The Two Codes Your Kids Need to Know

The College Board came up with a surprising conclusion about keys to success for college and life.

Thomas L. Friedman

By Thomas L. Friedman

Opinion Columnist

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Ninth graders in a computer class in Brooklyn. The College Board has said that to be successful, students need to master computer science.CreditCreditSarah Blesener for The New York Times

A few years ago, the leaders of the College Board, the folks who administer the SAT college entrance exam, asked themselves a radical question: Of all the skills and knowledge that we test young people for that we know are correlated with success in college and in life, which is the most important? Their answer: the ability to master “two codes” — computer science and the U.S. Constitution.

Since then they’ve been adapting the SATs and the College Board’s Advanced Placement program to inspire and measure knowledge of both. Since the two people who led this move — David Coleman, president of the College Board, and Stefanie Sanford, its chief of global policy — happen to be people I’ve long enjoyed batting around ideas with, and since I thought a lot of students, parents and employers would be interested in their answer, I asked them to please show their work: “Why these two codes?”

Their short answer was that if you want to be an empowered citizen in our democracy — able to not only navigate society and its institutions but also to improve and shape them, and not just be shaped by them — you need to know how the code of the U.S. Constitution works. And if you want to be an empowered and adaptive worker or artist or writer or scientist or teacher — and be able to shape the world around you, and not just be shaped by it — you need to know how computers work and how to shape them.

With computing, the internet, big data and artificial intelligence now the essential building blocks of almost every industry, any young person who can master the principles and basic coding techniques that drive computers and other devices “will be more prepared for nearly every job,” Coleman and Sanford said in a joint statement explaining their initiative. “At the same time, the Constitution forms the foundational code that gives shape to America and defines our essential liberties — it is the indispensable guide to our lives as productive citizens.”

So rather than have SAT exams and Advanced Placement courses based on things that you cram for and forget, they are shifting them, where they can, to promote the “two codes.”

In 2016, the College Board completely revamped its approach to A.P. computer science courses and exams. In the original Computer Science course, which focused heavily on programming in Java, nearly 80 percent of students were men. And a large majority were white and Asian, said Coleman. What that said to women and underrepresented minorities was, “How would you like to learn the advanced grammar of a language that you aren’t interested in?”

Turned out that was not very welcoming. So, explained Coleman, they decided to “change the invitation” to their new Computer Science Principles course by starting with the question: What is it that you’d like to do in the world? Music? Art? Science? Business? Great! Then come build an app in the furtherance of that interest and learn the principles of computer science, not just coding, Coleman said. “Learn to be a shaper of your environment, not just a victim of it.”

The new course debuted in 2016. Enrollment was the largest for a new course in the history of Advanced Placement, with just over 44,000 students nationwide.

Two years later The Christian Science Monitor reported, “More high school students than ever are taking the College Board’s Advanced Placement (A.P.) computer science exams, and those taking them are increasingly female and people of color.”

 

Indeed, the story added, “the College Board reports that from 2017 to 2018 female, African-American and Hispanic students were among the fastest growing demographics of A.P. computer science test-takers, with increases in exam participation of 39 percent, 44 percent and 41 percent, respectively. … For context, in 2007, fewer than 3,000 high school girls took the A.P. Computer Science A exam; in 2018, more than 15,000 completed it.”

The A.P. U.S. Government and Politics course also was reworked. At a time when we have a president who doesn’t act as if he’s read the Constitution — and we have a growing perception and reality that college campuses are no longer venues for the free exchange of ideas and real debate of consequential issues — Coleman and Sanford concluded that it was essential that every student entering college actually have command of the First Amendment, which enshrines five freedoms, not just freedom of speech.

Every student needs to understand that, as Coleman put it, “our country was argued into existence — and that is the first thing that binds us — but also has some of the tensions that divide us. So we thought, ‘What can we do to help replace the jeering with productive conversation?’”

It had to start in high school, said Sanford, who is leading the “two codes” initiative. “Think of how much more ready you are to participate in college and society with an understanding of the five freedoms that the First Amendment protects — of speech, assembly, petition, press and religion. The First Amendment lays the foundation for a mature community of conversation and ideas — built on the right and even obligation to speak up and, when needed, to protest, but not to interrupt and prevent others from speaking.”

This becomes particularly important, she noted, “when technology and democracy are thought of as in conflict, but are actually both essential” and need to work in tandem.

One must observe only how Facebook was abused in the 2016 election to see that two of the greatest strengths of America — innovation and free speech — have been weaponized. If they are not harmonized, well, Houston, we have a problem.

So the new A.P. government course is built on an in-depth look at 15 Supreme Court cases as well as nine foundational documents that every young American should know. It shows how the words of the Constitution give rise to the structures of our government.

Besides revamping the government course and the exam on that subject, Coleman and Sanford in 2014 made a staple of the regular SAT a long reading comprehension passage from one of the founding documents, such as the Constitution, or another important piece of democracy, like a great presidential speech. That said to students and teachers something the SAT had never dared say before: Some content is disproportionately more powerful and important, and if you prepare for it you will be rewarded on the SAT.

Sanford grew up in Texas and was deeply affected as a kid watching video of the African-American congresswoman Barbara Jordan arguing the case against Richard Nixon in Watergate. What she remembered most, said Sanford, was how Jordan’s power “emanated from her command of the Constitution.

“Understanding how government works is the essence of power. To be a strong citizen, you need to know how the structures of our government work and how to operate within them.”

Kids are getting it: An A.P. U.S. Government and Politics class at Hightstown High School in New Jersey was credited in a Senate committee report with contributing content to a bill, the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act, which was signed into law last month.

Sanford cites it as a great example of her mantra: “‘Knowledge, skills and agency’ — kids learn things, learn how to do things and then discover that they can use all that to make a difference in the world.”

