Category Archives: book review

Read It While It’s Hot! The War on Science: A Review

“Science is the foundation of democracy. Science is inherently political. If authoritarians with vested interests who disagree with its findings are allowed to intimidate scientists or quash those results, democracy loses.” Shawn Otto

“One email I got said something like, ‘I hope your child sees your head in a basket after you’ve been guillotined for all the fraud you climate scientists have been committing.’” Katherine Hahoe, Evangelical Christian and Climate Scientist, Texas Tech University

Normally, at this time of year I publish a review of several books on science and STEM that you might want to consider for your summer reading.

This year, I’m limiting that list to one important must-read book, and a timely one at that, given the political season we’re in right now.

Shawn Otto’s latest work, The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It (2016) is a real page turner, proving once again that truth can be more exciting than fiction. For about a week, I read it every morning and evening on my commute and over the weekend. I picked it up any spare moment I had, because, even at 400+ pages, The War on Science reads like a thriller. I practically inhaled it and came away even more convinced that we are indeed in the midst of a war on science.

soldier-wallpaper-4

The first section of the book chronicles the rise, over several centuries, and more recent fall from grace of science and describes a current U. S. society, or at least a significant portion of it, “defiantly embracing unreason”— and this at a time when science and technology have a profound impact on every aspect of our lives. We should, in fact, be in a period of Renaissance in which various sciences converge and influence each other, leading to powerful positive outcomes for humanity, including ameliorating the progression and impact of global climate change. In fact, our current times exhibit some of the hallmarks of the Dark Ages, with scientists the target of mistrust and hatred, candidates for burning, figuratively by Congress and the media, if not literally at the stake.

Absent from political discourse in this election season has been a discussion of some of the challenges facing us that hinge on scientific solutions. For example, Otto would like to have candidates in a debate respond to questions like the following: “What are your thoughts on balancing energy and the environment? What steps will you take to stop the collapse of pollinator colonies and promote pollinator health? In an era of intense droughts, what steps will you take to better manage our freshwater resources? What should we do to prevent ocean fisheries collapses? Should we regulate the use of nanoparticles in our environment? Will you support federal funding to study science denial and the threat it poses to our democracy? When is it acceptable for a president or prime minister to implement policies that are contradicted by science? Will you support increased funding for curiosity-driven basic research? Do you support or oppose efforts to prosecute energy companies for funding denial of climate science? What steps would you take to repair the postdoctoral employment pipeline so that highly trained workers can get jobs in their fields? Do you support the banning of antibiotics in animal feed? What other steps should we take to stop the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria?”… and dozens more. These are fascinating and important questions. It remains to be seen if any of them will be addressed in the upcoming Presidential debates. Want to place a bet on that?

The middle portion of the book, beginning with Chapter 7, provides a thorough, well-researched, and compelling analysis of the history, nature, and full extent of the war on science, from the rise of the ant-science news media, which under the guise of being “fair and balanced” allow unsupported opinions to have at least equal time with established science, to the assaults on science stemming from ideologues and industries joining forces to serve their own narrow interests.

The final portion of the book provides a blueprint for what can be done to win the war against science, including 14 very specific “battle plans” for various sectors of society to implement. There is even a battle plan for teachers: “Teachers Should Teach Science Civics,” science in conjunction with civics a.k.a. making those real world connections that the NGSS requires. Holding student science debates and establishing science literacy requirements would be part of that battle plan. Otto contends that we don’t lack the ability to win the war on science, but he wonders if we have the will and the vision.

“Winning the war on science is this generation’s calling. But are we capable of battling back the authoritarian resurgence? Do we have an understanding of science adequate to defend its unique role in human history and policymaking, or even to see the issues clearly — to base our political arguments and our journalistic coverage on knowledge and not just on the confused and endless cacophony of warring opinions from when the modern era first emerged? Are we able to look up from the grist mill long enough to consider the vast economic and political potential of a new and innovative world economy, circular, decarbonized, reinventing, wealth-building, and sustainable — and to fight with all we have to make it happen? Do we have the vision to even realize we are in such a battle, and that the future goes to those who act? These are the very serious questions by which this generation, and the human race itself, will ultimately be judged, and they remain unanswered.”

Reading Shawn Otto’s book made it absolutely clear to me that the work STEM teachers are doing is not only important, but is both essential and urgent. No nation can prosper if it either neglects or vilifies scientific endeavor. And our species might not survive if we continue to ignore our scientists and fail to support them in coming up with ways through the dangerous straits we have entered because of man-made climate disruption and environmental degradation, to name two of our most challenging issues. Both issues represent settled science. The only discussion we should be having about them is what must we do to address them.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.

“Lost in authoritarian politics, ideology, public relations, and subjectivism, will we return to a state of miserable serfs ruled by a wealthy elite of religious and corporate royalty?” The choice is ours. “What is at stake is the freedom to investigate, debate, and express ideas that run counter to the interests of corporations and their political allies. Attacks on this basic freedom hide behind the guise of transparency but, in reality, are a step toward tyranny.”  Shawn Otto’s book is an important one and should be required reading for all citizens who value democracy and particularly by those who aspire to political office

You can watch Shawn Otto discuss his book here: (It’s 1 hr. 21 minutes and well worth watching.)

A closing thought: Perhaps if enough of us take the “Science Pledge” Otto includes toward the end of the book, we can set our country on a more promising and enlightened course. We must commit to support with our voices and votes the following principles:

• Public decisions must be based on evidence;
• Knowledge must not be suppressed;
• Scientific integrity must be protected;
• Freedom of inquiry must be encouraged; and,
• Mayor science issues must be openly debated.

Now let’s see how those Presidential debates go. You can weigh in here by signing a petition to ask Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to focus one debate on questions of science. Then order yourself a copy of The War on Science and settle down for a great read!

~ Penny

Learn more about STEM Institute here.

