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Programs for Students K-12

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The Kane Competition: Where Mass x Acceleration = Exuberance + Knowledge

Bungie jumping watermelons? Check.

Use mirror to dunk your professor in ice-cold water? Check.

Launch an egg across the gym floor with a spring-loaded cannon? Check.

Use each of the above to teach physics? You better believe that’s a check.

Traditional lecture and classroom experiments will always be an important part of teaching and learning, but  nothing sells the excitement of science like dropping a gummy bear into molten Potassium Chlorate.*

The Kane Competition was established in 2004 thanks to a generous gift from the Joseph Kane Estate. The central focus of the competition is to provide a fun and educational experience for local high school students, accentuating the excitement that comes from scientific inquiry. We regularly draw about 120 students from 8-10 high schools, some coming from more than an hour away.

The daylong event splits the students into teams of five to seven students where they work to solve physics problems – word problems, math problems, and even some experimental problems – in each of five different events. We also run an individual competition where the finalists in a pencil-and-paper quiz make it to a Jeopardy-style game show round where the winner walks away with a $2,000 scholarship to The University of Scranton.

Many of the high schools that participate use the competition as a focus for the physics lessons throughout the year. In January, the schools are sent a rule book containing general descriptions of the events. We’ve heard of schools doing everything from basing lessons around the topics presented to forming afterschool clubs to study the problems, as well as building their own mock-up of the events. However they do it, they always come to the event prepared and ready to compete, with a grasp of the physics necessary to solve the problems and an eagerness to explore their own solutions.

But the competition would be nothing without the tireless efforts of The University of Scranton Physics Club. Preparations for the Kane Competition begin in early September, when the dedicated members of the Physics Club design a whole new series of events. The students design each event in the competition from the ground up: conception, design, construction and execution. At each stage the students pay close attention to not only the event’s feasibility, but also the educational value for the high school students, both in their preparation for it and their participation in it.

In the end, it’s hard to say who learned more through the competition: the college students or the high school students. And that’s just the way we like it.

We’d be remiss, of course, if we didn’t mention some of the other key figures responsible for making this event a success. Nancy Laffey, the Physics Department secretary, makes sure we are on task, on time, funded, organized and properly advertised. Jim Loven, our lab manager, personally oversees the construction of every event. Every nut, bolt and nail is his purview, and we could never succeed without him.

Dr. Sepinsky ran the Kane Competition, assisted by Declan Mulhall, Ph.D., from 2009 - 2011. Dr. Mulhall ran the 2008 competition and returned to oversee the 2012 competition.

*Google it, you’ll be glad you did!
HINT: a rapid exothermic reaction.

Jeremy Sepinsky, Ph.D., Physics and Electrical Engineering, 570-941-6582, jeremy.sepinsky@scranton.edu

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Thinking About Learning and Learning About Thinking

How are memories stored? What is the relationship between your brain and behavior? How do we engage children in understanding functions they take for granted?

The University of Scranton’s Neuroscience program offers two outreach opportunities for the greater northeastern Pennsylvania community to explore and learn about the powerful motor that controls our bodies, behavior and thoughts: Brain Bee and Kids Judge! Neuroscience. The two programs have different focuses. The Brain Bee tests high school students’ knowledge of the brain and its functions, while the Kids Judge! Neuroscience program provides fifth- and sixth-graders the opportunity to critique projects constructed by University students about the nervous system. As a result, the Brain Bee gives high school students the opportunity to apply their study of neuroscience and demonstrate this knowledge in local, national and international competitions. Kids Judge! Neuroscience prepares University students to create and synthesize their classroom knowledge into real world learning situations.

The University participates in the national Brain Bee by coordinating this region’s competition, organized by Timothy Cannon, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Scranton. The event draws students from public and private schools, as well as home-schooled students, from NEPA and New Jersey. This is the 13th year the University has participated in the competition and it is one of more than 70 local Brain Bees. The local competition consists of two parts: a written and an oral competition. High school students take a pencil-and-paper test and then proceed to a competition not unlike a spelling bee competition. Students prepare for the competition by studying “Brain Facts,” a guide provided by the Society of Neuroscience. As students advance to national and international levels, the competition becomes more intensive involving identifying structures in dissected human brains and interviewing actors trained to exhibit symptoms of neurological disorders.  For more information, visit sfn.org/brainfacts.

