Greenwich Academy to Spearhead First GAINS Conference in April

GAINS Network conference banner

The GAINS Network conference will offer girls opportunities in STEM areas.

Greenwich Academy, an all-girls private school in Greenwich, Connecticut, is set to lead a new conference on women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields this spring. From April 12-14, high school girls from Greenwich and other area schools will meet for the GAINS Network Conference, to be held at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

With board members such as Rene Kern of General Atlantic, Greenwich has a long history of supporting young women who wish to pursue STEM subjects. The school’s academic technology program provides faculty and students with both tools and training, including computer access, multimedia options, a 3D printer, and even a robotics lab.

The creation of the GAINS Network (Girls Advancing In STEM) was an outgrowth of this dedication to technology and science in everyday life. As the brainchild of Dr. Ann Decker, the Network connects young women interested in STEM topics with professionals already in the field for online mentoring and information swapping. The Network’s goal is to build a strong female presence in STEM fields and allow for the free-flowing sharing of ideas and opportunities for women of all ages.

Up until now, the Network has existed primarily as an online message board and website. However, with this first GAINS Network Conference, the opportunities are entering the non-virtual world as well. The conference will include technical talks, hands-on activities, small group discussions, and tours of labs and businesses.

“It is our goal to cultivate a national network of peer and mentoring support for female STEM professionals of the future,” said Greenwich Academy Head of School Molly King. “These relationships enhance self-confidence, increase awareness of career options, and empower girls as they pursue educational and professional pursuits in these fields.”

Speakers will include Whitehead Institute member Dr. Susan Lindquist, Google software engineer Michele Moorlock, Cambridge Consultants engineer Leslie Johnston, and Greenwich Academy alum and Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Elizabeth Frates.

Arizona Guts Community College Funding

Maricopa County

Maricopa and Pima Community College Districts in Arizona will receive no funding.
Image: Shutterstock

Community colleges are on the rise in the United States. Bolstered by support from the White House, such institutions are helping more and more people each year. They provide a cheaper alternative to university education, especially for getting general education courses out of the way. They offer classes at times that working students can actually attend and provide a variety of continuing education opportunities for people wishing to round out their education. They’re one of the most broadly beneficial aspects of the higher education system in this country.

Except in Arizona.

Recently, the Arizona legislature eliminated funding for the Maricopa and Pima Community College Districts. It’s not just a reduction in funding, which has been the trend in Arizona in recent years across higher education, but a complete denial of funding. Under this plan, those schools will receive no help.

Arizona, it would seem, doesn’t care about its students. Or, at least, the conservative legislators who hold the purse strings don’t. The people of Arizona most likely do, and it’s the people who will be hurt by this. Most injured will be those people who need community colleges in order to better their lives because they can’t afford to attend universities.

Community colleges reduce cost by doing away with many of the more elaborate and expensive services that universities offer, like huge sports complexes or extensive student housing. But they also do it by getting assistance from the states and local communities in which they operate, the very people they are there to help.

Investing in community colleges, which thankfully is the trend in most of the rest of the country, is good for everyone. It means more people can get an education or supplement their existing education and move into better jobs. Better jobs means higher standards of living and more taxes, which means, in a perfect world, more money for education.

But that requires thinking ahead, which the Arizona legislature seems incapable of doing.

Using YouTube Channels for Education

Woman looking at Youtube on tablet

Youtube could provide your classroom with even more educational opportunities.
Image: Your Design /

Any student who has attended school since about 1996 has been taught, hopefully, how to find reliable sources on the Internet. But students aren’t the only people who can benefit from the Web. The Internet, for all its problems, has proven an invaluable resource for educators. It makes it easier to find lesson plans, to do research, to communicate with students, and to share ideas.

Have you considered using YouTube in the classroom? As the Internet’s largest home of freely accessible videos, YouTube provides people with a platform to express themselves and communicate with others…and to watch cat videos and listen to pirated music.

But it also provides organization that can really help educators out when looking for videos to share with their students. Such as the #Education channel. The channel in question collects videos within the Education category, allowing people who follow that channel to see pretty much anything within that category when it gets posted. It can save educators a lot of time at the search bar.

Other useful channels exist as well, like #LifeLongLearning or #PrimaryAndSecondaryEducation. The easiest way to make use of these channels is to subscribe to them. Depending on your personal settings, you can get emails whenever a channel you subscribe to gets new content, or you can receive regular notices of new content.

Following channels such as these, or the channels of specific schools, educators, or other content creators, allows educators quick access to new videos. You can create your own playlists of videos that you’ve used, which other users can see as well.

Such channels also give educators an easy way to define searches for student projects. Maybe they have to find a video to discuss with the class from a specific channel. Or you can use such channels as starting points for research projects. The videos can supplement your lectures or inspire them. Nobody knows everything, and the democratic nature of the Internet allows us to share what knowledge we do have with anyone who’s interested.

Don’t Think of Higher Education as a “Bundled” Product

Students taking an exam

What would it mean to “unbundle” higher education?
Image: Shutterstock

In recent years, spurred by the “unbundling” of the television and record industries, some entrepreneurs have suggested that higher education needs to be “unbundled” as well.

The concept here is that, thanks to services like iTunes and Netflix, cable subscriptions and album sales have dropped, while subscriptions to streaming services and purchases of individual songs have increased. By unbundling these services, consumers can pick and choose what they want, and ignore the media they don’t want or need.

Purveyors of online classes seem to think the same should happen to higher education. The Atlantic points out, thankfully, that this isn’t the case.

The main thrust of The Atlantic’s argument is that universities and record labels are so different that comparisons are impossible–insulting, even. After all, nobody cares about Sony; they care about the artists that Sony carries. So nobody gets excited with Sony drops a new album. On the other hand, people do care about Harvard, and, especially at the undergraduate level, students and parents choose schools based on their academic reputation, not the individual professors that work there.

