Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Earth Stewardship Project


The Earth Stewardship Project is a cross-disciplinary project-based scientific endeavor that addresses concepts in physics, chemistry, biology and environmental science.   This project provides students with the opportunity to develop 21st century skills and abilities and the self-efficacy to confront complex multidisciplinary challenges as both problem solvers and as innovators.

The genius of the Earth Stewardship Project stems from years of research and design of new educational pedagogy that most effectively addresses the learning of concepts in science.  This new project involves student research and experimentation into the physical and chemical conditions necessary to optimize plant growth while utilizing natural organic fertilizers and carbon-free sources of energy.  The goal of the project is to find the best means by which to produce organically grown herbs and vegetables.  A number of innovative methodologies will be investigated by students conducting experiments during this year-long project.  The essential components of the project are the following: Developing hydroponics plant systems, designing aquaponic fish- plant systems, creating multiple greenhouse plant production units and cultivating the production of vermicompost from worm farms.

Students will be involved in the physical and chemical alteration of plant growing mediums.  Scientific measurements of soil densities, moisture content, pH, nutrient concentrations, and plant vitality will help to frame the desired plant growth process.  The objective of the project is for the students to discover optimal growing conditions that will maximize the overall garden productivity.  Throughout this long-term scientific research project students will be in consultation with plant experts, experiment with new ideas to increase plant vitality, collect data, analysis results, write conclusions, design prototype models and publish their findings.

The Earth Stewardship Project challenges students initial understanding that they bring to the classroom in chemistry, physics and biology, but it goes further emphasizing the need to test and design more productive plant systems.  Students will focus upon critical factors that influence plant growth.  This process of doing science requires applying researched ideas into the development of new prototype designs that contribute to plant growth and vitality.

From the genius as an isolated classroom science project, the Earth Stewardship Project will grow to have influence upon the entire school building community.  Besides the direct hands-on learning aspect of this project in the science classroom, it can influence curricula in math, business and the language arts as these students are asked to contribute their skills and abilities to help support the project.  This rippling effect is influential upon other academic disciplines and will be an important contributing factor to establishing a culture of inquiry within the school creating an institution of learning.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Letter to a Colleague

Letter to a Colleague

The Merits of Project-based Science

Hello Marty,

Tis the grant writing season!  Along with the application ritual of grant writing is the benefit of the opportunity its opens for us as educators to innovate in our classrooms.  The process of writing grants helps the teacher to coalesce thoughts about doing inquiry, creates new methodologies to employ in the classroom and extracts the effort needed by the teachers to achieve greater understanding and achievement by all students in the classroom.

Grant applications demand that teachers formalize their new curriculum ideas into structured projects which are the means by which learning is achieved.  Once the projects are realized then the innovation occurs and it fuels new models for learning science in the 21st century classroom.

The process of science is not complete without repeated trial-and-error, therefore attempts to continually bring projects-based science into the classroom is a fundamentally necessary first step for all science educators.  It is the crucial step necessary to create the type of learning environments expressed in the published writing of Next Generation Science Standards.

My experience with developing long-term research projects is that it opens up a slew of concerns for the students’ skills and abilities. The process we go through as educators is similar to watching a child learn how to walk with trial-and-error, discomfort and ultimate success.  Our students need to develop, within themselves, the self-efficacy to take the initiatives and explore for themselves their own learning.  This is a difficult but necessary attribute to develop within each of our students. To have a quizzical nature wanting to learn and figure things out is the essence of what needs to be accomplished.  This takes practice, time and commitment.  The learning environment created in the classroom helps to determine the effort needed by students to achieve and be successful.  Long-term research projects integrated with real-world problems provide the means by which students can produce solutions and become experts with respect to both the subject matter and the scientific investigation.

Aquaponics, hydroponics, greenhouse production and worm farm harvesting are tools and projects we can use to bring changes in the way our students learn science. The Life Sciences as expressed in NGSS can be brought into the classroom through these long-term science projects. This will require students to develop solutions to problems related to the studying the growth of plants, developing optimal fertilization processes and producing high quality natural liquid organic fertilizer.

Grant awards can help support our efforts in the classroom as teachers to become experts in the development of new 21st century models of learning in the classroom.  As presenters at the National Science Teachers Convention, we can share our experiences and network with similarly minded teachers from across America.  I would encourage that we apply, by April 15th  and be presenters at the 2014 National Convention in Boston.  The most current grant application under consideration is due April 30th.  These are two incredible opportunities that we can capitalize upon to help bring to Streamwood High School 21st century models for learning by all students in science.



Sunday, March 17, 2013


Since 1995 (for the past 18 years) I have taught Physical Science at Streamwood High School in Streamwood, Illinois.  This week I read an article in Science Teacher Magazine titled, “ The Next Generation Science Standards,  A Focus on Physical Science” magazine written by Joe Krajik,  professor of science education at Michigan State University and director of the Institute for Collaborative Research for Education, Assessment, and Teaching Environment for Science, Technology, and Engineering and Mathematics.

The article begins to unravel new ideas that NGSS presents to the science education community.  For years I have worked to employ cutting-edge technologies and inquiry methodologies into the physical science curriculum.  The best means to bring these new ideas of practice into the classroom is through project-based learning.

