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.


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.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The clock is running!

We are now barreling into the year 2014.  Since the beginning of the current school year, students have experienced a multitude of investigative science projects and they have developed the skills and abilities necessary to solve problems, while covering concepts in chemistry and physics. Now is the time to push for real long-term research taking place in the science classroom.

The Earth Stewardship Project in physical science and the independent research projects in honors physics are the gateway into a performance-orientated approach to learning.  These long-term research projects require increased levels of autonomy and effort by students, which is inspired by a more student-centered model for learning.

The count down in days to spring break begins a rallying cry to initiate the process of science in the classroom.  Doing real science is the goal as students begin their scientific investigation as they define it within their written proposals. 

A commitment to the ideals of discovery and problem-solving are the real outcomes of student achievement.  In a student-centered model for learning, the learning process becomes untethered from the constraints of grades, quizzes and tests.  The goal is to learn, foster understanding and to become experts in their chosen field of research. Students develop timeframes and focus upon self-determined criteria that will shape the outcome of their research.  It is a liberating experience for the students and it creates a classroom climate of excitement and anticipation. 

Student intrinsic motivation to learn is now encapsulated in their research.  Since students pursue areas of personal interest, it is an easy transition from teacher-guided projects to student-centered projects.  The teacher functions as a trusted consultant on these projects helping to ensure students' successful completion. Decisions made as to the depth of their understanding and to the magnitude of their research are really up to the students themselves.  Peer-reviewed researched findings will be an important factor in the determination of both the quality of the project and the level of understanding that it provides to others.

The long-term research projects provide the means by which teachers build upon students’ abilities to work collaboratively, communicate effectively, reason out solutions to complex problems and to commit to their own ideals as learners.  The learning process, in the classroom, takes on greater meaning for the students.  It is the students themselves that provide the rigor and the relevance to their work.  Their work completed on the projects become a true reflection of the necessary attributes developed by students as productive and caring citizens in the 21st century.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I’ve Been Schooled!

Where did the whimsy go?


The passing of the bitter cold polar vortex signaled the beginning of second semester at Streamwood High School.  It is the second half of the school year starting fresh with new concepts and renewed opportunities for students to learn science.

It was a great idea. Get the students immediately engaged in concepts in physics by the introduction of an engineering-based challenge, The Paper Helicopter Project. Motivation should run high as students work hands-on creating, constructing and flying paper helicopters in the classroom.  The scientific investigation process will take over two days and the ultimate test will be a performance-based challenge that will judge the students’ abilities to solve problems in science.

Using a framework designed from a university-level project, I reformulated the required outcomes to help lead high school students through this learning process.  My colleagues spent the same time period covering vocabulary and graphical interpretation of motion, but I was convinced that this inquiry-mode of learning could provide the greatest opportunity for my students.

The project chaos and confusion ebbs and flows as students struggle to obtain their outcomes based upon the flight performance of these paper helicopters.  The struggle eventually turns into a methodical step-by-step approach to solving the problem.  Now here enters the issue that I struggle with.  The methodical approach of changing factors (independent variables) on the helicopter to make it fly better becomes regimentation and I sensed a loss of creativity and wonder by my students.  I keep pushing for the completion of the performance tests and analysis, but the whimsy of the project clearly waned.

Motivation by students in the classroom is like experiencing acceleration, you know it when you feel it but it is a tenuous thing.  Whimsy is the result of a convolution of factors set in motion from the genius of the project.  “Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead” can sometimes sink your ship. Somewhere in the course of the project design I should have infused a more creative aspect more quickly and more dramatically. Students begin to treat the experience as an after- thought. There is no intellectual curiosity.  It boils down to same old same. The routineness of the methodology killed innovation. At this point I am still asking myself the question; how do I to effectively lace these important aspects of creative thought and innovation more profoundly within a workable time frame for the project?

After three days of testing the students now have the opportunity to build their own paper helicopter, designed to their own ideal specifications. They will then fly the final product.  It is a competitive flight with rewards given to groups that yield the most highly productive final model.  I am hopeful for a rebound in motivation, curiosity and playfulness. The product they create must fit within specific design parameters introduced during the previous three days of testing. This entire learning experience provides students with an opportunity to showcase, to the entire class, what they have learned.



Monday, January 06, 2014


It begins with morning sweating and a tightening of the chest muscles. It progresses to racing thoughts and increasing level of anxiety.  Am I worried about taking an exam? Am I about to engage in some life-threatening activity?  No it is the second, then the third and then the fourth day of teaching science class at Streamwood High School.

This describes the typical daily experience of an Outlier teacher, which I consider myself.  It is typical given the level of commitment and risk-taking involved when creating a learning environment for my students.  It is not for lack of experience or even the routine of teaching that causes such anxiety (twenty years of teaching at the high school level has well prepared me for the challenges in the classroom), but it is the goal in mind and the level of engagement needed by students that breeds such emotions.

Play, Passion and Purpose drive the intrinsic motivation of my students and my effort to facilitate these personal attributes determine the whimsy created in the classroom. This is the intrinsic incentives of exploration, empowerment and play.  The learning environment that  I create to tease-out this motivation in students includes teamwork, interdisciplinary problem solving, intrinsic drives and a kind of empowerment that gives individuals the confidence they need to take risks.

To engage and intellectually challenge my students through project-based models of learning is the risk-taking goal that I embrace as an educator.  It also separates me from mainstream teaching that focus more exclusively upon content.  It is this daily schism of balancing innovative project-based and inquiry-driven science curriculum with state standards, standardized testing and a general trend toward a more strict uniformity in the science curriculum. Innovation in the science classroom requiring risk-taking ventures  for both students and teacher collide daily with testing schedules, content adherence and a general mood of resigning to the lowest common denominator in education the multiple choice standardized test.

An Outlier, I look forward to the whimsy I can create in the classroom and use it as an opportunity to engage with students in doing real science.  Science has always been a process of investigation with risk-taking being its true means to the end. I feel locked in a perpetual and repetitive nature of coming back into the science classroom again and again with renewed efforts to spark enthusiasm and motivation for this subject.  I guess that if I did not embrace this challenge as more of a vocation than a job, then I would have yielded years ago to the obsession for uniformity and complacency in science education.