Tag Archives: Math

2020 Girls — Introducing Girls to the Thrills of Science, Design, Engineering & Tech

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DSC_7470There is no doubt that there is a need for professionals in the STEM fields in this country, especially women. ITEC in Lansing, in partnership with MCWT, is jump-starting girls’ interest in STEM with their 2020 Girls program, launched just this year. About 100 middle school girls are participating in programming, engineering and design activities led by female instructors and assisted by women currently in the field.

I attended one of these classes, where the girls were presenting what they learned over the course of the session. Brightly decorated posters with pictures encapsulated what the girls liked best. The girls eagerly shared how they built racing LEGO robots and programmed games using Scratch. Mostly they learned how to use tools to create, design and solve problems while working together and building confidence. As Kirk Riley, Executive Director of ITEC, explained, it’s “an ordinary environment to do extraordinary things.”

While ITEC more formally surveys the girls at the start and end of the sessions to gauge impact, if you asked any of the girls, they were excited by what they learned and eager to come back. This eagerness and excitement is what really impressed me — what we really need to encourage girls to continue learning. These girls had the opportunity to experience STEM at its best and hopefully this excitement encourages them to take more STEM courses in their schooling.

With the success of the 2020 Girls pilot program, ITEC hopes to double, or even triple, the amount of schools they’re operating in, as well as extend the duration of each program.  The only real “complaint” they received from the girls was that the clubs didn’t last long enough (5-7 weeks). Ideally 2020 Girls will run the length of a semester starting in the fall.

2012-10-10 18.18.25The curriculum used for 2020 Girls was compiled from ITEC’s “Techtronics” courses (Lego Robotics, Programming and App Design).  They spent a good deal of time identifying the core content of each course and implementing it in a way that is more relevant to girls, which was implemented by the instructional team.  With 5-6 2020 Girls clubs this summer, the Science and Art of Game Design will be added (more instructional time). Graduates from the program will also have the opportunity to re-enroll during the following semester as mentors to new girls.  This will allow the instructors much more liberty to explore the curriculum, while also providing additional time for guest speakers and field trips.

ITEC will extend the 2020 Girls program this summer to a camp and hopes to renew their grant to offer sessions next school year and summer. If you’re interested in helping, volunteers to assist in the classrooms are coordinated through MCWT. For more information, please visit the 2020 Girls page on the ITEC website.

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The Engineer Who Hated Math

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Mathematics

Mathematics (Photo credit: Terriko)

As an engineer, I had what most would consider a ridiculous amount of math in college.  Here’s the thing — I hated every math class I ever had, except maybe high school algebra.  Why?  I found them fairly boring and disconnected with the real world (especially proofs). Obviously math is very important to engineering, and to daily life for just about everyone.  But I think there is a serious problem with how we teach math in schools — elementary, secondary, college, etc.

Math Fraud

The way math is taught in schools makes it seem disconnected and fake. If two cars are speeding towards each other at different speeds, when will they get to point in the middle — no one really cares.  The math behind this type of problem is important, but the way we teach it makes it seem useless (especially to kids who can’t drive yet). Even worse is the obtuse way in which math story problems are often worded — like they’re trying to trick you.  So you spend most of your time trying to figure out what the hell they mean before you can even get to the math.  This  fraudulent to math because it makes it seem more difficult than it has to be — and makes math seem disconnected from the real world.

Math in Science was Awesome

In high school, I ended up learning some math in my Physics class before it was covered in my Calculus course.  We needed the math to do our labs and experiments.  And in this case, learning the math was very interesting and seemed easy.  Why?  Because it was applied to a specific situation where you could see it in action.  The same was true of even higher math that I used in my college Physics course on relativity — which used (hated by me) proofs.  Even in the abstract world of proofs, the math in the science class was tied to something specific and real. Beyond silly story problems that ask you to figure out how fast watermelons travel in a speeding car, math in science makes sense because it’s not faked.

Abstract Thinking Can Be Difficult

One of the difficulties with math is that it really is fairly abstract. Even if you have a number of objects that you are counting, the logic and idea behind a number is abstract. The way we teach math in school is almost entirely abstract. Students have to wrap their minds around abstract ideas and then try to apply them to artificial problems. There has been some work to use real items like counting beads in Montessori practice to try to make math more concrete.  But, in general, most math teaching and learning remains very abstract, which makes it seem more difficult than it has to be.

Make Math Applied, Concrete & Integrated

I don’t believe that math has to be boring or hated in school.  When I’m doing math in an applied setting like science or engineering, it’s (almost) fun — it becomes a useful tool to solve a real problem.  I think we need to consider changing the way we teach separate subjects in school and instead use integration to make every subject more interesting (including arts, language, history, etc.). While this would require more teamwork from teachers (who tend to be subject matter experts), and a change in the way we structure evaluations, it could make learning every subject, including math, more exciting and fun. This, in turn, could make all STEM careers, including those heavy in math, more accessible.

These are just my experiences and ideas, feel free to share your own in the comments below.

 

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