Bridging the Classic Tension Between the Sciences and the Humanities Or Handling IT Service Guys

Running a successful business is more art than science. Of this, I am quite certain. However, understanding science (specifically technology and perhaps some math) – or at least being able to effectively communicate with people who do – is vital. This is especially true if one’s business is Internet retailing. If, like me, you are more inclined toward the humanities than the sciences, successful communication with the techies can be a challenge. [If you are an ecommerce CEO with the luxury of in-house IT staff, skip this blog entry.]

Here is the persona that often shows up on the telephone when you call for IT service. The guy (in my experience, the person is almost always as male) will rarely leave his comfort zone. Before you can even dream of making human contact or chatting about the problem at hand, he’ll want your ID number, your case number, your password, your secret question answered, and perhaps your name (but this might be incidental and he’ll never refer to you by name). His flat affect will remind you that he is doing this work because he thinks – mistakenly – that he can avoid the messiness of real human affairs. When it came time to get a job, “Technology Service” was hiring but, unfortunately for him, talking to people was part of the deal. At one point in his life, he was a “gamer”, a geek who was unpopular and “weird.” He relished privacy and every single day hoped that people would just leave him alone.

Now you need his help, and he doesn’t like you from the get-go because you are a. a human being and b. an idiot who doesn’t even know your own IP address or where to find your cookies. You need a good strategy to get your needs met: 1. Be self-effacing (even if you know a thing or two). For heaven’s sake, don’t try and sound competent as this will surely get you painted into a corner. Example: “I am a dummy when it comes to this stuff. Please go easy on me.” 2. Build him up: “Your skills make today’s world go round. Or the rhetorical, “How could businesses survive without your expertise?”

This should lay the necessary groundwork. Now, your goal is to get a single example of any right brain behavior exhibited in the conversation, like humor for example. If you succeed, don’t over-react as this may signal a retreat. Rather, validate the behavior in an understated manner. At this point, you should be home free. Cautiously navigate your way toward completion of your IT service objective with your new friend.

Good luck and . . . May the Force be With You (is that what those guys say? I get the trekies and techies mixed up).

Fred Belinsky

Getting Kids Interested in Science – 40 Years of Bringing Science to Life in The Classroom

In 1961, John F. Kennedy famously beckoned the American people to journey into space and reach the moon by decade’s end. Both challenged and encouraged by our young president’s infectious and visionary attitude – the country heeded his call.

It was a monumental accomplishment that galvanized the nation’s fascination with science and technology and inspired the creation of an educational video series known as the Science Screen Report.
Developed to enhance curriculums throughout our nation’s schools by stimulating students curiosity in science, it’s no coincidence that as it approaches its 40th anniversary, the Science Screen Report is more relevant than ever.

“Students are far more immersed in their studies when they can experience the world beyond the written pages of their textbooks and see it live, in full color and in three dimensions,” says Cleveland Middle School Librarian, Grace M. Dyrek.

Apparently many educators across the nation agree. When the Science Screen Report made its debut in 1970, less than 100 schools nationally were utilizing its services. Today nearly four decades later, more than 10,000 school districts use the series as an essential tool to help promote science as an invaluable subject.

“We cannot do enough to engage students in science. The sciences have never been more important to society than they are now,” says Scott Forman, President of Allegro Productions whose company produces the series from Palm Beach County, Florida. That advocacy is also shared by President Obama who stated, “Today more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our prosperity as a nation.” These are high stakes that will require a much deeper commitment to science than previously shown by U.S. schools, students and parents.

According to the Washington Post, science scores from the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment – a test given every three years – showed that U.S. 15 year-olds trailed their peers from many industrialized countries. It’s a trend that’s mirrored in American middle schools as well.

To help close and overcome that gap, Science Screen Report and its companion series, Science Screen Report For Kids, is designed to get students engrossed in science as early as possible – science is not a subject to simply just pass. “We’re trying to get kids interested in careers in science; show them it can be challenging, rewarding and full of opportunity,” adds Forman whose company produces eight programs per school year for each series.

Roughly 15 minutes in length and produced to directly address National Science Standards and Science Literacy Benchmarks, both series cover a variety of topics ranging from chemistry to the environment to physics, biology, medicine, ecology, engineering, space science, energy and oceanography.

