Ten high schools have just received $10 million each in an ambitious project to reinvent high school. One of those schools, a public charter school in Washington, DC, aims to create technologies that transform how students experience science. If this approach works, it will address a glaring need in US schools.
According to The 74’s Richard Whitmire, DC’s Washington Leadership Academy will use the gift to create “the nation’s first-ever virtual chemistry lab”:
Imagine this: Students enter the lab, strap on a virtual reality headset…, and instead of playing video games, students will enter a fully immersive and scientifically accurate virtual reality chemistry lab.
In this virtual world, students could carry out complex experiments that would normally require pricey equipment, safely manipulate hazardous chemicals, or even “see” chemical reactions at the molecular level play out in real time. If all goes well, these students could enjoy “access to a chemistry lab superior to anything offered in the swankiest private or wealthy suburban schools – or even some elite college campuses.”
Needless to say, that would be a vast improvement over the status quo. According to recent data from the feds, fully 31 percent of 12th-graders attended schools that reported lacking ample supplies for science labs. Among lower-income students, that share rises to 36 percent.*
The aim of this initiative is to benefit students far beyond the Washington Leadership Academy. The charter school hopes to create an open source Chemistry Lab that schools around the country could adopt. More important, its leaders are betting that they can help promote virtual reality as a game-changer for high schools across the country
Of course, bringing virtual reality to all or even most US high schools won’t be easy. Federal data suggest that a whopping 78 percent of all students currently lack ample access to computerized science labs, for example.
Still, the payoff could be substantial. Ten million dollars might seem like an extravagant gift for just one high school. If the Leadership Academy realizes its vision to transform schools across the country, however, $10 million would be the bargain of the century.
* CTEq analysis of contextual survey data from the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress Mathematics Assessment, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. The full question regarding supplies for science labs reads, “To what extent are any of the following available to twelfth-grade teachers who teach science? Supplies or equipment for science labs (school–reported)” The possible responses are, “Not at all, Small extent, Moderate extent, Large extent.” We included only schools that replied “large extent” as chools with “ample supplies.” The full question regarding computerized science labs reads: “To what extent are any of the following available to twelfth-grade teachers who teach science? Computerized science labs for classroom use (school-reported).” Again, possible replies were “Not at all, Small extent, Moderate extent, Large extent,” and we included only schools that replied “Large extent" as schools that offer "ample access."
We’re thrilling to the athletic performances so far in the 2016 Rio Olympics. How about you? How do those Olympians shave milliseconds from their performance times or boost their scores? How do they leap from good to great to best in the world?
Gritty determination, coaching and training are givens. But in modern-day Olympics, athletes are literally swathed from head to toe in STEM innovations designed to enhance performance—and confidence. Wearable technologies are especially popular this year. Here’s a roundup of gear that teched-out (and oh-so-chic) athletes are sporting to train and compete:
Advances in biomedical engineering are helping fencers, runners, swimmers, tennis players and other athletes collect, track and analyze physiological parameters, including temperature, oxygen saturation, heart rate, inhalation, exhalation, movement and altitude, according to Sport Techie. Miniature sensors can be embedded in wristbands, headbands, necklaces, ankle bracelets, skin patches, belts, clothing, and fitness accessories and equipment.
The U.S. women’s volleyball team, for example, uses a jump tracker that clips on clothing to measure how high, how far and how often a player jumps. The data goes to a data analytics app and helps to prevent overexertion and injury, according to PC World.
NASA-Inspired, 3D-Printed Apparel
Sports apparel is all about maximizing performance—things like boosting traction in a track-and-field event, giving runners an extra spring in their step and reducing drag for swimmers. Keeping athletes comfortable in rigorous conditions is key as well. Designing performance wear that gives athletes a little extra swagger doesn’t hurt either.
Olympic outfitters now use 3D printing, computer modeling and body scans to prototype, test and measure athletes’ performance in custom-fit apparel, according to Voice of America. The constant quest for advanced fabrics, textiles and materials leads to STEM fields. For example, “Under Armour uniforms for the Canadian rugby and the Swiss and Dutch beach volleyball teams borrow NASA spacesuit technology to reduce body temperature,” according to Voice of America. “The insides have crystal-pattern sheets to absorb heat from the body.”
