A Teacher We Met: Maria Palopoli Prepares Students to Take on Science and Law

Science Strategy at Work:   How we teach affects whether our students are ready for tomorrow

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Imagine this:  You decide to have a child and you visit a health clinic.  The clinician asks, “Do you want a boy or girl?  Which hair color do you prefer? Do you have a preference for curly or straight hair?”  The ability to design a human may seem like science fiction, but today’s students may face these decisions as adults.

Our students need to be prepared for a future with these kinds of choices.  This is the primary reason I teach with an emphasis on project-based learning and independent thinking. Each year that I teach genetics to seventh graders, the students become immersed in a genetics court case of the not-so-distant future:

It is the year 2035.  Jenn Ettics, age fifteen, is suing her parents, Carmella and Tony Ettics, for genetically modifying her at birth.  Jenn’s parents hired Chromo Labs to have her genetically modified so she would have more favorable “athletic genes.”  Jenn claims that this manipulation had a deleterious effect on her “artistic genes,” so she is suing for emancipation and $1million in damages.

Here are the players:  Jenn, her lawyers and Guardian Ad Litem (court assigned guardian), the P.A.G.E. Foundation (People Against Genetic Engineering) to support Jenn, Chromo Lab Director, scientists and lawyers to support their company and the  defendants, Jenn’s parents with their lawyers.  Reporters and photographers also play a role.

Using their knowledge of genetics, students create all of the evidence in the court case.  Each group must work together to gather enough evidence to demonstrate to the jury (former students) that they should win the case.

Not only must the students have a strong genetics background, they must also understand what kind of evidence will support their claim.  Each year, I am overwhelmed with the evidence created and the students’ abilities to defend their position in the court setting.  I have collected dozens of student strategies.  Here is a sample:

Punnett squares demonstrate that Jenn should have been artistic.  The location of “artistic” and “athletic” genes imply a low probability that the manipulation of one would affect the other.  Data show that Chromo Labs had more errors during the year Jenn was manipulated.  The defendants’ (parents) lawyers reveal other relatives with medical problems that led to the alteration of Jenn’s athletic genes to make her more healthy.

As you can see, the potential for evidence is endless on both sides.  The beauty of this experience is that it really gets students to think, to use their knowledge to defend a position and to consider real science issues they may face as adults.  Based on the professional dress and serious demeanor I see during the court case, the students are completely engaged and learn from each other.  The emotions are high; sometimes students have shed tears when the verdict is read.

This kind of project-based learning is important.  Students need to be engaged in a way that is meaningful, draws on their ability to apply knowledge and think independently.  What other learning situation will better prepare them for the future?

Maria Palopoli

Maria Palopoli teaches in Brunswick, Maine. She earned a 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence Teaching Math and Science (PAEMST).

International Rocket Champions Introduce “Nemesis 2” to Secretary Duncan

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

“I feel smarter just being in the same room as them,” said Secretary Duncan earlier this week when he met with the winning team of the Aerospace Industries Association’s 2011 Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC). The four winning students from the Heath Side Boys Rocketry Club had their winning rocket in hand as they met with the Secretary Duncan while visiting Washington to commemorate the 10th anniversary of National Aerospace Week.

Secretary Duncan with the American Rocketry Challenge Champions (Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams)

The winning team of John Easum, Michael Gerritsen, Landon Fisher, and Colt McNally all came from Rockwall-Heath High School in Heath, Texas. After winning the 2011 TARC, Raytheon Corporation sent the team to compete in the 2011 Paris Airshow where they took home the honor of being international champions by beating out teams from the United Kingdom and France.

The students, some of whom started competing in the TARC as 8th graders, shared their experience with the Secretary, who praised their persistence and dedication to the competition. Following the meeting, Secretary Duncan had the opportunity to pose for pictures with the winning team and even “Nemesis 2”, the rocket that won the 2011 competition.

Click here for resources for teachers on rockets from free.ed.gov.

Joshua Pollack
Office of the Deputy Secretary

Back-to-School Bus Heads to the Great Lakes

During last week’s #AskArne Twitter Town Hall, Sarah, a third grade teacher, asked if it is possible for Arne to “tour and sponsor real town halls with educators.” This week, ED announced that Secretary Duncan and his senior staff will be holding more than 50 such events next week.

Secretary Duncan stops in New York during last year's back-to-school bus tour.

