Sparking Curiosity

Getting hands-on with students to encourage a future in STEM.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jeffrey Whitford

CREDIT Curiosity Labs.jpgThe world around us is constantly being changed and challenged by advancements in science. Think of how far we’ve come in just the past few years in regard to our access to technology, health care and knowledge. Scientific advancements make the world a more exciting place—they enable us to live a vibrant today, while giving us hope for an even brighter tomorrow.

Behind every scientific breakthrough is a curious mind.

But behind every scientific breakthrough is a curious mind. Without this curiosity—and without a pipeline of future, inspired scientists—we cannot thrive. To keep the spark alive, it is critical for parents, teachers and today’s leaders in STEM to help ensure all children have access to quality education and the right tools to ignite their passion. The best and brightest minds aren’t just reading about science—they’re doing science.

Unfortunately, while experts agree that hands-on education is vital in sparking student curiosity —further priming them for a STEM-related career—access to this type of engaged learning is not always possible due to changes in education policies around the globe, financial constraints, or both. This is a problem that can’t—and shouldn’t—be ignored.

Helping to bridge the knowledge and curiosity gap in STEM is something that I—with the support of our team at my company and our numerous partner organizations—have been committed to for the past several years.

Sparking Scientific Curiosity Worldwide

In 2016, MilliporeSigma launched SPARK—a first-of-its-kind, global skills-based volunteer program that engages our network of 19,000 employees. Through the program, we aim to bring science to life for children around the world—giving students access not only to experiments and the equipment needed so that they can have more fun exploring science, but also to our trained employees and scientists who are with them every step of the way to answer questions and pique their interest in STEM.

At the heart of the program is Curiosity Labs—a library of interactive science experiments developed in partnership with the Institute for School Partnership at Washington University using the Next Generation Science Standards. The labs are typically delivered by our employee volunteers—right in the classroom—and provide students with all of the materials needed to complete an experiment. Teachers can choose from more than a dozen different lessons designed to supplement their existing curriculum. Experiments range from learning about DNA extraction, to constructing their own water filtration device, to learning about chemiluminescence and creating their own glow stick.

Within the past year, more than 40,000 students around the world took part in a lesson. The results we’ve captured through our surveys have been encouraging.

  • 79 percent reported an increase in content knowledge following the lesson.
  • 80 percent demonstrated confidence in science—indicating that they know “quite a bit” or “very much” about science.
  • 81 percent stated that they “enjoy” science.

These results—and our desire to reach even more young minds—are what led us to stem out (pun intended) and expand our efforts in 2017. In addition to adding four new lessons to our curriculum this year, we also introduced the new Curiosity Cube in January. This is a 22×10-foot, retrofitted shipping container that has been transformed into a mobile science lab—allowing us to bring hands-on science to more students. We are piloting it in the U.S. this year, with a goal of reaching more than 350,000 students through a tour of more than two dozen cities. We are also planning to bring the cube to select trade shows throughout the year—giving current and future leaders in STEM a chance to experience the interactive science lessons for themselves.

Securing a Future of Innovative Breakthroughs

Albert Einstein once said “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”

What and how we teach our children today will affect the decisions they make down the road—and how they will, in turn, teach and inspire others. I am fortunate to work with a great group of individuals who share my passion for sparking scientific curiosity in young minds, and who are committed to making an impact.

What are some of the things that you are doing to spark curiosity and improve access to STEM-related knowledge?

Jeffrey Whitford is head of global corporate responsibility for MilliporeSigma, a business of Merck, KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. He develops and implements strategic programs in green chemistry, product recycling, environmental sustainability and social responsibility, and directs their corporate responsibility initiative, SPARK, in which employees in 36 countries participate in charitable events designed to benefit their local communities. Share your insights below and join in the conversation on Twitter using #SparkCuriosity.

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A Cloud-First Strategy

Improved privileged account management to secure student data and meet compliance mandates.

GUEST COLUMN | by Mike Somerville

CREDIT Univ San Diego - Thycotic.pngAs Manager of Systems Support and Chief Cloud Evangelist, I lead the IT systems team at the University of San Diego. We’re responsible for four data centers, the network, virtualization, servers, and more—everything that needs a password for access.

