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.