Two of our previous programs, Blast and the Junior Scholars Institute, have joined forces to create the Junior Scholars Academy (JSA)! Students from 2nd to 8th grade with a deep curiosity, a love of learning, or a lot of talent in a particular area will feel right at home in this program.
JSA is a summer commuter program designed specifically for bright elementary and middle school students who want to thoroughly explore a topic – all while having fun with other kids who share their enthusiasm for learning. Students get to choose one class to focus on all day, for a full week – and these aren’t just any regular classes! With past options like Harry Potter, STEAM, Mixed Media Art, Virtual Reality, Programming (and more!), we’re sure to have something for any curious kid.
Applications open December 15th and will be reviewed by a selection committee composed of Belin-Blank Center faculty and staff. Program acceptance is based on a review of the student’s strengths and interests. The selection committee works to ensure that the class is a good academic fit to nurture the student’s potential. Participation in a school’s gifted education program is not required.
Grade bands for JSA will be 2nd-3rd, 4th-5th, 6th-8th, with the structure consisting of four 1-week sessions. Choose any one (or more!) that works best for you:
Looking for a residential opportunity for 7th and 8th grade students? The Blank Summer Institute (BSI) is a prestigious one-week residential summer program for 120 of Iowa’s most talented 7th- and 8th- grade students, nominated by their schools.
The program takes place extracurricularly in rural school districts throughout the state. Teachers identify talented middle-school students with interests in math and science, increase their aspirations, and engage them in advanced, in-depth coursework to prepare them for STEM opportunities at the highest levels.
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s report makes the following recommendations for organizations and educators working with rural schools. Here’s how Iowa’s STEM Excellence and Leadership program realizes these 9 ideals.
Use quantitative testing appropriately. We believe that every child deserves to learn something new every day, including the ones that ace every test. It’s often the case that bright students are ready to learn things beyond the level of the grade they are in—but how can you tell what level would be more appropriate for a particular student? One way, called above-level testing, is to give a younger student a test that was developed for older students. In the STEM Excellence and Leadership program and at the Belin-Blank Center, we use above-level testing to uncover information about a student’s academic abilities and learning needs, helping parents and teachers discover what that student is ready to learn. Learn more.
Use educator and community feedback. The STEM Excellence and Leadership program is grounded in the philosophy of place-based learning and provides support for educators to have agency in shaping their local programs around the needs and interests of their students and communities. This means that each program implements a unique curriculum that leverages local strengths, opportunities, and needs. Local districts have strong voices in their programs, which have incorporated prairie restorations, algebra, rocketry, butterfly gardens, probability, robotics, statistics, and invention conventions.
Use student interviews. We gather feedback from STEM Excellence and Leadership students by visiting classrooms, conducing focus groups, and sending out surveys. Understanding how students experience our programs is key to living up to our ideals and knowing the extent to which we are truly inspiring excellence and nurturing potential.
Pay special attention to underserved populations. Research shows that rural students have fewer STEM educational opportunities, are less likely to attend a four-year college, and less likely to major in STEM than their urban and suburban peers. We believe talent is not bound by zip code and neither should be opportunities for advanced STEM learning.
Expose promising rural students to people and opportunities outside their home communities and connect talented students with older, near-peer role models cultivating a robust peer community. Students who participate in the STEM Excellence and Leadership program come together in the spring to attend a Student Research Conference at the University of Iowa. There, they learn about research conducted by undergraduate students from rural Iowa communities and hear presentations from Iowa high school students conducting original research. Scholarships sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation are also available to support STEM Excellence and Leadership students in attending Belin-Blank Center summer programs, where they spend their days taking a deep dive into a topic of their choice with like-minded peers. Through these summer programs, students have access to valuable university-level resources and experts. They also live in a residence hall with their classmates and get a taste of life as university students.
When possible, provide consistent engagement throughout the year. STEM Excellence and Leadership is a year-long program with a fall and spring session. With programming before school, after school, on the weekends, and during the summer, STEM Excellence and Leadership programs create bountiful STEM opportunities for rural students throughout the year.