At the high school level, the students in science class must be held accountable and use the learned outcomes achieved in middle and elementary school.  It is important that high school teachers utilize these student abilities and skills developed in the earlier grades, because it will lends authenticity to the practice that is employed by teachers at the high school level adhering to the NGSS.  The practices, crosscutting concepts and core ideas can then be capsuled in real-world science research projects fostering problem solving and a commitment to rational evidence-based solutions.  These projects help produce the interest and motivation by students to deliver outcomes and solutions that are a real benefit to our society.

My concern is for the development of systematic and performance based approaches to learn science in the elementary and middle school levels.  The professional development and mentoring that needs to be implemented is crucial.  This schooling by teachers for teachers is necessary to align and bring to fruition performance-based outcomes in the classroom that lead to deeper thinking, questioning and ultimately greater understanding by all students.

The STEM Forum scheduled for May in St. Louis, Missouri  ( is an example of an excellent opportunity for science educators at the elementary and middle school level to share ideas, concerns and come up with creative innovative practices to be employed in the classroom.  I am looking for leadership within the school district to commit to their teachers by sending teams of teachers to attend these science conferences and forums.  This supportive investment, by school districts, will help fuel the innovation that is necessary to redesign the practice delivered to students in the science classroom. The experience and knowledge gained from attending these meetings will inspire and motivate a new generation of science educators that are committed to delivering inquiry-based learning into the classroom and addressing the educational needs of our children in the 21st century.


The modeling method of teaching physics involves students performing inquiry-based experiments investigating the transfer of energy from one form to another within a closed system.  Studetns use PASCO probes, plastic cars and a frictionless track to perform experimental investigation.  Graphical Analysis 3 computer satistical modeling software is utilized to assess the data collected.

In the physical science clasroom a team of students are completing a long-term independent research project on the effect of increased concentration of carbon dioxide upon the growth rate of basil plants.  Students burn a candle until it is extinquished due to lack of oxygen.  PASCO probes monitor the level of carbon dioxide concentration within a closed system.  The effect of the increased carbon dioxide upon the plant is compared to other basil plants under normal conditions.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Practice over Content

Practice over Content

The Inquiry-based Science Classroom

It has been a remarkable week for students in the inquiry-based science classroom at Streamwood High School.  With just over a month away until the Elgin School District U46 Science Expo there is a sense of urgency as students prepare their final lab proposals, which function as a blueprint for scientific investigations.  This process in science that students create is embedded within a science curriculum that is originally geared toward covering content.  This causes stress within the learning environment as both teacher and students struggle to maintain effective time management of class activities, create open-ended learning environments and work to move forward on their research and experimentation.

Innovative STEM curriculum initiatives require redesigning of how learning opportunities are presented to the students that emphasis practice over content.  The curious interplay between science content and inquiry requires producing subtle strategic learning opportunities that are driven by the pace of learning in the classroom, problem solving and the development of a clear sense of purpose.  Students working in groups pool together resources, experience and understanding and create scientific experimentation.  The depth of students’ perseverance and understanding, when conducting inquiry, are determined by the quality of their research and personal commitment to excellence.

Karen Ostlund, the current President of NSTA has stated the following in the most current issue of the publication NSTA Reports, “The scientific and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts should be used throughout the curriculum and instruction so students have many opportunities to become proficient at using the practices to deepen their understanding of disciplinary core concepts by connecting them with crosscutting concepts.”

Students test the design of wind turbines to determine electrical power and efficiency.
The debate between content and process in science education has been raging for decades, so teachers need to aim high to strike a balance in the science classroom. It comes down to adding skill-building opportunities within the science curriculum as essential steps to meet the new standards presented by the Next Generation Science Standards. New priorities in science education are for students to develop the abilities to interpret graphs and data, plan and carrying out scientific investigations and assess the validity of scientific claims and conclusions.

Students design scientific experiments to determine
the effectiveness of worm tea upon the gowth of herbs
 and vegetable plants.




Tuesday, March 05, 2013

21st Century Models for Learning

New Models for Learning in Our Schools
The Next Generation Science Standards require new thinking with respect to how we deliver learning opportunities to our students.  It is critical that at its core it is the pursuit of the development of problem solving abilities for all students is now our educational focus.

Recent federal legislative effort on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is lending support to this new thinking strategy.  Congressional sponsorship of the legislation reflects this need.

"Today's students will need more than the basics to succeed in tomorrow's workforce" agreed Rep. Loebsack (D-IA), "We need to provide them with an education that will make them competitive in 21st century careers, which means they need skills like creative problem-solving, the ability to communicate well, and to collaborate in diverse teams. This bill makes these skills an explicit aim of federal education policy, which allows states like Iowa to continue with and expand on their leadership in 21st century education."

Our school district with its curriculum writing initiatives and forward thinking educators can lead on this issue.  The students that we serve need our help to develop these 21st century skills and abilities.  Project-based learning can facilitate this transition into a new model for educating our students.  As stakeholders in this effort we need to unite and become innovators in our classrooms bringing forth new models for learning.  Let’s get started!