Monday, January 01, 2018

Taking Baby Steps at 60 Years Old

Ringing in the New Year, for me, not only marks the start of a new year, but also the start of another year of living.  My birthday is January 2nd.

Some time ago, I hitched my career wagon onto the education train and have been heading down that line of track for 24 years.  Oh, the sights I have seen along this pathway and the communities and cultures I have experienced!  The beginning of a new year always gives me pause, but this year, at the 60-year mark in life, I find this reflection to be more emotional, more compelling and more focused.
I remember when I turned 40, I made a video resume of how I had ascended to where I was, and with on-camera reference to the outstanding opportunities that lie ahead. This year I am not inclined to repeat this, but I feel compelled to emotionally dig deep and discover what it is that I now truly value.

I can not imagine moving beyond this point in life without taking mental account of who I am and where it is that I go from here.  Mortality stares more astutely at me than ever before and I want to know what it is I can do to make life on this planet more fulfilling and rewarding. This is not a selfish endeavor, but a necessary means through which self-realization can be achieved even at the ripe old age of 60. 

As a teacher in the science classroom, I am a witness to budding young and inspired generations of students and mindful of the new challenges and opportunities that they will face in the modern world.  Every day is a reminder of the necessity of the struggle that we all will face, together, to create a world of exciting opportunities and achievement for all.  This belief is penned by a ”true liberal”  inspired by the evolution of new ideas and innovative solutions that support and enhance the welfare of our society.

Witnessing baby steps, as I recall from my young parenting days, was an exciting event holding an element of hazard, but at the same time it was a physical expression of progress!  Moving forward literally!  I see these events reflected in the learning taking place in the science classroom where students are increasingly challenged to use their knowledge and understanding to solve real-world problems and exhibit high levels of performance. Project-based aspect of learning is now the preferred education model that this sixty-year-old, reflecting and mortality challenging teacher, has intimately embraced as the most promising track forward.  This metaphorical train is still barreling into the future, and I continue to help facilitate students’ transition from academics (pencil and paper) to application (prototype modeling).  It is a deliciously excruciating baby-step experience as students struggle to model events mathematically and scientifically and then apply these abstractions to concrete engineered solutions.

I think that from now on life for me will be a baby-step process, like my students, moving forward as I embrace the reality of getting old, but remind myself of the need to work for progress.  Even if progress is, at times, incremental it is laced with progressive values that show empathy for people in their struggles. With personal self-realization I know I can make a difference in peoples’ lives in ways that I can only begin to imagine.  So, I am up for challenges I will face this new year and the reality of turning 60 years old. Bring it on!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Scientifically Literate Public

The ability to think critically and problem solve are key contributing factors to the development of peoples’ propensity to deal effectively with challenges faced in life.  Education, in our public schools, has no higher ideal than to prepare students to lead personally fulfilling and responsible lives.  Scientific habits of the mind, as a performance-based standard for learning, leads to individuals having the ability to solve problems that involve evidence-based decision making, quantitative considerations, logical thinking and development of an aptitude for sound judgment.

Astronaut and former middle school teacher Ricky Arnold stated the following in the current issue of NSTA Report Publication, “The only way we are going to address the very real issues that this planet is collectively facing is with a scientifically literate public. Sadly, this is a very real problem in the country that landed the first humans on the Moon.  The only way to address it is through education…as teachers we have the very unique privilege to share with our students our passion for STEM fields.”

Science literacy, as a model for learning, strives for quality of understanding over quantity of coverage and helps to develop an appreciation for the interconnectedness of the natural world to all living things.  Scientifically literate students embrace the complexities of life with a real sense of understanding.  The Framework to Next Generation Science Standards for K-12 Science Education help  deliver understanding of these complexities through curriculum based upon, practice, crosscutting concepts and core ideas. This sets the stage for an emphasis on preparing our children for a demanding and dynamic future filled with countless opportunities and immeasurable challenges.

