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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How Black Students Tend to Learn Science

Ryan Hynd wouldn't call it an epiphany but he doesn’t deny that the research program he joined the summer of his junior year at Georgia Tech shaped his career. “It wasn't exactly a turning point, but it was like an awakening. I definitely got an idea of what it’s like to be a mathematician.” he said. “I don’t think I stopped and told myself that this was it, but that’s when I knew there was no turning back.”

Hynd, who is of Jamaican descent and now works as an assistant professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s math department, is talking about his time at the Berkeley Science Network. The program recruits underrepresented groups into science, technology, engineering, and math—or STEM—fields. Hynd was one of the lucky ones: In those areas women and African-Americans are severely underrepresented, making up just 24 percent and 3 percent of the STEM workforce, respectively.

Societal and pop-culture norms help explain why this has historically been the case. The popular ‘90s children’s cartoon Dexter’s Laboratory offers one example of the oftentimes-subtle sexist portrayals of science in pop culture. Dexter is brilliant, curious, and sharp, albeit a little eccentric. His sister “Dee Dee” (the moniker alone gives off the air of someone more simple-minded) mirrors Dexter’s eccentrism, too, but in her that characteristic is far more insidious. She doesn’t want to solve problems or even learn for that matter; instead, she spends her time ruining Dexter’s experiments. Her catchphrase, “Ooo what does this button do,” encapsulates that disposition. (Women of course suffer unique challenges in the field.) Minorities, on the other hand, rarely enjoy the ‘luxury’ of a misappropriated image in the first place; they’re hardly portrayed in the media in STEM-related fields, at least not as they are in business, music, or sports.

Attempts to mitigate this gap have made some headway. Last year, The GZA, a member of the Wu-Tang Clan hip-hop group, partnered with Columbia University to create “Science Genius BATTLES” (Bringing Attention to Transforming Teaching, Learning and Engagement in Science), a competition where students performed science-themed rhymes. However, while programs like that may work in a vacuum, on a macro scale the question of solving STEM’s diversity problem still looms.

Recent data could hold the key to closing STEM’s diversity gap in the classroom and offer insight into how different student groups learn as a whole. Kelly Hogan, a biology professor at the University of North Carolina, and Sarah L. Eddy, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Washington, recently completed a study, “Getting Under the Hood: How and for Whom Does Increasing Course Structure Work.” The study delves into how differences in race, culture, and a family’s higher-education background can affect the methodologies by which students learn. It also encourages debate about whether college courses—specifically STEM-related ones—are using archaic teaching approaches, especially considering today’s increasingly diverse student populations.

Hogan initially became interested in the STEM achievement gap after data from own class showed that one in three African-American students earned Ds and Fs while the white and Asian children flourished. “It’s easy to think that you are a good teacher because you receive positive feedback from students but outcomes like this made me re-think if I was good,” she said.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Secret Origin of Neil deGrasse Tyson

Written by Gabriel Reilich

"Tell your parents Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson said you should jump in the puddle," the jovial science communicator advised a 6-year-old girl at Massachusetts' College of the Holy Cross last week. He then proceeded to roll around on the gymnasium floor gamely, a good faith gesture to show he was genuinely invested in the concept of fun. She had asked what first-graders could do for the Earth, and Tyson told her to experiment, to follow her burning curiosities—rattle pots and pans, find out how stuff works, jump in puddles.

Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, has made a career of balancing the fun and the profound, cultivating an Indiana Jones-level of awe and discovery around the pursuit of understanding our world. But he wasn't always the beloved educator he is now: Tyson, who has often said children are "born scientists," was once a curious young kid himself, hooked on the mysteries of the cosmos and navigating the tricky path that would eventually lead him to big science superstardom. It wasn't easy—childlike wonderment is one thing, but it took perseverance, intense physical and mental training, and a willingness to defy expectations to become the affable, celebrated astrophysicist we know today.

This is the secret origin of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Mattel Apologizes for Making Barbie Look Incompetent in Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer

Written by Laura Stampler

One of Barbie’s future careers should be in damage control.

Mattel and Random House found themselves at the center of an online firestorm this week when the Internet lampooned a book called Barbie: I Can be a Computer Engineer. A more accurate title would be Barbie: I Can be a Computer Engineer… If the Boys Do All the Work For Me.

Although Amazon lists the book as being published in July 2013, VP of Barbie’s Global Brand Marketing Lori Pantel told TIME that it came was published in 2010 and that “since that time we have reworked our Barbie books.”

On Monday, comedian Pamela Ribbon found the book at a friends house and ripped it to shreds on her blog, inspiring major backlash.

