Amazing Girls Science program expands in Norwalk

We’ve read the statistics: While women make up nearly half the U.S. workforce, they hold less than a quarter of higher-paying jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions. [U.S. Dept of Commerce]


Girls are interested in science, but we’re still fighting old stereotypes. According to the Girl Scouts Research Institute’s recent Generation STEM study, what’s holding them back are dated perceptions, lower self- confidence and working environments that still do not fully consider women’s needs or contributions.


Norwalk resident Dr. Cynthia Barnett, a retired former assistant principal at Brien McMahon High School, can recite most of these statistics verbatim. Throughout her teaching career, it disturbed her that few girls in her school were taking high-level math or science courses.


To spark more girls’ interest in science and technology professions, Barnett has created a nurturing environment where girls can explore these disciplines. In 1996 she formed the Saturday Academy, a co-ed program focused on science. In 2010, Saturday Academy became an all-girls program. The Academy now organizes twice twice-a year Amazing Girls Science conferences at Norwalk Community College. We attract over 100 girls ages 9-14.The next Amazing Girls Science conference will be held on October 20.


Fascinated by Connecticut’s FIRST program—which inspires girls and boys from 6 to 18 years old around the world to learn about STEM professions through hands-on science projects and robotics competitions—Barnett volunteered to be a judge at Stamford Robotics’ Junior FIRST LEGO League (JrFLL) events and attended a national FIRST exposition in New York City.


Those experiences have motivated her over the past two years to form three girls-only FIRST LEGO League teams: Team # 3077, the Fast and Furious Cheetahs, Team 7307, the Super Science Sisters, a Girl Scouts team, and Team 15396, Brainy Bunch, which now involve 21 girls and their parents from Norwalk, Fairfield, Weston and Noroton.


Dr. Barnett’s three FIRST LEGO League (FLL) teams are among 180 FLL teams that are active in Connecticut this year. The three teams meet from 10 a.m. to 1:00 weekly at Stepping Stones Museum and have begun to gather information and prepare for this year’s FLL competition, Senior Solutions.


This year’s FLL Senior Solutions challenge is engaging more than 300,000 9 to 14-year-olds—supported by 100,000 mentors, coaches and volunteers in more than 60 countries—to solve a problem faced by seniors as they age.


The competition includes a research project addressing a challenge that Seniors face as they age, including presenting a unique solution to the problem. It also requires teams to assemble and program a small LEGO MINDSTORMS® robot, and compete in qualifying matches around the state. Teams that win any of Connecticut’s seven qualifying FLL matches will compete in Connecticut FIRST’s FIRST LEGO League State Championships, to be held December 9 at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.


Girls on the three FLL teams that Dr. Barnett mentors are researching memory loss, hearing loss and computers, and are in the process of interviewing seniors about how they cope with loss of these senses and how they use technology.


“Forming the Saturday Academy and our Amazing Girls Conferences has been a labor of belief and love for me, the Girl Scout troops working with us, the Stepping Stones Museum, Connecticut FIRST and dozens of parents,” said Dr. Barnett. “Ours is a comprehensive program that provides the hands on learning for girls that I am so passionate about. Our three girls-only FIRST LEGO League teams have brought even more teachers, parents and mentors into the effort.”


To continue and expand, the Amazing Girls Science Saturday Academy and FIRST LEGO League programs are seeking both individual and corporate contributions.


Those who desire to ignite the spark of science for girls can visit the Amazing Girls web site at amazinggirlsscience.com/donate/give-today or contact Dr. Cynthia Barnett at 203.855.9714 or doctorcynthia@aol.com.


