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Friday, July 31, 2015

How did you get that job: designing a parachute for NASA’s Mars rover

Written by Elizabeth Lopatto

You might not be familiar with Anita Sengupta, but you’re definitely familiar with her work: she helped design the 70-foot parachute for NASA’s Mars Rover, Curiosity. Without the chute, the rover never would have landed gently on the planet’s surface. Naturally, she’s got an appetite for tough problems.

After getting a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering from Boston University, she went on to receive a master’s and PhD from the University of Southern California, where she is now also a research associate professor. Her PhD thesis was on the ion thrusters that powered NASA’s Dawn mission, a probe launched in 2007, which orbited the asteroid Vesta before moving on to map Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.


Her main gig is as a project manager for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Cold Atom Laboratory, where she helps coordinate other brilliant people to figure out how better to get access to space.

But what was most surprising, in talking to her, was how important luck was in her career — Sengupta took risks, often taking on projects that were outside of her areas of expertise. It was by stretching herself in that way that she learned the most, she says.

And if you want to work on space? There’s probably a job for you. At least, that’s what the woman who helped land a monster-truck-sized science lab on Mars says.

Click here to read more.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Take a self-guided virtual tour of the International Space Station

Written by Michael Franco

While we've seen lots of photos and videos of the inside of the International Space Station (ISS), seen what our planet looks like from aboard the orbiting outpost and even heard what it sounds like up there, your chance to actually guide yourself through the various modules that comprise the station has been limited. That changed in June, when the European Space Agency (ESA) put up a website that allowed you to pilot your mouse around the Columbus module, the ISS research pod deployed by the ESA in 2008.

Now, the ESA has expanded its virtual tour site to include five more modules. In fact, all of the modules are now online except for the Russian ones, which the ESA says will be released later this year, so you can now click around quite a bit of the Space Station.

The virtual tour was created from photos taken by Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti in June 2015, just before she left the space base, after spending 199 days aboard.

Click here to read more.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Contributing to Your Community through Science

Written by Mónica I. Feliú-Mójer, PhD

Growing up in rural Puerto Rico, I loved to explore and build things. Yet the thought of becoming a scientist never crossed my mind.

Science and scientists seemed foreign and distant. I had never seen a scientist who looked or sounded like me in a book, on TV, or in the newspaper, let alone met one.

This experience is shared by many individuals from underrepresented backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). We rarely see science and scientists presented in a way that is relevant to our reality, cultural values, and communities, in schools or in the media. This lack of representation further marginalizes us from the process of science.

I always knew I wanted to use my scientific training to give back to my community. Initially, I thought I would do this by becoming a research scientist and having my own laboratory. However, as I became involved with science communication and outreach initiatives during graduate school, my vision of how I could use science to make meaningful contributions expanded.

Being able to communicate science in Spanish, my first language, to my community helped me counter the feeling of isolation that sometimes came with being the only Latina in my class and one of the few in my graduate program. It motivated me to persist and complete my PhD in spite of the challenges. So, when I finished graduate school, I put my pipettes away for good and dedicated myself to a career as an outreach scientist and science communicator.

My experiences have inspired me to become a passionate evangelist for building science communications skills, especially among minority scientists. Here I share why these skills are critical in advancing careers, empowering minority scientists, increasing the accessibility of science, and giving back to our communities.

Becoming a Public Voice, Advancing Your Career
Communication is part of a scientist’s everyday life. We give talks, write papers and proposals, communicate with a variety of audiences, and educate others. Thus, to be successful, regardless of field or career path, scientists must learn how to communicate effectively. Unfortunately, this is rarely part of our training.

Science communication can offer us powerful ways to develop the ability to deliver an understandable message both to the public and to our peers. Although communicating science to the public may seem very different from communicating science to your peers, the principles that make you successful at both are the same. That’s why public science communication allows you to develop practical skills that will complement and enhance your technical training.

Science is increasingly interdisciplinary and the ability to communicate more effectively across disciplines fosters collaboration and innovation. Being an effective communicator can make you more competitive in securing funding or finding a job. It will enhance your networking skills and support your mentoring relationships. It will make you a better teacher and mentor for next-generation scientists. Learning to communicate effectively increases the impact of your work in multiple dimensions.

