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


Designing new educational initiatives for the science classroom intends to strategically place rigor, relationships and relevance into the science curriculum emphasizing the integration of three important aspects in human development.  This new model of science education reflects a three-tier approach to learning in both primary and secondary grade levels. 

The first approach is the conduction of long-term research projects, in the science classroom, geared toward mitigating climate change and championing a belief in the pursuit of a sustainable lifestyle.  This mindset is reflected in students’ commitment to the consumption of renewable materials for new products produced and consumed within our society, to the hydroponic growth of organic foods for large urban populations and finally for a commitment to energy efficiencies as part of the lifestyles we exhibit each and every day.

 The second is the acknowledgement of providing equity in educational opportunities for female students and disenfranchised minorities groups, world-wide, signifying a commitment to increased human capacity to prosper and learn along with the economic development associated with investments in human capital and in human lives.
 The final aspect of this new model for learning science is the commitment to researching and avocation for carbon-free sources of energy. The reduction in the carbon foot print, across the board, embracing all human activities on the planet is the cornerstone of this project-based science model for learning.  This aspect brings into focus the relevance of all of these above mentioned activities, concepts and efforts within 21st century models of

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Energy and the Electric Car Project

From the Mind of a Science Teacher

By Greg Reiva

This January I plan to literally put things in motion, while exploring the dynamics of velocity, acceleration and force with my students in conceptual physics class.  Engaging students, challenge their abilities and creating value for what they learn is no easily achievable goal, but doing real science in the science classroom is achievable, relatable to students and just plain exciting. It provides the rigor, relationships and relevance essential to learning in the 21st century.

Everything we do this spring semester will fall under the umbrella of Energy.  It is one of the most challenging concepts in physics to grasp and to be able to truly relate to the world that surrounds us.  For students this is the pinnacle of understanding when exploring ideas and concepts associated with the universe and its transformation overtime.

 The true essence of the concepts of energy play a pivotal role in describing 21st century models of matter and its existence in the universe. It defines our human existence within it.  At the center of any science curriculum should be the study of the production, use and transformation of energy.  This helps students understand the majestic structure of the universe and with that our human dependence upon energy for life.

Implementing inquiry-based models of learning in the classroom, along with project-based learning opportunities provide students with the means and the motivation to do real science.  This study of energy provides an excellent opportunity for students to utilize their skills and abilities to discover relationships, define laws of physics and to understanding interdependencies of multiple sources of energy that yield sustenance each and every day.

Solar panels, wind turbines, fuel cells, hand electric generators, electric motors, gear driven systems, electric cars and mouse trap cars provide an introduction to the wealth of resources available to teachers and students. It galvanizes creative minds helping them to be more engaged and motivated to become both innovative and inquisitive.
Energy efficiencies and the transfer of energy from one source to another helps define a system’s viability and capability.  To be competent in the determination of the flow of energies is to be able to manage a system’s productivity and maximize its outputs.  The goal of any energy producing system is to provide the means to create outcomes that produce work, transfer energies and support networks of human endeavor. 

A sustainable energy producing system will minimize energy consumption while maximizing outputs.  A sustainable energy producing system will access sources of energy that are carbon-free and completely self-sustaining.  Nonrenewable energy resources are a relic of the 20th century.  Energy awareness, in the 21st century, begins with students in primary and secondary grades embracing sustainability as a way of life and working to bring this belief into their homes and into their communities.

The Electric Car Project provides teachers with the resources and pedagogy to implement inquiry-based models of learning in the science classroom.  This project builds student understanding of the physics of motion and transcends into learning opportunities that requires problem solving and critical thinking.  Students work on a wide spectrum of energy-driven vehicles utilizing many forms of energy (mechanical energy, electrical energy, solar energy, chemical energy and associated sources of energy transfers) to produce motion. 

This project is a model of learning that builds upon prior knowledge and abilities, while offering engaging challenges directed at students’ intrinsic motivation to learn.  The rigor of the project is embedded within the concepts and learned principles as part of the science curriculum. The development of relationships, during the project, is fostered within students’ increased sense of autonomy, developed self-efficacy and a renewed openness to new ideas with collaborative efforts among peers. The relevance of doing inquiry-based research, as part of a science project methodology, contributes to an ecological conservativism; this is rooting in the belief of restoring a sense of community’s self-sufficiency, development of a commitment to raising the quality of life for all members of society and creating a deepened sense of engagement to life time goals.