Starting on Wednesday, September 7, Secretary Duncan and senior ED staff will head to the Great Lakes Region for a Back-to-School Bus Tour. Arne will be making stops in Pittsburgh, Erie, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Merrillville, Ind., Milwaukee and Chicago, and senior ED officials will be hosting dozens of events throughout the Midwest. The theme of the tour is “Education and the Economy: Investing in Our Future.”

Arne will be meeting with educators and talking with students, parents, administrators, and community stakeholders. Among the topics that Secretary Duncan and senior staff will discuss include the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, K-12 reform, transforming the teaching profession, civil rights enforcement, efforts to better serve students with disabilities and English Language Learners, Promise Neighborhoods, the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, STEM education, increasing college access and attainment as well as vocational and adult education.

Click here for additional details on Secretary Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour stops.

You can follow the progress of this year’s Back-to-School tour right here at the ED Blog, by following #EDTour11 on Twitter, and by signing up for email updates from ED and Secretary Duncan.

Participate in a Robotics Competition—in Space!

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

What could possibly make an already super cool robotics competition even better? The zero-gravity environment of space!

NASA and DARPA, in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyTopCoder, and Aurora Flight Sciences, recently announced the Zero Robotics competition, an event open to all high schools in the United States that form a team and complete the application process.

Zero Robotics is a student software competition that takes the idea of a robotics competition to new heights—literally.  The robots are basketball-sized satellites called SPHERES, and they look like something straight out of Star Wars.  The competition is kicked off by a challenging problem conjured up by DARPA and NASA.  After multiple rounds of simulation and ground competition, a final tournament will be held onboard the International Space Station!  The 27 finalists will have their robotic programs run by an astronaut in the microgravity environment of space.

The goal is to build critical engineering skills for students, such as problem solving, design thought process, operations training, and team work. Teams participate by programming a SPHERES satellite using a simplified programming environment to achieve the game objectives while competing or collaborating with other contestants.  The tournament stages during the fall season give the teams an opportunity to develop and improve their programs and test them with and against the other teams.

This competition embodies three initiatives that are priorities of the Obama Administration:

  • President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign, which was launched with the goal of improving the participation and performance of America’s students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM);
  • Using challenges to increase participation or achieve progress in a certain area of need;
  • And the President’s recently announced National Robotics Initiative, focused on strengthening the robotics capabilities of our Nation.

All three of these initiatives involve the Federal government, educational institutions, and private corporations working together on America’s science and engineering challenges.

If you are interested in participating in Zero Robotics this fall but haven’t already sent in an application, the deadline for teams to apply is September 5.  The application is available online at http://zerorobotics.mit.edu.

So if you think that robotics is cool, and space is cool, then get involved in the 2011 Zero Robotics Challenge. You, your child, or your student could control a satellite in space!

Chuck Thorpe is Assistant Director for Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

English Learners Key to a Multi-lingual STEM Workforce

Future U.S. competitiveness will depend on how well we prepare our students and provide them the proper skills to be college and career-ready, especially when it comes to careers in the STEM fields.  In the K-12 education setting, this means providing ALL students, including English Learners (ELs), access to a high-quality STEM education.  Unfortunately, recent data indicate that ELs often do not have the same access to quality STEM instruction as their non-EL peers.  To highlight effective practices and resources for promoting EL achievement in the STEM subjects, ED’s Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) recently hosted a one-day forum entitled, “High-Quality STEM Education for English Learners”.

Held in Washington, DC on July 11, the forum was attended by more than 65 participants who listened to presentations from individuals representing research, practice, professional organizations, and business in the STEM fields.  Notable speakers included Congressman Rúben Hinojosa (D-TX) and Michelle Shearer, the 2011 National Teacher of the Year.

One big take-away from this forum is that perceptions about English Learners need to change.  Rather than seeing English Learners in terms of their academic underachievement, we need to see them as an untapped resource for developing a multi-lingual STEM workforce that has the potential to keep the U.S. competitive in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Congressman Rúben Hinojosa opened the meeting by sharing a motivating and inspiring personal story about his own experience as an English Learner growing up in 1940’s south Texas. Hinojosa highlighted his work to support greater educational opportunities for residents of south Texas and his efforts to support and strengthen minority-serving institutions (MSIs), especially in south Texas, in hopes of creating an education pipeline for students living in the mostly agrarian region.