The Amazing Girls Science Conference will be held on October 20, 2012 at Norwalk Community College - East Campus, 188 Richards Ave Norwalk CT 06854


Pre-register girls in grades 5 to 9 at www.amazinggirlsscience.com/programs


source: http://www.norwalkplus.com/nwk/information/nwsnwk/publish/education/Amazing-Girls-Science-program-expands-in-Norwalk_np_18186.shtml 


UConn Study to Explore How Certain Schools Excel in Science
UConn researchers, backed by a $3 million federal grant, are beginning an ambitious project aimed at understanding why some urban schools are excelling in science education, research that could ultimately change the way the subject is taught around the country.
The five-year School Organization and Science Achievement Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, will examine science education not only in the classroom, but in terms of the entire educational environment.
John Settlage, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the Neag School of Education and the principal investigator, says the idea for the project came from studying elementary science test scores. What was surprising was that certain urban schools in Connecticut were outperforming not only their city peers, but also many suburban schools.
That prompted researchers to look beyond what happens in classrooms to learn how successful science performance arises from systems of relationships. This includes examining all stakeholders, from the school principal to the lead science teacher, and even parents and volunteers who partner with the school.
“We’re taking an ecological view of science education,” Settlage says. “How we teach science is obviously important, but we should not ignore the bigger picture. The interactions among people throughout the school, including with the surrounding community, all contribute to children’s science learning.”
Settlage and his fellow researchers know many outstanding teachers and administrators. But they say that beyond personal traits, institutional factors are also influential in shaping a school’s science program. Once those factors for success can be identified, the information can benefit other schools seeking to improve.
“This is a solvable problem,” he says. “The superhero teachers and administrators don’t come from other planets. They came up through the system.”
Science has moved to the forefront of the public conversation on education. President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address, emphasized the need to hire thousands more science teachers over the coming decade. At the state level, the economic vitality of Connecticut requires developing scientific literacy beyond just future engineers and scientists. Otherwise, if uneven success in schools continues, it will translate into unequal access to college and career options for some students. Settlage’s study promises to shed light on improving the quality of all children’s science experiences.
A multidisciplinary project, UConn researchers joining Settlage are educational statistics specialist Betsy McCoach; educational leadership experts Morgaen Donaldson and Anysia Mayer; and post-doctoral fellow Regina Suriel. The researchers are currently working to firm up arrangements with school districts, including Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport. In total, the School Organization and Science Achievement Project will involve 150 schools in Connecticut and Florida, where researchers at the University of Central Florida are collaborating with the UConn team.
Ultimately, the goal is to craft a set of recommendations about school leadership and organization practices that can be used by educators around the country, to help provide the kinds of school environment where science teachers and science students can thrive. These efforts will also inform UConn’s science teacher and school administrator preparation programs.
“You can be the best science teacher in the world,” Settlage says, “but if you’re not in the right environment and there is not solid leadership, then those problems will show on the science test.”



source: http://today.uconn.edu/blog/2012/09/study-to-explore-how-certain-schools-excel-in-science/

Mobile App Competition Engages High School Students in STEM
By his own admission, Andrew Rothstein, curriculum director at the National Academy Foundation, has a steep learning curve where technology is concerned.
"I can't even keep up with what was, let alone adapt to what is, or even imagine what will be," Rothstein said to a room full of educators and students last week at the foundation's annual conference.
The former teacher's lack of technical expertise illustrates why high schools need to leverage industry expertise when trying to determine what to teach young adults about information technology.
"You can imagine the challenge of being the architect of something about which you know nothing," he said. "I've never downloaded an app. But fortunately I have a safety net."
For the National Academy Foundation, that safety net was Lenovo, a computer company that manufactures PC laptops, desktops, and tablet computers.
NAF and Lenovo launched a competition at the start of the spring 2012 semester, challenging high school students to develop Android-based mobile applications using Lenovo's ThinkPad Tablet. The foundation piloted the program in five NAF academies:Grover Cleveland High School in New York, Apex High School in North Carolina, Pathways to Technology Magnet High School in Connecticut, Downtown Magnets High School in California, and A.J. Moore Academy of Information Technology in Texas.
The National Academy Foundation builds curriculums focused on bridging the gap between education and business communities. The foundation’s network includes more than 500 career academies that serve more than 50,000 students. Schools must submit proposals and an application to become a career academy or start one on their campus.
Lenovo provided the tablets and the focus—mobile technology—but left the structure and implementation up to the teachers and administrators at each high school.
The competition succeeded at getting students, teachers, and the foundation excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Students developed business plans and built apps from scratch—everything from a note-taking program with voice-to-text capability to an app stocked with Dominican food recipes.
The NAF-Lenovo competition also highlighted the logistical challenges of implementing this type of program on a larger scale.
Three of the five schools ran the programs as an after-school or enrichment option due to restraints in their curriculum, and Grover Cleveland High School was the only one able to dedicate the class time needed to take their students' apps from concept to completion.
The mobile app class at Grover Cleveland was allotted a double class period, giving the 40 seniors participating in the project enough time to complete their mobile apps, and students used an app-building program to assist them with the coding and design. Of the 20 apps created by the students, 17 are available for download on Google Play, the Android App store.
In contrast, Robert East and Pete Baus, seniors at A.J. Moore Academy, estimate they only had 24 hours of class time over 12 weeks to devote to their note-taking app. The time constraints and the duo's limited coding knowledge made it difficult to pull together a functional program, they said at the conference.
While NAF plans to take what it learned from the partnership and revamp what its career tech academies look like, JD Hoye, president of the NAF, said it will take several years to revise and roll out a new curriculum to all of its schools.



