From Earthquakes to Tsunami in Images

The 8.8 magnitude earthquake was the largest of many earthquakes that occur along the coast of Chile between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates.  As you can see on the map here, earthquakes regularly happen here, and around the rim of the Pacific (the Rim of Fire).  The 8.8 magnitude quake was a deep one, about 21 miles below the surface, reflecting the movement of the Nazca plate eastward under the South American plate.

Map of earthquakes including quakes along the coast of Chile, and around the Pacific. Click on the map to see the map of real-time quakes.

The 8.8 quake, deep below the ocean, released enormous energy that resulted in the displacement of a very large volume of water causing a tsunami.   The earthquakes along the coast of Chile are the result on the convergence of two plates, and in this case, deep below the ocean.  Tsunami would be expected when such an earthquake occurs.  The tsunami that was generated by the February 27th 8.8 earthquake traveled across the Pacific Ocean as far as Japan and Russia.  Many of us watch TV images as the tsunami made its way to Hawaiian Islands, and although arriving at the expected time, the tsunami fortunately was not as big as was expected.  Here is a map showing the generation and movement of the tsunami across the Pacific provided by the Earthquake Research Institute, University of Tokyo.

The map shows an animation of the movement of tsunami across the Pacific.

Tsunami model created by the Earthquake Research Institute, Tokyo.

Magnitude 8.8 Chile Earthquake

In the book The Art of Teaching Science, Chile is one the countries featured in an exploration of science education around the world.  The article was written by Claudia Rose, Director of the International Baccalaureate Program at the International School Nido de Aguilas in Santiago.  As of this writing, I was unable to access any of the links to the school, and I am sure that the magnitude 8.8 earthquake off the coast near Santiago is reason for the lack of connectivity to the school’s server.   Naturally, we are concerned, and will attempt further contact with the school.

The magnitude 8.8 Chile earthquake which occurred on February 27, 2010 was the result of movement between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates.  The Nazca plate, shown here, is an oceanic tectonic plate off the west coast of South America.  The Nazca plate is undergoing subduction moving under the South American Plate along the Peru-Chile Trench.

Location of Nazca tectonic plate sandwiched between the Pacific, Antarctic, and South American tectonic plates

In 1960, the largest quake (magnitude 9.5) ever recorded off the coast of Chile.  The result of this quake was the rebuilding of Chile using very strict earthquake building standards.  Even with these standards, the devastation of the February 27-8.8 quake is immense, especially in the city of Concepción, Chile’s second largest city, and located only 70 miles from the epicenter of the quake (Santiago is 200 miles from the epicenter).

As seen on news reports on TV and Internet reports, the devastation in Chile is huge, and the latest reports place the death toll at over 700 people.  Roads, buildings, and the general infrastructure have been damaged, and in many cases destroyed.  International aid is beginning, but the toll on the people of Chile is severe, and our hearts go out to them.

In a Liberal Democracy, Can Science Education Flourish With Common Standards?

Over the past two years, there has been a movement to develop a set of common standards in mathematics and reading, and the Carnegie Corporation announced that they would be collaborating with the National Research Council to develop a conceptual framework for a “new generation” of science standards.   Will these developments advance students understanding of science in the context of a liberal democracy?

One research report that sheds some light on this is a publication by the National Research Council entitiled Common Standards for K-12 Education?: Considering the Evidence: Summary of a Workshop Series.  The book’s description is as follows:

Standards-based accountability has become a central feature of the public education system in each state and is a theme of national discussions about how achievement for all students can be improved and achievement gaps narrowed. Questions remain, however, about the implementation of standards and accountability systems and about whether their potential benefits have been fully realized. Each of the 50 states has adopted its own set of standards, and though there is overlap among them, there is also wide variation in the ways states have devised and implemented their systems. This variety may have both advantages and disadvantages, but it nevertheless raises a fundamental question: Is the establishment of common K-12 academic standards, which states could voluntarily adopt, the logical next step for standards-based reform?