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Filed under book review, Shawn Otto, The War on Science, Uncategorized, war on science

Quick Read: How We’ll Live on Mars by Stephen L. Petranek

“Studying whether there’s life on Mars or studying how the universe began, there’s something magical about pushing back the frontiers of knowledge. That’s something that is almost part of being human, and I’m certain that will continue.” Sally Ride

“You need to live in a dome initially, but over time you could terraform Mars to look like Earth and eventually walk around outside without anything on… So it’s a fixer-upper of a planet. I would like to die on Mars, just not on impact.” Elon Musk

Mars

Following on the heels of the immensely popular film The Martian, our STEM Institute faculty is currently in planning mode for a new adventure — launching a STEM program at Illinois State University for a cohort of young Golden Apple Scholars, the teacher preparation arm of Golden Apple. The theme for the week of activities is “Mission to Mars,” and once the Scholars have experienced and reflected on the Mars mission-themed activities for themselves, they will be rolling out two summer camps for students in the area, one focused on students in 3rd through 5th grades and the other for students in 6th through 8th grade.

We are encouraging those students to apply by asking them to imagine themselves as part of the team of scientists and engineers that will launch the first successful manned mission to Mars in 2026. We tell them

“At the Mission to Mars ISU STEM camp, you will explore ways to get to Mars, land on Mars, live on Mars, study Mars, and return safely to earth.

During the camp you will get to…
• Launch rockets.
• Create a means to successfully land humans on Mars.
• Explore the planet, testing and analyzing the rocks, soil and atmosphere.
• Develop ways to grow food on Mars.
• Search for evidence of water on the Martian surface.
• Construct a settlement for you and your fellow space pioneers.
• Develop a way to safely return to and land on planet earth.

At the Mission to Mars ISU STEM camp, you will do all of these things so that you are ready to play a historic role in Man’s first visit to the mysterious red planet we call Mars.”

Imagine yourself as a 5th through 8th grader. Wouldn’t the prospect of participating in a Mission to Mars summer camp thrill you?

If you want to consider creating a similar experience for your own students, I have a quick read for you.

How We'll Live on Mars

How We’ll Live on Mars by Stephen L. Petranek is a 2015 TED Original publication. Weighing in at 77 succinct, information-packed pages, including 22 gorgeous color photographs of the surface of Mars, the rocketry, and the exploration devices we’ve used to explore it thus far, it’s a little gem of a book for launching your own planning for a unit about getting to and living on Mars. Petranek begins with a brief history of the idea of man traveling to and colonizing Mars, acquaints the reader with the private space race currently going on involving, among others, Elon Musk, the creator of the Tesla car, details the challenges rockets pose for engineers, and analyzes the economics of a mission to Mars, before delving into the prospect of actually living on the red planet. What will we do about water? How will we breathe? How will we feed ourselves? What clothing and shelter can we devise to protect ourselves in such a hostile environment?

Clearly we will have to change something if we are to view Mars as a long-term habitation for human beings. Chapter 7 “Making Mars into Earth’s Image” goes into various ways humanity might set about terraforming Mars to create a suitable home for humans. Also called planetary engineering or planetary ecosynthesis, terraforming was initially proposed by Carl Sagan in the journal Science in 1961. Students can learn a lot of science exploring the various scenarios scientists and engineers have proposed. But what if rather than changing Mars to be more like earth, we changed ourselves to be better able to survive on Mars? Petranek explores this intriguing possibility that could be achieved via gene manipulation.

Chapter 8 explores the ubiquitous WIIFM question or “What’s in it for me?” What’s in it for humanity to invest in establishing human settlements on Mars? The most obvious answer is that Mars could serve as Plan B for a species that has ruined its own home planet, providing an escape hatch should earth become less and less habitable. At least some of humanity would survive. But as it turns out, there’s a veritable fortune to be made in colonizing Mars and exploiting the natural resources contained in the asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter, which is much easier to access from Mars than it is from Earth.

On Our Way!

On Our Way!

The final chapter returns to a historical perspective, comparing the exploration and settlement of Mars to the most obvious analogy from Western history, that great period of exploration which opened the New World to European explorers and settlers. What an intriguing opportunity to connect social studies and science in any Mission to Mars unit you would design.

As our work on the Mission to Mars curriculum evolves, we’ll be sharing it on our Partners in Inquiry website. In the meantime, this quick read should set your own thinking in motion toward developing a Mission to Mars unit for the students you teach.

And here’s something for you to dream on and to spark your students’ imaginations and creativity. A NASA scientist recently announced that we could transport humans to Mars in a month. A month! And be sure to check out the images and videos of Mars that NASA has made available, paid for by our tax dollars and worth every penny!

Until next time …

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.

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Crosscutting Concepts

Here is a list:

Patterns: Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them.
Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation. Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. A major activity of science is investigating and explaining causal relationships and the mechanisms by which they are mediated. Such mechanisms can then be tested across given contexts and used to predict and explain events in new contexts.
Scale, proportion, and quantity: In considering phenomena, it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different measures of size, time, and energy and to recognize how changes in scale, proportion, or quantity affect a system’s structure or performance.
Systems and system models: Defining the system under study—specifying its boundaries and making explicit a model of that system—provides tools for understanding and testing ideas that are applicable throughout science and engineering.
Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation. Tracking fluxes of energy and matter into, out of, and within systems helps one understand the systems’ possibilities and limitations.
Structure and function: The way in which an object or living thing is shaped and its substructure determine many of its properties and functions.
Stability and change: For natural and built systems alike, conditions of stability and determinants of rates of change or evolution of a system are critical elements of study.

Structure and Function

Structure and Function

By now, you are likely familiar with this domain of the Next Generation Science Standards, the seven Crosscutting Concepts, ideas that bridge all the science content areas, from amoebae to supernovae.

Here is another list:

The Family Is All There Is
by Pattiann Rogers

“Think of those old, enduring connections 
found in all flesh–the channeling 
wires and threads, vacuoles, granules, plasma and pods, purple veins, ascending 
boles and coral sapwood (sugar-
and light-filled), those common ligaments, filaments, fibers and canals.

Seminal to all kin also is the open 
mouth–in heart urchin and octopus belly, in catfish, moonfish, forest lily, and rugosa rose, in thirsty magpie, wailing cat cub, barker, yodeler, yawning coati.

And there is a pervasive clasping 
common to the clan–the hard nails
 of lichen and ivy sucker 
on the church wall, the bean tendril 
and the taproot, the bolted coupling 
of crane flies, the hold of the shearwater
 on its morning squid, guanine 
to cytosine, adenine to thymine,
 fingers around fingers, the grip
 of the voice on presence, the grasp 
of the self on place.