Engineering challenges provide a learning experience and opportunity to fully engage in and deliver a performance that is closely linked to knowledge-base and understanding of science.  These challenges, embedded within a project-based model for learning science, delivers an excellent learning opportunity for students in the classroom, thereby capitalizing upon their intrinsic motivation and intense focus to solve real-world problems.

The Electric Car Project, in the physics classroom, is a hands-on and project-based model for learning allowing students to employ core concepts in science and in scientific reasoning.  This project creates for students a framework through which they can collaboratively engage in solving problems and where solutions are based on sound judgement with logical and critical thinking.

The Electric Car Project is an engineering challenge providing the opportunity for students to solve problems through redesigning of standard prototype models. The goal of the project is for students to develop an innovative approach to solving problems, while at the same time working to produce new designs that increase the level of the car’s performance.

An electric car prototype model is tested to determine its initial performance, then redesigned in a manner to increase this level of performance. The electric car has an energy source that originates in the chemistry of a battery, then is transferred into electrical energy and finally is delivered as mechanical energy to the body of the car.  The constant force generated by the spinning propeller is a direct consequence of the delivery of this final mechanical energy.  The force that is generated drives the car down a horizontal track with acceleration.

The constant force produced by a propeller creates constant acceleration motion.  The electric car moves with increasing velocity and experiences exponential changes in displacement.  The physics of motion defines the performance of the vehicle.  The performance of the electric car determines the success of the engineering design challenge.
 Students develop a method of organizing data, they define a hypothesis, they test variables and produce evidence-based solutions.  This process of scientific investigation leads to increased performance of the electric vehicles. Through investigation, students document key factors like force, acceleration, velocity and displacement, which providing evidence for their decision-making and understanding.

Participation in these learning environments require students to strive to fulfill project goals while solving problems. This process requires autonomy in thinking, reliance upon cooperative and collaborative learning to take place in the classroom and it also demands a good dose of personal intrinsic motion.  Each additional successful implementation of engineering challenges in the science curriculum helps provide a catalyst for the revolution of science education in our schools, with a renewed commitment to fully prepare our children for a robust and challenging world that they will inherit in this new century.

The engineering project begins with students constructing the original prototype model

Testing the prototype model develops a base of knowledge about the performance  of the electric vehicle.

Sophisticated analysis of the motion of the vehicle and the net forces applied by the propeller is supported by using motion sensors and force probes

Testing and analysis of vehicles sets the stage for advanced redesign of the car to significantly increase performance outcomes.

Computer analysis of data adds to the knowledge and understanding spurring creative and innovative thinking.

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Hi Shephali
I wanted to elaborate on what I published on November 12th about Project-based science in both India and in the USA.    For years I have advocated and created curriculum initiatives in science education that move progressive education reform in a direction that will benefit students well into the future years of their lives.

Like you, I have wrestled with this issue of adapting the realities of life that challenge our students and society and the delivery of learning experiences in the classroom that positively impact our students.

In the twilight of my career as an educator, I find that opportunities for our students to engage in more profound learning experiences, that dwell upon project-based models of learning, are not in general increasing.  In America with the implementation of Next Generation Science Standards, it seems to me it would be logical that this transition would favor new educational innovations that motivate and inspire learning.  But this reality has been elusive.

Today, in our schools, being a Teacher facilitator, not the sage on the stage, requires a change in the mindset of the educator.  It means that a teacher must stop rote dispensation of information during a school day and move toward the creation of learning opportunities stressing knowledge and understanding.  It can be an exhausting venture requiring intense focus upon the timely and urgent implementation of curriculum initiatives, while at the same time coordinating lab experiences that lead to students developing real-world solutions to problems we face in the world.

The Zero Waste Zone Project at K.v.bhandup school in Mumbai India (, that you have developed over the past few years, is an excellent example of the type of science project  that can help  stimulate students’ intrinsic motivation to learn.  It is a project that provides a wealth of opportunities for student to pursue and learn concepts in science.  Students come to realize their true potential as they apply knowledge and understanding to help improve society!