Automating Privileged Account Password Security

To manage and secure our IT infrastructure, we recognized years ago that we needed to automate the process, especially in terms of how our IT staff handles passwords for privileged accounts. With the average cost of a single stolen record in the education field running as high as $300, it’s imperative that we protect our data with the most effective tools available.

Putting privileged account password management in the cloud helps the university eliminate upfront capital costs while avoiding getting locked into any single solution.

Because of the extensive access granted to IT users of privileged accounts—the proverbial keys to the kingdom—we wanted software tools that would help us to secure passwords and at the same time help us be more productive.

In 2009, we went through an extensive evaluation of password protection solutions and settled on Thycotic’s on-premise Secret Server. One of their key advantages from a business perspective was allowing everyone to log in to the same single point of access for their passwords. With its introduction, the university is able to take our privileged account password management to the next level.

Migrating to the Cloud Step by Step

The solution on premise was easy to use with excellent support, and we implemented an additional instance at another data center for extra security and redundancy. But, we were also concerned about the possibility of a catastrophic event on campus affecting our IT network. So, we installed an instance in a virtual private cloud. When the company introduced this solution this year, it offered an option we immediately appreciated. Now that our passwords are vaulted and secured in it, we no longer need to manage or maintain multiple instances on premise.

While the University of San Diego follows a cloud-first strategy for its IT systems, we still vet our cloud providers extensively. We need to be sure that our student’s data is going to be safe in their cloud. The solution-provider proved to us without reservation that we could trust the safeguards they’ve put in place and that our passwords would always be available.

The free one-month trial gave us an easy way to test out the solution with our IT systems and with our developers. Both groups were comfortable with how the solution worked and there was no retraining necessary.

Putting privileged account password management in the cloud helps the university eliminate upfront capital costs while avoiding getting locked into any single solution. It reduces IT staff time devoted to software maintenance and ensures we always have the latest updates for our solution. In short, it simplifies our professional duties, and makes it easier to securely manage thousands of passwords.

Demonstrating Compliance and Satisfying Auditors

Demonstrating compliance with FERPA certification is a must for the university to protect student’s information and gain the trust of their parents. Like many universities, USD has internal as well as an external auditor. Every year our IT operations are subject to audits that make sure all our data and processes are secure. Once the auditors know that we’re using this as a password security solution, they demand less proof and detail in satisfying their audit requirements. That saves us considerable time and effort in meeting FERPA, HIPAA and other mandates.

Facilitating the education experience

At the University of San Diego, our IT team constantly reminds itself that we are not in the data center business; or even the IT business. We’re in the higher education experience business. And as far as our students, faculty, administrators or staff are concerned, IT should be invisible to the users it serves. IT should simply be always available and secure.

We’ve found something that delivers a single point of success for our passwords. Whether our servers are online, onsite, or not, we can always go to one website for the solution.

Mike Somerville is Manager of Systems Support and Chief Cloud Evangelist at the University of San Diego. Follow him on Twitter @Amazingmikes


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Cool Tool | SmartBook from McGraw-Hill Education  

CREDIT McGraw-Hill Learnsmart.pngSmartBook, by learning science company McGraw-Hill Education, is a digital version of a course textbook – with a twist. SmartBook delivers the same content as a traditional textbook, but unlike a typical e-book, SmartBook actively tailors that content to the particular needs of individual students. SmartBook is an adaptive tool available through McGraw-Hill Connect, the digital teaching and learning environment used by millions of students and higher education instructors. By highlighting where in the chapter to focus, asking review questions and pointing to specific resources to aid understanding, this tool helps students study more efficiently and prepare for class more effectively. Other benefits include:

  • Proven to help get better grades. Studies show SmartBook technology can help increase grades by a full letter.
  • Save time. Study smarter. SmartBook helps students zero in on the things they don’t know so they can better prioritize their study time.
  • No more cramming. SmartBook helps students retain key concepts so they can learn—not memorize.
  • Accessible on the go. SmartBook can be used on a laptop or tablet (available for select products), via a browser or mobile app.
  • Results in real time. Students can track their progress to see how well they understand the material, rather than waiting for exams.

