Thursday, September 20, 2018

Anna Comstock

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

In the late 1800s and the early 1900s, nature study was a part of the elementary school curriculum. It was an inportant component of a child-centered educational reform that aimed to replace passive rote learning with active learning. The subject matter--plant, animal, geology, weather, astronomy--was never intended to be standardized but adapted to take advantage of local natural conditions.

One of the pioneers and leaders of the so-called nature study movement was Anna Botsford Comstock (1854 - 1930) who received her degree in natural history at Cornell University (1885) and to which she returned in 1891 to teach natural history. She was known for taking her students outdoors to study nature. While at Cornell she wrote what was to become a standard textbook for teachers, The Handbook of Nature Study

According to Comstock this is what nature-study is.

Nature-study is a study of nature; it consists of simple truthful observations that may, like beads in a string, finally be threaded upon the understanding and thus held together as a logical and harmonious whole. Therefore, the object of the nature-study teacher shuold be to cultivate in the children processes of accurate observation and to build up...understanding. (p.1)

On teaching nature-study.

In nature-study any teacher can with honor say, "I do not know"; for perhaps the question asked is as yet unanswered by the great scientists. But she should not let lack of knowledge be a wet blanket thrown over her pupil's interest. She should say frankly, "I do not know; let us see if we cannot together find out this mysterious thing. Maybe no one knows it as yet, and I wonder if you will discover it before I do." (p. 3)

The relationship of nature-study to elementary science.

Nature-study is not elementary science as so taught, because its point of attack is not the same; error in this respect has caused many a teacher to abandon nature-study and many a pupil to hate it. ... In nature-study the work begins with any plant or creature which chances to interest the pupil. It begins with the robin when it comes back to us in March, promising spring. ... Nature-study is for the comprehension of the individual life of the bird, insect or plant that is nearest at hand. (p. 3)

A picture book biography about Anna Comstock by Susanne Slade (illustrated by Jessica Lanan) titled Out of School and Into Nature is listed as a summer STEM read in the American Scientist. The book is for elementary school students (and others!). The link to the book provides several reviews.

Nathaniel Wheelwright, an emeritus professor at Bowdoin College, is one of many modern day nature study enthusiasts and practitioners. On his bookshelf is found a copy of the Slade-Lanan biography. With Bernd Heinrich*, he is the co-author of The Naturalists Notebook: An Observation Guide and 5-Year Calendar Journal for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You

I include Wheelwright's Ten Tips for Becoming an Observant Naturalist. In these tips you will find a sample of Heinrich's wonderful watercolors.

* Heinrich is an extraordinarily talented field naturalist, renowned at turning observations into clever, experimental studies. It is hard to know where to start on recommending one of his books. He has written very readable and accessible books about ravens, Canada geese, trees, bumblebees, the homing instinct, a personal reflection on living with an owl, long-distance running, nesting, thermoregulation, strategies of insect survival, essays, etc. Several of his books show how he goes about his work. I especially like Ravens in Winter and his book of essays, In a Patch of Fireweeds (Perhaps because it has a local example, lovely work on diving beetles, done at the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories, University of Minnesota .) Here is a listing of his books.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Amily "Emmy" Noether

Environmental & Science Education
History of Science
Women in Science
Edward Hessler

In a blog post, October 24, 2005, theoretical physicist Sean Carroll (CalTech) notes that "a 'symmetry'," in physics, "is a situation where you can rearrange things a bit (values of quantum fields, positions in space, any of the characteristics of some physical state) and get the same answer to any physical question you may want to ask. An obvious example is, in fact, position in space: it doesn’t matter where in the world you set up your experiment to measure the charge of the electron, you should get the same answer. Of course, if your experiment is to measure the Earth’s gravitational field, you might think that you do get a different answer by moving somewhere else in space. But the rules of the game are that everything has to move — you, the experiment, and even the Earth! If you do that, the gravitational field should indeed be the same."

After developing his general theory of relativity, Albert Einstein asked mathematician Amily ("Emmy") Noether for her help in understanding how energy fitted into his equations. In my cartoon summary, the linkage of time and energy. This request resulted into "a rare foray into physics, a discipline in which she was not particularly interested." This resulted in a theorem which has become known as Noether's theorem. This year is the centenary of this publication. It was a fortunate move for physicists and the significance of her contributions cannot be overstated.

