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Inquiry First.

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 coding... 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. See on

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:

Researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center have earned a prestigious honor -- the Hands-On Project Experience (HOPE) Training Opportunity award -- that promotes achievement among America's newest ranks of space scientists and engineers. The project, "High Energy Replicated Optics to Explore the Sun" (HEROES), is a scientific balloon built with the capability of soaring to an altitude of about 25 miles. At that distance into the Earth's stratosphere, HEROES will study solar flares with its x-ray telescope when the sun is shining, and then look at the stars at night.  "HEROES will provide the most sensitive hard X-ray observations of the sun captured to date, and will pave the way for this technology to be used on a future satellite mission," said Steven Christe of the Goddard Center.  NASA's HOPE awards allow NASA... Read More

A $1 billion plan announced by President Obama yesterday would provide for the creation of a corps of exemplary "master teachers" in STEM subjects who would lend their expertise to mentoring other teachers in all 50 states. In exchange, each teacher would receive a salary boost of $20,000 annually. The program would begin with 50 master teachers, building up to 10,000 in four years. Master teachers, who would be identified and selected through a competitive process, would need to demonstrate superior content knowledge and proven effectiveness in teaching STEM subjects, among other criteria.  "We need to be sure that we’re identifying the master teachers on the basis of demonstrable results rather than experience or credentials," said Thomas Kane, professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. See on... Read More

The tech sector is booming, and hungry for skilled workers. With its promise of ample opportunity and high salaries, it seems like a logical direction for STEM-savvy students to pursue. However, according to a recent article in TIME magazine, the U.S. education system is doing a sub-par job of training students for computer science careers. While most STEM fields have seen an uptick in growth over the past two decades, computer science stands alone as having experienced a drop in student participation over the same period of time. This country's large, change-averse education system may be a big part of the problem. Despite its increasing relevance in the world into which today's students are graduating, computer science hasn't made its way into most -- or even many -- classrooms in a meaningful way. Having appeared on the scene relatively recently, computer science hasn't yet managed to... Read More

When the subject turns to engineering, too many students' eyes glaze over. But far from being a boring subject, many engineering fields require vast amounts of creativity. An article in yesterday's Albuquerque Journal makes the point that students need to get the full picture of engineering -- and other science fields -- and realize that a lot of what STEM is about is creating new things.  “In a survey of teens, we find that they have high regard for engineering as a profession, but don’t know what engineers do or how much they make,” said Intel Education Manager Carlos Contreras, lamenting the lack of well-qualified applicants for STEM jobs as a significant problem for tech companies like Intel. Read Albuquerque Journal's full article on creativity in STEM fields here. See on... Read More

An often overlooked force for good in the battle to increase students' pursuit of STEM subjects? Their parents. A recent study from the Association for Psychological Science (APS) revealed that targeting parents with information about the importance of STEM education in high school boosted enrollment of students in related courses.  Encouragement from parents is particularly important in the last two years of high school, when many advanced math and science courses are optional. The APS study showed that parental understanding of the impact of their children's high school course selections on their college -- and later, career -- paths resulted in more informed oversight of their students' course choices.  The study consisted of nothing more than a modest information campaign, targeting the same group of parents with brochures at two points in their children's high school career, suggesting that tapping parental influence is surprisingly easy.  “Although some people question... Read More

Science fairs foster a spirit of inquiry in education, helping students to realize and experience practical applications of what they have learned in the classroom.  For teachers who see the benefits of bringing inquiry learning into the classroom, the question of how to do so while covering the curriculum can weigh heavy. In a thoughtful blog post on the Canadian Education Association's web site, English teacher Brooke Moore explores that question -- among others -- concluding that, "there is a distinct difference between giving students the liberty to go in many directions and scaffolding them to move in a purposeful direction with confidence." Read more about Brooke's experience with inquiry learning in the classroom here:

Consider this sobering statement, made by Bill Gates in 2005: "When I compare our high schools to what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I am terrified for our workforce of tomorrow."  Headline after headline proclaims that STEM education in the US is broken.  But what, in fact, is really wrong with it? A recent article in Slate tackles that question by uncovering five common myths and misconceptions that present barriers to STEM education reform. Myth #1: "American schools have deteriorated in the past 30 or 40 years, as demonstrated by our poor performance on international assessments of math and science achievement. We need to restore American elementary and secondary education to their previous glory."  Slate takes the viewpoint that, far from having deteriorated, the American education system wasn't all that great in the first place.  "Incorrectly believing that... Read More


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