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lost Opportunity

For over 20 years I have toiled in the science classroom for the betterment of learning for all students.  At the end of each fall semester I always get a little melancholy when I start to compare student achievements that I witness to what I would consider as essential abilities and needed attributes.  The gap between this reality and my perception is what I call the “lost opportunity”.  This feeling that I have lost time or lost the opportunity to get my students to learn burns inside me by the end of each semester.  Even with all of the innovation, education and experience that I possess, the reality is that it still bothers me that I have missed benchmarks in achieving the level of student performance that I feel they are all capable of reaching.

The situation is akin to making an effort to redesign garden plots for plants, year-after-year, when struggling to enhance productivity and output.  But in reality, advancement in the quality that is witnessed can take on many forms and attributes.  Experts in any field of endeavor look closely at situations and realize there will always be particular nuances, unique to any situation, that support the justification of their efforts to gain productivity and quality of outcomes.

Education is a product of both the mind and of the soul of people.  Greater autonomy, self-reliance, commitment to excellence and cooperation with peers helps to describe the essence of who we are and what we are willing to believe in. These attributes, forged through this learning process, are the hallmark of what makes great learners and great citizens.  Gaps in achievement with respect to these personal qualities will negatively affect the quality of life.  Therefore as a teacher, I look at my students and I see “lives of opportunity” that await them and I have a strong  compassion to reach out to them with a sense of urgency.

The relentless pursuit of betterment in how we educate our kids, relies upon innovation that is brought forth by teachers to create learning environments that not only meet the needs of students, but also provide an impetus galvanizing their intrinsic motivation to learn.  If learning requires students to solve relevant problems in their community or their homes, then it will also require students to become more engaged and committed in school and see their efforts through to completion.  This helps to develop the self-efficacy that lies within each student. This wealth of youthful energy and ideas can be an important resource for communities of people in school or within the community at large. This is the challenge that schools face as they deliver an education for the betterment of kids. Teachers continue to build upon these efforts and help to foster loving and loveable people within a good society.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly

By Greg Reiva, Pitsco Corporation TAG Member, Teacher at Streamwood High School, Streamwood, IL

It is a fact that, given the time and motivation, students can achieve incredible feats within relatively short periods of time. For years, at school, I have witnessed student athletes, student actors, and student leaders present themselves at the highest level of performance, pushing this effort to the very edge of their abilities and rarely disappointing their audience.

Academically, this is not always the case. It is a rarity that students are able to truly draw upon their personal resources and abilities to show greatness in the science classroom. To show greatness is to be part of an event galvanizing fortitude, commitment, and personal satisfaction.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood [. . .] [I]f he fails, at least [he] fails while daring greatly [. . .]” I believe that the very act of innovative thinking, questioning conventional wisdom, and proposing new avenues of exploration and scientific investigation encapsulates the essence of daring greatly in science education.

Robert Yager, distinguished professor of science education at the University of Iowa, once compared learning science to the situation of an athlete learning the rules and mechanics of his sport. An athlete must adequately prepare both mind and body to compete. The ultimate goal is to compete. In the same vein, students in K-12 science curriculum will spend years acquiring information, knowledge, and understanding to do science. In an article Yager once cited the late Paul  Brandwein, a noted science educator and author, who believed  that the majority of students, throughout their K-12 tenure in science education, never really get to experience the intrigue of doing real science.

A revolution in science education would involve capitalizing upon the students’ human instinct to explore the natural world, proposing questions, following their instinct into new explorations, and capitalizing upon personal interest and motivation. It is not about just doing labs in science classes but letting students design their own experimental methods and assigning independent and dependent variables while testing their own hypotheses. Giving students this opportunity to dare greatly means challenging them to step out on their own and reach for a sense of accomplishment realized by innovative thought and personal perseverance.

Presented below is a brief list of a vast array of possibilities available to our students to break the traditional mold of learning in the science classroom and become inspired to dare greatly!

Mousetrap car designs, water bottle rocket construction, robotics innovations, wind turbine technologies, photovoltaic electric cars, passive solar cooker designs, fuel cell applications (as a source of carbon-free energy), scientific investigation into methods of conserving energy and preserving the environment, developing hydroponic and aquaponic organic herb and vegetable farm.
Long-term research projects, deeply embedded within the K-12 science curriculum, are an educational methodology bridging the gap between knowing and doing. Doing projects inspires students to maximize their knowledge, understanding, and experience, guiding them toward future academics and ultimately into their preferred careers.