Thursday, November 12, 2015



As of November 1st, both students and teachers are well into the 2015-2016 school year, with students now well-versed as to what is expected of them to be successful this year in the classroom.  Teachers more clearly understand students’ aptitude and self-efficacy and these are great indicators of academic performance.  The learning curve for students can be steep, but it is now giving way to developing 21st century skills and abilities. Learning has become an ongoing process requiring deeper and deeper levels of complex thought and commitment.  The genius in the classroom is reflected in students’ self-motivation helping them to commit to a sustained effort for the entire school year.

Students want to be challenged as a prerequisite to learning.  They must feel that their effort is valued and that it has meaning.  The genius of motivation, commitment, creativity and innovation manifests itself within learning environments that are encapsulated within projects. Projects bring to the learner   a high level of relevance. Students become more motivated when embracing these opportunities and they tend to feel more confident in their own abilities and in the efforts that they create through cooperation with partners, in groups or as a class.

Projects reach for high goals.  Project outcomes are determined in a large part by the proactiveness of students’ own innovative thinking, curiosity and rational thought.  Students become more incline to push the boundaries of what is expected of them and they become more intrinsically motivated to perform. 

The Earth Stewardship Project at Streamwood High School creates this kind of inspiring learning environment that tugs at the curiosity within students to ask questions and seek greater understanding.  It upends basic assumptions and leads students into a learning experience that is open-ended, full of inquiry and easily modified through innovative thought.  Growing plants, sustainably, while utilizing recycled waste products from worm farms and fish aquariums, along with creating hydroponic growing mediums challenge conventional wisdom opening doors to new ways of thinking and new ways of living. It is one example of the learning process working outside the boundaries of traditional science curriculums and at the same time bathed in real-world outcomes. 






Friday, August 07, 2015

 Soil as a Sink for Carbon

The sequestration of carbon in Earth’s soil as a means to mitigate the carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere.

Judith D. Schwartz - Yale Environment 360- 04 Mar 2014: Analysis

“Through photosynthesis, a plant draws carbon out of the air to form carbon compounds. What the plant doesn’t need for growth is exuded through the roots to feed soil organisms, whereby the carbon is humified, or rendered stable. "

"Carbon is the main component of soil organic matter and helps give soil its water-retention capacity, its structure, and its fertility.”

“An important vehicle for moving carbon into soil is root, or mycorrhizal, fungi, which govern the give-and-take between plants and soil. According to Australian soil scientist Christine Jones, plants with mycorrhizal connections can transfer up to 15 percent more carbon to soil than their non-mycorrhizal counterparts. The most common mycorrhizal fungi are marked by threadlike filaments called hyphae that extend the reach of a plant, increasing access to nutrients and water. These hyphae are coated with a sticky substance called glomalin, discovered only in 1996, which is instrumental in soil structure and carbon storage." 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises land managers to protect glomalin by minimizing tillage and chemical inputs and using cover crops to keep living roots in the soil.”

                     bolstering soil microbiology by adding beneficial microbes to stimulate the soil cycles where they have         been interrupted by use of insecticides, herbicides, or fertilizers
        When we have erosion, we lose soil, which carries with it organic carbon, into waterways.

     When soil is exposed, it oxidizes, essentially burning the soil carbon.
          bringing carbon back into soils has to be done not only to offset fossil fuels, but also to     feed our growing      global population. "We cannot feed people if soil is degraded,"
       The top priorities are restoring degraded and eroded lands, as well as avoiding deforestation and the            farming of peatlands, which are a major reservoir of carbon and are easily decomposed upon drainage         and cultivation.
         Many scientists say that regenerative agricultural practices can turn back the carbon clock, reducing               atmospheric CO2 while also boosting soil productivity and increasing resilience to floods and drought.

