Making Geek Cool Hall of Shame

Nerds candy

As a follow-up to my previous post Making Geek Cool Hall of Fame in which I laud people, TV shows or events that improve the coolness factor of geeks, I've started compiling a Hall of Shame list. I actually had a harder time with this one. Maybe it's my inherently nice nature, but I found it easier to rail against the culture as a whole rather than specific elements.

I'm sure, however, that you will not have that problem. I would love to hear additions to my list by comment, email or tweet!

1. Disney Channel—when making my Shame list, it ended up just being a list of Disney and Nickelodeon shows, so I decided just to name the two channels as numbers 1 and 2 on the list. Upper elementary kids are especially susceptible to the anti-geek message from television, so I think these two popular channels should be ashamed. Hannah, Wizards of Waverly Place, Suite LIfe on Deck: Can we just have an intelligent girl or boy in the lead role instead of the "geeky" sidekick or brother?

2. Nickelodeon—see comment above. I did put iCarly on the Fame list, so kuddos there, but it, too, has anti-geek elements.

3. Seventeen magazine and other teen magazines for girls

4. My husband—I hate to say it, and I'm sure he's not the only parent out there, but he has on occasion slipped into the the ‟You don't want to be a nerd so get out there and play some ball...″ fallacy

My almost-middle school daughter thinks being called a nerd is the worst insult ever. I have tried to point out that she attends a school of geeks to no effect. I've pointed out that geeks make more money (a topic of interest for her) with an effect lasting for nanoseconds. I thought about showing her that geek chic is in but was afraid she wouldn't stop laughing and really wanted her to do that homework. I've decided she's just rebelling against her mother, so I'll get back to reading that Wired article on Geek Power.

Making Geek Cool Hall of Fame

Wired magazine believes that making geeks cool could reform education and gives some suggestions for schools. One of the main suggestions was "stamping out youth culture" by surrounding kids by adults. Some good ideas and examples to be sure.

I believe that our whole culture needs to make geeks cool. In that spirit I list my Making Geek Cool Hall of Fame. Since this blog is St. Louis centric, I've added a few local additions.

1. Mythbuster's Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman
2. Jon Stewart—when a late-night comedian makes it cool to follow politics, economics, history...
3. Bill Gates—as much as I want to hate Microsoft, he has shown how geeks do philanthropy. That's cool.
4. Pres. Obama
5. Steve Jobs—brought design to technology
6. Danica McKellar—Hollywood star and mathematician writing math books for middle school girls. Maybe every tween girl should be given this book, and she should be number 1.
7. SciFest
8. Chuck
9. Rex Sinquefield for bringing back chess to St. Louis
10. Mayor Francis Slay for bringing FIRST Robotics Championship to St. Louis
11. iCarly—any time a Nickelodeon show encourages tween girls to spend their time directing movie shorts and editing them on the computer, I will applaud it
12. Rick Riordan—any author that can get my son to read...

If they want to be fabulous and sexy and all that, great. There's no problem with that. But you don't have to give anything up for it. You don't have to give up your brain. (Danica McKellar)

I would love to add to the list if anyone would like to send me their suggestions. I'll also be composing a Hall of Shame, so if you have ideas for that, feel free to send them to me via comments, email or twitter.

Olympics? Who needs it—we landed the Robotics Championship!

Congrats St. Louis—new home of the cool geeks.

Science: What gets tested gets taught

Photo by Adam Baker

Since the MAP is including science now, schools are increasing their focus on teaching science although I’m not sure they have enough.

All of this comes as economic and education experts worry about U.S. global competitiveness.

“We should be embarking immediately on an all-hands-on-deck, no-holds-barred, no budget-too-large crash program for science and engineering education.” (Thomas L. Friedman in The World is Flat 3.0)

Missouri needs to increase its state requirements for graduation. All students need to take biology, chemistry and physics (not necessarily in that order). Students graduating in 2010 are required to take three years (same as math and history), which is an increase from the currently required two years. I think all students should take four years of all four core subjects. Most schools don’t require physics, but the concepts are essential in science and can be taught to all. (See previous post on teaching physics first.)

For example, Hazelwood currently requires students to take Physical Systems and Chemical Systems, each a semester course. Then students are required to take biology for a year. This includes students with a College Prep designation on their diploma. With the requirement increase, students are then required to add another year of science of their choice. Only one semester of chemistry? They offer a full year of chemistry but don’t require it. This is not enough science for people competing with other countries for jobs and deciding on the direction of science via elections.

Francis Howell currently requires a year of physical science and a year of biology. Chemistry and physics are optional.

Elementary schools need to increase the emphasis on science and integrate science with math and reading.

MRH, which has a helpful curriculum online, does not include science K-5. Is it not important enough?

