Water on Mars & Science Education Timeline

NASA announced today that water was discovered on the planet Mars. NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, through laboratory tests onboard the craft identified water in a soil sample retrieved by the lander’s robotic arm.  As NASA scientist’s pointed out, the presence of water increases the chance that there is or has been life on Mars.  Truly a significant event in the history of science.

Phoenix Mars Lander: Source–NASA

The University of Arkansas unveiled its interactive timeline, Science Education in the USA. You can drag through the time line, and click on events for further information of significant events, committees, and reports in the history of science education. The image below shows a screen capture of a small portion of the timeline.

Interactive Timeline: Science Education in the USA–Source: University of Arkansas

NASA’s announcement might be added to the time line.

Theory as Art and Science

The other day I was at my favorite book store, and purchased two books with the following titles.  Book 1: Only a Theory by Kenneth R. Miller; and Book 2: Final Theory by Mark Alpert.  I wasn’t looking for either book.  Alpert’s book was sitting on the display table as you walked into the store, the title intrigued me, and after a quick review, I decided to buy it.  Miller’s book was on a shelf in the science section, and the subtitle “evolution and the battle for America’s soul” and the fact that I had read other books by Miller caused me to buy this one.  But here on this one visit to the bookstore, I found two books with the word theory in them.  Later, I’ll tell you a bit about each book—they are very very different from each other—but first I have to tell you where my mind went when I thought about the word theory.

Many years ago I read a book by Jacob Bronowski that had a great influence on my view of science and culture, and it was entitled Science and Human Values.  In this book, Brownoski ended it with a play he had written called The Abacus and the Rose, a kind of exploration of science and art by means of a dialogue between two characters, Sir Edward and Potts.  The two books I bought last week brought me right to this play that Brownowski had written.

You see, in the play Bronowski talks about theory in science (he focuses on Rutherford’s theory of atomic structure), and compares and contrasts the imagination that the scientist uses to “discover” a theory to the painting that an artist creates.  He particularly uses Rembrant’s self protraits in his dialogue.  To Bronowski, the theory and portrait are both original and personal constructions, not the result of the eye of the camera, or a machine.  The painting is a picture and vision.  This is also true for a scientific theory.  Theories in science are constructed by people, and are flashes of vision when the scientist sees a new link between “different and apparently unrelated aspects of reality.”  The scientist’s vision is as imaginative, as much a creation, as the painter’s vision.

Bronowski elevates theory to the highest level of achievement in science.  I really recommend that you read not only his play, The Abacus and Rose, but the little book, Science and Human Values.

Now back to the two books that I purchased.  Final Theory makes use of Albert Einstein’s attempt at discovering The Theory of Everything (Unified Theory), and raises the question that maybe he did discover this ‘final’ theory, but was afraid to publically announce, but instead revealed parts of it to very close colleauges and assistants.  A Columbia University professor is murdered, another scientist is arrested by the FBI, and then is on the run as governments and organizations try and retreive Einstein’s final theory from the fleeing scientist. If you enjoy reading fiction that boarders on non-fiction, then I think you will enjoy this book.  I am.

Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul by Kenneth Miller ought be a late summer reading before you begin teaching for the fall semester.  Miller is a professor of biology at Brown University, and author of several biology textbooks, one of which is a major text used in America’s high schools.  He has also been a key witness in several court cases involving the teaching of evolution, the so called idea of Intelligent Design (ID), the famous “sticker case” brought by citizens in the county that I reside (Cobb County, Georgia).  The book is important to those of us that teach science because it helps probe deeply into the nature of science, and in particular the central idea of evolution, not only of life on the Earth, but in the Cosmos.

I’ll explore the book and Miller’s ideas in more detail later this week.  In the meantime, search inside Miller’s book and read sample pages, and look over the table of contents.