SmartBook is available to students through McGraw-Hill Connect, which can save students 60 percent versus the cost of a new textbook, depending on the course and subscription length. Learn more.

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A Rose is Best

Student mastery and technology in floral design

GUEST COLUMN | by William J. McKinley

CREDIT William J McKinley.pngEducators, at every level, have changed the way they present information and knowledge to their students to keep pace with the technological expectations of future employers. Predictably, industries that are adapting include manufacturing and construction, but one industry that is adapting may come as a surprise – floral design.

Technology has enabled us, in new ways, to introduce students to the floral industry and prove to them that they not only know a skill, but have mastered specific subjects. In my position as the director of the Benz School of Floral Design at Texas A&M University, I work to integrate a variety of traditional classroom and hands-on instructional experiences with technology to bolster the students’ understanding of floral design.

Our online database and resources are further supplemented with virtual reality (VR) technology.

To share industry knowledge with aspiring floral designers, the Benz School offers two different avenues for students to master the art of floral design: students may enroll in classes at Texas A&M University during the academic year to gain a Bachelor’s of Art degree with an emphasis in floral design, or register for summer courses to earn certification in floral design. These classes utilize both in-person and online CTE courses. Whether through Texas A&M University or online, students are provided with in-depth knowledge of the history of the industry, an introduction to basic skills, an overview of the different design styles, and strategies for running a successful floral design business.

The school takes a unique approach to teaching floral design. Rather than basing mastery of design on a particular style or technique, our approach begins with understanding the theories of floral design: the rules that govern all design. Our concepts and instructional materials are based on the elements and principles of design which allow the students to develop their own styles and techniques within a solid educational foundation of art. This creates students with a better understanding of their work and makes them better professional when they enter the workforce.

When it comes to mastery of a skill or subject, there’s no denying that technology plays a prominent role in today’s classrooms. The use of social media to follow trends or the web for photography and video; communicating with suppliers or other designers through live streaming and 3D visualization are all opportunities for enhancing the educational experience of floral design students.

With a strong online presence for curriculum in the floral industry, our online learning platform provides teachers easy access to the myriad of online and hands-on lab resources available through the Benz program. From designing wedding bouquets to planning an event, the online database provides relevant and applicable materials to the students to enhance their skills.

Our online database and resources are further supplemented with virtual reality (VR) technology. This VR component allows students to see and manipulate a full version of design examples on a computer screen, adding a depth to designs that flat screens don’t show. Through VR, designs come to life, allowing students to explore floral design through a new medium, while engaging them through a new learning experience. The Benz VR components have the added benefit of teaching students how to use this and other technology in their future careers within the industry. VR technology demonstrates, in intricate detail, how designs are constructed, but also illustrate how designs can be marketed using a variety of electronic and virtual tools.

We take a holistic approach to teaching floral design, integrating technology in both the classroom setting and online to create an engaging educational experience for students of all learning levels. This approach inspires students to gain a mastery of skills as they learn the art and the business of the industry while helping them build a strong foundation of the principles and elements of design. Students emerge from this program with a sound understanding of the industry and the artistry involved, making them better professional florists and more valuable employees.

William McKinley is the Director and Endowed Chair of the Benz School of Floral Design at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. The Benz School curriculum is based on the solid foundations of classic elements and principles of floral design theory, which are highlighted through a collaborative effort with CEV Multimedia and their Principles of Floral Design certification program.

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Speak to Me

Language learning technology a booming sector with lots more in store.

GUEST COLUMN | by Luca Sadurny

CREDIT MosaLingua.pngThink back to how we used to learn languages ten years ago. Boring repetition exercises, cheesy audio scripts, and outdated textbooks were the name of the game. With that in mind, it’s not much of a surprise that less than 1 percent of American adults are proficient in a foreign language that they studied in a class.

For decades language learning was stuck in a rut. For students who wanted to take their learning home, the methodology of tools like Rosetta Stone and Teach Yourself were held back by the basic technology available. While resources tried to make learning scenarios as ‘real life’ as possible, they were effectively digital textbooks.

