Young Children Learn Math Through the Arts

Amanda Whiteman

Wolf Trap Teaching Artist Amanda Layton Whiteman integrates the arts with math in preschool classrooms as part of the Early STEM/Arts Program. (Photo by Scott Suchman, courtesy of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.)

President Obama, in the 2013 State the Union address, challenged the country to move forward simultaneously on two key educational fronts — providing high-quality preschool for all four-year olds  and preparing a new generation of Americans in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects.  Teaching artists from the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts and preschool educators in the Fairfax County (Virginia) Public Schools, with support from the U.S. Department of Education, are developing an innovative approach to achieving both of these national goals.

The Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts (Early STEM/Arts) is pioneering an innovative, research-based arts integration model for early childhood learning — one that supports math teaching and learning through active, arts-based experiences in pre-K and kindergarten classrooms.  Preschool teachers participating in the project receive professional development that enables them to apply arts-integrated lessons in their classrooms. Some report “a-ha!” moments as they work alongside Wolf Trap Teaching Artists such as Amanda Layton Whiteman (pictured above). “When I found out it was going to be math, I was saying, oh jeez, this is going to be hard,” said one teacher.  But after being involved with the artist and the arts-integrated approach, she “realized that math is everywhere.” And incorporating the arts into her everyday lessons “helps you reach every child.”

With the help of a $1.15 million Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII), the Early STEM/Arts program will disseminate evaluation results in early 2014. In the meantime, Wolf Trap Regional Programs in 16 locations nationally are gearing up to implement the new model in the 2013-14 school year.

Read OII’s “Wolf Trap Institute Unites the Arts and STEM in Early Childhood Learning” to hear more stories from those at the Wolf Trap Institute.

Games Win Big in Education Grants Competition

Cross-posted from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog.

“I’m calling for investments in educational technology that will help create… educational software that’s as compelling as the best video game. I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that’s teaching you something other than just blowing something up.” - President Obama, March 2011 

ostp-ed-games graphicToday, the U.S. Department of Education announced the final winners of this year’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract awards—funds that are reserved for entrepreneurial small businesses using cutting-edge R&D to develop commercially viable technologies to solve tough problems.  And there’s something that may surprise you about the winning contracts: More than half—or 12 in all—are for games and game-related projects, more than in any previous year. That says a lot about the increasingly creative field of educational games, and the growing base of evidence indicating that games can be an important and effective component of our strategy to prepare a highly skilled 21st century American workforce.

The SBIR program at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the Department of Education’s research division, provides up to $1.05 million to small businesses for the R&D of commercially viable education technology products. The program holds an annual competition and awards funds in several phases: Phase I awards, up to $150,000 for 6 months, allow for the development of a prototype and research to demonstrate its functionality and feasibility; and Phase II awards, up to $900,000 for 2 years, are for full-scale development of the product, iterative research to refine it, and a pilot study to demonstrate its usability, feasibility, and promise. A small number of Fast Track awards are made each year for funds to cover work in both Phase I and Phase II.

This year’s prominent success of games-related proposals reflects three factors. First, the IES SBIR program has gained a reputation for recognizing and supporting—and so increasingly, attracting—bold innovators such as Filament Games (winner of the National STEM Video Game Challenge in 2011), Sokikom (winner of several industry awards and recent recipient of $1M in angel funding), and Triad Interactive Media (winner of a 2013 SIIA CODiE award). Second, educators are increasingly learning to use games to motivate students in new ways, creating increased demand for new ideas and products in this sector. Third, the recent meteoric rise in popularity of mobile devices has enabled game-playing anywhere and at any time, providing an expanded market of players interested in purchasing education titles.

This year’s SBIR games winners share several themes:

  • Most include an adaptive component that auto-adjusts the game difficulty to the competency level of the player.
  • Several use story-based narratives to engage students.
  •  Most include rewards and competition to drive game play.
  • Most include a teaching component that supports the implementation of the game as a supplement to or replacement for standard instructional practice.
  • Several include teacher dashboards, where formative assessment results are provided to the teacher in real-time to inform them of player status for further instruction and remediation.

The winning 2013 IES SBIR awards for games this year are:

Phase I

Phase II                                                               

Fast Track (Phase I & II)

Information about other awards can be found here.

Congratulations to all the winners and we can’t wait to see what’s coming next!

Mark DeLoura is Senior Advisor for Digital Media at OSTP

Edward Metz is a developmental psychologist and Director of the Institute of Education Sciences’ Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program.

