September, 2011

  • The 4 coolest STEM careers I wish I studied for…

    Editors Note: We have declared this month #STEMtember to build awareness of the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. Earlier in the month we released some research into how parents and students view STEM education and we’re planning a number of profiles of people with some of the coolest STEM jobs. Keep an eye on the blog or follow #STEMtember on Twitter, discuss on Facebook, or you can read all this month’s post by clicking on the tag #STEMtember on this blog. 


    Even though the years are flying by, I don’t think I will ever forget what it was like to be a kid in middle school… What an awkward age that was! As a 6th grader I was just discovering that girls didn’t have coodies and still imagined that one day I would be a professional basketball player like Mike. But at some point before 8th grade, I realized I would likely need to focus my on studying as very few ever make it to the NBA. Looking back to my middle school and high school years, I was ripe for being influenced, inspired, and encouraged to study in certain areas; yet I was never drawn to science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) education. Why is that?

    Were my English and history teachers really that cool? Looking at many of the possibilities I just can’t help but wonder what life would have been like if I had focused my studies on STEM subjects.

    The other day, our team sat around a table and made a list of people who have really cool STEM focused careers. We decided reach out and interview those folks to gain insights into their STEM thoughts, educational experience, and seek advice for the future generation. So for the next few weeks we will be posting blogs from our team as we interview these STEM super heroes.

    To kick things off I thought it might be fun to explore the top 4 STEM careers I wish studied for:

    1) An Astronaut: This last spring I was fortunate to visit Kennedy Space Center in Florida to see off the Astronauts in the second to last shuttle launch in NASA history. While I watched astronaut Greg Chamitoff wave goodbye to his children (pictured left), the thought occurred to me; Greg is not saying “goodbye kids, daddy will be home after work”… No, he is saying “goodbye kids, daddy is going to be shot into space on the fastest ride this planet has to offer, leave the atmosphere for a few weeks, explore outer space, and will be home when orbit permits”. Well maybe he wasn’t saying that exactly, but you get the point. Too bad I didn’t choose to study physics and advanced aerospace.   

    2) A Fighter Pilot: I have to give credit to the Blue Angels and Tom Cruise in Top Gun for my pipe dreams of wanting to fly MACH 3 with my hair on fire. Anyone lucky enough to catch a Blue Angels show (pictured left) in person will attest to the sheer awesomeness of the sight and sounds of a fighter jet. I wish one of my teachers would have told me the engineering path of a pilot; guaranteed that bit of information would have dialed in my attention span in calculus class.

    3) A world famous chef: Only in my own kitchen do I pretend to be Curtis Stone. Wouldn’t it be great to create the tasty treats that people from all over the world seek to consume? Chefs are scientists in their own right, understanding how ingredients pair as well as the biological instincts involved with eating food. One who studies the science of food could have the world at the palm of their cooking mitts! 

    4) A Tesla engineer: Have you ever been 0-60mph in 3.9 seconds? Thanks to my good friend Tal Moore (his car pictured left), I have, and believe me I was grinning like a child at a birthday party. These cars are amazing; they sound like a

    spaceship, start and stop on a dime, and provide the thrill of a lifetime. Bet if I would have studied mechanical engineering I could have been able to one day afford the $100,000+ price tag, or maybe I could have just built one myself.

    These are just a few examples of the incredible possibilities for kids who study STEM. The next generation of innovators, astronauts, pilots, electric motor engineers, famous chefs and more - could be your child, your little cousin, your little sister/brother, or a child you mentor.  

    What cool STEM job do you find inspiring? Why not tell us using the #STEMtember on Twitter or on Facebook.


    All photographs taken by Nathan J. Peterson

  • What is STEM and why is it important? #STEMtember

    STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. STEM education is not only critical for preparing our future doctors, researchers, rocket scientists and game designers, it’s becoming more important for every type of job in the workforce. The problem is that most countries in the world aren’t producing enough STEM graduates. In the United States for example, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates there will be more than 1.2 million job openings in STEM-related fields by 2018, but not enough people to fill them.

    As President Obama remarked in his State of the Union address in January 2011, “maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America's success. But if we want to win the future – if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas – then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.”

    Companies in the private sector need STEM graduates to create the next generation of exciting innovations, and there are incredible career opportunities for students who take STEM degree courses.

    For millions of students around the world September is back-to-school time, and to coincide with the new academic year we’re launching a month long set of announcements and events focused on promoting awareness of STEM and its importance.

