What did you do on YOUR summer holiday?
Sisilia Sinaga is a senior at BASIS Flagstaff who spent her summer as a volunteer intern at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff. Sisilia has a head start on her senior project focusing on her keen interest in artificial intelligence and neural networks. Alicia Vaughan, the Director of Student Affairs at BASIS, partnered Sisilia with her mentor Dr. Ryan Anderson at the Astrogeology Science Center. Because Sisilia already has a strong math and coding background, she was able to step into one of Dr. Anderson’s projects with the Mars Curiosity Rover.
Ryan and Sisilia are using PySAT (Python Spectral Analysis Tool), a program that Ryan is developing to analyze spectra like those returned by the ChemCam instrument on the Curiosity Mars Rover. ChemCam shoots a laser at rocks and soil on Mars, breaking them down into a spark of plasma. The spectrum of light emitted from the spark contains a fingerprint of the chemical elements in the target. Sisilia is working on using neural networks to more accurately read that spectral fingerprint and dete4rmine the chemistry of the rocks and soils of Mars.
Neural python is the language within python that uses a library called TensorFlow™ to create neural networks. TensorFlow's website states that it was originally developed by researchers and engineers working on the Google Brain Team within Google's Machine Intelligence research organization for the purposes of conducting machine learning and deep neural networks research, but the system is general enough to be applicable in a wide variety of other domains as well.
Artificial neural networks (ANN's) are computing systems inspired by organismal nervous systems. Useful in image recognition ANN's can learn to identify images that contain a specific mineral by analyzing example images that have been previously labeled with that mineral.
Sisilia's biggest passions are computers, engineering, physics, astronomy, and math. She loves to program and write code in her free time. She is in her school's robotics club and participates in FTC competitions. She is also in the National Honor Society and volunteered with STEM City to assist students. Her first challenge was to fix the earthquake simulator at Killip Elementary School! You can see, via this video from Killip, that she was successful!
We wish Sisilia every success as she continues her senior project and pursues being accepted by her preferred university!
Thank you Sisilia for all you have done to advance STEM in STEM City!
By Dave Engelthaler, Associate Professor at the Translational Genomics Research Institute and the Chair of the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance. This column was adapted from the keynote speech, given by the author, at Science Foundation Arizona's "Giving a Voice to STEM" Conference at NAU on September 30, 2016.
I have often referred to Flagstaff as the Shining City on Arizona’s Hill. It is no accident that I borrow this phrase from the famous, precisely American, ideal of a “Shining City on a Hill”. The early pilgrims imagined that they could create such a community for themselves after escaping the historical norms of European controls on destiny.
Three hundred years later John F. Kennedy reminded of this founding ideal, stating that the world was watching our shining city and that we must live up to our promise; shortly there after, we embarked on one of the greatest journeys of all time and put a man’s foot on the moon (Flagstaff had something to do with that, more on that below).
Twenty years later, Ronald Reagan again reminded us of this American City on a Hill ideal; and while we may not often remember Reagan as a champion of science, he was convinced during his tenure to not only not cut the budget of the National Science Foundation, but rather double it, before he left office. But, as under Kennedy and Reagan and other presidents in before and after, no matter what our economic and cultural condition, we have always led the way in advancing humanity through the sciences.
It is this ideal that convinces me that in Flagstaff, we are a Shining STEM City on Arizona’s Hill.
In August of 2012, a group of Flagstaff Leaders, Businessmen, Educators, Scientists, and Concerned Citizens gathered in the woods on the base of the San Francisco Peaks. This group coalesced around the idea that Flagstaff is a STEM-rich City and that we as a community, businesses and schools, elected leaders and CEOs, teachers and families, needed to collectively band together to bring this rich surrounding to bear on the education of our children and enrich our communities.
There, up on our Hillside, we all mutually pledged our time, talent and resources towards making the STEM City ideals happen. In short – our goal was to have the most STEM literate graduates living and working in a thriving STEM-based economy.
We also had a unofficial motto for the day: “Dare Mighty Things”, which we borrowed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who had, just the preceding night, coordinated the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars (and again, Flagstaff had something to do with this mission). And we both stole that from Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Far better it is to dare mighty things” speech.
Historian, Fredrick Jackson Turner, just a few years before TR’s famous speech, gave us his “Frontier Thesis”, and proclaiming that with the end of the American Frontier, so might be the end the American spirit. While Jackson aptly, and controversially, linked Americanism and American spirit to the discovery and exploration of the American Frontier, I feel that he missed the mark in not understanding the new frontiers that we would identify and explore.
