Thursday, March 27, 2014

IEARN and the Collaborative Effort to Feed the Hungry

By Greg Reiva

As long as I can remember students in my science classes have always sought the attention that goes along with making friends, being a part of a group or a club and expressing what they believe in as individuals.  This is what young people do as they build their self-confidence, become more autonomous and expressing the values of what they believe in.

For high school students these relationships between peers dominate their lives and it defines the environment in school.  Sometimes, it is these relationships, alone, that are the prime determinant as to whether students are motivated in school and decide if they participate or not in the learning going on while in class. Their connections to friends or networks of interesting people have never played a more dramatic influence in the lives of youth than it does today with access to multiple sources of technology and many avenues of social media.

I got involved with the iEARN System (International Education and Resource Network) as a means to tap into students’ natural tendencies to explore and foster new relationships.  As an educator I find that providing the opportunity for students to collaborate and to solve real-world problems is the most meaningful thing that a teacher can offer to students.  The iEARN System delivers a world of needed opportunities for students and it lends to the development of many important personal attributes such as openness to new ideas, effective communication skills, critical thinking skills, creativity and intellectual curiosity.  At the core of student performance is their intrinsic motivation to learn.  It is based upon factors such as challenging curriculum, goal oriented achievement, positive feedback, opportunities to try and fail and try again and taking the opportunity to showcase their results to their peers, teachers and members of the community.


The Hunger Project, facilitated by Larry Levine of and embraced by teacher Marzieh Abedi and her high school Hunger Warriors students of Tehran, Iran are examples of a collaborative process where students are motivated to solve problems.  Sophomore female students in my physical science classes, at Streamwood High School, collaborated with seven Iranian students in a joint mission to raise awareness and help fight hunger in their communities. The goal is to take action helping to alleviate some of the problems that prevent families from gaining access to proper nutrition.  It is a noble effort by the students and it awakens their intrinsic motivation to want to work toward making a difference in peoples’ lives in their own community.
Students in Iran designed and implemented a food festival that provided community members the opportunity to learn about the issue of hunger becoming involved in the purchase of home-made food items.  This contributes to helping solve the problem of hunger in Tehran by getting members of the community active in a united effort.  At the same time students at Streamwood High School continue to grow healthy herbs and vegetables in the science classroom. This nutrient-rich organic produce will be sold at a farmers market.  Money earned will be donated to the community local food shelf.  These students have spent time and effort researching and experimenting to solve the problem of growing sustainable organic herbs and vegetables.  They have discovered that urban farming is a viable solution to the problem of reducing hunger in their community.  These innovative groups of students from opposite sides of the planet share the same goals and they hold common values with respect to their commitment to helping people.  This collaborative effort of sharing ideas, resources, and providing effort to reach each other’s goals is part of a noble experiment that I call Earth Stewardship.

During the food festival in Tehran the Iranian students shared with their peers the ideas, pictures and brochure designed by the collaborating Americans.  The Americans are utilizing the ideas and food festival format, designed by the Iranians, to create their own food festival in Streamwood and showcase their organic farm produce for the community.  The ideas and friendships developed during the project flow freely between each country and it is a heart-warming experience for students to connect with peers across the world on such important issues like hunger.

Long-term sustained efforts by students, working on projects related to hunger, environmental pollution or social awareness, are now defining what learning is in the 21st century.  Educational environments dictated by content and test-driven means of learning are being rejected and replaced by project-based models of learning.

The Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core Curriculum are setting the stage for the emergence of performance-based educational methodologies.  World-wide these new and innovative means, designed to deliver learning opportunities for our children, are taking hold and reshaping how we define what is now considered excellence in the classroom.

This new way of learning challenges traditional held beliefs of how students learn.  It redesigns the classroom experience and ignites the intellectual curiosity of the entire learning community.  Rigor and relevance in the classroom looks more like problem-solving challenges and collaborative experience with students from throughout the world.


Delivering rigor and relevance to our students in our schools is being achieved by the collaborative and problem-solving nature of projects-based learning.  This is the beginning of an educational renaissance that is sweeping the planet.  Throughout the world teachers and students are embracing international collaboration to help students develop relationships, connect with peers, share experiences and work toward making a better life for everyone on the Earth.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

The divided classroom doing science

The third quarter of the school year begins with splitting the class of students down the middle. The result being is the boys on one side of the room and girls on the other side.  It requires a level of directness from the teacher, but in the end the class settles along lines of gender.  This provides for an opportunity, during this school year, to do things different.  It is an opportunity to get students to further embrace the rigor and relevance when doing science and to value what is accomplished in the classroom.

The boys begin by prototyping mechanically driven cars, designing new innovations and testing performance outcomes.  The girls work on implementing research into the growth of organic herbs and vegetables looking for ways to maximize outputs.  These learning outcomes, aligned for all of the students, help develop their abilities to work cooperatively, think critically, study concepts in science and creatively imagine outcomes as a result of their increased understanding and experience.  These projects are bold educational initiatives that give students more autonomy in the science classroom along with opportunities to increase their self-efficacy as learners in the 21st century.

