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.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014


It is already mid-October in the science classroom and you can find my students in both physics and physical science classes preparing to initiate long-term research projects.  I make the contention that my high school students can complete real research by dong science and become active self-motivated learners. This effort by my students reflect my belief in students' abilities to create their own self-motivated learning experience.

Connecting with students takes an investment by the teacher of time, effort, fortitude and a never ending expression of eagerness to learn.   I find that my biggest challenge is getting students to ascend a steep learning curve with respect to becoming intrinsically aware of their own abilities and of the opportunities offered to them to learn.

My students bring into the classroom aptitudes such as inquisitiveness, creativity and openness to new ideas and are presented with a project-based learning environment that challenges their abilities to solve problems.  I help students by scaffolding for them material resources, peer-supported and team orientated lab designs which contribute toward successful completion of  investigative processes when doing science.

Project-based science is most effective when a teacher's pedagogy lends to the implementation of a growth mind set for learning.  This becomes the best practice for continued student success as students become more self-motivated and take charge of their own learning when they perceive that the teacher is working for them and not at odds with how they perceive themselves doing science.

The accent up the learning curve toward growth orientated thinking begins with the recognition that students abilities are as diverse as is their backgrounds and personal experiences.  It is therefore important to address this, diversity of thought, by differentiating the delivery of the curriculum within the same classroom.  It is not a one-size-fits all.  Opportunities to learn have to be as broad and diversity as are methods humans perceive and employ to solve similar problems.  Long-term research projects, conducted in the science classroom, are well suited to engage and promote this growth orientated thinking and perspective of students.

Everyday in the classroom has to connect and capitalize upon previous efforts and momentum in learning.  The cognitive discourse created by asking questions, probing for greater understanding and communicating findings and outcomes are effective tools used by the scientific investigators and researchers.  Engaging in science projects is the genius of real cognition and real discourse for our students.  Doing science breeds inspiration and innovation that is currently so lacking in our science education programs today.  This is an act of breaking down the disciplinary silos, in conventional education models, and letting the light of acknowledgement into the learning process.  The shear act of displacing the focus of teaching content with teaching learning becomes a vindication for positive change in the 21st century classroom.



Friday, July 18, 2014

“Be the guide on the side and less of a sage on the stage”


The emphasis now placed upon science education in America is to move the ball forward
toward the goal of increased science literacy for all. Many interests from a wide spectrum of
stakeholders are in play and demand change in how we deliver learning opportunities to our
children in our schools. Professionally, as educators, it is our responsibility to facilitate this
change and morally it is now an imperative.

The district-wide curriculum committee, in early June, did just that by taking on the responsibility to
support a commitment to a new science curriculum model that involves tearing down current
academic silos, while extending the reach of learning in a cross-disciplinary manner within the school.
This new curriculum model, aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards and support by
research on the effectiveness of project-based science initiatives, will both inspire and motivate
student learning. It truly is a better working model for education because it demonstrates how
people collaborate and communicate with each other to solve problems together in the real-world.

 This process of reinventing learning in the classroom is a reconceptualization of the
fundamental nature of teaching and learning itself. It is not just another mechanism for
delivering curriculum to students. As described in the book, The Fourth Way by Hargreaves
and Shirley, this fundament shift that we associate with respect to this new curriculum
initiative will, “restore greater autonomy from government and introduces more openness to
and engagement with parents and communities...this is a democratic and professional path
to improvement that builds from the bottom, steers from the top and provides support and
pressure from the sides. Through high-quality teachers committed to and capable of creating
deep and broad teaching and learning, it builds powerful responsible and lively professional
communities in an increasingly self-regulatory but not self-absorbed or self-seeking profession.”

From my perspective, as a science teacher beginning my 20th year at Streamwood
High School, I believe that we are at a historic turning point and a momentous time of crisis
in education. This crisis presents great opportunity for educators to embrace dramatic
transformations in our habits, and beliefs. At this juncture we must make daring and disruptive
changes, not incremental adjustments, but the genius of this effort will come from a strong
position of professional commitment and responsibility.

Over the past 20 year I have had  the privilege to be associated with some of the most creative and innovative educators in our district that seize innovative opportunities and help to increase our students capacity to learn and to be successful in life. Historically, as a school district, we have embraced change as the means to reach for continued student success in the classroom. Fundamentally it is this openness to change and willingness to pursue it that is one of our greatest strengths.

 Professional autonomy to design and implement needed reforms in how we deliver
educational value to our students will be the catalyst for extraordinary innovation in the
classroom. Being the guide on the side instead of the sage on the stage is really an educational
and philosophical priority that can be a rallying point and a model of learning that we embrace.
If creative and dynamic educators can model innovation in the classroom that is both inspiring
and meaningful then we can change education in a way that is transformational and long-lasting.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


The school year is a precious time for my students to learn and to grow as individuals. As we approach the end of the school year I can’t help but reflect upon what has transpired in my classroom with respect to learning.  I focus on the positive things that I can point to where I feel that I made a difference in the lives of the kids that I help to educate.

