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Inquiry First.

In an interesting collision of pop culture and science, MIT unveiled a new reality video series this week called "ChemLab Boot Camp."  The series follows MIT freshmen as they progress through the four-week-long Introductory Lab Techniques course. It's geek entertainment with a mission.  According to MIT Professor John Essigmann, "We hope to show the human side of our field and to inspire young people to want to become the next generation of chemists."

The show, which premieres officially in September, promises to give viewers a front-row seat on hands-on learning at its finest.  It also has the potential to deliver a little drama: Students who succeed in the class have a guaranteed job in a MIT research lab.  Stay tuned...!
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NASA's "Mohawk Guy" Bobak Ferdowski -- a flight director for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity mission -- has been the subject of some unexpected curiosity, himself. With his hair-raising style and winning personality, Ferdowski seems to be taking his new-found fame in style. The Washington Post's Haley Crum had the opportunity to ask Ferdowski reader-submitted questions. Here's his response to an inquiry about STEM education and his possible role in motivating the next generation of scientists.

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As games gain popularity among students as an education delivery method, the Department of Education has jumped on board with awards that focus on game-based learning education technology products.  The Institute of Education Sciences -- the research arm of the Department of Education -- announced a new round of awards, many of which focus on game-based learning products.  Phase I awards provide support to the tune of up to $150K for prototype development.  Phase II awards will kick in next year in amounts reaching $900K over two years.

Education gaming experts say that well-designed games are motivating for students and by presenting discovery-based tasks, encourage critical thinking skills.  One project currently in the funding cycle is Game-enhanced Interactive Life Science -- a suite of five life-science games.  Their purpose is to... Read More

At the National Urban League Conference in New Orleans last month, President Obama announced an initiative geared toward improving the education of African-American students. The goal of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans is to close the achievement gap between black and white students -- a goal that is particularly significant withing the STEM education realm. The initiative should have an impact on STEM education for African-American students in several ways, not the least of which is exposing them to the sciences, math, and engineering at a younger age. For more ways in which President Obama's initiative promises to brighten the STEM education outlook for African Americans, read this post in Black Enterprise:... Read More

It's an age-old question: What's the best way to teach? These days the question is a has a new dimension: What's the best way to use technology to teach?"

A recent article in "Hack Education" tackles that latter question by asking readers to take a look back at the contributions of five of the 20th century's most influential educational theorists: John Dewey (pictured here), Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget, B.F. Skinner, and Paolo Freire. In several-paragraphs summaries of the philosophies of each thinker, article author Audrey Watters puts the philosophers' influences into current-day perpective by identifying who in tech each has influenced (in Dewey's case, the Maker Movement). It's an interesting and thought-provoking piece worth a look.
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Integrating the arts into STEM education can have powerful effects on student performance. According to the National Endowment for the Arts in its 2012 report, "The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth," "Eighth graders who had high levels of arts engagement from kindergarten through elementary school showed higher test scores in science and writing than did students who had lower levels of arts engagement over the same period." Wolf Trap's Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts in Vienna, Virginia, is going full STEAM ahead with a full slate of programs designed to infuse art into the curriculum. Wolf Trap's senior director of education, Akua Kouyate, is leading the organization's charge into the classroom. "If we think historically about how that has always been a part of learning, why would we stop it?" she said. "Why would we deny our children that which will allow them to really contribute significantly in the future?" Here's more about Wolf Trap's Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts:

How's this for a useful application of science: An interesting post by Dr. Judy Willis in Edutopia makes the case for teachers having a foundation in neuroscience.  A neurologist herself, as well as a teacher, Dr. Willis says, "Teachers who are prepared with knowledge of the workings of the brain will have the optimism, incentive and motivation to follow the ongoing research, and to apply their findings to the classroom."  She goes on to say, "These teachers can help all children build their brain potential -- regardless of past performance -- bridge the achievement gap, and reach their highest 21st century potential starting now."  Dr. Willis's argument makes good sense.  As she points out, if teachers understood the impact of stress on a student's classroom performance, or knew more about how the brain processes and stores information, wouldn't such knowledge have great potential to result... Read More

Brittany Wenger, a 17-year-old science whiz from Florida, has taken the Google Science Fair's top prize with her invention of an artificial brain with an uncanny ability to diagnose breast cancer. "I taught the computer how to diagnose breast cancer," Brittany said. "And this is really important because currently the least invasive form of biopsy is actually the least conclusive, so a lot of doctors can't use them."

Brittany's artificial neural network is a computer program coded to do turbo-charged brain-like thinking, in this case, with the power to detect complex patterns.  She built it with Java, deployed it in the cloud, and ran more than 7 million trials.  The accuracy of artificial neural networks improves with use.  Brittany brought her project to the point of having a greater than 99 percent sensitivity to malignancy.  “It will require a little bit of... Read More

Science has lost one of its brightest stars, as trailblazing astronaut Sally Ride died peacefully yesterday at the age of 61.

Becoming a household name in 1983 as the first woman to fly in space, Sally later championed the cause of inspiring young children -- girls, in particular -- to pursue their interests in science. She founded Sally Ride Science, a science education company dedicated to supporting girls’ and boys’ STEM interests. The company's school programs, classroom materials, and teacher trainings aim to "bring science to life to show kids that science is creative, collaborative, fascinating, and fun." Programs include the Sally Ride Science Academy, Science Festivals, and Science Camps.

Sally Ride's brilliance, strength, and integrity make her an inspirational role model for new generations of scientists.
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Since you are reading this blog, you are probably already "sold" on the concept of inquiry-based learning -- or interested in it, at the very least.  Far from being a completely unstructured form of education, inquiry-based learning requires that a teacher do significant advance planning in order to achieve optimal results in the classroom.  Guiding student exploration and discovery is critical to the success of inquiry learning.

A post on the YouthLearn site concisely identifies some important components to inquiry-based learning, stressing the necessity of planning, as well as delving into the inquiry process in detail. It's a great article for experienced teachers as well as those new to using inquiry in the classroom.  Read it here:


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