First we must note that since the publication of this report (which I will comment on below), the National Governor’s Council (NGC) has led the effort to insist that each state adopt a set of “common standards” that they (the NGC) develop with a cadre of experts.  Indeed, the U.S. Department of Education has also demanded that States that apply for The Race to the Top Funds must be part of the Common Standards movement.  All but 2 states have acquiesced (Texas & Alaska).

One of the important outcomes that was drawn in the National Research Council study of Common Standards, K-12, was the lack of documented effects of standards:

First, there seemed to be wide acknowledgment that standards are now an accepted part of the educational landscape and that they play multiple roles in public education. Moreover, standards are seen as very important—and the need to improve them is seen as critical—because they are viewed as a means of achieving educational equity. However, the discussion suggested that neither the precise role that standards play nor their effects have been adequately documented.

The ethos of standards in this country has a more than 30 year history, and the NRC concludes that that any results that the standards have shown are not adequately documented.  In my own view, one positive result of this study is that the current system of standards is characterized by dramatic variation.  A movement towards a common set of standards removes this characteristic.

Another conclusion drawn from the NRC study is that “assessment has become the principal driver of most states standards-based reform efforts.  The result of this unintended development has a reduced focus on the broader goals of instruction and learning.”

Finally, the NRC cautions advocates of common standards in the following way:

Advocates of common standards would do well to consider the political landscape carefully. Many seemed to agree that a bottom-up, grassroots approach to common standards would be the most likely to succeed, but such an effort may take time. Others argue that a political window is opening now, and that moving forward even with an incomplete and imperfect approach would be preferable to missing that window, given urgent pressure to address the glaring inequities in educational opportunity in the United States.

The most basic political tension is that between the long-standing U.S. tradition of local control and the urge to tackle national problems with central solutions. NCLB has opened the door to a significantly heightened federal role, but states have been very resistant to many of its provisions.

One of the researchers (Andrew Isaacs, University of Chicago Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education)  who participated in the NRC study described

as “wobbly” the proposition that “a more centralized national curriculum would lead to higher student achievement, and that higher student achievement in turn would lead to increased economic competitiveness.” He pointed out that the United States is one of only a handful of countries that does not have a national curriculum—and that not only countries that outperform it by whatever measure, but also most countries that perform less well, have a national curriculum.

If you listen to politicians talking about the state of education, and the proposition of implementing common standards, they use “war-terminology” to describe the state of public education.  Governor Hunt, of North Carolina said, “I think this is so serious that the only analogy I can think of is World War II.   Yet there is little to support their views.  Indeed when politicians raise the economy card in these arguments, Isaacs argues that “the policies of the Federal Reserve Bank and other factors are likely to have far more significant effects on the nation’s economic performance than the nature of its standards and curricula.”

In a liberal democracy we need an educational system that is decentralized, and that puts into the hands of educators at the local level the responsibility to choose and develop curriculum and methods of teaching by able professional teachers.  One of the hallmarks of liberal democracy has been the freedom accorded citizens to develop and express widely varying ideas and inventions.  At the heart of this is creativity, and the development of life long aspirations for inquiry.

In a new book, The Science of Liberty, Timothy Ferris argues that there is a powerful connection between the rise of liberal democracies, and the evolution of science.  In a New York Times review of Ferris’ book, Gary Rosen says this of the author’s ideas:

He is content to speak of science metaphorically, as the model for openness and experimentalism in all the major realms of liberal-democratic endeavor. Thus, just as in his account of Smith’s free-market economics, Ferris finds in the United States Constitution the underlying principle that citizens should “be free to experiment, assess the results and conduct new experiments.” The American Republic might be compared to “a scientific laboratory,” he writes, because it is designed “not to guide society toward a specified goal, but to sustain the experimental process itself.”

According to Rosen, Ferris believes that, in general, the political influence on science has been liberalizing and progressive.  I have argued in this weblog, that the political influence on education in general, and science education in particular should follow the same pathway.  In my own view, the common standards movement does not support the degrees of freedom that will invigorate the environment in schools conducive to inquiry and humanistic science teaching.  Science teaching needs to focus on the lived experiences of students, and engage them in inquiry and experimental ways of knowing that relate to their personal lives.  Allowing common standards to determine what is taught, and how, is quite the opposite of a liberalizing and democratic approach to education.