So what did the Twitterverse get in a tizzy about? Although the book’s title would indicate that its fights stereotypes against the tech industry’s gender gap, readers only need only get it to the second page to find out that Barbie is completely incompetent. While she’s capable of conceptualizing a game about a cute robot puppy (gender cliche, but we were ready to go with it — who doesn’t like robot puppies?), Barbie needs boys to actually do the computer programing for her. When Skipper asks if she can see the program, “Barbie says, laughing, ‘I’ll need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!'” Silly Skipper and your high expectations!

The rest of the book involves Barbie crashing her computer (duh), passing a virus to Skipper (a pillow fight ensues… I mean, really), ignoring her female computer teacher’s advice on how to fix the virus (because if we’ve learned one thing, it’s that ladies should not be trusted with such things), and finally letting brogrammers come to her rescue. While Steve and Brian seem like nice enough guys, they don’t even teach Barbie what to do on her hot pink laptop.

“The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for,” says Pantel. “We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”

In case they were in need of inspiration, people have been tweeting funny rewrites of the text so that it actually empowers women.

Barbie has been derided for a lot of things — her anatomically impossible figure, for example — but her career goals seemed on track if not admirable. She has been to space and business school But success involves more than just dressing the part. If you pair a doll with a hot pink laptop, she better know how to use it.

Click here to read from this article's source.

Friday, November 21, 2014

An Hour of Code For a Lifelong Skill at

SBURY PARK - Take the popularity of the Frozen Disney movie, and add inspirational stories of those in the computer science field, and you could inspire more children to take an interest in learning code.

That's the theme of this year's Hour of Code, a free afternoon event that gave children a look into a field that organizers said not only helps develop problem-solving and creativity but is also an in-demand job skill.

"It's becoming a necessity," said Bret Morgan, founder of Cowerks, the host of the event. "Even if you had no intention of pursuing it, you should at least have an exposure to the language of programming. It's part of being a well-rounded individual. Just as you might learn a foreign language or read the classics, but because it is so accessible and in such widespread use, you'd find code helps in all sorts of job fields."

The one-hour introduction to code - an event put together by Cowerks, Jersey Shore Tech and Lakehouse Music Academy - at the Cowerks suite in Asbury Park, is part of a larger initiative to demystify computer programming and encourage its pursuit at an early age.

Code Week, through December 14, had 60,000 events worldwide. The initiative, through, aims to give "every student in every school the opportunity to learn computer science and believe computer science and computer programming should be part of the core curriculum," according to the website. Computer science fits alongside other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses like biology, physics, chemistry and algebra, organizers said.

However, in New Jersey the classes do not count toward curriculum requirements, said Sean T. Walsh, chief executive officer of Crowd Communications Group, who helped set up the event.

"There's no core requirements for New Jersey. So if we can get them energized at a young age, then come 10 years when they are looking at entering a field they have these basic skills that are increasingly in demand," Walsh said.

By using the characters from Disney's Frozen in the programming lesson, students get an element of fun to what may be the assumed complicated world of code.

That's not the case, organizers said. Code can be learned quickly, and the introduction to code basics can be the building block toward more elaborate projects.

"By adding these fun elements, you can get kids really excited about all types of projects. They can see how they can program robots and other fun things, by using skills that start here," Walsh said.

The project during Hour of Code had students creating snowflakes and ice crystals through programming. Elsa and Ana guided students ages four through 13 through the lesson.

Presenter Nina Saporta, a computer engineer, spoke of how code is not necessarily just a pursuit for the math-inclined.

"Here's an art project I created through code," Saporta said. "Through programming I can change the colors and shapes, and I figured that speaks to younger children who are also first learning shapes and colors."

Saporta brought her daughter, Audrey, who at age 3 was the youngest participant in the hour of code.

She said that she also hopes to serve as a role model for her daughter, and encouraging computer engineering as something more girls should pursue.

"They can do this at a young age; you would be surprised by what they understand," Saporta said. "When you are encouraged and exposed to this young, it feels natural, that engineering way of thinking."

Morgan said the average age was seven years old, among the 30+ attendees of the event. With a long waiting list to participate, Cowerks will likely hold more events of this type next month.

Click here to learn more.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Girlstart's mission is to increase girls’ interest and engagement in STEM

Girlstart aspires to be the national leader in designing and implementing innovative, high quality informal STEM education programs that inspire girls to transform our world.

The world’s greatest challenges need new STEM ideas and insights. Half of the world’s potential ideamakers—women and girls—are discouraged from developing their ideas because of social bias or inequity. More girls with more ideas create more solutions.

Girlstart’s mission is to solve this.

