Organizations like these frequently cite statistics which show that American students lag behind their international counterparts. For example, in the 2007 Trends in International Science and Math Study (TIMS), U.S. fourth graders placed eleventh in math and eighth in science, while U.S. eighth graders ranked ninth in math and eleventh in science. Falling behind in these areas could eventually lead to a decline in American innovation, with drastic effects on the economy. As a result, groups have recently taken a number of steps on local, regional, and national levels to improve interest and achievement in science and mathematics.
The open source community is also doing its part to improve STEM education. They've created dozens of quality open source apps that aid both teachers and researchers, raising the bar for STEM education. In addition, a number of universities and other organizations have "open sourced" the content of their curriculum, making course materials available online.
This "OpenCourseWare" is becoming increasingly popular. In fact, MIT's OpenCourseWare project alone had 9.6 million visitors in 2010, most of whom weren't otherwise associated with the university.
For this list, we collected 50 open source tools both software and other types of open source projects that are helping to improve STEM education. As always, feel free to note any significant projects we might have missed in the comments section below.
A perennial favorite, Celestia allows users to view the night skies from any point on earth at any time or to see how the sky would look from any point in the known universe. The interface is simple to use, and it uses real telescope imagery of stars, planets, asteroids, and other objects in space whenever possible. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
Stellarium is like having your own personal planetarium on your computer. In fact, it's such an accurate depiction of the night sky seen with the naked eye or simple binoculars that it's used by many planetariums. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
KStars offers the same functionality as Stellarium, plus some tools for amateur astronomers, like an observing list, FOV editor, altitude vs. time tool, and more. It comes with a default catalog of all stars up to magnitude 8, but you can expand it with a catalog of stars up to magnitude 16. Operating System: Windows, Linux.
An excellent tool for teachers, PP3 creates star charts that are detailed enough for use in PowerPoint presentations or books. Note that in order to use it, you will also need LaTeX. Operating System: Windows, Linux.
Another option for creating star charts, Cartes du Ciel uses data from 16 different catalogs. Don't let the French name scare you offthere's plenty of English documentation. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
6. Open Luna
If looking at pictures of the sky isn't good enough for you, Open Luna is an open-source project dedicated to sending actual spacecraft into space and eventually the moon. The group's first mission is scheduled to launch next month. Operating System: N/A.
DevelopSpace has an even more ambitious goaldeveloping the necessary technology to enable a one-way trip to Mars in the near future. Students and others who get involved can contribute directly to solving the technical challenges posed by a mission to Mars. Operating System: N/A.
This app makes it easy to view and explore phylogenetic trees. In case you don't know, a phylogenetic tree is a diagram that shows the evolutionary relationship between different species based on their characteristics. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
TREE-PUZZLE attempts to re-construct phylogenetic trees (see above) from molecular sequence data. The files it creates can also be viewed with TreeViewX. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
For more than 20 years, BRL-CAD has been used extensively by the U.S. military to model weapons systems. Its Web site describes it as a "cross-platform Open Source combinatorial Constructive Solid Geometry (CSG) solid modeling system that includes interactive 3D solid geometry editing, high-performance ray-tracing support for rendering and geometric analysis, network-distributed framebuffer support, image and signal-processing tools, path-tracing and photon mapping support for realistic image synthesis, a system performance analysis benchmark suite, an embedded scripting interface, and libraries for robust high-performance geometric representation and analysis." Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X, others.
This 3D CAD tool is designed for mechanical engineers and product design specialists. It currently offers modules for 3D meshes, 2D drafting, CAD part design, raytracing, drawing, and CAM. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
This software for creating 3D CAD models offers two modeling techniques: constructive solid geometry and extrusion of 2D outlines. The Web site offers extensive advice and documentation for new users, as well as links to photos of interesting objects designed with OpenSCAD. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
Most useful for architects and structural engineers, Archimedes can create both 2D and 3D designs similar to the better-known AutoCAD software. Note that while it's useable, the software is still in the early stages of development. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
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