Honoring Veteran Teachers Inducted into the Hall of Fame

Although Teacher Appreciation Week begins today, officials at the Department of Education started celebrating early by honoring the five experienced teachers who were inducted into the National Teacher Hall of Fame last Friday.

Teacher Hall of Fame

Secretary Duncan spoke at a ceremony honoring teachers inducted into the National Teacher Hall of Fame last week. The teachers were also invited to ED to talk about education policy, but they also impressed staff with their passion to the profession.

The teachers were invited to the Department of Education to talk about their practice and to discuss education policy with a number of senior-level officials. From the beginning of the conversation, however, the teachers wowed us by their passion for their students and their subjects—and by their humility.

  • Beth Vernon, a science teacher from Missouri, described herself as someone who figured out early on that she had to make a classroom that she wanted to sit in. Vernon has created a CD compilation of songs about science to engage her students called Beth Vernon’s Rock Collection. Still, Vernon described herself as the winner of “the most surprised” teacher to be honored at the Hall of Fame and discussing policy at ED.
  • Darryl Johnson, a language arts teacher also from Missouri, described his path to teaching as an unlikely one. The youngest of three boys, he was the first person in his family to attend college, and even when he did his student teaching, he wasn’t sure this was the profession for him. What changed Johnson’s path was observing how his lesson on the story “No News from Auschwitz (Rosenthal)” affected a student in the back row of his class.  When he realized the effect he could have on individual students, he was all in. Since then, Johnson was selected as a Missouri State Teacher of the Year (2007), and he has earned and renewed his National Board Certification.
  • Martha McLeod, “born and raised on a cattle ranch in Texas,” says it is important for her to help “kids in poverty” to connect what they learn in her 5th grade science class to the rest of the world.  Her school recycling program has won numerous awards, but she admits that she doesn’t run the program for the accolades. “I want my kids to know that we are not a throw-away society,” she explained.
  • As a rural student living in Northern Maryland, Rebecca Gault was homeschooled in grades 6-12. Lessons from her mother were so organized that got a notecard of objectives every week, telling what she should do and what she should learn. On Fridays, she took the tests in every subject. From her mother, Gault says she learned the tremendous importance of getting an education. “She told me, education should be something you would die for,” she said.
  • Deborah Cornelison describes her high school science class in Oklahoma as a STEM classroom before teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) was cool. Not only has she been lauded for exceptional, experiential teaching, but Cornelison has been involved in creating authentic professional learning for science teachers. Of the Teacher Hall of Fame award, she said, “I especially value this honor because it values career teachers.”

Those participating in a conversation with these honorees couldn’t have agreed with Cornelison more.

Laurie Calvert is the Department of Education’s Teacher Liaison. Prior to this, she taught for 14 years in Asheville, N.C.

2014 Education Budget: What’s the Bottom Line?

Budget LogoAs Education Secretary Arne Duncan often says, budgets aren’t just numbers in a ledger – they are a reflection of our values. President Obama’s 2014 budget proposal, released today, demonstrates his belief in education as the engine that will keep America competitive in a global innovation economy and grow a thriving middle class.

The proposal builds on momentum for reform and protects the most vulnerable.  Nowhere is this more true than in the president’s historic proposal to make high-quality preschool available to all four-year-olds.

The administration’s request for $71 billion in discretionary appropriations for education represents an increase of more than 4 percent over the previous year. Nearly three-quarters of that funding goes to financial aid for students in college, special education, and aid to schools with high numbers of children in poverty (Title I).

The remaining 28 percent of the budget invests in specific areas that can move major change – particularly through making preschool accessible for all students; funding a set of strategic reforms at the K-12 level; ensuring that college is affordable; and coordinating services that help students living in poverty.

What’s the bottom line?:

Early learning: Making quality preschool available for all 4-year-olds

President Obama has committed to a historic new investment in preschool education that supports universal access to high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds from low- and moderate-income families and creates an incentive for states to serve additional middle-class children.

The President’s budget request includes $1.3 billion in 2014 and $75 billion over 10 years in mandatory funding, along with $750 million for competitively awarded Preschool Development Grants and other funds.

Learn more about Preschool for All.

K-12: Deepening reform in key strategic areas

President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget proposes significant new investments in areas where states and school districts face key implementation challenges from earlier investments such as Race to the Top and the Race to the Top-District competition, as well as continuing substantial investments in critical formula programs that support state and local reform efforts.

Learn more about the K-12 reforms.

