Sunday, February 07, 2016

Fight Boredom
Stop Random Acts of Excellence
Provide Intellectual Challenges Every day!

Albert Einstein once said, “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”  I believe I hear a similar chorus coming from my students in the science classroom.  For them to think and to be curious are not mutually exclusive. They long for opportunities to be able to express academic effort and achievement with some level of creativity and innovative thought.

Intellectual challenges, taxing students’ ability to perform and tied to their understanding, is fundamental to the educational opportunities provided by schools that are committed to delivering acts of excellence and increased motivation in learning.

How do you create learning experiences in the classroom for students who probe for meaning and understanding in a universe that acts upon their lives?  How is this a motivating experience for these young learners?  Get them to build cars! Get them to realize the essence of the physics of electric cars.  Show them existing and future technologies of electric cars, then let their imaginations run wild!

Students realizing and capitalizing upon their skills and abilities as problem solvers and innovators can construct and test radial new electric car designs that help them to emulate the physics impacting their lives.  To be motivated to want to know for knowing sake is what creates value within the curious minds of our students.  Engineering challenges, like the Electric Car Project within the science curriculum, plants seeds of value within creative minds and leads to students’ academic success, while building character, providing long-lasting influence and is considered relevant to their lives. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Optimal Experience

It is by no small measure to say that the most important aspect of teaching is to create a learning environment that is most conducive to students’ interests and abilities.  The goal in education is to create an optimal experience for students in the classroom that includes a sense of autonomy, exhilaration and enjoyment. 

A measure of the competency of a teacher’s pedagogy is evident by the ability to create an engaging and enjoyable balance between boredom on one hand and anxiety on the other. Performance-based engineering challenges help develop innovative learning experiences that stretch the minds of students instilling a sense of mastery, happiness and satisfaction, while delivering goal-oriented problems to solve. The challenge for teachers is to utilize their own personal talents along with classroom resources and go forth and capitalize upon the conviction that engaged students are learned students!

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “We are always getting to live, but never living.”   Education without the possibility to use what we know to solve problems and help people becomes an unfulfilled gesture. In a coordinated and systematic manner students, engaged in engineering-based projects, can unleash their skills and abilities using their knowledge and understanding to achieve performance-based results. This experience helps define a person’s character, ambition, and capability.

Engineering prototypes like a Hovercrafts, Elastic Energy Prop Racers or Catapults among a list of many similar designs, will open the doors of innovation and creativity for students.  Students develop a more personal and deeper sense of control over the outcome of their involvement in science.  Working on these prototype designs require a high level of task orientation and concentration.  The significant investment in classroom time for these projects and the benefits, realized through increased student commitment, greater sense of self-efficacy and increased academic performance, all contribute to huge dividends in learning.

Investigations into the concepts of speed, acceleration, force and energy of Hovercrafts in motion can lead to significant comprehension of scientific principles and applications into the dynamics of motion.  These scientific inquiries are the fodder for further questions and experimentation.  To apply concepts in science to real-world experience is to truly exhibit learning.  To be successful in school it is important that students have access to these types of exciting challenges and experiences.  The feedback between peers and between the teacher and students is immediate as these projects support deep personal involvement fueled by a sense of achievement of clearly stated goals and expectations.

Students made comments on their efforts to complete the project. Jessica says, “The best part was when the hovercraft actually moved!”  She also said, “Communications was built when we had to figure out how to hold everything while the glue dried and also when we figured out how to make the propeller spin.” Jordan commented on his involvement on the prototype design.  He said, “The most rewarding aspect is the improvement of force on the model.” In both cases these students reflect upon some of the challenging aspects of the project and the need to solve problems and work on solutions.  Overcomes her frustrations Bella says, “Assembling the Hovercraft was pretty interesting, though it was aggravating.”

An optimal experience in science education always provide a challenging situation for students to surmount, but at the same time it dictates the course of events. Students utilize resources and knowledge in a focused effort to solve a problem.  This is the essence of learning in the 21st century science classroom.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

                                                       HELL HAS NO FURY

The economic, political and social foundation of our country is being challenged in debates now raging across our country.  The discourse is rooted within the economic architect that defines our society. The course of change will ultimately be dictated, not by ideology, but by the laws of science, planetary boundaries and the evolution of an economic system defined more by resilience and sustainability and less by material wealth.

The simultaneous increase in world population beyond 7 billion and the rise of middle class standards of living world-wide by tens of millions of people in China and India and other third world nations have pushed demand for ecological services and resources provided by our planet Earth, each year, to nearly 1.6 Earths.  This means that to sustain our current standard of existence on this planet, human beings must have access to the regenerative ability of nearly 1.6 planets. Unfortunately we do not have 1.6 Earths to access regenerative resources from so we are destroying the future capacity of our one planet to make ends meet.  This is equivalent to accessing personal saving account money to pay current bills because income is, to say the least, lacking!  The clock is running on this deal.

The anonymous quote,” Hell has no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle” is a great characterization of the rich and corporate interests in our country and their rational for an influx of over 40 percent of all campaign dollars into the current US political process; even though this group of people represent only one-hundredth of one percent of the US population.  It is a fact that most of the economic gains achieved over the past few decades have gone to the top 1 percent of the wealthiest people in our country and only residual financial resources going into reducing poverty and supporting important middle class social programs like education, health care and infrastructure projects.

Humans are now treading upon crossing the thresholds of planetary boundaries that help to ensure our existence. Climate change, stratospheric ozone, land use change, freshwater use, biological diversity, ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorous inputs to the biosphere and oceans, aerosol loading and chemical pollution all contribute to and dictate the limits of human life on our planet. Our current economic model, promoting continued economic growth and accompanying accumulation of material wealth for a more prosperous world has played out its effectiveness on a planet that can no longer sustain this mode of existence. Vested interests in the status quo contribute to current efforts to remain on this unsustainable course until an eventual and devastating collapse.

 The common economic denominator of continued growth does not square up with the reality of life on a finite planet.  To truly address the immovable physical reality of a finite planet we need to subscribe to the idea of creating a steady-state economy, one that is marked with stability, sustainability and not beholden to continual growth and expansion.

The reality we need to create is a quality of life that emanates from a living environment that produces increasing prosperity but not at the detriment of our planet.  Shared concern and shared resources become the norm as citizens devote more time to community and to taking more responsibility for the well-being of fellow citizens. If these motivations can become mainstream then the trajectory of how we live can turn toward creating sustainable communities that seek to fulfill the needs of all its citizens.

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.