Remember the same hair on pygmy
 dormouse and yellow-necked caterpillar, 
covering red baboon, thistle seed 
and willow herb? Remember the similar
snorts of warthog, walrus, male moose
 and sumo wrestler? Remember the familiar 
whinny and shimmer found in river birches, bay mares and bullfrog tadpoles, in children playing at shoulder tag on a summer lawn?

The family–weavers, reachers, winders 
and connivers, pumpers, runners, air and bubble riders, rock-sitters, wave-gliders, wire-wobblers, soothers, flagellators—all
 brothers, sisters, all there is.

Name something else.”

Lichen and Moss

“the hard nails of lichen” and moss

If you are not familiar with the poetry of Pattiann Rogers, you’re in for a treat. Here is a poet who has beautifully captured the notion of Crosscutting Concepts; they run throughout “The Family Is All There Is.” The patterns of “open mouth” and “clasping.” The structure and function of “the channeling wires and threads.” The system of kinship among all living things … “the family is all there is.

Arguably the theme of this poem is “all things are connected.” And isn’t that, in essence, the great understanding that the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts lead us to? Don’t they guide and promote our ability to see those connections, those commonalities? And doesn’t Pattiann Rogers do the same in that poem, in the grand tradition of the Metaphysical Poets.

So, in case you haven’t crossed her path before, let me briefly introduce her to you and then to what I think is one of the major implications of her work for educators and specifically for those of us in STEM education.

A brief biography: Pattiann Rogers was born in 1940 in Joplin, Missouri. Her mother was a schoolteacher. Pattiann went to the University of Missouri where she met her future husband, John Robert Rogers, in French class. She completed her degree in English literature, and the couple married in 1960. While John completed his PhD in Physics, Pattiann worked as a kindergarten teacher. She and her husband had two sons, John and Arthur, and by the birth of their second son were living in Houston, where her husband did geophysical research for Texaco while pursuing postgraduate training in geology at the University of Houston. Meanwhile, Rogers devoted herself, during their early years, to raising the couple’s two sons, eventually enrolling in a graduate program in creative writing at the University of Houston and earning her MA in 1981, the same year she published her first book of poems, The Expectations of Light, which received an award from the Texas Institute of Letters and prompted critic Peter Stitt to comment on her “sophisticated incorporation of modern scientific thinking into poetry.”

Rogers’s eldest son John earned a PhD in physics at MIT and is now celebrated as one of the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana’s “star professors” and one of the leading material scientists in the world. In fall 2016, he will be leaving the U of I to become the Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Medicine in the Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology, Northwestern’s newly endowed center for biointegrated electronics. He and his research team have developed a wireless antibiotic implant that dissolves after a patient’s treatment is complete. In 2013 the group developed a tattoo-like sensor that can measure brain waves, heartbeats, and the contraction of skeletal muscles.
That was a mouthful.

But I wanted to include it to suggest the way in which the arts and sciences can marry, can feed each other (read inspire), and basically operate as one family within the human intellect. Far from being the two separate cultures C. P. Snow described in 1959, they are, ideally and quite appropriately, helpmeets. Snow believed that Britain, his country, had privileged the humanities over the scientific and engineering education he felt necessary to manage the modern scientific world. We certainly don’t do that in today’s United States. In fact, we don’t seem to privilege either the Arts or the Sciences, if the time spent on those disciplines in our schools and if what is tested, i.e., valued, are any indication. But perhaps, united, both science and art stand a better chance.

Let’s take an excerpt from another of Pattiann Rogers’s poems, “How the Body in Motion Affects the Mind.”

“We are bound by the theorem of sockets and joints,
Totally united with contraction and release.
The idea of truth cannot be separated
From the action of the hand releasing
The stone at the precise apogee of the arm’s motion
Or from the spine’s flexibility easing
Through a wooden fence. The notion
Of the vast will not ignore the arm swinging
In motion from the shoulder or the fingers
Clasped together in alternation.

And when the infant, for the first time,
Turns his body over completely, think
What an enormous revelation in the brain
Must be forced, at that moment, to right itself.”

I can’t help but notice in this poem what we’ve come to call scientific thinking, the Wheel of Inquiry. When you reflect on the NGSS, specifically the eight Scientific and Engineering Practices, the observation, the awakened curiosity, the questioning, the developing of models, all come into play in the work of this poet and arguably that of artists everywhere. Artists too are observers, problem solvers, investigators of discrepant events, and communicators of what they learn from their explorations of the world.

It’s easy to see why Rogers “is known for verse that both embraces the natural world and unfolds the complexities of science.” Roald Hoffmann, Nobel laureate in chemistry said, “I’ve never seen nature observed as closely, nor transfigured by human language, as in Pattiann Rogers’ poetry.” If you want to further explore the work of Pattiann Rogers, a good place to start is to dive into Song of the World Becoming: New and Collected Poems 1891-2001(2001). Her poems are an education in ecology, astronomy, biology, and in the vocabulary of science and scientific observation. I also highly recommend her reflections on her writing in The Dream of the Marsh Hen: Writing as Reciprocal Creation (1999). Both books are seedbeds from which teachers can generate arts based and science connected activities for their students, by activating students’ curiosity and imagination. And to delve into the works of other poets who have taken science and math as their own fertile field, have a look at Verse and Universe: Poems about Science and Mathematics (1998). Pattiann Rogers is included in this anthology, and so is chemist Roald Hoffmann.

Image: J Brew via Flickr

Image: J Brew via Flickr (Creative Commons)

So just maybe the ultimate Crosscutting Concept is that science and art are fundamentally related, the thought processes of scientists and artists more akin than surface appearances would suggest. Part of our task then as teachers and as a society is to erase the artificial divide between the two and the notion that we have two competing cultures, as if there could possibly be a competition at that most fundamental of levels — the working of the human mind. And that would logically lead us to very thoughtfully tuck a capital A into STEM right after the E.

As Pattiann Rogers states in The Dream of the Marsh Wren. “It has seemed to me impossible to live in our world, to survive — the split, the rending being too great — if a union could not be found and created within these two ways of knowing, the artistic and the scientific, both so essential and so present in our lives. I believe that the union is there and only lacks expression to bring it into reality.”