Physical Science and the state of matter in the universe

Soil Project Learning Goals

Soil composition, function and vitalityResearch and Analysis

·             Soil ability to hold water
     Soil ability to transfer water
    Soil nutrients
   Soil containing different amounts of air space
   Soil density
                 Soil humas

Soil Project Objectives

1.      Describe the physical nature and composition of soil

2.      Recognize that soils can vary in their composition

3.      Describe where soil nutrients come from and its chemistry

4.      Understand that soil is living and dynamic

5.      Recognize plants role in taking up nutrients from soil

6.      Appreciate the carbon cycle and its influence upon the vitality of soil

7.      Understand soil’s role in the sources-to-sink energy cycle in nature

Describe, recognize, understand and appreciate: Project-based research learning goals

Soil Project information resource link:

Energy as a Source

Scientific investigation into the production of nonpolluting and renewable sources of energy.  Inquiry into the transfer of renewable sources of energy into electricity, light, heat and work.

The destruction of renewable resources within the planetary ecosystems is a result of human activities that in many ways is the consequence of arrogant disrespect for nature and doing so for the sole purpose of material distraction and fleeting satisfaction.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report, published in 2004, commissioned by the United Nations to analyze the state of the global environment, and worked on by over 1300 scientists world-wide, reflect their findings in the published statement presented below.
“Human activities is putting such a strain on the actual functions of the Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystem to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.”

Listed below are some of these consequences that humanity faces as a result of burning nonrenewable fossil fuels as a prime source of energy.  This unsustainable consumption of nonrenewable resources are producing threats to our food supplies, causing soil degradation, changing weather patterns, causing the overuse of renewable resources (overshoot), diminishing access to fresh water, creating loss of planetary biodiversity, collapsing aquatic ecosystems,  increasing disease, raising the level of the oceans along with its acidification, melting of the world’s glaciers that provide fresh water for multi-millions  of people and the now constant threat of drought and unimaginable wild fires crossing the landscape.

Through knowledge, research, a caring attitude and common sense students can begin to complete the scientific inquiry necessary to become stewards of our planet.  The study of physics, chemistry and biology provide students with the basic understanding to be inquisitive, ask questions, study energy producing systems and become problem solvers.

 The study of alternative sources of energy, to meet the physical needs of billions of people on the planet, is the big challenge facing humanity in the 21st century.  Students in physical science and physics classes have the opportunity to contribute their abilities, skills and understand to help solve this problem. Working to produce a sustainable future, while helping to save our only planet, is the noble calling for the 21st century. 

Students immersed in project-based models of learning are motivated and engaged in the rigor and the relevance of developing environmentally sustainable solutions to these complex and cross-disciplinary issues.  They explore, investigate, experiment and implement solutions related to the issue of developing renewable sources of energy and ultimately the efficient transformation of these sources to meet the needs of our societies.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sources and Sinks
The quest to integrate climate change into
Science education at Streamwood High School

Throughputs are the continuous flow of energy and material needed to keep people, cars, houses and factories functioning.  Limits are the rate of extraction of source or resources for productivity and the absorptive capacity, sinks, of the world to process waste.

From the 30 year updated edition of the book, Limits to Growth by Meadows, Randers and Meadows, they issued this response, “The throughputs flows presently generated by the human economy cannot be maintained at their current rates for very much longer”.  Their findings concluded the following, “The current high rates of throughputs are not necessary to support a decent standard of living for all of the world’s people”.

“The ecological footprint could be reduced by lowering population, altering consumption norms, or implementing more resource-efficient technologies.  Humanity has the knowledge necessary to maintain adequate levels of final goods and services while reducing greatly the burden on the planet.  In theory there are many possible ways to bring the human ecological footprint back down below its limits.”

The study of science produces, for students, an understanding of the fundamental aspects of energy and its many, varied and multidisciplinary conceptual frameworks (biology, chemistry, physics environmental science and geology) supporting our perception of the world that we inhabit.  Climate change is driven by all these scientific determinants and more!  Social and economic consequences will also powerfully influence the outcome associated with climate change and its impact upon the habitability of our planet for all humankind.