Well, there you have it.  Thoughts?

Science Teaching in Film and Video

Last week I received emails from colleagues that believe that film and video make a strong contribution to the public understanding of science.  The three emails reflect as many ways that film and video are used in science education.

The first email was from Dr. Bill Hammack, the Engineerguy at the University of Illinois.  I described Bill’s approach which not only involves the development of video, but he used radio programming and public presentations to explore ways that the engineering profession might reach out to the public to help citizens become more aware of how engineering concepts are a part of their everyday life.  One of the most powerful aspects of his work are the videos he is developing that as part of a program to humanize engineering and science.  Here is one of his videos.  Link here to go to his YouTube site where you can see his other videos.  Engineers, scientists and science educators producing video is a powerful tool for the public understanding of science.

I also received a note as a result of uploading a movie on geology on YouTube from an earth science teacher (Dry Dredger) who has created a whole series of videos on fossil hunting. Here is one of his videos:

The second email was from Carolyn Friedman who has assembled a list of The Top 25 Science TV Shows of All Time.  She has included four categories including reality TV shows (NOVA Science Now), fictionalized shows (CSI), shows for Kids (Bill Nye the Science Guy), and science fiction shows (Star Trek).  I think you will find the link to her site valuable, and she has assembled all of the videos on the list with links to the shows.

The third email from Jess Tonn from The After-School Corporation (TASC) announcing a series of videos on informal science education.  Teach video is 1 – 2 minutes in length showing kids engaged in hands-on activities. You can see all of their work on their YouTube site.   Here is one example from TASC informal science education program.




These are some examples showing how videos are a creative in bringing science to students and the public.  I recommend you visit any of these examples.

Adventures in Geology: Darwin & Fossils

Last year was the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book On the Origin of Species.  One of the activities I was involved in was work with a group of middle school students to explore some of the ideas shown in the Wordle that I designed used the nifty program at wordle.com.
Wordle: Darwin and Wallace

We had planned three activities to help the students see how fossils were important to Darwin, and to also show that Darwin used geology as as an important aspect in the future development of his theory to explain how species changed over time. Here are the activities we did.  Following the description of the activities is the slide show in YouTube form I used to help the students explore these ideas

Mystery at the Ringgold Road Cut. In this activity, the students were given a bag of crinoid stems that I had collected from lower Paleozoic rocks in Northwest Georgia (as shown in the photo here), a hand lens, and a metric rule.

Crinoid stems used in an activity with student in which they make observations and inferences about these "mystery" objects.
Sedimentary bed containing crinoid fossils in NW Georgia

They were asked to investigate the objects, and use observations of the fossils to pose questions, and make conclusions about what they thought the objects might be.

Being a Palentologist. Into brown paper bags, we put a fossil and a geological time scale that included drawings of organisms associated with the three geological eras. Students picked up a bag, and then proceeded to use their powers of observation to try and interpret when the fossil might have lived and in what kind of environment. When they had an idea, they could pick up a sheet of paper with further information about their fossil. Fossils included: brachiopod, oyster, petrified wood, shark tooth, amber, coprolite, fern, fossil fish, trilobite, sea urchin, dinosaur bone.

The Footprint Puzzle. We provided the students with a footprint showing two sets of fossil tracks (of dinosaurs). The students used the tracks to discuss what they thought might be going on. In the map of the tracks, the tracks converge and at the point of convergence, there tracks overlap each other. After some discussion, students make the inference that there were two dinosaurs, and they met up, and either mated, or had a fight. When then provided them one additional piece of information. The additional information showed only one set of tracks exiting the area of convergence.

In the movie that follows, we used images of Darwin’s voyage around the world, images from Down House, Darwin’s family, a picture and reading of the letter he received from Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858 that shocked Darwin into making his theory of natural selection public, and indeed, his and Wallace’s papers were read at the Linnean Society in London in 1858.  Enjoy!