~ Penny

To learn more about STEM Institute, click here.

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From STEM to STEAM: Using Brain-Compatible Strategies to Integrate the Arts ~ A Review

Following on the last entry, today’s post will continue what will be a yearlong focus on evolution. No, not that evolution!

STEM Institute spends one day during Introduction to Inquiry on evolution as it refers to teaching. Our program has evolved, just as we have evolved as teachers in our thinking about and practice of teaching and as we encourage all teachers to evolve over the course of their teaching careers. But we are increasingly wondering if  our evolution as a provider of teacher professional development should include evolving from STEM to STEAM, infusing more arts into our program, or at least exploring that option.

What we don’t want to do is thoughtlessly tack on some art activities to reinforce science content … a poem here, a drawing there. Rather we want to investigate what deeply infusing the arts into the STEM program would do for kids. And what it would look like? What are the practical implications? What are the arguments for and against, and what are the implications for 21st century learning?

But let’s begin with why we might even consider such an evolution in a program that is already high quality and highly regarded by teachers. Why mess with success?

To help answer this question, let’s take a look at a book focused precisely on our theme. From STEM to STEAM: Using Brain-Compatible Strategies to Integrate the Arts by David A. Sousa and Tom Pilecki (Corwin, 2013) provides a combination of the grounding philosophy, historical perspective, and science to support such an evolution and the practical tools, strategies, and activities for teachers and principals to employ in carrying it out.

STEM to STEAM

STEM to STEAM: Using Brain-Compatible Strategies to Integrate the Arts

The first two chapters of From STEM to STEAM present the philosophical and scientific background for Sousa and Pilecki’s view that STEM ought to become STEAM. They see arts and science as complementary rather than competitive and situate that idea in history. The ancient Olympic games in Greece, for example, included competitions in the arts as well as in sports, with the arts being every bit as prestigious. And Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti “saw no boundaries between the arts and sciences.”

Citing research study after research study, the authors provide ample ammunition for educators looking to make a case for STEAM. The arts foster cognitive development in children, helping young minds develop creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, communications, self-direction, initiative, and collaboration. The arts evoke emotions, which enhances learning and fosters retention. And Sousa and Pilecki suggest novel reasons for integrating arts within a STEM curriculum, including the idea that “the arts introduce many more possibilities for novelty,” which, according to neuroscientists, is necessary to grabbing student attention, a necessary precursor to learning. Students like doing “something different,” and hearing their teacher announce “we’re going to be doing something different today” makes them sit up and take notice. The arts also lower stress levels making young minds more receptive to retaining new knowledge. Reducing stress is particularly important in these times of high stakes testing. The arts also make teaching more interesting and fun for teachers. Teachers benefit from novelty too. A bored teacher isn’t likely to excite a child to learn.

Sousa and Pilecki very much support the approach taken by STEM Institute in encouraging teachers to strive for many answers and to encourage divergent thinking. They observe that “the actual time that teachers devote to divergent thinking in STEM classes is often limited because the STEM areas – as currently taught in our schools – lend themselves so well to convergent thinking, and because testing STEM concepts is easier with close-ended questions that have only one correct answer. Yet this type of instruction may be extinguishing creativity in our students. Some researchers believe that by consistently reinforcing neural pathways with convergent thinking activities, we may be limiting the pathways that support creative and divergent thinking.” That gives one pause because, “the study of the arts not only allows students to develop skills that will improve the quality of their lives but also sustains the same creative base from which scientists and engineers seek to develop their innovations and breakthroughs of the future.” Citing research on musicians and London cabbies, the authors report that divergent thinking challenges the brain and in the process changes it for the better, actually enlarging parts of the brain essential to creativity — the corpus callosum, the hippocampus, and the frontal lobe. So absent ample opportunities for divergent thinking, that could result by adding arts, students are less likely to be able to make those future breakthroughs.

And all of the above seem to be excellent reasons to move from STEM to STEAM.

From STEM to STEAM includes lots of practical resources to help you get started on your evolutionary journey. One of my favorites is “Table 1.2: Practices and concepts from the K-12 National Research Council framework (precursor to the NGSS) and skills often acquired in arts-related instruction,” which could become your go to place for generating ideas about art activities that would address the NGSS Scientific and Engineering Practices and the Crosscutting Concepts. Another helpful table provides “comparisons of the traditional approach with an arts-integrated approach,” just to keep us honest.

Also useful are the sample arts integration lessons organized in grade level specific chapters “Chapter 4: Implementing Arts Integration, Grades K-4;” “Chapter 5: Implementing Arts Integration, Grades 5-8;” and “Chapter 6: Implementing Arts Integration, Grades 9-12.” Early childhood educators will welcome the developmentally appropriate recommendations and the research behind them in Chapter 4. However, all K-12 teachers will find the planning tools and templates in these chapters convenient and timesaving. These include Bloom’s Taxonomy Applications, Multiple Intelligences Applications, management planning, lesson plan formats, and a template for designing a STEAM unit across grade levels. Throughout the book the authors provide dozens of activities, and a final section lists STEAM resources (books, films, journals, organizations, and websites).

If you are looking to get your creative juices flowing, two particularly inspiring chapters are “STEAM Lesson Plan Appetizers in Science, Technology and Engineering” and “STEAM Lesson Plan Appetizers in Mathematics.” The authors define “appetizers” as the “beginning of your creative journey.” They are “meant to be the beginning of a complete lesson plan, something to make you want to dive into the ‘full-course’ of creating your own, tailor-made STEAM lesson plan.” They are designed to help you “incubate” your own lesson plan ideas into fully fledged lessons and units to excite and engage your students, and the authors include for each a curriculum objective, an artistic objective, and a social/emotional objective, as well as an assessment, materials, and multiple intelligences and Bloom’s levels addressed.

From STEM to STEAM is crammed with ideas, activities, and resources for teachers who want to infuse their STEM curricula with the arts. More importantly, the book provides the philosophical foundation and scientific research base for doing so — great information to help you make your case with colleagues, administrators, and parents. I can’t recommend the book highly enough. It is well worth your time and money, for the activities alone.

You might also find it interesting to read David Sousa and Tom Pilecki’s blog post, summarizing their position and challenging the supremacy of standardized testing in today’s schools.

