Google Science Fair

Text below is from the Google Apps for Education Newsletter, February 2011:

Google Science Fair

At Google, the only thing we love as much as science is science education. We want to celebrate young scientific talent and engage students who might not yet be engaged with science. So, in partnership with CERN, the LEGO Group, National Geographic, and Scientific American we’ve created an exciting new global science competition, the Google Science Fair. Students all over the world who are between the ages of 13 and 18 are eligible to enter this competition and compete for prizes including once-in-a-lifetime experiences, internships and scholarships.

We’ll be accepting submissions from January 11 to April 4 2011, submitted electronically via a Google Site. Please note that if students at your school are unable to access Google Sites or share a Google Site outside your school, we recommend that they use a personal Google account to create and submit their project.

To learn more, visit google.com/sciencefair, and to request Google Science Fair materials for your classroom fill out this form, or download handouts and posters here.

Google Art Project

from The Google Art Project
Google sets its employees free to collaborate with one another on ANY good purpose: they call these collaborations their “10 percent” projects, since every Google employee from salesman to CEO in encouraged to dedicate 10 percent of their Google time to such collaborations. I’ve been the direct beneficiary of one such “10 percent” project, the Google Certified Teacher community. Google knows that if you want a creative and collaborative workforce you’ve got to encourage creativity and collaboration. Creativity and collaboration are hallmarks of the 21st Century workforce: you’re going to like this.

Here’s one of Google’s latest ventures: the Google Art Project. (I haven’t confirmed that this is a 10 percent project.) Notice (with some help from the highlighted boxes above) that you can choose which museum to visit and which artworks to view within that museum; you can navigate through the museum; you can save your favorites, etc, when you sign in; and you can even add your own content–should you have a museum you’d like to share online. So go explore the museums of the world, from your laptop or your smartphone. This is technology in service of the arts.

Every student in Michiana (and everywhere else) can visit the world’s greatest museums, and they should all know it. More than this, every student should believe that they can visit anywhere they like, online. The rule of thumb for the new web is that if you can think of the service you wish existed, it already does exist, it’s free, and you can successfully search for it in 30 seconds. Try it.

Wannabe a software worker-bee?

We all use computers, but we don’t always think about the work that goes into programming them. This article in International Science Grid This Week entitled The Beauty of Software introduces some visualization software that makes it possible to watch the history of a piece of software being programmed in many different versions by many people over time. Watch, enjoy, and check out the article for a bit more explanation.

We need students to learn how to program computers. Let’s invite them by showing them some of the beauty of software development.

Joe Donnelly encourages Michiana STEM educators

Congressman Joe Donnelly has supported our Collaborating for Education and Research Forum every year since its inception. We are grateful for his encouraging remarks, which we pass along in the video embedded above. You can read his remarks about this event in the Donnelly Dispatch here.

Congratulations also to our Penn High School colleague Stacy McCormack, our Indiana 2011 Teacher of the Year and Congressman Donnelly’s honored guest at President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. We are proud of you, Stacy!

Brief instructions for new users: identifying yourself

We’ve recently had many new subscribers to the NDeRC Community blog–over 70, so far–in response to our invitation at Saturday’s Collaborating for Education and Research Forum. A few questions from new subscribers have come to our attention. Here are some brief answers.

Q: How do we log in? What username and password do we use?
A: there is no need for subscribers to log in, and thus no need for any username and password. Subscribers only get notification that someone else has posted to the blog; subscribers cannot post to the blog themselves, and so need no permissions.

Q: But didn’t your unbelievably long last blog encourage us to participate, by “liking” posts, or commenting on them?
A: Yes. Subscribers can’t post to blogs (in the main area), but they can “like” the blog, and they can comment on the blog.

