Monday, August 19, 2013

Women in Science

When my daughter turned 8 I realized I was a feminist.  I realized that women are still under represented in the scientific and math communities.  I realized that its not because they aren't encouraged - but somewhere around middle school we "lose them".  In addition, we are raising boys in a boy-heavy science environment so when they do encounter a woman in the professional world they treat her badly.

As a STEM teacher I am breaking those barriers.  But that isn't enough.  I need to remind everyone that our entire history of STEM was dependent on both men and women.  So here is my list of favorite famous STEM ladies.

P.S.  If anyone wants to print some nice quality black and whites of these ladies with 3 sentences captioned underneath I would love to hang them in my home.

Ada Lovelace

Beloved icon of computer nerds everywhere, Ada Byron was an early computer scientist - a VERY early computer scientist.

Back in the 1800s, Byron, the daughter of poet Lord Byron, studied with English mathematician Charles Babbage. Babbage's early proposed "analytical engine" was one of the earliest computers -- or would have been, if it was ever built.

Ada realized its potential. Her analysis and explanation of how Babbage's "analytical machine" (a giant calculator, in essence) might be used to calculate a series of mathematically important numbers pretty much made her the first computer programmer. [source: image wikipedia, text]

Grace Hopper

Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992) was an American computer scientist and United States Navy Rear Admiral. A pioneer in the field, she was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, and developed the first compiler for a computer programming language. She conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. She is credited with popularizing the term "debugging" for fixing computer glitches (motivated by an actual moth removed from the computer). Owing to the breadth of her accomplishments and her naval rank, she is sometimes referred to as "Amazing Grace". The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) is named for her, as was the Cray XE6 "Hopper" supercomputer at NERSC.  [cite: wikipedia]

Marie Curie

That Marie Curie lived as long as she did is kind of amazing, considering the woman made radioactivity her life.

The papers that once belonged to her are still so radioactive, 75 years after her death, that they can't be handled without special gear.

In the early part of the 20th century, the Polish-born Curie and her French husband, Pierre Curie, toiled over radioactive elements such as uranium, polonium and radium (some of which they discovered) without any protection and with little regard for the damage those elements might cause living tissue.

Curie would later pay the price: her 1934 death, from aplastic anemia, was most likely due to years of radiation exposure, but her legacy lived on: the two-time Nobel prize winner (for physics in 1903 with her husband, and for chemistry in 1911) was also the mother of Irene Joliot-Curie, another notable woman of science who would eventually share the Nobel prize with her own husband in 1935 for her own work on radioactivity. [cite:]

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin was, for too long, the overshadowed party in Watson and Crick's story of how they unraveled the structure of DNA. Franklin took the X-ray diffraction images of DNA that indicated its twisted, double-helical structure; without her precise lab work, attention to detail and thoughtful analysis, those X-ray images wouldn't have been worth a penny.

What's more, without those images Watson and Crick would not have been able to publish their notable 1953 paper on the structure of DNA. Those images, leaked to Watson and Crick by Franklin's lab partner, made the difference in the discovery...but not in the recognition.

In 1962, Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize for their work on the structure of DNA; by then, Franklin had been dead for four years, a victim of ovarian cancer. [cite:]

Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall's work with chimpanzees opened our eyes to chimpanzee life, and in the process, to our own evolutionary roots.

In documenting chimps' complex social webs, as well as their use of tools and wide range of emotions, Goodall's work blurred the line between human and animal and made it clear that treating primates well was an ethical issue.  In the years since she first became known, Goodall has also become a passionate advocate on the part of primates like chimpanzees, serving as a very public voice for the animals who can't find their own. [cite:]

Maria Mitchell

Maria Mitchell (August 1, 1818 – June 28, 1889)  was an American astronomer who, in 1847, by using a telescope, discovered a comet which as a result became known as "Miss Mitchell's Comet". She won a gold medal prize for her discovery which was presented to her by King Frederick VII of Denmark. On the medal was inscribed "Non Frustra Signorum Obitus Speculamur et Ortus" in Latin (taken from Georgics by Virgil (Book I, line 257) (English: “Not in vain do we watch the setting and rising of the stars”). Mitchell was the first American woman to work as a professional astronomer.  Though Mitchell, born in 1818, was the first female member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was widely known throughout the world, she was still paid less than her male colleagues at Vassar - or at least she was until she stood her ground.

In addition to discovering "Miss Mitchell's comet," she also found that sunspots were an independent phenomenon and not a type of cloud.

When she wasn't behind a telescope, Mitchell was politically active, campaigning against slavery and for women's suffrage. All in all, a thoroughly modern woman.  [cite: wikipedia and]

Stephanie Kwolek

“To invent, I draw upon my knowledge, intuition, creativity, experience, common sense, perseverance, flexibility, and hard work.”

