Sunday, January 24, 2016

Optimal Experience

It is by no small measure to say that the most important aspect of teaching is to create a learning environment that is most conducive to students’ interests and abilities.  The goal in education is to create an optimal experience for students in the classroom that includes a sense of autonomy, exhilaration and enjoyment. 

A measure of the competency of a teacher’s pedagogy is evident by the ability to create an engaging and enjoyable balance between boredom on one hand and anxiety on the other. Performance-based engineering challenges help develop innovative learning experiences that stretch the minds of students instilling a sense of mastery, happiness and satisfaction, while delivering goal-oriented problems to solve. The challenge for teachers is to utilize their own personal talents along with classroom resources and go forth and capitalize upon the conviction that engaged students are learned students!

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “We are always getting to live, but never living.”   Education without the possibility to use what we know to solve problems and help people becomes an unfulfilled gesture. In a coordinated and systematic manner students, engaged in engineering-based projects, can unleash their skills and abilities using their knowledge and understanding to achieve performance-based results. This experience helps define a person’s character, ambition, and capability.

Engineering prototypes like a Hovercrafts, Elastic Energy Prop Racers or Catapults among a list of many similar designs, will open the doors of innovation and creativity for students.  Students develop a more personal and deeper sense of control over the outcome of their involvement in science.  Working on these prototype designs require a high level of task orientation and concentration.  The significant investment in classroom time for these projects and the benefits, realized through increased student commitment, greater sense of self-efficacy and increased academic performance, all contribute to huge dividends in learning.

Investigations into the concepts of speed, acceleration, force and energy of Hovercrafts in motion can lead to significant comprehension of scientific principles and applications into the dynamics of motion.  These scientific inquiries are the fodder for further questions and experimentation.  To apply concepts in science to real-world experience is to truly exhibit learning.  To be successful in school it is important that students have access to these types of exciting challenges and experiences.  The feedback between peers and between the teacher and students is immediate as these projects support deep personal involvement fueled by a sense of achievement of clearly stated goals and expectations.

Students made comments on their efforts to complete the project. Jessica says, “The best part was when the hovercraft actually moved!”  She also said, “Communications was built when we had to figure out how to hold everything while the glue dried and also when we figured out how to make the propeller spin.” Jordan commented on his involvement on the prototype design.  He said, “The most rewarding aspect is the improvement of force on the model.” In both cases these students reflect upon some of the challenging aspects of the project and the need to solve problems and work on solutions.  Overcomes her frustrations Bella says, “Assembling the Hovercraft was pretty interesting, though it was aggravating.”

An optimal experience in science education always provide a challenging situation for students to surmount, but at the same time it dictates the course of events. Students utilize resources and knowledge in a focused effort to solve a problem.  This is the essence of learning in the 21st century science classroom.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

                                                       HELL HAS NO FURY

The economic, political and social foundation of our country is being challenged in debates now raging across our country.  The discourse is rooted within the economic architect that defines our society. The course of change will ultimately be dictated, not by ideology, but by the laws of science, planetary boundaries and the evolution of an economic system defined more by resilience and sustainability and less by material wealth.

The simultaneous increase in world population beyond 7 billion and the rise of middle class standards of living world-wide by tens of millions of people in China and India and other third world nations have pushed demand for ecological services and resources provided by our planet Earth, each year, to nearly 1.6 Earths.  This means that to sustain our current standard of existence on this planet, human beings must have access to the regenerative ability of nearly 1.6 planets. Unfortunately we do not have 1.6 Earths to access regenerative resources from so we are destroying the future capacity of our one planet to make ends meet.  This is equivalent to accessing personal saving account money to pay current bills because income is, to say the least, lacking!  The clock is running on this deal.

The anonymous quote,” Hell has no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle” is a great characterization of the rich and corporate interests in our country and their rational for an influx of over 40 percent of all campaign dollars into the current US political process; even though this group of people represent only one-hundredth of one percent of the US population.  It is a fact that most of the economic gains achieved over the past few decades have gone to the top 1 percent of the wealthiest people in our country and only residual financial resources going into reducing poverty and supporting important middle class social programs like education, health care and infrastructure projects.

Humans are now treading upon crossing the thresholds of planetary boundaries that help to ensure our existence. Climate change, stratospheric ozone, land use change, freshwater use, biological diversity, ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorous inputs to the biosphere and oceans, aerosol loading and chemical pollution all contribute to and dictate the limits of human life on our planet. Our current economic model, promoting continued economic growth and accompanying accumulation of material wealth for a more prosperous world has played out its effectiveness on a planet that can no longer sustain this mode of existence. Vested interests in the status quo contribute to current efforts to remain on this unsustainable course until an eventual and devastating collapse.

 The common economic denominator of continued growth does not square up with the reality of life on a finite planet.  To truly address the immovable physical reality of a finite planet we need to subscribe to the idea of creating a steady-state economy, one that is marked with stability, sustainability and not beholden to continual growth and expansion.

The reality we need to create is a quality of life that emanates from a living environment that produces increasing prosperity but not at the detriment of our planet.  Shared concern and shared resources become the norm as citizens devote more time to community and to taking more responsibility for the well-being of fellow citizens. If these motivations can become mainstream then the trajectory of how we live can turn toward creating sustainable communities that seek to fulfill the needs of all its citizens.