The 2014 budget proposal also includes:

High School Redesign and Career Readiness

President Obama has called on all Americans to commit to at least one year of postsecondary education. Yet, for too many American students, high school is a time of disengagement that fails to put them on a path to college and career success. That’s why the Obama administration has laid out plans to redesign high schools and career and technical education (CTE).

Learn more about high school redesign and career readiness.

Strengthening Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education

Economists project strong growth in careers related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but far too few American students are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career. The Obama administration proposes an aggressive STEM push that will improve the delivery and impact of STEM education.

Learn more about STEM.

Teachers and Leaders

The Obama administration has laid out a plan to strengthen teaching and school leadership, building on significant investments in the first term.

Learn more about the teachers and leaders plan.

School Safety

The President’s plan to increase school safety and to decrease gun violence includes investments not only to prepare schools for emergencies, but also to create nurturing school climates and help children recover from the effects of living in communities plagued by persistent violence.

Learn more about school safety.

Making College Affordability

The Obama administration has taken major steps to help students afford college, and proposes to build on that momentum with programs that will drive major reforms to reduce the escalating costs of higher education.

Learn more about making college affordable.

Ladders of Opportunity

Through “Ladders of Opportunity,” the Obama administration will establish comprehensive, coordinated approaches to improving support for America’s most vulnerable students.

Learn more about ladders of opportunity.

Additional Budget Resources:

Math and Science the Right Way

“That’s it! I’m digging in!”

With that, a third grader at Griggs Elementary in Mobile, Ala., pulled on his surgical glove to examine an owl pellet for rodent bones.

Engaging explorations in STEM content are daily occurrences for the young mathematicians and scientists-in-training at Griggs and other schools throughout the state of Alabama. Here, students benefit from rigorous, hands on, investigative science and math instruction provided through a partnership with the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative, or AMSTI. This state-funded initiative partners with K-12 schools to ramp up the integration of STEM education at the elementary school level.

Students Dissect Owl Pellets

Students at Griggs Elementary in Mobile, Ala., examine an owl pellet for rodent bones.

On the day we visited schools in Alabama, while one class at Griggs examined owl pellets, another room of students focused on the importance of fractions in math by examining strategies for dividing a paper “brownie” square into equal parts. In a classroom at J. Larry Newton Elementary School in Fairhope, students discussed the importance of measurement precision as they performed chemical tests on household substances like baking soda and flour.

Outfitted in goggles and gloves, the students owned the roles they took on in class and told us about their futures. “I love math” and “I’m going to be a scientist” were common statements among these young children.

What was so remarkable was that throughout these classrooms, the students conducted much of their own learning and challenged each other with questions. The teachers were the facilitators, not lecturers, who nurtured and compelled their students to be risk takers, critical thinkers, and data analysts. Students were encouraged to be curious and that curiosity was used as the natural foundation for the lessons. Said one teacher, “I used to be one of those lecturers, but now…I see my students’ excitement, and I’m excited to facilitate.”

These partnerships illustrate effective math and science instruction, accomplished through authentic experiences that allow students to take the lead in discovery and learning. Across grade levels, these elementary school students are engaging in scientific and mathematical discourse, defending their hypotheses, explaining their thinking, and examining their strategies.

Schools across the country could benefit from such educational experiences and instructional practices. As the Teaching Ambassador Fellows continue to conduct outreach with educators in schools across the nation, we’ve seen pockets of best practices like these in Alabama. But if our country is going to meet the President’s goals and the needs of the economy, this type of system-wide partnership and STEM instruction must become more of the norm. Early exposure to and experience with STEM is critical to fostering future STEM professionals. Given the national priority and importance of early childhood education, we must also start thinking about how to begin such exploration early, even in pre-school and kindergarten.

In Alabama, math and science is being done the right way. Let’s learn from this example and build more.

Jennifer Bado-Aleman is an English teacher on loan from her school in Gaithersburg, Md., and Patrice Dawkins-Jackson is the Gifted Instructional Support teacher at the Dunwoody Springs Elementary in the Greater Atlanta area. Both are serving as 2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellows for the Department.

Five Great Ways to Celebrate Pi Day on 3/14

Pi Day Pies

Photo by djwtwo on Flickr.

March 14 (3/14), is only a few days away, which means it’s time to celebrate pi, everybody’s favorite irrational mathematical number (the 14 is also Albert Einstein’s birthday). Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, and it’s an irrational number, so it can’t be expressed as a simple fraction of two integers. 3.14 is just the beginning of pi, which goes on for infinity.

