Category Archives: STS

Grand gestures work in science but not always with society

Big speeches and big ideas may motivate liberal Democrats and have propelled Bernie Sanders to be a legitimate presidential candidate. However, pragmatists and incrementalists are actually the ones who get bills passed.  The presence of an opposition party usually requires compromise.  This has not always been the case with technology in the 20th century.

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced before a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. A number of political factors affected Kennedy’s decision and the timing of it. In general, Kennedy felt great pressure to have the United States “catch up to and overtake” the Soviet Union in the “space race.” Four years after the Sputnik shock of 1957, the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first human in space on April 12, 1961, greatly embarrassing the U.S. While Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, he only flew on a short suborbital flight instead of orbiting the Earth, as Gagarin had done. In addition, the Bay of Pigs fiasco in mid-April put unquantifiable pressure on Kennedy. He wanted to announce a program that the U.S. had a strong chance at achieving before the Soviet Union. After consulting with Vice President Johnson, NASA Administrator James Webb, and other officials, he concluded that landing an American on the Moon would be a very challenging technological feat, but an area of space exploration in which the U.S. actually had a potential lead. Thus the cold war is the primary contextual lens through which many historians now view Kennedy’s speech.

Science succeeds when society cannot.  There are no opposition parties in science.  Regardless of competition and profit, scientific discovery has always been defined by sharing and collaboration.  Maybe, that’s why collaboration is such an important 21st century skill, because mankind has succeeded when collaboration takes place.

STEMM – What to read this weekend April 22, 2016

My goal is that every Friday I will list at least one article in the sections of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) that you should read each weekend.

As always, if you want to read more about these topics, follow me on twitter @Rojo_VHS or click on the twitter feed tab of this website.

April 22, 2016 – STEMM Articles

Science – Marlins, Pirates players are worried about the Zika virus for upcoming Puerto Rico games by NBC Sports

Zika Virus

Technology – The FBI Paid More Than $1.3 Million to Unlock the San Bernardino iPhone. Is That a Good Deal? by Slate’s Future Tense Blog

Engineering – SpaceX Rocket Makes Spectacular Landing on Drone Ship by NatGeo’s Phenomena Blog

SpaceX Rocket

Mathematics – The U.S. Hispanic Population Is ‘Disproportionately’ Young by Atlantic’s CityLab

Medicine – How to Survive a Fast, Venomous, Flesh-Destroying Snake by NatGeo’s Phenomena Blog

Honorable Mentions

The Federal Government Finally Forgives Billion of Dollars in Debt for Disabled Students by Pacific Standard

Doctors Used an ER Patient’s FitBit Data to Figure Out How to Treat Him by Slate’s Future Tense Blog

The Digital haves and have-nots

Growing up in the 1990s, I still remember receiving (and actually using) the AOL CDs to get hours of internet.  This was a time when dial-up internet was still new, and the sounds of modems and “you’ve got mail” were the norm.

AHE3H8 A collection of AOL cd roms

A collection of AOL cd roms – via

My family was not an early adopter of technology.  I did not have a computer until 1996 and I still remember using a typewriter to turn in a report in 8th grade.  Little did I know that 20 years later, having the internet would be an integral part of everyday life and of teaching and learning.

As a math and computer science teacher, I still make instructional decisions about projects and assignments based on whether my students have access to “basic” technology.  By my rough count, I would say that at least 1/5 of my students do not have reliable high speed internet at home.  While it seems that there have been a lot of great organizations that have put computers in the hands of students, there must be an effort to help with the internet that makes them useful.  Rick Paulus from Pacific Standard talks about this in his article, How Non-Profits Help Close the Digital Divide:

“I would argue there are not enough cooks,” he says. “It’s so much work to do: There are 64 million people who are not connected to the Internet. We need more groups in more places doing this work. We can definitely always use more voices. Come one, come all.”

During a political cycle where many politicians have spoken about the divide between the rich and poor, there needs to be a serious debate about how to equip all students for 21st century jobs and skills by providing affordable high-speed internet to everyone.

We really aren’t all unfeeling robots…

Tom Jacobs in his Pacific Standard article, How We Really See Scientists, gives us an insight into how Americans see scientists.

We think of scientists as trustworthy on the whole, but also robotic and emotionless in nature. In addition, some of us — especially social conservatives — view them as prone to ignoring important ethical norms.

I am both disappointed and not shocked at the same time.  From more recent examples like Chuck Lorre’s Sheldon from Big Bang Theory to Carl Sagan’s Ellie Arroway from Contact, scientists are not portrayed as normal people and are seen as lacking the balance of a developed emotional IQ.

Jacobs continues this by describing how scientists could also be seen as amoral.

The results revealed that scientists are perceived as more likely than members of other groups to commit certain, but not all, moral transgressions. Specifically, they were viewed as more likely to engage in serial murder, incest, and necrobestiality, but not more likely to cheat or abuse others.

As an educator and parent, I think it is important that we address incorrect stereotypes and help support an image of science and scientists that helps create a society that supports and values scientists rather than fearing and mocking them.  As a former scientist, (do you really ever stop being a scientist?) I found that a strong foundation in logical reasoning has actually enhanced my abilities to lead.  Or since I’m a disciple of the emotionless and amoral tribe of science, can I be trusted?

Hello world!

Welcome to the STEMM and Leaf Blog! After dragging my feet for weeks, I felt the world could no longer wait for the debut of my life-changing and ever so important blog on the interface of math, science, technology, and teaching.

As we approach this year’s Earth Day, this post on the Official Google Blog, reminded me of my college personal statement on how I was going to the save the world.  Having learned about the cataclysmic effects that climate change could have on our world in high school, I wanted to study to become an environmental engineer in college so that I can make a difference to save our world.  While I did become an environmental engineer professionally, after seven years of service I discovered that I was not making the change I wanted to see in the world.  Now, I find myself as a high school math and engineering teacher still working towards the same goal.

Just as the Google Blog post states

We want to create technology that helps millions of others understand our changing world and live more sustainably—whether it’s connecting people with public transit routes, or using the data that powers Google Earth to help you see if your roof is good for solar panels. In honor of Earth Day this month, we’ve gathered together some of the ways Google can help you reduce your everyday emissions and learn more about preserving our world.

I feel that teachers around the world have a responsibility to use their positions as educators to not only teach their subjects but to also allow their students to discover truths about their world that can need to be known.