Monday, March 27, 2017

Taking STEM Outdoors

Early Childhood
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

How do you help young children connect nature play, outdoor experiences, and STEM learning?

Teaching STEM Outdoors: Activities for Young Children by Patty Born Selly provides some suggestions. The book will be available from Amazon May 16, 2017.  It is currently available from the publisher, Red Leaf Press.
Patty Born Selly, the author

Ms. Born Selly is an instructor in Hamline University's School of Education. She was willing to respond to a few questions.

--How would you describe a playful learning experience?  

Anything! As long as there is joy involved, there is likely learning happening. Joy and delight open our minds up to be more receptive and more responsive, and so really whenever children are playing, they are learning....they may not be able  to articulate what  it is exactly that they are learning, but they are learning nonetheless.

--What is the value of such learning experiences?
It's my very strong opinion that we need joy and delight in our lives! Learning, in particular, is one area where these qualities  seem to get 'pushed aside' or seen as less important, even a hindrance to the serious work of education. But joyful learning really matters and makes a difference! It is more memorable, more personal, and frankly, more fun.
--Your book, its activities, describe/infer what you mean by STEM for early learners. Please provide a thumbnail summary. 

In this book, the focus is less on the content associated with science, tech, engineering, and math, but more about the processes and practices associated with those disciplines:solve problems,  things like asking investigable questions, constructing an argument from evidence, trying  new and different approaches to solving problems, discernment, representation and use of models to aid in thinking  or communicating. These are things children do when they play.  I'm a firm believer in developmentally appropriate practice, and tailoring content to fit the age and developmental level of your students. But all students can engage in the practices associated with STEM-no matter their age, developmental level, or physical ability. This book helps teachers and other adults understand how children naturally engage in those practices during their play, and it helps the adults learn to see how  children engage in those practices, so that they can recognize that young children really are learning all the time.

--What is the aim (aims, if you prefer) you have for the STEM side of your book?

Well, since most  of the most important advancements in STEM came as a result of someone's curiosity and wonder, this book hopefully will serve to bring back curiosity and wonder  as a very legitimate and necessary part of "doing STEM"... I want to help teachers see and understand the practices associated with the STEM disciplines, and to recognize how easily and how frequently young children engage in those practices. This will (I hope) help teachers understand that by supporting play and being intentional about how young children engage with the natural world, such as through asking productive questions, providing  a variety of materials, and -in some cases, just getting out of the way- they are in turn supporting the development and comfort with the practices that we commonly associate with STEM.

--What is the aim (aims, if you prefer) you have for the Nature side of your book? 

This book is a  shameless plug  for  the natural world as THE best place for young children to be. In nature, children are immersed in a context  with stimuli that is at once soothing and stimulating, calming and exciting all at the same time. This provokes curiosity and wonder, as well as a profound sense of curiosity and joy-which is so important. I want this book to convince teachers that nature, with its rich diversity of stimuli, is a place where children belong--there, they learn in a variety of ways,including through their bodies, their spirits, as well as their minds, to be the curious, creative people we all know them to be. 

My hope is that this book makes it easier for teachers to 1-go outside more often, 2-recognize the many different ways in which children are already engaging in "STEM Thinking' and 3-get out of children's way and let them play--they  are doing enough just by playing and loving the earth-being curious and wanting to learn more.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Global Pandemic and Virus Quiz

Edward Hessler

How much do you know about global pandemics and killer viruses is the subject of a short quiz from NPR.

I learned something and perhaps you will as well. One I missed I could blame on the fact that I am not a moviegoer but that excuse is "weak as water," as Mrs. Slocombe frequently announced on the British sitcom "Are You Being Served." There are other ways of being aware and I wasn't.

Most of us like short quizzes although students who take them for different reasons may and often do disagree.  It is more fun when they don't count!

Here it is and no pencils are required.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Scale of the Universe Boggles

Environmental & Science Education
Mathematics Education
Edward Hessler

On February 15, 2017 I posted some comments about light speed in an attempt to help in thinking about large, really big numbers.

Deep time is another way of conceiving space (and thinking about large numbers)--the cosmos from one end to another. It takes lots of time to get from here to there.

