Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Image from Amazon.com

Included in the book Letters to Vera is a love poem by Vladimir Nabokov, written after he first met Vera Slomin. He was smitten then and throughout their lives together.

You may read a review of the book and the poem, The Encounter.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Vladimir Nabokov and The Blues

Biological Evolution
Art and Environment
Environmental & Science Education
by Edward Hessler

There is no science without fancy, and no art without facts.--Vladimir Nabokov

By Giuseppe Pino (Mondadori Publishers)
[Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

Combining Art and Science

I think it is fair to say that Vladimir Nabokov began collecting butterflies before he began writing. However, most of us know more about him as a writer--"Lolita," "Pale Fire"--than about his lifelong passion for butterflies. And even fewer of us know about his scientific work.

You might know that upon first immigrating to the United States he worked at the American Museum of Natural History and then at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology where he made meticulous drawings of the fine anatomy of butterfly wings and their genitalia. Both of these features have been used in identifying butterfly species (is this butterfly the same as another or different?). Because genitalia evolve more slowly than the patterns of butterfly wings they are more useful characters for discerning evolutionary relationships.


Image from Amazon.com

Nabokov's Beloved "Blues"

We now have access to the importance and significance of Nabokov's taxonomic work. Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov's Scientific Art (Yale University Press 2016), a book edited by Stephen H. Blackwell and Kurt Johnson is a collection of ten critical essays by well known scientists and literary scholars and 154 black-and-white and color illustrations. The bulk of the illustrations are of his beloved "blues." Images of some of the blues are found here. Soulful.

Alas, the captions to the drawings are quite another thing. Poet and novelist, Brad Leithauser reviewed Fine Lines for the Washington Post. Leithauser includes one of them: "The structures are obviously far more robust than in many Old and New World Blues, with the broad and club-ended male valve at center left, enclosed by a narrow genital ring attached upward to a lobate uncus and a very narrow and curvate falx/humerulus."


The Karner Blue Butterfly

By Hollingsworth, J & K [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

One of several species he named is the Karner blue. The name is from where it was first found, Karner, New York. This determination was not without controversy and was only resolved years later with the advent of DNA analytics. Nabokov was correct.

Vladimir Lukhtanov, a scientist at the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and an entomologist at Saint Petersburg State University wrote a comment on the book for the journal Nature which includes comments on science and art. Nabokov accomplished both: science and aesthetics.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Visualizing Turbulence in Van Gogh.

Mathematics Education
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Vincent van Gogh [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

Unexpected Math in Art

Natalya St. Clair joined her interests in studio arts and mathematics while an undergraduate at Scripps College. She has created three TED-Ed lessons, one of which is about the unexpected mathematics in Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night."

In introducing the lesson St. Clair quotes something Nobel Prize (1932) physicist Werner Heisenberg is reputed to have said on his death bed: “When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first.” The quote is very similar to one made by British fluid dynamicist Horace Lamb.


Heisenberg's Dissertation on Laminar to Turbulent Flow

Heisenberg's Ph.D. was on the transition from laminar to turbulent flow. The thesis was brilliant; his performance during its defense led to a grade of C and a brief description of this episode may be found here. He had failed basic questions (e.g., how a storage battery works) on physical phenomena as well as in experimental physics. These simply had never interested him. There was also a deep split in the department between experimentalists and theoreticians which was represented on Heisenberg's examining committee.

The problem was far from trivial. Heisenberg's advisor, Arnold Somerfeld said "I would not have proposed a thesis of this difficulty as a dissertation to any of my other pupils". The results were in doubt for about a quarter of a century when they were finally confirmed.

Whether true or not, the quote attributed to Heisenberg draws attention to the difficulty of the mathematics.  St. Clair's lesson is about the value of art in depicting the way turbulence looks. It may be seen here.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Here is a poem about April by Alicia Ostriker.

I love the following connection so bear with me but first read the poem.

By Ɓukasz Szczurowski (Own work)
[GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html),
CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons
Janna Levin is a theoretical physicist at Barnard and the author of Black Hole Blues which is a story of the LIGO project (Laser Interferometric Gravitational-Wave Observatory).  This remarkable 50-year STEM project to detect gravitational waves, was first predicted by Albert Einstein. You will recall on 14 September 2015 we "heard" the universe for the first time.

I've known since I read her first book, How the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space that Dr. Levin has one of her feet firmly planted in the world of art.  After receiving her Ph.D. (MIT) she worked at Cambridge University, UK. Just before returning to the United States, she was the first scientist-in-residence at the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford, made possible by an award from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and Arts.