Visually captivating to capture the attention and imagination of today’s technologically advanced kids, each Science Screen Report is accompanied by a thoroughly researched teacher guide. Prepared by a committee of educators, the guides provide background information, suggestions for critical thought, a glossary, career possibilities, resource and reference material, and tend to provoke lively classrooms discussions regarding the featured subjects.

Having worked for decades with the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the Science Screen Report continues to receive accolades. Series materials have also been used in the Smithsonian Institute’s Teacher Resource Center, and are listed in the resource guides of the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Education, and many other state and local agencies.

Although delivered to schools using the latest technology such as video streaming, supporters of the Science Screen Report face an age-old problem – funding. The series which augments an existing school’s curriculum is often subject to budget cuts. Currently it’s sponsored by hundreds of companies that enable thousands of school districts around the country to receive the program for free. Program sponsors receive a PBS type opening and closing message that appears at the beginning and end of every program that is viewed in the classroom.

Yet in this turbulent economy where cutbacks are the norm, Forman is optimistic that corporations will continue to see the value that Science Screen Report brings to the classroom. It’s an ideal situation; schools receive the award winning content at no cost, and corporations have an appropriate method for reaching their future employees and customers. It’s a logical way for these companies to invest in their own communities.

A small investment that Forman hopes will continue to provide American students and teachers with the tools they need to regain their place at the forefront of science and technology, and remain there for generations to come.

Early Intervention At Secondary School To Increase University Enrollments In Computing And Science

Globally, the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are competing for enrolments in universities with an increasing range of options, to their detriment. The Australian Mathematical Science Institute revealed that basic mathematics was growing in popularity among secondary students to the detriment of intermediate or advanced studies. This has resulted in fewer universities offering higher mathematics courses, and subsequently there are reduced graduates in mathematics. Educators are therefore continuously looking for innovative ways to attract students to STEM university courses.

First, an examination of causes for the low interest in STEM university programs revealed the following: An October 2011 report from the Georgetown University’s Centre on Education and the Workforce (CEW) reported that American science graduates viewed traditional science careers as “too socially isolating.” In addition, a liberal-arts or business education was often regarded as more flexible in a fast-changing job market. Secondary students had the perception that computing and information technology careers were outsourced and not a career path at the local level. They had the belief that the only IT careers available were “backroom” jobs, such as data entry. The challenge, says Professor Ian Chubb, head of Australia’s Office of the Chief Scientist, in his Health of Australian Science report (May 2012), is to make STEM subjects more attractive for students. As he points out, mathematics and science are studied in secondary school, but engineering and technology is not. Therefore students in secondary school are not receiving a “taste” for STEM subjects in a practical and applied context.

To address this situation, on an experimental basis, secondary schools in Australia are undertaking a pilot program in computer science and technology. In the state of Victoria, in southern Australia, secondary schools will trial the country’s first computer science and technology subjects in Year 12, the last year of secondary school. The premise is that the pilot program will provide students with a taste for the subject, applied to real situations, in order to examine whether it produces increased interest and enrolments in related subjects at university level. The pilot is viewed as a form of early intervention.

Twelve secondary schools will take part in the pilot program. Hence, up to 120 secondary students will undertake the computing program developed by computer science and engineering academics at Melbourne University and Monash University in partnership with the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority of the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Melbourne and Monash universities are conducting workshops for teachers and educators on the pilot program, as well as promoting the pilot to parents.

The pilot program is one subject added to the senior curriculum in the twelve Victorian state government schools. The subject is a modified version of the first year computer science syllabus of the two collaborating universities, taught in two modes: face-to-face classroom teaching in the targeted twelve secondary schools, and through online topics.

The pilot computer science subject is not teaching students how to use technology, because they already know this. The subject aims to extend their thinking to a level of academic rigor equivalent to senior secondary and pre-university standards. Hence, students will be able to create software and focus on specialized skills, such as complex analysis, sought by high tech employers, thereby exploring a multi-disciplinary approach to computer science and engineering. An introductory to the skills required at university level is expected to increase student confidence in the applied techniques.

Melbourne University graduates in both computer science and information communication technologies (ICT) courses have a 90% employment rate within six months of graduation. The high employment rate is also expected to enhance the program’s rate of secondary schools transitioning to computer science and STEM courses at university.

The United States and the United Kingdom have had computer science programs in their secondary school curricula for twenty years and the subject is taken as part of the International Baccalaureate. However, Australia has lagged behind in the introduction of computing science and engineering subjects in secondary school. If the pilot proves to be successful, the subject will be included in the national schools secondary curriculum.