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Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs Op-Ed columnist. He joined the paper in 1981, and has won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is the author of seven books, including “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which won the National Book Award.

The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students

 December 20, 2017

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

The conventional wisdom about 21st century skills holds that students need to master the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — and learn to code as well because that’s where the jobs are. It turns out that is a gross simplification of what students need to know and be able to do, and some proof for that comes from a surprising source: Google.

This post explains what Google learned about its employees, and what that means for students across the country.  It was written by Cathy N. Davidson, founding director of the Futures Initiative and a professor in the doctoral program in English at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and author of the new book, “The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux.” She also serves on the Mozilla Foundation board of directors,  and was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Council on the Humanities.

By Cathy N. Davidson

All across America, students are anxiously finishing their “What I Want To Be …” college application essays, advised to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) by pundits and parents who insist that’s the only way to become workforce ready.  But two recent studies of workplace success contradict the conventional wisdom about “hard skills.” Surprisingly, this research comes from the company most identified with the STEM-only approach: Google.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded their company on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities.

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Those traits sound more like what one gains as an English or theater major than as a programmer. Could it be that top Google employees were succeeding despite their technical training, not because of it?  After bringing in anthropologists and ethnographers to dive even deeper into the data, the company enlarged its previous hiring practices to include humanities majors, artists, and even the MBAs that, initially, Brin and Page viewed with disdain.

Project Aristotle, a study released by Google this past spring, further supports the importance of soft skills even in high-tech environments. Project Aristotle analyzes data on inventive and productive teams. Google takes pride in its A-teams, assembled with top scientists, each with the most specialized knowledge and able to throw down one cutting-edge idea after another. Its data analysis revealed, however, that the company’s most important and productive new ideas come from B-teams comprised of employees who don’t always have to be the smartest people in the room.

Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.

Google’s studies concur with others trying to understand the secret of a great future employee. A recent survey of 260 employers by the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers, which includes both small firms and behemoths like Chevron and IBM, also ranks communication skills in the top three most-sought after qualities by job recruiters. They prize both an ability to communicate with one’s workers and an aptitude for conveying the company’s product and mission outside the organization. Or take billionaire venture capitalist and “Shark Tank” TV personality Mark Cuban: He looks for philosophy majors when he’s investing in sharks most likely to succeed.

STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone, as Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.

No student should be prevented from majoring in an area they love based on a false idea of what they need to succeed. Broad learning skills are the key to long-term, satisfying, productive careers. What helps you thrive in a changing world isn’t rocket science. It may just well be social science, and, yes, even the humanities and the arts that contribute to making you not just workforce ready but world ready.

CAN ROBOTS HELP GET MORE GIRLS INTO SCIENCE AND TECH?

Wired

WONDER WORKSHOP
By Matt Simon

HERE’S A DEPRESSING number for you: 12. Just 12 percent of engineers in the United States are women. In computing it’s a bit better, where women make up 26 percent of the workforce—but that number has actually fallen from 35 percent in 1990.

The United States has a serious problem with getting women into STEM jobs and keeping them there. Silicon Valley and other employers bear the most responsibility for that: Discrimination, both overt and subtle, works to keep women out of the workforce. But this society of ours also perpetuates gender stereotypes, which parents pass on to their kids. Like the one that says boys enjoy building things more than girls.

There’s no single solution to such a daunting problem, but here’s an unlikely one: robots. Not robots enforcing diversity in the workplace, not robots doing all the work and obviating the concept of gender entirely, but robots getting more girls interested in STEM. Specifically, robot kits for kids—simple yet powerful toys for teaching youngsters how to engineer and code.

VAIDAS SIRTAUTUS

Plenty of toys are targeted at getting kids interested in science and engineering, and many these days are gender specific. Roominate, for instance, is a building kit tailored for girls, while the Boolean Box teaches girls to code. “Sometimes there’s this idea that girls need special Legos, or it needs to be pink and purple for girls to get into it, and sometimes that rubs me the wrong way,” says Amanda Sullivan, who works in human development at Tufts University. “If the pink and purple colored tools is what’s going to engage that girl, then that’s great. But I think in general it would be great if there were more tools and books and things that were out there for all children.”

So Sullivan decided to test the effects of a specifically non-gendered robotics kit called Kibo. Kids program the rolling robot by stringing together blocks that denote specific commands. It isn’t marketed specifically to boys or girls using stereotypical markings of maleness or femaleness. It’s a blank slate.

Before playing with Kibo, boys were significantly more likelyto say they’d enjoy being an engineer than the girls did. But after, boys had about the same opinion, while girls were now equally as likely to express an engineering interest as the boys. (In a control group that did not play with Kibo, girls’ opinions did not significantly change.) “I think that robots in general are novel to young children, both boys and girls,” Sullivan says. “So aside from engaging girls specifically, I think robotics kits like Kibo bring an air of excitement and something new to the classroom that gets kids psyched and excited about learning.”

There’s a problem, though. While Sullivan’s research shows that a gender-neutral robotics kit can get girls interested in engineering, that doesn’t mean it will sell. “If you look at sales data, it clearly shows that they’re not being used by girls,” says Sharmi Albrechtsen, CEO and co-founder of SmartGurlz, which makes a programmable doll on a self-balancing scooter. “Even the ones that are considered gender-neutral, if you look at the sales data it clearly shows a bias, and it’s towards boys. That’s the reality of the situation.” Gender sells—at least when it’s the parents doing the buying.

Regardless, companies are designing a new generation of toys in deliberate ways. Take Wonder Workshop and its non-gendered robots Dash and Cue. As they were prototyping, they’d test their designs with boys and girls. “One of the things we heard a lot from girls was this isn’t quite their toy,” says Vikas Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Wonder Workshop. “This is probably what their brother would play with.”