Levin notes in a review of Black Hole Blues by Marcus Chown ( Times Higher Education ) that she "maintained a studio in an artists' collective" where she wrote this book.  In the acknowledgements to this book she includes Jerry Ostriker who is the husband of Alicia Ostriker.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Minnesota High Schools: U. S. News & World Report Rankings

Literacy
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Josh Verges who writes for the St. Paul Pioneer Press gives us the rankings of Minnesota High Schools as well as some information about the survey according to the the annual U.S. News & World Report survey.

By McGhiever (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons

Nova Classical Academy is ranked # 1 in Minnesota and # 16 in the U.S. Mr. Verges lists other Minnesota schools of interest. The U.S. News & World Report section on Minnesota high schools may be read here and includes all Minnesota schools ranked. The rankings are based on 2013-2014 data.

Valerie Strauss who writes the widely read and admired Answer Sheet blog for the Washington Post has an article by Paul Welner which examines these rankings with a critical eye. Mr. Welner finds "a troubling pattern whereby the rankings, which are supposed to recognize quality schooling, actually reward elite enrollment instead." The article includes a short response from U. S. News & World Report.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

April is National Poetry Month and April 21 is a Special Day

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

By Anthony Anaxagorou
(Hard Drive) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

Each year the Academy of American Poets asks us--gives us a chance--to carry a poem in our pocket for a day. That day is April 21, the day before Earth Day 2016.

Pocket poetry day began as an initiative in 2002 of the Office of the Mayor, NYC, in partnership with the NYC Departments of Cultural Affairs and Education. In 2008, the Academy of American Poets took the initiative to the nation, "encouraging individuals around the country to join in and channel their inner bard." Here is a link to a PDF which includes the poems and some suggestions for celebrating poetry in schools, communities & businesses.

The poets are Louise Gluck, Joy Harjo, Juan Felipe Herrera, Edward Hirsh, Jane Hirshfield, Marie Howe, Khaled Mattawa, W. S. Merwin, Naomi Shihab Nye, Alicia Ostriker, Marie Ponsot, Alberto Rios, Arthur Sze, Jean Valentine and C. D. Wright.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Lava-Lamp Like NASA Visualization

Environmental & Science Education
Models
Edward Hessler

By NASA/GSFC [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
NASA has created a computer simulation that shows how levels of CO2 fluctuate in the atmosphere on a yearly basis. This model shows in fine, nearly mesmerizing detail how CO2 moves through the atmosphere.

Finding patterns in CO2
Humans are pattern seekers. This simulation provides an opportunity to practice. You might first view it for general impressions and then be more purposeful or systematic, e.g., sampling the year by months chosen from quarters, etc. The cursor can be used to drag the button on the bar below the visualization to do that.

Some possible questions include:
Which hemisphere produces most of the CO2?

Do CO2 concentrations appear to vary over the course of a day?

Are there night and day differences?

What do you notice about seasonal changes?

We often think of CO2 in the atmosphere in terms of global consequences (climate). What evidence can you find about local emission sources and weather systems on a regional scale? Look for gradients of CO2 concentration--strands/bands that become thinner and thinner.

What are some questions you have about what you see here?

However, keep in mind when searching for a pattern(s) this very wise comment on patterns by theoretical physicist Richard Feynman: The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

By C. E. Price [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Where I live Forsythia bushes come as onesies and twosies--no great cascades or plump rows.  They are one of the welcome yellows of spring, though.

Here, is a poem of remembrance about Forsythia as seen by an old woman.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Honoring? Acknowledging Reason in Public Life

Environmental & Science Education
Literacy
Edward Hessler

The first Thursday of May is when elected officials, especially in Washington, gather to observe the National Day of Prayer. This was created in 1952 by a Congressional Resolution. This year it is May 5.

National Day of Reason in the House
By Fibonacci Blue
(Flickr: National Day of Reason in Minnesota)
[CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons
Representative Michael Honda (D. Calif) and District of Columbia's Democratic delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced a resolution on April 12, in the House of Representatives designating May 5 as a "National Day of Reason" in order to recognize the importance of reason in the betterment of humans and in our nation. Representative Honda made a similar resolution last year. It died in committee.

The Honda-Holmes resolution if for this year only.

The American Humanist Association (AHA) worked closely with Representative Honda in developing the resolution. A news release from the AHA about the resolution and about AHA's long involvement in denoting a day of reason describes some of the details.

Huffington Post Article on National Day of Reason & Resolution
The National Day of Reason (NDoR) website has a sample proclamation with instructions for adapting and using it, updates on proclamations and more information about this effort and on contacting representatives encouraging them to support the resolution. I noticed that Nebraska and Iowa, including Cedar Rapids, IA have made proclamations.