STEM expertise addressed a new concern for this year’s games. Aquatic Olympians who are competing in Rio’s toxic waters are wearing antimicrobial suits, created by textile engineers at Philadelphia University. While the suits aren’t a panacea, they will provide some much-needed protection.
For a fascinating look at the “swimwear-tech arms race,” this IB Times story is a must-read.
Spotlight on Headgear
Headgear illustrates the STEM-tensity of Olympic wear. U.S. Olympic champion and decathlon world record holder Ashton Eaton is sporting a sleek, Gladiator-style cooling hood, created using 3D printing in the Nike Sports Research Lab. Better than pouring water over his head to cool off during grueling competitions.
For the eyes, augmented reality glasses display real-time data for cyclists, such as heart rate, pace, distance and cadence, so athletes can stick with their training goals. The lenses in smart sunglasses are designed to optimize colors, lighting and contrast for an athlete’s sport, setting (indoor or outdoor) and time of day, according to Azure.
For the ears, training headphones are billed to “stimulate the brain to send optimized signals to the muscles.” U.S. track and field hurdler Michael Tinsley is a fan, according to Engadget.
Swimmers are sporting two sleek caps, the better to decrease drag, hold their goggles in place and provide a backup in case one cap slips off in the push for Gold. “The bottom cap is often latex, for comfort and grip, the top one lycra or silicone, so as to reduce drag and prevent the goggle straps disrupting water flow,” according to the Telegraph.
Swimmers’ caps are custom-made from 3-D head scans for a precise fit to keep water from leaking into them and creating drag, notes Refinery29. Ditto for those mirrored goggles, which also have an anti-fog coating to prevent condensation—the better to see competitors and the sensor pad in the pool at the end of a race.
Isn’t technology great? Keep your eyes out for sporting technology while you enjoy the Olympics!
What’s Math 2.0 Day you ask? It is a time to sit back and contemplate the crossroads between math and technology. No there’s no pie or mole sauce that comes with this holiday. But feel free to use your cellphone, engage in an online game, or check the weather as acknowledgements of math and technology contributions to society. This year, CTEq would like to celebrate this brilliant partnership by listing out cool STEM careers that require, well, Math 2.0.
1) Video Game Designer
While the use of technology may be obvious here, the use of math for video game designing isn’t as crystal. According to Quora.com, “math is everything when it comes to games. From having the ability to calculating the trajectory of an Angry Bird flying through the sky, to ensuring that a character can jump and come back down to the ground -- without the help of mathematics, games simply wouldn't work.” Maybe now you’ll look at Angry Birds a little differently?
2) Computer Animation Specialist for Pixar
Ever found yourself mesmerized at the movies by the size of Mr. Incredible’s muscles, the breeze is Elsa’s frosty white hair, or the perfect tilt on Woody’s cowboy hat? Many of your favorite characters come alive through geometric shaping and modeling. Working for one of the world’s top animations studios requires equals parts creativity, math, and software knowledge.
3) Fashion Designer
Symmetry and congruence are not just terms children hear in math class. They are the principles behind some of the world’s most glamorous fashion designs. Creating the perfect look requires measuring, calculating, and sketching. The introduction of technology allows for more accurate sketches and 3D renderings of designs.
Predicting the weather isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. It involves knowledge on computer green screen technology as well as the algorithms used for making predictions. So don’t underestimate your local weather guy’s use of math and technology!
5) Interior Design
Similar to computer animation and fashion design, creating the perfect interior requires modeling, 3D computer rendering, and accurate measuring. Math and technology have taken interior design careers to new heights. So the next time you’re searching online for your dream closet, consider the math and technology knowledge of the interior designer. Dream closet design consultations involve measuring the length and width of clients’ clothes collections and comparing that to the size and dimensions of the room and the size of the furniture pieces used.
To see more on the math and technology in Pixar animation, check out this video!