This STEM-themed holiday is an ideal time to plan some Pi-filled activities for your classroom or for children at home. Here are our five great tips to celebrate math on Pi Day.

  1. Prove Pi exists by measuring the circumference and diameter of circular objects around the classroom or house and solving for the equation: circumference = (pi) x (diameter).
  2. See how many digits of the number Pi you can recite. A Japanese man in 2005 memorized pi to 83,431 digits.
  3. Write a Pi-ku, a math version of the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic haiku. A Pi-ku of course, follows a 3-1-4 syllabic pattern.
  4. For example:
    Math is fun
    When
    Mixed with some pie

  5. Bake a Pi-themed pie. Whether savory or sweet, eating deliciously circular pies is a highlight of every Pi day.
  6. Impress your friends by learning the song, “Mathematical Pi,” set to the tune of “American Pie”; or sing Pi Day carols.

Margaret Yau is a student at the University of California, San Diego, and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

i3 Grant Provides STEM Graduation Path for Colorado Students

Skyline High School students show their math and science skills through trebuchet building during the summer session of STEM Academy. Eighty-eight students participated in this summer’s 4-week program funded by an i3 grant.

Thanks to the implementation of a five-year, $3.6 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Skyline High School in Longmont, Colo., is getting a second chance.  Six years ago, Skyline was considered a “ghetto school with low expectations and low requirements,” said principal Patty Quinones. Today, everyone is focused on the bright future ahead. “It is exciting now to see families talking realistically about college,” she said.

The exciting changes at Skyline are in large part due to the school’s STEM Academy program—made possible through the 2010 i3 grant. The Academy focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum and includes collaboration between the St. Vrain Valley School District and the University of Colorado Boulder. The Academy’s goal is to provide 400 high school students with an alternative path to graduation through a STEM certificate program. This program develops students’ 21st century skills to prepare them for future career opportunities.

The i3 STEM Academy project, which will operate through the end of the 2014–15 school year, also addresses the literacy and mathematics achievement needs of 400 elementary and 550 middle schools students in feeder schools to Skyline High School. Working with the elementary and middle school students ensures better preparation for the STEM curricula in the high school program.  As a development grant in the i3 program, this K–12 project intends, by the end of its fifth year, to sustain its efforts across the three grade levels, and to replicate them in schools throughout the St. Vrain Valley School District.

During the STEM Academy’s 2009-10 inaugural year, 103 ninth- and tenth-grade students began the program; during this school year there are 291 students, with 41 graduating this spring. Students who satisfy the requirements of the STEM Academy program are guaranteed admission to the University of Colorado at Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science because of the school’s direct partnership with the University.

Skyline High School student works on her field rocket project during the summer session of STEM Academy.

Regina Renaldi, St. Vrain’s executive director of priority programs, says that the unique requirement of the i3 grant has built bridges between the business community and the St. Vrain school community.  “Our partnership [with corporations] allows students the opportunity to collaborate with experts in the field; students participate in roundtables discussions and design challenges where brainstorming and feedback are from engineers and scientists,” she said.  “Students aren’t interested in simulations; they want real-world opportunities for thinking, learning and problem-solving.”

The director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Cecilia Muñoz, recently visited Skyline High School for a roundtable discussion on Career and Technical Education with Colorado educators and business leaders. The roundtable began after a tour of the school, which included visiting with elementary and high school students.  Promising to share what she saw  with her colleagues in the West Wing of the White House, Muñoz said, “I can assure you I’ll take this back to Washington. It’s going to inform the work that we’re doing in the educational sphere.”

While it is still too early to conclude how the i3 project has affected long-term student outcomes, the i3 grant has enabled a school that was once dismissed as a lost cause to have a positive impact on the outcomes of its current students. Through this program, these students now see their dreams of going to college as a reality. “We are doing true transformation here; not just shifting kids from one school to another,” said Don Haddad, superintendent of St. Vrain Valley School District. “This is what real reform looks like.”

Diana Huffman is a public affairs specialist in ED’s Denver Regional Office

On Dec 11, 2012, the U.S. Department of Education announced that the St. Vrain Valley School District was one of 16 winners of the Race to the Top – District Competition.

Sharing Responsibility for College Affordability, Quality and Completion

One of the best parts of my job is the chance I get to meet outstanding academic and student leaders as I travel around the country.  For me, the best moments often come right before or after I deliver my formal remarks, when I get to visit with faculty, administrators and students at my speaking location one-on-one, find out who they are and learn about their challenges, hopes and dreams. These individual informal chats never last long enough for me, and they are the moments I remember most from each visit.