Encourage professional development in schools. A hallmark of the STEM Excellence and Leadership program is that communities of teachers from a variety of disciplines come together to learn about the identification of STEM talent, the needs of gifted learners, and principles of math and science education. Summer professional development programs create communities that understand and support the development advanced STEM learning ecosystems within and across districts.
Provide acceleration and enrichment opportunities. Through administering the STEM Excellence and Leadership program, we are able to support educators across the state in creating STEM ecosystems that provide acceleration and enrichment opportunities for rural students.
We would like to acknowledge the support of the Jack Kent Cook Foundation for a Rural Talent Initiative grant and a Talent Development Award that have supported the implementation of the STEM Excellence and Leadership program and the Student Research Conference. Additionally, a National Science Foundation Advancing Informal STEM Learning grant supports current STEM Excellence and Leadership programming and research and rural STEM talent development.
Looking for a creative and fun way to kick off the year? If so, consider adding the National Invention Convention curriculum to your lesson plans. This is free, open-access curriculum that supports the type of critical thinking necessary to participate in programs like Invent Iowa. The framework of the curriculum is developed around the 7 steps of the Invention Process: Identifying, Understanding, Ideating, Designing, Building, Testing, and Communicating.
The curriculum was designed by the STEMIE Coalition. STEMIE is an education framework that elevates youth invention and entrepreneurship education to a core part of K-12 education. It contains lesson plans, rubrics, assessments, and other resources. Students have the opportunity to think creatively while using the invention process to design and test their work. It is a great way to help students better understand ways of solving real-world problems that they encounter on a daily basis.
Find the National Invention Convention curriculum here.
You can create engaging learning experiences for teens by making it possible for them to conduct original research and connect with a larger scholarly community through citizen science. While collecting original data has tremendous merit, sometimes barriers to the necessary equipment or resources for effective data collection are challenging to navigate. Publicly available real-world data sets are one way to circumvent these obstacles and get teens researching—for real.
Did you know that there are more than 244,000 data sets publicly available to anyone on data.gov? This website has data from a wide variety of sources from agriculture, climate, and ecosystems, to manufacturing, energy, and finance. Looking at the available data, you and your teen might wonder how public parks might affect a neighborhood’s resilience to natural disasters. With a research question in mind, teens are ready to learn how to design their investigation and then dig into those data!
Student research doesn’t have to involve a lot of expense or fancy equipment. With nothing more than a laptop and an internet connection, students can produce high-quality original research from their bedrooms or the classroom. Publicly available data sets abound and they can be the spark that ignites a lifetime of STEM curiosity.
For more information on student research, be sure to check out our other posts on this topic!
As the school year has come to a close, excitement and planning for summer fun is in the air! What are you imagining for these sun-drenched days—beaches, camping, novels, hiking, blockbuster movies? If you are a teacher, which of your students might be dreaming about digging into a science or engineering challenge this summer and how can you encourage them? Perhaps you have a child whose curiosity needs an outlet and encouraging nudge. Summer science to the rescue!
With the increase in the number of researchers looking for
everyday citizens to aid them in research projects, opportunities to contribute
to actual research projects right from home or the classroom are more abundant
than ever! In today’s information-rich world these opportunities are available
We have collected a few projects that span a variety of interest areas to nurture the curious indoor and outdoor kids in your life:
Join the Zooniverse (https://www.zooniverse.org/) and get
connected to projects ranging from analyzing images identifying wildlife,
analyzing images and data identifying celestial bodies, to transcribing
historical documents. These projects seek out ordinary individuals to
contribute to research, making an impact in the world. One example project is
Bash the Bug (https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/mrniaboc/bash-the-bug),
a project in which an individual analyzes the antibiotic resistance of M.
tuberculosis, helping hospitals around the world accurately predict which
antibiotics are effective at treating this disease.
