NSUAVCSI Classroom Re-Visit

Dilworth STEM Academy

I’ve written about Mike Ismari’s class before (here and here). He received a grant last summer to buy several models of drones and flight simulators to use with students.
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ABOVE: Mike’s drones finally arrived and are stored on shelves his students are building.

Since he had little to no experience with drones he signed up for our institute. His plan was to learn the safety, ethics, programming and operation of UAV’s and then when his drones arrived he’d be ready to go. But, one thing after another delayed his purchase, so he kept checking out NSUAVCSI drones … finally his have arrived along with iPads to operate them. He stopped by my office yesterday to return some Phantom 3’s he’d checked out and told me I had to come by again and check out what his students were up to.

10 students were flying Parrot Air Cargo Minidrones using Tynker to program them. Mike rotates his students through these different activities. Students were paired up – a student that had experience programming the drones with an inexperienced student. The experienced student talked and prodded the new student through the steps to program the drone “around the mountain” -portrayed by a chair on a table. The goal is to take off, fly around the mountain making specific maneuvers meant to keep a front pointing camera (which these don’t have – only down-looking) pointed at the mountain and eventually land back on the spot where it launched. I shot some video of 2 students doing just that.

In this first video (less than a minute long) they are troubleshooting their most recent flight: IMG_7219

Now they run the program with the changes they just made (about 20 seconds)
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Some students were learning and practicing computer programming on the NCLab program our grant provided:IMG_7218

Others were constructing vehicles: DSCF0473

Others were practicing with RealFlight flight simulators (not pictured).

Great “messy” things happening! More photos and videos on the link below:

Flickr Album from the visit

Learning is messy!

Great Video About a Teacher in our STEM Institute

Teachers and students doing STEM

You can tell from the bulk of my most recent posts that a big part of my job right now is about facilitating our STEM institute. I actually have another post about telescopes waiting in the wings for after I get a couple of questions answered. This video was produced by the Washoe County School District to celebrate Mike Ismari’s STEM class at Dilworth Middle School STEM Academy. Mike signed up for our STEM institute right away last year because he had received a grant to buy several models of drones (you mostly see them in the video, but a few he checked out from the institute make an appearance as well). Mike wanted to learn about the ethics and safety of utilizing drones in the classroom as well as the pedagogy to consider. Our institute is still ongoing and will be pretty much right up to the end of the school year. I think you’ll enjoy the video … it’s does a great job of showcasing Mike and more importantly his students and the learning they are part of. Enjoy!!

Learning is messy!

 

NSUAVCSI Classroom Visit SMS

Although classroom visits are not actually required by the Nevada STEM Underwater and Aerial Vehicle Computer Science Institute (NSUAVCSI) “College and Career Ready” grant I wrote last summer, I believe visits and mentoring are a vital pieces of quality professional development. I’ve done about 4 visits so far and plan to do many more. Back in December (Yes I’m late getting this posted – Urgh!) I visited Carrie Mieras’s class at Sparks Middle School. They were experiencing using the Parrot Spider Minidrones for the first time although they had used another type of drone that only allows controlling via a joystick controller, so this would be their first attempt at writing a program to fly.

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They worked in pairs and “3’s” to assemble the wheels that allow these drones to roll on the ground ceiling or walls, but also perform as blade guards. While one partner was assembling, the other was setting up either Tickle or Tynker on their iPads or iPhone to write their block program that would tell the drone what to do.

Block programming is a great first step to learn programming because it can be used successfully by even young children. Even though students are not writing actual lines of code, the process of block programming includes many of the thinking and problem solving skills required to program in languages like Python.

It was interesting to watch students struggle some to write their first program, but also to identify which of the 8 or 9 Parrots that showed up on their iPads was theirs. Several times students would choose the wrong one and when they started their program someone else’s Parrot would spring to life and begin it’s journey. That led to a quick lesson on how to tell which is which and then they were off!

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You can see the block program on this student’s iPhone (he was using Tickle, (Tynker doesn’t work on iPhones) to tell his Parrot Spider Minidrone what to do.

 

 

 

By the time everyone had had a chance to get things off the ground a bit the period was over (“Whaaaaat!!??”) and it was time to put stuff away.