A final note: While not every blog post over the coming year will focus on STEM to STEAM, there is, after all, climate change, and we also want to report on great teachers and schools where STEM is blossoming, you’ll find a lot of STEAM in this school year’s blog posts. I also really encourage you to weigh in by leaving comments. Are you intrigued by STEAM? Are you already doing it? What are the benefits? The challenges? What impact do you see on your students? What concerns do you have?

~ Penny

Just click on the link to learn more about Golden Apple’s STEM Institute.

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Filed under arts, book review, brain based research, brain compatible instruction, creativity, innovation, resources, STEAM, STEM education, teacher resources, Uncategorized

Summer Reading List (For Teachers Who Love STEM)

Last summer, I published a list of things you could do for your own pleasure during the summer that could also add to your science content knowledge and classroom repertoire.

Now that school is over for another year, it’s time to do that again, however this year’s brief list focuses exclusively on summer reading. It includes two recent books that are well-written, entertaining, and address very current science topics. The third book is a good addition to your STEM library when you might be on the lookout for a quick and dirty explanation of a science concept complete with drawings you could easily reproduce for your students. And then I’ll remind you of another entertaining and informative book I recently reviewed that would be a breezy summer read … think global warming as you bake in the sun. That’s not to take anything away from those beach books we all love to dive into on a beautiful summer day, but there’s an added bonus if a book also happens to prime your pump for the inevitable return of school. You know it’s coming!

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders (2015)

I hated coming to the end of this clever, informative book. As I write this I have potatoes boiling on the stove for potato salad because … who knew? … cooked potatoes feed the good bacteria in the lower intestine and are mostly indigestible by the bad. Filled with useful information for understanding how the digestive system works and what it needs and needs to avoid in order to remain healthy, the book is at its best in making that information easily understandable and accessible through analogies and funny scenarios.

But here’s a sample:

“Good bacteria defend our gut – it is, after all, their home and they do not willingly surrender their territory to bad bacteria. Sometimes they defend the gut by occupying the very places pathogens like to infect us most. When a bad bacterium turns up, it finds them sitting in its favorite spot with satisfied grins on their faces and their handbags on the seats next to them, leaving no room for anyone else to take up residence. Should that signal not be explicit enough – no problem! Security service bacteria have more tricks up their sleeves. For example, they can produce small amounts of antibiotics or other defensive substances that drive unfamiliar bacteria out of their immediate vicinity. Or they use various acids, which not only protect yogurt and sauerkraut from rotting bacteria, but also make our gut a less inviting environment for bad bacteria. Another trick is to snatch the bad bacteria’s food away (another with siblings may be familiar with this strategy). Some probiotic bacteria seem to have the ability to steal bad bacteria’s food from right under their noses. Eventually, the bad guys have had enough and give up.”

Bacterium with handbags? Seriously?

If your teacher juices are now flowing (no allusion to the book intended), you are already seeing possibilities for student role-playing, drawings (there are very clever line cartoons in the book that would be easy for you to replicate), and a RAFT activity. It’s also a goldmine for all of those NGSS Crosscutting Concepts. It turns out that gut science illustrates them all.

Each Crosscutting Concept  is Represented in Gut.

Each Crosscutting Concept is Represented in Gut.

For that unit on body systems, or ecosystems for that matter (since we are all walking around with or own internal ecosystems), you’ll be sure to find useful background knowledge, much of it so recent that it’s not in textbooks yet. The book covers all the parts and pieces and workings of the human digestive system, so there is great content for the Life Science Disciplinary Core Ideas topics you’ll be designing lessons on. And the better you understand something yourself, the better you’ll be able to facilitate the learning of that content by your students.

On a side note: The book was originally published in German in 2014 and went to the top of the paperback charts almost immediately. The author was 24 when she wrote the book. The account of its success in The Guardian points out that “Few know that only the last of our digestive tract’s eight meters deals with feces, that it produces more than 20 kinds of hormone, contains more than a thousands species of bacteria and is controlled by a nervous system that is almost as complex as the brain’s. And Enders argues that even scientists like her – a 24-year-old doctoral student at Frankfurt’s Goethe University – have only in recent years started to explore the possibility that the health of our bowels could have a more direct influence on our mental wellbeing, our motivation, memory and sense of morality than our DNA.”

Highly recommended! Gut is an entertaining read from which you’ll learn a lot to inform not only your teaching but also your life. And I’m heading out a bit later to buy some endive and an artichoke to keep my good bacterium happily in charge of my large intestine

Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye (2015)

When Bill Nye famously debated Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky, last year, he took a lot of flack from the scientific community for even stooping to humor Creationists, thereby somehow dignifying their position. Scientists accept evolution as the explanation for the diversity of life on the planet, so their incredulity that Nye would debate the question is understandable. However, as Brian Alters, the president of the National Center for Science Education points out “Approximately half of the U.S. population thinks evolution does (or did) not occur. While 99.9 percent of scientists accept evolution, 40 to 50 percent of college students do not accept evolution and believe it to be ‘just’ a theory.” Currently, in fact, 42% of the American public simply don’t believe it. So Ham’s position has a rather large following.

It is that group of people Bill Nye has set out to educate on the topic and his latest salvo takes the form of a fact-filled, humorously written book that begins with the Nye/Ham debate arguments and spreads out to investigate the overwhelming evidence scientists have assembled over the last 150 years that we are, in fact, the result of an evolutionary development spanning some 4 billion years, continuing into the present, and for millennia to come.

More specifically, Nye is addressing the children of Creationists, the coming generations.

“I feel strongly that we need the young people of today to become the scientists and the engineers of tomorrow so that my native United States continues to be a world leader in discovery and innovation. If we suppress science in this country, we are headed for trouble.” “Creationism strikes me as an astonishing waste of time and energy. I would love to be able to ignore it and focus on the real science, but creationists work very hard to disrupt science education and force their weird worldview on our students. So let’s make the best of an unfortunate situation, and us the creationist attacks as a learning opportunity. … Think about how evolution works, on all scales of space and time. Viruses mutate from day to day. Fish evolved into land animals and eventually begat dinosaurs and blue whales over hundreds of millions of year. It’s a beautiful, complicated story on all scales. So please: Think big, and think critically.”