National Geographic (https://www.nationalgeographic.org/idea/citizen-science-projects/)
lists several projects on their website such as bird counting projects,
monitoring light pollution with the night sky, or participating in water
quality monitoring with people from around the globe. Some of the projects such
as the Global Garlic Mustard Field Survey (https://garlicmustard.wordpress.com/)
even give teachers tips on how they can use the project in their classroom: “Educators
can offer their students an invaluable opportunity for hands-on participation
in peer-reviewed scientific research, and compare class results to the larger
dataset involving hundreds of populations.”
is a website in which students can help track seasonal changes and seasonal
migrations of different species right where they live. This site also offers
teacher resources (https://journeynorth.org/tm/educators_index.html)
to help a teacher drive discussion using data that was input by citizen
scientists just like your students.
If you want to search for projects by location,
then check out Scistarter.org. This
website connects citizen scientists to local projects. Projects range from
migration tracking to water and air quality. One project, School of Ants USA, (https://www.scistarter.org/school-of-ants-usa)
asks citizen scientists to help track ant diversity by collecting and sending
in a sample of ants.
What if you have a high school student on your hands who wants to take summer science to the next level? No problem! Citizen science projects and the associated publicly available data sets can be used by students to ask their own questions and conduct their own research. Then, they can submit their work to the Iowa Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS)!
Iowa JSHS showcases research conducted by high school
students each year to provide students with an outlet to share their work and
be recognized for their efforts. Attending the symposium provides youth with
exposure to Iowa high school research, and they also benefit from networking
opportunities with other student researchers and research professionals.
Want more information on student-led research? Be sure to
check out our previous posts on this topic!
Charles Smith (Ottumwa Community School District) won 1st place at the Kindergarten grade level for his “Benge Beacon,” a bright light to mark exits in homes to help firefighters and residents locate them more easily.
Dylan Hunt, Thomas Nugent, and Rebecca Yanacheak (8th grade, Adel-Desoto-Minburn Community School District) won a Patent Application Award for their “Eazy Shuck,” which makes shucking corn an easier and safer process.
Kelty Raap & Sadie Takes (4th grade, St. Pius X Catholic School), won an Inventor Communication Award for “Best Pitch” while presenting their “I C Safety Straw,” a straw made of ice to reduce plastic use.
A full list of national winners is available here. Congratulations to all who competed, and especially to our Iowa representatives. We are proud of your hard work and inspiring ideas!
1st place: Pooja Kasiviswanathan (Ames High School) — “Farming on Mars: potential strategies for sustainable agriculture in Martian conditions”
2nd place: Isabella Hoeger-Pinto (Iowa City West High School) — “Examination of plasma etch rate on silicon substrate with photoresist mask”
3rd place: Radha Velamuri (Valley High School) — “Involvement of the AhR in reproductive function with exposure to PCB 126”
4th place: Kayla Livesay (Van Buren Community High School) — “Accelerating plant growth to improve crop production and soil fertility: analyzing the effects of macronutrients and mycorrhizal fungi for Zea mays: Phase III”
5th place: Amara Orth (Lewis Central High School) — “What is honey? A comparison of honey from Iowa beekeepers versus national store brand honey using pH, pollen, and chemical composition analysis”
In addition to scholarships, these five students qualified to compete at the 57th Annual National JSHS in Albuquerque, New Mexico last week.
Approximately 230 high school students from all over the world attended the National JSHS to compete for scholarships and recognition in the fields of environmental science; life sciences; biomedical, cellular and molecular sciences; medicinal, behavioral and health sciences; engineering; mathematics and computer science; physics; and chemistry and material sciences.
Like the Iowa finalists, these impressive students qualified for the symposium by submitting and presenting original scientific research papers in regional symposia held at universities nationwide. Approximately 130 high school teachers, mentors, university faculty, ranking military guests and others also attended to encourage the future generation of scientists and engineers and celebrate student achievement in the sciences.
For the second consecutive year, an Iowa regional finalist placed at the national competition! Kayla Livesay (Van Buren Community High School) won second place in the Life Science division of the poster competition for her project, “Accelerating plant growth to improve crop production and soil fertility: analyzing the effects of macronutrients and mycorrhizal fungi for Zea mays: Phase III.” Congratulations to Kayla, as well as her teacher, Amanda Schiller (a former JSHS competitor herself)!