During the forum I shared several key findings from the recently released Civil Rights Data Collection biennial survey.  The survey’s Part I findings show that English Learners are still being denied access to the kinds of classes, resources, and educational opportunities necessary to be successful in college and career.  Among other things, the data shows that English Learners have lower rates of enrollment in Algebra I, which is a critical gateway course for other advanced math and science courses that act as hurdles that slow or halt a student’s progress towards a college degree.  The data also show that English Learners tend to enroll in advanced placement math and science courses at lower rates than their non-EL peers.

During her remarks at the forum, National Teacher of the Year Michelle Shearer, who teaches chemistry in Frederick, Maryland, shared some effective teaching practices she has used with deaf students that teachers can use with EL students such as using examples when teaching a new concept, using visuals, making lessons relevant to students’ lives, and validating students’ use of their native language. She spoke enthusiastically about her teaching experiences and emphasized that besides the basic 3Rs, students will need the 4Cs: critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, and communication skills.

Besides teacher education and effective practices, other presentations focused on data collection, data analysis methods and research; parent, family and community engagement; and the potential impact public/private partnerships can have for reforming and transforming STEM education for ELs.  Those interested may view the presentations online at http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/meetings/stemforum/.

Rosalinda B. Barrera, Ph.D. is assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the U.S. Department of Education.

Staying Competitive Through Education: The President and American Business Leaders Announce New Commitments

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

President Barack Obama hosts an education roundtable in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with business leaders and America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell, center, and Founding Chair General Colin Powell, left, to discuss what the business community can do to ensure we have a skilled, educated and competitive US workforce, July 18, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama hosts an education roundtable in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with business leaders and America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell, center, and Founding Chair General Colin Powell, left, to discuss what the business community can do to ensure we have a skilled, educated and competitive US workforce, July 18, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

On July 18th, the President hosted an education roundtable with key leaders in both the private and public sectors to discuss ways we can ensure a competitive American workforce. The attendees, including business leaders, Secretary Duncan, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, and General Colin and Mrs. Alma Powell of the America’s Promise Alliance, talked about expanding strong industry-led partnerships that are working to transform the American education system.

The President’s meeting with America’s CEOs builds on his continued focus on addressing the pressing needs of educating our children:

“A world-class education is the single most important factor in determining not just whether our kids can compete for the best jobs but whether America can outcompete countries around the world. America’s business leaders understand that when it comes to education, we need to up our game. That’s why were working together to put an outstanding education within reach for every child.”

The private sector is responding to the President’s challenge with more than financial support: Corporations have made commitments that take advantage of their areas of expertise and the skills of their employees. These undertakings include programs like Change the Equation, which focuses on corporate investment in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, Skills for America’s Future with its support of business partnerships with community colleges, and the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

President Barack Obama hosts an education roundtable in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with business leaders, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell and Founding Chair General Colin Powell to discuss what the business community can do to ensure we have a skilled, educated and competitive US workforce, July 18, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama hosts an education roundtable in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with business leaders, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell and Founding Chair General Colin Powell to discuss what the business community can do to ensure we have a skilled, educated and competitive US workforce, July 18, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Four major commitments are being announced today:

1) Community Engagement and Investment to Transform the Nation’s Lowest-Performing Schools: America’s Promise Alliance Grad Nation Community Impact Fund will raise $50 million to support the goal of ending the dropout crisis and prepare young people for college and career. The first planning grants from this social venture fund will be awarded in the fall to communities that demonstrate a commitment to local action aligned with the goals of the Grad Nation Campaign, including student supports for our most vulnerable young people.  Applicants will be communities with a low-performing school and a willingness and capacity to build a multi-sector, collaborative approach that includes partnerships with the business community and local school system, and the capacity to raise matching funds to promote local investment to sustain this work.

2) Expanding Opportunities for Students to Prepare for Livable Wage Jobs: Bank of America will announce a $50 million pledge to education over the next 3 years, launching this goal through $4.5 million in grants. The investment will support programs that bridge the achievement gap to post-secondary education completion and connect the underserved and unemployed, as well as returning veterans, and individuals with disabilities, to workforce success in high-growth sectors, in particular through community colleges.  Recognizing the need for knowledgeable and skilled workers to compete in the global economy, Bank of America is investing in education as part of its comprehensive lending, investing and volunteer activities aimed at strengthening the economic and social health of communities.