Why? Because they thought it looked like a car or truck. So the team covered up the wheels. “And all of a sudden girls wanted to play with it,” Gupta says. “Our takeaway from that in a big way was that every child brings their preconceived notions to play. So when they see something they map it back to something they’ve already seen.” Though not always. “What we do find actually, funnily enough,” says Albrechtsen of the SmartGurlz scooter doll, “is that a lot of boys actually end up edging in and wanting to play. So we have a lot of brothers who are also playing with the product.”

Whatever gets a child interested, it’s on parents and educators to make sure the spark stays alive. And maybe it’s the increasingly sophisticated, increasingly awesome, and increasingly inexpensive robots that can begin to transform the way America gets girls into science and tech. Short of becoming self aware and taking over the world, the machines certainly couldn’t hurt.

Careers for Women in Technology Companies Are a Global Challenge

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CreditAshley Seil Smith

European women working in the technology field are very familiar with the concerns expressed by their counterparts in the United States — too few girls and young women studying science and technology in school, gender bias and sexual harassment in the workplace.

But, they say, the problems play out in different ways.

“We don’t have a frat-boy culture, we have more of an old-boys culture,” said Anne-Marie Imafidon, co-founder of Stemettes, a British nonprofit aimed at encouraging girls to pursue science, engineering, math and technology. Class differences, she said, play a bigger role in making outsiders feel alienated in the United Kingdom than in the United States, but “the result is the same.”

Over the past year or so in the United States, one accusation of sexual harassment and gender bias in one high-profile company has barely died down before another pops up. Susan Fowler, an Uber employee, wrote a blog post in February about harassment and retaliation that landed like dynamite; after investigations and more revelations, Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, left the company.

At Google, a software engineer was fired after writing a memo that argued that biological differences — such as women experiencing higher levels of anxiety and less tolerance for stress — explained why there were fewer women in top engineering and leadership position at the company. And at the end of September, Dave McClue, the founder of the company 500 Start-ups, said he was stepping down after The New York Times reported he had made an advance to a woman who was applying for a job at his firm.

One of the biggest cases involved Ellen Pao, who sued her venture capital firm alleging gender discrimination and lost the case in 2015. She is back in the news with a book, “Reset,” about her experiences.

And, of course, there is the inevitable backlash. James Altizer, 52, an engineer at the chip maker Nvidia, declared in a recent Times articlethat “feminists in Silicon Valley had formed a cabal whose goal was to subjugate men.” He called the firing of some male employees in tech companies “a witch hunt,” and said there were a growing number of men across Silicon Valley and elsewhere who felt as he did.

While American companies are primarily the ones in the spotlight, they have a global reach, not just because of their size, but because of the ways their actions resonate around the world. And even if gender issues elsewhere don’t make headlines, women on both sides of the Atlantic point to similar problems — although political and cultural disparities create different challenges and opportunities.

For example, while being a working mother, especially in high-powered technology fields, can be difficult, the paid maternity leaves and state-subsidized child care available in many European countries make life simpler.

Anne-Marie Imafidon, far right, a founder of Stemettes, with young women during a break at a conference in Scotland. CreditRobert Ormerod for The New York Times

Karoli Hindriks, 34, of Estonia, started her first company when she was 16. At 19, she spoke before the European Parliament about young entrepreneurs. And she didn’t consider herself a feminist.

“I thought, if you’re good enough, you’ll get the position,” she said. Then, she was propositioned by a possible investor. Writing about the episode in her blog, she described it as “the most humiliating situation imaginable.” She also said that when she was applying for an accelerator program for the company she currently heads, Jobbatical, she was told she should leave the fact that she had a child off the application. (Jobbatical matches global companies and job-seekers in technology, business and creative fields.)

“I was very full of myself when younger,” she said. “It has been eye-opening.”

But one thing making her life easier is “that the state is supporting family so strongly,” Ms. Hindriks said. “We have 18 months’ paid paternity and maternity leave. Preschool costs nothing. Taking care of a child is not an issue.”

Geraldine Le Meur, 45, moved from Paris to San Francisco a decade ago to be, as she put it, “in the center of the jet engine. It was and is the place to be when you are in the digital and tech space.”

One the biggest cultural differences she found is how surprised people were that, as a mother of three, she opted to work full-time.

“It was almost shocking to people that I continue working rather than stay at home with the boys,” said Ms. Le Meur, who started the Refiners, a San Francisco-based seed fund program to help foreign tech start-ups go global. “It wouldn’t be the same in France; it wouldn’t be that surprising.” And she also attributes the differing attitudes to state-subsidized day care and to an earlier starting age for school – 3 years old rather than 5 in the United States.

“You know that the people taking care of your babies while you work are professionals,” she said. “I see friends here who have little kids who are super-conflicted. If they’re financially well-off, it doesn’t seem right not to take care of the kids yourself. My kids are the best part of my life, but not the only part.”

Shira Kaplan, 34, who moved with her husband from Israel to Zurich for his job, found that the message about combining motherhood and work was very different in Switzerland than in her native Israel. She served in the elite cybersecurity intelligence unit in the Israeli military, but when she became pregnant with her first child while working at a private Swiss bank, she said she was constantly asked: “ ‘Are you coming back? Are you coming back 100 percent?’ In the end, they restructured my team while I was on maternity leave and it was a very strong signal.”

She then started and now runs Cyverse, a firm that brings Israeli cybersecurity expertise to Europe. Yet, even as the industry is increasingly eager to show diversity by bringing on women — “we’re the new hot thing” — she still feels different, not just about being a woman, but a young woman, she said.