It was definitely a bit of a “messy” experience for the students, so I loved it. They weren’t taught everything … they had to figure things out on their own, but they were now ready to be more productive the next day!

Learning is messy!

 

 

 

Underwater and Aerial Vehicles – Pyramid Lake Edition

It was a crisp and glorious day at Pyramid Lake...

Above: Panorama of Pyramid Lake including the Tufa formations “Stone Mother” and the Pyramid that gives the lake it’s name. Note the people on the beach between the formations for a scale of size.

Between a busy work and holiday schedule, and a bout of aggressive bronchitis, I’m late with some posts – this is one of them … and it’s an experience worth sharing! First I want to thank the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe for giving us special permission to visit this special and sacred part of the Pyramid Lake shore to “test drive” our OpenROV 2.8’s and fly Phantom 3 Professional aerial robots as well.

Back in October we were supposed to put the underwater robots the teachers had painstakingly assembled into the crystal clear water of Lake Tahoe to further test them and learn piloting skills. However, that day got “weathered out” by rain and high winds. The next time we could schedule a meet-up was December 3rd. It was a crisp and glorious day at Pyramid Lake. We met at the turn-off from the highway to the dirt road that leads out to the spot in the photo above. Besides the teachers having this opportunity, Trevor Galvin a math teacher at Pyramid Lake Middle and High School is part of our class and he brought along some current and past students and a few others’ students showed up as well.

Here’s how a local TV report explained the day:

The OpenROV’s have a built-in camera and the water was much clearer than we expected: 

 

 

 

Algae covered tufa formations and lake bottom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the bright sunlight the computer screens were hard to see, so when one of the students reported that he could see something floating in the water straight ahead we told him to take pictures  so we could see it later. Turns out it was a large sacred Cui-ui fish:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And next another student piloted 2.8 caught a Lahontan Cutthroat Trout:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the meantime Kirk Ellern was flying the Phantom 3 Professional drones the teachers had been trained in (and so were teachers and students) with the goal of photo/video archiving the experience and the area in aerial video. Kirk produced this video of the day, but more to come:


I’ll be posting more about classroom visits I’m making with the teachers in the grant from their classrooms.

Here’s a link to a Flickr album from the day.

Learning is messy!

A Successful Build!

6 underwater robots swimming in a pool.

Day four of building our OpenROV underwater robots was very eventful. The original thinking was that it would take 4 full days of our 5 scheduled classes to finish building our robots, and not until the 5th day would we be able to try them out. However the teams of  2 to 3  teachers proved the power of collaboration as it became apparent last week that they would be ready in less time. In fact we did take time from building to have lectures on different aspects of underwater robots and we even took a tour of the facilities at the Tahoe Science Center.

The past 2 days included finishing assembly, testing out controls, aligning and focusing the scaling lasers, calibrating the compass and a bit more. While engaged in those activities a local TV station showed up and produced this story about what we were up to.

Below: Aligning the scaling lasers by projecting them on 2 dots 10 centimeters apart on the wall.

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Right: Still wiring and soldering to finish up as well.

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Above: The OpenROV’s starting to look like underwater robots.

Below: Touring the Tahoe Science Center facilities and learning about field trip possibilities.

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The TV cameras were rolling: DSCF0179

Saturday morning was the last push to be ready to swim our ROV’s. The local public pool had reserved time between 2:00 and 3:30 to use their pool as a test facility, so 1:30 was our  deadline to pack-up and get to the pool. Every detail was checked. Connections to the Chromebook computers, camera operation, thruster operation, lights, lasers, all checked.

Below: The connection to the computer checks out. Once the connection is made the interface opens in a web browser of your choice.

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Before we knew it we were off to the pool. The unheated water was cold, but even so one of the life guards volunteered to jump in and help us with a few early tests for water tightness. Once we had the first one cruising the pool she also swam into view so we could take underwater photos of her. We still haven’t downloaded this yet, but we might share them in the future.

Below: First step is to place the ROV into the water and check for any bubbles. Bubbles mean LEAK! and immediate removal to find the source. All 6 of our ROV’s passed the leak test with flying colors.