When I wrote the first post I considered including a comment made by the late Stephen Jay Gould in a lovely book he wrote, Time's Arrow, Time's CycleSo, here it is. An abstract, intellectual understanding of deep time comes easily enough--I know how many zeros to place after the 10 when I mean billions. Getting it into the gut is quite another matter. Deep time is so  alien we can  really  only comprehend it as a metaphor.

So I come at the idea of thinking about big numbers again, thanks to Michael Strauss, an astrophysicist at Princeton who made these observations in a great essay in Aeon.

A flight from Dubai to San Francisco is about 8000 miles (12874.75 km).

That distance is roughly equal to the diameter of the Earth.

The sun's diameter is just over 100 times Earth's (1287475.2 km).

The distance between the Earth and the Sun is some 100 times larger than this or some 100 million miles. (12874752 km)

That distance represents the radius of the Earth's orbit around the Sun and is used as a fundamental unit in astronomy, the Astronomical Unit (AU).

The spacecraft, Voyager 1, was launched in 1977. It has been zipping along ever since at 7 miles per second. It is now 137 AU from the sun after 40 years. I doubt very much that I would have been close had I been asked to make an estimate.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory maintains an odometer in kilometers and astronomical units which can be checked anytime.  This seems a good place and time to stop using kilometers and use AUs. The nearest star is Proxima Centauri, about 270000 AU out there. 270000 AU is ~4.25 light years.

This number provides a reference point for thinking about cosmic distances.The average distance between stars in the Milky Way galaxy is about 4 light years.

Professor Strauss's essay may be found here.  He notes that the universe always escapes even the most-imaginative science fiction. He also makes a plea for a cosmic perspective.

This is another way, a delightful way, to consider the solar system, the galaxy and the universe from Monty Python.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

This Friday's poem is by Ben Okri.

It is titled To an English Friend in Africa.

Mr. Okri is a winner of the 1991 Booker Prize for his novel The Famished Road.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

World Poetry Day: Yesterday March 22, 2017

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

The north end of the Hamline Campus was shut-down yesterday for electrical work. All buildings were locked and access to the blog was not possible for me.

I missed an entry for World Poetry Day.

Here it is and it includes biographical information.

A Small Sample of Common Names for British Moths

Edward Hessler

In a review of  Paul Waring's and Martin Townsend's "Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland (Third Edition), Caroline Moore of the Spectator (18 March 2017) wrote about how evocative common English names of moth are.

Consider apples. Ananas Reinette. Black Gilliflower or Sheep's Nose, Cortland, Chenango Strawberry, Black Oxford, Ashmead's Kernel, Belle de Boskoop, Sops of Wine, Maiden's Blush....
(Full disclosure: I was raised in Chenango County, NY.)

The moth names are simply too lovely not to share.

"Maiden's Blush, Beautiful Golden Y, Speckled Footman, Grass Emerald, Neglected Rustic, Silky Wainscot, Setaceous Hebrew Character (a moth obviously named by a country clergyman--like the Quaker, the Nonconformist, the Conformist and he Gothic). One can feel across the centuries the excited wonder of the enthusiast who named the Merveille du Jour--still marvellous, intricately patterned with glistening silver and black and peppermint green. And one can sense the frustration of those who named the Suspected, the Uncertain, and the Confused. Poor souls, they did not have Waring and Townsend to hand."

A fact/factoid I didn't know and really had no way of knowing is that there are more than 2500 breeding species of moth in the United Kingdom and only 59 breeding species of butterfly. If asked, I wouldn't have expected this large a difference.

The review is beautifully written and starts with a very funny anecdote.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

New Drawings and Paintings from Conrad Gessner

Art and Environment
History of Science
Edward Hessler

Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner (1515 - 1565) is known as the founding father of zoology, a term and college major that has nearly disappeared as its many branches have become more dominant in the curriculum and research more specialized. He is the author of Historiae Animalium (Accounts of Animals), the first published work that included not only descriptions but also illustrations.

The work, developed from 1551 - 1558, was a heroic effort to list and describe every animal in the world. It was based on many sources and the result is that mythical animals are included BUT as described in the biography linked above, Gessner also placed a new emphasis on direct observation rather than the hand-me-downs which had been used for centuries.