By interweaving his personal story into the vast story of creation, Nye humanizes the science content, making it more engaging and more memorable. But his best achievement in this book is his ability to inspire a sense of awe and wonder at what humankind has been able to understand about its own origins and its connection to all of the rest of creation. And Nye attributes some of the distance of the American public from science to fear and  to the “joyless way” in which many of us learned science in school. (Note to teachers!)

“If you believe public opinion polls, about half of the American public does not accept the proposition that life on Earth— including humans— is the product of billions of years of natural evolution. At the same time, these same people seem to accept everything else that scientific discoveries and diligent engineering bring us. They don’t doubt the chemical synthesis in their food, the electrical physics in their smartphones, or the relativistic corrections (Einstein’s theory of relativity) that keep their GPS (Global Positioning System) signal accurate. Perhaps, as I speculated earlier, fear is part of what holds many people back from embracing evolution. If so, that puts a special responsibility on the scientists and those of us who write about them. If fear is pulling people one way, then we have a public responsibility to pull people back the other way and offer something just as powerful, something wondrous. Too often, this is not what happens. I have met a great many people, who have told me that they were exposed to science in a joyless way. They were forced to learn about science as a series of obscure facts with a bunch of confusing equations to memorize. They were given a general sense that the world is difficult and a bit annoying to see through the eyes of a scientist. My, oh my, do I have a different view of the world.” 

Being a Scientist Is for Everyone!

Through the Eyes of a Scientist!

Nye’s chapter on race is brilliant and particularly timely after Charleston and other recent tragedies. In it, Nye asserts that “there is no such thing as different races of people. Any differences we traditionally associate with race are a product of our need for vitamin D and our relationship to the Sun. Just a few clusters of genes control skin color; the changes in skin color are recent; they’ve gone back and forth with migrations; they are not the same even among two groups with similarly dark skin; and they are tiny compared to the total human genome. So skin color and “race” are neither significant nor consistent defining traits. We are all descended from the same African ancestors, with little genetic separation from each other. The different colors or tones of skin are the result of an evolutionary response to ultraviolet light in local environments. Everybody has brown skin tinted by the pigment melanin. Some people have light brown skin. Some people have dark brown skin. But we all are brown, brown, brown.”

Undeniable is entertaining, inspiring, and information-packed on topics you would cover in addressing NGSS Life Sciences Disciplinary Core Ideas LS3A – Inheritance of Traits; 
LS3B – Variation of Traits
; LS4A – Evidence of Common Ancestry
; LS4B – Natural Selection
; LS4C – Adaptation; and 
LS4D – Biodiversity & Humans. You might also enjoy a blast from the past in the Bill Nye, The Science Guy episode on Biodiversity. And you can read an interview of Bill Nye on his motivation to write Undeniable here.

There is one question Nye asks in Undeniable has stayed with me, and it’s one we as teachers ought to ponder. “How did we let an ideological resistance to inquiry become such a prominent part of our society?” I would add, “What are we teachers going to do about it in our classrooms and schools and through our professional organizations?” The science supporting evolution is undeniable.

The Science Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained (2014)

An essential history of scientific concepts and the individuals who discovered them, the illustrations alone make this a book worth having in your STEM library. Each scientific advance is presented in chronological order in its own separate mini-chapter. A chart at the head of each chapter places the concept within its discipline, with the concepts it built upon and the discoveries that followed upon it. Straightforward diagrams and ample illustrations make each concept crystal clear. And the story of each discovery includes quotations from the scientist involved as well as glimpses into the process of doing science.

For example, in the don’t try this at home department, there is the story of Alexander Volta who used his own body as a detector of electricity. “Volta describes in detail the various unpleasant sensations that result from putting one hand in the bowl at one end of the chain and touching a wire attached to the other end to the forehead, eyelid, or tip of the nose: ‘I feel nothing for some moments; afterward, however, there begins at the part applied to the end of the wire, another sensation, which is a sharp pain (without shock), limited precisely to the point of contact, a quivering, not only continued but which always goes on increasing to such a degree, that in a little time it becomes insupportable, and does not cease until the circle is interrupted.’” OUCH!!!!

A short biography of the scientist responsible for the discovery ends each chapter, which is also cross-referenced to other related scientists.

This is more a book you will dip into for background knowledge when you are preparing a unit on batteries or magnetism, let’s say, rather than a book you’ll read from cover to cover. But it’s still interesting reading wherever you happen to pop in.

For all you Kindle owners out there, as this goes to post, the Kindle version of this book is only $1.99. You can also download a free app to read it on your iPad. Grab it while you can. It’s part of the DK series, and a treasure trove of information about all those scientific concepts you’ll be helping your students grasp. Plus with its emphasis on the human beings behind the science, there are some fascinating stories that are likely to hook the interest of your students.

And, if you haven’t already done so, please check out a book we recently reviewed on climate change, How to Change Minds About Our Changing Climate by Seth Darling and Doug Sisteron (2014). It’s a fast and fun read that will get you all set for teaching climate change science next school year.

Enjoy your summer!!

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.

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4 Common Stumbling Blocks to Implementing NGSS in Instructional Practices and How the National Research Council’s New Guide Responds to Them

Okay, I admit it. I’m over the moon excited about a new publication. I know. I know. I’ve got to get a life. And this publication isn’t even fully fledged yet. It’s the National Research Council’s Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards, and an Advance Copy, in other words uncorrected proofs, was released on January 8, 2015. (p.s. It’s free here.)

The reason I’m so excited about this release is that it provides a kind of blueprint for those of us who teach science to kids or who coach the teachers who do. It can help us begin to address implementation of the NGSS.

The thing is, just like bad habits, it’s really hard to change our educational practices . . . really, really hard. We grew up with teachers teaching science in a textbook sort of way; perhaps we’ve taught it that way ourselves for many years. If I can’t even get over my high school typing class training and finally stop adding two spaces after every period, it’s certainly not going to be easy for educators to teach science using the radically different approach that the NGSS requires.  It will take time and possibly permission from ourselves to let go of outdated practices that seemed to have value in the past.

The GUIDE, as I will now lovingly call it, is very forgiving on that score.