A range of new smartphone language learning apps aimed at ‘on the move’ Millennials are taking learning out of the classroom.

However, nowadays the situation couldn’t be more different. The language learning tech industry is booming, and global sales of mobile language learning products are predicted to climb 73% to $14.5 billion by 2019. Smartphones and other portable connected devices are breathing a new life into the way which people learn new skills, but we are on the cusp of a technological revolution as new tech currently in it’s infancy matures.

But while there is a lot of innovation taking place, is it really helping people to learn? And what new technology trends could make the process easier in the future?

Current trends

A range of new smartphone language learning apps aimed at ‘on the move’ Millennials are taking learning out of the classroom, and onto the bus or into the waiting room, and tempting users into learning in their rare moments of free time with gamification.

Whether it be ‘losing lives’ when they get an answer wrong, competing with their friends on leaderboards, or challenging other users, these fun aspects seem to be pressing the right buttons for Millennial users.

However, while gamification might make learning more enjoyable, language experts are dubious about whether this style of learning actually helps users improve their language skills. The addictive nature of gamification makes exercises tempting to try again, but it does little to help with linguistic understanding.

One element of gamification which is proven to improve language skills is making learning a shared experience. Linking to social media accounts makes it easier to market products, and encourages users to learn together with friends. This form of extrinsic motivation allows users to include others in their learning through tandem exchanges, and informal tutoring. Friends can help each other with tricky tasks, and also practice speaking exercises off-app which helps improve fluency. There are also hundreds of language learning groups on Facebook where people can exchange tips, materials, and organize exchanges.

Using ‘old school’ methods were very reliant on intrinsic motivation — motivating ourselves — but a big advantage of the new tools is that they are less manual. ‘Digital coaches’ update users on their progress, prompt them to review problem areas, and highlight the most important vocabulary and grammar points in the same way a real teacher would in a class.

Looking to the future

According to Research and Markets, adoption of wearable technology in schools will grow by 46% per year over the next five years. Devices like VR headsets, Google Glass style AR tools and smartwatches offer a great means of improving language skills both in and out of the classroom.

While professional language trainers often create roleplays which allow students to practice ‘real life’ interactions, this is something which is lacking in the tools available today. However, using technology similar to the AR tools seen in chart-topping game Pokemon Go, or smart-lenses like Google Glass headsets, students could effectively place themselves in imaginary scenarios where they interact with characters digitally.

While it might look strange speaking to an imaginary supermarket cashier in German, or at an empty tourist information booth speaking Japanese, these are the skills which really improve fluency in real life situations and break down the fear of speaking in public.

Advances in the internet of things and big data could soon make it easier to learn about language learning trends by collecting data from millions of users around the world. The majority of respondents to the 2014 Future of the Internet survey agreed that the IoT and wearable devices would have widespread beneficial effects by 2025.

Teachers around the world are beginning to encourage students to bring their own devices to class, as it allows them to keep track of materials and their progress, share notes and work together digitally with other students. Smart and connected objects could collect a huge amount of data from millions of students including information about age, location and demographics and teachers could hand pick the methodology which is best suited to their students strengths and weaknesses.

In a recent Business Insider article, Bill Gates predicts that chatbots will soon be used as a teaching resource for students. Gates states that chatbots “dialogue richness,” opens the doors to ‘digital tutors’ which could clearly explain even the most challenging topics using natural language.

As chatbots mature, they could offer more opportunities for students to practice and improve speaking and writing skills, with bots offering feedback and making corrections. IBM’s Watson is already being harnessed for a Teaching Assistant bot that’s designed to answer students’ questions for online courses to take the strain off human teachers.

We are entering exciting times in the world of language learning. Demand is high as millions of  Millennials realize that foreign languages will expand their horizons as part of the emerging ‘global workforce’, making language learning tools a profitable space. Smartphones have already disrupted previous tools, and innovative new technology combining e-learning, the internet of things, bots, and wearable technology is set to build an extremely engaging and powerful language environment in the near future.

Luca Sadurny, polyglot and language expert, is the co-founder of MosaLingua, a startup creating mobile and web apps which have helped more than 2 million users worldwide learn languages.

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