PCAST Letter Report Encourages Educational Technology To Boost Access

On September 28th the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology released a letter report on education technology.  The focus in this letter report is on using education to boost access to higher education.  Costs are rising, which likely doesn’t help the notable gap based on income of the percentage of high school graduates that immediately enroll in college.  The report recommends that the federal government take steps to support the coordination of efforts to connect workers with training and jobs.  The jobs in question here are considered ‘middle skill’ jobs – needing a certification, license and/or two-year degree.  They comprise the bulk of the workforce.

The letter report has three recommendations:

Better coordination of federal efforts to support the connections between workers, trainers and jobs, specifically within the Departments of Labor, Education and Commerce.
Continue the support of information technology research that can help train workers, assess skills, and provide career guidance.
Lead the private sector by finding ways to use information technology to assess the skills and employment needs of the federal government and finding the people that meet those needs.

The third recommendation, as PCAST notes, is a break from the recommendations in its report on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  In that report, the Council was more confident in the private sector’s ability to drive growth in that area.


For At Least One Week, Virginia Is For Science

The first annual (take that, USA Science an Engineering Festival) Virginia Science Festival starts this Saturday.  Many events will take place in Roanoke (on October 11) and Blacksburg (on October 4), perhaps due to Blacksburg-based Virginia Tech sponsorship (along with the Science Museum of Western Virginia) of the Festival.  However, events will take place throughout the Commonwealth.

Initial funding for the Festival was boosted by a 2013 grant from the Science Festival Alliance. Regrettably, I won’t be able to get to Southwest Virginia for the bulk of the events, but I am hoping for a strong turnout and interest in expanding the event for its second annual festival in 2015.

Google Science Fair Winners Once Again Span The Globe

Earlier this week Google announced the winners in its fourth annual Science Fair.  A truly global affair, entrants to the Fair submit their projects online and 18 finalists were recognized at Google’s headquarters for their efforts.

The top three winning teams were from Ireland, Canada and the United States.  A trio of Irish 16 year-olds took top honors for their work on bacteria for aiding in cereal crop growth.  A 17 year-old Canadian was tops in the 17-18 year-old division for her work on exploring the applicability of sand filters to biodegrading oil sands contaminants (the project also received special recognition from local area judges).  A 14 year-old from Pennsylvania won in the 13-14 year-old division for his work on fruit-fly inspired robotics.

Aside from the winners in each of the age divisions (one of which is always the Grand Prize winner), there are three other competition-wide prizes.  The Computer Science Award (new this year) went to the 14 year-old roboticist who won his age division.  The Science In Action Award (sponsored by Scientific American) recognized a 15 year old from New York who developed a wearable sensor that will help caregivers by warning when their patients are mobile.  The Voters’ Choice Award recognized a 15 year old finalist from India who has developed a breath-to-speech device that can assist those with disabilities to speak.

Congratulations to all the entrants, and the winners.  You can sign up for notices about the 2015 Google Science Fair and follow the competition year round.

Next PCAST Meeting Looking More Ahead Than Usual

The President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) will have another meeting on September 19.  As is its custom, that’s a Friday, and the public session will run from 9-12 Eastern time.  Registration is now live on the meetings page, and the webcast will be available from the same page on the day of the event.

The agenda reflects some recent PCAST report activity.  Updates are expected on the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership and educational technology.  Following a break PCAST will continue its public session with two panels.  The first has the broad title of “Alternate Views of Where Science and Technology May Take Us.”  The panelists represent different frontiers of scientific and technological innovation.  One comes from a research center exploring the boundaries of physical science and computer science, another is involved with systems biology and the third works for a cloud computing service provider.  I don’t have a good sense of what this panel might talk about, but future trends are implied by the title.

The other panel is about STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).  That it specifically mentions the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that PCAST has a particular article in mind for the panel to discuss.  This article on active learning (compared to lectures) seems a likely candidate.

As usual, the meeting will be webcast and available for later viewing.  Simply check the meetings section of the website for links.

PCAST To End Summer With A Report Doubleheader

While the next meeting of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) is September 19, there are some items that cannot wait.  Namely the release of two reports.

On August 28 PCAST will hold a public conference call in connection with the release of two new reports.  One will be a review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (periodically required by law) and the other focuses on educational information technology.

The call runs from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Eastern.  Registration is required, and closes at noon Eastern on the 26th..


FOX To Air STEM Programs For Kids

Several FOX owned stations have agreed to air a two-hour collection of programs focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (H/T @Scirens).  (It’s another reminder that FOX is a distinct entity from Fox News Channel.)  Called Xploration Station (not the original title), it consists of four 30-minute programs with lots of on location footage.  The four programs are called Xploration Awesome Plnet, Xploration Outer Space, Xploration Earth 2050, and Xploration Animal Science.  Here’s a promotional video:

The hosts all have experience in science, technology and/or video presentation.  Phillippe Cousteau (Awesome Planet) is part of the Cousteau family of ocean explorers, Emily Calandrelli has degrees in engineering and astronautics and has worked for NASA, Joe Penna is a filmmaker who drew attention to his work in part due to his YouTube channel MysteryGuitarMan.  Animal Science – an Emmy-nominated program – appears to be narrated rather than hosted.

The programs will run on the weekends starting in September.  Check your local listings to see when and on what channel.

End Your July With Some Science Rap

New science raps await, courtesy of some of the usual subjects.

Tom McFadden’s Science Rap Academy tackles asthma in its latest video, which is over the Macklemore track “Can’t Hold Us.”  It focuses on the hygiene hypothesis as a possible explanation for the increase in asthma diagnoses.  I’ll let the video explain:

As I posted a couple of weeks ago, Baba Brinkman has been working on The Rap Guide to Religion.  It approaches the subject from an evolutionary perspective, and Brinkman has premiered it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  Part of the show is available now for listeners as an enticement to help Brinkman fund animations for his raps.  The Kickstarter page for the project outlines the talent he has lined up, with some samples of their work.  You can also listen to two tracks from the album (if you contribute, you will receive downloads of all eight tracks).  My favorite of the two is “Religion Evolves”.

The usual assortment of rewards (copies of the album, t-shirts, custom raps) is available for whatever you’d be willing to contribute.  Continue reading