Wednesday, June 06, 2018

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” 
Mahatma Gandhi

design, develop, and implement

At the end of a school year one can look back on the process that dictates education in our public schools and from this retrospective position get a clear sense of the events that were brought forth and that fashioned the learning in the classroom.

Over the past decade business associates and education officials, I have been associated with, have been impressed with the increasing cultural diversity within our schools.  In the 21st century, diversity has become central to what constitutes our public schools. Racial and ethnic diversity along with divergent social economics are critical factors determining culture within learning environments.  Academic gains, in the new century, depend upon education professionals reconstructing the goals, means and ends that are empathetic to a changing world.

Today, this process of learning becomes a cluster of diverse procedures employed by educators around the acquisition and utilization of knowledge.  Twenty-first century capabilities include the following: abilities to form evidence-based perception of situations, delivering effective communication skills, loving and supporting peers, implementing critical decision-making abilities, effective problem-solving skills, perform creative innovative thought and support and uphold values that define our democratic institutions. Education professionals, working to make our learning institutions viable into the future, must cast a weary eye upon existing avenues or entrenched methods to deliver this opportunity to learn.  If learning is at the core or what schools are all about, then a restructuring of how we deliver learning opportunities must be addressed.

Teaching students to learn how to learn are achievable goals for students in classrooms, while capitalizing upon cultural diversity of student populations.  The structure of learning institutions, like our schools, need to lend well to the development of these 21st century abilities by students.  Project-based models in learning bring maximum flexibility to this effort of moving forward with instructional priorities.  Open-ended process orientated curriculum (Project-based models of learning) is readily adaptable to these diverse student populations.  Being adaptable to alternative settings, brought about by open-ended curriculum models, will motivate and engage students in more divergent means.  It will lead to creating learning environments that promote utilizing prior knowledge and experience in ways to help solve problems and lead to greater understanding.

Getting tools for decision-making into the hands of students is fundamental to developing, redesigning and implementing learning experiences that are experimental and linked closely to the needs of local communities and society at large.  To put real value back into learning experiences is to design schools where students can help to fulfill the needs and provide support for members of their community.  Student will begin to see their influence and how they can support both the cultural aspects and situational needs of the world they live in.

Each new school year provides new opportunities for educators to become more dynamic in their thinking of how to get students to achieve these 21st century skills and abilities that will be so important for success in their lives.  Reflecting now on what has been done is a good starting point to help eventually bring real change to our schools by making them more student-centered, supportive and academically viable for all of our children.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Designing a Mini Greenhouse 
An engineering challenge

The purpose of this engineering challenge involves research, investigation, design and construction to help maximize thermal energy contained within a plant growing system given a constant source of light radiation.

The transfer of light radiation into thermal energy, surrounding a growing plant, can be control through the design and construction of a plant housing unit that provides greater insulation ability than a standard plastic unit current employed in the classroom.

The design of a mini greenhouse is limited to the size of plants and the area covering a flat surface.  Materials used in this design needs to be a good insulator resisting the transfer of thermal energy through surfaces.

The physical dimensions (circle, square, triangular hexagonal and parabolic) and the sturdiness of material (cardboard, plastic, paper ceramic) can be utilized to maximize thermal energy retention.

Research on the design of mini greenhouses helps to spur innovative thought and development of ideas witnessed online.  You can modify a known design or create a new design based upon experience in physics and knowledge base.

It is important to be conscientious of the limitations or constraints that you face when designing mini greenhouses.  The size of the greenhouse and its ability to be integrated into existing environmental conditions, is a critical aspect of this engineering challenge.

The engineering design process:

ASKWhat is the problem? How have others approached it? What are your constraints?
IMAGINEWhat are some solutions? Brainstorm ideas. Choose the best one.
PLANDraw a diagram. Make lists of materials you will need.
CREATEFollow your plan and create something. Test it out!
IMPROVEWhat works? What doesn't? What could work better? Modify your design to make it better. Test it out!

Students access a wealth of material resources and begin construction on new plant growth systems that are expected to increase thermal energy within plant housing units during germination. 

Students are engineering a new mini greenhouse that traps  greater amounts of thermal energy within the plant housing unit.  The original prototype model, featured above, poorly insulates the environment around germinating seeds.

After completing the imagine and planning stages of the engineering process, students begin to create their new mini greenhouse based upon specific design considerations and constraints.

Students turn paper and pencil design into reality.  They imagine the possibilities and then implement practical applications to solve a problem.  The success of this project is dependent upon the heat retention ability of newly designed mini greenhouses.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Fundamental Learning
 in the science classroom
by Greg Reiva

Quality, quantity, rich content and engaging student performance has been my passion, aspiration and vocation, as a science educator,  for many years. 

Student writing ability, articulation, focus and commitment on quality and completeness, during the learning process, are benchmarks that I strive to bring forth from the genesis of my science curriculum.
This school year I have committed to increase student autonomy, where students work toward taking greater responsibility for their own learning.   This is witnessed as students become more engaged in research, experimentation and problem solving.  These are skills and abilities that students need to develop within themselves so they can become more successful in school and in the workplace.

Project-based science, geared toward solving real problems, is an essential and critical framework for any curriculum that helps to facilitate learning.  Working in teams, students determine different options or pathways to proceed as they pursue effective solutions.  Students will formalize ideas, innovate, develop rational and logical arguments and help support evidence-based problem solving. These efforts in research, experimentation, critical assessment and engaging presentation of results provide the gateway to knowledge and understanding.

Autonomy in the science classroom becomes more evident as decision-making by students become evidence-based facilitated through experimental design, prioritizing data and focusing upon relevant details to minimize experimental error.  Reliability and predictability of experimental findings take on a pressing need by students to succeed, which reflects their personal commitment and their developed skills and abilities in critical thinking.

Autonomy in the classroom is a catalyst for innovation.  Students become more engaged, think deeply about concepts, problems and possible solutions and develop a sense of urgency to be able to rationalize their findings which are support by experimental fact-finding effort. 

 Students construct hot air balloons to study the force of buoyancy upon lighter-than -air-ships.

Students test in the hallway the motion of propeller driven electric cars.

Constructed prototype electric car model.

Working collaboratively, students complete construction of catapults.

 Students testing the thermal energy absorption ability of carbon dioxide gas
 Experimental apparatus designed for the testing of greenhouse gases
Cooperative efforts to complete construction of catapults used to test the velocity, acceleration and force applied to projectiles.
Understanding the physics of motion and the transfer of energy from electrical to mechanical energy and ultimately into the kinetic energy of motion.

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.