STEM thrives at All Saints Catholic School

Science, technology, and learning go hand in hand at All Saints Catholic School in Norwalk with the use of STEM education. All students at All Saints Catholic School participate in STEM education throughout their day.


“All Saints is on its way to becoming a STEM school integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics into all aspects of the school curriculum,” says principal Linda Dunn. “This type of hands-on learning will help our students gain the skills required to succeed in today’s challenging world. This includes the ability to think critically and solve complex problems.”


STEM Education transforms the typical teacher-centered classroom into a student-centered classroom by encouraging a curriculum that is driven by problem-solving, discovery, exploratory learning, and requires students to actively engage a situation in order to find its solution.


All Saints Science teacher Erin Snow explains that, “STEM is infused in our school through various projects that the students complete to reinforce the curriculum. For example, designing and constructing compound machines (Rube Goldberg), while learning about simple machines. Also, designing, constructing, and simulating earthquake-proof towers to reinforce the concept of plate tectonics.”


This approach to education is designed to revolutionize the teaching of subject areas such as mathematics and science by incorporating technology and engineering into regular curriculum.


All Saints Catholic School of Norwalk has openings in some grades in K through eighth grade. For a tour of the All Saints Catholic school campus, visit the school, located at 139 West Rocks Road in Norwalk on any Tuesday morning beginning September 12th between 8:30 and 10:00 a.m. or call for a private tour anytime. Visit www.allsaintsnorwalk.com or call (203) 847-3881 for more information.



source: http://www.thehour.com/stem-thrives-at-all-saints-catholic-school/article_9e718af2-d050-11e1-9d61-001a4bcf6878.html


Tech Collective shines the light on STEM, encourages GRRL power


There have been a slew of tech-related awards given to students in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island–a sure sign that students are excited about science and technology. 

Four Rhode Island high school students today received $4,000 in scholarships at the Girls Reaching Remarkable Levels (GRRL) expo, a program created by industry association Tech Collective that gives female high school students a peek at opportunities in science technology engineering and math (STEM). To be considered, the girls had to describe a time when the subjects influenced their lives and how they inspired them to pursue a career in STEM. 

The lucky GRRL winners include: Alyssa Friedman, North Providence High School; Kimberly Geraghty, Johnston Senior High School; Megan Major, East Providence High School and Morgan Quinley a student at North Smithfield High School.  

Further south in Connecticut a group of nine entrepreneurial teams were
 awarded with $25,000 given to them by Connecticut Innovations. Five of the winning teams included current students or recent graduates of Connecticut universities. One team, MeritBooster included a 14-year-old entrepreneur.

Donna Sams, former senior vice president at PBM Systems, shared her own challenges and opportunities with the audience at the expo. Sams encouraged students be confident and to not shy away from challenges. That same notion was echoed by Tech Collective Executive Director Kathie Shields who said that women “do not equally represent the STEM career fields.”

There are several studies that explain the reasons why, including: not having enough female role models, gender stereotyping and –get ready for this one– less family-friendly flexibility in STEM jobs. 