3) Research and Development for Next Generation Learning Models and Resources for Students and Teachers: Building on its history of commitment to education and recent $25 million STEM Scholarship grant program in Washington State, Microsoft Education is announcing a new $15M investment in research and development for immersive learning technologies including game based instruction and the creation of a lifelong learning digital archive. Through the creation of these innovative solutions, the disengaged can become passionate problem solvers and the struggling student can be offered other pathways to success.  Rooted in this investment is the understanding that technical innovation alone will not help. Therefore, over the next 3 years, Microsoft is committing to train over 150 thousand educators and leaders and provide access to professional learning communities and training to every teacher in the United States through the new Partners in Learning Network.

4) Supporting a Statewide Focus on Education System Redesign: In the past four years, the Nike School Innovation Fund(NSIF) has provided $7 million in innovation grants and thousands of volunteer hours by senior Nike leaders and other employees to support students, teachers and principals in three Oregon public school districts. The Fund is announcing a new commitment as a primary partner of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and his initiative to help make the state’s entire education system more nimble, innovative and supportive of the key grades of 9 to 12. With this news, Nike’s commitment to strengthening education in Oregon totals $10 million. The NSIF will now provide a year of funding, expertise and policy guidance that is expected to serve as a model for the Governor’s larger statewide education transformation plan.

The President is dedicated to keeping America’s workforce competitive, an achievement that can only be reached through addressing the pressing needs of American education. This week’s education roundtable is a clear example of the President’s dedication, and these new commitments are evidence that America’s business leaders share his concern and his belief that change is possible.

Math Teachers: The Nation Builders of the 21st Century

“It doesn’t matter what the academic subject is – or the age of the student. From the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is the teacher,” said Secretary Duncan earlier today at the annual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in Indianapolis, Indiana.

In the speech, the Secretary once again pointed to South Korea and Singapore, two countries that revere teachers as “nation builders.”

“In those countries, everyone understands that teachers are preparing the leaders and workers who will ensure the country’s long-term economic prosperity. In America, our teachers aren’t treated like the nation builders that they are.”

Math, as part of well-rounded education, will be key to America’s success in the 21st century. Students who have completed Algebra II in high school are twice as likely to earn a degree as those who didn’t. Secretary Duncan noted that Algebra provides a foundation of using logic to solve problems and to make connections between multiple pieces of information.

Young students learning multiplication tables today will be this country’s future mechanics, engineers, doctors and nurses. The Secretary explained to the math teachers at the meeting that whatever today’s students do 30 years from now:

The mathematics they’re learning today will provide the foundation for their success – and for the long-term prosperity of our country. Thank you for being the nation builders who are making that happen.

Tools to Help Students Become Financially Literate!

Join educators and students across America to participate in the National Financial Capability Challenge, where high school students can learn about how to take control of their financial futures. Lesson plans in the Challenge can help students make positive decisions about spending, saving, borrowing, and protecting against risk.

The program, which includes a free, voluntary, online exam, runs through April 8, 2011 and includes valuable information for students to learn about their finances. Certificates will be given to participating educators, and to top scoring students who take the online exam. For more information, go to challenge.treas.gov and check out the video message from Secretary Duncan encouraging teachers to sign up.

Linda Yaron
Linda Yaron is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Los Angeles, Calif.


Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Where Engineering Is the Most Popular Discipline

Last week President Obama visited a school in Baltimore County, MD, where engineering is the most popular discipline.

At Parkville Middle School, teacher Susan Yoder explains…

“Our students don’t just learn about STEM concepts; they apply them by designing their own roller coasters to demonstrate the laws of physics and taking water samples from nearby Chesapeake Bay tributaries to practice environmental science.”

Read Yoder’s blog post about the President’s visit to her class.

How to Play Catch Up in Math (While Moving Students Forward)

Guest Blog:  John Seelke, High School Math Teacher

This item comes from John Seelke, a high school math teacher and 2007 Presidential Awardee in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST) in Washington, D.C..  I met John at a teacher town hall with Secretary Duncan at SiriusXM in July.  At the time, I was struck by his passion for teaching and reaching at-risk students.  He recently passed along a strategy called “Remediation through Acceleration,” which he uses to help students who are behind in math while teaching the regular curriculum.  –Laurie Calvert, Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow

How to Play Catch Up in Math (While Moving Students Forward)For years, math teachers have faced the conundrum of what to do with students who are in their class but are not fully prepared to tackle the grade-level material. For some teachers, the solution has been to focus on remediation (for example, spending weeks on positive and negative numbers in an Algebra I class). I found this strategy unsatisfying, however, because it continually leaves students with gaps in their knowledge, and those gaps are simply passed on to the following year’s teacher.