Congratulations to all who participated in both the Iowa regional and National Junior Science and Humanities Symposia! For more information on getting started with student research or the JSHS program, visit:
If you’re still looking for summer programs for curious middle school students, look no further! Our Junior Scholars Institute (JSI) still has limited seats available in some amazing classes. Check them out before it’s too late!
Robot Theater: Exploring with Cozmo
The focus of this class is to learn the basics of dramatic storytelling that incorporate robot technology (Cozmo, created by Anki) as part of the story. If you have written a script, story, or poem that you have been dreaming of seeing performed on stage, then this class is for you—our Cozmos will be your actors. If you have an interest in robotics and want to work with sophisticated technology, then this class is for you—Cozmo will introduce you to the world of robotics. No previous experience with writing, puppetry, theatre, or working with robots is required.
Students will be exposed to real-world environmental challenges Iowans face with an emphasis on flooding and access to clean water. Through an interactive learning environment, students will connect with professionals from a variety of related fields to learn how we prepare for, respond to, and recover from disaster events, but then also mitigate for future disasters to build community resilience. Classroom learning will be mobile and designed to engage the students in career settings providing opportunities for practicing professional development skills.
Mixed Media Workshop
Are you ready for an exciting week of action-packed art adventures? If so, this class is for you! Our week will be an exciting exploration of several different kinds of art making. You will try your hand at a variety of studio projects throughout the week. The two-dimensional art portion of the class will involve some printmaking, drawing, and painting. The stop motion animation segment will introduce you to the basics of stop-motion in the making of an awesome animation that you will shoot, edit, and create music and sound effects. You will work on individual pieces, as well as work in small groups. Exploring collaboration in small groups will allow us to put our brains together to come up with unique, creative solutions. We will go on a couple of field trips to get ideas for work and look at other artists’ work. Bring your adventurous spirit and creative brain. It’s going to be a great week of getting a little messy, learning some new techniques, getting your creative juices flowing, and challenging yourselves.
Archaeology: Discover the Past!
Ever wonder how archaeologists know where to find ancient sites? Or how rocks and bones provide them clues about how people lived? Archaeologists are scientific detectives, studying people from the past and the objects they left behind. In this course, you will learn to think like an archaeologist using scientific inquiry. We will study real artifacts in the research labs at the Office of the State Archaeologist and participate in hands-on lessons and activities to learn about Iowa’s archaeological past, from the Ice Age to the first Europeans. You will also learn how today’s Native American communities work with archaeologists to strengthen our understanding of their cultures. Part of this course will take place at an outdoor classroom at the Macbride Nature Recreation Area, where we will learn archaeology field techniques to document a real archaeological site!
Other open classes include Leadership for Students Who Want to Make a Difference,Women in Engineering, and Project Discovery: Finding Your Writer’s Voice.
Participation in your school’s talented and gifted program is not required. Payment plans and financial aid are available. If you think JSI sounds like a good fit for your student, be sure to check it out at www.belinblank.org/summer or contact Ashlee Van Fleet at email@example.com!
The Belin-Blank Center specializes in academically talented kids. If you have 6th-8th grade students who show a deep curiosity when a topic sparks their interest, a love of learning, or a particular talent in an area, they will feel right at home in our Junior Scholars Institute (JSI)! JSI is a summer program designed specifically for bright students who want to take a deep dive into a topic – all while having fun with other middle school kids who share their level of interest and ability.
Students get to choose one class to focus on all day, for a full week – and these aren’t regular classes! With options like Archaeology, Women in Engineering, Mixed Media Art, Leadership for Students Who Want to Make a Difference, Robot Theater (and more!), there’s sure to be something for your inquisitive kids. Class sizes are small, and they take place on the University of Iowa campus, giving students access to valuable university-level resources and experts.
JSI students also get to experience a taste of college life by staying overnight in the dorm with their peers for the week! Plus, they get to hang out with their new friends and attend plenty of fun cultural and recreational activities in the evenings.
We understand that many bright students may also have a disability or impairment that can present behavioral, emotional, social, or learning challenges. Our experts in twice-exceptionality offer specialized social and academic support for these students.