    Starting today we’re using the hashtag #STEMtember to pull together STEM related content, news and opinions on Twitter throughout the month.

    To get things started we’re releasing the results from two surveys  we have commissioned to discover the views of parents and students on how we can encourage more people to study STEM subjects.

    Microsoft has been committed to encouraging students to pursue a career in STEM for many years. We have put in place a range of global and local programs to encourage students to explore the possibilities of a career in STEM from the Imagine Cup to Partners in Learning, DigiGirlz, and the Kodu Game Lab.

    We’re looking forward to the discussion, check back for a range of content, news, opinions and resources throughout the month. It’s going to be a busy #STEMtember!

    · Read the results of our STEM survey.

    Microsoft STEM related programs and resources:

    · Partners in Learning: A 10-year, nearly $500 million commitment to help schools increase their access to technology and use it more effectively in teaching.

    · Imagine Cup: A global competition for students ages 16 and up to strengthen technical, problem-solving and communication skills by helping solve issues inspired by the UN Millennium Goals.

    · Kodu Game Lab: A free game design tool that enables kids to easily build their own video games for the PC within minutes by dragging and dropping images and simple icons, rather than using complex programming languages.

    · DreamSpark: Provides no-cost access to Microsoft designer and developer tools for students and educators around the world, to support and advance the learning and teaching of key technical skills. Since its introduction in 2008, students in more than 137 countries have utilized DreamSpark.

    · Students to Business: Helps companies connect with and hire talented university or post-graduate students for jobs or internships in the technology industry by matching qualified candidates with open positions.

    · Innovative Teaching & Learning Research: A multi-year study examining the links between innovative teaching practices and their impact on the skills that students will need for life and work in the 21st Century.

    · Partners in Learning Educators Forum: A forum to showcase creative and inspiring examples of how educators and schools are using technology.

    · Washington STEM: This $6 million grant from Microsoft helps to provide technical assistance, teacher-training, access to STEM curricula, and other resources for Washington State’s K–12 education system.

    · DigiGirlz: Tech Camps give high school girls a chance to learn about careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees, and participate in hands-on computer and technology workshops.

    · Microsoft Math Partnership: Through partnerships with local school districts, universities, and other educational organizations Microsoft has spent $3 million to sponsor the multi-year Microsoft Math Partnership (MMP), which has helped 20 middle schools in eight Washington school districts improve their success rates in middle school math.

    · Employee Volunteer Programs: Microsoft employees volunteer their time to a number of local programs that encourage the pursuit of math and science, including TEALS mentorship, MATHCOUNTS, MESA and FIRST Robotics Competitions, which add fun and excitement to learning.

  • What do parents and students think of STEM education?

    STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is vital to solving the world’s toughest social problems; to helping companies create the next breakthrough innovation and to keeping local economies competitive. So how do we encourage more students to study STEM projects?

    To find out, we partnered with Harris Interactive to get an insight on STEM education from parents with children in K-12 education, and students currently studying in STEM degree courses.

    The parent perspective:

    The survey found broad agreement among parents that there is room for improvement in how we prepare children to pursue a STEM career.

    · Most parents of K-12 students (93%) believe that STEM education should be a priority in the U.S., but only half (49%) agree that it actually is a top priority.

    · Parents believe STEM is essential to ensure the U.S. remains competitive in the global marketplace (53%) and to produce the next generation of innovators (51%)

    · While 50% of parents would like to see their child pursue a STEM career, only 24% are extremely willing to spend extra money helping their children be successful in their math and science classes.

    · The top three careers that parents want their kids to pursue are:

    o #1 Scientist (24%)

    o #2 Engineer (21%)

    o #3 Physician & Dentist, Teacher (Both 17%)

    The STEM student perspective:

    College students pursuing a STEM degree were asked to rate how well their K-12 education prepared them for their college courses in STEM, and why they chose to pursue a STEM academic path.

    · Nearly 4 in 5 STEM college students say that they decided to study STEM in high school or earlier and 21% decided in middle school.

    · More than half (57%) of STEM college students say that before going to college, a teacher or class got them interested in STEM.

    · Only 1 in 5 STEM college students feel that their K-12 education prepared them extremely well for their college courses in STEM.

    · Students indicated they are selecting a STEM path to secure their own futures.

    o 68% say they want a good salary

    o 66% say it’s the job potential

    o 68% say they find their degree program subject intellectually stimulating and challenging

    The gender differences:

    · Male students are more likely to pursue STEM because they have always enjoyed games/toys, reading books, and/or participating in clubs that are focused on their chosen subject area. (51% vs. 35% females).

