Thursday, December 10, 2009

'Ziggy' Artist Draws Fight Against Cancer

"Ziggy" comic strip author Tom Wilson aims to raise $1 million for Livestrong through sales of his memoir and in honor of his late wife.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Want to be an Innovator? New E-Book Series Tells You How

The series, Doing Innovation: Creating Economic Value, offers advice on how to be an innovative thinker, how to inspire innovation within an organization, understanding the process of innovation, and more.

Read more, in the December 2009 issue of Today's Engineer.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Engineering — The Silent "E" in K-12 Education

What is the future of precollege engineering education in the United States? What learning opportunities do engineering curricula provide to students? How can policy-makers bring meaningful changes to this country's educational programs? These are just a few of the questions addressed in the new NAE report, Engineering in K-12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects.

Read more, in the October 2009 issue of Today's Engineer.

(UPDATE August 2017: IEEE-USA revamped Today's Engineer into a new publication and many of its older articles no longer appear in its archives. The article appears in full below.)

Engineering -- The Silent "E" in K-12 Education

By John R. Platt

What is the future of pre-college engineering education in the United Stares? What learning opportunities do engineering curriculum provide to students? How can policy-makers bring meaningful changes to this country's educational programs?

These are just a few of the questions addressed in the new report, Engineering in K-12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects, released last month by the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council's Center for Education.

The report, developed over the course of two years by a team of educators and policy makers, found that the teaching of engineering in elementary and secondary schools is still very much a work in progress. This, it seems, is in spite of the recent focus placed on science, mathematics and technology in K-12 curriculum.

The committee also set out to discover what engineering curricula already exist, what methods have been used to provide teachers with skills to teach engineering, how engineering education interacts with other science-based curricula, and that impact engineering education has on students.


The report finds that science and technology education in the United States has so far mostly focused on science, technology and mathematics -- commonly abbreviated as "STEM," even though the "E" in STEM stands for engineering.

"A major unintended finding of this report is that engineering is the 'silent E' in STEM," says Greg Pearson, Senior Program Officer at the National Academy of Engineering. "What the committee came to realize, after lots of research, digging and workshops, is that despite the increasing national attention to STEM education, nearly all of the major references almost always referring to science or mathematics or the two in combination, but almost never to T and E."

The report also found that, in practice the T -- technology -- often relates to computer technology, not technology education.

"We're not pointing this out because we're suggesting it isn't there and needs to be recognized," says Pearson. "We're not calling for another phylum of content. We're suggesting something different and more problematic: a more integrated approach to how all four of these STEM components exist in work and career environments. Interconnection, integrated STEM, is something that this report discusses briefly, and will hopefully generate a lot of discussion."

But despite its silence, the E does exist, it just ins't talked about as much or as well understood by the public, or even by the education field. The report actually found that a growing number of K-12 students in the U.S. are experiencing the open-ended, problem-solving process of engineering design. More importantly, data compiled by the committee suggest that these design-oriented experiences can improve student interest and achievement in science and mathematics, increase awareness of engineering as a profession and the work of engineers, boost interest in pursuing engineering as a career, and increase general technological literacy.


The report defines engineering as "design under constraint," where the constraints include the laws of nature, cost, safety, reliability, environmental impact, manufacturability, and other factors.

According to the report's findings, teaching "engineering" in early grades may involve simple design-oriented tasks "such as the construction of a balsa wood bridge." Engineering education in later grades could involve more open-ended design projects, which could also include the application of mathematics or science concepts to solve specific problems.

The committee found that teaching using the design process -- "the engineering approach to identifying and solving problems" -- offers numerous advantages for students and form an effective education strategy. According to the report, the design process is "(1) highly iterative; (2) open to the idea that a problem may have many possible solutions; (3) a meaningful context for learning scientific, mathematical, and technological concepts; and (4) a stimulus to systems thinking, modeling, and analysis."