The Kids Judge! Neuroscience program has been at the University since 2001 and partners with the Northeast Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center. Kids Judge! Neuroscience, originated by Deborah L. Colbern, Ph.D., is designed to help teach neuroscience principles. Remember your science fairs in grade school? This fair is a reverse science fair. University students create interactive neuroscience projects that are judged by fifth- and sixth-grade Girl Scouts. Taste, vision and motion are the topics, and M & M’s, dominoes, ping pong balls and straws are the instruments of experimentation. Dr. Cannon has his neuroscience students “parasite back to former Kids Judge! projects” and improve them through more current research and more creative techniques that will engage children.

Besides the pride he takes in offering such community programs, Dr. Cannon gains much delight in the accomplishments of his students who have participated in these undertakings as Girl Scouts and later as his own students. Teaching Assistant Morgan Mayenshein was a Girl Scout judge and later helped coordinate the program. University of Scranton graduate and Kids Judge! Neuroscience organizer Kim Maguschak ’01 completed her doctorate in neuroscience at Emory University and is now a post-doctoral fellow with Guoping Feng at MIT. These programs not only serve as outreach education opportunities for the community, they also serve as foundational experiences and inspirations in career decisions for University students.

J. Timothy Cannon, Ph.D., Psychology, 570-941-4266, timothy.cannon@scranton.edu

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Making Math Fun

Have you ever wanted to send someone a secret message or wondered about the security of shopping on the Internet with a credit card? These are some of the questions that drew students from across the region to Cryptography Day held at The University of Scranton in fall 2010. Cryptography is the science of sending and receiving secret messages. This event, sponsored by the dean’s office of the College of Arts and Sciences, Admissions Office, and Mathematics Department, brought students together to learn how to make and break codes using mathematics. Teams included students from grades 9 through 12 working collaboratively to compete in five contests of code breaking. The winning team consisted of participants from Scranton Preparatory, Lackawanna Trail and Hazelton Area, and students received both certificates and prizes. Through this experience, students gained a working knowledge of RSA*, which is the foundation of modern-day computer security. The day ended with a panel of professional female mathematicians who offered insight and answered questions about careers in mathematics. Cryptography Day allowed students a great opportunity to see mathematics in a fun and relevant way, while having the chance to interact with University students and faculty members. The day’s ultimate goal was to increase interest and enthusiasm for mathematics.

Events such as this are especially important for today’s adolescents because the National Center for Education Statistics reported that U.S. teenagers remained below average in mathematics when compared to their peers in other industrialized countries. These deficiencies place the U.S. at risk for maintaining a competitive edge in international economics. Knowing this, it is essential to continue to find new and creative ways to make mathematics interesting and attainable for all students. In an effort to continue to build the bridge and sustain interest in mathematics at all levels, the Mathematics Department also hosts an annual Integration Bee in the spring semester with additional support from the Admissions Office and CAS dean’s office. This event is similar to a spelling bee, only students solve mathematics problems in a competitive format with divisions for high school students and college students. For four consecutive years the contest has been a great success. Last year, we not only doubled our number of local schools, but also more than doubled the number of registrants. The American Mathematical Society, the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Mathematical Association of America each donated door prizes and gift bags to the participants. This event allows high school students to hone their skills for the Advanced Placement exam and motivates the study of mathematics for all who attend.

So the next time you hear a student say, “I hate math!” or “Where am I ever going to use this?” be sure to tell them that mathematics can be fun, collaborative, exciting and intriguing. Send them to catch the buzz at the Integration Bee, or come by the Cryptography Day to uncover the secret.