Payment plans and financial aid are available. Participation in your school’s talented and gifted program is not required. If you think JSI sounds like a good fit for any of your students, be sure to recommend that they check it out at www.belinblank.org/summer or contact Ashlee Van Fleet at firstname.lastname@example.org!
of the common
characteristics of gifted students is a deep curiosity about the topics
they are interested in. They may spend hours scouring Google for more
information, ask complex questions in class, or observe how the topic relates
to one they learned about in another class.
As a classroom teacher, this level of interest can be exciting to witness. However, it may also present logistical challenges when trying to simultaneously maintain curriculum standards and balance the various learning needs of a classroom full of students.
school student STEM research can help solve both of these challenges. These
projects offer a way to implement the Science and Engineering Practices of the
new Next Generation Science Standards
(NGSS) and help students develop 21st-century
skills, while also naturally differentiating instruction through inquiry
and student choice.
The performance standards of the NGSS emphasize the role of students actively generating conceptual understanding while engaging in the practices of science. In this way, the NGSS reflect the idea that understanding the practices of science is just as important as the content knowledge itself. Research projects also help students develop important skills necessary for success in the 21st century. According to P21, essential life and career skills needed today include flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, and leadership and responsibility. Student research projects offer a chance to practice each of these skills.
research also helps the classroom teacher engage students in science content by
allowing them to pursue an individual inquiry into a problem or generate new knowledge
about a topic of their choice. Having the opportunity to choose an individual
project exposes students to design and problem solving skills, as well as
hands-on, minds-on, and collaborative learning.
can differentiate instruction for students who are enthusiastic about diving
even deeper into their topic by encouraging them to submit their projects to
various high school student research competitions. These offer students an authentic audience to
which to present their work and a chance to win accolades, prizes, and even
college scholarships for their work. Competing for a prize adds a level of student
engagement by having a real, tangible benefit to completing their projects and
putting together a well-written research paper and presentation.
Research competitions, such as Iowa’s regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), provide students an opportunity to engage with experts who will critique their work, and valuable experience presenting and communicating science to a broad audience. These events often offer students a chance to interact with STEM professionals, listen to presentations on other students’ research, or go on tours that expose them to real-world research environments and various STEM careers. This connects students to the STEM community and exposes them to the culture of science.
Iowa’s regional JSHS allows teachers to bring non-competing students as delegate attendees. Students who attend as delegates have the opportunity to see the top projects presented, attend lab tours, and interact with research professionals and other student-scientists from around the state. The top presenters advance to the national competition, where they join student researchers from around the nation to compete for substantial scholarships. There are also opportunities for hands-on workshops, panel discussions, career exploration, research lab visits, and student networking events. Last year, Iowa high school students took home a 1st place win at the national competition and more than $20,000 in scholarships! Next year, it could be your student.
Once you’ve started your application, write down your username and password! The $75 application fee applies for each application account you start on the portal, so be sure you can log back in when it’s time to finish your application later.
Contact your references now! The application requires two references from you: First, the academic reference, which should come from a teacher who can speak to your abilities in your desired research fields; Second, the character reference, which should come from a mentor who can speak to your character and maturity as a person. We define mentor broadly. Past applicants have chosen teachers, coaches, counselors, pastors, rabbis, etc. Just make sure that your mentor is not a friend or family member. Once your teacher and mentor have agree to provide references on your behalf, enter their email addresses into the appropriate field in your application. We will then email them a few short questions. They have until February 1st to send us their responses. Late references cannot be accepted, and it’s your responsibility to follow up and ensure that your references respond on time.
Start your essays now! We ask for two separate pieces of writing from you: First, a 750-word essay describing your research interests and background; And second, a 750-word essay explaining why SSTP is a good fit for you. We recommend writing and editing your essays in a separate document and pasting them into the application platform once you’re satisfied with your work. Please bear in mind that the essay fields in the online platform will save your essays as plain text, meaning that your formatting will not be kept.