The report finds that teaching kids to think like engineers also offers numerous benefits. Engineering education should therefore, according to the report, focus on engineering "habits of mind," a term which encompases values, attitudes and thinking skills. "It's a way of looking at the world," says committtee member Jacquelyn Sullivan of the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Specifically, engineering habits of mind offer students a vareity of critical skills, including systems thinking, creativity, optimism, collaboration, communication, and attention to ethical considerations.


An interesting element of the committee's discoveries is that STEM education works best when all aspects of the acronym are considered. "Engineering design provides the context for kids to learn science and technology," says Sullivan. "The design process is a great framwork, and it's the key thing that differentiates engineering from science."

But Sullivan reminds us that K-12 students are neither mini-adults nor college students, and that any incorporation of engineering in K-12 must be developmentally appropriate. In other words, no calculus at too early an age!


According to committee chair Linda Katehi, Chancellor of the University of California, Davis, "Engineering in K-12 should be thought of as 'education for all,' not education for a select few. STEM literacy equals a linking of ideas. It helps prepare students for life in the 21st century."

"At least in a preliminary way, we find there is some reason to think, at least in certain cases, that engineering design activities and thinking can improve student interest and improve success in science and mathematics," says Pearson. "There are strong clues that teaching in an engineering way with engineering design which makes science and mathematics relevant to concrete problems and can improve student interest and achievement. We are recommending additional research on that connection."

Committee member Al Gomez of Sun Prairie High School, Wisconsin, put it best when he said that STEM education should allow teachers to "focus on everyone, not just on making more engineers."


The report contains a number of recommendations about how to best incorporate STEM education into future curricula, and who is going to need to be involved to make it happen. "Ultimately, it's going to be policy makers and leaders at schools of engineering and throughout education, as well as at the White House, Congress, and state level who need to engage in this issue, and we hope that they do," says Pearson.

Among the report's recommendations: "Foundations and federal agencies with an interest in K–12 engineering education should support long-term research to confirm and refine the findings of earlier studies of the impacts of engineering education on student learning in STEM subjects, student engagement and retention, understanding of engineering, career aspirations, and technological literacy."

"STEM education in K-12 ensures training of a reliable workforce that can compete in a global economy," says Katehi. "The consequences are measured in decades, not weeks or years," she says, meaning the effects of this report's findings could be feld for many years to come.


The National Academies' report is available online at

Monday, August 31, 2009

Keeping Down with the Jonses: Challenge Your Neighbors to an Energy-Bill Reduction Contest

Here's a recent Green Tech column that got a lot of notice.

Looking for new ways to save energy around your house? Try talking to your neighbors...

Read the rest here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Extinction Countdown @ Scientific American

Continuing my big link catch-up...

One of the best places to find my environmental writing these days is at Scientific American, where I contribute around 3 "Extinction Countdown" articles a week to their "60-Second Science" blog. I cover endangered species all around the world, including quite a few that aren't getting any press anyplace else.

I'll link to some of my favorite recent articles soon, but meanwhile, here's my main page. Check it out!

60-Second Extinction Countdown @ Scientific American

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

E-Book Examines the Economic Value of Innovation

Here's another recent article, "E-Book Examines the Economic Value of Innovation," from the August 2009 issue of The Institute.

There's lots more where that came from, so stay tuned for more updates!

What Will Plug-In Hybrids Mean for America?

Whoops! I've been errant in updating this blog for -- double-whoops! -- about six months. I guess I've been too busy writing to post all of the links here!

Anyway, here's link # 1, "What Will Plug-In Hybrids Mean for America," an article for the July 2009 issue of Today's Engineer. Featuring interviews with several top technology minds, as well as Senators John Kerry and Lamar Alexander.

More links soon!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Perils, Pitfalls and Pleasures of Blogging

The Perils, Pitfalls and Pleasures of Blogging
Does blogging on your own time put you in any risk from your day job? Can it damage your career, or could it help? And if you decide to blog, what steps should you take to protect yourself?