National Week of Making is coming to a close, with maker events in communities nationwide, but not without recognizing the contributions that many Change the Equation companies have made to hands-on, STEM-intensive learning opportunities that have helped to ignite the maker movement.
“Texas Instruments has a remarkable history of empowering tinkerers, designers, inventors and innovators—long before there was a maker movement. TI traces its support of makers all the way back to 1978, when its first Speak and Spell product introduced kids to electronics and technology. Originally an educational game, makers today use this hand-held device to create vocals for songs and sound effects. “This has really been a part of TI’s DNA for a very long time,” says Adrian Fernandez, TI’s microcontroller development experience manager.”
Fast forward a few decades. TI now puts affordable, professional-grade maker technology, plus free websites, tutorials and lessons, into the hands of young people and teachers. “We enable TI engineers and our customers to build the latest technology, the next big thing,” Fernandez says. “In parallel with that, we are working on lowering the barrier of entry to innovate” for novice makers as well.
Maker experiences thus fit well within TI’s $150 million 5-year investment in education, with a focus on improving student interest and skills, especially among students who are underrepresented in STEM. Maker activities also inspire employee volunteers. Last year, TI employees logged about 130,000 volunteer hours—a 40 percent increase over previous years. Most of those hours were STEM-related community service, including in-school and out-of-school maker programs, such as TI-sponsored FIRST, VEX and BEST robotics competitions.
Maker experiences build skills that students need and companies value. “At TI, we love the word ‘why,’” says Dr. Peter Balyta, president of TI Education Technology. “We want students to never stop asking ‘why’ or ‘how’ or ‘how does this work?’” Inventing, designing and building fire imaginations, spark curiosity, support teamwork and collaboration, and help develop a strong STEM foundation, which students need to advance in the classroom and in STEM fields or any career path.
“The maker movement, really the whole STEM movement, has heated up over the past year or two,” Dr. Balyta says. “I think there is now recognition across all levels of education, whether elementary, middle or high schools and even universities, on the importance of hands-on learning. Everyone’s trying to do something around making and around STEM. We want to fuel those conversations. In the end, we all win. A stronger community makes for stronger economies. It’s critical for the future of our country for our kids to be successful in STEM.”
The maker movement is great for business as well. “A big reason we love the maker community is the growth of new companies,” Fernandez adds. “There’s a kind of romanticism around the maker movement lately, with shows like Shark Tank and Silicon Valley. The awareness of being able to start something new is growing.” That’s great news for companies like TI. New products and innovations create opportunities to empower and partner with innovators and inventors of products people don’t even know they want yet.
Good for young people, good for communities and good for business. What’s not to like about the maker movement?
The Maker Movement has been described as an “entrepreneurial uprising,” and it's not hard to understand why. As makerspaces across the country create easy access to high-tech tools like laser cutters and 3-D printers, anyone with scant capital and ample ideas can invent the next best thing. Anyone, that is, who is truly literate in technology and engineering.
Unfortunately, The Nation’s Report Card recently revealed that well less than half of American youth are on the path to becoming literate in those areas. Why? CTEq’s analysis of student surveys tied to the Report Card found that “millions of American youth spend precious little time tinkering, troubleshooting, or doing the kinds of hands-on problem-solving that are at the heart of technology and engineering.” Young people from low-income families and students of color face the worst odds of all. If nothing changes, a movement that aims to level the economic playing field will do little to lessen inequality.
As we celebrate the National Week of Making, let's rally around strategies for giving millions more young people the chance to try their hand at making things, both in and out of school. All children need opportunities to take things apart, design new things, test and refine prototypes, and feel the accomplishment of creating something that solves a problem or fulfills a human need. Fortunately, there are concrete strategies for dramatically increasing access to such opportunities, More states can embed hands-on engineering and technology in their academic standards and tests, for example. Schools and communities can create makerspaces for young people. Public and private funders can join forces to offer STEM afterschool or summer school programs to many, many more students.
The Maker Movement plays a critical role in shaping the future of STEM education. It's up to all of us to help the movement fulfill its promise.