Science communication can empower scientists not just to share their science, but to talk publicly about other relevant issues. For example, becoming more effective communicators can empower minority scientists to speak up about the challenges we face in the STEM fields, to draw attention to the disparities faced by our communities, and contribute our valuable perspectives to the scientific enterprise.

Giving Back
When communicating science, context and culture matter. People will more successfully learn science when it is presented in an authentic, meaningful context that includes personal stories and connections to their culture. In communities where scientific role models and contextualized science information are scarce, minority scientists are in a unique position to make science culturally relevant and to be visible as successful role models.

As a minority scientist, being involved in science communication can empower you to be visible and to turn your visibility into power and resources for underrepresented communities. In my experience, having better communication skills has empowered me to become an outspoken advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity. It has empowered me to take a seat at the table, to become a stronger leader and to be unafraid to share my opinions and perspectives, especially when it comes to issues that affect women and minorities in science.

Practical Advice

The following are some of the basic principles and strategies of effective communication. You can use these in all contexts, whether you are writing an abstract, preparing a talk, or sending a tweet.
  • Know your audience: Are they your peers? Are they a scientist in a different field? Are they a group of high school students visiting your lab? It is key that you know who you are talking to as that will determine your approach and what you will say.
  • Know your goal: Are you trying to teach your students a new concept? Are you trying to convince an agency to fund your research? You must know what you want to accomplish with your message.
  • Know your "so what" and keep it front and center: What is your main idea? What do you want people to remember after they hear your talk or read your article? Why is your issue important?
  • Make people care: Think about ways you can get people to relate to your message. Tell stories. Use cultural references. Use metaphors and analogies. Use images and imagery.
  • Avoid jargon: If you are communicating with someone who is not an expert, be it a scientist from another field or a member of the general public, you should avoid technical language and use words that are easier to understand to explain ideas and concepts. Remember, not using jargon doesn’t mean you are dumbing it down or making your message less scientifically accurate: it means you are making it accessible.
  • Have talking points and stick to them: In addition to identifying the "so what" of your message, you also need to think about your main take-home messages. What are the three things you want people to take away from what you say? What are your conclusions?
  • Beware of the "curse of knowledge": Once you know something, it is impossible for you to imagine not knowing it. Be careful in assuming that people know exactly what you are talking about and not defining or explaining concepts well. This of course will depend on who your audience is, but beware of making this mistake.

Balancing Priorities and Time Management
Although science communication can benefit and advance your scientific career in many ways, there can still be drawbacks. One thing people are often concerned about is the amount of time it can take away from studying, doing research, working, spending time with family and friends, or free time. Based on my experience, the amount of time science communication activities take depends on what you are doing. Are you blogging? Are you going to a middle school for a half-day to talk to students about your science? Are you tweeting?

Two things are very important in getting the most benefit out of communicating science: time management and prioritizing. For example, if you are an undergraduate student who is also doing research, your scholarly activities, not outreach, should be the priority. That is not to say you shouldn’t become involved in outreach, but that outreach should not come before passing your classes or doing your research. Regardless of your career stage, it is important that you identify how science communication can help you advance your career and how it fits with the rest of your responsibilities.

Click here to read more.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Rubik's Cube champ reveals the secrets of his world-class speed

Written by Danny Gallagher

To most people, the Rubik's Cube looks like a simple toy. But then they start trying to slide those squares into place, and their brains wonder what the Cube did to them that made them want to hurt it so much.

Teenager Collin Burns doesn't see the Rubik's Cube that way. He's been flipping squares since he was a little kid, and he's become so good at solving the Rubik's Cube that he broke the world record for a single solve back in April at the World Cube Association competition. His astonishing time of 5.253 seconds beat the previous record by just under one-third of a second.

You might think solving a Cube that fast requires a brain that can also do calculations faster than a calculator or remember at least 3 million digits of pi. However, you don't need a Ph.D. in quantum mechanics to figure out how to solve it, according to a new video from Vox.

Burns explains in the video below the technique he learned to solve the Cube. It's called the Fridrich Method and named for Binghamton University engineering professor Jessica Fridrich, who developed it while she was a college student.

The method involves recognizing or organizing one set of the colored squares in a cross pattern that establishes that side as the bottom layer. Then Burns solves the Cube in sections above that layer so that just the top row is unsolved. He then applies one of a number of different algorithms to the remaining pieces to put the rest of the Cube's colors in place. Fridrich has her own "Speed Cubing" website that explains her method in more detail.