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Taking part in mock interviews at a Stemettes conference in Scotland. The group, a British nonprofit, encourages girls to pursue careers in science, engineering, math and technology.CreditRobert Ormerod for The New York Times

In Israel, perhaps because military service is mandatory for women and men, there is a greater sense of equality, she said, and there are more women entrepreneurs in technology. In Switzerland, walking into a technology conference, “almost everyone one around you is a gray-haired male in a suit,” she said. “It’s difficult, because when doing business with someone, you look for something in common, and we’re asymmetrical — ‘I’m young, they’re old, I’m a woman, they’re male, I’m short they’re tall.’ ”

Ms. Imafidon, 28, agreed. “I’m young, a person of color, a woman and I talk like a person from East London — you could discriminate against me for a number of reasons.”

She said she hasn’t experienced much gender bias, probably because, she said, she is very confident and not especially perceptive about what other people think of her. At 20 she was one of the youngest people ever to be awarded a master’s degree in mathematics and computer science by the University of Oxford, and in 2013 the British Computer Society, a professional organization, named her its young information technology professional of the year.

But she is worried about the small number of young women entering the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, collectively known as STEM, and the messages they’re getting about women in technology.

Her concern led her to startStemettes, which offers workshops, classes and summer programs designed to expose all girls and young women to science, technology and engineering. For example, at a recent event, 60 girls ages 5 through 19 showed up to build their own apps.

The different educational systems in the United States and Britain mean that each has its own strengths and weaknesses when teaching STEM, she said; British schools, unlike schools in the United States, have a national curriculum; STEM teaching in the United States, on the other hand, “might be more patchy, but it can also be more creative.”

Vanessa Evers, a professor of computer science at the University of Twente in the Netherlands who was a visiting scholar at Stanford University and who worked for Boston Consulting Group in London, said the United States offers more women role models in technology and science than her country does. “In America, it is easier to find support,” said Prof. Evers, who specializes in human-computer interactions. “I had women mentors who were willing to allow me to be there to observe and come along to important meetings. I learned so much just from being there. It’s not so common here — there’s more of a class system, a sense that ‘you don’t crash the party.’”

She feels, she said, a “basic condescension” as a woman in tech. “I feel I have to convince them that I know the technology, and they’re surprised when I do.”

Prof. Evers has had her share of inappropriate remarks and experiences, she said. One time, a more senior male colleague was interested in whether she shaved her armpits and pulled at her shirt to take a look.

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Geraldine Le Meur has three sons and a company, and she said people questioned her when she opted to work full time. CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

“Two years ago, I would never have talked about it; it’s not easy to do when you’re still in the running for senior positions,” she said. But over the past few years, she has been more outspoken.

“I wasn’t willing to show what I saw as my weak side before,” she said. “I want to display a persona at work that is super capable, but that is selfish.”

After all, as she and others said, it’s not just about filling the pipeline by encouraging women to enter STEM fields, but making sure that women who already in it are treated well and promoted.

Jean Bennington Sweeney, the chief sustainability officer and vice president of corporate social responsibility for 3M, is now based in Minnesota at the company headquarters. But she meets often with European counterparts and used to be based in Australia and Taiwan.

“What I see in Europe and the U.S. is lots of encouragement for girls in STEM. It’s not where it needs to be, but I do see more encouragement in schools and even in families,” she said. Through mentoring and tutoring, she does her part to try to get more young women to enter the STEM field.

In Asia, in general, “while things are improving, the bosses are still older men and may be less willing to accept” young women as engineers, Ms. Sweeney said. “It’s more like it was 20 to 30 years ago in the U.S.” And it is women with more financial means, she said, who can more easily break through the gender barrier.

In Singapore, more and more women are running successful tech companies or start-ups, said Jacqueline Poh, chief executive of theGovernment Technology Agency of Singapore, adding that “a significant proportion” of top executives in the country’s tech companies are women. Government initiatives have also focused on teaching coding and computer skills to students at all levels.

Nonetheless, she said, “I strongly believe that female representation in tech could definitely be higher. I think the general resistance could stem from preconceived notions that a career in tech would only revolve around programming.”

Ms. Sweeney said all women in all countries also have to move away from the idea that they “have to be super smart to be in science and engineering. It’s not just for the best and the brightest,” she said. “Boys and men assume that if they are 30 to 40 percent qualified, they’ll go for it. Girls and women feel they need to be 80 percent qualified to attempt it. We have to get past the idea that you need to be exceptional, not just good. Believe me, the men aren’t all exceptional.”

12 Inspiring STEM Books for Girls

Edutopia

Science, technology, engineering, and math are more important than ever, so we’ve put together a list of books to encourage girls to persevere in these subjects.

Representation matters: Girls do better on science tests when their textbooks include images of female scientists. And a 2017 survey by Microsoft found that girls in Europe begin to show interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields at 11 years old but lose it at around 15—and a lack of female role models is one reason for the drop in interest.

That’s why we’ve created this list of books showing girls and women who are passionate about STEM fields. After asking librarians for recommendations, pulling still more from School Library Journal, and checking best-seller and award lists, we selected picture books, biographies, novels, and memoirs appropriate for kids from kindergarten to 12th grade. These books—most of which were published in 2016—represent a wide range of STEM fields, from marine biology to volcanology to math.