Noether's theorem continues "to be font of inspiration." A conference, The Philosophy and Physics of Noether's Theorems, October 5 & 6, will be an occasion for physicists and philosophers of science to discuss the enduring impact of Noether's breakthrough work.

The journal Nature has an editorial about Noether about whom not as much is known as should be. There is a link to her 1918 paper. A quote from an obituary of her former student, Bartel van der Waerden comments on her general approach to mathematics. “All of us like to rely on figures and formulas. She was concerned with concepts only, not with visualization or calculation.”

Noether was born in Erlanger, Germany on March 23, 1882 and died in Byrn Mawr, Pennsylvania, April 14, 1935. The cause of death was a post-operative infection following surgery for an ovarian cyst.What a loss.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Waiting for the Yellow School Bus

Environmental & Science Education
Art & Environment
Edward Hessler

The American fine art photographer Greg Miller began his career photographing for newspapers and magazines. He is dedicated to the use of a particular format, an 8X10 view camera. His most recent project--Morning Bus--is reported by NPR's Emily Sullivan.

Here he tells Sullivan about the project who intersperses her story with some of his photographs. Sullivan quotes Miller on his aim: "My hope is that there is a little bit of the magic of the early morning present in my pictures. Like in C.S. Lewis' Narnia, by photographing children who are really waiting for the bus, there is a mixture of vulnerability, childhood wonder and real-life anxiety." 

Check those hopes for yourself.  For me the scorecard on magic is yes; on vulnerability, yes; on childhood wonder, yes and on real-life anxiety, yes.

And here is Greg Miller's website which includes the photographs. There may be a new one in it. I didn't check carefully.l

Evolution of Science Kits

Environmental & Science Education
History of Science
Edward Hessler

In the Distillation series, produced by the Science History Institute, four short animated videos provide a glimpse of science kits and their evolution. The kits were once used at home to do "experiments" and demonstrations. 

You may be familiar with chemistry sets, a great source of stinks, flashes and bangs. Most of these were marketed before there was any concern about the safety of some of the chemicals or some of the techniques (e.g., an alcohol burner) or from occasional (hoped for!) results (explosions). I had one made by the A. C. Gilbert toy company and loved playing with it.

Science Kits at Play shows four time periods and the nature of the kits.

Friday, September 14, 2018

NSTA Position Statement on Climate Change

Environmental & Science Education
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

A September 13 2018 press release from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) announced the release, one long awaited, of an NSTA position paper on climate change.

Here is the press release and the position statement, The Teaching of Climate Science.

The position statement includes a list of recommendations, calls attention to necessary support structures, includes a link to an NSTA web page on climate resources and an important section on background information on teaching climate science. The position statement also includes a list of references.

The background information on teaching climate science includes sections on the nature of science, controversy and personal beliefs, the nature of deep-seated beliefs, the time needed for learning and responses to climate change. 
The introduction notes the importance of learning progressions which the National Research Council's publication, A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas uses throughout. This calls attention to the time it takes to learn, K-12. In the following links, you will find a short paragraph on learning progressions on p. 26 and in the section which includes global climate change, the learning progression for K-12, on pp. 196-198.

I chose to link to the read on-line option. There is also a PDF option if you are interested in downloading. Both are provided free.
I was interested in the words used to begin each of the recommendations or declarations as they are referred to in the document. The list includes recognize (3 times), emphasize, deliver, expand, advocate, teach, plan, help, provide,  highlight, analyze (2 times) and seek.  Here is the advocacy statement and it is important: Advocate for integrating climate and climate change science across the K–12 curriculum beyond STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) classes.

There is much to like, applaud and appreciate in this statement from NSTA.

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

In his autobiography, written shortly before his death, Charles Darwin wrote "and if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week...."

Today's poem (two translations) was written by Tomas Tronstromer who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Wisdom of Insecurity

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler 

The Nobel Prize physicist Richard Feynman was well known for being quotable. One of his most famous is from his 1974 California Institute of Technology commencement address. 
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.
Feynman followed this statement with these words. "So you have to be very careful about that.  After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.
"I would like to add something that’s not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you’re talking as a scientist."
Here is the full 1974 CalTech address in the event you are interested in reading it.
I thought of this Feynman quote when I viewed the September 11, 2018 PBS News Hour's "In My Humble Opinion." It featured McGill University professor emeritus in neuroscience Daniel Levitin.
"If you think you know everything, you can't learn anything" is just plain good advice and stated nicely. Words and actions to live by and beautifully expressed.
h/t: Lynne
Here is the full text.