We increase girls’ interest and engagement in STEM through innovative, nationally-recognized informal STEM education programs. By empowering more girls to continue STEM studies, we can help address our nation’s STEM workforce inequities and impact innovation and economic development in America and across the globe. To accomplish our mission, Girlstart develops and implements a range of innovative, research- and standards-based education and mentorship programs designed to promote girls’ early engagement and academic success in STEM, encourage girls' aspirations and persistence in STEM education and careers, and incubate a talented and diverse STEM workforce.

Founded in Austin, Texas, Girlstart is the only community-based informal STEM education nonprofit in the nation specifically dedicated to empowering and equipping girls in STEM through year-round STEM educational programming. Since 1997, Girlstart has served over 40,000 girls and 6,000 teachers and families with school-based programs, professional development for teachers, summer camps, STEM career conferences and expos, large-scale science events for families, and community STEM education outreach programs. Girlstart programs are open to girls K-16. We are focused on serving girls of minority backgrounds, girls who live in low-income or nonurban environments, and/or are considered at risk of academic failure by the Texas Education Agency.

Our goals are to:

  • Increase girls’ competency in conducting scientific investigations and critical thinking/reasoning.
  • Increase girls’ facility and mastery in STEM skills.
  • Increase girls’ confidence and interest in conducting STEM activities.
  • Increase girls’ the understanding that there are multiple applications of STEM in everyday life.
  • Increase girls’ awareness of STEM careers and interest in pursuing STEM electives, subjects, majors, and careers.

Girlstart cultivates a culture where risk is rewarded, curiosity is encouraged, and creativity is expected. As a result, Girlstart girls are connected, brave, and resilient. Girlstart makes girls more successful, and inspires them to take on the world’s greatest challenges.

Click here to learn more.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

‘Think Before You Link’ promotes student cybersafety

By Lyndsey Layton

As elementary and secondary students spend more time online, a new free program has rolled out and is aimed at giving children, teachers and families the tools to help young digital users safely navigate the Internet.

“Think Before You Link” is an online course for students from grades three through eight with a focus on cybersafety, online bullying and Internet ethics. It was produced by Discovery Education and Intel Security and is being offered free to schools around the country.

“This was a long-identified need,” said Lori McFarling of Discovery Education, which provides educational software to schools and professional development for teachers. “We’ve heard from our district partners that what they really needed was help to introduce the concept of online safety to our youngest students.”

The program is divided into three parts, each of which should take a student about 45 minutes to work through, McFarling said. In addition, there are supplementary materials that educators can use to extend lessons, and separate but related programming for parents. The curriculum addresses questions of privacy, contact with strangers, malware, passwords, gaming and plagiarism, among others. It was created in consultation with the National Cyber Security Alliance.

“These are tools meant to be used in school and out of school,” McFarling said. “It’s aimed at helping kids to become confident, safe, digital citizens. We really wanted to target and make sure we spoke to the youngest of learners because we know how early young people are getting online.”

Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) demonstrated “Think Before You Link” from a classroom in Prince George’s County.

The program joins other cybersafety efforts already in schools, including a free digital citizenship program created by the nonprofit Common Sense Media that is used by about 60,000 of the nation’s 100,000 public schools. That program was developed in 2008 with help from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

Attention to online safety comes as Internet use continues to grow among elementary and secondary students, and as parents become increasingly worried about the online activities of their children.

A 2013 survey by Pew Research Internet Project found 9 in 10 teens between ages 12 and 17 have a computer or access to one at home. According to the same survey, approximately 37 percent of all teens have smartphones, up from just 23 percent in 2011.

Click here to read from this article's source.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

National Homeless Youth Awareness Month - November and All Year Long!

While November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, there is an opportunity YEAR ROUND to bring greater attention to an issue critical to our mission to help New Jersey’s children and youth live fulfilling and successful lives.

According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, there are more than 1.6 million children and youth each year that are homeless at some point in their lives. As these children and youth struggle to live on the street, they are susceptible to substance abuse, pregnancy, depression, and human trafficking.

Thanks to the federal Social Services Block Grant, we expanded services for New Jersey’s homeless youth. Somerset Home for Temporarily Displaced Children and Covenant House New Jersey continue to conduct street outreach to identify and intervene with homeless youth in Superstorm Sandy-impacted areas.

In addition, we received federal Youth At-Risk of Homeless Planning Grant funding to identify creative interventions to prevent and address homelessness for and with youth in foster care. In the spring of 2015, we will propose a new intervention driven by youth, stakeholders, data, and a needs assessment process that will better connect youth with resources and support to end youth homelessness in New Jersey.

