STEM split: Women choose bio, but not physics

Two-thirds of Princeton’s molecular biology majors are female, but 76.2 percent of physics majors are male, reports The Daily Princetonian.

The most female-dominated majors for the class of ’16 are art and archaeology at 92.9 percent, psychology at 87.3 percent and comparative literature at 81.3 percent.

The most male-dominated majors are mathematics at 86.7 percent, philosophy at 77.8 percent and computer science at 77.3 percent. History, politics, sociology, classics, music — and astrophysics — are roughly even.

The wobbliest bridge

Here’s a resource for physics teachers: The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse in 1940 is captured on film by British Pathé. Winds of only 35 mph set the bridge rippling.

It’s a learning game — and a test

Learning games are trying to “bridge the gap between instruction and assessment,” reports Education Week.

In SimCity’s Pollution Challenge game, students “must balance the growth of their cities with environmental impacts.” The game analyzes how well a student understands “systems thinking” and reports that to teachers.

“If a student builds one bus stop, then waits before strategically building other bus stops, he has an eye for problem-solving that I would not have gotten with a multiple-choice or written test,” said Matt Farber, a social studies teacher who beta-tested SimCityEDU with 6th graders at the 650-student Valleyview Middle School in Denville, N.J.

More assessment-embedded games are on the way, experts say.

“Stealth assessments” can measure “creativity, persistence and conceptual understanding during game play,” said Valerie J. Shute, a Florida State educational psychology professor. Shute co-developed Newton’s Playground, which uses simulations to teach about gravity, mass, and other physics concepts. Assessment is embedded in the game.

Smart and not-so-smart college majors

Statistic Brain’s IQ Estimates by College Major put education majors — including elementary, early childhood and special education — at the bottom. Student counseling also comes low on the list.

Physics and astronomy, philosophy and math top the list.

IQ is estimated by looking at SAT scores. So, for example, the average elementary education major has SATs of 968 and an estimated IQ of 108. The average physicist hits 1269 and 133. And I’m a genius. Which I’m not.

Emotional intelligence may be more valuable than “academic intelligence” in some fields, points out The Richest.

Physicists — and painters — score well on Pantheon‘s list of “cultural production.” Politicians are even more influential.

Basketball-spinning physics teacher

To demonstrate angular momentum, AP physics teacher Dave Hovan showed students how to spin a basketball on the end of a pen while writing with the pen. A student’s video went viral.

Hovan, 31, teaches physics and astronomy at St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.) High School. He learned the trick from his high school English teacher, a former Harvard basketball player named Patrick Smith.

Harlem Globetrotters star Handles Franklin will visit Hovan’s AP physics class on Thursday. The teacher has been invited to demonstrate his spinning skills at a Globetrotters’ game on March 15.

Teaching the physics of ‘Angry Birds’

Video games have become teaching tools, reports the Wall Street Journal.

At a private school in Houston, eighth-graders slingshot angry red birds across a video screen for a lesson on Newton’s law of motion. High-school students in Los Angeles create the “Zombie Apocalypse” computer game to master character development. And elementary students in Hampstead, N.C., build a virtual city to understand spatial reasoning.

Teachers are using games such as “Minecraft,” “SimCity” and “World of Warcraft” to teach “math, science, writing, teamwork and even compassion,” reports the Journal.

In Chicago and New York, entire schools have been created that use the principles of game design in curriculum development.

Video games let students try, fail, reassess and try again, says Joey J. Lee, an assistant professor who runs the Games Research Lab at Columbia University’s Teachers College, “This creates a positive relationship with failure, especially because the stakes are so low.”

Games “provide rapid feedback that forces students to rethink and alter strategies,” advocates say.

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Geovany Villasenor, a senior at East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy, uses “Minecraft” to build virtual cities. He learned the game in an after-school club but it’s now used in his architecture class. The game lets his “imagination run wild,” says Villasenor.

