers because parents insisted on English language training in elementary school. The mayor of Shanghai, China — a city of over 20 million people — told me that even in such a large city, they had no problem recruiting teachers in whatever subject, but particularly math and science, because teaching is revered and the pay scales are comparable to professions like doctors.
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President Obama Speaks on Getting Students Excited About Science and Engineering

The President announces the “Educate to Innovate” initiative, a campaign to get students excited about pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Quotes from President Obama from his speech – (see webcast above):

“As President, I believe that robotics can inspire young people to pursue science and engineering.”

“Now the hard truth is that for decades we’ve been losing ground. One assessment shows American 15-year-olds now rank 21st in science and 25th in math when compared to their peers around the world.”

“And today, I’m announcing that we’re going to have an annual science fair at the White House with the winners of national competitions in science and technology. If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you’re a young person and you’ve produced the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too. Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House we’re going to lead by example. We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”

“improving education in math and science is about producing engineers and researchers and scientists and innovators who are going to help transform our economy and our lives for the better.”

Related: 2008 Intel Science Talent SearchReport on K-12 Science Education in USAFun k-12 Science and Engineering LearningScience Education in the 21st CenturyHigh School Inventor Teams @ MITEngineering Education Program for k-1276 Nobel Laureates in Science Endorse ObamaLego Learning

Test it Out, Experiment by They Might Be Giants

Put It to the Test is one of the songs on the great new Album and animated DVD from They Might Be Giants: Here Comes Science.

Are you sure that thing is true, or did someone just tell it to you.
Come up with a test. Test it out.
Find a way to show what would happen if you were incorrect. Test it out.
A fact is just a fantasy unless it can be checked.
Make a test. Test it out.

A fun song on fundamentals of experimenting to the scientific method.

Related: Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giantsposts on experimentingMythBuster: 3 Ways to Fix USA Science EducationScience Toys You Can Make With Your KidsCorrelation is Not Causation

Neil Degrasse Tyson: Scientifically Literate See a Different World

From the interview of Neil Degrasse Tyson from 3 July 2009.

“If you are scientifically literate the world looks very different to you. Its not just a lot of mysterious things happening. There is a lot we understand out there. And that understanding empowers you to, first, not be taken advantage of by others who do understand it. And second there are issues that confront society that have science as their foundation. If you are scientifically illiterate, in a way, you are disenfranchising yourself from the democratic process, and you don’t even know it.”

I agree, and, as I have said before, when a society allows a scientific illiteracy to continue then the potential for abuse by those that manipulate those that are scientifically illiterate leaves the society vulnerable to making very bad choices.

Related: Nearly Half of Adults in the USA Don’t Know How Long it Takes the Earth to Circle the Sunposts on scientific literacyEvolution, Methane, Jobs, Food and MoreAstronaut self portraitCosmology Questions AnsweredSarah, aged 3, Learns About Soap

Young Engineers Take LEGO ‘Bots For a Swim

Young Engineers Take LEGO ‘Bots For a Swim

The Stevens Institute of Technology hosts this competition annually on its campus here, gathering students earlier this month from more than 40 middle and high schools to pit their designs against one another in kiddie pools on the banks of the Hudson River. In dozens of such competitions around the world, young people build, program and drive vehicles made of Legos and other more rugged materials. These events are a bid to interest a new generation in careers in engineering and robotics, and they are becoming more sophisticated.

Upping the ante this year, Build IT introduced Lego’s NXT programmable control box. At least one student on each team learned to program the NXT. The programmer determined which of the vehicle’s propellers would spin and in which direction when the driver moved the levers.

Holding up the device, Abigail Symons from Lincoln Park Middle School demonstrated her work. “Those are the controls and those are the touch sensors and this is a rotation sensor,” she said. She had never used such technology before she joined the team.

“I thought I was going to be bad at it because I wasn’t sure if the right motor would go with the right propeller, but in the end I got it so, it was good,” she said.

The Build IT program is funded by a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation with further funding by the Motorola Foundation. It is one facet in the NSF’s scheme to entice students into future careers in engineering and other sciences.

Related: Lunacy – FIRST Robotics Challenge 2009Building minds by building robotsLa Vida RobotRobot Fish

Science Knowledge Quiz

pew research science quiz results

Pew Research Center’s new study of science and its impact on society includes a science knowledge quiz. You can test yourself on the quiz. Thankfully I was able to get all 12 answers correct, which 10% of those taking the test have done. The median score was 8 out of 12.

I find some of the results surprising. The question most often answered correctly is “Which over-the-counter drug do doctors recommend that people take to help prevent heart attacks?”. The least often “Electrons are smaller than atoms,” a true or false question fewer than 50% of people got right.

Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media

Americans like science. Overwhelming majorities say that science has had a positive effect on society and that science has made life easier for most people. Most also say that government investments in science, as well as engineering and technology, pay off in the long run. And scientists are very highly rated compared with members of other professions: Only members of the military and teachers are more likely to be viewed as contributing a lot to society’s well-being.

Just 17% of the public thinks that U.S. scientific achievements rate as the best in the world. A survey of more than 2,500 scientists, conducted in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), finds that nearly half (49%) rate U.S. scientific achievements as the best in the world.

large percentages think that government investments in basic scientific research (73%) and engineering and technology (74%) pay off in the long run. Notably, the partisan differences in these views are fairly modest, with 80% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans saying that government investments in basic science pay off in the long run. Comparable percentages of Democrats and Republicans say the same about government investments in engineering and technology.

In this regard, public views about whether funding for scientific research should be increased, decreased or kept the same have changed little since the start of the decade. Currently, more than twice as many people say that, if given the task of making up the budget for the federal government, they would increase (39%) rather than decrease (14%) funding for scientific research; 40% say they would keep spending as it is. That is largely unchanged from 2001, when 41% said they would increase funding for scientific research.

Related: Nearly Half of Adults in the USA Don’t Know How Long it Takes the Earth to Circle the SunUnderstanding the Evolution of Human Beings by CountryInvest in Science for a Strong EconomyTry to Answer 6 Basic Science QuestionsWhat Everyone Should Learn

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