Our increased understanding and use of science and engineering opened up brand new frontiers, beyond land and sea.
One such Frontier, The Space Frontier, was no longer a pastoral landscape to watch from afar. Our STEM City has been at the forefront of the exploration of this new frontier, from the discovery of Pluto, to the training of Apollo astronauts in our backyard, to the camera control of the Mars Rover from our USGS facility, and now finally to the deep space explorations through our Discovery Channel telescope, providing insight into the beginnings of our universe and images of a frontier previously unseen.
Likewise, Flagstaff is home to TGen and the new Pathogen and Microbiome Institute at NAU, where some of the brightest minds are exploring another previously unseen universe – the microbiome. Every day, scientists in Flagstaff are embarking on the incredible journey into the human microbiome – the unseen ecosystem of bacteria and viruses and fungi that live on and in the human body. We are trying to understand how these microbes live, compete, collaborate and otherwise interact during our healthy and disease states. We, ourselves, our bodies, are the new frontier – and again that frontier exploration is here in our STEM City.
And we could go on about the new frontiers ventured by W.L.Gore engineers and SenesTech scientists and MNA paleontologists and Park Service geologists. The frontier is here in our STEM City and some of the greatest pioneers are the trainers of our next generation– the teachers and education professionals of our great public, charter and private schools. Most are ready, willing and able to interact with all of these resources; and some, like former STEM City Teacher of the Year Jillian Worssam, just kick down the door and say: “Let’s do this thing!”
Our STEM City is Worssam’s wildly successful Scientists in the Classroom. It is the Flagstaff Festival of Science (the longest running one in the country). We are the Coconuts; we are the Annual STEMMY'S Awards Ceremony; the STEM Art Competition; and the Super Bowl of STEM in the Dome event (where upwards of 8% of Flagstaff turns out!); we are the Space Station Science Experiment and the High Altitude Balloon Launches; and the superstar Killip Kindergarten Chess team that likes to challenge our Mayor. We are seventh-grade girls wearing lab coats inside a world-class research lab and we are a group of high schoolers rafting down our majestic Canyon to learn our geologic past. We are the Chamber Coding Camps. We are grad students teaching and learning in the K-12 classroom. We are parents, students and teachers on a hill having a star party. We are, in a phrase, America’s First STEM Community.
Arizona, and the rest of the country, is watching our shining STEM City
and we must live up to our promise.
Increasing the Number of Women in the STEM Workforce
A recent journal article in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) entitled “Women 1.5 Times More Likely to Leave STEM Pipeline after Calculus Compared to Men: Lack of Mathematical Confidence a Potential Culprit”, by J. Ellis, B. Fosdick, and C. Rasmussen, had some fascinating information and conclusions:
In this study, the proportions of students who cited reasons for not entering Calculus II were comparable across men and women, except for one: “I do not believe I understand the ideas of Calculus I well enough to take Calculus II.”
This lack of confidence was cited by 35% of women, and only 14% of men, all of whom originally intended on pursuing a STEM career. Women switching from STEM pathways are citing a lack of understanding of the material in Calculus I as a reason for not continuing their STEM studies significantly more often than men.
An article by K. Piatek-Jimenez, “On the Persistence and Attrition of Women in Mathematics”, states that: “Confidence in mathematical ability may also be a possible reason why women do not choose to pursue mathematics. Women frequently report lower self-confidence in mathematics than their equally talented male peers. This trend is true even amongst the most mathematically talented students.”
Lack of confidence plagues women in other fields as well. "The Confidence Gap", by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, cite a number of studies. Hewlett-Packard found that women applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job; while men applied when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. Brenda Major, a social psychologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, started studying the problem of self-perception decades ago. “I would set up a test where I’d ask men and women how they thought they were going to do on a variety of tasks.” She found that the men consistently overestimated their abilities and subsequent performance, and that the women routinely underestimated both, while the actual performances did not differ in quality. “It is one of the most consistent findings you can have.”
Margie Warrell, in a recent Forbes article, “For Women To Rise We Must Close 'The Confidence Gap' wrote: “…wherever I’ve worked in the world, I’ve consistently that a fundamental lack of belief in our own value, worth and ability to achieve consistently tempers female ambition and holds women back." She cited an eight-year study by Wiebke Bleidorn that analyzed data from over 985,000 men and women across 48 countries, from Norway to New Zealand, Kuwait to South Korea, asking them to rate the phrase: “I see myself as someone who has high self-esteem”, and found that across the board – regardless of culture or country, men have higher self-esteem than women.
