Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Flat or Round: Still Seeking the Answer

Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

On Saturday, November 25 2017 Mike Hughes hopes to disprove what he believes is a conspiracy.  That conspiracy is the roundness of the earth and involves astronauts. He has either dismissed the history that shows the earth is not flat or does not know it.

Hughes, AKA Mad Mike Hughes, has constructed a steam-powered rocket in which he will ride to gain the evidence he is seeking. He has flown one before and was injured in the landing (parachute assisted) from which he recovered. The launch ramp consists of a modified a used motor-home. Two major parts--launch ramp and the rocket--in the price range of $20,000.

The aim is to reach an altitude of 1800 feet during which he will take pictures to provide the evidence he is seeking.

The rocket is painted with Rust-Oleum paint in a brilliant red with signage that reads research and flat earth in large bold lettering. This refers to the major group sponsoring the flight.

Of the announcements and stories I've read, there are two I like.

Washington Post's essay by Avi Selk includes a video about the project, the video in which he was injured and a link to a story about Cleveland Cavalier basketball player, Kylie Irving, a kindred spirit.

NPR's Colin Dwyer fills in details and provides additional information. Dwyer also includes a Go-Pro video of the flight in which he was injured.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Urban Bird Mini-Grants

Art and Environment

Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology is offering Celebrate Urban Bird Mini-Grants. The aim is to connect communities with nature, birds, arts and citizen science.

No experience with birds is required. The range of the grants is from $100 to $750.

Out-of-the-box (OotB) or out-of-the-nest projects (OotN) are welcomed.  Included in the description are some past programs funded by this grant program. Here are two OotB/OotN projects: an oncology center that encouraged patients to collect data while they waited for appointments; a courthouse that offered outdoor programming for children waiting for their parents.

Information about the program, requirements and timeline may be found here.


Life in a Bubble

Nature of Science
Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

Writing for Science, Elizabeth Pennisi summarizes a study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

She begins by writing California’s Mono Lake is three times saltier—and much more alkaline—than the ocean, making it inhospitable for most life. Yet the tiny alkali fly (Ephydra hians, pictured) thrives on its surface. It even survives underwater....

Read all about it.

It made me think of Leslie Orgel's most well known rule: Evolution is cleverer than you are. To read about his rules and what they mean see this incomplete Wiki entry.

Leslie Orgel was a noted chemist.

Monday, November 20, 2017


Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Since this teacher response to a student's answer has been viewed more than a million times and garnered some 200 responses it is likely you've seen it as well.

The worksheet itself is described at the bottom as "reading support and practice," explicitly for "use with pp. 120-133".  The prompt for the student is "Suppose you wanted to build a house on this land and still protect its natural resources.  What could you do?  How would it protect the natural resources?"

The answer: "You can just forget about the house."

The teacher's response in red is "ha-ha!" followed by an emoji (indicating full credit?).  This made me think about feedback.

I know nothing about the teacher but assume s/he was trying to be useful and helpful under the constant constraints of time and all too often, grinding duties.  

In his book Assessing Student Performance: Exploring the Purpose and Limits of Testing, the late Grant Wiggins devoted a chapter to feedback and ways as well as the need, for improving it.  I think it is too often undervalued in education. He writes "What is wanted is user-friendly information on how I am doing, and how, specifically, I might improve what I am doing."

I'd like to know what the student was thinking.  The student might have been asked a reason or two for the response or to respond to a "what-if" question.

Does this tiny snippet from a student demand more of a response and what kind?  Is the teacher's response at all useful? How? If not, what are your reasons? What would you write on this worksheet so that the student might profit from your comment?   Would you routinely take class time for discussion of student responses (a sample of them)?  Why or why not?                    

Sunday, November 19, 2017

World Toilet Day: 7 Toilets from Around the World

Water & Watersheds
Edward Hessler

It is November 19, World Toilet Day.

First, be grateful you have one, e.g., ceramic, sparkling, flushes easily, sanitary, convenient, and low flush.

Greta Jochem of NPR writes, To get a better idea of the range of toilets around the world, take a look at Dollar Street. It's a project that catalogs everyday objects — like toys, soap, stoves and of course, toilets — to provide a snapshot of life at different income levels across the globe.

In her piece on NPR are shown seven toilets from around the world.

And here is Dollar Street.

Taking a Look at This Land

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Jack Spencer started looking at America through the lens of a camera in 2003.