Climate change, in the science curriculum, presents a challenge for students to utilize their conceptual understanding of the many disciplines of science and to think cross-disciplinary to solve problems.  The problems associated with climate change are multidisciplinary and it will take a multifaceted approach as a solution to the reduction of the human ecological footprint on the planet Earth.

The Physics and Chemistry of Climate Change

The science of climate change guides the changes we now experience such as the following disruptive forces: rise in atmospheric temperatures, water shortages, food shortages, rising sea water, rapid extinction of species, destruction of rainforests, melting polar ice caps and the relentless acidification of oceans.

How many degrees of centigrade can we allow the average global annual temperature to rise above the Pre-Industrial level?

To achieve a 2 degrees of warming of the atmosphere, then the carbon dioxide concentration cannot exceed 450 part per million. This will still leave us with wide spread shortages of food, rising sea levels and dramatic increases in extreme weather like the droughts in California.
The chance of looming runaway global warming, which collapses human societies, is still 20 percent ( 1 in 5) even after this target is met.The solution is to reduce the level of heating to less than 1 degree of warming.This is achieved with a carbon dioxide concentration of around 350 parts per million in the atmosphere.

For the next 100 years we must remove 6 Gigatons  ( 6 billion tons) of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year through bio-engineering initiatives, new renewable technologies and through more efficiency built into the energy system.  By 2023 we would see a 50 percent reduction in emissions and by 2100 a 100 percent reduction.

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany (PIK): If we want to reduce the risk of exceeding the 2 degree warming of the atmosphere from carbon dioxide pollution, then we must not exceed the limit of 890 billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution emitted between the years 2000 and 2050.

"Put another way: humanity can only afford to burn and vent less than one quarter of known oil, natural gas and coal reserves. Already, between 2000 and 2006, the world emitted roughly 234 billion metric tons of CO2—and roughly one third of the total trillion metric ton "budget" has already been spent to date. "We can burn less than a quarter of known economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves between now and 2050," says co-author and climatologist William Hare, also of the PIK. "Not much at all of coal reserves can be burnt and still keep warming below the 2 degree [C] limit."

Sources and Sinks

From the book, Limits of Growth by Meadows, Randers and Meadows, they make the following assessment, “Streams of material and energy flow from the planetary sources through the economic subsystem to the planetary sinks where waste and pollutants end up.”

“There are limits to the rates at which the sources can produce and the sinks absorb these flows without harm to people, the economy, or the earth’s processes of regeneration and regulation.”
“Any activity that causes a renewable resource stock to fall, or a pollution sink to rise, or a non-renewable resource stock to fall without renewable replacement in sight, cannot be sustained.”

Embedding the study of climate change into the curriculum will help to underpin the very nature of what science is to our society.  It is the basic understanding of the world we inhabit.
Paul Gilding author of the book, The Great Disruption, makes the following assessment, “Any analysis of the state of the world’s capacity to support human society must be based on the physical sciences--measurement and trend analysis of actual physical activity based on our understanding of physics, biology and chemistry.”

The integrity of our current system of sources and sinks is being compromised by  unsustainable growth.  Currently human inhabitants are sustained by overshooting the planet’s capacity to provide resources and process waste by 140 percent!  Given continual tends along this unsustainable path of existence, our societies will overshoot the planet’s capacity to support humankind by 560 percent come the year 2053.

The science dictates that this is not going to happen.  

Collapse is inevitable. If you understand the science then you are more likely to address this problem and design effective solutions.  Without the knowledge and understanding of our world that science can bring to you,  then the chances for the survival of the human species on  Earth is greatly diminished.

It is imperative that the challenges of climate change be integrated into our science curriculum at all levels and in all disciplines.  We must embark upon the quest to confront the science of climate change face to face in a logical and thoughtful manner.  There is only one planet Earth not 1.4 or 2 or even 6.  Just one.  We have to reign in the overcapacity, the overshoot that is an inevitable consequence of the current system.