The problem isn’t just a shortage of female role models in STEM jobs. Recent reports show that the United States is in jeopardy of seeing a shortage of folks qualified to teach science and math. 

It’s not all bad news. There are several businesses, local and state agencies and organizations like Tech Collective and Connecticut Innovations working to boost STEM education and jobs. To help with the education shortage, Worcester Polytechnic Institute plans to open a 
STEM education center to better prepare primary and secondary school teachers. 

Staples FoundationGoogle and the Patrick-Murray Administration have all provided financial suppport to STEM programs. 


source: http://www.masshightech.com/stories/2012/03/12/daily51-Tech-Collective-shines-the-light-on-STEM-encourages-GRRL-power.html



Broken STEM: A failure to teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Math


Jo Handelsman remembers the moment she realized something was seriously wrong with the way science was taught. She was an undergraduate at Cornell University in her junior year, sitting in a biology lecture with an unusually good professor.
“It suddenly occurred to me that every idea I had memorized or learned or thought I understood in a textbook was actually the result of scientific investigation,” said Handelsman, who is now a professor at Yale. “And that just floored me.”
She also couldn’t help thinking why she hadn’t realized this before. “What was missing that it took me so long?”
Handelsman now directs the Yale Center for Scientific Teaching in order to fix that very problem. She also helped write a report for President Obama on science and math education in colleges and universities. She thinks science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields aren’t taught the right way in the United States –- and that’s largely why states like Connecticut face a bizarre paradox of high unemployment, but many unfilled job openings in STEM-related professions.
In 2009, the national unemployment rate was 9.8 percent for all occupations. For computer occupations, it was 5.2 percent. For life scientists, it was just 2 percent.
Mark Richards sees the lack of skilled computer workers firsthand.
“I would say it is the most difficult time in over 15 years,” said Richards, who runs a recruitment firm in Shelton called eRichards Consulting. “It’s just unbelievable. I’ve never seen the lack of qualified people.”
Richards said that he couldn’t fill more than 40 vacancies for IT professionals that client companies were asking for at the end of last year.
The problem will only get worse if education standards don’t start measuring up to employment needs. Economists project that at the rate we’re going, the United States will be short 1 million college graduates with STEM degrees in the next decade. And that doesn’t even count jobs that draw significantly on STEM-related skills, such as health care workers and manufacturing professionals.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy didn’t talk about STEM education in particular in his “State of the State Address” this month. But he did address the gap between unemployment and unfilled jobs -– and the need for an overhaul in public education. Advocates say that when it comes to STEM education, that overhaul needs to happen early in children’s lives.
“Because of the pressure to perform on standardized tests in reading and mathematics, science is getting squeezed out of the elementary curriculum,” said Adam Gamoran, a member of the National Board for Education Sciences. And when science does get taught on a secondary level, “the U.S. tends to have a curriculum that repeats the same topics over and over, that presents topics in a fragmented way, and just isn’t very rigorous compared to other countries.”
Jack Hammer, a high school chemistry teacher in Milford, has seen the effects of that curriculum on his students. He began the school year by asking his students if they were looking forward to his class.
"Out of 80 kids, maybe one answered that they were really looking forward to chemistry,” Hammer recalled.
'Too little, too late'
Data show that American students actually do well in math and science in the early years
(http://nces.ed.gov/timss/results07_math07.asp). By 12th grade, however, their performance has plummeted (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind04/c1/fig01-08.htm). And by the time students get to college, they’re often woefully underprepared for rigorous math and science courses.
“Probably the majority of students are coming in without adequate preparation in the sciences and math,” said Robert Kennedy, president of the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education. “It’s an enormous amount to try and overcome. A lot of [their STEM education] is focused on remediation … it’s often too little, too late.” (According to Handelsman’s report, colleges and universities spend $2 billion each year on educational programs to help students catch up.)
Malloy has proposed improving teacher preparedness in Connecticut, which many say could go far toward making sure kids are taught by qualified instructors in math and science. Connecticut, which is seeking a waiver in its “No Child Left Behind” requirements, has included in its request steps the state would take to improve and better assess STEM education.