Providing motivating factors that get students engaged as active learners becomes a central emphasis in the science curriculum.  The goal is to create a learning environment where students take ownership in doing science, which results in an enhanced learning experience.  The project outcomes are clearly defined and challenging for the students.  It provides them with the means by which problem-solving methods are cooperatively showcased and shared.

Working in teams, the girls define new experimental designs that investigate independent variables necessary to stimulate and enhance the growth of plants.  Students work toward the goal of increasing the growth and vitality of organic herbs and vegetables.  The clarity of the outcomes that need to be accomplished helps students to focus upon both the physical resources needed and their own capacity to solve problems.  With nearly a school year of experience working with growing plants and producing organic fertilizers, these students come well prepared to initiate their own inquiry-based research.  It is the culminating effort by students supported by a year of study in both areas of physics and chemistry.



The boys continue their investigative process of building and testing mechanically powered vehicles. When building working prototype car models from material provided by engineering-based science resources, these students utilize their skills and abilities to think critically and creatively while working cooperatively in teams to solve problems.  The challenge to build, test and analyze the car performance provides the means by which students learn science.  Students work toward accomplishing performance based outcomes, and they are focused and engaged in a learning process that is ultimately visualized as functioning models of cars.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Collaborating with the Iranians


It is 21st century learning at its best.  It has provided opportunities for students to meet with other students, exchange ideas and life-experience with peers from throughout the world.  It is the iEARN (International Education and Resource Network ) System and it is an extraordinary educational initiative that has been implemented in the science classroom at Streamwood High School in Streamwood, Illinois.

Since November students in the physical science classes have been emailing and creating postings on the youth forum within the iEARN System.  It has been an exciting adventure for the students to communicate with other high school students from the city of Tehran in the country of Iran.


This increasingly close relationship is transforming into a collaborative effort to share the cultures of two groups of students from opposite sides of the Earth. This has become a united effort to help raise awareness and support for the plight of hungry people in our two societies.

On Monday February 24th the student group called Hunger Warriors are hosting a Food Festival in Tehran and sharing the results of their efforts and commitment to fulfilling the needs of societies’ less fortunate.  Their idea is to rally community support and commitment to raise money and purchase foods for the needy in their community.

At Streamwood High School our students are supporting this effort by contributing ideas and solutions to this problem by way of showing examples of urban farming that can be tailored to local community resources. The collaborative outcome that is hoped for is that Streamwood High School students can learn from the successful effort of these Iranian students and implement similar programs here within our community.


Organized thoughtful commitment to project outcomes which have real-world implications for people in the community is the hallmark of a learning experience that has the rigor and relevance to entice the intrinsic motivation of all our students. Being able to communicate ideas and outcomes on meaningful projects to peers throughout the world has the potential to change the educational landscape of how students learn and what our expectations are for student contributions to a great society.


Monday, February 17, 2014


Today on this nation-wide Presidents Day Celebration, Chicago is again getting pounded with heavy snowfall, but inevitably these winter days on the calendar will melt away! The steady progression toward springtime has begun!  So has the drive to prepare for the final stages of the Earth Stewardship Project at Streamwood High School.

In the science classroom teams of girls work for days on harvesting vermicompost from worm farms, seeding plants and transferring grown plants into new soil mediums.  There is a whimsy of spring in the air and even the harsh reality of a late winter snowstorm cannot impede this feeling of change!

Teams of girls working together on long-term research projects helps provide a nucleus of intrinsic motivation that is fashioned into students’ performance and learned outcomes.  It is almost like turning a key in a car, students jump at the opportunity to work on concrete proposals and they seek to understand and try to lead the way into new ideas and new insights that is a direct result of their new experiences.  They are motivated to find ways to make the outcomes of these projects better and the designed goals of the projects match such aspirations. The process of working on projects provide these key important conditions that foster learning for female students:  Immediate feedback on their efforts, open discussion of new ideas, a chance to get involved, make mistakes, and continue to make effort to move forward on scientific investigations.  It is a great learning opportunity for the development of the skills and abilities needed to be successful in life.

Diverse teams of girls, 3 to 4 students to a group, seize this opportunity by gathering data, setting up new experimental methods, harvesting nutrients from worm farms and preparing new plants for experimentation.  The girls realize that they have a chance to show their potential by completing tasks at hand related to the scientific investigations.  They are clear with respect to the expectations, but they are challenged to add their own insights as to how to improve upon this effort.  There are strong elements of cooperation, openness to others and a sense of autonomy that helps to inspire and motivate these students to take on new challenges and initiatives by taking control of their own learning. 

In these long-term research science projects, the goals can sometimes become overarching.  It can be multifaceted, with the relevance of the project outcomes based upon knowledgeable and rational judgment.  The rigor of the effort that is put into the projects are directly related to the value students derive from them. This is a model of effective 21st century learning in the science classroom. It stirs the intrinsic motivation in all students, while engaging them in this process of doing science.  Science, as a course of study, has always had the distinct advantage of producing outcomes from projects that have real-world implications.  Working to improve life for all humanity is no small commitment.  It is a call to a vocation in life transcending the individual and seeks the betterment of all society.  Doing science can be a very noble calling for these young people looking for inspiring and fulfilling careers and lifestyles.