The result is a book, This Land (you can take a inside) published this year by the University of Texas Press.

Here are some images he took.

Some potential images overwhelmed him. Washington Post writer May-Ying Lam notes that "On occasion, (Spencer) encountered places where he felt there was no way to do justice to the experience of being there. 'You don't even bother with the camera. You're just completely humbled by how beautiful it is.'"

There is an essay about Mr. Spencer here.

Friday, November 17, 2017

An Award from NABT to Bertha Vazquez

Biological Evolution
Environmental and Science Education

Edward Hessler

This just in from Glenn Branch, National Center for Science Education.

"Bertha Vazquez received the Evolution Education Award for 2017 from the National Association of
Biology Teachers (NABT). Vazquez received the award at the NABT's recent conference in St. Louis, Missouri.

"The NABT award, sponsored by BEACON and BSCS, 'recognizes innovative classroom teachers and their efforts to promote the accurate understanding of biological evolution with the larger community.'"

"Vazquez teaches at G. W. Carver Middle School in Miami. and directs the Richard Dawkins
Foundation's Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science."

Mr. Branch provided these links:

About NABT's awards, visit:

For Vazquez's "Sharing the Passion for Evolution Education," visit:

And for the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, visit:

If you only have time to read one, read the last. Ms. Vazquez is remarkable in many ways. In a note to me in September she told me how TIES started.  

"We kicked off TIES together, Richard Dawkins and I. I met him a few times here locally and then talked to him at length at a private event back in 2014. I told him I had decided to start helping middle school science teachers with evolution workshops in Miami. Just on my own, with the blessing of my district supervisors. He wanted to help so he came to my middle school. We invited teachers from all over the district and I interviewed him in my school auditorium (pic attached). Hundreds of science teachers came. Then he asked me to do this nationally and he would pay me. Almost three years later, we've presented or confirmed 73 workshops in 28 states. I run a very positive project. I feel that the NCSE takes care of the creationist teachers. We focus on the good teachers in the middle, who just want good resources and content knowledge. HHMI is superb but is geared more towards high school and college. Our niche is middle school."

HHMI is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. 

h/t: Glenn Branch, NCSE 

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is by Naomi Shibab Nye.

And for some history about the humble onion see this short history from the National Onion Association.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Hurricanes and Aerosols Simulation 2017


Climate Change
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

NASA has produced a simulation tracking aerosols over land and oceans for the period August 1 to November 1, 2017.

"The first thing that is noticeable," according to the release, "is how far the particles can travel. Smoke from fires in the Pacific Northwest gets caught in a weather pattern and pulled all the way across the US and over to Europe. Hurricanes form off the coast of Africa and travel across the Atlantic to make landfall in the United States. Dust from the Sahara is blown into the Gulf of Mexico. To understand the impacts of aerosols, scientists need to study the process as a global system.
"During the 2017 hurricane season, the storms are visible because of the sea salt that is captured by the storms. Strong winds at the surface lift the sea salt into the atmosphere and the particles are incorporated into the storm. Hurricane Irma is the first big storm that spawns off the coast of Africa. As the storm spins up, the Saharan dust is absorbed in cloud droplets and washed out of the storm as rain. This process happens with most of the storms, except for Hurricane Ophelia. Forming more northward than most storms, Ophelia traveled to the east picking up dust from the Sahara and smoke from large fires in Portugal. Retaining its tropical storm state farther northward than any system in the Atlantic, Ophelia carried the smoke and dust into Ireland and the UK."

Dust, sea salt and smoke, blowin' in the wind, all used in understanding of atmospheric physics.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Health: The Global Killer

Edward Hessler

On October 19, 2017, the British Medical Journal, The Lancet published results of a major study on global disease and premature death. The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health summary is another wake-up call on us and our relationship to the planet and to each other. It reads:

Pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today. Diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015—16% of all deaths worldwide—three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence. In the most severely affected countries, pollution-related disease is responsible for more than one death in four.

The full article is available free of charge. It is worth taking a look. Some of the numbers are numbing.

The Wiki entry on The Lancet includes the following information about this very well-known and highly regarded medical journal. It "was founded in 1823 by Thomas Wakley, an English surgeon who named it after the surgical instrument called a lancet, as well as after the architectural term 'lancet arch' a window with a sharp pointed arch, to indicate the 'light of wisdom' or 'to let in light.'" 

Wiki describes the various lancets (instruments).