Education

Last Night a #Cosmos Saved My Life

Last night the series premiere of Cosmos, a miniseries exploring the universe, debuted on Fox. Its a reboot of the original 1980s series which was hosted by astronomer Carl Sagan, and is one of the most widely watched miniseries in history. I saw part of the original series in the mid and late 80s, but I was still young and didn't fully appreciate it.

Last night, a Cosmos saved my life.

After graduating college, my good friend Raymond told me about Sagan's book Cosmos, which was made after the TV series gained in popularity. I immediately recognized the name as the series that I watched so many years before, but I did not know that the book would become one of my favorites of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Sagan has a way of describing complicated topics such as the length of time since the big bang in terms that can be grasped by a variety of folks. His Cosmic Calendar - where the entire history of the universe is placed in a calendar year - remains one of my favorite ways to explain exactly how new humans are to the universe. All of recorded history takes place at the very, very end of the calendar. Puts things into perspective.

I had so much fun watching Cosmos and participating in the discussions that followed on and offline. Be sure to check me out on Twitter (@ShareefJackson) every Sunday at 9pm Eastern as I tweet about Cosmos during the show. A sample of my tweets from the premiere are shown below via Storify.

White House Recognizes STEM Champions of Change

This week, the White House is continuing its Champions of Change series with a focus on science.

 

From the press release, via The Urban Scientist:

 

WASHINGTON, DC – On Wednesday, February 26, 2014, the White House will honor ten local heroes who are “Champions of Change” for their innovation in creating diversity and access in STEM fields. These champions are creating opportunities for young people typically underrepresented in STEM industries by using unconventional approaches to enhance student exposure ranging from photography and film, to Hip Hop music, to coding competitions and community-based workshops.

 

Besides the fact that it seems weird to see "hip hop music" in an official government communication, I'm always excited to see science be rewarded.  I'm especially excited to see folks that I've previously featured on my blog be honored. In my post "Wu-Tang and Science are for the Children" (props to you if you get the reference), I talked about Christopher Emdin and the hip hop science competitions that he helped organize in New York. I'm happy to see Chris be honored!

 

Christopher Emdin, Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education, Columbia University
New York, NY
Christopher Emdin, Ph.D is an Associate Professor of Science Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he also serves as Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education. He is also a fellow at the W.E.B. DuBois Research Institute at Harvard University. In these roles, he prepares teachers for STEM classrooms, conducts research in urban science education, and coordinates both the Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. and the #HipHopEd social media movement. The Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. are focused on bringing attention to transforming teaching, learning, and engagement in science by using hip-hop culture to create science competitions among youth in New York City Public schools. The #HipHopEd movement focuses on engaging the public in conversations about the intersections of hip-hop and education. Dr. Emdin writes the provocative “Emdin 5” series for the Huffington Post. He is also author of the award winning book, Urban Science Education for the Hip-hop Generation.

 

In my post "Hey Science? Respect Matters", I discussed how the scientific community has no room for discrimination, especially gender based. I've spoken with Danielle several times and met her in person, so I was thrilled to see her featured as well.

 

Danielle N. Lee, Biologist on Animal Behavior
Stilwater, OK; Ithaca, NY
Dr. Danielle N. Lee is a biologist who studies animal behavior. Her current research examines the natural history and individual differences of African Giant Pouched Rats. Her science outreach efforts emphasize sharing science to general audiences, particularly under-served groups, via outdoor programming and social media. She blogs about her research, evolutionary biology, as well as diversity and inclusion in the sciences at The Urban Scientist hosted by Scientific American Scientific American Blog Network. She is also a founder of the National Science and Technology News Service, a media advocacy group to increase interest in STEM and science news coverage within the African-American community.

 

Congrats to Chris, Danielle, and the rest of the folks being honored today!

Science Experiments ... Eggscellent!

 Peace to Sheldon.

Peace to Sheldon.

I like eggs. Usually scrambled, with cheese. I don't like my eggs too runny. I don't do many science experiments with my eggs besides the chemical reaction between my stomach and the egg when I swallow it.  That's why I'm happy that YouTube user Taras Kul shows a ton of science experiments with eggs. He has a great sense of humor and shows that every science experiment doesn't have to be a success to learn something. Science is about the journey, after all.

Awesome moments from the video include how to make an egg float in the middle of a glass of water, telling whether an egg is boiled or not by the rotational speed, and a hilarious attempt to walk over crates of eggs without breaking them. Enjoy!