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Then it was time to swim:

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Below: Each teacher in the institute received a waterproof digital camera. Here the daughter of one of the teachers uses one to get underwater photos of Mom’s vehicle.

DSCF0208Below: Testing the scaling lasers and maneuvering towards a rubber crab on the bottom of the pool.

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Below: Lights check out OK.

DSCF0211Needless to say the excitement was palatable. Visitors and people that work at the pool followed our progress and wanted to touch the devices. Next we plan to launch them in Lake Tahoe and swim them for a day. Then they can be checked out by teachers to use in their classrooms. Woo hoo! It was a great day.

Learning is messy!

 

Nevada STEM Underwater and Aerial Vehicle Computer Science Institute

I shared on Twitter not long ago, “The good news is I got a grant! The bad news is I got a grant!” There is too much truth in that dichotomy, but in spite of all the extra work and rules and policies and bids and other “red tape” to be dealt with to purchase the supplies and organize the classes … this is an awesome opportunity for all concerned.

The grant requirements demanded a focus on middle and high school teachers and students, computer programing, and a STEM learning emphasis. You’ll note by the name of the grant (see the title of this post) that the grant department folks that helped in editing, implored me to mention as many aspects of the program as possible in the title.

The choice of underwater and aerial vehicles was an easy one … Nevada has been designated one of 5 states where regulations about drones have been eased to encourage research, testing and innovation in drone use (the fact that Nevada contains huge expanses of open land and 4 seasons of weather may have helped). In addition, with the emphasis on encouraging students to study computer programming … and the fact that these vehicles can be programmed … using drones in class to motivate students to engage in both seemed like a perfect match.

CgDx3-2UAAMh6Et24 teachers, 2 middle school and 2 high school teachers from each of the 6 school districts I serve will be chosen to participate. We will start by doing 2 days of computer programming and 3D modeling utilizing the ncLab online course guided by its developers (a local startup company). Just enough to get teachers started in programming, but also to acquaint them with the online course since it will be available for them and all their students for the next year. I felt that if teachers had even some experience with programming and the online course they would be more likely to use it with their students. Students will have access to the course at school, but also at home or anywhere they can get online, so they can go as far as they like.

Each teacher will receive a Parrot Minidrone Rolling Spider – the kind you control with your phone or pad device, and a waterproof (to 10 meters) and drop proof (from 1.5 meters) digital camera to archive their learning in the institute and student learning in their classrooms. ParrotMiniDrone

Next, teachers will spend 3 days learning about aerial vehicles from Kirk Ellern (a former high school physics teacher) at AboveNV – a local startup. They’ll fly their “Parrots” and learn how to program them (after the institute they’ll have 4 sets of 10 Parrots they can check out for use in their classrooms). After that introduction to aerial vehicles we’ll move on to Phantom 3 Advanced drones. Here we will put the programming we learned (and note what we want to learn more about) in the ncLab course to work. Four sets of three Phantom 3 drones will be available for checkout by participating teachers forphantom3-drone-300x200 use in their classrooms.

The next 5 days of class will be spent partially assembling and utilizing OpenROV 2.8 underwater vehicles. “Maker skills” will be emphasized as teachers will be taught soldering, wiring, gluing and more to prepare the vehicles for use.  6 OpenROV 2.8’s will be available for checkout by participating teachers. The 2.8’s are operated using a laptop and tether and are capable of depths up to 100 meters. They come with a camera – video/photos and sound can be recorded on the connected laptop … there’s even room for small payloads for doing research – another opportunity to use those computer programming skills as well. Alex Forrest from the Tahoe Environmental Research Center and the University of California, Davis, will lead this portion of the class. Alex has done research in Lake Tahoe utilizing those big “torpedo sized” vehicles you’ve probably seen on the news. He is just back from 3 years in Tasmania.

OpenROV 2.8 Underwater Vehicles

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Throughout the school year the course instructors, all specialists in their fields, will be available to consult teachers, visit classrooms and provide follow-up instruction – to me this is a key component of the grant.

Field trip buses will be paid for so participating teachers can take their classes to a water source (lake, pond, wetland, river/stream pool) to operate and do research with the OpenROV’s.

The institute should start up in August and the initial classes will be done by October. I’ll post updates here. I’ll also set up YouTube/Flickr/Wiki and other accounts to archive our progress.