The Huffington Post article provides additional details and fuller information about the two resolutions and why a day of reason is important. It also discusses the tensions that have made declaring a day of reasoning so difficult The article also has links to Delaware, Iowa and Nebraska where governors have declared a day of reasoning.

The resolution has two parts that make great sense.
    Resolved, That the House of Representatives--
      (1) supports the designation of `National Day of Reason'; and
      (2) encourages all citizens, residents, and visitors to join in observing this day and focusing upon the employment of reason, critical thought, the scientific method, and free inquiry to the resolution of human problems and for the welfare of humankind.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What Work Is: Architect and Engineer

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler
Image from Amazon.com

A sentence in a very short review of physicist Steven Weinberg's To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science in The New Yorker (March 23, 2015) caught my attention. "The book's defining preoccupation is with error: the story of science becomes the story of humans struggling to overcome their own ideas." I like this slant on the nature of science--another way to think about what science is.

Iggy the Architect & Rosie the Engineer
It reminded me of two treasures of children's literature by Andrea Beaty. Iggy Peck Architect (2007) and Rosie Revere Engineer (2013). The illustrations are by David Roberts whose work pops from the pages, animates the text and delights the eye. There is much to be seen in them. And the book titles just roll from the tongue!

Image from Amazon.com
Iggy's view of the world is "There are worse things to do when you're in grade two than to spend your time developing a dream," a view that runs head-on to a teacher with a different expectation.

Rosie's view had some similarities for me to the sentence from the review of Weinberg's new book.  She says "The only true failure can come if you quit," a point-of-view she owes a grandmother.

In the links to the books above you can peek inside, find reviews, and activities for families and parties. The link to Rosie Revere Engineer includes an extended lesson that is based on current national standards, an tinkering station, and a video on when an Iggy Peck Fan Meets Rosie Revere.

Looking for ideas to help a learner engage with her/his world?  These two books do this and provide a lot of fun along the way.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

By Ogiyoshisan (Own work) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

The temple bell stops
But the sound keeps coming
Out of the flowers
--Basho, tr. Robert Bly

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Death of a Whale

Behavior
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Very few of us ever see an animal die in the wild, naturally.

Dee Dee Williams reflection on the death of the rarest of whales, a True's beaked whale is captured in a moving hand-drawn animation.

She was a witness to this death from the island on which she lives off the coast of Maine.

A Response to No Child Left Behind from Vermont

Environmental & Science Education
NCLB
Edward Hessler

By "Official White House
Photo by Amanda Lucidon" [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

This is dated since NCLB has been replaced by a new education act, ESSA. This post though includes a link to what I think is a remarkable letter by Vermont Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe.  This letter is not dated and is filled with good ideas to chew on and use.  In addition, she provides a very clear abstract of NCLB.

As you probably know, under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, the U. S. Department of Education (U. S. DoED) required teacher evaluations to include student test scores. This resulted in narrowing the curriculum, shifting instruction (rote), and focusing on teaching to the test. There isn't much wrong with teaching for an assessment. NCLB had the effect of reducing possibilities for learning.

States had an option of applying for a waiver from a number of terms in the No Child Left Behind Law but if the U. S. DoED denied the waiver, the state was required to send a letter to parents in any school not having 100% of its students meeting the standard, informing them that their school was "failing"  This was a potent and nasty stick, one with free of a carrot.

Washington was the first state to lose its waiver but five states — California, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Vermont — operated their public schools without a waiver.

Of these, Vermont was the only state that refused to even bother with the waiver process. In early August 2014, Vermont Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe, sent a remarkable and clear, child-centered memorandum on teaching and learning to parents and caregivers on this decision and the pernicious influence of NCLB.

The memorandum provided reasons why Vermont is a very good public education system, one committed to improving. In the memorandum, Secretary Holcombe, discusses alternatives to the NCLB requirements, pointed out what was wrong with single measures of proficiency, contained a set of questions parents could use to evaluate their child's school and their child's progress, and a list which outlined Vermon's obligation in helping students learn.

The memorandum is a pleasure to read — spirited, wise, respectful and informed by research. It is properly focused on kids (and those who work with them as teachers), emphasizing their potential and possibilities and what schools should be in order for them to realize them, all in a system that provides students the opportunities of a full curriculum.

This stirring memorandum is about developing minds, not mindlessness.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Image from Amazon.com

"I have not disappeared/ the boulevard is full of my steps. The step's...".

These are the first two lines from Major Jackson's poem "On Disappearing."

Major Jackson teaches poetry at the University of Vermont.  You may learn more about him and listen to some audio clips at his site.