Category Archives: Curriki News

Cool Careers in Science: Meet Dr. Becky Carlyle

Becky orienteering_web

By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki

If you’re a student studying the sciences, you may not know what you want to be “when you grow up.” Behind the Scientist provides an engaging, personal look at several working scientists and reveals “how real scientists looked when they were kids.” Recently, I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Becky Carlyle on what it’s like to be a scientist, as well as learning more about her passion for running, orienteering racing and adventure!

Describe your current job.

I am a Post Doctoral Researcher in Molecular Psychiatry at Yale University.  There are lots of different levels that you can study the brain – mine involves looking at how conditions inside the body (such as getting old) and outside the body (drug taking and stress) affect the molecules that are produced by your major brain cells – the neurons.  I study how the brain adapts to these conditions, and what might happen when these changes don’t go according to plan. 

What would you be doing if you weren’t in your current job?

Probably teaching of some kind, while spending the summers orienteering racing throughout Europe.  Orienteering is a kind of crazy sport where you race a route through the forest with the help of a map and compass, I’ve done it since I was born, pretty much!

What is your greatest accomplishment to date?

Running an almost elite marathon (3:15:26) and qualifying for an A Final at the orienteering World Cup.  I feel like the accomplishments of my career are yet to come, they don’t yet match up to that unique sporting high!

Becky (3rd from right) at the Genève Marathon.

What is the single most important issue in the world of science today?

This is a really difficult question.  Can I have two answers?  The biggest global issue for me is not just acceptance of Climate Change, but getting everyone to realize that unless we voluntarily change the way we live and run our societies now, then Climate Change will do that for us.  The first option is likely to be the better one for the human race.  

If I’m talking as a scientist wanting a career in science, then government investment in research is the most important issue.  Millions have been spent on training people exactly like me, but there are very few places that now have the money to support bright new ideas and people into the next stage of their careers.  At the end of the day, this all comes down to education – if you can convince people that what you do is vital, interesting and beneficial, then you’re halfway there.  I don’t think scientists as a whole do this particularly well at the moment, although awareness of our responsibility to the public is growing.

Only about 1/4 of STEM jobs in the U.S. are filled by women. Why don’t more girls pursue STEM careers?

If we’re talking biology, which is the only field I really know about, then it’s not a case of lack of interest.  Even at my level of career, women outnumber men in my field.  But once you get to the next stage, that’s where the attrition starts.  It’s a combination of many things – lack of job security, lack of alternative options outside the traditional tenure track, balancing a family with work.  I’m lucky that right here in our department we have some excellent female role models – highly accomplished scientists with a rich family life and a wonderful sense of humor.  There is no doubt that walking past these women in the corridor and sharing small snippets of information with them about your life inspires you to keep working hard to get to the next stage.  If you’re interested in who they are, you can look for Marina Picciotto, Jane Taylor and Amy Arnsten.  

What can we do to encourage students to pursue STEM?

Make our teaching as accessible and interesting as possible.  Lots of real-world applications, problems to solve, and group work to make people realize that it takes a whole bunch of people with different skills to tackle a scientific problem.  We need positive role models, but most of all, we need to really value STEM careers within our society by improving working conditions, academic pay in the early years, and job opportunities.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a city called Bradford in the North of England.  In the Victorian Era it was a bustling town at the center of the wool trade; these days it has a lot of poverty and some deep racial tensions.

Favorite subject in high school and why?

physicsProbably chemistry.  I loved the mechanisms and the processes we learned about, and how apparently complex systems could be broken down into really neat, simple concepts.  I also had two incredible teachers, which helped a lot!

When you were growing up, when did you realize you wanted to be a scientist? What inspired you?

It took me a long time to realize I wanted to be a scientist.   As a strong student with plenty of good grades and not too many definite ideas, my school pushed me down the Medical Doctor route.  After three years of Medical School at Oxford, with plenty of exposure to the basic science behind many of our medical principles, I realized that I liked the science and the molecules more than being a clinician.  Luckily the structure in the U.K. is flexible enough that I graduated with a B.A. in Medical Sciences, not too much debt, and then moved on to a PhD program.  It was quite a shock at first, but definitely where I wanted to be!


If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?

The old chestnut – flying would be super cool.

Favorite band?

Too many to mention!  The National and Death Cab for Cutie are long standing favorites, but I am hooked on Wild Beasts and Mum right now.  I’m a bit of a music snob when it comes down to it, and I miss the U.K. Music scene.

What’s the first website you check every day?

Attackpoint  – a social network for orienteers and adventure racers.  It helps me keep in touch with my sporty friends from around the world.

What one piece of advice would you give to young, aspiring scientists?