Learning is messy!

The “Teacher in Space” – Still Touching the Future

Christa McAuliffe and The Space Shuttle Challenger

I’ve seen numerous “tweets” today, on the 30th anniversary of the event, from people sharing where they were when they witnessed or heard about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. I was teaching 7th grade in Oakland, California, and our principal called my classroom to make me aware of what had happened since we weren’t watching live. We tuned in and watched the coverage for awhile and then discussed what had happened. The fact that Christa McAuliffe, the “Teacher in Space,” was a crew member added layers and significance to the discussion.

Twenty some years later my class had the privilege of having Grace Corrigan, Christa’s mom, visit our classroom. (the link takes you to a post about that day)grace4.jpg

We only had one day to prepare for her visit so we learned a bit about Christa and the history of the Challenger, including watching video of the tragic liftoff, but then spent the rest of our limited time writing questions to ask her. We were told Grace would love to answer questions so that’s what we focused on. What to ask and what not to ask  … what is appropriate and not. It was a more powerful learning experience than I expected and the students (4th graders) did a great job. Earlier in the year we had worked hard on speaking up and not showing nervousness, as much as possible anyhow, and that really paid off. You can read about the day we had – here and here

One of our major takeaway’s however was realizing how much we learned about incorporating technology just as part of how we learn and work. When my class first went 1:1 with laptops … it was all about the laptops and what they could do … they were a shiny, bright object students couldn’t stop staring at. But now, however, because they had easy access and used them routinely, the technology had become more like a pencil … just things we use when needed without thinking about them much. And that was true of the other technologies and applications we commonly used – video-conferencing, cameras, blogs, wikis. The shiny-ness and bright-ness hadn’t totally worn off, but now more often than not, partly because of ubiquitous use, they are just powerful tools we utilize in our learning.

As part of Grace’s visit students researched the questions they were writing and wrote them out on their laptops and our printer. We shared her visit live on Skype (audio only) with collaborators in Virginia and New York. We recorded and posted her visit as a podcast and video-cast (I recently changed internet providers and will have to re-post those at some point). Students took the photos that illustrate this post and the other posts I’ve linked to. And, as we often did, we blogged about the experience as part of a process of debriefing and archiving learning we were finding valuable. GraceCorBlogPost

 

We did all those things not so we could use the technologies, but because using the technologies helped us learn and made it possible to share and collaborate on our learning globally.

An incredible learning experience meant for 28 students broke through the walls of the classroom that day.

A great day and way to learn and share about history and science! (and so much more) Christa’s legacy and message continue to “touch the future.”

Learning is messy!

Waterwheel Challenge – or Ricewheel Challenge

A Maker / Engineering Inquiry Lesson

I endeavor to post lessons here I’ve observed or facilitated when I find them valuable. I’m not always successful in posting them quickly, as my bloated draft blog post file will confirm … as will my constant frustration these days with lack of writing time. But this is a really good one, so I felt extra motivated to get it out there.

Grade level-wise, depending on how you set this up, this could really be a Pre-K – 16 lesson. There are many, many ways to take this, including which variables to control for and the goal of the inquiry. In this case it was lifting weight, but it could be speed or number of turns per specific amount of rice (I share a few ideas below). You could charge for materials (a common way to bring more math/data into the inquiry) and challenge students to get the biggest bang for the buck. Anyway here is the challenge:

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(We substituted lifting 150 grams of weight for the 15 washers.)

As part of an energy project one group of my 5th graders, a few years back, designed a waterwheel and we actually ran water through it which was messy (usually a bonus for me), and caused the waterwheel to fall apart when the materials got soaked … which is a great challenge for them to overcome on the one hand, but a real time suck you might not want on the other. You decide. To overcome that issue Dr. David Crowther, from the Raggio Research Center for Science, Technology Engineering and Math, borrowed an idea he got from elsewhere, tweaked it some and therefore we used rice instead of water to power our “waterwheels.”

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Here are the materials the middle and high school science teachers participating in our training had to work with. They could only use these materials, but we didn’t limit them in the amount which could be another challenge to overcome.