Promotion to the Next Grade: The Luck of Getting One Extra Question Correct

Can you believe that statement?  A researcher at the University of Arkansas, who feels that teachers and administrators (mere public employees) who make a decision to pass a student on to the next grade who didn’t “pass the end of year test” says: “If public employees cannot do what the public has asked them to do, they should stop taking the public’s money and resign their posts.”  So, the student who misses the arbitrary “passing” score by point is out of luck.  The student who goes slightly over the bar is in luck!  Yes, indeed!

Here’s some background.

In the Sunday edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the issue on social promotion (pro/con) was presented in a pair of articles under the title: No Holding Back: Pro – Con.  The pro side of issue, Retaining creates more dropouts was written by C. Thomas Holmes, Professor of educational leadership at the University of Georgia with a speciality in administrative policy affecting student achievement.  The con side of the issue, All we need to do is follow the law was written by Jay P. Greene, holder of the endowed chair of education reform at the University of Arkansas and fellow at the Manhattan Institute. 

Professor Holmes, citing six major research studies reported that the overwhelming consensus in the educational literature that retention of elementary and middle school students most often produces negative results in long-term academic achievement. 

Professor Greene, citing only his own two research studies, reports that retained students outperformed their comparable peers during the next two years.  No mention is made of the long term academic affects.

Holmes has a long history of experience not only as a professor directing more than 80 doctoral dissertations, but also experience as a public school teacher.  Greene has no experience in education, although he has been a public employee in Texas and Arkansas at the university level in departments of history.  Holmes appears to understand education from the inside out.  Greene appears to look down and into education from the outside.  He (Greene) reminds me of the type of researcher that characterized much of educational research prior to the 70s in which researchers stayed on the outside using tests and questionnaires, and rarely worked within classrooms to know and experience the work of teachers and students.  He research appears to more politically driven than seeking answers to questions unknown.

Professor Greene is out of touch with the reality of classroom learning, and instructional practice.  I am surprised that he did not address Georgia’s social studies and mathematics testing debacle.  Perhaps a further indication of his lack of understanding of schooling.   

Professional teachers should be in the business of making decisions about student promotion.  But they should not be held to a failed policy that reduces a full year of learning to a single test score.  Most countries in the world do not.





An i-Phone Experience As a “Tethered” Non-Generative World Event

In Jonathan Zittrain’s book, The Future of the Internet, and How to Stop It, he identifies two patterns that describe the way the Internet can be used: generative or tethered.  The generative pattern exploits the open, flexible nature of the Internet and PC’s enabling tinkerers and innovators to create new ways to interact and work on the Internet.   The other pattern he calls “tethered.”  The idea here is that companies are moving away from an open, flexible system, and more toward more centrally controlled, or tethered information appliances, such as the i-Phone.

I’ve owned an i-Phone for a bit more than a year.  I was very excited about the new i-phone, and the new 2.0 upgraded I-phone software.  Existing owners of i-Phones could connect their i-phones to their own PC, and download the upgraded software.  

A World Event

Now you must realize that Apple, at 8:00 A.M. EST, put the new i-Phones on sale at its Apple stores, and at AT&T stores, not only in the U.S., but around the world, in 24 countries where the i-Phone was being sold.  Last year, when you bought an i-Phone (and they were only sold in the U.S.), you walked out of the store with your new phone, and plugged it into your home PC to activate the phone, and you had to buy a 2 year account with AT&T—no other communications firm.  But, some people figured out a way to “unlock” the i-phone, and get it to work in other ways.  With this new release of the i-Phone, the plan was that you had to have your phone activated in the store, thereby assuring AT&T that buyers would pay for a 2-year deal.

