MIT Stem Pals
September 2014
Please forward this to friends and colleagues interested in STEM

Thinking It Through: Even Simple Concepts Can Become Complex in Context
Dick LarsonThink of math. In gearing up for standardized math tests, we want our students to know (or memorize) so many things: sine, cosine, tangent; solutions to polynomials; matrices; trigonometric identities; etc., etc. Cram it in; spew it out!

And what about true understanding of what they are doing? Take averages. Simple, right? If I have ten numbers, I add them together and divide by 10, and I have the average. “Turn the crank!” Memorization done. Well, how would a math student respond to Garrison Keeler’s weekly musing about fictional Lake Wobegon, in Minnesota: “Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men good looking and all the children are above average.” How does our student respond? Read more.

The Story within a “Novel” Biology Class
Megan Rokop Most intro biology courses get to a point where the focus turns to human systems, and where the classes become more or less “an organ each day.” One approach to this is to go through the proper anatomy and function of an organ each day. Another approach – one I will describe below – takes the opposite standpoint, and starts with what can go wrong.

Geneticists (like myself) get their kicks from studying what goes wrong, in order to learn about what could have been going right. So we are naturally drawn to teaching from this perspective. Students (and all humans) are inherently interested in themselves, and thus their curiosity is often most piqued by what may one day “go wrong” in themselves or their friends and family members. For this reason, the standard attention-grabbers in biology class include cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, etc. As teachers, we can capitalize on what grabs students’ attention, and use these conditions in order to introduce fundamental topics such as cell division, nerve cell signaling, the function of the pancreas, and so forth. Read more.


How to Create an Effective Science Video
Dianna CowernEffective science communication starts with a passion for science and a desire to share that passion with others. Whether your motivation for outreach stems from a grant obligation, the joy of teaching, or simply a passion for science, your enthusiasm will determine the success of your videos. Keep this in mind as you read through the following lessons I have learned while becoming a science content creator on my YouTube channel, Physics Girl.

The first—though not trivial—step of creating a science video is choosing a subject. Here are some actions to avoid when selecting the topic of your video. Read more.

Rick McMasterIn late August, I had the opportunity to join 70 people who had gathered at SEDL to establish the STEM XXI (for 21st century) Network with the goal of developing partnerships and strategies to improve STEM teaching, learning, and life experiences for Texas students. In addition to SEDL, the summit was co-hosted by IBM, The Thinkery, and Central Texas Discover Engineering. The participants came from foundations, government agencies, industry, museums, non-profits, professional development providers, school districts, universities, and youth development programs.

The meeting was kicked off by Wes Hoover, SEDL President and CEO. Vicki Dimock, SEDL Chief Program Officer discussed the goals of the meeting and future direction. A panel led by Katie Kizziar, The Thinkery’s Associate Director of Programs, included Stacy Avery from the TEA T-STEM Initiative, Tamara Hudgins Executive Director of GirlStart, Melanie Moore, Executive Director of the KDK Harman Foundation, and Karen Siles from IBM. The panel produced a lively discussion of the T-STEM Design Blueprint, the importance of mentoring, evaluation frameworks, and the critical element of parents in moving STEM education forward with students. Read more.