Carefully consider your desired research areas. In the application, we will ask you for top three research areas, and we include a list of research areas that other SSTP students have used in the past. If you do not see your desired field, that’s fine! You may write in research areas that we have not listed. If you’re not sure what’s available, be sure to check out our virtual poster session on the SSTP website, where you can view past students’ work. Although not every research area you see there will necessarily be available in 2019, what you see can give you a good idea of the kind of research that students have been able to do in the past.
You may only submit one set of test scores. We recommend the SAT, ACT, PSAT, or PLAN, but if you have not taken one of those four tests, you may also submit state-administered standardized test scores. Since you may only submit one set of scores, we strongly advise against submitting SATII subject test scores. If you are a non-native speaker of English, no problem! You do not have to submit TOEFLs scores or any other proof of English ability. Your English results from the SAT, ACT, etc., will suffice.
Review the costs of the program. For students applying from within the US, the total costs will add up to $6,270. US students may also apply for financial aid within the online application platform. For students applying from outside the US, however, no financial aid may be awarded. Additionally, students applying from outside the US must pay an additional $550 fee to cover the costs of insurance and two additional nights of room and board, bringing the total costs of the program for international students to $6820.
When you’re done, save your application and leave it is as! There’s no “submit button.” Whatever you have on your application as of February 1st will be what we use to make admission decisions. Until February 1st, you may return to your application and make edits as often as you like. Applications are considered on a non-rolling basis, so there are no advantages to finishing early other than peace of mind and the assurance that your application is complete. You will be able to see at-a-glance what sections still need your attention using the little red lights. Once they all have turned green, you’re all set.
If you have any questions, you can contact us at email@example.com. During times of high inquiry volume, it may take us up to two business days to respond to your email, so please contact us sooner rather than later to ensure that you receive your response in a timely manner.
A special congratulations goes out to this year’s valedictory class speaker, Iowa’s own Riley Dejohn, who spent his summer researching physical chemistry in Dr. Alexei Tivanski’s group at the University. Also featured was special guest speaker Dr. Hanna Stevens, professor of psychology and veteran SSTP mentor, who shared her insights gleaned over years of pedagogy during the final banquet dinner.
Thank you to our guest judges from Integrated DNA Technologies, without whom the final poster competition would not have been possible, and to the 2018 SSTP mentors at the University, for all of the guidance and leadership they gave to each student. We know that you have made a huge difference in the lives and careers of these future researchers!
Last month, students from across the state of Iowa attended the Iowa Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), hosted by the Belin-Blank Center at the Marriott Hotel in Coralville, Iowa.
JSHS is a collaborative effort with the research arm of the Department of Defense and is designed to challenge, engage, and publically recognize high school students conducting scientific research in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). JSHS aims to prepare and support students to contribute as future scientists and engineers – conducting STEM research on behalf of, or directly for, the Department of Defense, the Federal research laboratories, or for the greater good in advancing the nation’s scientific and technological progress.
Students completed an original research project and submitted a research paper to the regional competition. The authors of the top 18 papers were invited to compete for scholarships and recognition by presenting their results before a panel of judges and an audience of their peers. Students also toured various labs and facilities at the University of Iowa to hear about cutting edge research, potential career paths, and student opportunities.
After an intensive day of presentations, the judges had the difficult task of selecting five finalists based on their research papers and presentations:
1st place: Megan Ertl (Beckman Catholic High School) – “Quantification of Muscle Accelerations to Interpret Individual Fatigue as an Industrial Application
2nd place: Cheryl Blackmer (Ballard High School) – “Development of a LAMP Assay for the Detection of Powassan Virus”
3rd place: Pranav Chhaliyil (Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment) – “Metagenomics Analysis of Bedtime Oral Cleaning by the Novel GIFT Method, Shows a Reduction in Dental-Damaging Bacteria”
4th place: Aaron Wills (Central Lee High School) – “Engineered Environmental Containment: “Using Lemna minor L. to Reduce Nitrate Levels in Aquatic Environments”
5th place: Brianna Cole (Valley High School) – “Cumulative Effects of Recurrent Amygdala Kindled Seizures on Respiratory Function”
Additional presenters, who were winners by virtue of having their papers accepted, included Allison Brasch (Waterloo West High School), Mason Burlage (Beckman Catholic High School), Ava Depping (Madrid High School), Serenity Haynes (Central Lee High School), Sean Kluesner (Beckman Catholic High School), Pearl Krieger Coble (Winfield-Mt. Union High School), Kayla Livesay (Van Buren High School), Kathryn McCarthy (Sioux City East High School), Evylin Merydith (Keokuk High School), Tyler Montgomery (Kennedy High School), Elizabeth Smith (Waterloo West High School), Laura Stowater (Algona High School), Shelby Westhoff (Beckman Catholic High School).
