Archive for September, 2010

Yes! “We’ve Got An App for that!”

Friday, September 24th, 2010

What apps do you use?

“I” is for “Information”; “A” is for “Application”

Last spring, when the ATETV segment on Information Technology jobs first aired, EMC’s Todd Matthews told us, “More digital data will be produced in the next two years than was produced in the last ten.”

Wow. Needless to say, this enormous amount of data speaks to the extraordinarily rapid pace at which the field of Information Technology is growing and expanding, impacting virtually every aspect of our personal and professional lives. And there’s no sign of a slow down in sight – to the contrary, new technologies are being developed at break-neck speeds!

Earlier this year a story in Bloomberg Businessweek took note of this phenomenon in its story marking the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the dot.com, writing, “In just the past few years, we have seen a range of new products – smart phones, netbooks and tablet PCs come to market, along with a proliferation of applications.”

Ahh, applications, better known as “apps.” Essentially a software program for mobile devices – the aforementioned smart phones and tablet PCs – apps range in size and complexity. Today’s emerging new apps are extending way beyond fun and games to more serious goals of energy efficiency, health care, personal safety, and productivity. For example, Bloomberg Business Week reports that utility companies are rolling out Internet-connected devices that empower consumers to use energy more efficiently, enabling consumers to shut off the lights from their phone. Intelligent transportation systems integrated with GPS navigators and phone applications already let users know about real-time traffic conditions and steer them away from traffic jams, wasted gas and jangled nerves.

In fact, some sources predict that mobile apps may play an important role in boosting our struggling economy.

It’s happened before. According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, since the personal computer was first introduced in 1976, IT has helped expand the U.S. economy by an estimated $2 trillion. (In fact, according to a 2008 ITIF report, IT has transformed virtually every sector of the economy with the $500 billion trucking industry saving $16 billion annually through the use of on-board computers that enable companies to better track and more efficiently dispatch truck to farmers using the Internet to buy and send fertilizer, track market prices and sell crops and governments issuing EZ passes to automate toll collections.)

But getting back to apps: According to the Christian Science Monitor, the growth in revenue from apps ($3 billion last year) compares favorably with the PC revolution of the 1980s, which helped to lift the economy. And, as ITIF analyst Stephen Ezell noted, “Mobile applications will be a huge driver of employment. You have tens of thousands of people writing mobile applications, and I’m sure an increasing amount of e-commerce will be driven on the device. A mobile phone now is a communication and computing platform and that’s going to drive real transformation.”

If this sounds appealing, check out the Yahoo! Education website, which outlines seven different areas of employment in the mobile apps field are highlighted. Or listen to ITConversations, where you can hear IT and Communications leaders discuss various aspects of apps: From cloud computing, data driven applications, and requirements of mobile access applications to the ways that Facebook and other social network tools are adapting their use of applications to keep users engaged.

It All Comes Back to Math

Friday, September 17th, 2010
Do you like math?

Do you like math?

This week, ATETV showcases a popular program from last spring, “It All Comes Back to the Math.” In this segment, employers told us that no matter what the career – Geospatial Technology, Fuel Cell Technology or Architectural Technology, for example – math is an integral piece of the job, and every technological field is rooted in numbers, calculations and equations.

But, for many people, math itself is rooted in fear and frustration. We wondered why this is the case, and wondered what steps are being taken to reduce math anxiety and to help students in the United States catch up to their fellow math students around the world. So we “rooted” around and learned that these same issues are being debated – and new ideas and answers being proposed – among educators around the country.

In fact, a 2009 Special Multimedia Report by the National Science Foundation titled, “Math: What’s the Problem?” opens with the questions, “Why do so many people struggle with math?” and “Why is math important anyhow?”

William Schmidt, Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Michigan tells the NSF he believes that one of the likely reasons why math is perceived as being difficult is simply based on a longstanding accepted culture of “math phobia.”

“Other countries [on the other hand] respect mathematics and expect all kids to learn it to some basic level,” he says. But, in the U.S., “it’s acceptable for an adult to declare, ‘I’m no good at math,’ [and leave it at that].”

Adds Jeremy Roschelle, director of the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International, “I think when people are saying, “I don’t need any more math and arithmetic, they’re looking at [just] one kind of math, which is sort of shopkeeper math…But when you’re looking at people who are innovators and driving the future of the economy, they look at math as a tool kit that allows you to do new science, engineering, and innovation, and that’s not [just] about adding numbers… When you can put the concepts in a digital interactive, often dynamic, or animated form, students are much more able to really understand mathematical concepts and when they understand the concepts they perform much better.”