Stephanie Kwolek is the chemist who invented Kevlar in 1965.  She started working as a chemist in 1946 just to earn enough money to go to medical school, to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a doctor. She soon fell in love with the work, though, which combined her interests in science and textiles.

One of very few female chemists working at Dupont, Stephanie was passionate about discovering new ways of working with synthetic fibers. She volunteered in 1964 for a project none of her colleagues seemed interested in: searching for a strong but lightweight fiber to use in tires.

While experimenting, Stephanie created a strange solution that was very different from ones she’d created before. It should have been a clear, thick fluid, like nylon polymer, but instead was thin and cloudy. “I think someone who wasn’t thinking very much or just wasn’t aware or took less interest in it, would have thrown it out.” But her curiousity and passion for discovery won out.

“I discovered over the years that I seem to see things that other people did not see. If things don’t work out I don’t just throw them out, I struggle over them, to try and see if there’s something there.”

The next step in the process of creating fibers from this solution required a machine called a spinneret, which was run by her coworker Charles Smullen. At first, he refused to spin the solution, thinking it would harm the machine. After much persuasion, Stephanie convinced him to run her solution.

They were amazed when the new fiber came back: it would not break when nylon typically would, and had a stiffness at least nine times greater than anything she’d made before! She and her supervisors immediately recognized the significance of her discovery, and the company set to work creating applications for this incredible new fiber.

Besides bullet-proof vests, the tough, heat-resistant fiber has since found over 200 applications. Today it’s used in products as diverse as fiber-optic cables, aircraft parts, canoes, brake linings, space vehicles, boats, parachutes, skis, and building materials.

The most famous application, of course, is the Kevlar vest. Thousands of lives have been saved by the bullet-stopping fiber. One Viriginia police officer even had Kwolek autograph the bulletproof vest that saved his life.

“I feel very lucky. So many people work all their lives and they don’t make a discovery that’s of benefit to other people.”

Jill Tarter

"Someone described my office as an eight-year-old's daydream," says astronomer Jill Tarter, who has been collecting E.T.-themed office ornaments for 30 years. Tarter was the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute's first employee, and the inspiration for the character in Carl Sagan's Contact. [Cite: NPR]

Yvonne Brill

Yvonne Brill
Born December 30 1924 - Died March 27 2013
Dual Thrust Level Monopropellant Spacecraft Propulsion System
Patent #: 3,807,657

Inducted 2010

Yvonne Brill is known for her innovations in rocket propulsion. Her most important contributions are advancements in rocket propulsion systems for geosynchronous communications satellites in the form of the hydrazine/hydrazine resistojet propulsion system, or the electrothermal hydrazine thruster (EHT). Early on, Brill saw the importance of the system for the then-fledgling communications satellite industry.  [cite:]

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Parents Expectations

Another year is upon us and I anxiously await the reveal of which teachers my children will be assigned to.  Fingers are crossed that it won't be a horribly miserable year like last year.  And because of last year I can be honest about what I expect.  I know I will be getting lists of expectations from the school and teachers in quadruplicate (because if I sign it 4 times then I must *really* mean it).  But here is my list of expectations for the year:

1.  I expect you to love teaching and to love children.  Seems pretty simple.  But just in case its not; do not make my child cry, do not make my child fear you, do not humiliate my child, do not blame my child for your poor classroom management skills.  FYI, Stockholm syndrome is not okay.

2. I expect you to treat me like a partner.  I know you will be with my child for 9 months, but I am *really* invested in his/her success.  After all I carried that child for 9 month, potty trained, agonized over the right time to start school, painstakingly chose after-school activities to find the right balance between learning and fun.  My only goal is to make my child successful in life. I want to help you succeed in the same goal, so when I ask you what I can do to help at home I expect a real answer, not "I don't know."

3. I expect you to treat me with respect.  I may be *just* a stay at home mom.  But I am busy.  Some days I wish I had a job so just I could have a sick day.  But I can't.  I have 5 young children who each have 3-4 extra curricular activities.  Activities that I am leading!  So, yes, I have a job.  I expect you to recognize that there are other things going on in our lives than just your class.  And I expect you to not send home a letter that says I have to drag 5 children at dinner time to the local office supply store to buy the purple three-ring binder you have requested for tomorrow.  Because if I don't my daughter will be humiliated, cry and get detention for something she has no control over.
Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.
4.  I expect you to trust me.  I *might* know a little about my child, just a tad.  So when I decide my child needs a mental health day, or its better that s/he is late and have 15 extra minutes in the morning rather than rushing and ruining the day, perhaps you should just trust me.  I also may only send my child with a sandwich and grapes for lunch because we are having food-choice issues.  I also may take my kids out of school and go to Florida for a week to watch a space shuttle launch.  I guarantee that that family trip is just as important as your class, if not more important.