Karim Medico Letwinsky, Education, 570-941-4667, karim.letwinsky@scranton.edu
Jennifer Vasquez, Ph.D., Mathematics, 570-941-6113, jennifer.vasquez@scranton.edu

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What Would You Do with $100,000? The Stock Market Game

The Stock Market Game (SMG) is a 10-week simulation during which students from three grade categories (4-6, 7-8 and 9-12) invest an imaginary $100,000, buying stocks, bonds and mutual funds listed on the major securities exchanges. There were two SMG competitions held in spring 2012, beginning in February and March.

The SMG is a fun, educational and competitive investing program that helps students build important life skills. It fosters hands-on learning and real-life applications of decision making and cooperative learning skills. Most SMG participants are students who work in small groups – typically 3-5 students each – but the competition is also open to other participants. All contestants register and conduct trades for the SMG online at www.smg.org. Additional information about the SMG can be found at this site.

Student teams that finish first, second and third in their respective grade categories (fall and spring) from the area served by the Honesdale National Bank Center for Economic Education at The University of Scranton are invited to attend an annual pizza party and awards ceremony. This year the ceremony was to be held on May 31 in the DeNaples Center on the University’s campus. The Honesdale National Bank and Prudential Investments are co-sponsors of the awards ceremony. Since 2004, more than 400 teachers and 13,000 students have participated in the SMG from the region served by the Honesdale National Bank Center alone. Eleven other Centers for Economic Education in Pennsylvania participate in the SMG with students and teachers in their regions. The Stock Market GameTM of Pennsylvania is an EconomicsAmerica  Program of EconomicsPennsylvania, the statewide affiliate of the regional centers.

Edward Scahill, Ph.D., Economics and Finance, 570-941-4187, edward.scahill@scranton.edu

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Bold as Brass: Making Joyful Noise

The University of Scranton Performance Music program recently added two new brass programs to its repertoire, but these separate programs have a shared focus: to reach out to brass musicians of all ages while bringing the gift of musical performance to the community.

The Scranton Brass Seminar, under the direction of Cheryl Y. Boga, is an intensive, two-week summer seminar focusing on various elements of brass playing. Application for enrollment is open to intermediate and advanced high school brass players, college and university brass players, as well as adult brass players and teachers.

Activities include masterclasses, workshops, special topics presentations, solo and improvisation coaching, and small brass ensemble playing, as well as a final recital performance. Presenters are experts in a variety of areas of brass playing, including not only nationally renowned brass players and teachers, but also conductors, accompanists and physicians with special expertise in working with musicians. The inaugural 2011 program featured masterclasses and clinics taught by many master brass players and specialists in topics of brass playing. The esteemed musicians included Wycliffe Gordon H’06, Mark Gould, Chris Jaudes, Joseph Boga, Rick Chamberlain, Christopher Newman, M.D., John White, M.S.W., Timothy E. Smith and Michael Carton.

Students start their day with physical and mental warm-ups, then work with clinicians, and later break into duets, trios and quartets to work on applying the information that was taught in the clinic to their daily rehearsal session. The topics presented are often not in the usual high school curricula: health issues of brass players, specific and/or expanded techniques for brass players, development of improvisational skills, understanding oneself as an artist, and topics of musicianship.

The program invites music educators to enroll in pursuit of meeting their needs for continuing education and professional development of brass instruction and performance skills through the clinic and masterclass portion of each day.

All participants are invited to continue their experience throughout the year by observing and participating in masterclasses offered by world-class brass performers who visit the University as guest performers with the Performance Music program. The opportunity for advanced study and exposure to professional brass artists offers brass students,  performers and educators the chance to improve, grow and develop their talents through this unique University experience.

The Scranton Brass Orchestra is a fully professional 27-member ensemble, founded in 2011 by co-directors/conductors Cheryl Boga and Gould, former principal trumpeter of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The ensemble is composed primarily of musicians from a seven-county area surrounding the University.

The group’s performances, which are free of charge and open to the public, feature nationally and internationally acclaimed guest artists, including some of the most respected brass artists of our time. Recent guests have included Gordon, Gould, Jaudes and Joseph Boga. This high-level, large-brass ensemble performance opportunity is a unique working collaborative that allows professional players the occasion to rehearse with other musicians, hone their playing skills and techniques, and perform for the greater community.