I have always been impressed by Maria’s tenacity to work out challenging problems or to reason out possible solutions.  In my physical science classes she is one of the few students that consistently exemplify an intrinsic intellectual curiosity to learn new things.

When I design new projects or consider new avenues into doing inquiry in the classroom, I will often measure how students like Maria will adapt their thinking to this process of doing science.  I still labor over creating projects that provide challenges and needed outcomes that will produce successful inquiry experiences.  It is the challenge, the focus, the feedback and the desired outcomes that make for great projects.  This year, Maria’s writings on the science that she completed in class have been expressive and detailed.  Her experimental analysis is thorough and her emotional connection genuine.

During this school year I have focused upon the female perspective of doing science in my physical science classes.  Female students, like Maria, harbor unique characteristics that skilled and thoughtful pedagogy can help to bring forth and provide the support for great achievement in the science classroom.  Enthusiasm and interest in science are quickly galvanized when opportunities to do projects present themselves.  The intensity in their eyes, their smiles and the intellectual curiosity expressed in discussions are all excellent indicators of a solid learning experience.

After two days of construction, Maria ignited the electric power stored in batteries which fuels her electric car and causes the wheels to spin with a high frequency whine.  She breaks into a wide grin that says, “Hey look at this accomplishment”!  Then fresh from this mechanical achievement, she races the prototype model down the hallway making observations and inquiry, while flushed with success.

 Building these solar powered cars is a challenging experience for students.  The powerful success story expressed here is shown by Maria’s ability not only to relate concepts in physics to the car’s performance, but also to now utilize her newfound personal attributes and abilities to do science.  The sense of accomplishment and the feeling of autonomy that are created here are some of the most important aspects of this year-end project.  It provides students, like Maria, with experiences that will help to positively shape the way they feel about themselves and where they see themselves going in life.

Doing science can be a very liberating act because it helps to define who you are; it provides opportunity to showcase your abilities, while using the personal attributes to reach for challenging and worthwhile goals.  Science develops both personal resilience and a commitment to achievement.  At the end of this school year, Maria and other students like her are ready to move on with a greater sense of the possibilities for themselves and of what they can hope to achieve.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Coming Down From the Mountain
The National Science Teachers Convention in Boston

Sometimes I feel like Moses coming down from the mountain top when I return from these National Science Teachers Conventions.  These conventions provide an exhilarating experience and, at times, a life changing experience.  What I see from this mountain top is sweeping changes in science education thinking and pedagogy, from a silo-based content-driven mentality to a cross-disciplinary methodology, which is the focus of the Next Generation Science Standards and the expected outcomes envisioned by its implementation. Test-centered mentalities are beginning to yield to an inevitable outcome, the dominance of project-based models of learning to meet 21st century learning goals.

The National Science Teachers Convention, this year in Boston, is the apex of science education thought in our country.  Look out world, because the innovation and shear ingenuity of American science educators will not be denied. I find it easy to imagine that the educational wealth of resources that I have witnessed in Boston would leave other nations pale in comparison.

Teachers, like myself, flock to these events to intellectually mine for ideas, resources and opportunities.  Having the opportunity to network with experts from across the countries helps ignite my own learning and it inspires me to push the boundaries of learning in my own classroom

Aquaponics, hydroponics, community service projects, computer simulation mapping and the Next Generation Science Standards are just the tip of an iceberg of resources and ideas that develop out of such a grand assembly of educators.  Education in the 21st century must provide our children with the skills and developed abilities to survive in an accelerating dynamic social, political and economic environment. Change is not only the norm, but it is the “acceleration of the change” taking place in our society that is inspiring the urgency for needed educational reform.

Education in the classroom demands innovation.  It is the teachers that bring to their students a sense of urgency in the learning process.  Teachers inspire students to reach for new learning outcomes, like critical thinking and problem solving that outstrips and lay aside traditional content-driven, test-centered curriculums.  The opportunities provided now in the classroom must include not only a degree of relevance tied to solving problems, but also to the betterment of society.

Meeting student needs is the mission of our schools and it can only be achieved by creating nurturing learning environments that intrinsically motivate our children to want to learn.  It is hard for me to understand how school will escape the threat of growing obsolescence without embracing new innovative and imaginative aspects into the learning process.  This is not a trepid task.  It should be considered an amazing challenge for all stakeholders in education.  

The world around us is rabid for science, technology and engineering that is fostering new ideas, new opportunities and new directions in education.  As Americans we cannot be just spectators to the change in science education that is unfolding world-wide.  Bold initiatives and innovative thinking must be encouraged and brought to the forefront as models of leadership.  The future is in the hand of our youth and as educators we must provide them the opportunities to learn, understand and to be inspired!

The essence of my experience at this national convention is the realization that there is wealth of opportunities for our teachers to explore, learn and implement.  Support for these types of change is being fueled by expanding networks of teachers, businesses and educational institutions.  In a world interconnected by social media it is no wonder that a revolution or renaissance in learning is taking hold and strengthened by progressive-minded teachers.  The silos of content-driven and test-driven pedagogy are crumbling away and revealing integrated webs of cross-disciplinary models of learning. Innovation and ingenuity now provide the foundation for the emergence of what is  considered excellence in learning for this century.


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.