Kindergarten to Grade 3

Rosie Revere, Engineer
Andrea Beaty’s New York Times best-selling picture book explores growth mindset, perseverance, and failure. Rosie Revere wants to create a contraption that flies, but it only hovers. Her great-great-aunt, Rosie the Riveter, describes her failure as a success and tells her, “You can only truly fail if you quit.” (Grades K and up; Lexile measure: AD860L)

 

Ada Twist, Scientist
Ada Twist, Scientist, also by Andrea Beaty, follows Ada Twist, a young black girl who uses science to explore her world. Ada’s curiosity takes her on a journey to uncover the source of a horrible smell in her house. Through asking questions, experimenting, and gathering facts, Ada realizes that some questions lead to more questions rather than answers. (Grades K–2; Lexile measure: 550)

Swimming With Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark
Heather Lang’s illustrated biography chronicles Japanese-American Eugenie Clark’s lifelong fascination with sharks and her journey to becoming a marine biologist in the 1940s. Through her curiosity and research, Clark disproved the popular opinion that sharks were dangerous killers. (Grades K–3; Lexile measure: 770)

Grades 4 to 6

The Fourteenth Goldfish
Three-time Newbery Honor winner Jennifer L. Holm introduces young readers to the world of science through fifth grader Ellie. When she meets Melvin, a teen who looks like her scientist grandfather, she wonders whether Grandpa really did discover how to reverse the aging process. The book explores themes of family, friendship, life, death, and what’s possible through science. It includes a gallery of scientists and other STEM resources. (Grades 4–7; Lexile measure: 0550)

 

Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science
In this novel written in verse, Jeannine Atkins shares the lives of three real-life scientists: entomologist Maria Merian (1647–1717), paleontologist Mary Anning (1799–1847), and astronomer Maria Mitchell (1818–89)—all of whom were interested in science from childhood on. (Grades 4–8)

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World
In this beautifully illustrated book, Rachel Ignotofsky highlights 50 women from around the world who impacted STEM fields from A.D. 400 to the present. Readers will find geneticists, volcanologists, and primatologists, as well as mathematicians and chemists. A historical timeline notes pivotal moments for women in STEM. The book includes statistics showing the gender gap in the STEM workforce, an illustrated glossary, and other resources. (Grades 6 and up)

Grades 7 to 8

Radioactive! How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World
Winifred Conkling’s nonfiction narrative profiles two female physicists whose discoveries paved the way for nuclear energy—and the atomic bomb. Set in the 1930s, this book is a combination of history and suspense, and details the glass ceiling of a male-dominated field. Educational sidebars throughout the book explain the science. (Grades 7 and up; Lexile measure: 1160L)

 

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History
Sam Maggs, a writer who frequently explores what it means to be a woman in geek culture, uses illustrated biographies to examine the lives of scientists, engineers, inventors, and more. With a dash of humor, references to pop culture, and a conversational tone, Maggs captures the amazing achievements of women throughout history. (Grades 7 and up)

3:59
Josie Byrne and her doppelgänger, Jo, live in different universes that open to each other every 12 hours, at 3:59. In this science fiction/horror story by Gretchen McNeil, Josie believes she’s just dreaming this alternate world until she switches places with Jo. Josie and Jo realize that their worlds are in danger, and use physics to save them both. (Grades 8–11)

Grades 9 to 12

Lab Girl
Winner of the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography and noted by Time, Entertainment Weekly, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Amazon as a best memoir or best book of 2016. Hope Jahren chronicles her lifelong passion for nature and science. Her memoir explores her relationship with her parents and the impact it had in cultivating her love of science as a child, and how her passion for plants and science gave her a deeper insight into herself. (Grades 9–12; Lexile measure: 1240L)

 

In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom
This memoir by Qanta A. Ahmed, a British Muslim doctor, begins in the late 1990s when her application to renew her U.S. visa is denied and she accepts a job in Saudi Arabia. Though excited about the prospect of forming a deeper connection to her faith, she struggles with being a feminist, a doctor, and a Western woman living and working in a country that’s deeply oppressive to women. (Grades 9–12)

Hidden Figures
Recently adapted to film—with Oscar nominations for best picture and best adapted screenplay—Margot Lee Shetterly’s nonfiction book depicts the lives of four black women who, as mathematicians and engineers, helped send the first American astronaut into space. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden fought to progress up the ranks at NASA in the 1950s. (Grades 9–12)

Engaging Girls in STEM: Gift Guide for Girls

With the holidays approaching, it’s the perfect time to think about gifts that engage and encourage girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Research shows that girls feel more excited about pursuing STEM topics when adults highlight the place of collaboration, tinkering, role models, and meaningful objectives in STEM fields. We’ve compiled some suggestions of STEM gifts that incorporate these principles. Remember, it’s never too early to introduce girls to STEM toys and activities!
Collaboration
Research shows that girls prefer and persevere more in collaborative STEM work. Teachers promote collaborative STEM work by pairing girls with varied or complementary skill sets, using small groups (no more than 3-4 girls) and mixing up groups and pairings often. To promote collaboration in free play, consider toys that lend themselves easily to playing together with a friend or two.
LCRG recommends: Roominate, Robot Turtles, Quirkle
Tinkering
Girls are less likely than boys to tinker with building materials, mechanical objects and computers. By tinkering less, girls miss out on opportunities to practice important skills such as spatial awareness, mechanical reasoning and critical thinking. Tinkering toys abound for girls of all ages.
Role Models
A dearth of female STEM role models may limit girls’ engagement in STEM activities. When girls lack exposure to female STEM role models, it reinforces negative stereotypes that some girls hold about STEM fields. New researchshows that having girls write and reflect about their own female STEM role models increases their “sense of fit” in STEM. Consider some of the resources below to increase girls’ connection to female STEM role models.
Meaningful Objectives
Girls value STEM work that holds clear and purposeful ties to everyday life. Female college students report a stronger desire than male college students to use their technical skills to help others. Toymakers have recently started incorporating this idea into STEM toys; here are some to consider:
Additional Resources
For more fantastic gifts for girls, check out these sites:
For more information on girls and STEM, check out LCRG’s research briefs on the topic:

Get Kids Outside Making and Doing This Summer

A Big Pile of Fantastic Ideas to Get Kids Outside Making and Doing This Summer

By JESSICA LAHEY date published MAY 22, 2014

It’s May, time for teachers to revisit their bookshelves and think about summer reading selections. This year, I’m considering a different kind of summer reading for my kids, books that will inspire them to head outside and make, do and create. My younger son, Finn, likes these sorts of projects, and while I can provide him with scrap lumber, nails, a drill and some screws, he and I wanted to find some additional inspiration.