During my recent visit to Palm Beach State College, I had the opportunity to discuss the higher education proposals President Obama announced in his State of the Union address, with students, professors, policy makers, state and local officials, business and community leaders. I felt a great source of pride in describing what we’ve been able to accomplish in higher education over the past few years:

    • Reforming the student loan program,
    • Boosting the maximum Pell grant by more than $800 and dramatically expanding the number of Pell grant recipients from 6 million to more than 9 million students from our nation’s lowest income families,
    • Enabling Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) to build capacity with the $2.55 billion 10-year fund for MSIs, and
    • Providing $2 billion dollars for next generation job-training at community colleges over the next few years, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor.

As you can see, the President’s education vision for 2020 and beyond inspires me every day to build on this substantial progress and to breakthrough the obstacles ahead to keep college affordable for the middle class, to provide students more opportunities through campus based aid and work study reforms, to enable postsecondary institutions to innovate and implement those high impact strategies that will help more students succeed, and to support states to increase their support for higher education – all for the purpose of increasing our nation’s college attainment goal.

The President has proposed a $1 billion Race to the Top for College Affordability and Completion to help states and a $55 million First in the World fund for institutions. Why? We need states and institutions as well as the federal government and students themselves to share responsibility to meet our vision to produce a far better educated citizenry than we’ve had in decades past. We need a more highly educated workforce, and we need leaders at all levels of government, business, labor and the non-profit sector to bring our nation to a level of excellence in our global society that sadly we do not enjoy today.

In all of this work, please know it’s the series of tiny “aha” moments that, when taken together, create the momentum that move us forward. After I left Palm Beach State, I received an email from Carlos Ramos, the university’s Associate Dean of Math, Engineering, and Science who wanted to learn about a new resource I mentioned, a set of free high quality STEM-related college level textbooks that Rice University’s Connexions project is rolling out in the next few months in association with a new organization called OpenStax College.

For me, Dean Ramos’s communication was more than a simple email.  It was a statement that my visit mattered — and that because of my visit, Dean Ramos will now be able to help more students in more ways.  And that is the way real change happens, one by one, on the ground, by meeting individual student needs, one student at a time. Whether we call it “shared responsibility” as we heard in the State of the Union, or working together from the one to the many as Dean Ramos is doing, we will become a better nation if we all do our part to keep college affordable, increase educational quality at all levels, and help more students graduate from our colleges and universities with a world-class education, prepared for success in the 21st century!

Martha Kanter is the Under Secretary of Education

Recognizing Science, Math, and Engineering Mentoring

Oval Office Group Photo

President Barack Obama greets the 2010 and 2011 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring recipients in the Oval Office, Dec. 12, 2011. (Official White House Photos by Pete Souza)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

The President recently proclaimed January National Mentoring Month, a tribute to the many selfless Americans who devote themselves to the important educational endeavor of mentoring. His proclamation came on the heels of his recent personal recognition of 17 individuals and organizations who, at a White House ceremony in December, were awarded the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM).

The PAESMEM program, administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF), identifies outstanding individuals or programs that, through mentoring, enhance the participation and retention of students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classes—especially students who are members of groups underrepresented in the sciences, including persons with disabilities, women, and minorities.

President Obama met with the winners of the 2010 and 2011 PAESMEM in the Oval Office on December 12.  Afterwards, at a ceremony led by OSTP Director John Holdren and National Science Foundation Director Subra Suresh, the awardees received letters of congratulations from the President, thanking them for their dedication to education and innovation. In his letter, the President noted that the awardees’ efforts to inspire young people to reach new heights brings the Nation closer to achieving a community of scientist, engineering and mathematicians that reflects the full diversity of our union.

The ceremony and meeting with the President were part of two days of educational and recognition activities for the awardees in Washington, D.C., last month. In addition to the trip to Washington, D.C., each received a monetary award from NSF to support future mentoring endeavors.

OSTP congratulates the individuals and organizations recognized with this prestigious honor and encourage others to invest in our Nation’s future by helping children discover the best in themselves as they pursue their education. For information and resources about mentoring opportunities, visit: www.Serve.gov/Mentor.

‘Investing in Innovation’ Creates STEM Awards

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

The Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) competition provides funding to school districts and non-profit organizations around the country to develop new approaches to longstanding challenges in education.  Today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 23 applicants who will receive grants from the 2011 i3 competition. For the first time, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education was a priority of the competition.  Five of the 23 awards will address that critical area and include programs devoted to:

Other areas that i3 grants will address include teacher and principal effectiveness; high-quality standards and assessments; turning around low-performing schools; and improving rural achievement. Some of the projects in these areas will:

In addition to the $148 million in funding provided by the Department of Education, the applicants raised $18 million in private-sector commitments from a wide range of philanthropic organizations, local businesses, and individuals.

