Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Food and Energy

 Science education that supports the development of students’ cognitive abilities that are needed to adapt and survive within the dynamic stability of a hotter and drier planet.

Food and energy are two of the most important fundamental influences upon our modern industrialized society. The impact they have upon the well-being of civilization, as we know it, will be profound in this 21st century.

Learning environments need to reflect the relevance (value) and the exciting opportunities (choices and control) that these challenges present in our modern world. Our modern educational system has a duty to our children to deliver learning experiences that match these critical issues that we all face as inhabitants on a changing planet.

Thomas Friedman wrote from his newest book titled, Thank you for being late,  “So, at a minimum, our educational systems must be retooled to maximize these needed skills and attributes: strong fundamentals in reading and writing, coding and math; creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration; grit, self-motivation, and lifelong learning habits; and entrepreneurship and improvisation – at every level.”

How do we begin to bring forth this level of learning to prepare our children for the dynamic stability that they will face in their lives?  A multidisciplinary approach to learning surmounts these challenges by linking the learning of science to  real-world problems and with a mindset that is multidisciplinary in its approach to fashioning solutions.  A curriculum emphasis on Food and Energy as a year-long project-based educational initiative would be the ideal learning experience preparing our children for the world that they will now face in their lifetime.

Energy is so completely encompassing it is what everything is made of and it supports the organization of all things living and inert.   We teach that energy is “the ability to produce change” and we have a great number of ways to make this change happen once we have the energy, but the fundamental issue is the resulting impact that the use of energy to support human civilization has upon the ecosystem. 

Food provides the energy for life.  Trillions of soil microbes, insects, worms and organic nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium set the stage for a rich proliferation of plants that blanket and feed our world.  Soil can facilitate the sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, provide a mechanism to efficiently store moisture and to house essential nutrient resources to facilitate the synthesis of sugars, carbohydrates and proteins, which are the building blocks of all things living in this world.

Complexity is the key word that clearly describes the reliance humankind has upon the capacity of our soils to produce food and our reliance upon abundant amounts of energy to “produce change” within a time dependent growing season.  Students need to be aware of and to think critically about the mounting complexities that we now face in a world of over 7 billion souls demanding access to increasing amounts of energy and dealing with climate changes that are altering and suppressing environmental factors that support plant growth.  Students need to have some exposure, through learning experiences at school, to the ebb and flow of these complexities that are life-giving to humankind.

Physics, chemistry and biology are the unforgiving players in the climate change experience our planet now faces. We will all " rue the day" when their laws, rules and defined outcomes play mercilessly upon our environment. Students can gain valuable insight into the effects of climate change and these laws of science if they can think creatively about the science involved.  They need to have the abilities to "play with their thoughts", their questions, proposed solutions and their “what ifs..”  
Science education in the 21st century can provide the bridge for our children into this new world of “what ifs..”

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Physics, Climate Change and the pursuit of the three-legged stool.

What does the future hold for our children studying science, being educated and embracing new technologies at school?  Reflecting upon this important issue is a continual process similar to learning science as a continual process of experimentation and analysis.

Project-based science requires innovative curriculum, supportive science equipment and open-ended formative and summative assessment of student learning.  Content in subject matters is a driving force for learning and in executing performance by students in the classroom.  Students embracing the learning process, as the means to increase self-efficacy, is the goal of any educator to increase student’s cognitive abilities and problem solving skills.

The three-legged stool is in reference to simultaneous efforts to reduce the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Carbon sequestration, energy conservation and alternative sources of energy are the three supportive venues addressing the need to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Inquiry into these three efforts provide resources and data for students to make decisions and formulate logical and reasoned arguments.

Students in physics classes have the unique opportunity to inquire and investigate each of these three efforts to mitigate carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Studying physics provide learning opportunities that will house practical applications of concepts learned in physics.  Utilizing science equipment in the physics lab, to build and test prototypes, analyze motion, measure thermal energy and investigating efficiency, are the essential building blocks supporting project-based learning in the classroom.

Energy is a focal point in the physics curriculum and student come to appreciate the value of what they have learned by having the opportunity to solve challenging problems that requiring creative solutions.   The transfer of energy within a closed system is an important concept helping students to understand how sources of energy can be directed, efficiently, to achieve outcomes like making electricity or doing work.  

Wave motion is another means through which students can understand the flow of energy from one location to another by means that do not require doing work.  Solar radiation provides a means to transfer energy from the sun into thermal energy that can be used to generate heat in a greenhouse.  The practical application of concepts in physics to solve problems is sustained as a primary educational goal in science.

A project-based curriculum that seamlessly transition from one concept in physics to another prepares students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.  Increased cognitive abilities of learners is the ultimate goal for the teacher in the classroom. The skill and ability to work effectively on projects, while solving problems and presenting results, are essential abilities for success in our modern society.