  • “It may be tempting to expect to see results in students’ achievement within 1-2 years, but it will likely take a minimum of 3-4 years for teachers to transition to effectively teaching the new standards. … It takes several years for changes in instruction to become stabilized.”
  • “It is important for school leaders to be prepared to accept less than perfect outcomes in the initial years of implementation of the NGSS.”
  • “It is also important to emphasize that implementation is a 5 – 10 year process, and stakeholders need to be supportive of the long-term goals rather than focus solely on short-term results.”
  •  “It is unrealistic to expect teachers to completely transform their instruction at one time or even quickly. They will need time and on-going support to take incremental steps toward the instructional vision, over a period of at least 2-3 years. For example, teachers might start by teaching only one new or redesigned unit that incorporates science and engineering practices and focuses more in depth on the target disciplinary core idea.

So let’s breathe a collective sigh of relief. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and we all know it. But having said that, there are several things we might begin working on immediately in our own practice, looking to the GUIDE for . . . well, for guidance. And possibly for that much needed authorization to change.

Here are 4 very common stumbling blocks to NGSS implementation that I encounter when I visit schools. We could easily begin addressing them right away by first being aware of them and then recognizing how out of synch they are with the new standards.  We can start having professional conversations about them. We can definitely call ourselves on them whenever we are tempted to allow these stumbling blocks to NGSS implementation  to get in the way of helping students develop into the scientists and engineers they inherently are.

As colleagues, we can begin having the conversation about the stumbling blocks to NGSS implementation .

As colleagues, we can begin having the conversations about the stumbling blocks to NGSS implementation . (Teachers from Posen Intermediate)

SB 1. In some schools and school districts, current schedules, assessment priorities, and district/school cultures marginalize science, giving little time for it during the typical school day.

Response: According to the GUIDE,
“The combination of the NGSS and the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics offers opportunities to strengthen students’ learning through use of similar strategies across the curriculum. All three sets of standards emphasize student reasoning and arguing from evidence – even through the nature of an effective argument and what counts as evidence is specific to each subject. Science and engineering problems can be used as examples while teaching mathematics. Science topics can be explored through using science-related trade books or magazine articles for reading in language arts classes. These activities can help support science learning, but they cannot provide all of the science learning opportunities that students need. Conversely, engaging in the science practices requires student to apply their mathematics and literacy skills in the context of their science classrooms and so can help students further develop those skills.

While engaging in the scientific and engineering practices, students will regularly construct oral and written arguments that focus on presenting and evaluating evidence for claims, resolving differences, and refining models and explanations or on improving engineering designs. Students will seek and evaluate information from a variety of sources to support and extend their science understandings. They will read, write, and communicate orally about science ideas. Students and teachers will use mathematics and computer-based tools and simulations flexibly and effectively to support investigations, data collections, and analysis and to develop understanding of key concepts.”

SB 2. Some teachers have a difficult time weaning themselves from the traditional “facts, formulas, and definitions” approach to introducing science concepts and assessing student understanding. They persist in starting with the definitions and having students read the appropriate textbook chapter. They ask information recall questions in assessing students on science content.

Response: According to the GUIDE,
“It is also important to emphasize that a student’s ability to memorize facts, formulas, and definitions not be a prior condition for engaging in the practices; rather, it is through developing models and explanations and engaging in argumentation to refine and improve explanations that students come to understand the value and meaning of definitions and facts.

SB 3. Some teachers are still teaching the “Scientific Process” as a linear, step-by-step model and in isolation from actually “doing science.” They often “cover” this at the beginning of the school year by starting with lessons or a unit on “The Scientific Method.” Classroom walls still have “Scientific Process” charts posted on them, and students still copy the “Steps of the Scientific Method” into their science notebooks and take tests on it.

Response: According to the GUIDE,
“ … the scientific and engineering practices work in concert with each other, they are not intended to be learned in isolation from each other. For example, as students analyze data they will likely use some mathematics. As they generate, discuss, and critique explanations, they will rely on model-based and evidence-based argumentation and reasoning. As they design and carry out investigations, they will need to revisit and refine their initial questions. And as they obtain and evaluate information from multiple sources, they will need to ask questions about what they are reading and its sources etc. The practices are neither a set of steps in a process nor a recipe as to how to proceed; rather, they are tools to be used as needed and often one needs more than one tool at a time for a question or problem.”

SB 4. Some teachers claim that they can’t teach science or implement the NGSS because they don’t have textbooks for their students.

Response: According to the GUIDE,
“At the time of this report being written, the committee was not aware of any year-long comprehensive curriculum resources at any grade level built explicitly for the NGSS, though a number are under development. Developing and phasing in a full set of new curriculum materials aligned with the NGSS will take time.” “To be able to evaluate whether or not curricula actually meet the expectations of the NGSS, it will be important for educators to experiment with trying some of the instructional shifts before selecting or developing curricula.” “ … textbooks that include all possible topics rather than focusing on the disciplinary core ideas should not be selected for use. Similarly, textbooks should not be selected that include the disciplinary core ideas, but do not include approaches that have students engaged meaningfully in the science and engineering practices to develop and use those disciplinary core ideas. Some school districts are moving toward use of open access materials rather than undertaking traditional textbook adoption.

NGSS requires a new approach to teaching science.

The NGSS vision of instruction is not textbook based, covering the content in linear fashion.

Bottom line, the NGSS vision of instruction is not textbook based. It requires the use of multiple kinds of materials and resources, including things you already have on hand, such as your school yard, and including online resources that are plentiful and free, except for the time you have to invest to find them. There is great value in teachers collaborating “to evaluate existing materials and lessons for how well they reflect all three dimensions of the NGSS” and participating “in a group activity to redesign a particular unit can be an effective professional development opportunity.” And to put a fine point on it, the GUIDE states that “waiting before beginning to change instruction,” until you have textbooks and other curriculum materials that are NGSS aligned is one of the major pitfalls to avoid in NGSS implementation. So the best way forward is simply to begin.

I know I’ll be drawing inspiration from the GUIDE in the coming months. I encourage you to do the same. It’s free, succinct at only 90 pages long, and represents your tax dollars hard at work.

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.