 Make plenty of friends.  Unlike the common perception of scientists as geeky loners, scientists are interesting people with lots of opinions.  You’ll meet people from every culture, and from most countries in the world.  And the best science is almost always done by collaboration.  It’s amazing how something you mention in an offhand way, that your friend comments on during a lunch break can turn out to be something really important.

If you’re a young person (or not so young) who fancies a career in science, you can ask questions of Behind the Scientist (use option on the right) or email directly.

Don’t forget that Curriki offers thousands of high-quality science, and math learning resources for you to use, customize and share – all for free!

How to Make Curriki Your One-Stop Site for Free, High-Quality Classroom Resources

By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer janetpic_preferred_cropped

Have you heard of Curriki, but not yet explored it to find or share K-12 classroom resources?

With Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up, we decided to illustrate just how easy Curriki is to use. Here is teacher Greg Guy’s (Florida) experience when preparing a lesson to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“I decided to test the powers of Curriki by preparing for a lesson for Martin Luther King, Jr. It was November so I was certain the education community would be stumped and unprepared. I found numerous resources using only Dr. King’s initials in the search box. I compiled several resources from various plans and created an elaborate study of Dr. King’s speech which included visual stimuli, a tag cloud of his speech, the audio, and an extensive history of Dr. King’s life and the Civil Rights Movement. Four years later, I’m using this exact lesson plan with every class I teach. I now use Curriki resources in nearly all of my lessons”

Now it’s your turn…

The easiest way to find resources is to use the Advanced Search box:


Start by typing in a key word and check off any other criteria, such as a subject, grade level or rating, which you can access via the pull-down menus.  In this case, we’ll do what Greg Guy tried and type in “MLK.” A list of approximately 20 resources appear.


Curriki offers more than 50,000 learning resources, so I encourage you to explore the site.

mlk2As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on January 15, here is a collection you can start with to use, modify or share – all at your fingertips and all for free!

The Future of Energy: Student and Teacher Resources

Oil refinery and train tank carsBy Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officerjanetpic_preferred_cropped

A local California-based company, Silver Spring Networks, has created an educational program designed to educate teachers, students and their families on how the smart grid addresses our energy challenges. A Smart Energy Future is a curriculum-based program for students to learn about how technology is changing the future of energy and is being tested in California and Ohio schools.


The curriculum features lessons on energy concepts, interactive assignments and community-facing projects, as well as career exploration activities relating to the energy industry.

In unit one, students begin by taking an inventory of their household energy usage. For example, which activities used the most energy? During what times of day was the most energy used? During what times of year are your utility bills the highest? What sources of energy does your household use?

“Students really enjoy learning about energy sources since it is practical and relevant to every-day life. The household inventory is always an eye-opening experience for both students and parents.”

Students also learn about the advantages and disadvantages of various energy sources (solar, water, geothermal, nuclear, etc.) and learn ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

“My students now know what renewable and non-renewable energy is, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.”

Careers in Energyenergy_career

In unit two, students research existing jobs in the energy industry and create a career profile for a print or online energy career guide. The career profiles include information about career preparation, responsibilities, and actual work scenarios.

10 Most Popular Teaching Resources in 2013

2013-top10By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki

janetpic_preferred_croppedWhether you teach math or language arts, Curriki offers thousands of free resources to help with lesson planning.  Here are Curriki’s ten most popular resources this year. I encourage you to check them out!

grammar1. Grammar Collection by Rob Lucas – This is an extremely rich resource offering a complete unit on teaching grammar in a fun way. Inclusion of a version of Mad Libs and a project requiring students to collaborate in a small group presentation offers as much creativity for teaching grammar as possible. A humorous poem in worksheet form makes the lesson engaging and interesting. A scoring guide for the presentation makes the unit meaningful and understandable to students.

biology2. Developing Biology by Rob Lucas – This collection contains a wide variety of activities, labs, slide shows and worksheets on the topics of Cells, Cellular Transport, DNA, Photosynthesis & Respiration, Mitosis & Meiosis, Genetics, Evolution, and Classification. Much of the material is suitable for both middle school and high school students, although some of the pieces (such as the Photosynthesis PowerPoint presentation) have complex material better suited for more advanced biology classes.

physics3. Physics by Khan Academy - This collection contains about 100 videos, covering all topics in a complete high school or college course in Physics. Many of the videos demonstrate solutions to sample problems. This is excellent primary material for long distance learning, or rich supplementary material for any physics course.

fractions4. Math eTextbooks - Free mathematics textbooks ranging from calculus and statistics and probability, to geometry and trigonometry.