Judy Russell, our town librarian, enthusiastically joined in my research and helped me come up with some fantastic resources for inventing, constructing and making.

An excellent place to start, she said, is your local library. She pointed out that libraries have been ahead of the curve on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education and many of them offer construction classes. She also directed me to our local Makerspace, a sort of community center combined with tools and educators. We found a directory of Makerspace programs around the world, and many of these Makerspaces offer tinkering programs for kids.

Our library just acquired “The Art of Tinkering,” by Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich of the Exploratorium and its Institute for Inquiry in San Francisco, on the recommendation of a science teacher. This book offers a great way to start looking for beginner-level projects, as the required “tools” are commonly available in most households. The projects passed muster with my own 10-year-old maker, and most of them are projects he can tackle and complete on his own.

While he was excited about many of Ms. Wilkinson and Mr. Petrich’s ideas, Finn said what he really wants to do this summer is whittle and carve magic wands and wizard staffs. He acquired a new pocketknife recently, and he’s been itching to put it to use. I immediately thought of Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering School. His popular TED video, “Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do,” has nearly three million views, and is worth a watch. I picked up a copy of Tulley’s book, “50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do,” and Finn was thrilled with it. The table of contents includes some of his favorite activities, including whittling, making rope swings, playing with fire, and map reading.

Ms. Russell also handed me a copy of Make Magazine, and directed me toward the book “The Best of MAKE (Make 75 Projects From the Pages of MAKE),” a compilation of the magazine’s best projects. The publisher, Maker Media, founded the Maker Movement as well as the Maker Education Initiative that sponsors Maker Corp sites at libraries, museums and schools across the country. These sites provide supervision by Maker Corps Members, mentors and instructors that guide and direct kids’ construction and innovation efforts, even in the summer.

A science teacher, Christine Mytko, chimed in with an enthusiastic recommendation for the book “Zero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to Make (Just About) Anything,” by David Lang, calling it an “essential read” for aspiring tween and teenage makers. “Lang reminds us all that we all have to start somewhere and that the maker community offers many collaborative opportunities to learn and have fun with makers of all skill levels,” she said.

By the end of my research frenzy, I had accumulated a large pile of books and magazines, and an extensive list of websites on making, doing and creating. I could not help noticing that the publishing industry has targeted dads as the consumers of these kid-focused project books and the primary makers, doers and creators in the family. As I am the keeper of the power tools in our house, I had to grit my teeth and push through my irritation in order to give the wide array of “cool dad” books like “Geek Dad,” “Made by Dad,” “Handy Dad,” “Be the Coolest Dad on the Block” and “Dad’s Book of Awesome Projects” their due. Good thing, too, because despite their dad-centric focus, this geeky, handy mom found plenty of cool ideas.

After many happy hours of research, Finn and I present our favorite books and websites, the resources we will use this summer as we tinker, build and create the projects of our dreams.

“Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun,” by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen (Finn liked the section on forts and shelters).

“Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff,” by Scott Bedford (Finn thought the Godzilla skyline would be a cool addition to his room).

Built by Kids: The ABC’s of DIY,” by Timothy and Laura Dahl (we are particularly excited to build the tire see saw).

PBS Fun Summer Science Projects for Kids (homemade silly putty!).

Geek Dad,” by Ken Denmead and the affiliated GeekDad.com’s project forum (we liked Poodle Soup’s newspaper geodesic dome and are curious how big we can go with this design).

“Tree Houses and Play Houses You Can Actually Build,” by Jeanie Trusty Stiles and David Stiles (we have our eye on the Hobbit treehouse).

Jessica Lahey is an educator, writer and speaker. She writes about parenting and education for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vermont Public Radio and her own blog, Coming of Age in the Middle. Her book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed,” will be published by HarperCollins in 2015.

To Write Better Code, Read Virginia Woolf

MAY 21, 2016

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Mountain View, Calif. — THE humanities are kaput. Sorry, liberal arts cap-and-gowners. You blew it. In a software-run world, what’s wanted are more engineers.

At least, so goes the argument in a rising number of states, which have embraced a funding model for higher education that uses tuition “bonuses” to favor hard-skilled degrees like computer science over the humanities. The trend is backed by countless think pieces. “Macbeth does not make my priority list,” wrote Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and the author of a widely shared blog post titled “Is Majoring in Liberal Arts a Mistake for Students?” (Subtitle: “Critical Thinking and the Scientific Process First — Humanities Later”).

The technologist’s argument begins with a suspicion that the liberal arts are of dubious academic rigor, suited mostly to dreamers. From there it proceeds to a reminder: Software powers the world, ergo, the only rational education is one built on STEM. Finally, lest he be accused of making a pyre of the canon, the technologist grants that yes, after students have finished their engineering degrees and found jobs, they should pick up a book — history, poetry, whatever.

As a liberal-arts major who went on to a career in software, I can only scratch my head.

Fresh out of college in 1993, I signed on with a large technology consultancy. The firm’s idea was that by hiring a certain lunatic fringe of humanities majors, it might cut down on engineering groupthink. After a six-week programming boot camp, we were pitched headfirst into the deep end of software development.

My first project could hardly have been worse. We (mostly engineers, with a spritzing of humanities majors) were attached to an enormous cellular carrier. Our assignment was to rewrite its rating and billing system — a thing that rivaled maritime law in its complexity.

I was assigned to a team charged with one of the hairier programs in the system, which concerned the movement of individual mobile subscribers from one “parent” account plan to another. Each one of these moves caused an avalanche of plan activations and terminations, carry-overs or forfeitures of accumulated talk minutes, and umpteen other causal conditionals that would affect the subscriber’s bill.