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Filed under book review, collaboration, NGSS, professional development, science teaching, The Scientific Method, Uncategorized

STEM the Tide: A Review

Published in 2011, STEM the Tide: Reforming Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education in America by David E. Drew may not be a great book, but it could still become an important one, and I hope that it does. The book is a compendium of STEM education success indicators and promising programs that, if embraced, could set the United States on a better course for the future. Essentially, Drew provides a crash course in STEM education, in what we know and should be able to do to improve this essential 21st century capacity… if we have the vision, the sense of urgency, and the political and social will to do so.

STEM the Tide

Drew begins by setting the context, laying out the present state of STEM education in snippets from books and research studies, creating a meta-review for the general reader. Some of this you’ve probably already seen in newspaper articles or heard in political speeches. The United States is badly trailing other developed nations in educating STEM professionals, and we are thereby risking our standing in the world and our future prosperity. Drew quotes Thomas Friedman, Malcolm Gladwell, and Peter Drucker. If you’ve read them, you’ll be familiar with much of the book’s initial terrain (Introduction, Chapters 1-3). But the author’s research analysis provides a few surprises. For example, after analyzing all of the international assessments from the 1960s through the 1990s, Drew concludes that

“At no time was the performance of U.S. students excellent, or even average. American students have always performed at or near the bottom in international assessments.”

“In contrast with the conventional wisdom that U.S. performance has declined in recent decades, performance has actually improved. The hard work of American teachers, students, and parents has started to pay off.”

“The findings are mixed over a 40-year period, but there is some evidence that American students have done well on items that measure advanced analytical reasoning.”

Reason for hope? Perhaps. But much work will need to be done. And Chapters 3 – 9 outline what Drew believes that work ought to entail.

David E. Drew is the Platt Professor of Education, Management, and Mathematics at the Claremont (CA) Graduate University, so it’s probably no wonder that the primary focus of those chapters is higher education and what can be done to stem the alarming trends of few STEM majors to begin with and the high attrition among university students in STEM subjects, students who drop out after their first few courses, particularly students who come from poverty, are female, or are students of color. He reports on successful university level programs that have addressed these trends and closed the achievement gap between these students and white and Asian males.

Drew’s scope widens from advocating purely for an education in the STEM subjects to advocating more broadly for a university education in general, including a standard liberal arts education, which improves the quality of life its recipients enjoy. And he illustrates what it takes to implement the conviction that underserved students deserve access to a quality higher education by recounting the history of the recent (1999) establishment of Nevada State College in Henderson, Nevada, a suburb of Las Vegas. It’s a fascinating case study, detailing the practical, logistical, and economic hurdles of undertaking such an enterprise, the local and national aspirations behind doing so, and the nitty gritty of creating a program of academic study from scratch that will best serve the needs of the future, while addressing the politicization, conservative vs. liberal, that has taken place in this country around what ought to be studied. In the end, the bustling new college is going a long way toward creating a skilled labor pool for the Las Vegas area, a magnet for business relocation or start-up. Drew concludes, “It would not be an exaggeration to argue that the best move Nevada has made to protect its future economy is the establishment of Nevada State College at Henderson.” By extension, we might well ask, “how can we improve opportunities for those same underrepresented groups regardless of geographic location?”

The final chapter of the book is a call for support for university research and not just to the top-tier universities. “The concentration of federal science funds at top-tier institutions limits the productivity of brilliant junior STEM professors at second- and third-tier universities. Furthermore, scientists at lower-prestige schools may subsequently be unable to demonstrate to undergraduates what the research process looks like. And, of course they may be unable to engage undergraduates directly as participants in that research process,” another waste of potential that the current system encourages.

In fact, where this book is strongest, from my perspective, is in Drew’s fundamental conviction that we are wasting too much talent in this country, talent that resides in groups underrepresented in STEM, in children who are female, or who are born into poverty, and in children of color. In the Conclusion, Drew returns to the cri de coeur of his Introduction. It’s worth quoting some of his most powerful statements from each.

“The have-nots in American society – the poor, the disadvantaged, and people of color – are severely underrepresented in classrooms where mathematics and science are taught. Science education is vital for a technologically advanced society, but it is also a vehicle through which the inequalities of our society are perpetuated and exacerbated. If current trends continue, the proficiency gap in the sciences will widen between the haves and the have-nots, and this will damage our economy. In fact, the research reported in this volume strongly suggests that mathematics in particular is the crucial filter determining access to many prestigious, respected, and lucrative careers. Mathematics can be the catalyst for the social mobility of individuals and groups who have traditionally be outside the mainstream of the American economy. These individuals and groups represent a reservoir of hidden talent.”

His solution very strongly resides in the quality of America’s teachers of STEM, whether in our elementary schools, high schools, or universities.

“I believe good teachers are more important than good curricula. I’m hopeful that in the future, we will have both. However, I would rather see a young person taught by an exciting, engaged, supportive teacher working with an outdated 1950s curriculum than by a boring, hostile, condescending teacher working with the latest curriculum and standards. Students with good teachers tend to be better educated, more interested in math and science, and more successful in their careers.

Current mathematics and science education programs are not doing a good job of educating students and preparing them for a global economy, but we can turn this situation around. By providing incentives to recruit outstanding young people into teaching, encouraging professional development, and raising expectations, we can substantially improve America’s teaching force.”

That’s a powerful mission and one Golden Apple has been committed to for twenty-eight years.

More importantly, “teachers must realize that virtually every student – regardless of gender, ethnicity, or economic status – can master mathematics and science. Parents must realize this. Most importantly, students themselves must understand this.”

Drew makes it clear that talent resides in unexpected places and that we ignore this fact to our detriment as a nation and as a member of the global community. His book, STEM the Tide, provides a blueprint for transforming American STEM education, a blueprint that policy makers, business leaders, and concerned citizens would do well to embrace.

In the coming weeks, I’ll lay out some new year’s resolutions for Golden Apple STEM Institute’s work in helping build the STEM pipeline and show how excellent teachers are rising to the challenge of preparing new generations of STEM professionals and STEM literate citizens. As David E. Drew concludes, “We can create an environment in which our citizens are active participants in the high-tech economy of the 21st century. We have the knowledge and the power to transform American education.”

Happy New Year!

Yours in the work,

~ Penny

You can read more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.

 

 

 

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