Sunday, February 09, 2014



The mathematical common core content emphasizes understanding so that students can engage in mathematical practice.  This common core content leads to rational-logical thinking where decision making is based upon analysis, computation, reasoning and an astute feel for quantities and values.

The math common core content is the precursor to 21st century thinking.  It is the reliance upon rational thinking providing the fundamental basis for addressing problems and creating solutions. 

Science education provides the means by which students can pursue this logical thinking and understanding in math by applying what they know, and solving problems.  One of the attributes that mathematical understanding creates is an awareness of multiple methods that can be applied to a situation to gain insight and to solve problems.  It is the sense that different constraints can be applied to the same problem or investigation and the outcomes achieved can still be justified.

Project-based models of learning, in the science classroom, provide the learning environment by which students can transition from understanding and knowledge into practice.  Engineering-based projects require students to brainstorm, design, construct, and test and access outcomes. These learning models provide relevance to students’ effort, give students the autonomy to pursue their interests and help facilitate students’ intellectual curiosity to explore outcomes.

It is essential that students have the mathematical tools, understanding and resolve to look deeply into discovered relationships and influences as part of their scientific investigation.  These relationships can ultimately be presented as mathematical functions.  Scientific theories supported by experimental results can eloquently be expressed in graphical presentations and as mathematical models.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

For 20 years I have taught physical science and physics at Streamwood High School in Streamwood Illinois. I have always been a big advocate for educational initiatives that stress cooperative learning. Since the late 1990's there has been an emphasis in the science literature and research on inquiry-based science with teams of students learning cooperatively.

Historically only 20 percent of the science teachers across America employ this model consistently and fewer than that do it well.
Education in the 21st century demands the development of personal attributes such as cooperation, openness to new ideas, commitment, critical thinking and creativity. Competition for grades, in the high school science classroom, works against the development of these needed attributes.

 A teacher's commitment to the Next Generation Science Standards requires creating new opportunities for students to work as teams and take on new challenges and solve problems. Competition for grades in the science classroom works against the development of a growth mind set within each student. Students in the 21st century must have the self-confidence to continually reach for success and opportunities even as they face failure and struggles.

Our students will be competing in a global economy that is in constant evolution. Today it is crucial that students develop as life-long learners housing the intellectual curiosity to address and engage evolving new challenges that they will face as citizens in the 21st century economy.


Saturday, February 01, 2014

Long-Term, Student-Centered

 STEM Research Project



           Teachers modeling the behaviors of patience, commitment and risk-taking demonstrate to their students some of the essential personal attributes needed to complete long-term research projects.  It is from this basis where we begin the quest to achieve a 21st century caliber education for all students.

     During this fall semester of 2013, students in physics class worked through some of the preliminary research procedures like brainstorming,  constructing experimental designs and formulating testable hypothesis, while readying themselves for the final performance-driven outcomes derived through experimentation.  The goal of this project is to employ focused research on the production of alternative sources of energy or related investigations, while solving problems and presenting solutions.  Students develop evidence-based reason skills that will ultimately showcase their educational achievement in physics.  

     It is called Understanding by design. The idea is to initially address the ultimate learning goals that need to be achieved by the students and then design curriculum initiatives to prepare students for their final test in physics.  This is not a uniformly written or scanned ACT style exam, but a test of competency as learned members within this institution of learning that we call high school.  Since September students have worked through a process of systematic preparation and development of the skills necessary to do scientific inquiry. This STEM Research Process is student-centered and requires long-term commitment to obtain desired outcomes.  From idea generation to a focus upon specific topics or issues,  the students transcend toward a design model or methodology which provides critical steps necessary to take on the challenges of scientific research.

     By facilitating an organized investigation process, without teacher guided step-by-step procedures, it allows students to be more creative and develop a real sense of exploration and ownership of the project.  The STEM Research Process, tied to a teacher’s commitment and patience to let the process emerge, will create a 21st century learning environment that includes the following: time on task, experience real scientific exploration and investigation, seize opportunities to be creative and think critically, develop ownership and value in the chosen project goals and development of essential personal attributes like openness and collaboration.  These are fundamental reasoning skills that foster real learning in the 21st century science classroom.

     The long-term research projects, placed squarely within the current physics curriculum, helps to reach the educational outcomes in the science classroom by providing a learning environment that is creative, collaborative and geared toward evidenced-based rational thought.  Learning comes alive and grows with all its complexities, forms and relationships.  Much like the challenges these students will face in the near future in the real world.  This innovative science curriculum helps the school to evolve into a much sought after “institution of learning” nurturing the creative and thoughtful process of inquiry and problem solving for all students.  It is science education at its best!

 This spring semester students in physics class will initiate their scientific investigations, gather data, challenge their hypothesis, analyze and interpret evidence-based results and present their findings at a district-wide community science fair.  This project-based model for learning science develops readiness skills to ask relevant and meaningful questions, research possible solutions and work in teams of students gaining new understanding while preparing for 21st century life.