The real key to Burns' success with the Rubik's Cube isn't some magic formula or hormone injections that give his fingers the dexterity of a cheetah (if cheetahs had fingers). The key is practice. He's dedicated a huge chunk of his young life to learning how the Cube works and how to rapidly recall and apply the techniques he's learned so he could improve his solve time over the years.

So if you can learn to wait and dedicate yourself for the next 10 years or so, you might be able to beat his record and get your name in the record books.

Click here to read more.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Oodles of Fantastic STEM & STEAM July News at GSGSC!

Click here to signup to receive future GSGSC newsletters!
Click here to read the latest GSGSC Newsletter now!

The Garden State Girls STEM Collaborative is the New Jersey initiative of the National Girls Collaborative Project, a program focused on providing high quality STEM activities to girls. Their primary goal is to strengthen the capacity of girl-serving STEM programs to effectively reach and serve underrepresented girls in STEM by sharing promising practice research and program models, outcomes, products and by connecting formal and informal educators, business and industry in order to maximize the resources that can positively influence our girls. Contact Mike MacEwan for more information how you can become involved.

In their latest issue, the Garden State Girls STEP Collaborative Project spotlights:
  • Senate Passes ESEA Rewrite with Big Bipartisan Backing (includes STEM amendment)
  • The Women who Power NASA's New Horizons Mission to Pluto  
  • Video Contest: Tell your STEM story by 8/1
  • How do teens think about body image, beauty and bullying? A presentation on body image: A competition with yourself  
  • PSEG to Award $250,000 in Grants to Further STEM Education in NJ by 8/14
  • Fostering a Growth Mindset Is Key to Teaching STEM
  • Identifying and Supporting Productive STEM Programs in Out-of-School Settings 
  • Got STEM? Let us Know How You're Supporting STEM or STEAM in Afterschool! 
  • Join The Connectory
  • Girl Scouts refuse $100,000 anti-transgender donation
  • Five Ways Technology Can Build Gender Equality
  • Women In Science: Poor Self-Perceived Ability In Math Leads To Less Female Scientists, STEM Subjects
P.S. If you're interested in additional articles, research and resources, feel free to:
  1. Sign up for our monthly e-mail list here and then;
  2. reach out to us directly via e-mail here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

'We're building on success here': TCNJ breaks ground on $75M STEM building

Written by Cristina Rojas

EWING — With the help of some miniature robots, officials at The College of New Jersey broke ground Tuesday on a new 89,000-square-foot STEM building that will give its engineering and science programs 60 percent more classroom and laboratory space.

The building, which will house the biomedical engineering, computer science and mechanical engineering departments, will be the anchor of a larger STEM Complex that already includes the Biology Building, Science Complex and Armstrong Hall.

"We're not building this building because we hope to have good STEM programs," TCNJ President R. Barbara Gitenstein said. "We're building on success here and we're giving these already strong programs the support and facilities they need and deserve so we can continue to serve our state's economic workforce needs."

Some of the building's highlights include biosafety level-2 testing labs, a robotics lab, a cluster of 300 servers for faculty and student researchers, a design studio that will allow mechanical engineering students to take projects from concept to validation, a thermo-fluids lab and a metal fabrications and assembly workshop.

A 26,300-square-foot Chemistry Addition to the college's Science Complex will house a multidisciplinary super laboratory suite that will allow for the seamless transition between computational, experimental and analytical activities. Another suite will have two organic chemistry labs, storage rooms, a prep lab and study spaces.

A two-story connecting wing between the new STEM building and Biology Building will feature a cafe, tables and seating for students and faculty.

School of Science Dean Jeffrey Osborn said the buildings were designed for the kind of teaching and research that is needed in the 21st century. The physical connection between the science and engineering departments will also help to create synergy, he said.

"What that provides is the opportunity to break down barriers that exist between disciplines," he said. "When our students graduate from TCNJ and enter the workforce ... they're going to encounter problems. Not chemistry. Not engineering. Not computer science. So we want to give them the tools that they need to wrestle with these multidisciplinary problems."

Sophomore Daniel Ponsini, 19, who helped program the robots for the groundbreaking ceremony, said he can't wait to have classes in the new building.