There are several ways you can help, individually and as part of your community. Cook and donate a meal to an organization that feeds the homeless, raise money for community homelessness prevention programs, or donate items like blankets, hats, and gloves to homeless shelters.

For more information, I encourage you to use these important and helpful resources:

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Fostering Success of Michigan

Thursday, November 13, 2014

OST Research and Resource Hub

The Youth Today Out-of-School Time (OST) Hub, funded, in part, by a generous grant from the Robert Bowne Foundation, embodies the Foundation’s philosophy of positive youth development, the importance of reflection and inquiry, a deep respect for youth workers as experts in their own right and of youth worker voices. In addition, the Hub reflects the Foundation's belief in the critical importance of building bridges between research and practice.

The OST Hub focuses on topics that address relevant and critical issues in the out-of-school time (OST) field, many of them linked with current news stories reported in the newspaper Youth Today. The topics for the OST Hub have been selected through an advisory panel consisting of experts and researchers in the field of OST as well as seasoned practitioners. In addition, a survey of researchers, practitioners, and policy makers was used to collect information regarding potential topic areas for the OST Hub.

Each topic area has its own page with links to relevant articles, research, curricula and other program materials grounded in practice for in-depth exploration and deeper learning. There are also opportunities for professional development and training, including short webinars (Expresso Learning) developed in partnership with the National Afterschool Association (NAA) and, potentially, longer term certificate programs or credit-bearing courses through Kennesaw State University.

Click here to read from this article's source.

Monday, November 10, 2014

BioNJ Announces Expanded Mission and Vision, New Initiatives as The Gateway to Health

Inspired by a series of new strategic initiatives, BioNJ announced a rebranding today -- BioNJ, The Gateway to Health – that reflects an expanded vision and mission directed to fostering a vibrant life sciences ecosystem in New Jersey where science is supported, companies are created, drugs are developed and patients are paramount.

The rebranding is supported by the launch of a revitalized website at that is contemporary in its look and represents the determination of BioNJ to help move the life sciences industry forward.

A telecast providing more information on the new vision and mission, strategic initiatives and rebranding can be accessed at Interested parties can join a “Tweetathon” immediately following the launch by tweeting to @BioNJ_org with the hashtag #BioNJ.

“Because Patients Can’t Wait, at BioNJ, we are dedicated to propelling the State’s rich biotechnology innovation ecosystem forward in New Jersey and beyond to help stimulate the discovery, development and commercialization of therapies and cures that save and improve lives and lessen the burden of illness and disease to society,” said BioNJ President and CEO Debbie Hart.

“As the Statute of Liberty, standing in New Jersey waters, is the Gateway to America, BioNJ is The Gateway to Health,” said Hart. “Guided by this iconic imagery, BioNJ’s mission is focused now more than ever on helping research-based companies obtain the resources they need – financial, informational and more – to bring innovative products to patients faster and in greater numbers. To do this we are expanding our outreach to members of the life sciences sector beyond biotechnology companies and implementing several key initiatives that are completely new or that improve upon BioNJ’s current programs.”

According to Hart, the BioNJ Board of Trustees and the BioNJ Team have been working for the past year on a series of new initiatives that include:
  • Bolstering an already robust life sciences cluster in New Jersey by creating an interconnected base of region-wide research and development assets that will serve as a nexus of innovation.
  • Fostering entrepreneurship and funding programs that will help develop and support a continuous flow of new companies.
  • Increasing BioNJ’s public policy advocacy programs and enhancing communication with patient advocacy groups so that the voice of the patient and his or her family has an even stronger presence in our community.
  • Advocating for innovation in medical research by promoting a dialog that examines how breakthroughs, such as those in cancer therapy, contribute to society by saving and extending lives and reducing overall medical costs.
  • Working from one of New Jersey’s greatest strengths, promoting the State’s expertise in conducting clinical trials and drug development as a key differentiating factor for the region and facilitating the expansion of additional trials in the State.
  • Establishing The Academy at BioNJ as a center for professional development in the life sciences. The Academy will provide access to powerful and creative training opportunities for employers and individual industry professionals.
  • Preparing New Jersey’s emerging and start-up companies to stand above the competition when the largest biotechnology gathering in the world, BIO 2015, returns to the Delaware Valley in June.
  • Realigning BioNJ’s Members and membership levels to emphasize the Members’ roles as “Investors” in BioNJ’s Vision and Mission.
Nexus of Innovation

To tap into and maximize the rich research and development assets located throughout New Jersey – including those in public and private companies, academic centers and innovation incubators -- programs stemming from these initiatives will work to better interconnect the assets through formal and informal networks that communicate with each other.

