Celebrate Women’s History Month with STEM Stories

The STEM Stories website features a growing collection of digital resources that highlight the lives and work of individuals involved in STEM fields (mainly women). It combines compelling personal stories and multimedia to interest intermediate and middle school students in STEM subjects and careers.

From the In the Spotlight menu, you’ll meet 10 present-day women who are featured in depth, with interviews, photo albums and more.  They include dolphin communication researcher Diana Reiss, atmospheric chemist Susan Solomon, biologist and astronaut Millie Hughes-Fulford, and robotics engineer Heather Knight. (Heather helped work on the Rube Goldberg machine sequence for the OK-Go music video This Too Shall Pass).  On the Clips tab, the database includes short videos that introduce individuals working in varied STEM careers.  The Profiles tab lets you search biographies about women working in STEM fields throughout history.  Some include photo albums, such as Mary Pennington, Rachel Carson, and Virginia Apgar. (Tip:  double-click on images to see a larger view).

The project team, headed by Lois McLean and Rick Tessman (McLean Media) created STEM Stories with girls in mind, drawing on design ideas from an after-school club for at-risk middle and high school girls. In a 2010 pilot, more than 200 students (Grades 4–7) in Nevada County, California, used the site in classroom activities. In one school, fourth- and seventh-grade students worked in pairs to create pop-up books based on featured individuals. Survey results found no major differences between the responses of boys and girls. In fact, teachers reported that students did not even comment on or question the site’s emphasis on women. And, although the website focuses on personal stories, most students also reported learning something new about science and engineering.

STEM Stories was funded through a grant from the NSF’s Research on Gender in Science in Engineering Program (#HRD-0734004). New content is being added every month, including more current and historical photos, profiles, videos, and interactives.

To introduce your students to the STEM Stories site, try these activities:

STEM Stories Treasure Hunt

STEM Stories Crossword Puzzle

STEM Stories Lesson Ideas


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We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/19/2012.

History to Enrich Mathematics Learning!

Although the NCTM Standards do not have student expectations for learning mathematics history, exposure to this history can help students see real-world connections in mathematics.

Approximating Pi
Mathematics and science owe a great deal to Archimedes, including a way to approximate pi. Here is historical information along with an applet to approximate pi using the perimeter lengths of polygons inscribed within and circumscribed around a circle.

The Beginnings of Probability
Teachers can share some of this mathematics history as they work with students to compute probabilities for simple compound events, an NCTM expectation for students in grades 6-8.

The Golden Ratio
This rich site connects linear measurement, ratio and proportion, art, and mathematics history.

Measuring the Circumference of the Earth
This Internet project is hands-on, real-world, and historical. Students join with classes around the world to repeat the experiment of Eratosthenes — measuring the shadow of a meter stick and making calculations to approximate the circumference of Earth.

Pythagorean Puzzle
The Pythagorean theorem is at the intersection of algebra and geometry. At this site, learn about the life of Pythagoras and the development of the Pythagorean theorem. And use an applet to explore the meaning of the most famous equation in algebra.

Manipula Math with Java: Pythagorean Theorem
Here is another applet offering a more sophisticated approach to affirm in a visual way the validity of the Pythagorean theorem.

Tortoise and Hare Race
Uing an applet, students can vary parameters for the race. There is information about Zeno’s paradox along with exploration questions for students that can lead to a discussion about infinity.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/21/2011.

The Wide, Wide World of Geometry

As the social studies, art, and music classes in the middle school widen students’ horizons, some of your students may become fascinated with the art, costumes, and customs of other peoples in this and other times. The NCTM Principles and Standards calls for middle school students to be able to “recognize and apply geometric ideas and relationships in areas outside the mathematics classroom, such as art, science, and everyday life.”

Here are some resources that can help you connect your teaching to geometry past and present.

Culturally Situated Design Tools: Teaching Math through Culture

This applet software is designed to show students how African, African American, Native American, and Latino cultural designs, as well as modern-day graffiti, are based on mathematical principles. Students can use mathematics to re-create existing patterns and structures, or to make their own designs. Standards-based lesson plans, evaluations, and other teaching materials are provided.

Native American Geometry
This web site focuses on Native Americans’ use of the physical, proportional geometry that originates from the simple circle. Aimed at fourth- to ninth-grade teachers, the site is divided into four sections: foundations, anthropology, designs, and education. You will find some 25 relevant web site links and 50 published references.

Ethnomathematics Snapshots
This web site has 12 short descriptions of the influence of mathematics on culturally relevant activities and products from around the world. These include lunar calendars, African counting words, Mozambican methods of laying rectangles, global three-in-a-row games, Native American petroglyphs, Amish quilts, Inca and Maori strip decorations, Inuit drawings, and Angolan sand drawings. Geometrical themes include iteration, recursion, tiling, symmetry, repetition, reflection, and rotation.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/07/2012.

Pythagoras and His Theorem

A topic once reserved for high school geometry, the Pythagorean theorem is now part and parcel of the middle school curriculum. These resources offer visual demonstrations that can make the abstract theorem more concrete for students and lead them in analyzing the mathematical relationships involved, as recommended by the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. The last resource offers background information on Pythagoras himself.

Pythagorean Theorem (Grades 6-8)
Using this virtual manipulative, students move squares and triangles to demonstrate the validity of the Pythagorean theorem. This manipulative is not a proof, but a good introduction to the topic, nevertheless.

Pythagorean Theorem (Manipula Math)
These 19 applets deal with various aspects of the theorem and its uses. The first nine involve visual, informal proofs of the Pythagorean theorem; they allow students to define any right triangle, then move pieces to show that the two squares on the legs really do have the same area as the square on the hypotenuse. Other applets show a “Pythagoras tree” and problems (interactive, of course) that can be solved using the theorem.

Pythagoras of Samos
This online biography of the famous mathematician is from the MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive. What is known, or guessed, of his life and his work is noted here. Referring to the famous geometric theorem, the biographer states, “Although the theorem, now known as Pythagoras’s theorem, was known to the Babylonians 1,000 years earlier, he may have been the first to prove it.” This is a professional rather than a student resource.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/08/2011.