They also had these wood dowels to use as axles, note the dowels were of various circumferences and participants could choose any size or even change axles (some added tape and even pulleys made from paper plates to make the diameter larger for example ). Dowels

 

Participants formed groups of 3 and got right to work. One requirement was that groups had to develop a written plan and sketch before they could start construction:

 

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After 45 minutes of initial design and construction time each wheel was tested. A large plastic trash bin was turned into a test facility by taping 2 large washers to the top that the dowels fit in.

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WaterWheelPour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The challenge was to lift 150 grams of weight as high as possible with 2 liters of rice. Here is slow motion of one wheel. Note the weights being lifted:

After an initial trial participants were asked to improve and redesign their waterwheels. Then we did one more trial. Here was the winner:

 

Next we increased the weight gradually and this same design won by lifting 500 grams about halfway. In the classroom what we did in about 2 hours would probably be 2-3 days. And you could easily go much, much deeper. Possibilities include, but are in no way limited to:

  1. Examining the best designs and then having everyone start over from scratch. BTW, the slow motion was shot with my iPhone. Think of using that feature to really see what is going on to help in redesign and also how you pour the rice. Slow motion has implications for data collection leading to redesign in many activities!
  2. Using the same waterwheels but change the task to spinning the fastest with no weight attached … did the designs that lifted the most weight spin fastest? Why? Why not?
  3. Start over and design a wheel that spins fastest as the goal.
  4. Allow different materials or limit materials even further.
  5. Increase and/or decrease the amount of rice allowed from 2 liters.
  6. What design uses the least amount of rice to pull the given weight to the top?
  7. One photo above shows a design utilizing a pulley made from paper plates. That design failed as it could not develop enough torque to overcome the extra load the pulley provided. Can you design a wheel that would work with the pulley (they didn’t have enough time to redesign in this case).
  8. Thinking of the pulley example, can you attach something else that the pulley would cause to turn? Perhaps transforming the lift into some other kind of work or energy? Turn an electric generator? Pump water?

Please add your ideas in the comments.

In addition, as I’ve stated many times, this kind of learning is also a powerful integration to other subjects – collect data and crunch it in math, write (and blog to share!!!) about the procedures, learning, data, what was interesting … and perhaps invite/connect with students elsewhere to participate and share their experiences, data, photos. Lots of powerful ways to integrate technology as well – photos, video, blogging, wiki pages, video-conferencing between schools and more. Creative writing stories from the waterwheels point of view explaining what the experience was like for them … this again makes students have to be very observant about everything that happens to the wheel so they can accurately explain what the wheel experiences with lots of description. “When the tiny white grains of rice hit me I was taken by surprise, and at first the grains felt like tiny stinging bees, but I quickly got used to the sensation and then was exhilarated as I began to turn and quickly picked up speed ….” History lessons tied to the development of waterwheels in history and their impact on society. Are waterwheels still being developed in new innovative ways? So much here to research and learn from.

Learning is messy!

Use Powerful Tools Powerfully

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure to work, via various social networking sites, with Kathy Cassidy, a teacher “of six year olds,” in Saskatchewan, Canada, according to her class blog. We’ve even met face to face at conferences. My class (4th – 6th graders) shared blog posts and comments with her students a few times, and we Skyped at least once. Kathy recently shared a post on the Powerful Learning Practice blog about “Five Ways To Use Skype.” Some of the aspects of the post I want to highlight are that yes, ‘even’ 6 year olds can connect online in ways that provide powerful learning opportunities for them, and Kathy makes the point that, “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.” Check out her post, she shares some great ideas on connecting your students.

Reading Kathy’s post had me re-visiting a point that has been made by others (and me) over the years, but a point that needs repeating … repeatedly, because it is such a vital point to make.

There are very powerful learning tools available on the “inter webs,” and many are free to use … video conferencing tools like Skype, Google Hangouts … blogs, wikis, online photo and video archive sites (like Flickr), and many more. As Kathy and others point out there are powerful ways to use these tools that connect students, experts, facilitate collaboration globally, provide the ability to design, produce, edit and share content in any subject, and so much more (and yes, occasionally just to do something fun or cool!).