Daniel Levitin:
It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
You may be familiar with this Mark Twain quote. It was used in the film “The Big Short” and in Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Twain is saying that, if you’re sure you know something, you act on it with the strength of conviction, never considering that you might be wrong. If you’re sure that this alternative treatment will help cure you better than Western medicine, you will forego the traditional treatment.
Two-thirds of cancer patients think this way, that alternative medicine will prolong their lives. But, in fact, patients who turn to it are twice as likely to die of their cancers, and they die earlier.
If you’re sure that your choice of political candidate is right, you’re not going to be open-minded about any new evidence that might come in that could or should cause you to change your mind.
I’m a college professor, and I train Ph.D. students for careers as neuroscientists. They come into my laboratory full of confidence. They have been at the top of every class they have been in their entire lives.
I spend most of my time trying to teach them that they don’t know everything they think they do. My job as a teacher really is to unteach them. I’m always asking, why do you think that? What’s the evidence?
These lessons can take four to eight years. Knowledge can only be created in an environment where we’re open to the possibility that we’re wrong.
You may recognize the Zen connection, the wisdom of insecurity. If you think you know everything, you can’t learn anything.
I think that all of us are capable of this kind of critical thinking. Every 4-year-old asks a series of incessant why questions. We have this beaten out of us early on by worn-down parents and teachers. But this why mode is the key to critical thinking.
Think like a 4-year-old. Ask why and how. Ask them often.
This attitude allows us to navigate the world more effectively, choosing among options or political candidates or medical treatments that are more likely to maximize our success and our well-being.
By the way, Mark Twain is widely cited for the quote we began with, but there’s no evidence that he ever said it or anything like it. The source of it is unknown.
Sometimes, you don’t know what you think you do.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Work: Window Washers

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

We'll go wash windows in heaven so that heaven is clean.
--from the film Paraiso

I've previously posted about what people do all day. Work. Jobs. Making a Living.

Windows need washing and many of them are not easy to get to and involve some danger. A short film (10 minutes) features three Mexican window washers who clean the windows of some of Chicago's tallest buildings when they are not doing construction work. Their conversation tells us how they see the world and very little of it is about scenery or looking down.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Bread in Water

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Well we've all heard of bread and water but bread in water can be a bread of another color or of many other colors.

Here is a ten-day time-lapse series of a slice of bread placed in water.

The GPhase caption is a bit misleading. Have you ever wondered what happens to bread left in wet plate? I'd say this is a very wet plate, a pool.

Edna Adan

Image result for edna adan

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

I only recently learned about the extraordinary Edna Adan of Hargeisa, Somaliland. 
Louis Werner wrote a powerful essay (photography and video by Lorraine Chittock) about her in Aramco World (July-August 2018).  Adan is nothing short of remarkable and has an impressive resume.  

I hope the following comments based on Werner's article will lead you to read and view it.

The daughter of a doctor, Adan decided as a young girl, to pursue a medical career. This led her to London for training and upon her return she became Somaliland's first professional nurse-midwife.

Adan's long life, she is now 80 years-old, includes 30 years with the World Health Organization (WHO), two Somaliland ministerial positions--foreign minister and minister of family welfare and social development--and she was the force behind the construction of a maternity hospital and nursing school which bears her name (Edna Adan Hospital). It opened in 2002 with 25 beds but well before that she was training nurses and laboratory technicians (1,500 nurses, midwifes and lab-technicians). Adan is also among the nation's leaders against genital mutilation.

Beginning in 1961, Somaliland dissociated from Somalia. This led to a protracted civil war (~30 years and some half a million deaths) which not only leveled cities but also devastated the nation's health care professionals through death or departure. The subsequent rehabilitation of health services has been slow. Furthermore, traditional superstition and misinformation about health care have exerted a powerful influence on changes in health care (infant birth mortality, while falling) is almost double the global average.

Werner's essay includes stories of other women who are engaged in helping Somaliland achieve a new post-war identify, a map of the horn of Afirca to orient readers) and a short film by photographer 
Lorraine Chittock about Adan. 
Image result for midwife hospital

Werner ends by quoting a young midwife-in-training who by now must have attended her first birth. This trainee says "I want to see that happy moment when everyone is relieved, the baby is healthy, the mother is tired, and all of us are together helping." 

She sounds like a perfect candidate for the midwife-in-training candidate.