More information about all of the 2011 grantees is available on the i3 website. Information about all applicants is available at data.ed.gov.

Jefferson Pestronk is Special Assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the Department of Education

ED Small Business Awardee Wins Industry Award for Innovation

A recipient of funds from the U.S. Department of Education, Massachusetts-based firm Fluidity Software, Inc., won the top prize for the “Most Innovative Technology Product” and was the runner-up for “Most Likely to Succeed” at the Innovation Incubator competition on Nov. 29 in New York City. The Innovation Incubator event was hosted by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) through its Ed-Tech Business Forum. FluidMath won the award among a group of 29 applicants and 11 finalists.

A Screenshot of FluidMath

Fluidity’s product, FluidMath, was funded in part by the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program at the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The purpose of the SBIR Program is to stimulate technological innovation; increase small business participation in federal research and development; foster and encourage participation by minority and disadvantaged persons in technological innovation; and increase private sector commercialization of technology derived from federal research and development.

The FluidMath software and its accompanying Web-based Online Professional Development (OPD) modules enable teachers and students to create, solve, graph and animate math and physics problems, all in their own handwriting on digital-ink enabled devices such as tablet PCs and interactive whiteboards. For teachers, it is designed to assist in creating dynamic instructional materials for the classroom and providing engaging learning experiences. For students, it is designed to help explore and understand concepts in mathematics and science. Click here for a video demonstration of FluidMath.

In addition to FluidMath, a second IES SBIR funded product was a finalist in the Innovation Incubator  competition. Minnesota-based firm Seward, Inc.’s First 4000 Words (4KW), funded by IES in 2008, is an interactive web-based program used to teach the 4,000 most frequently used English words to English Language Learners and struggling readers in grades 1 through 4. This research-based and field-tested program is designed to help students develop the necessary reading skills to succeed in school. Click here for a video demonstration of the 4KW.

(A reminder from ED’s lawyers: The Department has provided the information and links in this blog post as a convenience to educators, parents and students. The U.S. Department of Education does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, completeness or effectiveness of these resources. The inclusion of particular resources is not intended to reflect their importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed or products or services.)

For information on the 2012 Small Business Innovation Research program solicitations, and for video demos of more than 20 products supported by this program, click here.

Edward Metz

Edward Metz is a Program Manager at ED’s Institute of Education Sciences

Students Have Questions, Astronauts Have Answers

Students talk with astronauts aboard the international space station

(Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood)

“Station, this is Houston. Are you ready?” The radio crackled. “Houston, we are ready. Over.”

As teachers, we are always looking for new ways to inspire our students to make authentic connections between what we teach them in the classroom and what happens in real life.

Last week, dozens of animated middle school students of military families gathered at Department of Education headquarters to talk with the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Students watched in amazement as peers chatted with a floating Commander Mike Fossum via a giant screen in ED’s auditorium. The event was made possible by NASA’s Teaching From Space program.

The International Space Station is the product of work by 16 countries spread over four continents, including the U.S., Canada, Japan, Russia, Brazil, and 11 countries from the European Space Agency. As such, the event was a unique way to initiate International Education Week, which begins today.  

But it’s the other numbers that catch students’ attention the most: At almost 1 million pounds, the International Space Station circles the Earth every 90 minutes and has made 57,361 trips around the Earth.

The facts are astounding and the novelty, thrilling. This was one time when school didn’t feel like school and students were witnessing the synergy between lessons in the classroom and real world experience.

“Do laptops and devices with hard drives work the same in space or are they more likely to crash?” asked an 8th grader. “Do you have to speak other languages on the International Space Station to understand each other?” asked a 10th grader. Students were bursting with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related questions that called up a global perspective.

We know that STEM subjects are critical to the study of space, but here students learned that if astronauts can’t share ideas internationally and communicate in different languages, then the work simply doesn’t get done.

The need to simultaneously heighten our students’ exposure to science and technology and develop their global competencies hit home. There is no question that young people want to make it happen. My only question is, when will we catch up with them?

International Education Week is a joint initiative between the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of State. To learn more about the live In-Flight Education Downlinks and watch the event, click here.

Claire Jellinek is a high school social studies teacher at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque, NM and a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.