This program, thousands of lines of code long and growing by the hour, was passed around our team like an exquisite corpse. The subscribers and their parent accounts were rendered on our screens as a series of S’s and A’s. After we stared at these figures for weeks, they began to infect our dreams. (One I still remember. I was a baby in a vast crib. Just overhead, turning slowly and radiating malice, was an enormous iron mobile whose arms strained under the weight of certain capital letters.)

Our first big break came from a music major. A pianist, I think, who joined our team several months into the project. Within a matter of weeks, she had hit upon a method to make the S’s hold on to the correct attributes even when their parent A was changed.

We had been paralyzed. The minute we tweaked one bit of logic, we realized we’d fouled up another. But our music major moved freely. Instead of freezing up over the logical permutations behind each A and S, she found that these symbols put her in the mind of musical notes. As notes, they could be made to work in concert. They could be orchestrated.

On a subsequent project, our problem was pointers. In programming language, a pointer is an object that refers to some master value stored elsewhere. This might sound straightforward, but pointers are like ghosts in the system. A single misdirected one can crash a program. Our pointer wizard was a philosophy major who had no trouble at all with the idea of a named “thing” being a transient stand-in for some other unseen Thing. For a Plato man, this was mother’s milk.

I’ve worked in software for years and, time and again, I’ve seen someone apply the arts to solve a problem of systems. The reason for this is simple. As a practice, software development is far more creative than algorithmic.

The developer stands before her source code editor in the same way the author confronts the blank page. There’s an idea for what is to be created, and the (daunting) knowledge that there are a billion possible ways to go about it. To proceed, each relies on one part training to three parts creative intuition. They may also share a healthy impatience for the ways things “have always been done” and a generative desire to break conventions. When the module is finished or the pages complete, their quality is judged against many of the same standards: elegance, concision, cohesion; the discovery of symmetries where none were seen to exist. Yes, even beauty.

To be sure, each craft also requires a command of the language and its rules of syntax. But these are only starting points. To say that more good developers will be produced by swapping the arts for engineering is like saying that to produce great writers, we should double down on sentence diagraming.

Here the technologists may cry foul, say I’m misrepresenting the argument, that they’re not calling to avoid the humanities altogether, but only to replace them in undergraduate study. “Let college be for science and engineering, with the humanities later.” In tech speak, this is an argument for the humanities as plug-in.

But if anything can be treated as a plug-in, it’s learning how to code. It took me 18 months to become proficient as a developer. This isn’t to pretend software development is easy — those were long months, and I never touched the heights of my truly gifted peers. But in my experience, programming lends itself to concentrated self-study in a way that, say, “To the Lighthouse” or “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction” do not. To learn how to write code, you need a few good books. To enter the mind of an artist, you need a human guide.

For folks like Mr. Khosla, such an approach is dangerous: “If subjects like history and literature are focused on too early, it is easy for someone not to learn to think for themselves and not to question assumptions, conclusions, and expert philosophies.” (Where some of these kill-the-humanities pieces are concerned, the strongest case for the liberal arts is made just in trying to read them.)

How much better is the view of another Silicon Valley figure, who argued that “technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.”

His name? Steve Jobs.

How can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson?

Extreme success results from an extreme personality and comes at the cost of many other things. Extreme success is different from what I suppose you could just consider ‘success’, so know that you don’t have to be Richard or Elon to be affluent and accomplished and maintain a great lifestyle. Your odds of happiness are better that way. But if you’re extreme, you must be what you are, which means that happiness is more or less beside the point. These people tend to be freaks and misfits who were forced to experience the world in an unusually challenging way. They developed strategies to survive, and as they grow older they find ways to apply these strategies to other things, and create for themselves a distinct and powerful advantage. They don’t think the way other people think. They see things from angles that unlock new ideas and insights. Other people consider them to be somewhat insane.Be obsessed.

Be obsessed.

Be obsessed.

If you’re not obsessed, then stop what you’re doing and find whatever does obsess you. It helps to have an ego, but you must be in service to something bigger if you are to inspire the people you need to help you  (and make no mistake, you will need them). That ‘something bigger’ prevents you from going off into the ether when people flock round you and tell you how fabulous you are when you aren’t and how great your stuff is when it isn’t. Don’t pursue something because you “want to be great”. Pursue something because it fascinates you, because the pursuit itself engages and compels you. Extreme people combine brilliance and talent with an *insane* work ethic, so if the work itself doesn’t drive you, you will burn out or fall by the wayside or your extreme competitors will crush you and make you cry.

Follow your obsessions until a problem starts to emerge, a big meaty challenging problem that impacts as many people as possible, that you feel hellbent to solve or die trying. It might take years to find that problem, because you have to explore different bodies of knowledge, collect the dots and then connect and complete them.

It helps to have superhuman energy and stamina. If you are not blessed with godlike genetics, then make it a point to get into the best shape possible. There will be jet lag, mental fatigue, bouts of hard partying, loneliness, pointless meetings, major setbacks, family drama, issues with the Significant Other you rarely see, dark nights of the soul, people who bore and annoy you, little sleep, less sleep than that. Keep your body sharp to keep your mind sharp. It pays off.

Learn to handle a level of stress that would break most people.

Don’t follow a pre-existing path, and don’t look to imitate your role models. There is no “next step”. Extreme success is not like other kinds of success; what has worked for someone else, probably won’t work for you. They are individuals with bold points of view who exploit their very particular set of unique and particular strengths. They are unconventional, and one reason they become the entrepreneurs they become is because they can’t or don’t or won’t fit into the structures and routines of corporate life. They are dyslexic, they are autistic, they have ADD, they are square pegs in round holes, they piss people off, get into arguments, rock the boat, laugh in the face of paperwork. But they transform weaknesses in ways that create added advantage — the strategies I mentioned earlier — and seek partnerships with people who excel in the areas where they have no talent whatsoever.