Q: But isn’t it dangerous to let just anyone without a username and password post comments?
A: Yes, but we take steps to manage that danger. First, we monitor all comments, and will delete anything inappropriate. Second, we require a CAPTCHA code–where you must read and reenter a combination of numbers and letters–to prove the comment is not computer-generated spam. We use a variety of other spam-filters. We have other actions we can take, also:)

Q: Then why does the site have a log-in option?
A: To post to the main body of the blog, where you can include pictures, video, audio files, etc., you must be logged in. But (again) you need not be logged in to read, like, or comment on a post.

Q: So how do I get a username/password to be able to post?
A: Begin to comment, so people involved in the blog will get to know you and you get to know the blog. If you know an author and have an idea to post, email it to the author and ask them to post it for you as a guest author. Or email a site organizer saying that you would like to post, and we can create an account for you.

Planning for Transit of Venus 2012

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In less than 500 days, Venus will pass directly between the Sun and the Earth for the last time in your lifetime. You can watch.

Michiana Astronomical Society’s Chuck Beuter has blogged on his effort with NDeRC’s ASTRO collaboration to help Michiana K-12 students and teachers prepare for this event. Click on the image above to read his post, and while you are there explore Chuck’s transitofvenus.org site. It’s not too early to be getting excited for this event.

Blogs as threads of STEM culture

Earlier today I had the pleasure of spending the day with ten dozen (or so) STEM educators, mostly K-12 teachers but many graduate students and university faculty, at the 4th annual Collaborating for Research and Education Forum. I was tasked with giving a rationale and overview of the Forum’s activities (linked above) and during that brief talk I made a case for blogging to build STEM community in Michiana.

That case goes something like this: to build an effective craft of inviting students in as participants and supporters of the STEM disciplines, we need a stable community which works together over a long period of time. Both to hold that community together and to transmit its crafts–both crafts of the STEM disciplines themselves and the supporting craft of effectively inviting students to maturity in those disciplines–the community needs a rich culture. Culture makes things that are good, seem good. Human beings build culture, intentionally or otherwise, because the experience gathered by a community outstrips the capacity of its new members to experience it for themselves. We put books in our libraries which we think are good for our children. We can’t explain to them, yet, all the criteria we use, or compare the ones that got in with the ones we left out. We just pick good books, and our children–if they live in a rich culture–are surrounded by good choices. We hear a lot about cultural literacy; this is literacy culture, introduced as an analogy. We need a rich STEM culture, if we’re going to have a thriving STEM community. And it is a lot like a good library.

Recently I had an enjoyable 90 minute conversation with a physical therapist friend of mine as we drove back from Chicago’s Midway Airport. As we exchanged stories about our livelihoods, she described how her mom (an RN) and dad (an engineer) build a home life full of conversation about science, technology, mathematics. She grew up surrounded by opportunities to get connected with the STEM disciplines, and most everything around her pointed her in the same direction. She was free to choose–from many lives in front of her like books on a shelf–but science, engineering, and mathematics were just so important and interesting! We agreed, as we theorized about it, that she was surrounded by a broad spectrum of opportunities to engage the STEM disciplines, supported by a rich STEM culture.

What STEM professionals need to produce in Michiana is just such a broad spectrum of opportunities for students to engage the STEM community, and a rich STEM culture supporting those interactions. Students need to be surrounded by opportunities to choose one important and interesting avenue of STEM engagement, after another. They need to get to know a great many people in the STEM disciplines, and choose to be like them, freely, in ways that match up with their emerging interests and aptitudes. But STEM practitioners are in short supply; their time is precious; and their surface area is limited, sometimes much more so than it needs to be. So our job is to expose them, to help make them available, ubiquitous, exemplary, interesting, welcoming, imitable, encouraging, and all the while productive in the STEM disciplines. That’s the sort of STEM culture we need: good examples everywhere for everyone. Everything points in the same direction, making all the riches of the pursuit of the STEM disciplines seem to be rewarding in ways that imitate and lead to the full rewards of living a life of success in learning. There are of course other dimensions of enjoyable life than learning and other dimensions to learning other than the STEM disciplines. But perhaps no where else than in the STEM disciplines could so many agree so about so much good to be done for so many. We agree in large measure about what constitutes advancement in the STEM disciplines, and we agree that for a wide variety of reasons it would be good for all of Michiana were our children advancing in them.

