Mission to the Blue Planet

Last week, astronomers in Europe announced the discovery of an Earth-like planet outside of our Solar System. It was discovered this month, and it orbits the star Gliese 581, which is a red dwarf star located a little more than 20 light years from Earth. As a star system, Gliese became interesting to the astronomers in that they found a planet, Gliese 581c, to be located in the “habitable zone” of that stars solar system.

Although one must be cautious that this planet might contain water, it is in the realm of possibility. And that could mean the planet could have Earth-like conditions leading to the emergence of life. Another aspect of the discovery is the comment by some astronomers that it tells you that planets like Gliese 581c are probably very common. Some astronomers estimate that the surface temperature on this planet range between 0 and 40 degrees centigrade. The image below Gliese 581 and its planets.

Suppose that life has existed on this planet for a billion years or more, and that it is very advanced. Since their science is advanced, they have been able to explore the universe. They have discovered a small blue planet orbiting the sun that is like their own planet, Gliese. Being so advanced, they have developed the ways and means for extra-stellar travel, and have planned a mission to the Blue Planet. What would that be like? Well….

Welcome to Mission to the Blue Planet

In this activity students imagine that they part of a team of planetary scientist and explorers from the Planet Gliese 581c. The activity provides links to activities enabling the extraterrestrials to explore various Earth Phenomena including impact craters, earthquakes, volcanoes and other events on the Earth that interest them.

Visit the site to find out how this is accomplished. Let us know what you think.

The Value of Student-to-Student Exchanges

For nearly 20 years, I was involved with a project that started in the 1980’s with people to people exchanges between educators and psychologists in North America with colleagues in the Soviet Union. We made annual visits and conducted seminar-type sessions with schools, universities and research institutes. After several visits, we started an exchange program with educators from schools and research institutes in Moscow and St. Petersburg (at the time, Leningrad). What emerged from these early exchanges was the Global Thinking Project a hands-across the globe program that involved students and teachers with research projects on various environmental problems such as ground-level ozone and water pollution. We developed a curriculum, and published in English and Russian, and through our work, were approached by educators from other countries to join up with our initial work. Soon educators from Spain, Australia, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Canada, England, Botswana, Japan, Argentina, and Chile were part of the project.

One of the highlights of the GTP was a series of student-to-student exchanges funded by the U.S. Department of State (USIA) designed to foster relationships among American and Russian educators, students and parents. In the mid-90s, hundreds of students and educators participated in the GTP exchanges. The exchanges involved 50 students and about 10 teachers from five different schools in Georgia exchanging with the same number of Russian students and teachers in Russia. Two exchanges per year, each lasting three weeks, took place. Students were hosted by families in each of the respective communities, and not only went to school each day, but participated in the family life of the host family.

Yesterday I received an email from one of the American students from Lafayette Middle School (Walker County, GA) who participated in the exchange. Here is what she said:

In the spring of 1998, at 14 years old, I traveled to Russia (Puschino) as part of the GTP project. I learned so much about myself, the Russian culture and humans in general on that trip. I have carried the memories with me for years and hope I will never forget them.”

It was wonderful to hear from this student and to know that the project is still apart of her memory, and that it had an impact on her. One of the studies that we did during the project was entitled The emergence of global thinking among American and Russian youth as a contribution to public understanding. One of the conclusions of our study is certainly supported by this former student’s comments. The interpersonal experiences, and the cultural knowledge contributed to the real outcomes of the project, not just the cognitive ones that emerged from our emphasis on environmental science.

I want to thank one of the former GTPers who took the time to contact us. We always felt that these exchanges were valuable. It’s very gratifying to hear from someone who experienced the project.

Silent Springs of Past

Today is Earthday, 2007. On today’s CBS News Sunday Morning Program, one of the feature stories was The Legacy of “Silent Spring.” We all now know that Rachel Carson, the author of the 1962 book, Silent Spring wrote the book (with fierce opposition from the pesticide industry) to inform the public the fact (according to Carson) that pesticides were destroying wildlife and endangering the environment. At the time, the pesticide industry drummed up contrary opinion, and tried to claim that Carson’s science was flawed, and there was really no scientific evidence supporting her claims.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? President Kennedy appointed a committee of experts to look into Carson’s claims, and when all was said and done, the committee agreed with all of her science and her conclusions.

It is important to be reminded of how scientific ideas are received. Rachel Carson’s theory that pesticides injected into the environment were traveling through ecological webs and impacting all wildlife. Science does not exist in a vacuum, and its ideas have social, political and religious consequences.