The top five finalists will attend an expense-paid trip to the JSHS National Symposium next month in Hunt Valley, MD to present their research and compete for additional prizes.
Recently, we sat down with the Belin-Blank Center’s STEM Initiative Team to talk about their vision for the future of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) at the Center, in Iowa, and beyond. The team is made up of Kate Degner, Administrator for IOAPA and SSTP; Leslie Flynn, Clinical Assistant Professor, Science Education, and Administrator for STEM Initiatives, Belin-Blank Center; and Lori Ihrig, Administrator for Summer Program Faculty and Commuter Programs.
Can you talk a little bit about your background in STEM?
Kate: I began my teaching career in 2003 in Lone Tree, Iowa. I was the only regular education 9-12 mathematics teacher in the building, meaning I taught every mathematics course offered from Consumer Mathematics to Pre-Calculus. During the summer of 2005, I was invited to be part of a 6-person writing team for the University of Chicago Mathematics Project 3rd edition Algebra textbook. Shortly after completing that project I began teaching upper-level mathematics courses (AP Statistics, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, and Discrete Mathematics) in Williamsburg. During that time I also went back to school and earned my M.A. in Mathematics. I’ve also had experience teaching concurrent credit classes, as well as night classes at a community college. During the last few years I also taught Calc I and II at the high school and college levels. Last year I graduated from the University of Iowa with my PhD in Curriculum and Supervision, with an emphasis on Mathematics Education and Educational Leadership.
Leslie: I have worked in STEM education for 25 years as a high school and college science and mathematics instructor, school administrator, professional development director, and professor in our STEM K-12 licensure programs. I became interested in STEM as a 4th grader engaged in specialized courses in STEM. I was fortunate to have programs where I could attend college courses and STEM competitions while still participating in school athletics and general education courses. My exceptional STEM female teachers opened my mind to the idea that girls can excel in STEM and they provided me with the skills and confidence to pursue college degrees in Chemistry.
Lori: I graduated with a B.S. in Science Education in 1999 from the University of Iowa and worked as a grades 7-12 science teacher for the Williamsburg Community School District. In Williamsburg, we participated in Iowa Excellence through a partnership with the Belin-Blank Center, and I began teaching an AP biology class. During this time period I also worked with the Center, teaching for the Junior Scholars Insitute (JSI) and WINGS, and earned my MS in Science Education from the University of Iowa. In 2007, I began working at ACT writing science curriculum and facilitating science teacher professional development for Quality Core, a project that was a partnership between ACT, the Gates Foundation, and the National Governors Association. In 2010, I began working on my doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction at Iowa State University with an emphasis in Science Education. My doctoral emphasis is on secondary science teacher education and the implementation of reforms-based science instruction by novice science teachers.
Dr. Susan Assouline, Associate Director, Belin-Blank Center
Register here for a free Webinar – You Already Know This: How to Use Your Teaching Skills & Current Resources with Math-Talented Students (Grades 3-7). On Thursday, April 14, from 3:30 to 4:15 PM (US CDT), Kate Degner, a doctoral candidate in math education, will demonstrate a technique for accelerating the math curriculum. I will give a brief explanation of the reports generated from our new online system for making informed decisions about math acceleration, IDEAL Solutions® for Math Acceleration.
As you know, mathematically talented students have varying academic profiles. This aspect is described in Developing Math Talent (Assouline & Lupkowski-Shoplik, 2011); you can read about one very talented student, Zach, here.