One point that the Atlantic article made, though perhaps not strongly enough, is the idea that higher education is about more than technical skills or imparting specific knowledge. It’s also about opening students up to new experiences and broadening their horizons. In part, this is accomplished by having students live on campus or participate in campus culture. But more importantly, this takes the form of required courses outside of a student’s major–the dreaded “general education.”

Many people think such courses are pointless or inefficient, but educators know that learning how to think about the world in different ways is invaluable to the learning process. We know that being exposed to different ideas and cultures is essential to being a good citizen of the world. If students simply pick and choose their courses, how many will choose something they aren’t already familiar with? For all the choice, that’s likely to be a poorer education.

Teaching Trees

Elementary school building surrounded by trees

Imagine if more schools across the US incorporated tree planting into their curricula!
Image: Shutterstock

In Vancouver, Washington, there is an annual tree planting season, taking up most of the local rainy winter. It is city-wide and extensive, but perhaps the most valuable part of the project is the partnerships that form between the city’s Urban Forestry Program and local schools. The city provides trees and guidance, while the school provides land and volunteers, along with a commitment to maintain the trees as they grow.

The project is good for all schools involved on so many levels. Students take a role in the development of their own communities, helping with planning, planting, and upkeep. Teachers can take advantage of the project to teach about the biology of trees and their importance in both urban and natural environments. The trees themselves help the school by muffling neighborhood sounds and regulating the ambient temperature. And the schools, many of which are major landholders in their communities, contribute to the general health of the city by adding what the UFP calls the Urban Canopy. More trees overall means less runoff and erosion and cleaner, clearer air.

Vancouver’s not the first city to deploy a project like this (San Francisco is another notable location), but it should be much more widespread. A study done in 2014 in Boston suggested that schools set in greener environments show a higher average proficiency in English and math. Another study, this one using data from London, indicated that people living on greener streets regardless of age and income were less likely to require antidepressants. With organizations like the National Wildlife Federation ready to donate native trees to schools, such improvements could potentially be in reach of any school, at any budget, so long as there is community support and land for planting. Just imagine schools across the country, in all kinds of city, as green havens, as restful as parks. Picture today’s students looking out classroom windows into foliage they had a hand in creating. Picture them coming to their 20-year class reunions and seeing the proud spreading canopies of the trees they planted with their own hands.



Teaching the Underground Railroad with a Board Game

Freedom:  The Underground Railroad

Freedom: The Underground Railroad teaches players about an important historical event.

Early childhood educators understand the value of play as a teaching tool. They dismiss the idea that play is meaningless or a waste of time and insist that it can be valuable for teaching children important concepts. The same can be said for older students and adults as well.

In case you missed it, board games have made some pretty huge leaps in the last two decades. The days of Candyland and Monopoly are long gone and, spurred especially by European designers, board games have matured considerably. Contemporary board games, sometimes called “hobby games,” depend on far more complex design theory than a lot of classing board games. The game ending because everyone stopped having fun and wanted to quit is a thing of the past. If you know where to look.

The best games, and those with the most interesting and demanding concepts, are often made by smaller companies, such as Academy Games, which specializes in historical board games. One such game, Freedom: The Underground Railroad, is an excellent example of a game that can teach its players quite a lot about American history.

The game is cooperative, in that everyone either wins or loses together — a concept that would have been mostly unthinkable a few decades ago — and the players take on the role of conductors in the underground railroad. They have to use the resources they can scrape together to help a number of slaves escape to Canada before too many are sold to plantations. They have to deal with slave catchers and an increasingly hostile political environment, represented by various cards that make the game more difficult.

The game is steeped in history, and the events and actions depicted are those of real historical actors. You can’t play the game without learning something. If it’s not a politician you didn’t know about, it’s an event or a law. The game takes the subject seriously, treats it with respect, and, most importantly, it helps put players into the mindset of the period in question. And that’s the goal of every history teacher.

Tucson Festival of Books Champions Literacy in Arizona

Families enjoying the Tucson Festival of Books

There’s lots to do at the Tucson Festival of Books!

With approximately 600,000 to one million books being published annually in the US, it’s a great time to head over to the Tucson Festival of Books, which will take place this weekend on the campus of the University of Arizona. In addition to being a celebration of books and community, the Tucson Festival of Books also raises awareness of and support for literacy programs like Reading Seed, Literacy Connects and university literacy outreach programs.

The festival started in 2009 and has contributed more than $1 million to literacy organizations. It’s also generated more than $3 million for the local economy.

“Giving back to promote literacy is the real success of the festival,” said Bill Viner, one of the festival’s founders. “Literacy is the foundation of building a strong, vibrant community, and the Tucson Festival of Books is proud to play a role in ensuring vital literacy programs are available.”

More than 450 authors will be there, including Mitch Albom, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Catherine Coulter, and Noam Chomsky. And audience of more than 130,000 is expected to attend.

The free festival is more than just big names in books: it will also include panel discussions, poetry, exhibitor booths, two youth contests, and a variety of other performances. The festival also includes Science City, an exhibit promoting science, technology, engineering, and math opportunities for young people.

In addition to being a fun event, literacy festivals such as this do the important job of promoting the importance of reading and education. Experts estimate that almost 40% of fourth graders in the US are not at basic levels of reading proficiency—and the number is higher when it comes to low income and minority families, not to mention those learning English as a second language. And without basic literacy skills, it’s becoming harder and harder to actively participate in American society.

If you’re in the Tucson area and have the opportunity to attend the Festival of Books—or if your area has a great book festival—please share in the comments below!