Monday, March 23, 2015


   Today I watched an interview on CNN with Nancy Artwell the recipient of the million dollar global teaching award. During the discussion she said that she would encourage creative, imaginative and enthusiastic young people to enter the private sector of employment and not public school teaching.

      Her rational is that the extreme emphasis on common core standards and the corollary testing that partners this effort results in teachers becoming technicians that merely facilitate the implementation of curriculum instead of designing imaginative learning environments that meet the unique needs of their students in their classroom.

      Teachers are increasingly being denied the opportunity, in their classroom, to become the professional educator that they have studied in college and worked thereafter to accomplish.  Teachers are being compelled by school administrators to implement what administrators deem as appropriate methodologies and strategies to get our students to learn, without mutual collaborative input with teachers into the design of this process.

     In Chicago, this spring, at the National Science Teachers’ Convention, I found myself immersed within a sea of new climate-change curriculum ideas, innovative science research technologies and introduced to volumes of big data from satellites.  This is the kind of collaborative experience, with my peers nation-wide, that helps me to reevaluate my science curriculum in my school and motivates me to implement new science project initiatives that will galvanize students to learn to love doing science.

     At the convention I began to wonder if this innovation in the classroom can be sustained.  For too long it has been up to the individual teachers or small groups of teachers to put out the effort and address innovation in the classroom head-on.  For too long it is has been more of an altruistic effort by individual teachers within schools to change curriculum to meet the needs of students and prepare them for the challenges they face in the 21st century.

      Today there is marginal investment by school districts to fund the needed curriculum initiatives that can deliver increased academic achievement in the classroom for all students.  Districts maligned with meeting state mandates, implementing new testing strategies and squeezing budgets along with reducing faculty and staff do not address critical aspects of learning.  The assault upon the profession of teaching continues as more and more top-down education programs relegate teachers to the position of merely proctors of a process.

     Educators, like myself, holding time-honored ideals of commitment and perseverance in education continue to work to deliver inspired and relevant learning opportunities for our students in a 21st century classroom.  This effort by teachers has become a heavy lift and it will be difficult to sustain without more district support.  If more support for cutting-edge curriculum initiatives is not put forth by school districts for teacher-centered ideas, then the learning process in the classroom will cave into the technical application of prescribed standards-based curriculum along with their corollary testing.

     It is disappointing to me that after 20 years of avocation for innovation and cutting-edge curriculum initiatives in the science classroom and for decades attending many of the largest gatherings of science educators in the world, that I now feel a sense of watching an era in education coming to a close.  Project-based and real-world applications being sidelined in favor of prescribed uniform pedagogy along with standards-based curriculum and district-wide testing and evaluation. The new generation of technician teachers will suite district purposes more appropriately from here on and with perceived greater district-based efficiency.  I do not know where the learning in the classroom goes to in all of this, but I suspect that it too will becoming a relic.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Nature Gets Last Bats


The title of this blog reminds me of a time when I first heard this metaphor used in relation to climate change from Guy McPherson a noted physics professor from the University of Arizona.  He uses this expression in conjunction with his avocation of the damaging environmental effect of human generated carbon footprint upon the planet Earth.

When I was a kid we played some sandlot baseball in the neighborhood. The invocation of someone touting, “we get last bats”, always gave me an uneasy feeling.  That meant that once we arrive at the end of the game,  I would no longer have any recourse to address what might happen on the field that last and final inning of play. I would not be up to bat again.

To hear Dr. MrPherson refresh that old saying in the context of climate change did again stir those old feelings of agitation, but the reality that I am considering  is not the outcome of a baseball game.  It is now the questionable outcome of the human species continual existence upon Earth.