If you treat me with the above expectations I will sing your praises far and wide.  When you request (with a one week notice) that I send in extra kleenex and pencils, I will likely do so.  When you ask for volunteers to drive on a field trip, cut construction paper or help lead a science activity -- I am your gal.  I want to be there.  I want to help you.  I have been a teacher.  It is exhausting, you have 26+ students in your classroom who look up to you to nurture and teach them.  That is a hard job and it is getting harder every year.  But it doesn't have to be hard.  Ask me to help you.

I expect to have a good school year.  Because if we don't I know how to contact the district office.


Mama Bear

Sunday, August 4, 2013

WEBELOs SuperNova Award Camp

Many years ago when Connor was just a wee little Tiger Cub and we were new to the whole scouting thing my son looked up at me during the bridging ceremony for the Arrow of Lights and said "Mom I want the heavy shoulder patch"  The award is called different things - but my favorite patch is the Super Achiever patch that looks like a 20 with all the pictures of the pins embroidered on it.  He decided when he was 6 years old that he would achieve all of the activity badges available to him.

And that is how we scout.  I scour the awards and plan our summers around earning belt loops and pins.  We attend scout camps, hike, camp, go to museums, cook outside, dissect squid, and more.  With 3 boys within 2 years of each other (and an adventurous big sister) scouting has been something we are very committed to.

I figured I would lead one or two of the activity badges for Connor's den to ensure he had the opportunity to complete them all.  But when I was asked to lead the camp and six activity badges I decided it would be a great opportunity for Connor to get a big head start on his goal.

It was decided that the scouts would earn their Dr. Charles H. Townes Supernova Award; which includes at least 6 activity badges.  We choose to accomplish the Engineer Activity badges, Forester Activity Badge, Geologist Activity Badge, Scholar Activity Badge, Scientist Activity Badge, and Naturalist Activity Badge.  Scouts also went on a field trip to the Rosemont Preserve and listened to speakers; including a Geologist and an Engineer.

After doing tons of research I discovered had lots of the hard work already completed for me - worksheets, crosswords, activities and more.  I decided which activities we would complete and printed the pages that would meet our needs.  After printing I had a 96-page document; including resources regarding southern California native plants and worksheets I created for the Scientist Activity badge.  The book was printed and given to each scout to complete as proof of earning the Supernova Award.

There is no reason to reinvent the wheel so I have linked to the document below.  The document is 96-pages of workbook, another 20ish pages of astronaut themed skits and songs (not original) and instructions for teaching the requirements to scouts in a fun and exciting way.

I spent many hours researching, compiling, creating, copying, fixing, molding and preparing for this award.  Many other websites helped to contribute to my success including and and‎ and‎.

After spending a week with 40 WEBELO scouts talking about science, nature, engineering, college, Bernoulli, Pascal, Newton, sage brush, oak trees, scat, inertia, and more this cannot be anymore true. Every single day the boys made a filthy horrible mess of broken spaghetti, foam explosions etc and every single day they cleaned it up. Montrose Bowl said he has never had a more well-mannered group visit his bowling alley and it was cleaner after we left. Rosemont Preserve said that the boys already knew quite a bit about the native plant life before the hike.

I am so proud of the scouting organization. So pleased about what it is doing for boys and girls. This past week my daughter (10) acted as a den chief - she was an assistant leader to 20 siblings all week long. In addition she helped set up and take down camp every day.

By being involved in scouting we are teaching our children to be responsible, to work hard, to play hard and to learn lots. I am so grateful for this opportunity for them.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Geeky-Girls are geeks too!

I am a mom.  Every part of me is "mother".  Every activity and choice I make is to ensure we are bettering our children and helping them grow into wonderful adults.

That's why I am raising a geeky-girl.  That is why I am teaching programming classes and coach.
I am a geek-mom, raising my daughter to be a geek. She programs in Scratch, she plays with robots, we play board games on the weekend. She is surrounded with nerdiness and science - and so are her brothers. I hope I am raising the next generation of geeky girls and the boys who love and accept them.

Our world has a host of problems to solve; fuel, environment, health and medicine, economics.  These children are our future and not just the boys.  The girls have just as much to contribute not because they are equals, but because girls think differently than boys.  They tend to work more collaboratively and think more before trying to solve a problem.  Boys and girls -- men and women -- need to work together to solve the problems of our future.  Its okay to be a geeky-girl or a geeky-boy.  We are all on the same team.  Let's work together.