“Math for Girls, Math for Boys”, by A.K. Whitney in the Atlantic, stated that only one in ten contestants in the International Math Olympiad are female and many teams have no girls at all. Last year’s U.S. Team, which took gold for the first time in 21 years, was all male. Sherry Gong, who in 2007 was the second American girl in International Math Olympiad history to get the gold medal, recalled getting a pep talk during a competition from her coach. “I thought I was doing really badly, but ... she said girls tend to underestimate how well they are doing.”
What can we do to increase confidence and foster perseverance for all students to succeed in high-level mathematics and STEM studies?
Programs to increase confidence and persistence, as well as STEM skills, are growing in STEM City (aka Flagstaff). Highlighted programs include:
Girls on the Run (GOTR), celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, has a primary goal of increasing self-confidence in young women. See this STEM City blog by Marney Babbitt on how you can participate.
Growth Mindset is being used by a number of teachers in Flagstaff including Elii Chapman, a math and science teacher at Flagstaff Junior Academy, and the runner up for the 2016 Coconino County Teacher of the Year. (Look up Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth to learn more.)
All-Girl Events/Competitions including all girls’ math or chess tournaments is another way to reduce the social issues that come with young women in competitive environments with young men. The Flagstaff Chess Club will hold its 3rd Annual All Girls Chess Tournament in January, hosted by a strongly supportive Lowell Observatory staff, and including a lunchtime talk by a female astronomer. The Cactus-Pine Girl Scouts have held all girls engineering events, coding workshops, and after-school STEM activities for local students.
With Math I Can is being promoted by FUSD math specialist Jane Gaun, and others. This is a pledge we can all take to not make negative comments about mathematics!
INTEL Math and other math education courses are offered to local math teachers through FUSD and the Coconino County Educational Services Agency (CCESA).
Cash for Calculators is an initiative of FUSD and the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce to encourage businesses to purchase graphing calculators for schools so students can use them during the year and be more prepared for the exams that require these calculators.
Engineering is Elementary (EiE) has design challenges that encourage girls and all students to increase persistence, creativity, confidence, and more. The award-winning curricula from the Museum of Science Boston (MOS) is widely available in Flagstaff. FUSD has two EiE kits at each grade level in all ten elementary schools. Thanks to funding from the Arizona Community Fund of Flagstaff (ACFF), the CCESA has all 20 kits available for K-5 teachers in any school to check out after they have taken the free workshop on using the curricula. STEM City, with funding from ACFF, the W.L. Gore Foundation and the Ernest and Evelyn Chilson Fund, have four out-of-school time kits available to Girl Scout troops, STEM clubs, etc. The nationally-recognized Center for Science Teaching and Learning at NAU is working with Flagstaff's U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Center and the MOS to create three new engineering units with an astrogeology theme and cutting-edge science.
Ready.Set.Code is a Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce initiative working to increase computer and app coding skills in students. Scott Hathcock and cohorts at the Chamber launched Ready.Set.Code with both “Hack the Class”, and the “Summer of Code” events, after least year’s initial coding camps at College America were such a success.
Robotics Camps and Clubs are both growing in Flagstaff. The County Parks and Recreation Department held two lego robotics camps in June and has room available for their two upcoming camps the first week of August. The CocoNuts robotics team leads summer camps for students and has an upcoming camp for adults interested in coaching robotics. The camp is only $20 and is coming July 26 and 27th if you are interested! The Girl Scouts recently hosted a Video Game Design Workshop for 50 girls at NAU. Killip Elementary has a K-2 coding club, FJA has a middle school coding club, and we know that the many schools with robotics teams use coding to get those robots moving!
STEM City has held two free Code.org workshops with master teacher Janice Mak, and also freely loans out instruction materials. STEM City also has engineering kits, bioscience kits, and more, to freely loan out to teachers and home-school parents.
Coconino Community College now offers two engineering courses as well as advanced math and physics, and has an Engineering Pathways grant to increase engineering in middle schools, high schools and at CCC.
Northern Arizona University has a higher percentage of women in science and engineering than most colleges and universities (data coming soon)!
Please contact STEM City if you have programs you would like highlighted in a blog post or in the STEM Community e-letter. And thank you for all you do to increase both skills and confidence in our youth!
Thank you to Melissa Sevigny of KNAU and the Arizona Science and Innovation Desk for the interview on this article and inspiring this post!