You need to be both fearless and driven as an educator to bring forth the best learning experience for our times.  I experience a sense of urgency to design curriculums that meets the educational needs of students. Years of experience is a great asset because you can envision the reality that your want to create in the classroom. Educational reform has positive inferences because it is tied to making thinking better.  As a master teacher I am sure you deal with the challenge of thinking out of the box and being unconventional.  Conventional wisdom in educations stresses control over learning, but if you really believe in the kids and you worry about their future, then you will give them the needed autonomy in your classroom, so they can to excel to their fullest potential.

Engineering challenges is one of the many means that I employ in class to get to the essence of learning by having students apply what they have learned to solve problems.  Challenge is expressed through redesign and improvement of prototype models.  This process inspires a focused effort by students increasing their intrinsic motivation to produce and to perform.  The world we live in is fraught with problems and crisis that will need creative and critical thought to bring forth solutions.  In our schools, students can develop these skills and abilities becoming problem solvers and ready to adapt to a changing world with its new reality.

What projects have you most recently developed to get students motivated to learn?  Masters teachers take advantage of time frames, within the curriculum, where students can apply what they have learned and produce real-world results.  For our students this is a very satisfying experience adding to their self-efficacy and becoming productive members of our society.  It is all good!

 That is why teaching has never been a job to me it is a vocation because I believe it strives beyond the sheer process that we go through in school.  It is really about the creation of a modern society.  To use a baseball metaphor, I am a teacher in the batter’s box and I must hit the fast ball to move the game along.  I am not looking to take a walk, I am swinging for the fences! I am going to do whatever it takes to move my students along in life.

Students complete the construction of a 9 feet tall hot air balloon that will utilize the force of buoyancy to accelerate up into the atmosphere with increasing velocity.

Teams of students collaborate utilizing individual skills and abilities to produce a final product.
The final product will be tested to determine its performance during flight.

Design and testing of a Pitsco catapult leads to greater understanding and interest in the physics of motion.

Students analysis the growth rate of basil plants planted in different mediums of soil.

Students work in teams to share their knowledge, understanding and experiences to solve problems in engineering.

Students engaged in experimental research developing skills, abilities and understanding to solve problems, be creative and become innovative thinkers.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Squeals and Yelps in the Science Classroom

Project-based science conducted in the physics classroom presents a measure of reform in education that is clearly recognizable from the view of the teacher.  The learning outcomes become evident as the motivation, commitment and general enthusiasm of students rise.  It is an experience that needs to be replicated in high schools across our country.

The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) presents the following description of project-based science, Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.”  They go on to say about achievement of students in science, “The experience of thousands of teachers across all grade levels and subject areas, backed by research, confirms that PBL is an effective and enjoyable way to learn - and develop deeper learning competencies required for success in college, career, and civic life.

The Pitsco Catapult Kit provides students with the resources to construct, test, analyze and redesign prototype models to improve performance.  It is an exciting way for students, studying physics, to apply concepts of two-dimensional motion with constant acceleration to the real-world performance of a catapult.

Students engaged in this investigative process are given autonomy, during the project, to explore outcomes and imagine how current constraints associated with the prototype model could be altered to render improved performance of the catapult-launched projectile. It is a time for students to take steps toward real implementation of concepts learned in physics and apply them directly to the mechanical operation of a catapult to prove a hypothesis and to accumulated evidence for conclusions.

Squeals and yelps in the classroom and hallway from students conducting their experiments is a good measure of student engagement and enthusiasm for the outcomes of their efforts.  Finally, students are able to express themselves as true investigators in an effort to produce outcomes that they have predicted would occur based upon the physics that they have learned, understand and believe. 