The Green Year?

Tomorrow is the year 2007 Earth Day, which started in 1970. Could the year 2007 be the Green Year, the tipping year in which government and industry embraced the importance of environmental sustainability just as the public is beginning to accept, and as the environmental movement has represented. Whether or not the environmental movement began in 1962 with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, this year has been marked by profound reports and a Supreme Court Ruling. Further, magazines such as Time and Newsweek, and The New York Times have reported extensively on climate change and global warming.

In fact, Newsweek had a special report in its April 16th edition entitled “Leadership and the Environment: Moment of Truth. As the article pointed out, “the ranks of global-warming deniers have mostly been forced to concede that the Earth really is getting warmer.” Two points are worth mentioning about the article. The first is the environmentalism that has been encorported into California’s environmental laws, and how the state has set the benchmark for how industry, government and individuals can play a role in achieving “green accountablily.” Companies such as One Source Green, dedicated to green construction and archetecture represent a new cadre of industry emerging in California.

But California is not the only state where environmental action is taking place. Seattle’s mayor, Greg Nickels, has emerged as one of the leading environmental politicians in the country. Sensing that climate change was impacting his city, Nickels drafted a document that would put the Kyoto Protocol into effect (even though the Federal Government did not sign off on Kyoto). His document, called the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, was presented at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2005, and so far 435 cities have signed on (he indicated he would be happy if about 140 did so!). One fact that is significant is the 435 cities that have signed off this agreement represent more than 70 million people, and new jobs are emerging such as “sustainability director.”

Perhaps one of the most important events of the year was the Supreme Court’s 5 – 4 decision insisting the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions such as CO2, and that it should not defer to White House claims that they are adhering to the Clean Air Act. Now the EPA has legal authority to move on reducing greenhouse gases by regulating emissions. More importantly, the decision puts the government on notice that environmental sustainability and global warming are issues that can not be ignored, but must be encorporated into American culture.

This has also been the year of reports and other forms of publications that clearly show that Earth’s climate is changing, and that change must include human activities as one of the variables contributing the heating up of the Earth. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued two reports this year (a third will come out later in the year) that thousands of scientists agree with that identifies the science behind climate change, and the impact of human industrial activities that have contributed to climate change.

Clearly, Earth Day 2007 is a day that should shine green.

How to teach science education courses real good?

Science methods courses ought to be just as interesting and exciting as the best high school geology or physics class. How to teach science education courses to achieve this goal is the subject of this weblog entry.

We’ve often talked about “how to teach science?” with assumption being that we are teaching K-12 students in either an elementary, middle or high school science course. In these discussions we’ve alluded to the importance of helping students construct knowledge, and to formulate courses that are inquiry-oriented.

Let’s turn our attention to teaching courses for students who want to teach science, or are professional teachers taking graduate courses in science education. How should these courses be designed?

I recently developed a new website that deals with the question: How to teach science education (methods or pedagogy) courses? The underlying framework for the answer to this question is pedagogy developed in my text, The Art of Teaching Science, which is that teacher preparation should be focused on professional artistry. In this view, the learning to teach process involves encounters with peers, professional teachers, and science educators. The tools to support these encounters involve inquiry and experimentation, reflection through writing and discussion, as well as experiences with students, science curriculum, and pedagogy. Here, becoming a science teacher, or extending one’s professional abilities is a creative process, and in so doing, students are encouraged to “invent” and “construct” ideas about science teaching through this interaction. (ps. sorry for being long-winded on this)

You can click here to visit the new website How to Teach Science Education? The site is meant to help facilitate the use of the text if you are teaching a university level science methods or pedagogy course, an advanced level graduate science education course, and summer institute in approaches to science education, or a staff development course.

One of the links in the new site is Teaching Strategies, which will take you to an online teacher’s guide for The Art of Teaching Science that I developed that includes Syllabus Helpers and Agenda Strategies, chapter-by-chapter. Syllabus Helpers is a chart-like feature that will be helpful in planning a course. Agenda Strategies that specific suggestions for experiential-based activities that you might want to use in your course.

Another link at the website is called Inquiry Activities. I developed 42 Inquiry Activities that spread about and integrated into the text, The Art of Teaching Science. There are clearly more Inquiry Activities than you would use in a course, but they give you the option of choosing those that you think will relate to your style of teaching, and the ones that will help students in your program construct their knowledge of teaching science. I’ve made 5 of the Inquiries available in complete form in the website.

Teaching science education “real good” is a goal all of us aspire to. I hope this site will help you achieve that goal.