There are many of us that have been working very hard to spread the word about how these tools facilitate new, innovative and engaging approaches to learning. How they require teaching our students to be active learners instead of teaching them to be taught … sit quietly but attentively, raise your hand if you have a question, then wait for me (as the teacher) to decide this is an OK or appropriate time in my lesson to break from my cadence, my lesson, and answer your question or listen to your comment … now … or not.

So what’s my point already? It’s the point Kathy made: “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.

Ever since personal computers and other technologies were introduced, their praises as learning tools have been sung from the highest rafters. Unfortunately, much more often than not, when technology has been purchased with improving education, improving student learning, improving student achievement or (yuck) improving student test scores as the goal … the technology or tool has been the focus with too little thought or professional development or teacher autonomy considered to actually use the technology in ways that empower students and/or their learning. The results therefore have been ugly and have lead to a backlash about the actual value of technology and connectedness as pathways to learning.

In addition, the tunnel-vision of test scores in language arts and math have turned too many computer labs and other technologies into drill and practice, test prep and “what apps can we get that will engage the students” dead ends. That use of technology as learning tool is like buying a Ferrari just to listen to the great stereo while its parked in the garage.

There is nothing wrong, especially as a way to gain experience with the technology, to do a video-conference or two that is mostly about saying hi to a class in another state or country and share some basic information. But if that’s all you do … then that’s probably not “using it well.” Collaboration, sharing and analyzing data, simultaneously performing an experiment or activity to see if location changes the results, read alouds between students, an international poetry festival between classes … that’s more like it. Students tend to be more engaged, spend more time editing, ask more clarifying questions … because these students from somewhere else, and maybe others, are going to see it … I want it to be good.

Blogging is awesome! Blogging is writing for sure. But its also posting photos, videos, podcasts, vid-casts … and because blogging is a two way street (because others can leave comments) its a conversation. Students can post any kind of writing you do in class, and yes, I’ve even had them post a written response about their reading. But also creative writing, science experiments, reports on any subject, short stories, long stories, explanations, diagrams and representations of math problems and concepts (that other students from around the world can see, discuss and argue about). But also photo essays, video clips of anything, pieces they write just because they want to (my new puppy, my birthday party, what happened when we got a flat tire, I was so scared when …) … and again, these pieces are published to the world … and the world responds, and that leads to more writing and thinking deeply about the response, and sharing ideas and realizing what is different about living in different parts of our city, state, country, world.

I could go on explaining the power of wikis, photo and video sharing sites and more. But that will just belabor things.

Too often we utilize technology and the web because they seem to be automatically engaging for students .. at least for awhile. If we aren’t learning as educators how and why to use these powerful learning tools and opportunities to enable our students to do important, meaningful work. If we allow ourselves to feel unprepared or stupid or phobic about using technology and perceive that our students know more about it, or worse, see it as a way to keep students busy in the computer lab while we grade papers or do other “teacher stuff.” (yeah I know that you probably don’t get enough prep time). Then we are leaving its promise and capacity as a learning facilitator, connector and collaboration tool on the cutting room floor. We might as well not bother with it.

So as Kathy said, “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.

Learning is messy!

Men Don’t Believe There is Gender Bias In STEM Fields?

My last post about engaging more girls/women to be interested in STEM fields was apparently at least somewhat prescient … at least the topic. This recently published study: “Quality of evidence revealing subtle gender biases in science is in the eye of the beholder,” comes to conclusions such as:

“Ever-growing empirical evidence documents a gender bias against women and their research—and favoring men—in sci- ence, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Our research examined how receptive the scientific and public communities are to experimental evidence demonstrating this gender bias, which may contribute to women’s underrepresen- tation within STEM. Results from our three experiments, using general-public and university faculty samples, demonstrated that men evaluate the quality of research unveiling this bias as less meritorious than do women. These findings may inform and fuel self-correction efforts within STEM to reduce gender bias, bolster objectivity and diversity in STEM workforces, and enhance dis- covery, education, and achievement.”

It’s even a fairly short read as these things go, so getting bogged down in a time suck isn’t much of an issue. Note the limitations to their study as well as how they did their research which the authors report as well. You might also find this post from Think Progress about the study interesting as well .. note studies the author of the post shares too.

Do the results mirror your experience with gender bias in STEM?

Learning is messy!