Dr. Susan Assouline, Associate Director, Belin-Blank Center
I love coincidences – and the co-occurrence of two events this weekend are particularly special for me. This weekend, scholars from all over the country are gathering at Johns Hopkins University to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Talent Search Model, which was originally established as the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY). Professor Julian C. Stanley (1918-2005) founded SMPY, “to find youths who reason exceptionally well mathematically and to provide them the special, supplemental, accelerative educational opportunities they sorely need and richly deserve for their own optimal development and the good of society.”
Also this Saturday, several hundred students will take the EXPLORE test as an above-level test. This opportunity is available through our talent search, BESTS. BESTS is part of the 40-year tradition that will be celebrated on the 25th and 26th of March. It is safe to say that without the establishment of SMPY four decades ago, well before some of the parents of today’s talent search participants were even born, many of the hundreds of thousands of students who have been impacted through the Talent Search would never have had the opportunity to fully develop their academic talents. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging about the Talent Search and the research and programs that emanate from this extraordinarily robust educational model.
Although it may seem surprising in light of the gains women have made in the last forty years, recent research shows that the gender gap in STEM fields still exists. According to the American Association of University Women, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics found that as of 2008, although more than half of biological scientists are women:
Just over 30% of chemists and material scientists are female
Women make up a little over 20% of computer programmers
Less than 7% of mechanical engineers are women
So why are women so underrepresented in STEM fields? While some people may assume that the gap is due to intrinsic ability or differences in interest, the research suggests that the real reasons are more complicated:
A recent study found that having a female instructor rather than a male instructor makes a big difference for female students in an introductory calculus, increasing class participation as well as the likelihood that a female student would ask the instructor questions outside of class.
Having female professors appears to provide a sort of “inoculation” against the stereotype that STEM fields are for men only. It’s therefore important that women be well-represented in STEM departments in colleges as professors, TAs, and older students in the program.
Other findings “…suggest that other characteristics such as gender differences in orientation toward people versus things (Lubinski & Benbow, 2007), the value placed on different occupations (Eccles, 2007), and commitment to child rearing, family (Halpern, 2007), and full-time work (Lubinski & Benbow, 2007) are responsible for the differences in occupational choices and career achievement levels of males and females in math and science fields.” (55-56, Olszewski-Kubilius & Lee)
“…although gender differences on cognitive tests may be small and disappearing when heterogeneous samples of students are studied, they appear to remain robust for gifted samples. These gender differences for gifted students have implications for the representation of the most able females in STEM professions.” (56, Olszewski-Kubilius & Lee)
What can parents, educators, and counselors do to help more girls find success in STEM?
Include female scientists and mathematicians in your history courses not as “special cases” but as equal contributors to their fields. Researchers emphasize that instructors need to make references to accomplished women in STEM in a “regular and low-key” way.
If a girl shows interest in STEM, encourage that interest – provide relevant activities, academic programs, enrichment, and acceleration.
Model genuine interest in STEM – excitement about learning is contagious.
Dr. Susan Assouline, Associate Director, Belin-Blank Center
Almost daily we hear about the weak performance of American students in math and science when compared to their international counterparts.
Many of the national reports that convey this message have issued a “Call to Action.” In 2008, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel released its final report about math education in the US and recommended that districts ensure that all prepared students have access to algebra by Grade 8. For general education students, this is great – but for mathematically talented students, the need for challenging math comes well before Grade 8.
The Belin-Blank Center is responding to the “Call to Action” with a brand new website: IDEAL®Solutions for Math Acceleration. This website is designed to assist parents and educators of mathematically talented students in understanding the degree to which their students would benefit from additional challenge. After entering data about the student, parents and educators receive a report that provides individualized recommendations for the student. This report also offers a detailed summary of the research related to acceleration and documents the information about the student for both parents and educators.
An IDEAL®Solutions for Math Acceleration report provides a starting point in the discussion about how to meet a mathematically talented student’s academic needs. To learn more, visit www.idealsolutionsmath.com.
If you are an educator, contact us about becoming an IDEAL®Solutions for Math Acceleration School.
To learn more about STEM in gifted education, join us on Twitter this Friday, February 18th, at noon EST for #gtchat.