Not everyone is happy to see video games in the classroom. “Some parents worry that children already spend too much time in front of glowing screens, while others argue that the games are based on rewards, corrupting the idea of learning,” reports the Journal.

The newest games are “aligned” with Common Core standards — or so the makers claim.

Teaching physics — and the power of love

As a physics teacher at a Kentucky high school, Jeffrey Wright is known for exploding pumpkins and lying under a nailed board as students use a sledgehammer to break cinderblocks above him. Most of all, he’s known for his annual lecture on raising a severely disabled son who taught him “the meaning of life, love and family,” reports a New York Times blog.

A former student of Wright’s at Louisville Male Traditional High School in Kentucky (it’s been coed for nearly 60 years) made an award-winning video, Wright’s Law.

“When you start talking about physics, you start to wonder, ‘What is the purpose of it all?’ ” he said in an interview. “Kids started coming to me and asking me those ultimate questions. I wanted them to look at their life in a little different way — as opposed to just through the laws of physics — and give themselves more purpose in life.”

One day, Wright realized his son could see, play and think, he tells students. He and his wife, Nancy, began teaching Adam simple sign language. One day, his son signed “I love you.”

In the lecture, Mr. Wright signs it for the class: “Daddy, I love you.” “. . . “There is something a lot greater than energy. There’s something a lot greater than entropy. What’s the greatest thing?”

“Love,” his students whisper.

Students are looking for purpose, “the purpose in your heart,” to answer the question, “who cares?” Wright believes.

He hopes to inspire students to pursue careers in science and genetic research. “We might be able to come up with something we can use to help Adam out one day.”

Boys dominate AP physics, computer science

Most STEM fields are likely to remain predominantly male. Boys take more AP physics and computer science exams, while girls now dominate AP biology (59 percent), notes Curriculum Matters, who’s been reading the AP Report to the Nation. While Calculus AB exam-takers are evenly split, 59 percent of those who tackle the more advanced Calculus BC are male.

Males make up 58 percent of AP music theory exam-takers, 74 to 77 percent in physics and 80 to 86 percent in computer science.

Gender differences were minor for Chemistry, European History, Latin, Statistics and U.S. Government and Politics.

In The Big Bang Theory, three males are physicists (theoretical, experimental and astro) and one is an engineer, while the female scientists are biologists.

 

Online tutorial aids blind physics students

A computer-science major at a community college in Texas, Amanda Lacy was ready to drop her physics class. Because she’s blind, she listens to a digital textbook on her computer or uses an electronic Braille display. But she couldn’t understand symbols, diagrams and graphs, until a professor came to her aid, ultimately designing an online tutorial and drawing software for blind physics students.

 

Brought to you by the letters S-T-E-M

Sesame Street will be brought to you by the letters S-T-E-M this season, reports USA Today. The show will focus on scientific inquiry.

Characters build bridges, launch rockets and think through problems that require trial and error, observation and data.

Young children are “natural scientists,” says Rosemarie Truglio, vice president for education and research at Sesame Workshop, which produces the show. “They’re exploring the world around them and trying to figure out how the world works.”

Slapstick will respect the laws of physics, promise the writers, who recalls the Muppet rule of thumb:  “When in doubt, throw a chicken.”

As any slapstick comedian will tell you, physics is a comedy gold mine, and the writers soon discovered — or, more likely, remembered — they could apply it to many earnest setups. In one episode, Elmo engineers an automatic spaghetti server with disastrous results. In another, Grover, pondering inclined planes, helps a cow climb a flight of stairs for a manicure.

Acknowledging Newton’s Laws of Motion, this season anyone who hits a brick wall will bounce back before sliding to the floor. “It’s more scientifically accurate slapstick,” says Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente.

. . . Invoking another Muppet rule of thumb — It’s funny anytime someone is thrown and lands painfully — Parente adds, “Nothing is funnier than gravity. Add some sound effects to gravity, and you’re golden.”

In the opening episode of the show’s 42nd season, characters help Hubert the Human Cannonball figure out how to launch himself from a cannon into a vat of blue gelatin.