Tag Archives: STEM

Register for The Nation’s Biggest Computer Science Competition for Middle School Girls


1487918_770154953048219_4429101847756277780_oIt’s one thing to have a computer science contest for middle school girls — it’s quite another to have that contest be run by high school and college girls who are incredibly passionate about computer science. 2015 ProjectCSGIRLS does just that, not only giving middle school girls the confidence they need to know that they can do computer science, but also putting them into direct contact with girls who have had success.

One important aspect computer science and technology, and especially in showing how they are useful to girls, is in how effective they are in solving and mitigating social problems. ProjectCSGIRLS challenges girls to actively use computer science and technology to develop a solution to an imminent social problem in one of three themes — global health, a safer world and intelligent technology.

2014 was the first year of ProjectCSGIRLS and was limited only to students in VA, DC and MD.  Unlike the 2015 event, which is open to all US middle school girls, 2014 did not require applicants to build their projects, only to conceptualize them. 2014 reached over 100 girls with the awards gala drawing over 130 attendees of students, teachers and industry leaders.

For 2015 there will be finalists, state winners, regional winners, national winners and grand prize winners.  All winners state and above will be invited to the two-day national gala event to interact and network with leaders in technology, tour top tech companies and startups in the DC area, and participate in a formal awards ceremony recognizing their efforts and announcing the 3 grand price award winners from the national winners.  All winners will receive an awards package and be recognized on the ProjectCSGIRLS website.

Judging will be based on originality, demonstration of technical knowledge, creativity, impact and clarity.  Girls will submit their project via the submission portal which opens in January 2015. Results will be released mid March.

For more information on the competition or on how to volunteer or partner, see the 2014 ProjectCSGIRLS website.

US Patent & Trademark Office Launches Website to Encourage STEM in School

Official seal of the USPTO

Official seal of the USPTO (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Innovation is clearly vital to the success of the US Patent and Trademark Office. The USPTO recently launched USPTO KIDS!, which includes games, coloring pages, audio and video, to encourage students of all ages in the inventive thinking process. Students will get to explore profiles of students their own age such as Marissa Streng, who received a patent for her dog dryer invention while in elementary school, and Rebecca Hyndman, who received a patent for the invention of an under-floor she developed as an 8th grader.

Michelle K. Lee, Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO, explains the importance of inspiring innovation and creativity in children: “The USPTO looks to our children—the doers, makers, and tinkerers of the future—to reimagine the world and, as the Constitution calls for, ‘to promote the progress of Science and the useful Arts’ like never before. As schools across the country ramp up their STEM programming, we look forward to putting even more tools in teachers’ hands that will ensure our next generation is well-versed in concepts of making, inventing, and creating the high-value intellectual property that drives our economy.”

The new USPTO KIDS! website provides educational and outreach material, not only for students, but also educators and parents.

The Engineer Who Hated Math


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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Women in Science, Interview with Renee Hlozek, Princeton University Cosmologist & TED Fellow


Renee Hlozek. Photo: Ryan LashRenee Hlozek is a South African female cosmologist and TED Fellow living and working at Princeton University.  She is passionate about getting young women and girls interested in science and being creative.  She feels that we need to change the way we see women and girls and their ability to do science, to dream and to fail — she thinks that by showing how she does science, including the method, the trials and the joys, she can make her field more accessible.  A lot of her time is spent writing computer code, which is pretty cool with me. She shares more of her story with us…. Continue Reading →