So why blogs? Because they increase surface area, efficiently, of our STEM professionals. They aren’t enough, all by themselves. But especially when coupled with some exciting face-to-face interactions, blogs are efficient means of sharing experiences. A trip to the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona would be cool on almost anyone’s list, but it’s expensive to travel there and space is limited. (It’s LARGE: be patient scrolling through the image Kate Rueff took, below.
Kate's LBT image
Listening to Kate’s excitement about traveling to and working at the LBT isn’t quite as good as going yourself. But if Kate has the LBT contact, with students and teachers getting perhaps a little Kate face-to-face contact through an ASTRO collaboration experience, but much more contact in her periodic blogs describing her interactions with the LBT, then students get much more substantial contact with both the LBT and with Kate. Through blogging the whole experience grows, and the surface area both of Kate and of the LBT increases. The blog becomes a cultural thread: astronomy is good, and the blog makes it look good.

Moreover, Kate blogs not in the middle writing code for the LBT’s active optics, but in her less expensive down time. Teachers can share Kate’s blog with students when doing so would be a refreshing change of pace, rather than a tax on their studies. Multiply this experience across many students and teachers, many STEM bloggers, many times, and the whole prospect of life involved with science and engineering seems brighter.

So where do we start? Those who can, blog. Those who can, subscribe to blogs, so that each opportunity for contact is closer at hand, a click in the mailbox you were going to visit anyway. Let the email text bait you, and if you’ve got a moment for it, click to visit the blog, adding images and video to the experience. Then touch the “like” button (2011-01-24_2104) at the bottom of the blog: say that you’ve been there. This is the beginning of a dialogue, and it takes almost no time at all. It lets the author know you’re there.

On a good day when you have more time and a particular interest, post a comment. (The first time you post, wait for the comment to be approved; thereafter all of your comments will be added immediately.) Consider sharing the post with a colleague or friend, using the “AddThis” (2011-01-24_2132) button at the bottom of each blog. Or you could just forward the notification that came to you by email. If you’re a teacher, take a moment to read some interesting blog post together in class. (They’re almost all much shorter than this one:) Consider posting a comment from your class. Students enjoy interacting online with scientists and engineers, or with teachers in other classrooms. Or with students from other schools, through comments posted by their teachers. Comments are all filtered and moderated.

Taking a step further, make a request (“I’d like to get a video tour of your lab”) via comment. That way you begin to shape the main content of the blog, rather than just the comments.

In the end, we’d like to ask a wide range of people to blog. This could be you. To begin, email a guest post to one of the authors. If this is something you enjoy doing, it might make sense to set you up an account as an author. If you already blog, consider sending something in right away.

These blog posts are threads that draw together the fabric of STEM culture. That’s the theory. Truth be told, blogging to build STEM community is a social experiment. Let’s try it.

Where particle physicists work

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I had been to Fermilab before, but the first time I drove in as an employee had a magical effect on me. It was a thrill for me to belong in some small way to an enterprise so substantial. I was hired in as Education Program Leader for I2U2, an amazing collaboration about which some future blog post is brewing. But my focus here is on the lab, which has the feel of a cathedral, a monument to human achievement. This sense was not lost on the founder of Fermilab, Robert Wilson, whose sense of grandeur haunts the place still.

The image included above from the Chronicle of Higher Education shows something of the influence of Fermilab on science in the U.S. I pass it along because it is beautiful, important, and inspiring.

Fermilab was in the news recently because of the announcement of the defunding of the Tevatron, its high energy particle accelerator. To catch an inside glimpse of the lab at a crucial moment, see this video of the Director’s all-hands discussion.

Here’s a flickr set of images from Fermilab, some of them just cell phone grabs of images posted there, but many others captured as I’ve driven through the site. If you have a chance to visit, take it.