I have spent the last three weeks, in my physics classes, helping students understand the design and interpretation of energy models and equations that adhere to the laws of physics, which define the conservation of energy within closed systems, like our planet.  My students have been given the opportunity to assess their own carbon footprint and to ponder the ramifications of over 150 years of steady and continuous growth of carbon dioxide gas concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere.  Articles, information, videos and discussions in the classroom have laid the groundwork for students to now define how they interpret the problem and to marshal up their own thoughts of solutions.

This generation of high school students sit at the forefront of a changing planet.  They are the recipients of a world that has been harnessed to support the livelihood of over 7 billion people.  It is a world that is adjusting to a new balanced energy situation where energy inflow = energy outflow but at a more highly energized state.  We have created a state of existence on this planet that has never been attempted in the history of humankind.  It is a grand and all-encompassing experiment, to change the world’s climate, but the near-term outcome of such an intrusion upon the globe is uncertain.

Nature gets last bats is expressed by the numerous feedback occurrences that help to amplify the already escalating changes being witnessed with respect to how the Earth heats and cools itself. These feedback effects, once awaken through rising global temperatures, will forever unleash the following unstoppable processes: The melting of the polar ice caps, planetary heat absorption by newly exposed blue oceans, the melting of the permafrost across Siberia, Canada and Alaska and resulting release of megatons of global warming methane gas and the intensified evaporation of water from the oceans into the atmosphere that further trap heat within this closed system we call Earth.

This next generation of people, now high school students, will determine the destiny of humankind. They have been given the improbable situation of curtailing carbon emissions in time to secure a future for people on this planet well into the next century.  Current average global temperatures have risen by nearly one degree (0.8degree Celsius) over the past 100 years.  Dr. Steven Chu former Energy Secretary for the Obama Administration said that we cannot go beyond a 2 degrees temperature rise.  “We cannot go there.”  It is an overwhelming responsibility for these young people to address this  in their lifetime.  I hope they have the fortitude to address this challenge head on by enacting social policies, muscling the political will and engaging citizens of our planet in the struggle to save the Earth as we know it. It will require this generation of people to muster the courage to commit to the struggle, stay the course and prevail.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Designing Educational Models for Learning Science

Embracing the Realities of the World in the 21st Century

By Greg Reiva, Streamwood High School, Streamwood, IL

Designing new educational initiatives, through project-based models for learning strategically places rigor, relationships, and relevance into the science curriculum and emphasizes the integration of three important aspects in human development; critical thinking, creativity and cooperation. Project-based models for learning science can be achieved through a three-tier pedagogical approach to education in both the primary and secondary grade levels. 

Initially, long-term research projects in the science classroom, investigating the problems and solutions needed to mitigate climate change helps students to develop scientific investigative abilities that will help them to champion sustainable ways of living their lives.  This problem solving mindset motivates students’ to engage and embrace a commitment to the consumption of renewable resources, to the development of hydroponic systems to grow food, and to energy efficiency as a means to reduce both demand for energy and greenhouse gas emissions.

The second approach to learning acknowledges the need to provide equity in the educational opportunities provided for both female students and disenfranchised minorities groups in our schools. Project-based learning is an educational investment into a commitment to increase the human capacity of our children to learn and to prosper in the 21st century. Therefore, project-based models for learning become the means to create a differentiated science curriculum that will appreciate and capitalizes upon the abilities, talents and skills that all students bring with them to school every day.

The final aspect of project-based models for learning is the commitment to the research and avocation for the development of carbon-free sources of energy. This effort, to reduce the carbon footprint across the board, embraces all of humanity.  It is the epicenter of new and dynamic 21st century science curriculum initiatives that tap into new teaching strategies and methodologies, new technologies and a greater awareness and understanding of brain development and how students learn. This focus upon energy and its transformation into light, heat and work is addresseed through a cross-disciplinary methodology that promotes deep understanding and commitment to solving problems in the science classroom.  This educational experience provides the rigor and resiliency that students need as they adapt and develop to becoming inquisitive and learned problem solvers.