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Inquiry First.

The 2012 Massachusetts State High School Science & Engineering Fair has begun!  About 350 volunteer judges received training this morning on the finer points of the job, and have made their way into MIT's Johnson Athletics Center (JAC) to meet their assigned students.  Results of the judging will be tabulated this evening and winners will be announced during the awards ceremony tomorrow evening. Billy Costa, host of High School Quiz Show and well-known radio personality, will MC.

With half a million dollars in prize money and scholarships at stake, there's palpable energy in JAC today!  The science fair will be open to the public tomorrow, May 5th, from 12:30-3:00.  Bring the family and check out these amazing student projects!

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Congratulations to Lexington High School, which triumphed over North Hollywood High to secure the top place in the high school division of the Energy Department's National Science Bowl yesterday at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.

The five student members of the team -- Alan Zhou, Julia Leung, Jonathan Tidor, Zaroug Jaleel and Matthew Arbesfeld -- will receive an all-expense paid, nine-day Alaska adventure! Hearty congratulations to all of the students, and to their coach, Nicholas Gould.
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Once focused on college and university grads as the primary source of potential new employees, more and more companies that need workers with solid STEM skills are looking at talent in middle and high schools. So says James Brown, Executive Director of the STEM Education Coalition. "To the extent that you’re really trying to look at the big picture ... [companies are betting] that if we make the pipeline stronger there, it will have ripple effects upwards," he says. And how do you encourage and nurture talent at the K-12 level? Make STEM subjects fun. Get students excited about STEM through inquiry-based learning, and competitions like science fairs. Clearly, corporate resources can have a tremendous impact on improving the quality of STEM education in the country, and more and more corporations seem to understand that the eventual payoff -- in the form of well-trained employees -- is worth the investment.
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It can be nerve-racking for teachers to surrender control of a classroom in order to let inquiry-based learning in.  A recent post on eMINTs' blog, "Networked Teaching & Learning," guides teachers on ways in which to move gradually toward a model of open inquiry rather than diving in with both feet.  Among the recommendations offered: consider where each lesson lies on a "continuum of inquiry"; some are more naturally suited to closed inquiry sessions than they are to open inquiry.  In addition, the article suggests that a teacher try to limit the questions that he or she provides, allowing student questions to propel the experience.   "There are many small things we can do in order to make inquiry part of our lessons and units of study without jumping into student-led inquiry headfirst," the article states. "If you struggle seeing your students as able to complete an inquiry... Read More

Let's face it: Social media plays an integral in the average high school student's life. While some parents and educators might be prone to view Twitter, Facebook, and the like as distractions to the young people in their lives, an interesting blog post by George Washington University biomedical engineering student William Broman suggests that there's a flip side to that assumption.  His article on US News & World Report's STEM Education blog suggests ways in which creative educators might consider leveraging the technology to encourage engagement in STEM subjects.  Broman concludes, "Higher education, including my school, and businesses are using Twitter and Facebook to communicate effectively with students or customers and solve problems--it's time for high schools to do the same."

These days, there's no need for anyone interested in pursing greater knowledge of STEM subjects to be constrained by course offerings at their local schools and universities. The Internet opens up a world of possibilities for the studious and curious alike. has put together a list of 50 free, online sources of STEM education, including lectures by Ivy-league professors and Nobel Laureates, IT tutorials, educational media from lie likes of National Geographic and NASA, entire courses, and scholarly articles.

A post by Grace Suh on the Citizen IBM blog offers a former English major's perspective on the importance of math education for both college and career. Suh emphasizes the need to "bring math to life for young people" through an approach that offers context in addition to conveying skills.  Resources that she suggests include IBM's free iPad app, "Minds of Modern Mathematics," and the hands-on learning website, Teachers TryScience.

An interesting infographic by illustrates the downward trajectory of STEM education in the US. Starting in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik, the infographic tracks various threads of data through the years, from STEM doctoral degrees conferred to US versus non-US citizens annually to the percentage of top-performing high school students who major in STEM.  It's a well-designed, thought-provoking piece that brings the current challenges facing STEM education to light in living color. STEM Infographic



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