"There's going to be a lot of new labs in the building that will give us more space to work," the electrical engineering major said.

The project costs $75.4 million, $40 million of which comes from the Building Our Future Bond Act, which was approved by voters in November 2012 to provide $750 million in grant money to state colleges and universities.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who sponsored the legislation, advocated for continued investments in higher education that would encourage more students to go to college in-state.

"New Jersey is the No. 1 exporter of our children to other parts of the country," he said. "Making investments like this makes a direct investment in the state of New Jersey and when we're done, we have to go back and talk to the voters again because this initiative is welcomed but wasn't enough.

"Our investment in higher education is going to drive our economy again," he continued.

An additional $1 million in funding will come from the New Jersey Higher Education Technology Infrastructure Fund. The college will fund the rest, with $2 million of TCNJ's first comprehensive campaign going toward the STEM Complex.

The project is expected to be complete in August 2017.

Click here to read more.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Women who Power NASA’s New Horizons Mission to Pluto

When Fran Bagenal began her career working on NASA’s Voyager mission to the outer planets, she was among just a handful of women on the team. But that didn’t phase her. “That’s just how it was,” she explains, adding that she was focused on particles and plasma. “Space physics was just my way of exploring the solar system.” Now, as the particles and plasma science team leader on the New Horizons mission to Pluto, her response to the relative abundance of women on the team is met mostly with a shrug. “This isn’t remarkable—it’s just how it is.”

Bagenal’s attitude regarding the strong female presence on the New Horizons mission is mostly echoed by colleagues who were informally surveyed. “I've never really thought about it,” says Kim Ennico, a deputy project scientist on New Horizons who calibrates instruments on the spacecraft and monitors their status. “I’m really only conscious of it when there are only women in a meeting room.”

In preparation for New Horizons’ Pluto flyby—the mission phase between July 7 and July 16—Ennico works with Leslie Young, another deputy project scientist who is also the encounter planning leader on the science team. Young is tasked with fitting all of New Horizons’ science goals into the precious few days the spacecraft will be in the near vicinity of Pluto. “I figure out the spacecraft’s priorities,” she says, describing the process as, “a job that means scheduling observations that can run simultaneously to gather the most data in a limited time.”

Young’s flyby playbook for New Horizons is turned into spacecraft commands by the science operation team managed by Tiffany Finley, who calls the gender balance on the New Horizons team “refreshing.”

Spacecraft commands are passed on to the mission operations team, managed by Alice Bowman. She personally reads every line of code before it’s sent on a four-and-a-half hour journey to New Horizons. “I’m the last one who signs off on everything we send to the spacecraft,” she explains. “I want to make sure it’s perfect.”

Of course, the flyby science couldn’t happen without the spacecraft arriving at its target, a major challenge that falls to Yanping Guo. As the mission design leader, Guo configured the entire mission trajectory, including the Jupiter and Pluto flybys. In short, “My job is to get New Horizons to Pluto.”

The dozens of women who are powering New Horizons to a history-making July 14 flyby of Pluto look forward to the day when the conversation about gender becomes irrelevant. “Girls will be inspired to be scientists and boys will grow up to be ‘gender blind,’ seeing women in science as the norm," says Young.

For deputy project scientist Cathy Olkin, it’s simple. “New Horizons is about a group of talented, smart people who are passionate about the mission. That’s what makes New Horizons awesome.”

At 7:49 AM EDT on Tuesday, July 14 New Horizons will zip past Pluto at 30,800 miles per hour (49,600 kilometers per hour), with a suite of seven science instruments busily gathering data. The mission will complete the initial reconnaissance of the solar system with the first-ever look at the icy dwarf planet.

Follow the path of the spacecraft in coming days in real time with a visualization of the actual trajectory data, using NASA’s online Eyes on Pluto.

Stay in touch with the New Horizons mission with #PlutoFlyby and on Facebook at:

Click here to read more.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

U.S. government to collect data on ‘grit’ levels of students

Written by Valerie Strauss

Grit. It’s the not-so-new thing in education that has nevertheless become a current watchword, in general for how much students persevere and stay on task. What exactly is it? Is it related to a student’s character? Can it be taught? If so, how? Should it be taught? Does it always produce positive results for students? Can it be measured in any meaningful way?