Extreme Overload

Well, can you imagine a world event of this nature where thousands of people are trying to access Apple’s servers.  The result: extreme overload.  The real effect: people being really ticked-off.  Macworld updated us on Friday afternoon describing events at various Apple stores as crowded and full of people who were a bit frustrated.

i-Phone as a Tethered Applicance

Firstly, the i-phone is an amazing handheld device.  I use mine all of the time, but I realized that it is a tethered appliance, and to get this device to work, one has to to realize that it is like the “dumb” terminals that our computers were like when we accessed websites, such as Compuserve.  Because the i-phone is a centrally controlled device, the way the launch of the new i-phone was planned—all at once around the world—problems were sure to occur with the launch, and they did.  Here is one experience.

Launching my i-Phone

At about 9:30 A.M. on Friday, July 11, I connected by i-phone to my i-Mac.  I noticed that the screen did not have an option for upgrading to 2.0; instead it gave me the choice of upgrading to 1.4.  So I initiated that since I had an older version.  Everything went along very well until the very last stage in which the i-phone has to be activated by the Apple server.  I kept getting the same error message (-4), as did thousands of people around the world.  Too many people hitting the Apple server at the same time.  What to do?  I called the Apple Care 800 number, and was assured that everything was okey.  I probably did download the 2.0 software, and all I had to do was leave the phone connected to the computer, and I would get in.  Hours later, I did get in and the phone worked.  But, I didn’t have the new 2.0 software.  So, I called Apple Care again, the very knowledgeable person, after some research on his part, discovered that the 2.0 option had been taken off the server, and it wasn’t available during the times I was accessing.  He suggested waiting.  I waited until the next morning.  Success.  I know have the 2.0 software on my i-Phone, and was able to download some of the new applications, and I am quite pleased.  Later in the day, I upgraded my wife’s i-Phone.

Grand Challenges in Science: Opportunities for Science Teaching

In an email letter send to all members of NARST, its President, Charlene M. Czerniak reminded members of the theme of next year’s NARST annual meeting: Grand Challenges and Great Opportunities in Science Education.  In her letter, she reminded us that a number of organizations have issued “grand challenges” statements over the past few years.  One of these organizations is the AAAS, and for its 125th anniversary began publishing a collection of articles that looked at the most compelling puzzles and questions facing scientists today.  The editors of science ended up with 125 questions.  From this collection of 125, the editors choose 25 questions that they felt were fundamental, how broad-ranging, and whether the solutions would impact other disciplines.  Here are the 25 questions

  • What Is the Universe Made Of?
  • What is the Biological Basis of Consciousness?
  • Why Do Humans Have So Few Genes?
  • To What Extent Are Genetic Variation and Personal Health Linked?
  • Can the Laws of Physics Be Unified?
  • How Much Can Human Life Span Be Extended?
  • What Controls Organ Regeneration?
  • How Can a Skin Cell Become a Nerve Cell?
  • How Does a Single Somatic Cell Become a Whole Plant?
  • How Does Earth’s Interior Work?
  • Are We Alone in the Universe?
  • How and Where Did Life on Earth Arise?
  • What Determines Species Diversity?
  • What Genetic Changes Made Us Uniquely Human?
  • How Are Memories Stored and Retrieved?
  • How Did Cooperative Behavior Evolve?
  • How Will Big Pictures Emerge from a Sea of Biological Data?
  • How Far Can We Push Chemical Self-Assembly?
  • What Are the Limits of Conventional Computing?
  • Can We Selectively Shut Off Immune Responses?
  • Do Deeper Principles Underlie Quantum Uncertainty and Nonlocality?
  • Is an Effective HIV Vaccine Feasible?
  • How Hot Will the Greenhouse World Be?
  • What Can Replace Cheap Oil — and When?
  • Will Malthus Continue to Be Wrong?

Opportunity for Teaching

Each of these questions is linked to an article that briefly explores some of the issues related to the question.  You can go to this link to read any of the articles.  I’ve linked the question, What Can Replace Cheap Oil — and When, to reinforce yesterday’s blog entry on energy.  These questions are opportunities for science teaching.  

Do you think one or more of these questions could be integrated into your curriculum?  How do you think discussing these questions with students would impact their view of the nature of science?