In 2012, Florike Egmond discovered a 16th-century collection of drawings and water colors which had been collected by Gessner. The Guardian has published some of these lovely drawings and paintings.

Professor Egmond is the author of the recently released Eye for Detail: Images of Plants and Animals in Art and Science 1500-1630.

h/t: Gordon Murdock

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

This is a day for the Irish and Irish wannabees.

So a poem by an Irish poet is required.

Eavan Boland came to the United States from Ireland in the mid-90s.  She is professor of creative writing at Stanford.

Here is some information, pictures, and videos about St. Patrick and St. Patrick's Day.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Just Passing Through

Environmental & Science Education
by Edward Hessler

Neutrinos have no mass, no charge and no energy. They can do a very odd thing. They pass through "stuff" (matter mostly) unimpeded, including us, without almost any interaction. When they do interact they give off energy which is how they are detected.

First neutrino observation [Wikimedia]

So how do they pull this off? Symmetry provides a short explanation from a Fermi Laboratory physicist speaking over an animation.

Here is the Wiki entry on neutrinos. IceCube is the South Pole Neutrino observatory, a collaboration consisting of 300 members, 48 institutions (includes the University of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin River Falls)  and 12 countries. The home page provides all kinds of information about the research as well as life there.

Can't leave without a couple of somewhat lame neutrino jokes.

— A neutrino walks into a bar and orders a drink. He asks the bartender for his bill and the bartender says, "For you, there's no charge."

— A neutrino walks into a bar and orders a beer. The bartender says, "we don't serve neutrinos here." The neutrino says "I was just passing through."

Thanks for the jokes.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Should We Peek

by Edward Hessler

Do you ever think about giraffes?

Or about one in particular, April?  You likely know about her. April is 15-years old, expecting, and lives at Animal Adventure Park, Harpursville, N. Y.  This event is being livestreamed.

A one-day-old giraffe [Wikimedia]

The few times I've seen references to the YouTube livestream camera feed I've experienced a twinge.  Doesn't she deserve to be left alone and deliver her calf in privacy?  Surely we can wait a few days for a picture of her calf. Do we have to see everything? And if/when we do what have we missed of great importance?

I was reminded of a controversy on photographing animals in the wild, in this case owls. The place? Minnesota. Should they be baited so that an extraordinary shot of a wild animal, in the wild, can be shot? See below for links on this controversy.

It also made me think about The Miracle of Birth exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair.

And this is where I left these thoughts.

Fortunately for me, Barbara J. King does not. She is a favorite contributor of mine to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos and Culture. Her day job is as a professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary. Professor King and her husband are, it can be said, "animal people."  In particular, they are keepers of cats—homeless and abandoned cats. Some rough numbers: half a dozen in the house, nearly a dozen in a spacious yard/pen, a couple of strays and a half dozen at a nearby colony.

King recently wrote about April, a result of her husband wondering aloud "why it was thought OK to violate April's privacy that way." Her quick and first response was that "privacy doesn't mean much to animals." However, she didn't dismiss his thoughts. I love that she said she has learned not to do that!

In a coincidence that one hopes would happen, glad about the occurrence, the day following this brief exchange she read an essay that honed in on the question of whether animals have a right to privacy. It is from a new book, The Eye of the Sandpiper: Stories from the Living World by Brandon Keim.

She writes "suddenly, my ethical questions have multiplied." And my goodness did they as have mine.

I'm not going to write anything more or let you jump to the end of her splendid, thought provoking essay. Instead, I ask you to consider your answer to the question raised by her husband.

Where do you draw the line? Play a little with the idea: what animals, situations, in the wild, domestic critters, yard critters...? Is it important to know anything about them before you capture them on "film" to share with others? What are some criteria you think should be a guide?

Then, please read King's essay, Does a Pregnant Giraffe Deserve Privacy? Professor King interviewed Brandon Keim and this, plus her wonderful thinking open a door that may have never occurred to you to consider.

Has your answer changed?

Now to the question of baiting owls in order to take photographs that are sometimes said to be "in the wild." There is a report on MPR,  March 13, 2017 on this issue.  In addition, Laura Erickson also wrote about this on her wonderful blog For the Birds in February 2014.