    · Female students are more likely to say that they chose STEM to make a difference (49% vs. 34% males).

    · While more than half (57%) of STEM college students say that before going to college, a teacher or class got them interested in STEM, it’s especially true of female students (68% vs. 51% males) who give “a teacher or class” as the top factor that sparked their interest.

    · Females in STEM are more likely than males to say they were extremely/well prepared (64% vs. 49%) by their K-12 education, and are slightly more likely than their male counterparts to say that preparing students for STEM should be a top priority in K-12 schools (92% vs. 84%).

    You can read the full summary of findings here.

    Got a comment on these findings? We’d love to hear your thoughts either through the comments on this post or why not share your views on Twitter using the hashtag #STEMtember





    Microsoft has been committed to encouraging students to pursue a career in STEM for many years. We have put in place a range of global and local programs to encourage students to explore the possibilities of a career in STEM from the Imagine Cup to Partners in Learning, DigiGirlz, and the Kodu Game Lab.

  • A Winning Strategy: Teaching Students and Cultivating an Interest in Computer Science


    Combating viruses, saving the lives of expectant mothers, and retrieving food from a warehouse controlled by an evil dictator; it’s not just fun and games in teacher Pat Yongpradit’s computer science classes at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. Students in his class are challenged to make sense of complicated algorithms and complex data structures while learning to design and develop their own video games that relate to real life issues. However, the biggest challenge in Yongpradit’s class and other science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) classes rests on the shoulders of the teacher; in maintaining students’ interest to continue their STEM studies.

    That challenge to maintain student interest in STEM can be daunting. Our recent commissioned survey through Harris Interactive asked college students studying STEM and parents of K-12 students what can be done to inspire and motivate students to study STEM subjects. Results indicated more than half (57%) of STEM college students say that before their college experience, a teacher or class got them interested in STEM. Of the students, females were more likely to say a teacher influenced them (68% compared to 51% of males). Males cited games or toys got them interested in STEM (61% compared to 29% of females).

    In the big picture of women in STEM careers, the U.S. Department of Commerce reports women hold less than 25% of STEM jobs despite the fact that women have increased their share of the overall workforce. For Yongpradit, getting girls excited about technology is the biggest obstacle he encountered in his classroom; however, he faced this challenge willingly. He noticed a handful of females who were showing talent in computer science were not continuing on past the introductory classes. Determined to do something to inspire his female students, Yongpradit and two of his students created the Springbrook Women in Technology club to show his female students there were others as interested and excited about technology as they were. The creation of the Springbrook Women in Technology Club earned Yongpradit winning titles at the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2010 U.S. and Worldwide Innovative Education Forums for his creative use of technology in engaging students and inspiring them to learn. Four years after the club’s inception, the club has more than 30 members, almost all of whom have gone on to advanced technology classes. The two co-founders of the club are now sophomores at Cornell University and University of California, Berkeley, studying engineering, computer science, and mathematics.

    “The biggest effect is making girls feel that it is perfectly normal for them be interested in technology and to want to pursue it later in life,” said Yongpradit.

    Yongpradit’s computer science classes also naturally draw a number of male students who want to create their own video games and build and program robots.

    “We make a variety of games, from text adventures on the computer to side-scrolling platformers for the Xbox 360 to touch-enabled puzzles on the Windows Phone.  Later this year, we will be creating applications for the Kinect,” he said.

    More than just games and robots, the class is 90 percent learning through experience. Yongpradit structures the class to give his students enough background to be competent when they are working on a project. His student, Jacen Sherman, 15, knows he’s lucky to attend a school that offers a computer programming class. This past June, he won first prize in the Microsoft Kodu Cup for his game Vortex. Encouraged by his teacher and his experience attending the student technology competition Imagine Cup as a prize, Jacen is considering both a career in technology education and robotics.

    “He shares game ideas with me all the time and asks for feedback.  We sometimes just sit around at lunch and brainstorm together,” said Yongpradit “His heart has always been into technology, but now he sees how what he creates can really help people.”

    Yongpradit’s heart has always been into technology and teaching, he is constantly seeking out opportunities to improve his teaching practice to benefit his students. Following his wins at the two Microsoft Innovative Education Forums, he was inspired to incorporate lessons in addressing social causes around the world into game design. He’s also been invited back to the U.S. Innovative Education Forum as a judge which he says improved how he structures his innovative teaching activities, enhancing his impact on his students.