Student express some apprehension and concern over this application of mathematical models to experimental outcomes.  At times it seems like students are taking baby steps as they come to realize that mathematical models can help them predict outcomes and leads them toward a better process developing excellent performance-based models.  Using what has been learned in physics, to produce real-world outcomes, is one way that builds confidence and academic understanding within every student. 

Students utilize resources from the Pitsco catapult Kits to construct working catapult

Students engaged and enthused about the construction of the prototype catapult model.

Construction requires a focused effort to produce a model that can be tested to determine performance outcomes.

Launching projectiles from the original prototype model and comparing results obtained from tests conducted by the redesigned model,  help to solidify students' understanding of both the physics and engineering of the catapult and objects in motion.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Autonomy in the Science Classroom
By Greg Reiva

In the book titled Thank you for Being Late, by Thomas L. Friedman he writes, “ So at a minimum, our educational systems must be retooled to maximize these needed skills and attribute: strong fundamentals in writing, reading, coding, and math; creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration; grit, self-motivation, and lifelong learning habits; and entrepreneurship and improvisation -at every level”.
Looking down the barrel of a changing world, economically, socially and politically I reflect upon my own viability as an educator and what it is that I need to commit to and do in the classroom.  My students deserve and require, an education is that is directed toward reaching for these skills and attributes in our 21st century world.
Autonomy in the classroom is students’ perception that they can determine their own goals, intentions, and actions regarding learning.  It is an empowering situation where students take responsibility for their own learning and take this experience to the highest level and to its deepest understanding.
Designing a curriculum experience for students to choose their own direction and to pursue their own interests helps create a learning experience that leads to development of the critical skills and attributes mentioned by Thomas Friedman.  This innovative curriculum initiative is called the Climate Change Project and it is tied to current scientific research called DRAWDOWN (
Aligning student research and scientific investigation, in the classroom, to a global effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and carbon sequestration, is a fundamental aspect to bring more autonomy to students in the classroom.  Students choose to research any one of over 80 possible solutions presented in DRAWWDOWN, which have direct impact over the next 30 years in preserving the ability of our planet and to sustain life as we know it.
Working in teams, cooperating, collaborating, experimenting and presenting conclusions are components of this powerful learning experience leading to the development of real-world solutions.  Students gain tremendously from this opportunity by utilizing their knowledge and understanding of science, while developing 21st century skills and abilities to succeed in a demanding and changing world.

The template employed during this project is a model for conducting student research through implementation of the 5E method for scientific inquiry.  The book called, STEM Student Research Handbook by Darci J. Harland provides an excellent guide for educators to follow in developing their own process of autonomous learning in the classroom. The decision-making process, employed by students, includes greater responsibility to reach for goals and to cope with a multitude of avenues to solve problems.

Students are responsible to prove the validity of a solution to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and to sequester carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere.  Students design their own experiments to test their chosen solution.  The experimental outcomes provide evidence necessary to prove that the solution is vindicated.

I have created these learning opportunities, in my physics classes, for the past 3 years. Along the way, I have taken advantage of many opportunities to make changes and implement new ideas to modify this science curriculum.  These new curriculum ideas have led to the creation a more fluid transition from a traditional classroom curriculum into a progressive 21st century learning experience.  Students develop inner intrinsic motivational resources in their thinking process, and they develop abilities that will ultimately lead to greater learning and success.

Being a more autonomy-supportive teacher embraces the belief that students’ interests and efforts toward solving problems will thrive in a learning environment where students believe it as important to their lives.  Students involved in the Climate Change Project can self-regulate and investigate in a manner that lends well to their own skills and abilities. Students can now express themselves as individuals and flourish in an expression their uniqueness.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Fall in Review

For over 50 years (half a century) I have lived in the Midwest region of our country and I have experienced this transition of our environment into Fall and onto winter months.

It is a time, in the Midwest part of our country, where we adapt to profound changes in the environment and restructure our lives as we transition into winter.