These are questions that have been part of the public education discussion for years (so much so that back in 2012 I published a post titled “Sick of grit already”). Yet there is no consensus on the big questions surrounding “grit.” That, however, is not stopping the U.S. government from deciding to collect data from students about their individual “grit” levels. How? By asking them to rate their own level of grit. But are they good judges of their own abilities in this regard?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, better known as NAEP and long called the nation’s report card because it is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of America’s students, is going to start amassing student data on level of “grit” in 2017. NAEP is the legal responsibility of the U.S. Commissioner of Education Statistics, who heads the National Center for Education Statistics in the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. education secretary appoints the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the NAEP independent of the department and which works with contractors to create and administer the tests.

NAEP tests national samples of students in grades 4 and 8 — and sometimes grade 12 — in reading and math every two years, and in history, science, civics and other subjects every several years. For decades, it has asked students on background surveys to self-report on various topics, including their reading habits and the time they spend watching television. Now it will add “grit” and “desire for learning” to the list. The agenda of a May meeting of the NAEP governing board’s Reporting and Dissemination Committee said in part:

R&D will have reviewed the core contextual modules three times before any are included in the 2017 NAEP operational administration. These proposed modules include the following: (1) socio-economic status; (2) technology use; (3) school climate; (4) grit; (5) and desire for learning. The Committee’s first review occurred in August 2014, as part of the board meeting. In reviewing the feedback from that session, the overall focus of the comments seemed to lie in ensuring that the questions are inclusive, accessible, and more positive.

According to Education Week:

The background survey will include five core areas—grit, desire for learning, school climate, technology use, and socioeconomic status—of which the first two focus on a student’s noncognitive skills, and the third looks at noncognitive factors in the school. These core areas would be part of the background survey for all NAEP test-takers. In addition, questions about other noncognitive factors, such as self-efficacy and personal achievement goals, may be included on questionnaires for specific subjects to create content-area measures, according to Jonas P. Bertling, ETS director for NAEP survey questionnaires.

Diane Ravitch, on her blog, offers this:

Will we someday know which states and cities have students with the most grit? And once we know, will officials create courses in how to improve grit? 
I am reminded of a strange finding that emerged from international background questions two decades ago. Students were asked if they were good in math. Students in nations with the highest test scores said they were not very good in math; students in nations where test scores were middling thought they were really good at math.
What does it all mean? I don’t know, but it satisfies someone’s need for more data.

It is worth noting a 2015 essay on this subject co-written by Angela L. Duckworth, the University of Pennsylvania researcher who popularized “grit.” It is titled, “Measurement Matters: Assessing Personal Qualities Other Than Cognitive Ability for Educational Purposes” and says in part:

In recent years, scholars, practitioners, and the lay public have grown increasingly interested in measuring and changing attributes other than cognitive ability (Heckman & Kautz, 2014a; Levin, 2013; Naemi, Burrus, Kyllonen, & Roberts,2012; Stecher & Hamilton, 2014; Tough, 2013; Willingham,1985). These so-called noncognitive qualities are diverse and collectively facilitate goal-directed effort (e.g., grit, self-control, growth mind-set), healthy social relationships (e.g., gratitude,emotional intelligence, social belonging), and sound judgment and decision making (e.g., curiosity, open-mindedness). Longitudinal research has confirmed such qualities powerfully predict academic, economic, social, psychological, and physical well-being (Almlund, Duckworth, Heckman, & Kautz, 2011; Borghans, Duckworth, Heckman, & ter Weel, 2008; Farrington et al., 2012; J. Jackson, Connolly, Garrison, Levin, & Connolly, 2015; Moffitt et al., 2011; Naemi et al., 2012; Yeager & Walton, 2011). 
We share this more expansive view of student competence and well-being, but we also believe that enthusiasm for these factors should be tempered with appreciation for the many limitations of currently available measures. In this essay, our claim is not that everything that counts can be counted or that everything that can be counted counts. Rather, we argue that the field urgently requires much greater clarity about how well, at present, it is able to count some of the things that count.