They do not fear failure — or they do, but they move ahead anyway. They will experience heroic, spectacular, humiliating, very public failure but find a way to reframe until it isn’t failure at all. When they fail in ways that other people won’t, they learn things that other people don’t and never will. They have incredible grit and resilience.

They are unlikely to be reading stuff like this. (This is *not* to slam or criticize people who do; I love to read this stuff myself.) They are more likely to go straight to a book: perhaps a biography of Alexander the Great or Catherine the Great* or someone else they consider Great. Surfing the ‘Net is a deadly timesuck, and given what they know their time is worth — even back in the day when technically it was not worth that — they can’t afford it.

I could go on, it’s a fascinating subject, but you get the idea. I wish you luck and strength and perhaps a stiff drink should you need it.

* One person in the comments section appears not to know who Catherine the Great is, suggesting that this is “an utter lie” of mine + “feminist stupidity”. But Catherine’s ability to rise, and strategize around discrimination, holds interesting lessons for anyone.

Could it be that the teaching profession isn’t pink enough?

US News & World Report

Two studies say more women would study math and science in college if there were more female math and science teachers in high school

Photo of Jill Barshay

Education by the Numbers

More girls might pursue science fields if they had more female teachers in middle and high school, two studies suggest (AP image of a middle school student, learning computer programing in Pennsylvania)

More than three-quarters of U.S. public school teachers are female. So it’s a bit surprising to hear an argument that there aren’t enough women in the profession. It’s kind of like saying there aren’t enough lawyers in Washington. But that’s exactly the case that two new research studies make for what’s needed to produce more women scientists and engineers in this country.

The studies suggest that if there were more female math and science teachers in middle and high school, more girls would study these subjects in college, and that providing female role models earlier in life — before students get to college — might be one of the more effective ways to encourage more girls to pursue higher level math and science. (“Science” broadly refers to all the hard sciences from computer science and physics to chemistry and engineering).

“A lot of the talk has been about trying to promote more female faculty in college. Maybe that’s misdirected,” said Tim Sass, an author of one of the studies and an economist at Georgia State University. “Maybe there should be more emphasis in hiring qualified faculty in the middle and high school level.”

While women dominate the teaching profession, they are somewhat less numerous among middle and high school math and science faculty. According to the Schools and Staffing Survey, conducted by the Department of Education, female teachers make up between 44 and 65 percent of middle and high school math and science faculty, depending upon the subject and the grade. Eighth-grade math teachers are 65 percent female, for example, but only 44 percent of 12th-grade science teachers are female.

The first study, “Growing the roots of STEM majors: Female math and science high school faculty and the participation of students in STEM” (referring to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), published Jan. 31, 2015 in the Economics of Education Review, looked at every student in North Carolina who graduated from a public high school in 2004 and continued on to a public college or university in the state. Researchers from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and Duke University had access to a trove of data, from the students’ middle school grades and high school transcripts to family income and school characteristics.

The researchers found that girls who went to high schools where at least 72 percent of the math and science teachers were female were 19 percent more likely to graduate from college with a science or math major than similar students whose only difference was that they went to a high school where only 54 percent of the math and science teachers were female.

The influence of female teachers was even stronger for high achieving girls — the ones who are most likely to have the preparation and ability to complete the demanding coursework of a science major. Among girls who scored at least 580 on the math section of the SATs, there was a 44 percent increase in the likelihood of graduating from college with a science or math degree if they had attended a high school where 72 percent of the math and science teachers were women, compared to a school where just 54 percent of the math and science teachers were women.

Boys, by contrast, were unaffected by the gender mix of their high school teachers.

Martha Bottia, the lead author of the study at U.N.C.-Charlotte, has also conducted interviews with dozens of science students, and said the high school experience is “what matters most” for pursuing higher-level science. “More than half of them make the decision (to major in a science or math subject) before they enter college,” said Bottia, explaining that science majors require more planning and preparation and a commitment to hard work. “It’s not like STEM majors go to college their first year with no idea what they’re going to major in and then decide to do physics.”

In humanities subjects, by contrast, freshman-year professors might be more influential than high school teachers in the selection of a major.

A second study looked at four years’ worth (or cohorts) of students in Florida from fifth grade through college graduation, and found that female math and science teachers as early as middle school make a difference in how many women pursue math and science in college. A still-unpublished working paper from this study, “Understanding the STEM Pipeline,” was delivered on Feb. 20, 2015, at a conference of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER), a research consortium of six universities.

This data analysis showed that girls who had higher proportions of female math and science teachers in middle and high school were more likely to take one or more science or math courses during their first year in college. The author, Professor Sass, found that the probability of a young woman taking a math or science course in her freshman year of college increased by 3.3 percentage points as the proportion of female middle and high school teachers went from zero to half. To put that in perspective, that 3.3 percentage-point increase nearly eliminates the gender gap between men and women in the likelihood of taking at least one science or math course in the first year of college, according to Sass.

That’s important because young women in Florida perform nearly as well as young men in math achievement tests. But once they get to college, women are much less likely to take courses in the physical sciences in their first year, and less likely to earn a degree in physics or engineering, even after adjusting for pre-college test scores.

By contrast, Sass found that in college, women were just as likely to complete a major in a hard science whether they had been taught by male professors or female professors.

It does sound crazy, when a majority of K-12 math and science teachers are already women, that the solution to gender inequity in STEM fields might be to create an even more female-heavy teaching profession.  If you followed these studies to their logical extremes, we’d make all high school math and science teachers women.  Personally, I would still prefer to see more male K-12 teachers — because it might increase the prestige of the profession overall.