All God’s children should code

I got to Code for South Bend on Saturday…or rather, I got to the presentation on the projects they undertook that day. It was a fantastic experience. I had spent six hours earlier in the day listening to some of the best ideas around for promoting STEM education in Michiana. By the end of my time at Code for South Bend, it was clearer to me than ever that even the best of our typical conversations about STEM education are overlooking a hugely important element that is crucial to Michiana’s future. Kids need to code. Take 10 minutes to watch this very fine defense of that claim.

Want to learn to code, but don’t know where to start? Consider starting here, at Code Academy. See my first mistake and first success, below. There are many free resources beyond this one, but I’d start here if you’re starting from scratch. (You can move on to Scratch, a free and easy-to-use program, later:)


Here’s work that one local High School student has done with MATLAB, very early on in the learning process. (He had already learned to code in another language, Java, and was only just a month or so into learning MATLAB.) Very plainly, he’s learning to tell the computer what he wants it to do. For those really interested, his code is here.

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Got tech? Code for the Bend.

This fantastic event, scheduled for this Saturday, February 23, conflicts with our Collaborating for Research and Education Forum. But if you have the time and the spark, consider attending. Register for Code for South Bend here. Even if you have more interest than technical aptitude, there are projects here for you, including the writing of a South Bend-area wiki.

If you are attending the Forum, consider joining the Code for South Bend event (as I will) for the concluding presentation of projects at 5:00 pm. Hope to see you there!

Superintendent Glenda Ritz to speak at ND Feb 23rd Forum

Don’t miss the 6th Annual Collaborating for Education & Research Forum on February 23, 2013 from 8:15 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. in Jordan Hall of Science on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. We’ve compiled a wonderful program for this year’s event!

Glenda Ritz – Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction

On the Road to High Quality Instruction: Creating a Culture of Support for Teachers

President Greg Jones will present an overview of the MSTCi Strategic Plan

LEARN more about Teacher Quality Metrics
REVIEW great STEM Related Opportunities for Teachers & Students
MEET new collaborators in STEM engagement activities
VISIT the lunchtime Project Fair & register for various summer activities
ENJOY a free continental breakfast and lunch
RECEIVE 5 PGPs for participating (teachers only)


To register, visit
Please register by Feb 20th to attend.
Continental breakfast begins 8:15a.m.
Program begins promptly at 8:50a.m.
If you have already registered, but cannot attend, please contact

Comet of the Century? and a March 2013 prequel

It’s early to tell, but it looks like we’re in for quite a show later this year. Comets can be astonishingly beautiful “pokes” from the cosmos, giving us a glimpse of natural processes that are typically too long in duration or too far in distance to make much of a cultural impact. This new comet could provide an exceptional educational moment. And unlike last year’s transit of Venus, no one saw this one coming…until just recently. Watch the four minute story, below.

Comet Hale-Bopp provided a nice show nearly two decades ago. A South Bend Tribune article encouraging even new amateur astronomers to photograph the spectacle drew me into astroimaging. Below is an image I took, following those published instructions, with an ordinary SLR camera and print film–remember print film?–my first night out. Comet ISON could provide as good, and potentially much better, a target for new astroimagers. Big fun is on its way.
To whet your appetite for the big ISON show in the Fall, watch this video about a naked-eye comet that should peak on March 12 and 13 this year. March 5 and 12 are other key viewing dates.

You’re invited: Collaborating for Education and Research Forum VI

We are pleased to invite you to Collaborating for Education and Research Forum VI to be held at Notre Dame’s Jordan Hall of Science on Saturday, February 23, 2013 from 8:30am to 2pm. The Forum is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Notre Dame to foster a collegial approach to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education and research in Michiana. We will be discussing the opportunities and challenges facing the local STEM community. In previous years some 350 STEM professionals have participated in these Fora.

Click here to register!

This year we will be offering local K-12 STEM teachers and administrators who register and participate in the entire event a Certificate for 5 State of Indiana Professional Growth Points.

For more information and to register please visit: Forum VI Registration We will welcome last minute registrations, but for planning purposes it would be helpful if you would register by Thursday, Feb 21.

If you have colleagues who you believe would appreciate knowing about the forum, consider forwarding this their way:)

For more information please call Therese Blacketor at 574-631-1264.

NSF logo ND Shield logo

Public lecture in ND’s DVT: “Beyond Pluto: Discovery and Classification in Astronomy”

Dr. Steven Dick, Former NASA Chief Historian, will present a public lecture in Notre Dame’s Digital Visualization Theater, Jordan Hall of Science, on Saturday, February 23rd at 7 PM.

Dr Steven Dick_HIRES Official Photo 20040526

In 2006 Pluto was controversially demoted to dwarf planet status. This infamous episode is the point of departure for a discussion of the nature of discovery over the last 400 years of telescopic astronomy. What constitutes a “new class” of astronomical object? Who decides if a spiral galaxy, quasar, or pulsar is a new class? Has dark matter really been “discovered”? And how do these claims come to be accepted among scientists and the public?