From the February 2009 issue of Today's Engineer.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Green Science stories at

I recently started contributing weekly "green science" stories to Here are links to my first dozen or so articles:

A bevy of GreenTech Columns

It's been many months since I provided links to my three-times-a-week GreenTech column. To make up for that, here are some of my favorite stories from the last few months:

Survey Shows Consumer Electronics Industry Thinks 25% of Consumers Don't Want Green

Put Your Computer to Use for Good When You're Not Using It

Green Your Phone with Renewable Energy Credits

iPod Green: Try a Sustainable, Handcrafted Wood Sound

Cell Phone Industry Hangs Up On Vampire Power

Greenpeace Grades the Electronics Makers on Climate Leadership

The Best Christmas Gift of All: Rechargeable Batteries

Save Money and Energy -- Unplug Your Gaming Consoles!< Top 10 Things to Ask When Buying 'Green' Electronics

Do You Know How to Recycle Your Old TV?

How Businesses Can Save 25% on Energy Costs: HP Introduces Tech to Cap Power Use of Data Centers

Even Rechargeable Batteries Need Recycling -- Do You Know How?

Sometimes the Greenest Technology is Elbow Grease

Support Green Charities by Recycling Your Empty Toner Cartridges

Five Green Devices Every Home Should Have

Calculate Your 'Water Footprint'

Energy-Efficient Freezers Help You Store Organic, Local Food All Year Round

New HP Laptop Uses 97% Less Packaging

5 Ways to Green Your PC -- Without Spending a Penny

Books vs. eBooks: Which Are Greener?

Google Goes Geothermal. Can You?

Free Software Cuts PC Power Consumption

Meet the FCC's New Chief Technologist

Over the next few years, the United States will face a number of tough questions regarding the future of telecommunications, including spectrum sharing, broadband Internet, delivering services to rural areas, and the impact of peer-to-peer networks.

One man helping to answer these and other questions is an IEEE member: Prof. Jon M. Peha, the new Chief Technologist at the Federal Communications Commission.

Read more in the November 2008 issue of Today's Engineer

Monday, January 5, 2009

Extinction Blog, Oct-Dec 2008

More catch-up links!

October, 2008

Bush Admin spins its move to protect 48 Hawaiian species
Extinctions predicted for fish, red panda
2008 Red List of Endangered Species: A 'bleak picture' of the world's biodiversity
Breeding failure could doom turtle to extinction
Canada fails to protect grizzlies, killer whales
Poaching puts African fauna and flora at risk of extinction
Rare frog delays extinction for another year
Today is the last day to save the Endangered Species Act
Six degrees of kangaroo extinction
Salvation (and media attention) for endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales
Countdown to a rare plant's extinction
Rare coral cross-breeds to survive
The dilemma of the disappearing dingo
More violence threatens mountain gorillas in Congo
Wolves in the cross-hairs -- again!
The race to save Mexico's 'water monster'
Can international cooperation save the vaquita?

November, 2008

Elkhorn and staghorn corals gain added protections
Brazil's endangered species list triples in size
25% of Atlantic sharks at risk of extinction
Rabies outbreak threatens world's rarest wolf species
Hawaii gets digital TV early to protect endangered birds
A call to save the 'desperate dozen'
Endangered salmon vs. popular pesticides
Will Bush rush through changes to Endangered Species Act?
Sawfish recovery could take 'centuries'
Greed driving bluefin tuna to extinction
It takes time and money to declare a species 'endangered'

December, 2008

In war-torn Congo, a pleasant surprise
What is killing India's endangered gharials?
Australia's white possum possible victim of climate change
United Nations declares 2009 'Year of the Gorilla'
Cheetah racing toward extinction
Last 7 wild Asian buffaloes waiting for extinction
If a tree falls in a forest, so does every species that depends on it
Worst nesting season ever for endangered albatross
Bush Administration slashes Endangered Species Act
Kenya adds antelope species to its endangered species list
Terrible news for Tasmanian devils
Where to put the panther?
Why the U.S. Would Protect Penguins Under the Endangered Species Act
Slightly good news for world's rarest rhinos
'Moose Summit' warns of global warming dangers
Report: Global warming poisoning koalas

Experience Engineering Blog

It's catch-up time! I've been so busy the last few months I haven't had time to update this library blog. Well, here we go...

First up, the first four months of the Engineering Careers blog I write for Enjoy!