As a new teacher at McKinley Technology High School, I struggled to get kids caught up while also teaching them the material within the curriculum.  Fortunately, my principal introduced to me the idea of “remediation through acceleration.” The concept introduces students to higher-level thinking and higher-level problems. Within the context of those problems, the teacher offers remediation to students who need it.

On the first day of the school year, I adopted this method in the first lesson for my pre-calculus class. Instead of spending the class on review, I had the students create a unit circle, using concepts they should have learned from previous classes (plotting points, using a protractor, etc.). By the end of the second day of class, students had used the assignment to create a unit circle and a sine and cosine graph. By monitoring each student’s progress at every step, I could tell which students struggled with math concepts, and I targeted them individually. Most importantly, the students moved ahead with important material in the pre-calculus class and felt proud that they were learning something new.

Download from the IES Clearinghouse: Research on Helping Struggling Students in Math.

Letter from Award-Winning Science Teacher

PAEMST Awardee writes to the Secretary

Last month Secretary Arne Duncan met with Presidential Awardees for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST).  As a follow up to that discussion, science teacher Megan O’Neill sent this letter to the secretary, affirming their mutual commitment to STEM education.

Dear Mr. Duncan:

Dear Mr. Duncan,I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your packed schedule to talk to the Presidential Award Winners for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.  I am a high school science teacher and represented Alabama with the award!  The entire week of recognition activities was so incredible and made me feel so honored, and meeting with you was a truly memorable part.

With the current publication of the 2009 PISA study and the low ranking of the U.S., Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) obviously need to be a large focus area for our Nation.  Your obvious concern for the PISA study rankings of the U.S. makes me hopeful that we can make strong progress with STEM.  The educational methods that we will need to be successful in the 21st Century are going to need adjustments to keep up with our changing world.  I am confident with your vision and willingness to listen to the teachers on the “front lines” in the classrooms, we can move forward.  During our meeting you also provided meaningful insight about how money is being spent in education and where funding is or is not providing effective results. Thank you also for keeping a pulse on this.

Hopefully we can all work together to find solutions to our Nation’s current educational challenges, as our children’s future success relies upon it.  I will be glad to assist in any way that I can and appreciate your lifelong dedication to these topics!

Most sincerely,

Megan F. O’Neill
Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching – AL
National Board Certified – Science
Fairhope High School
Fairhope, Alabama

Answering the Essential Student Question: Why Do We Need to Learn This?

Answering the Essential Student Question:  Why Do We Need to Learn This?

Mark Fairbank is a 2009 PAEMST Awardee who teaches science in Paso Robles , Calif.

Teaching the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is more than something we ought to do.  It’s the key to providing a thriving economy in the United States.

Directing our educational focus toward improving student knowledge in these areas both will provide students with a greatly needed knowledge, and it will enhance their understanding and appreciation of the world.

Perhaps my colleague Mark DiMaggio best explains why future generations’ ability to understand and appreciate the world depends on our ability to view the world through another’s eyes, through the eyes of all other living creatures.  DiMaggio says,

As my career as an educator continues, I find myself more and more frequently taking time to reflect on the ever-present “why do we need to know this” question with my students.  And you know what?  I NEVER tell them it’s because you’ll need to know this for a question on the April state tests.  What do they care about state tests?

Why should we learn about the oceans?  Because they feed about 600,000,000 people every day, regulate climate, cycle the nutrients you need to stay alive, and they provide a source of mineral wealth  a vital shipping link.  On top of that, the ocean provides water to sail, on, makes waves to surf, and are endlessly beautiful and inspiring!

We are required by law to teach the standards; but let’s not lose sight of our real task, to inspire, encourage, support, care for, and help mold a citizenry of thoughtful, compassionate, hopeful, caring people.

STEM education is pivotal because these fields changes the direction of humanity from generation to generation.  Understanding how we affect the natural world is critical in creating both balance and sustainability.  Science exploration and research provides the very knowledge of drastic changes that are occurring in the natural environment of the world’s ecosystems.

Without fundamental knowledge of human and natural systems, our very culture will eventually collapse.  Education provides humanity with a means to share previous knowledge with future generation through discovery and interactions.  Teachers provide the very thread that sustains and enhance our very existence.

Mark Fairbank

Read about Secretary Duncan’s reform discussion with 2009 PAEMST Awardees.

Read Paul Karafoil’s blog about the PAEMST awardees’ week in DC.