Their repertoire ranges from transcriptions of traditional British band compositions to American jazz. At least one-half of their programming is from the American idiom. Their performances also serve as occasions for students from the summer brass seminar program to continue their aural exposure to professional brass musicians.

The group made its debut before hundreds of appreciative audience members in June 2011, and has since garnered acclaim from audiences and musicians alike. The goals of the ensemble are:

  • to provide participating musicians and teachers with opportunities to work with and observe acknowledged masters of the art of brass playing (soloists to date have included Gould, Gordon, Jaudes and Joseph Boga)
  • to offer rehearsal observation opportunities for students and teachers to aid in rehearsal skill development
  • to provide an aural and visual model to aid in the tonal and technical development of student brass players throughout the region
  • to serve as a professional development resource for brass performers and teachers in the region
  • to develop and propagate the body of literature for the genre
  • to offer audiences free brass concert attendance opportunities that merge entertainment with high quality artistic and educational experiences
  • to continue the University’s commitment to offering outstanding concert events free of charge to the greater area community by performing during periods of Performance Music program recess outside of the regular academic year (such as intersession and summer)
  • to serve as a partner in the development of the Scranton Brass Seminar.

For more information, visit scranton.edu/music.

Cheryl Boga, Performance Music, 570-941-4624, cheryl.boga@scranton.edu

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Programming Turned Competitive & Educational

The University of Scranton’s High School Programming Contest Draws Students Located Throughout NEPA

Background

When is Java not a cup of coffee, Pascal not the name of a philosopher, and Python not affiliated with a comedic Flying Circus? The hundreds of high school students who have converged on The University of Scranton every spring to participate in the High School Programming Contest know. Java, Pascal and Python are just a few of the programming languages the mastery of which these students have to demonstrate. Since 1990, teams of high school students from all over northeastern Pennsylvania have come to the University’s campus to compete for prizes and University scholarships.

The annual contest, modeled after the international collegiate contest run by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), was founded in 1990 by Dick Sidbury, Ph.D., who served as contest director through 1993. Since 1994, Bob McCloskey, Ph.D., has directed the contest. Both are faculty members of the University’s Computing Sciences Department.

Who Is Involved?

The competitors are students, in teams of three, from public and private high schools throughout northeastern Pennsylvania, and in some cases, slightly beyond. Schools that have sent teams frequently in recent years include Tunkhannock Area, Delaware Valley, Scranton, North Pocono, Conrad Weiser, Monroe Career & Technical Institute, Scranton Preparatory and Wyoming Seminary.

Also involved are University of Scranton students who volunteer to carry out a variety of tasks, including greeting contestants as they arrive, escorting contestants to their assigned workstations in the computer lab, and providing assistance to contestants during the pre-contest orientation. Frequently, one or two University students also serve as judges who evaluate the computer programs that are submitted by the contestants or to help devise test data that are used by the judges in carrying out their function.

What Happens?

For each competition, a set of computer programming problems is given to the teams. A programming problem represents a desired relationship between inputs and outputs; a solution to such a problem is a computer program that, when “fed” input data, produces output that is in proper relation to those inputs.[i] The goal for each team is to solve as many of the problems, as quickly as possible. When a team has developed a program that it believes is a correct solution to one of the problems, it submits that program to the judges, who decide whether or not the program satisfies the specification.

Competitions generally last four hours. Before it begins, the contestants are given a 90-minute orientation period, during which they familiarize themselves with the computing resources and try to solve a couple of practice problems. Competitors then have lunch, which has been provided by the Admissions Office in recent years. When the competition concludes, there is a dinner and awards ceremony, at which the teams finishing in the top three are presented with plaques.

The 2012 contest was held on March 23. Since the Computing Sciences Department has moved into the new Loyola Science Center, the contest was held in the department’s main computer lab, as well as the robotics lab.

Robert McClosky, Ph.D., Computing Sciences, 570-941-4221, robert.mcclosky@scranton.edu



[i] You can find hyperlinks to the problem sets at the bottom of the web page at http://www.cs.uofs.edu/~mccloske/hs_prog_contest/index.html.