Here are some other changes that are afoot in the field of math education:

*In 2008, the U.S. National Math Panel highlighted several key areas for change, calling for elementary and secondary schools to streamline math courses in order to focus on a “well defined set of the most critical topics.” In essence, this would mean that rather than taking a soup-to-nuts approach year after year, students would master a few core math skills in each grade. In addition to recommending this “focused, coherent progression of skills,” the panel recommended that going forward, greater emphasis should be placed on algebra instruction and on an understanding of fractions.

*A report from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, stresses the need for “reasoning and sense-making” when it comes to high school math instruction. As described in a Q&A document on the Council’s website, “reasoning” involves “drawing logical conclusions based on evidence or stated assumptions,” while “sense making” involves “developing an understanding of a situation, context or concept by connecting it with existing knowledge or previous experience.” In other words, they recommend that math skills not be learned in a vacuum, but rather, be integrated into real-life experiences. As the Q&A further notes, “In high school literature courses, students are often asked to analyze, interpret or think critically about books they are reading. Reasoning is important in fields such as literature and it is [also] particularly important in mathematics.”

*And, The Chronicle of Higher Education recommends that math become a “gateway” rather than a “gate keeper” to a student’s successful college education. Among other things, the magazine noted that as part of math instruction, an emphasis should be placed on learning “statistical reasoning,” which supports decision making under conditions of uncertainty — an inescapable condition of modern life. As the article states, “A grasp of statistical reasoning will help students to understand the world around them. It’s math they can use right now.”

David Bressoud, President-elect of the Mathematical Association of America puts it this way, “Mathematics, at its heart, is really [just] looking at the patterns in the world around us, numerical patterns, spatial patterns, especially, and understanding those patterns….That’s part of human nature…that’s built into our DNA, that we look at the world around us and we try to understand what’s likely to happen.”

Math and Chocolate! What a Sweet World!

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

This week, in an attempt to answer that age-old question many students continually have of “Why study mathematics?” ATETV ventured out into a local community to uncover the less-than-obvious places where Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics might be hiding.

Kakao Chocolatier Brian Pelletier- St. Louis, Missouri

Kakao Chocolatier Brian Pelletier- St. Louis, Missouri

Our first stop? A gourmet chocolate shop of course! (It is all in the line of duty.) At Kakao in St. Louis, MO, we spent some time with chocolatier Brian Pelletier. Knowing that he liked math and was also good at solving technical problems, Brian originally started out by studying to be a computer engineer. Along the way to graduation this path took a couple of different turns and he ultimately finished with a degree in technical writing. For the next 20 years, he had a successful career in business writing and PR.

How did he go from that to making chocolate? Good question! One day, Brian looked around and realized he was ready for something different. The only things he knew for sure were these: he wanted to own his own business; he wanted to do something very different than what he had been doing- preferably with his hands; and he loved food. As he searched for his next opportunity, he prepared himself for the realities of both starting over financially and of learning an entire new trade. Brian didn’t know at that point which skills in his repertoire would translate and what new ones he’d have to acquire. But, he was ready to find out!

Mixing Up a Batch

Mixing Up a Batch

His chance would come along soon enough. That next opportunity came when a friend presented Brian with an existing chocolate business. Without knowing anything about making chocolate, he happily took over. The challenge then was to learn what he needed to learn to be successful. Assuming he was a long way away from all his previous training, Brian set about to gather whatever information he could find. First his friend passed along her notes on her recipe successes and failures. To make sense of these notes, Brian’s mathematical brain took over. He created a spread sheet with all her recipes and quickly identified ingredient proportions and cooking patterns that he continues to apply now to his newest recipe innovations.

In addition, his friend recommended the book “Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner” by Peter Greweling. Brian purchased this and discovered that the relevance for him was not in the recipes themselves but in the scientific approach to chocolate making. The book is similar to a textbook. It explains formulas, chemical processes, temperatures, dew points, humidity factors, emulsions, etc. My personal favorite was a designated chapter on “The Polymorphism of Cocoa Butter.”

Brian told me that if he hadn’t had the background in mathematics and science, he wouldn’t have known how to make sense of this information. For him, the relevance of his mathematics education was more than specific problems, skill sets or content. For him, it was a way of thinking and a foundation of strategies that he applies daily.

Brian and Jaerel - Hard at Work

Brian and Jaerel - Hard at Work

Think you may also be interested in taking on a new career? Perhaps entrepreneurship is in your future? For students everywhere, Brian recommends always paying attention to opportunities around you and not locking yourself into any situation. The beauty of a college education is that it teaches you valuable life skills like “how to learn” as well as “problem-solving”, “team-building” and other fundamentals that not only will make you a better employee but also just might be the bridge that connects you to a future you never even imagined.