Future City: I Believe the Children Are Our Future

Our kids rock! But you wouldn't know that if you listened to the doom and gloom that's often reported in the mainstream news. Disparity sells, and there are always more stories about kids doing bad in school and failing tests than there are with our kids achieving.  Positive programs never get the attention that they deserve, even national ones with a great track record like Future City. From the website:

The Future City Competition is a national, project-based learning experience where students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade imagine, design, and build cities of the future. Students work as a team with an educator and engineer mentor to plan cities using SimCity™ software; research and write solutions to an engineering problem; build tabletop scale models with recycled materials; and present their ideas before judges at Regional Competitions in January. Regional winners represent their region at the National Finals in Washington, DC in February. 

 

Last weekend I had the pleasure to serve as a judge for the Wisconsin Regional finals at the Kern Center for the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).  It's a beautiful gym and it was fun to see all of the students carrying their city models that they built out of recycled materials into the center. Here's a pic from the outside at the wonderful time of about 7:30am. The white truck in the background is from a Fox news van that was covering the event.

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The judges sat in a room and teams would come in and give a short presentation and Q&A session. The teams spoke about their ideas on how to solve transportation using the model that they built, and had moving parts and visual aids. The models themselves were quite cool as they were made of recycled parts - everything from Starbucks cans to computer speakers.

Unfortunately, as a judge i could not take photos of the individual science models, but below is a photo of the main hall.  You can see quite a few well-dressed kids next to their visual aids, ready to explain the feats that their city accomplishes.

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I left the event pumped and optimistic for the future of science in our country. We are in good hands, but we can't get lazy - we need to encourage this spirit of innovation in ALL grades.  Once kids find out that #ScienceLooksGood, they'll help move us to the next era.

Also, the title to this post refers to one of my favorite songs, the Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston. I had to learn this song while attending the YMCA as a kid.

Not to be outdone, the Eddie Murphy film Coming to America featured a hilarious rendition of Greatest Love of Y'all by Randy Waaaatttttttssssoooooonnnnn and Sexual chocolate.

#CES2014: Gaming, Printing, Excercising

Last week, I was lucky enough to break out of the balmy -20 degree Milwaukee weather and take a trip to Vegas to the Consumer Electronics Show. I had a great time at last year's show, and this year did not disappoint!  

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But let's skip the technobabble. Here are three things that will potentially change the way we entertain, build, and excercise in the next few years. 3D gaming, 3D printing, and fitness.

 

3D gaming

Imagine walking down a street in a video game, and being able to look up, down, left, right.  Now imagine being able to look in back of you. That's what the Oculus Rift. promises to bring to gaming.

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Looks stupid, right? It was. And I loved it.  Reminds me of the horrible virtual reality games in the arcades of the 80s and early 90s. Remember these?

Transient

Also. Display port had an amazing 3 monitor setup. 3 FREAKING HUGE monitors. I couldn't even fit this inside of my apartment, but I want it!

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3D printing

I've blogged about 3D printing in the past, and there was a huge showing at the conference. 3D printing is pretty much what it sounds like - a printer that can print a plastic object such as an action figure, a ball, or a mask.  Tons of cool companies like Makerbot, Kevvox, and Sculpteo were printing small 3D trinkets left and right. Some great examples are below.  3D printing is still a little too expensive ($2000+, plus printing material) to bring into the mainstream, but give it a good 5 years or so and we'll be printing our own toys at a reasonable price. Secret Santa will be even more awesome.

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Fitness

I've been borrowing a Fitbit Flex from Verizon Wireless for review, and it's become my best buddy.  I leave it on my wrist (even in the shower - it's waterproof) and it automatically tracks my steps, active minutes, calories burned, etc.  

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I forget that it's on, which is exactly the point.  The only time I don't forget about it is when I have to charge it by removing a smal part and plugging it up to a computer, which is more often then I'd like (every day or two). For these things to really go mainstream, wireless charging would be a huge benefit. Imagine that I can just throw my Fitbit Flex on a wireless pad like a Powermat. Or even better, placing a wireless charger under my pilow (or make the whole pillow a wireless charger) so that going to sleep instantly charges the device. I know, big dreams, and I could fry my head ... but it would be awesome.

My favorite fitness gadget was the Infomotion 94Fifty - a basektball with a bunch of sensors in it that measure ball rotation, velocity, the arc of your shot, and tons of other variables.  As you dribble, shoot, and pass, you get instant feedback from the voice of a snarky coach.  

For example, when shooting a free throw, you shoudl shoot at an arc of 40 degrees, which is REALLY hard for the average person. All I heard most of the time was the coach saying "Get that arc up" and other remarks. If I had this as a kid, I might actually have been a good basketball player. Maybe it would have helped me grow to 6' tall to.

 

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Keep an eye out on 3D gaming, 3D printing, and fitness gagdgets in the next few years - things are gonna change!