    Yongpradit’s dedication and influence is working at Springbrook High School. In the last three years, the number of introductory-level computer science classes has doubled, from three offerings to six with a total growth from 90 students to almost 200. The ratio of males and females in the introductory classes has stayed the same at around 40 percent of females to 60 percent males, but the number of females in the upper level courses has increased by about 15 percent.  The school has also increased its Advanced Placement computer science offerings from one class to two. He cites interest, challenge, creation, and being a part of something exciting as the biggest influences on his students to pursue STEM studies. 

    “Students are interested in the material not only because it is relevant [video game development and robotics], but because they appreciate the challenge and the accomplishment that comes with creating an actual product, “he said.

    Yongpradit said he constantly promotes STEM careers by showing students the benefits and opportunities available to them by studying STEM He talks about the role of computer science in the technology that they use every day and how the very things they are learning are helping people all over the world.

    “The atmosphere of the class is exciting and lively,” he said. “They see the connection between what they learn and what is going on outside of the classroom and they feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves.”

    In the game of inspiring students to pursue a STEM education and career, Mr. Yongpradit can consider himself a winner, but the challenge will continuously evolve as will the future of STEM.

    Editor’s note: About STEMtember

    For millions of students around the world September is back-to-school time, and to coincide with the new academic year we’re launching a month long set of announcements and events focused on promoting awareness of STEM and its importance. We’re using the hashtag #STEMtember to pull together STEM related content, news and opinions on Twitter throughout the month. 

    We’ve also released the findings from two surveys we commissioned to discover the views of parents and students on how we can encourage more people to study STEM subjects.

    You can read the full summary of findings here.

    Got a comment on this post, the research findings, or STEM in general? We’d love to hear your views either through the comments on this post or why not share your views on Twitter using the hashtag #STEMtember.

  • This weekend: TEDxRedmond – Organized for youth, by youth

    imageWhat is your child up to this weekend? Maybe hitting the neighborhood swimming pool to enjoy the last bit of summer? Hanging out with their new schoolmates at the movies or playing video games? There are many activities they could do this weekend, but there’s probably nothing as compelling as TEDxRedmond, the only TED event organized for youth by youth.

    Have you heard of TED before? TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. The annual TED Conference invites the world’s leading thinkers and doers to speak for 18 minutes. Their talks are then made available, free, at TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Nandan Nilekani, Philippe Starck and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. TEDx is a TED initiative of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.

    Like other TED events, the TEDxRedmond conference features speakers that seek to inform, empower and inspire attendees to make a difference in their communities and their lives.

    But TEDxRedmond is different, because all the attendees, organizers and speakers are of middle school and high school ages.


    Video: From YouTube: Child prodigy and TEDxRedmond host Adora Svitak says the world needs "childish" thinking: bold ideas, wild creativity and especially optimism. Kids' big dreams deserve high expectations, she says, starting with grownups' willingness to learn from children as much as to teach.

    Kids from the ages of 11-17 are encouraged to register for TEDxRedmond.

    Date: September 10, 2011

    Time: 1 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. (with free dinner served afterwards for registered attendees)

    Location: Microsoft Conference Center (the conference will also be streamed live over the web)

    Online registration is mandatory for students as well as parents.

    What to expect to see:

    · TEDxRedmond is unique in that it is organized by youth, all of the speakers and performers are youth, and the majority of attendees will be youth.

    · Some of the speakers and performers this year are:

    o Stephanie Engle (gifted photographer who donates profits to Guatemalan orphanage)

    o Roberto Granados (classical, rock, and flamenco guitarist who has performed at Carnegie Hall)

    o MaCall Manor (nationally ranked dancer, writer, actress, and Junior Olympic gymnast; honored at Carnegie Hall twice for her writing)

    o Alexander Prior (an internationally-recognized music composer and conductor who graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music at age 17)

    · Free dinner served after event.

    Registration Information:

    · Event targeted for students ages 11-17 (grades 6-12).

    · Parents may register to attend, but they will watch the event from another room through a live stream (youth attendees will get priority seating in the main room).

    · More information and how to register can be found at the TEDxRedmond website.

    Microsoft is proud to be a sponsor of the event and the TEDxRedmond team has done an incredible job pulling this event together if you’re not in the Redmond area watch it online.

    We hope to see you there!

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