5. Teaching Fractions - This highly-rated collection of resources includes videos and lessons for teaching fractions.

tuck6. Tuck Everlasting Novel Study by Holly Mercado – This resource provides an excellent 25 day unit on the novel Tuck Everlasting. With an emphasis on questioning, particularly question-answer relationships, the novel study materials guide students to develop critical thinking skills.  All materials like question cards, game instructions, graphic organizers, rubrics, templates for character development, vocabulary development, etc., are included in this thorough, comprehensive, highly usable resource.

esl7. Grammar Lessons, Practice and Worksheets - This site offers general writing, research writing, and ELL resources. Each section is well developed and contains a wide variety of information and resources to help students become excellent writers.

bingo8. Geometry Bingo This is a bingo game involving visuals to help students learn and identify key vocabulary for geometry on the 5th and 6th grade levels.

alice9. Getting Started with Java Using AliceThis workshop engages students with little or no programming experience to learn basic Java programming concepts. Participants use Carnegie Mellon’s Alice* platform to do something fun – create animated stories, movies and games.

grammar210. Word Search Games and Other Fun English language activities - This web site is for people studying English as a Second Language (ESL) or English as a Foreign Language (EFL). There are quizzes, word games, word puzzles, proverbs, slang expressions, anagrams, a random-sentence generator and other computer assisted language learning activities.


Teaching Kids About Gratitude

By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki


With Thanksgiving and Hanukkah behind us and the holiday season just around the corner, I wanted to explore the idea of gratitude.  Many students today are faced with overwhelming social and academic pressures and they often fail to see the “good” in their lives, which colors their perspective and behavior.

According to Harvard-trained researcher Shawn Achor, most schools follow this formula: if you work harder, you will be more successful, and then you will be happy. Achor believes this formula is scientifically backward. A decade of research shows that training your brain to be positive at work or school first actually fuels greater success second. In fact, 75% of job success is predicted not by intelligence, but by your optimism, social support network and the ability to manage energy and stress in a positive way.

 I encourage you to watch this short (12 minute) entertaining and insightful TED Talk by Shawn Achor entitled “The Happy Secret to Better Work.”

Elementary School Experiment Improves Classroom Environment

Steve Reifman, an elementary school teacher in Santa Monica, CA, was inspired by Achor’s TED Talk and asked his students to think of three things each day that they were grateful for.  He did this for three weeks and surprisingly, the students were able to come up with new and different things each day. But more importantly, he noticed a marked improvement in his classroom environment.

 “I tried one of these ways with my students, and it had a wonderful effect on the children and the classroom environment as a whole,” said Reifman. “Give this idea a try in class with your students or at home with your children.”


If you try this, we’d love to hear your results.  Please share!

Promoting Diversity and Community in Schools

diversityBy Janet Pinto, Curriki Chief Academic Officer

Students today must learn how to interact in diverse environments and develop an understanding of different perspectives in order to thrive in our increasingly global community. Diversity enriches the exchange of ideas and helps to instill a sense of moral responsibility.

We had the opportunity to chat with Marcus Chang, director of diversity and community life at The Bishop’s School  an independent college preparatory school for grades 6-12 in La Jolla, California.

Marcus Chang, Director of Diversity and Community Life, The Bishop's School

Marcus Chang, Director of Diversity and Community Life, The Bishop’s School

As the Director of Diversity and Community Life, what are you focused on?  

Population projections indicate that the U.S. population will be considerably older and more racially and ethnically diverse by 2060. As such, it’s important that we bring the community together to honor and educate each other about who we are – to recognize and celebrate our differences.

We each come from a different place, and we each have a story and a form of diversity that we can bring to the table.  When we do, we’re better off as a community.

How does diversity affect student learning?

We live in a connected age and students come into contact with a wide and diverse range of people. An understanding and appreciation of diversity has proven to enhance learning by helping students explore different angles, think more critically, and come up with new options.

How do you view diversity?

At The Bishop’s School, we look at the Big Eight of diversity: race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, and socio-economic status.

Exposing students to different perspectives allows them to think differently. We don’t want our students “living in a bubble” when life may be very different on the “outside.”  The world today is ever changing and the skills they learn – diversity, empathy, critical thinking – will be of value the rest of their lives.

Diversity also includes different learning styles. As teachers, we need to be culturally competent. Understand who your students are. Your students may have different abilities or come from different cultures, so recognize that they may learn in different ways.

Do you have a classroom tip you’d like to share with other teachers?

Get to know your kids – understand where they’re coming from, establish a common language and empower them to talk about things they want to learn about.    As teachers, we should always be learning (oftentimes, I’m learning from one of my students!).

What would you be doing if you weren’t in your current role today?

I’ve always thought about being a fireman, since life is about making a difference in the world, about helping someone else.