I always get moody during this transitional time of year, because I remorse over the loss of summer and the warmth associated with such an explosion of life, but I know that it is a cycle of life that I am a part of, but I am still edgy over the inevitability of this change. Fall brings a refreshing perspective of what opportunities of life offer each of us as we work thorough our daily lives reconciling our existence upon this planet we call Earth.  Fall is a reminder that the course of life that we chose has its constraints and resulting outcomes, whether we accept it or not!

Fall is a time for students in our schools to engage in learning that can lead to a promising future that is welcomed by society which is ready for any contribution to save our world! These mixed aspects of Fall make it an entity that is both fleeting and essential for establishing continuity of what we become as a society.  Fall is a time to reflect on the merits of what each of us have contributed to our society and to bring forth outcomes that are additive to society’s well-being!

As winter approaches we brace ourselves for the trials of dealing with a world of increasing resistance to simple aspects like staying warm or navigating through streets of “black ice” and unexpected challenges, remorse and regrets. Winter demands resilience from each of us to face the challenges of life that define who we are and what we stand for as a society.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Food and Energy

 Science education that supports the development of students’ cognitive abilities that are needed to adapt and survive within the dynamic stability of a hotter and drier planet.

Food and energy are two of the most important fundamental influences upon our modern industrialized society. The impact they have upon the well-being of civilization, as we know it, will be profound in this 21st century.

Learning environments need to reflect the relevance (value) and the exciting opportunities (choices and control) that these challenges present in our modern world. Our modern educational system has a duty to our children to deliver learning experiences that match these critical issues that we all face as inhabitants on a changing planet.

Thomas Friedman wrote from his newest book titled, Thank you for being late,  “So, at a minimum, our educational systems must be retooled to maximize these needed skills and attributes: strong fundamentals in reading and writing, coding and math; creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration; grit, self-motivation, and lifelong learning habits; and entrepreneurship and improvisation – at every level.”

How do we begin to bring forth this level of learning to prepare our children for the dynamic stability that they will face in their lives?  A multidisciplinary approach to learning surmounts these challenges by linking the learning of science to  real-world problems and with a mindset that is multidisciplinary in its approach to fashioning solutions.  A curriculum emphasis on Food and Energy as a year-long project-based educational initiative would be the ideal learning experience preparing our children for the world that they will now face in their lifetime.

Energy is so completely encompassing it is what everything is made of and it supports the organization of all things living and inert.   We teach that energy is “the ability to produce change” and we have a great number of ways to make this change happen once we have the energy, but the fundamental issue is the resulting impact that the use of energy to support human civilization has upon the ecosystem. 

Food provides the energy for life.  Trillions of soil microbes, insects, worms and organic nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium set the stage for a rich proliferation of plants that blanket and feed our world.  Soil can facilitate the sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, provide a mechanism to efficiently store moisture and to house essential nutrient resources to facilitate the synthesis of sugars, carbohydrates and proteins, which are the building blocks of all things living in this world.

Complexity is the key word that clearly describes the reliance humankind has upon the capacity of our soils to produce food and our reliance upon abundant amounts of energy to “produce change” within a time dependent growing season.  Students need to be aware of and to think critically about the mounting complexities that we now face in a world of over 7 billion souls demanding access to increasing amounts of energy and dealing with climate changes that are altering and suppressing environmental factors that support plant growth.  Students need to have some exposure, through learning experiences at school, to the ebb and flow of these complexities that are life-giving to humankind.

Physics, chemistry and biology are the unforgiving players in the climate change experience our planet now faces. We will all " rue the day" when their laws, rules and defined outcomes play mercilessly upon our environment. Students can gain valuable insight into the effects of climate change and these laws of science if they can think creatively about the science involved.  They need to have the abilities to "play with their thoughts", their questions, proposed solutions and their “what ifs..”  
Science education in the 21st century can provide the bridge for our children into this new world of “what ifs..”