Hart noted that this approach will create a “nexus of innovation” within the State and the approach may eventually also involve the development of one or more bricks-and-mortar locations.

In that same vein, Hart said numerous studies and reports point to the fact that reduced funding for start-up and early stage companies is a detriment to innovation around the nation and the initiatives direct BioNJ to redouble its efforts to foster entrepreneurship to ensure there is a continuous stream of new companies that stem from or choose New Jersey as their starting place.

Academy Adds to BioNJ’s Role in Professional Development

The Academy at BioNJ is designed to serve as the center for professional development in the life sciences sector. The Academy will provide access to powerful and creative training opportunities for employers and individual industry professionals, delivered by top training experts.

Employers and individual professionals will have access to specialized programs such as Project Management, Leadership, Six Sigma, Root Cause Analysis, Team Development, Sales, Customer Service, Business Development, Partnering, Finance and more.

Employers have the opportunity to customize programs and can host sessions at their location, or may enroll employees in public programs. There will also be a selection of online training courses to choose from as well.

Strategic Initiatives in Action

As an example of programs that are already being developed and implemented as a result of the strategic initiatives, Hart pointed to Life Sciences in New Jersey: Looking Beyond Biotech, an industry study released this year by BioNJ on September 22, and BioP on the Road to BIO 2015, a series of free coaching sessions leading up to the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s 2015 International Convention.

Conducted in partnership with EY (formerly Ernst and Young), the Rutgers Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the BioNJ 2013 Industry Study is a first-of-its-kind look into the New Jersey life sciences industry. The study presents a comprehensive look at the ongoing growth of the biotechnology sector in the State and combines and assesses the contributions of the entirety of the life sciences sector to New Jersey’s economy, including employment and economic impact.

In preparation for BIO 2015, BioNJ will host a series of free coaching or “scrub sessions” for the remainder of 2014 and into spring 2015 for BioNJ Member companies looking to present and/or take part in partnering sessions at the world’s largest biotechnology conference. The training sessions will prepare emerging and start-up companies to present their technologies at the Convention to be held on June 15-18, 2015 in Philadelphia and will be conducted by leading New Jersey life sciences community members with expertise in business plan development, fundraising, finance, legal and regulatory issues, business development, marketing and more.

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Common Core math experts say teachers need to stop using shortcuts and math ‘tricks’

By Emmanuel Felton

Think back to your elementary school math classes. Were you told to think of a greater-than sign as Pac-Man or to cross-multiply when dividing fractions? You weren't alone. Tricks to help kids get the right answers to difficult problems have long been a staple of American math education.

But if Common Core supporters have their way, shortcuts like these will soon disappear from the nation's classrooms.

In the age of Common Core, getting the right answer to a math problem is only step one. The Common Core math standards, which are in place in more than 40 states, say that it is just as important for students to understand the mathematical principles at work in a problem.

This emphasis on principles poses a problem for popular techniques like Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, a mnemonic device for remembering the order of operations that teachers complain is imprecise, and the butterfly method for adding and subtracting fractions. If correctly applied, the tricks always result in the correct answer, but math experts say they allow students to skip the sort of conceptual thinking the standards are trying to encourage in students.

Linda Gojak, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, is waging a war against the old advice that students should cross off zeros when dividing, for example. Using this technique students can quickly solve a problem like 4000 divided by 100 by eliminating two zeroes from each number and simplifying the problem to 40 divided by 1.

"I get teachers that get mad when I tell them they should stop," said Gojak. "But I envision students dragging in a big bag of tricks into standardized tests and not really thinking about the questions."

"It is your justification that makes your answer right or wrong," Gojak added.

Critics, including parents who remember the way they learned math in school, worry the standards are throwing out proven computational techniques in favor of overly complex methods. They say new, convoluted approaches are turning kids off of math.

But Phil Daro, one of the lead writers of Common Core math, says math tricks have already tarnished the math brand for countless students.

"Take the butterfly method. It doesn't articulate any mathematics," said Daro at a conference of the Association of Mathematics Teachers of New Jersey last month. "Nothing in school is perceived to be useful by the kids, but in math they are going farther and saying, 'why are we even doing this?'"

Steve Leinwand, principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research's education program, also argues that America's math teachers should embrace the shift away from right answers.

"Common Core has the audacity to use the word understand 218 times," said Leinwand.

Daro does see some limited room for shortcuts in math.

"Now students have to arrive at a grade level way of thinking about the problem," said Daro. "You can spend the first two-thirds of a lesson letting kids use the varied ways of thinking but for the last one-third we need to get them to the standards' way of thinking."

As for the tricks, Daro says, "I'd only settle for something like [the butterfly method], some days for some kids."

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