Once students understand the concepts of kinematics, force, work and other forms of energy, then they will develop the cognition to look at problems from many view points to discover and bring forth solutions.

Finally, climate change, and the breath and deep of this issue, will continue to offer students real-world problems to investigate and find solutions to these problems.  The physics of climate change and greenhouse warming of atmospheric gases is a result of the physics of particles in motion. There are fundamental inquiries that students in science class can experiment and probe to gather evidence and achieve outcomes. 

Students can utilize their understanding of science and the physics of energy to address this problem from three separate aspects, carbons sequestration, energy efficiency and alternative sources of energy.

Students design and construct new heating chamber to increase the efficiency of the transfer of light radiation into thermal energy.


Students experimenting, testing and gathering data on the transfer of light radiation into thermal energy.

Students investigating the quality of soil mediums as part of the Earth Stewardship Project and sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Project-Based Learning 
in the science classroom

Teaching to mainstream students in our public schools presents a host of challenges for teachers to overcome when educating students in the science classroom.  The pedagogy that educators develop to meet these challenges require an adaptive nature by which to implement curriculum (content, scope and sequence).  This methodology lends best to the conditions presented in the learning environment.  I believe these challenges facing teachers today require the most urgently needed changes in science education in American public schools.

After school programs, competitive science projects, gifted student programs and STEM related programs outside the realm of the 8 hour school day are where science projects currently hold sway.  Without question, I believe that project-based science needs to be part of the scope and sequence within a science curriculum.  I believe teachers can achieve a seamless transition between conceptual units in science through the implementation of project-based science initiatives embedded in the curriculum.  This 21st century model for education provides learning experiences that captivate minds and inspire intrinsic motivation to learn.  It supports in-depth and long-term learning experience where students can dwell upon and reflect on outcomes that are achieved in-line with performance-based expectations.

Getting students to engage in the learning process has never been more of a challenge than it is today in our schools.  Educational experiences, provided to students in science education, are moving toward performance-based models for learning and assessments.  There is no better performance-based model for learning than project-based educational initiatives that challenge students’ skills and abilities as a whole and not as piece-meal assessments of one aspect of one concept at a time in the curriculum.

Play, Passion and Purpose are at the center of excellent teaching and learning.  The interest in and ability, by students, to create new knowledge to solve new problems is the single most important skill that students must master today.  Successful innovators have mastered the ability to learn on their own “in the moment” and have the foresight to apply that knowledge in new ways. To be a successful science teacher you have to make it fun for kids and that means making it theirs.  Students have ownership over what they are learning and they develop a commitment and resilience to follow through on these discoveries.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Crescendo in the Science Classroom
The mindset of a learned student in the 21st century

You may laud music that draws you into a dreaminess state of mind or it can provide a stimulus for foot-stomping action.  Music carries with it an emotional content along with complexities and subtleties.  Music moves people and it is a pleasurable thing to experience.  It is a form of escapism for the mind.

Flow, as described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in his book on the psychology of optimal experience, details a similar experience of losing oneself in the moment, but this is now done within the realm of academics. Students become so engrossed in the event that time stops, focus becomes laser-like and the world around them seems distant.  This euphoric pleasurable learning mindset is an outcome of living experiences that swell, like a crescendo, and resonate with students emotionally and academically.

The moment, the crescendo, that all-encompassing event is what educators call the learning experience. Employing teaching and learning strategies in the classroom geared toward open-ended problem solving experiences, will ebb-and-flow their way toward this event and produce that moment for students to immerse themselves in learning.  Students, working on projects, forge forward with experimentation or toil over the analysis of data looking for relationships while collaborating within teams of students that discuss outcomes and evidence-based conclusions.

From the genesis of their education, students need to be enculturated in this new way of thinking. Initially, students experiment with what is obvious or well know, like gravity or heating matter, but learners have to eventually rethink their assumptions about the world that they inhabit by relying upon new evidence and new understanding creating broad sweeping mental images of the universe that they experience. There has to be an emotional investment by students to want to learn new outcomes and embrace the relevance of knowing and understanding science and its effects upon their lives. Project-based science is the means to this end result.

The current generation of K-12 students have not experienced coherent strategies, in the classroom, designed to develop critical thinking.  Currently, teachers and students are going through a tough learning curve to move pedagogy from rote memorization and standardized testing without understanding, toward a more realistic accounting of students that are now learning how to become more effective problem solvers.

We can only hold students accountable for what they have experienced in school and in life.  To change the way students learn is to change the expectations that we have for them in our classrooms.  Modeling this new way of thinking will increase intrinsic motivation of students to learn and perform and thereby change education forever.