What makes high school girls love sharks but avoid science

A shortened – and less ribald – version of this post was published 24-07-2017 in the International Business Times.

Ah, the transition from middle school to high school… the one part of adolescence no one reminisces about fondly.  It’s the time in our lives where mental and physical changes happen at pace without any apparent continuity, and we feel compelled to blend in.  This is the same time when most young girls’ interest in STEM stops, and in my educator/zoologist opinion, these events are related.

What does our culture gear teenage girls to prioritize?  Making varsity teams, growing boobs to the correct size and at the correct time, and completing enough social jostling to earn the superhuman prom date.  Most of the STEM-geared young girls I have worked with couldn’t care less about the above – but the attitude of their peers changes by the end of 8th grade.

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Students of both sexes in 6th grade will happily discuss how rainbows are made and share their mutual wonder if the natural world, but those conversations quickly become “immature” when the puberty plague takes hold.  It’s also in 8th grade when boys enter a race to the bottom of inappropriate jokes fueled by mutual insecurities.  Suddenly, STEM-interested pupils find that their friends are segregating, fashion forward girls to one side and crude boys to the other, leaving a handful who want to discuss the space/time continuum floundering somewhere in the middle.

Then, regardless of where you sit on the social divide, hormones kick in.  This critical time is when young people figure out how to create partnerships, what constitutes a good or bad relationship, and the physics of copulation.  In addition to this, obtaining a socially higher-ranking partner becomes an unconscious priority.  Guess what most young men think is unattractive in women?  Intelligence (unless you’re beautiful enough to compensate).  YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY.

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Big ideas and little robots: Using the OpenROV in interdisciplinary STEM projects

portrait-joeyJoey Maier is a biology professor at Polk State College where he uses every possible opportunity to encourage his students to spend time in the water, play with technology, and do #CitizenScience. As an undergraduate, he did a stint as an intern for Mark Xitco and John Gory during their dolphin language experiments.  He then spent the years of his M.Sc. at the University of Oklahoma thawing out and playing with bits of decaying dolphin.  After discovering that computers lack that rotten-blubber smell, Joey became a UNIX sysadmin and later a CISSP security analyst.  

While his pirate game is weak, he is often seen with a miniature macaw on his shoulder. His spare time is spent SCUBA diving and trying to hang out with people who have submersibles.  You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.


There’s a Klingon bird of prey hanging from the ceiling in my office.

I may teach biology, but at heart I’m a sci-fi nerd.  Naturally, I’m interested in futurism, robots, lasers and all manner of techy paraphernalia.  I’d been watching the OpenROV project for a while, but hadn’t gotten one yet.  They were obviously awesome little machines that gave me a serious case of gadget envy, and I knew that some of our students would love to pilot an ROV.  I needed a much better reason than that, however, to justify getting one.  There’s no line item in our budget for, “Wow, that’s cool!” and I was fairly certain that the college administration would tend to favor lower cost and more familiar forms of student engagement

Photo courtesy Joey Maier.

Photo courtesy Joey Maier.

This tweet changed everything.  When I found out that Andrew had designed a mini-Niskin bottle, the wheels in my head started turning.  Assembling an OpenROV would, naturally, be a very STEM-oriented project.  The times our students piloted the ROV could become water sampling field trips, and the kids could analyze their samples back at school as a laboratory activity. If students recorded the process, they could make a short film. I mulled over the possibilities and bounced ideas off of my dive buddies during the hours we spent traveling to and from the coast. Read More