She and her co-author, David Scott Yeager, also note limitations of asking students to rate their own level of non-cognitive factors:

Reference bias is apparent in the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment). Within-country analyses ofthe PISA show the expected positive association between self-reported conscientiousness and academic performance, but between-country analyses suggest that countries with higher conscientiousness ratings actually perform worse on math andreading tests (Kyllonen & Bertling, 2013). Norms for judging behavior can also vary across schools within the same country:Students attending middle schools with higher admissions standards and test scores rate themselves lower in self-control(Goldman, 2006; M. West, personal communication, March 17, 2015). Likewise, KIPP charter school students report spending more time on homework each night than students at matched control schools, and they earn higher standardized achievement test scores—but score no higher on self-report questionnaire items such as “Went to all of your classes prepared” (Tuttle et al., 2013). Dobbie and Fryer (2013) report a similar finding for graduates of the Harlem Children’s Zone charter school. There can even be reference bias among students in different grade levels within the same school. Seniors in one study rated themselves higher in grit than did juniors in the same high school, but the exact opposite pattern was obtained in performance tasks of persistence (Egalite, Mills, & Greene, 2014).

Now NAEP will add to the mountain range of data being collected on America’s students. For what, who exactly knows?

Click here to read more.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Identifying and Supporting Productive STEM Programs in Out-of-School Settings

The NRC's Board on Science Education recently released a report to help education leaders, policy makers, and funders in both school and out-of-school settings make informed decisions to broaden access to multiple, high-quality STEM learning opportunities in their community. The report identifies features of productive STEM programs in out-of-school settings and illustrates how interest in STEM and deep STEM learning develop across time and settings. It provides guidance on evaluating and sustaining programs.

Click here to download a free PDF of the report, read the report online, or order print copies.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

PSEG to Award $250,000 in Grants to Further STEM Education in NJ: Apply by 8/14

The PSEG Foundation is accepting applications from afterschool, summer and youth development programs to develop new or enhance existing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) educational opportunities for students. A total of up to $250,000 in grants will be awarded by the Foundation through its PSEG Science SPARK Partners funding program.

The PSEG Foundation will consider applications from our New Jersey service territory, as well as Salem and Cumberland counties, and our service/operation territories in Long Island and Albany, NY, and Bridgeport and New Haven, CT.

The number of recipients and their award amount will be decided based on the strength of the proposals received, at the discretion of Foundation staff. Applications must be completed and submitted by Friday, August 14 at 5 p.m. EST. All applicants will receive notification about funding decisions in late September.

Applicants may apply directly through PSEG's online application under the PSEG Science SPARK Partners link. Visit to apply.

About the PSEG Foundation
The PSEG Foundation (501c3) is the philanthropic arm of Public Service Enterprise Group (NYSE: PEG). The Foundation generally supports and invests in programs in three areas: community and the environment, education and safety. The Foundation provides grants to organizations in communities served by PSEG and its subsidiaries.

Click here to read more.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fostering a Growth Mindset Is Key to Teaching STEM

Written by David Miller

Sure, STEM can be hard, but telling kids "not everyone can do it" may make both boys and girls less inclined to try.

We're used to reassuring our kids: "It's OK – not everyone can do difficult math."

But believing such messages may deter both boys and girls from choosing to pursue degrees in physical science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, according to a new national, longitudinal study published in Frontiers in Psychology.

Instead, the key to piquing their interest in STEM may be telling them it's OK if they find the subjects hard to master. "Students may need to hear that encountering difficulty during classwork is expected and normal," argued Lara Perez-Felkner, a coauthor of the study and assistant professor of higher education and sociology at Florida State University.

The study used data from 4,450 students in the United States who later entered college to probe why some students shun math-intensive fields. The researchers' reasoning: If a student thinks math is too difficult, they become reluctant to try it.

"Most people believe they can do some mathematics, such as splitting a dinner bill with friends," said Samantha Nix, lead author and doctoral student at Florida State University. "But fewer believe they can do mathematics they perceive as 'difficult.'"

High school students who believed they could master the toughest math concepts were more likely to major in math-intensive fields at the college level. Similar results were found for students who believed "most people can learn to be good at math" – something psychologists call a "growth mindset."

Beliefs still mattered even after statistically correcting for some other factors such as demographics and science coursework. However, these controls were somewhat limited. Math grades were omitted, for instance.

Performance on a difficult math test was used as a control. But students had "almost no probability" of correctly answering the test's problems. This fact limits how well the test can measure individual differences in math performance, since everyone was bound to bomb it.

Nevertheless, the encouraging results echo experiments in actual classrooms that better control for prior mathematics background.