“Rather than focusing exclusively on math and reading [as it does now], our new system will hold schools accountable for mathematics, reading, writing and science,” a draft of the waiver application reads.
'Lacking in basic math'
Better basic math and science preparation alone could help fill many of Connecticut’s job vacancies. That’s what human resources manager Judi Spreda wishes more high school graduates who walked into her office had. Spreda works at Peter Paul Electronics in New Britain, a factory that builds solenoid valves, an electromechanical device that controls liquid or gas flow.
“They’re very lacking in basic math," she said of the graduates. "They’re lacking in problem solving, they’re lacking in … the only way I can describe it is, they don’t know how to go to work,” Spreda said.
The situation has gotten so dire that Peter Paul created its own Academy, dedicated to educating workers in-house. Julio Reyes got his first job at Peter Paul once he completed the factory’s training. And what did he learn during those few months?
“Basically a lot of math -– if you’re going to work in manufacturing you gotta know a lot of math. I learned I think a lot more here than in school. It’s a whole lot different.”
Workers in many such manufacturing positions are expected to have more technical skills than in the past. The Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology estimates there are a thousand vacancies in skilled trades across the state.
And that’s just the picture for employers who are looking for high school graduates. For those who want college grads, the economists' projection of the need for 1 million more college grads with STEM degrees in the next decade is particularly daunting. Handelsman, at Yale, hopes her Center for Scientific Teaching will help teachers at the college level keep students in STEM fields.
Right now, 60 percent of students with interest in pursuing a STEM degree end up switching their major before they graduate. Handelsman thinks that’s largely because teaching methods in the introductory courses are all wrong.
Even students who’ve decided to pursue a STEM degree to the end acknowledge the need to slog through the intro classes.
“They’re not always very interesting, because a lot of it is … basic skills that you need to learn how to do before you can do things that you really find interesting,” said University of Connecticut sophomore Kevin Duignan, who’s been interested in science since middle school. Junior Alex Gomez agrees that “the general classes are more difficult.”
What Duignan looks forward to -- and what Gomez is already able to enjoy as a junior -- are the more advanced, specialized courses. “You start experiencing what science is really about,” Gomez said. “You get to start dissecting hearts, frogs and cats.” In a recent lab course, students removed a frog’s heart and watched it beat on its own under a microscope.
Handelsman thinks students shouldn’t have to wait for the more advanced courses to get excited about the scientific process. She’s developing a course to be taught at Yale next year that incorporates research laboratory methods for freshmen -- which she expects to be a refreshing change from the large lecture courses most of them take in the STEM areas. Many say such changes also need to take place at the secondary education level.
"One camp will say, well, you’ve got to learn a lot of the basics before you can actually do some science,” said Hammer, the high school chemistry teacher. “But then there’s another camp, which I think is more persuasive to me personally, that if you get kids doing science, even if it's fairly simple at first, you will capture their imagination."
The report Handelsman helped write for President Obama was released in early February. Shortly afterward, the president announced investments of more than $160 million in total by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education to improve STEM education.
A model in Enfield
For Malloy’s part, his administration wants to create more centers like Asnuntuck Community College, which runs one of the state’s most successful manufacturing training centers. Manufacturing companies in the state have direct input into Asnuntuck’s curriculum, and the program has a more than 90 percent graduation rate. Gary Zweifel, who works for a manufacturing company that makes jet engine parts, is on the college’s advisory board.
“It has not only machinist training, but math training, computer training, programming, safety, lean manufacturing, inspection. It’s got the whole array,” Zweifel said of Asnuntuck’s program. “All the kinds of things we need people to know before we bring them on board here.”
Almost all of Asnuntuck’s students already have a job lined up when they graduate. So Malloy’s desire to clone such programs is just what employers in Connecticut say they’re looking for.
“I think we’re finally starting to become aware in the state of Connecticut that, you know what -- we kind of dropped the ball a little bit,” said Judi Spreda of Peter Paul Electronics. “And we’re starting to pick it up again.”