You’re invited: join the variable star observing community

Hubble Space Telescope observers need your help.

Did you know that Hubble Space Telescope (HST) observers rely–sometimes–on the ground-based observations of amateur astronomers to determine the best use of their space-based instrument? Below is an American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) announcement of a request for help: observers plan to view a (“cataclysmic“) variable star on January 11 and 12, but can only get the data they need if the star is behaving at a certain way (“not in outburst”) for the Hubble to observe it.
2013-01-04_1416 Trouble is, the pattern of behavior for the star isn’t well enough known for the team using the Hubble to be sure that star won’t be in that unacceptable state. So they are asking from help from the broader community of variable star observers. (You can join, by the way…they’ll train you. Visit At the Notre Dame QuarkNet Center, we’ve had high school teacher and student teams participate in this sort of citizen-science for years. (See Bremen HS astronomy educator Aaron McNeely’s blog on his team’s asteroid discoveries; here’s one student’s investigation into variable stars and the work of the AAVSO.)

When teachers and students are effectively invited into the research community in this way, it looks a lot like science education. What else, other than effective invitation into the community, would we want out of science education: when new members take on the values, the tools, the culture of the research community as members, what else are they lacking? But if they remember long lists of facts and can spout theories without even being aware of, let alone belong to, the community that generates those facts and theories, we might well ask: “so what?” Perhaps it is the centrality of the research community that has been missing in STEM education. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The AAVSO and many other organizations are developing a craft of issuing effective invitations into STEM community. In my view, the best way to promote STEM education–and the associated prosperity that comes with a vibrant STEM community–is to promote integrated STEM community where ever you can. Make connections wherever you can, and maintain them. That’s what AAVSO is doing.

Here’s the text of the AAVSO announcement. (Just click it to view the published notice.)
AAVSO Special Notice 319

Watch the International Space Station at 6:30pm tonight

Via email from astronomer extraordinaire Chuck Bueter:

“Tonight is a good night to look up. The International Space Station zooms over Michiana from 6:34 p.m. to 6:39ish, southwest to northeast. You can’t miss it, so take a friend or family member outside with you.

Then the Geminid meteor shower happens late into the night and morning darkness. I’ve been watching some dazzling Geminds the past few nights. The weather forecast is favorable (again, in Michiana), and the moon is nearly new, so out of sight. For details see “Go Outside December 13-14” at ”

I’ll be watching:) ~ Tom

Speed of light and STEM culture


Yesterday the world heard from CERN the announcement of a remarkable preliminary finding: that neutrinos arriving at the OPERA detector seem to be showing up too early…about 60 nanoseconds too early. That doesn’t sound like much of an offense. But that 60ns early arrival corresponds (very roughly) to the neutrinos being more than ten yards further along in their journey than they could have possibly traveled in that time frame, if Eistein and lots of subsequent physics is right that the speed of light is an upper limit on how fast anything can travel. And the early arrival seems especially well documented, with more than 10,000 events in a context where the distance of the more than 700 km trip is known to within 20 cm and the timing to within 10ns. So the offense seems real, and seems to challenge a central tenet of modern physics. This interpretation seems unlikely to everyone, but very serious efforts to interpret the measurement in some other way have so far not succeeded; this is at least part of the reason why the experiment opened up their results to the world, so that others might help to find an alternate interpretation. So far, no one has. So the OPERA announcement is interesting news in itself.

I had a chance to watch the announcement live (now here on video) from CERN with three high school physics teachers at Mounds View High School in Minnesota. We were gathered in an I2U2 CMS e-Lab workshop, and were scheduled–not kidding, here–to do an overview of the “big questions” in particle physics at that very hour, which we accomplished differently than expected by watching 90 minutes of the OPERA announcement. These teachers (the four of us) are all QuarkNet teachers, participants in a program designed to connect high school teachers with high energy physics. I cannot imagine a single snapshop which better testifies to the success of QuarkNet than the image of four teachers engaged in a professional development activity in a high school setting, their scheduled review of big physics questions being set aside for genuine participation in a major announcement from CERN.
These teachers had interacted sufficiently with particle physics in recent years to absorb–drinking from the hydrant though we were–the main thrust and many of the details of the 90 minute modestly technical presentation to the world’s high energy physics community. In fact, these teachers are part of that community in a broad but very real sense. They could hardly wait to share the news in their classrooms, thus inviting students into participation in STEM community as well. QuarkNet has made research in high energy physics, the core activity of the particle physics community, look good to high school teachers: we were spellbound by the presentation, and wouldn’t have wanted to be doing anything else at that very moment. Culture makes what is good, look good. That’s just what QuarkNet has made happen for teachers, and for this group of the four of us in particular. The CMS e-Lab is one strategy for making it happen for students, too.