Gender gaps in beliefs were modest. In 12th grade, boys rated their math abilities higher than girls did by 0.2 points on a 4-point scale, for instance.

Despite the mostly gender-neutral findings, popular press ran with a story about girls lacking math confidence. "Misperception discourages girls from studying math-intensive science," proclaimed the study's press release. "Why do girls doubt their maths ability in the first place?" asked another outlet.

Some gender gaps in STEM are large. Men outnumber women 3-to-1 among college graduates in math-intensive STEM majors. But accounting for gaps in confidence did not explain the much larger gaps in majors, the study found.

Advancing inaccurate clichés like "women don't pursue science because of lack of confidence" does little to address the low numbers of women in STEM.

Nevertheless, related studies suggest beliefs concerning hard work may still affect boys and girls differently in some contexts. Messages about how the mind grows with hard work especially improved middle school girls' performance on a high-stakes math test, according to a prior experiment.

Professors prizing innate "genius" may also discourage women more than men, warned Andrei Cimpian, associate professor of psychology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Women's personal growth mindsets – although undoubtedly beneficial – may not be sufficient to buffer them against an environment that cherishes innate talent," he says.

Across 30 academic fields, philosophy and math professors were the most likely to say that success in their fields depends on innate talent, according to a recent study Cimpian helped lead. Fewer women were found in fields that idolized "brilliance" over hard work. This remained true even after statistically correcting for other factors such as the math performance of graduate school applicants.

"It is crucial to look not just at what's in people's heads but also at the ability beliefs that are 'in the air,'" Cimpian concluded. Teachers who believe that math intelligence is fixed can both comfort and demotivate students with messages such as "It's OK– not everyone can be good at math."

Encouraging students to work their way through difficult math problems may actually help them change their mindset – and improve their outcomes. Struggling students' grades improve when they hear that intelligence can grow with hard work, according to a new study on "mindset interventions" involving 1,594 students in 13 high schools in the United States. Students spent roughly 45 minutes reading and then doing two writing exercises related to an article about the brain's ability to grow.

Improvement in grades was roughly one-tenth of a letter grade – a modest, but still impressive, improvement considering the intervention lasted less than an hour.

My research has looked at how opportunities such as sketching engineering designs shape basic spatial skills such as mentally rotating objects. These skills are important to success in math-intensive careers, yet often neglected in education.

"Oh, but you can't teach those skills," teachers often say when I've discussed my research with them. Contrary to such beliefs, I found that 12 hours of spatial instruction improved students' spatial skills and grades in a challenging calculus-based physics course. In fact, a quantitative review of 217 related studies found training spatial skills was "effective, durable, and transferable."

Teachers who continue to believe that "your basic intelligence can't change" – despite evidence to the contrary – may rob students of opportunities to learn and grow. Computer science and math instructors who endorse such beliefs, for instance, report being more likely to advise struggling undergraduates to drop their classes.

We need to abandon dangerous ideas that some people just can't do math. Neuroscience and educational research flatly contradict such beliefs. As the new study suggests, valuing hard work over innate "genius" might even spur students to tackle new challenges.

Click here to read more.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Senate Passes ESEA Rewrite w/ Big Bipartisan Backing (includes STEM amendment)

For the first time since 2001, the U.S. Senate Thursday passed a sweeping overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the country's federal K-12 law, which if enacted would significantly roll back the role of the federal government in public education and give states more flexibility in the process.

The legislation, the Every Child Achieves Act, proved a rare example of bipartisan politicking, with co-authors Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., carefully ushering the measure through the amendment process and floor debate with little to no drama. In the end, they held their caucuses together to pass the bill, which would overhaul the law now known as the No Child Left Behind Act, with overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle, 81-17.

"Consensus among experts is not easy, but consensus is necessary in the U.S. Senate if we're going to deal with a complex problem like this, and that's exactly what we did," Alexander said. "We found a consensus not only on the urgent need to fix the law, but also on how to fix No Child Left Behind."

Murray relayed similar sentiments. "I've been very glad to work with Chairman Alexander on our bipartisan bill," she said. "It gives states more flexibility while also including federal guardrails to make sure all students have access to a quality education."

The legislation's passage in the Senate marks a crucial step in getting a bill to the president's desk. With the U.S. House of Representatives already having passed its Republican-backed ESEA rewrite last week, the two chambers can now begin working on conferencing their dueling reauthorization bills.