Just ask 16-year old Jaerel Hulsey. Jaerel is a student at Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory School and an employee in Brian’s shop. “Math is everyday life,” he tells me. “It’s knowing how many minutes I have to get to work, how many bags I need for packaging the chocolate, how many ounces I am putting in each bag, etc.” Jaerel loves math and thinks one day he might want to go into architecture. But as we’ve seen from Brian, anything is possible.

Jaerel Hulsey

Jaerel Hulsey

Coming Up Next on ATETV…

Friday, September 10th, 2010

It’s hard to believe how fast time passes, but it’s been one year since the launch of ATETV!

Since then viewers have “met” a wide spectrum of individuals who described the numerous programs and opportunities available through the Advanced Technological Education programs at community colleges around the country. Along the way we became acquainted with leaders in such emerging fields as Alternative Energy, Biotechnology and Cybertechnology; were introduced to students who were following their dreams studying exciting programs in simulation and video game development and exploring “high-flying” careers in Wind Energy as well as Aviation Technology; and talked with ATE leaders from around the country who told us about the many up-and-coming career opportunities available at community colleges nationwide.

Now, ATETV producers are back at work on 40 new videos. Once again, they’ll be going behind the scenes to visit classrooms, industries and other settings to bring viewers a firsthand look at the many ways that community college programs are leading to good-paying jobs and rewarding futures — and at the same time, filling the many critically important new technology positions that will prove key to our country’s economy, our environment and our future.

For a quick glimpse of one of these new videos, this week we’re sharing video footage shot last month by an ATETV production team at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Connecticut. As you’ll see in the clip — and learn more about in an upcoming ATETV video — the college’s Project TLC (Technology Learning Community) provides incoming college freshmen with an accelerated summer preparation program in math and English, along with college readiness skills. The program’s dynamic “learning community” not only provides students with important group settings in which to grow and develop, but also brings in industry speakers to share their experiences and even takes students on industry tours for a firsthand look at today’s real-world employment.

And there’s much more to come! Stay tuned for 40 new ATETV videos to learn about the innovative new educational programs and promising career opportunities that await students at community colleges around the country — it’s shaping up to be another exciting year!

ATETV Episode 48: Working Hand in Hand with Industry

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

This week, we learn how internship programs can help pave the way to future careers, and explore an Energy Education program that is paving the way to a cleaner, more efficient environment.

In our first segment, we visit Florence-Darlington Technical College, where students are offered the opportunity to pursue internships with companies in their chosen technology fields. The end result: Students have an added advantage once they graduate, and in many cases, may even be offered full-time employment with the companies for which they interned!

“We give [Florence-Darlington students] an opportunity to come here and work hand in hand with our technicians in our process area to actually put in projects,” explains employer John Kimbrough of Wellman, Inc. “Then, if they actually perform well, if they have the skills and if they’re team players, we consider them for job openings [once they graduate.]”

It’s a similar story at ESAB Welding & Cutting Products, where Jill Heiden relies on interns from Florence-Darlington to fulfill numerous key job responsibilities. “The interns have their own jobs, they are hands-on,” she notes. “They have a mentor that they can shadow, but they are actually working in technical jobs on the floor with the already employed technicians.” The benefit of this arrangement, she adds, is that students get to learn what real life is about.

It’s what Elaine Craft of the South Carolina Advanced Technological Education (SC ATE)Center of Excellence calls a “grow your own” approach. “Industries actually get these students [as employees] early on in the program, and the students can grow up with the industry as they complete their two-year associate degrees.” As a result, she adds, students develop skills that can be put to immediate use once they enter the workplace.

Notes Wellman’s John Kimbrough, “Hopefully, [our student interns] will take a job with us [when they graduate] but even if they don’t, when they go on to the real world, they will have these hands-on skills in which they’ve actually worked in a manufacturing environment, and that looks good on somebody’s resume.”

And, no matter what workplace that may be, there will likely be an emphasis on energy efficiency. In this week’s second segment, we visit with students and educators at Sinclair Community College’s Center for Energy Education.

Before students pursue a career in any type of alternative or renewable energy field, they need to understand the basics of energy efficiency, according to Sinclair’s Bob Gilbert.

“Students learn how to analyze utility data, learn what portion of their natural gas is for hot water, what is for heating purposes, and then apply the same principles to electricity,” Bob explains. “We [have students] look at the envelope, look at the mechanical systems, and look at the operational procedures. Then they come up with an energy management plan.” Through this plan, students are actually able to quantify savings in dollars and cents, and from there, translate savings into CO2 emissions.

By studying energy codes, simulation software, code compliance software — coupled with hands-on experience in the field — Sinclair students become fully prepared to conduct energy audits and implement their broad-based energy efficiency education in the real world, particularly in industry, which adds up to a more sustainable future for our country.

Or as student Howard Ducker puts it, “Now when I leave a room, I turn off the lights.”