Women in STEM – Celebrating Women’s History Month

Yesterday it was announced that mathematician Karen Uhlenbeck . from the University of Texas at Austin, had been awarded the Abel Prize 2019 “for her pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory and integrable systems, and for the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics.” Impressive in itself, but more impressive because she is the first woman ever to be awarded the prize (The Abel Prize was established on 1 January 2002. The purpose is to award the Abel Prize for outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics. The prize amount is 6 million NOK (about 750,000 Euro) and was awarded for the first time on 3 June 2003).  A fitting tribute and accomplishment during this month, which happens to be Women’s History Month, which celebrates women’s’ contributions to society and history.

Seems only appropriate to dedicate this post to other significant women and their contributions to STEM, especially as there is still such a need for more women in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The more young girls and women see what others have done, the more they are inspired to pursue futures in these fields. I’ve done a little research and pulled together a few names to share in this post. By no means is this an exhaustive list, rather a list of women that sparked my interest, particularly in mathematics, since this has been my personal passion for most of my life. There are many more out there, but the idea of celebrating Women’s History Month is to realize how important, and often unknown/hidden, women have been in many of our STEM advances and historical events.

  1. Marie Curie the only woman to have received TWO Nobel Prizes (one for Physics and one for Chemistry).
  2. Gertrude B. Elion another Nobel Prize winner in Physiology, whose work contributed to many new drugs, including AZT, the aides drug
  3. Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace – credited with being the first computer programmer!!  Very cool.
  4. Barbara McClintock – Nobel Prize winner in Physiology, credited with showing that genes turn certain physical attributes on and off.
  5. Rachel Carson – credited with creating the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) as a result of her writings and work.
  6. Radia Perlman – commonly referred to as ‘the Mother of the Internet” for her algorithm (STP) that basically allows the Ethernet to handle massive networks
  7. Rear Admiral Grace Hopper – credited with creating the programming language C.O.B.A.L
  8. Lisa Meitner – part of the duo that discovered nuclear fission (fascinating history here about her being ignored in the awarding of the Nobel Prize)
  9. Katherine Johnson – her mathematical computations influenced every major NASA space project – wow!! (See the movie Hidden Figures)
  10. Florence Nightingale – helped pioneer the field of applied statistics and created a version of a pie chart called the ‘coxcomb‘. Totally new information for me!!

I could go on and on – it is amazing once you start looking, how many women have been pioneers, ‘firsts’, and influencers/contributors to math, science, engineering and technology. It’s exciting that so many are finally being recognized. Inspirational. There are lots of interesting articles and synopses out there that can spark student interest and maybe inspire some of our youth as well. Maybe spend some of this Women’s History Month exploring with your students or just on your own. I know I have been really surprised and amazed and plan to keep researching.


Summer Vacation – Use Your Experiences to Create Engaging Lesson Ideas

Sea Turtle at the Big Island, HI. How long do they live? How far do they travel??

I know most students and teachers this time of year are very familiar with Alice Cooper’s song “School’s Out for Summer”  (Seniors are probably focused on the line “school’s out forever….”  Maybe even some teachers!)  No doubt, summer is a time of rejuvenation for students and teachers – a much needed break, both mentally and physically. Note: Those of you who do not teach, and see teachers as having it ‘easy’ with the summers off, might try to spend some time in a teachers shoes before making those ridiculous assumptions, or read up a bit on what teachers actually do (they work more than 40 hours per week) and why summer breaks are so important.

Summer break is fast approaching for many, and some may have even started theirs. I remember those first couple of weeks literally not wanting to even look at anything related to school, students, or teaching. But – as most teachers will attest to, there comes a point where summer vacation weaves into professional learning or preparing for the next school year to begin. We never really turn off completely – we take classes to learn something new, or research some new technology or applications we want to try in class next year, or we revamp some lessons from the previous year. Summer vacation always ends up, at some time or other, connected back to teaching and learning – either personally for our own professional growth, or related to how we can be even better the next school year for our new group of students.

For me personally, everything I do always has me thinking of ways to create an interesting lesson for my students. It’s that pervasive idea that whenever possible, connecting the real world back to what students are learning will make the learning engaging and relevant. Just last week, sitting on the beach in Sea Isle City, NJ, watching this big machine out in the water that was dredging sand to replenish Avalon Beach, all I could think about were questions I would want my students to investigate.  Just a few of my questions, as I sat there:

  • How much sand is being pulled up? Is it from the same spot (my observation, since the dredge is in a different location each day, is that no it is not)
  • What happens to the sea animals and plant life that are ‘dredged’ up with the sand? Or, is there a filter that only allows sand in?
  • What are the impacts on the sea life?
  • How many hours a day do the dredges run? (seems like 24 hours to me!)
  • How long does beach replenishment last? (if you don’t have any storms to wash it all back to sea) How long does it take to replenish a beach?
  • How many pounds of sand is needed and where do they place the sand?

Lots of questions just from sitting and watching. What a great #STEM lesson this would be for students – there’s math, there’s science, there’s engineering and there’s definitely technology – it’s quite the endeavor. There is probably a ton of data out there and information about sand restoration projects, so you could have students researching, doing the math, checking out the science, investigating the machines used and the manpower needed. I did an initial search and found a couple articles already where I learned things like the grain size of the sand determines where the dredge pulls sand from (has to match the beach they are replenishing).  Pipelines are created to carry the sand from the dredge to the beach (so, how big are those pipelines? What happens after they ‘finish’ – do the pipes get removed?) Sometimes this is done to protect sea life, often times to protect commercial and residential properties, so this then begs the questions such as what’s the cost (money wise and to the environment), who benefits, what are the potential dangers and damage (to environment/sea life, etc). Here’s just a few articles I found.

My point here is not to give you a lesson on beach restoration. Instead, my point is that I was just sitting on the beach, enjoying my vacation, and saw the

Two clear streams in Costa Rica that when they meet, the chemicals in them react and turn the water blue. Why

machinery and started thinking. Posing questions. Realizing that there could be an amazing #STEM lesson here, which got me excited and doing research and yes – vacation or not – planning for teaching.  I think it is a natural tendency as a teacher to see a ‘lesson’ pretty much anywhere we go, which is what I want to emphasize here. Even on vacation, if you have a great idea based on something you are doing or seeing, some idea you think would be an engaging lesson, go with it. Take some pictures. Write down some ideas. Do some research. Use your own experiences and ‘time off’ to discover teaching ideas and spark your own enthusiasm for the next school year. Bring your vacation into your classroom and build relevant, real-world, multi-content lesson ideas that will spark student engagement, questioning, critical thinking and problem-solving.

Enjoy yourself and your summer, but never stop learning and looking for great ideas to bring back to your classroom.