And dueling it will be, as the two proposals contain some stark policy differences.

Alexander said he's had "numerous" conversations with Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee and author of that chamber's bill.

"We're on parallel paths," Alexander said. "We know better than to try to make our institutions do exactly the same thing, but ... our bills are not that different."

The Senate PASSED the following amendment via voice vote:

  • An amendment from Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Fla., that would allow schools to partner with current and recently retired STEM professionals and tailor educational resources to engage students and teachers in STEM.

Click here to read more.

Monday, July 6, 2015

How do teens think about body image, beauty and bullying? 3 perspectives from around the world

Body image, beauty and bullying. In TED-Ed Clubs, students are guided through the process of making a presentation on an idea they feel passionate about — and dozens of students in clubs around the world have boldly chosen to talk about how to combat negative body image, distorted images of beauty and the bullying that springs from rigid rules about appearance.

Watch — but more important, listen — to these three inspiring perspectives on body image, beauty and bullying from teenagers in three different countries.

A presentation on body image: A competition with yourself

Julia Takata starts her presentation by recalling an experience she had in dance class. The short story: She started comparing herself to a classmate. “Because I was younger, I was very susceptible to what other people had to say about me. [I kept wondering], ‘How I could change myself?’” says Takata, a student in the TED-Ed Club at the Punahou Summer School in Honolulu, Hawaii. “What I didn’t realize was: I was letting someone who barely knew me tell me who I was.”

Takata sees a connection between this experience and eating disorders, which she thinks of as “your mind having a competition with your body.” “It’s a constant battle between being skinny and being well-nourished. During this battle, your body is really taking a beating,” she says. “All of this to achieve what society often portrays as beautiful.”

“But you don’t have to be skinny to be beautiful,” she says. “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”

Click here to watch Julia's presentation or press PLAY on the video below.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Girl Scouts refuse $100,000 anti-transgender donation

SEATTLE (AP) — The Girl Scouts of Western Washington said it has returned a $100,000 donation because it came with the provision that the money couldn't be used to support transgender girls.

The group said it sent back the money in late May after the donor had asked that the gift be returned unless the group guaranteed it would not be used to benefit transgender girls.

"Girl Scouts is for every girl, and that is every girl regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion. Every girl is every girl," Megan Ferland, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Western Washington, said in an interview Tuesday. "It was a sad decision, but it was not a difficult decision. There was no way I would be put in a situation of refusing a girl participating because of a gift. It was really that quick."

The local council has transgender girls participating in the Girl Scouts, said Kate Dabe, the council's vice president of marketing and communications. To preserve their privacy, Dabe declined to say how many or provide other details about them.

But $100,000 is a lot of money, the group noted, representing about one-quarter of what it raises each year to provide financial help for girls to go to camp and participate in other activities.

So leaders of the local nonprofit, one of 112 independent local councils across the country and that serves more than 25,000 girls in western Washington, talked about how to they could communicate their needs to the community.

On Monday, the group set up a crowdfunding campaign asking for help to fill the gap. "Help us raise back the $100,000 a donor asked us to return because we welcome transgender girls," it said on its fundraising page on

By Tuesday afternoon, thousands had given more than $185,000.

"We are astounded," Dabe said. "We were prepared for a 30-day campaign. We raised our goal in a day."

Dabe declined to share details about the donor, citing privacy concerns.

Ferland said the donor gave the money a few months back. But in the midst of a national discussion about the Girl Scouts USA being an inclusive organization and discussions about Bruce Jenner's transgender journey, the donor wrote back with the catch, Ferland said.

In an emailed statement Tuesday, Girl Scouts USA said that the group, "as a movement, has always been committed to inclusivity and supporting all girls." It said it works with local councils, which are responsible for their own fundraising. "Inclusion of transgender girls is handled at a council level on a case-by-case basis, with the welfare and best interests of all members as a top priority," the group added.

In Washington state, the local council has heard from both sides on the issue, but the overwhelming majority of comments have been positive, Ferland said.

"I understand that people have different views. We stand by the fact that Girl Scouts is for every girl. We knew going in that not everyone would share that view," Ferland said.

But plenty of supporters, including current and former Girl Scouts, praised the move on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Click here to read more.