Rockwood does include a grade-by-grade detailed list of its science curriculum starting at the K level. It also puts on a Science Expo at the beginning of the year to stir up excitement and let the students and parents know of science resources available in St. Louis.

Mehlville doesn’t include the detail that Rockwood does, but it gives an easy to decipher overview of the content covered in each grade, the name of the textbook used (!) and suggested resources and activities for families. As an educator I like the Rockwood detail, but the Mehlville overview is definitely more readable. I would like districts to include both.

I looked at the 2008 MAP 5th grade science scores comparing median MAP scale scores. None of the top 10 in the state were in the St. Louis metropolitan area, but none of them had more than 27 students taking the test, so I narrowed my list to districts in the metropolitan area, including charter schools. The top school districts were not surprising, but I was intrigued by some of the districts on the list such as Washington, Windsor and Fox. Parkway was 16th. Union and Festus were 11 and 12.


I then searched to see if the same districts had the highest number of students scoring at the advanced level.


Most of the districts were the same with Orchard Farm joining the list and Windsor falling to 11. Parkway moved up to 12.

Sorting by median Terra Nova scores shuffled the districts a bit bringing New Haven (Franklin Co. R-II) into the top.


Rockwood comes out on top in every configuration. Whether it is the Science Expo, detailed expectations or another reason altogether, the elementary schools there come ahead.

I’ll be interested to watch whether this new focus on science raises everyone’s scores.

Physics for freshmen

Dr. Leon Lederman, 1988 winner of Nobel Prize in Physics discusses teaching physics first

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran an article about the Missouri Physics First program, which encourages and trains high school science teachers to teach an introductory, hands-on physics course for freshmen.

❝Physics drives chemistry and biology," said Sara Torres, director of a program at the University of Missouri in Columbia that trains future ninth-grade physics teachers. "To understand chemistry, you need physics, and to understand biology, you need chemistry. So it makes sense to teach physics to ninth-graders.❞

The counter-arguement is that students need to use higher-level math to understand physics.

❝Those students don't have a sound enough basis in math skills," said Gwen Thomas, the secondary science curriculum coordinator for St. Louis Public Schools.❞

Since the intro course wouldn't replace a higher-level math-based physics course that many to most (depending on the district) students wouldn't take anyway, I love the idea of an introductory physics course for all students. This would help them see a need for that algebra they're learning, expose them to an area of science they might not see otherwise and help them better understand other branches of science.

Rock and roll the Mother Nature way

I wonder what all the kids will be talking about at school today? (Hint: 5.2) Enterprising teachers across the Midwest will be bringing up the 1906 San Francisco earthquake anniversary, the Missouri quakes of 1811-12 and some good earth science lessons. Some might even tackle how a 5.4 is 10 times greater than a 5.2

Here's a well done YouTube (albeit long) on the New Madrid quakes of 1812 and predictions:

Get outside! (Improve your science scores)

Finally, a break in the incessant rain. Go outside and play, I mean, learn!

The No Child Left Inside Coalition advocates for more outdoor education, citing research showing improved science scores (pdf) among other benefits. As our students are now taking a science section of the MAP, I thought this was especially relevant.

I believe the school tagging the monarch butterflies at 4:20 is the fifth grade at The College School. Let me know if I'm wrong.

Come rain, SNOW, sleet, or shine, the Science Fair must go on!

In spite of the anticipated snow day tomorrow, our school's beloved science fair will go on. Yes, we'll trek those projects up to school in however much snow we get. Of course, we could take them up today if we were organized enough to be finished....

Participation may be emphasized over winning and that pizza party is motivating, but the competitive kids know that some of the projects get to go to Queeny Park, the world's largest regional science fair. It really is impressive.

Hear, hear for well run science fairs that motivate students to learn more about their world and teach them how to do so scientifically.

Zebra fish? It may have worked for her, but my daughter has something else in mind for the science fair

Science Fair time is coming up, so we have every intention of working hard over the winter break on those projects. Sigh.

❝Girls won top honors for the first time in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, one of the nation’s most coveted student science awards❞

NY Times highlights how well girls did this year at the Siemens.

❝Isha Himani Jain, 16, a senior at Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Pa., placed first in the individual category for her studies of bone growth in zebra fish, whose tail fins grow in spurts, similar to the way children’s bones do. She will get a $100,000 scholarship❞.

The other important science award is the Intel, formerly the Westinghouse. The St. Louis Science Fair Honors Division is a qualifier for the Intel.

The 2007 Greater St. Louis Science Fair Honors Division
second and third places were awarded to girls. This isn't a sweep but it does demonstrate that girls do science too.

❝Three-quarters of the finalists have a parent who is a scientist.❞

My kids don't have that going in their favor. Does having friends with scientist parents count?

My daughter has known what she wanted to do for her science fair project for a long time. My son? No clue.