Rita and Katrina, Linking Natural Disasters, People and Science

The two hurricanes, Rita and Katrina, that have impacted millions of people directly, and the rest of the US population indirectly, as well as many people around the world, bring home the importance of making science education real, and encouraging students to be engaged with real problems and events in nature. Too much science teaching goes on within the confines of the classroom; very little teaching brings students in contact with real phenomena that impact their lives. In the present scenarios of hurricanes originating in the Atlantic, and then moving into the Gulf of Mexico, conditions favored high category storms. There are a host of issues for students to get involved with here. Internet experiences can bring them in contact with others who are dealing with disasters, such as these two hurricanes, and with resources to help them become involved in these important events. A couple of links for you include Hurricane Katrina: A Citizen Resource and Get Real with Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina: A Citizen Resource

The devastation of Hurricane Katrina was beyond belief, and might be the worst natural disaster in US history. Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, and other severe storms have impacted more than 2.2 billion people in the past 10 years. This is a very large increase from the previous ten years, and it will increase in the forseeable future. It is isn’t that there are more hurricanes or earthquakes, it is that people have continued to populate high risk areas, and in many cases, not take the precautions that might lessen the effect of these natural events. For example, in the case of the flooding of New Orleans, the THE TIMES-PICAYUNE Newspaper wrote a five-part series on the effect of a hurricane on New Orleans in 2002. It was a clear warning of what would happen to New Orleans in the event of a category 4 or 5 hurricane. The response of federal and state agencies has been considered by many as “unacceptable” and has led to a great deal of criticism.
I have developed a citizen resource (in the form of a webquest) that is designed to educate and inform people about Hurricane Katrina. Teachers should find the resource valuable for upper elementary, middle and high school students.

California Earthquakes and Science Teaching

I’ve only had a few direct experiences with an earthquake (one each in Oakland, CA, Seattle, WA, and Columbus, OH), and yet this past week, California citizens experienced 4 earthquakes that rattled a number of locations, and one of the earthquakes triggered a tsunami warning. A number of geologists were interviewed on national TV networks, were asked about the science of predicting earthquakes. The science of seismology advances as new technologies emerge and the theory of plate tectonics is more fully understood. Perhaps the most important advance has been in the area of “earthquake preparadeness.” Earthquakes in the science currciulum can contribute to citizens’ understanding of the science and societal implications of tremors, and help them gain a deeper understanding of the planet earth. Several years ago, I wrote an online earthquake activity as a result of an earthquake that occured in Turkey in 1999. One key site that I came across was the Global Earthquake Response Center. You might want to check it out, and notice how the site might help teachers in the development and planning of earthquake lessons. What do you think?

Using the Web to Transform Learning Possibilities

Fifteen years ago, a team of educators from Georgia took 6 Macintosh SE 20 computers, modems, and printers to the then Soviet Union, and then proceeded to install one computer, modem and printer in five different schools we were collaborating with (2 in Moscow and 3 in St. Petersburg). We connected each computer to a telecommunications system using the school’s phone line and modem. The World Wide Web as we know it today, had not been in use, so we only had email as our means of communication, but given the fact there were very few computers in the Soviet Union’s schools, this was a remarkable event. The five schools in the USSR were linked by a network known as the Global Thinking Project with five schools in the USA (four in Georgia, and one in Pennsylvania). Students collaborated on a series of environmental projects in which they conducted local research projects and then used the Network to share their findings with their partner and collaborating schools. Today we have the Web, laptops, and wireless environments. We also have 15 years of research on the problems and benefits of using these technologies to promote learning. The Web has transformed the way we do business, and the way we communicate with each other; it can transform the way we learn, and the way we impact learning in schools. For example, the Virtual High School enables students at any participating school take courses online. Online curriculum projects have been implemented and field tested over the past ten years including GLOBE, CIESE Collaborative Projects, Hands On Universe, to name just a few. The Web has great potential. What do you think?