Guest Blog by Marney Babbitt, NAHEC Youth Program Coordinator and Girls on the Run of Northern Arizona Council Director at North Country HealthCare
On Tuesday May 3rd, students from the AT Still University Community Campus at North Country HealthCare (NCHC) visited Curt Craig’s 6th grade science classes at Mount Elden Middle School (MEMS). The medical students shared their experiences in education and medical school through hands-on activities where MEMS students learned about heart and lung sounds, reflexes, and protecting ear drums.
This visit was an activity of the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce Skills for Workplace Success (S4WS) program. North Country HealthCare and Curt Craig’s 6th grade science classes at MEMS are paired in this program and met four times throughout the 2015-2016 school year. The MEMS students learn about careers in the health care field. Additional presentations introduced MEMS students to Public Health, Orthopedic Surgery, and Telemedicine.
Thank you North Country HealthCare and the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce!
Superbowl of STEM
The 3rd Annual Flagstaff Community STEM Celebration kicked off the week on Monday, March 7th at the NAU Skydome with almost every school, STEM business, government agency, and non-profit in Flagstaff! You can relive the excitement with Flg4TV's 2 minute video here!
2015-2016 STEMMY Awards
The 4th annual awards, funded by the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance, were received by students Rebecca Adams (FHS and CAVIAT), Teacher Ted Komada (Killip), Community Leader Bruce Sidlinger, and STEM Partner Nestlé Purina. You can read Corina Vanek's article and see Jake Bacon's photographs in the Arizona Daily Sun article here.
High-Altitude Balloon Launch
On Wednesday, March 9th, Teacher Kaci Heins and 100 NPA 6th graders sent their payload to over 106,000 feet on a high-altitude balloon from the Flagstaff Airport. Community Leader Bruce Sidlinger and his Aeronautics Engineering class from Flag High, Airport Director Barney Helmick, the Coconino Amateur Radio Club, the Civil Air Patrol, and many other community partners were there to assist. You can see images and hear the story from KNAU's science and technology field reporter Melissa Sevigny here.
Women Executives in STEM Panel
NAU hosted the panel on Thursday, March 10th. All of the women had connections to NAU and facilitator Elizabeth Glass recommended that the many students in attendance use their alumni network as they search career opportunities.
AZ North Regional
The Skydome was brimming again on Friday and Saturday with the CocoNuts and 52 other teams, for NAU's inaugural FIRST Robotics Arizona North Regional contest, which pitted robots against each other to try to take down a castle. You can read Corina Vanek's article on the event here. Microchip sponsored pit tours by volunteers from many of the teams, as well as a VIP luncheon that was well-attended by Flagstaff's government, business, and education leaders. FIRST, which stands for --- , is a non-profit founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway. It encourages students to pursue STEM and also develops skills in teamwork, problem-solving, creativity, and gracious professionalism.
Congratulations to everyone on helping make STEM Week 2016 the best ever in Flagstaff STEM City!
Guest Blog by Heather Berginc, Math Teacher and Code Club Advisor at Flagstaff Junior Academy
At Flagstaff Junior Academy's Middle School, each beginning coder begins with Code.org and does an Hour of Code where they learn basics of coding: what it is, what it can do, and the language of code itself. Students quickly graduate to work with Scratch where they go into pre-made games and change aspects of them, or “remix” them. Students can then create their own games and videos.
Most of our students are mastering the skills needed to be a Scratch Master. Every few weeks we share the cool new ideas that we have been working on and once a semester there is a special game/video challenge that students can participate in. Many of our students have recently began working on a new more advanced type of coding at Khan Academy where they can begin to understand the specific language of code. This is my overall goal at FJA. I want students to understand that they are using coding every day, yet rarely do people know how to read or write using this language.
Flagstaff Junior Academy had six students attend CodeDay in Phoenix on February 13th and 14th at the University of Advancing Technology in Phoenix. CodeDay is an event where students of all code levels can work together to build apps and games in just 24 hours. They have mentors and workshops for students learning new aspects of coding. Our students stayed up all night working on their apps and one of our students has a mini-game on the app iTunes store called "Mouse Collision" under the mini-game series "Wiblits".
Special thank you to Scott Hathcock from the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce for assisting us!
Barnes & Noble bookstores hosted Mini-Maker Faires the weekend of November 6th - 8th. Scott Hathcock and Amanda Kristinat from the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce taught a coding workshop at our local store.
The Chamber has been actively involved in increasing technology education in Flagstaff through two summer camps (see blog post here) and a Hack the Class initiative at Flagstaff Junior Academy and Killip Elementary School that is expanding to other schools as well.
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator