Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Wee Beastie

Environmental & Science Education
Biological Evolution
Edward Hessler

Katherine Rundell (London Review of Books) asks us to consider the "golden mole." I'm so glad she did. It is an amazing creature.

I'd never heard of this critter that isn't even a mole. It is related to elephants, this mole "small enough to fit in a child's hand."

This mole is iridescent a feature that "turns up in many insects, some birds, the odd squid: but in only one mammal, the golden mole. Some species are black, some metallic silver or tawny yellow, but under different lights and from different angles, their fur shifts through turquoise, navy, purple, gold. Moles, then, with a tendency towards sky colours."

To learn more and to see photographs see Rundell's perfectly delightful and informed essay here.

That this wee beastie is iridescent--it doesn't make sense to us--is likely an accident or a side-effect of another feature of the golden mole's fur. It is a nice example of how evolution works. If I may coin a phrase, never let the perfect get in the way of what works. The fur works and that it is iridescent is a side effect of the ever tinkering nature of biological evolution.

The New Scientist has a short story on this feature.

h/t Molly

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame Cathedral

Image result for notre dame

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

The BBC has a very useful story, told in graphics and images, including interactives, about the devastating fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame de Paris was constructed between 1163 and 1345 and is of great architectural and historic importance. It will be a few weeks before the full extent of the damage, including the integrity of the structure, is known. The work of the fire brigade in preserving historic treasures and in combating the fire was something to behold.

Viva la France!

Monday, April 15, 2019

World Art Day

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Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today is World Art Day.

I couldn't find any art that I liked and thought representative of our diverse planet so here is a video about Strandbeest (beach animals) sculptures designed by Theo Jansen to mark the occasion.

Jansen views these as new forms of life, a new nature, critters able to walk on the wind. His aim is to "put these animals out in herds on the beaches, and they will live their own lives.

Imagine coming over the top of a dune ridge and seeing a beech with a heard of Strandbeest.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Reflections on Nature

Image result for Chihuly glass

Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

I can't remember when it was that I attended a Chihuly glass exhibition in Minneapolis. It was a long time ago. I had no idea what glass blowing and forming had become. Large flowing and glowing with the world's colors, forms most beautiful, filling my eyes, and making my imagination soar.

Spring at Kew Gardens (UK) has with some new flowers.

Glass sculptor Dale Chihuly prepared 32 separate installations and you may see some of them as well as view a video about them here. Prepare to be dazzled.

For more information about Chihuly, his studio and art see this website.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Friday Poem

Image result for ice

Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem brought back memories of winter clothes lines and especially stiff walls of frozen sheets. At first the fabrics were board-like but by the time I helped my Mom collect them to be taken to the cellar for another hanging they had become more flexible--foldable with some force.

I liked knocking the ice and frost off while they were hanging on the line. I wish I had thought of the game described in the poem or a similar one. Football was not a big part of my life except for Saturday high school games and neighborhood scrums.

Here is the poem.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Black Hole:M87

Image result for black hole

Environmental & Science Education
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

By now you've likely seem news of the first picture/image of a black hole found in a galaxy known as M87.

The gargantuan size boggles the mind; too large for most of us to conceive since we don't toss them around daily. Think big. Think huge. Think even larger.  Some numbers from the BBC provide perspective: "It measures 40 billion km (~ 24854847689 miles) across--three million times the size of the Earth. ...The black hole is 500 million trillion km away. ... What we see is larger than the size of our entire Solar System. ... It has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the sun."

Here, from the BBC, is a nice image, a discussion on how the research was done, including a map locating the telescopes, a video on one unanswered question, and a description of a black hole.

Black holes are a prediction from Einstein's general theory of relativity. For a discussion of the history of scientists who contributed to our understanding black holes, see this Wiki entry. It is pleasantly complicated.

Here is very nice talk and demonstration on how to understand the image of a black hole. Be sure to read the extended discussion at the bottom of the video if you are interested in more information. I think he was spot on on what the world would see today, April 10, 2019. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A Red Wing Blackbird Study

Image result for outdoor science classEnvironmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Education Week recently published an article on an independent review of new middle school science curricula. The aim was to determine whether they "are truly aligned to" the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)." Six textbook series were examined. Four failed, one was viewed as partially aligned and one "got top marks for alignment, coherence, and usability." 

About 40 reviewers, mostly practicing teachers or science specialists, used "an in-house framework to judge each curriculum."

It made me think about what an NGSS classroom might look action. I thought of a video--it is a favorite--in which a class learns about the behavior of red-wing blackbirds (I heard my first RW blackbirds about ten days after reports of their return.). I am especially fond of it because of its attention to animal behavior, an area of science that is easily overlooked in classrooms.

Teachers Alice Severson and Dom Lark are shown leading a class of 6th grade animal behaviorists. They happen to teach close to RW habitat and take advantage of that. The video is about 12 minutes long and features so-called three dimensional learning, a centerpiece of the NGSS.
As noted, "this video offers an overview of the unit. In subsequent videos, you will meet three of their students, and the series wraps up with Dom and Alice as they discuss and demonstrate how the unit influenced their ideas about teaching."

Image result for outdoor science class
The three dimensions in the new national science standards are core ideas, practices and crosscutting concepts. The learning involved is referred to as 3D learning.

The NGSS were rolled out in 2013 (Minnesota was involved in their development) and have since been adopted in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

Not familiar with or want to know more about NGSS and 3D learning?

You may know that Minnesota has been involved in revising its science standards and is close to the finish line.  A Framework for K-12 Science Education:  Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas was an important resource for the team developing the revised standards. This document served as the basis for the NGSS. Not familiar with the Minnesota science revision process or want to know more? Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the relevant documents.

This video demonstrates some of the challenges of developing curricula that are aligned with NGSS standards.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Studying Mule Deer Migration

Image result for mule deer

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Here is a short film on how biologists study mule deer migration in Wyoming. The film focuses on the research of wildlife-biology graduate student Anna Ortega. Ph.D. candidate. You may notice that this kind of field work involves a substantial team of people.

The images of mule deer "escaping" the hands of the research team are breathtakingly beautiful. My can they leap.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Does Your Cat Know Its Name? Try This

Image result for kitten

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

"Sometimes you want to go/Where everybody knows your name".--From lyrics to "Cheers" by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart.

You may be able to find out whether your moggie knows its name by trying this. Choose four random words that are the same length and intonation as the the cat's name (this may be the hard part). Say then to your cat with an interval of about 15 seconds between each word, then say its actual name. Your cat likely knows its name if it swivels its ears or perks up its head or gets up.

For more about this study from Japan check see here (with video). There is a link to the original study.

The following video has nothing to do with the study. It is about the power of kittendom. These videos start with ads and this one can be skipped in a few seconds unless you want to know about cooking with turmeric.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Friday Poem

Image result for springEnvironmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

It is April and this deserves this lovely poem.

Information about the author.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Theranos: The Film

Image result for theranosEnvironmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Do or do not. There is no try. --Yoda

I've posted previously about Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, a biotechnology company which was long on promises and very, very short on delivery. It went bankrupt.

According to Damian Garde who has written an assay about an HBO film on Holmes which aired in March, The short version of the Theranos saga goes like this: A precocious dropout dreamed of a better world, so she donned a black turtleneck and invented a device that could diagnose diseases on the cheap by analyzing blood from a pinprick rather than a venous draw. That vision won over heads of state and titans of industry, and everything sounded great until the device turned out to be more Mechanical Turk than spinning jenny.

Garde's essay includes a trailer of the film. It turns out, not to anyone's surprise that she remains elusive as well as her motivations.

The Yoda epigraph at the top was painted on the walls at Theranos and based on the outcome Theranos "did not."

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Growing Up Inuit

Image result for inuit childrenEnvironmental & Science Education
Early Childhood
Edward Hessler

The most recent entry in the NPR series "The Other Side of Anger" explores "How (do the) Inuit take tantrum-prone toddlers and turn them into cool-headed adults?"  

This ability of Inuit adults to control their anger was first observed by Harvard graduate student Jean Briggs who lived for on the Arctic tundra with Inuit families for 17 months in the 1960s. It led to the writing of two books: Never in Anger and Inuit Morality Play. A preview of the latter book may be found here.

The clue that led Briggs to begin to unravel how anger is cooled as children grow up was when she noticed a young mother inviting her child to hit her harder with a pebble he was throwing. Briggs wondered about what was going on and came to understand that the Inuit do not yell at or scold their children. Instead they try to figure out what is going on with the child and use stories, small dramas and questions as teaching tools.

"(T)he mom may start a drama by asking: 'Why don't you hit me?'

"Then the child has to think: 'What should I do?' If the child takes the bait and hits the mom, she doesn't scold or yell but acts out the consequences. 'Ow, that hurts!' she might exclaim.

"The mom continues to emphasize the consequences by asking a follow-up question. For example: 'Don't you like me?' or 'Are you a baby?' She is getting across the idea that hitting hurts people's feelings, and 'big girls' wouldn't hit. But, again, all questions are asked with a hint of playfulness.

"The parent repeats the drama from time to time until the child stops hitting the mom during said dramas and the misbehavior ends."

Myna Ishulutak, one of the women interviewed by Michaleen Doucleff for this NPR report was asked whether she was "familiar with the work of Jean Briggs. Her answer leaves me speechless. Ishulutak reaches into her purse and brings out Briggs' second book, Inuit Morality Play, which details the life of a 3-year-old girl dubbed Chubby Maata. 'This book is about me and my family,' Ishulutak says. 'I am Chubby Maata.'"

This parenting behavior is being lost. Doucleff reports that she attended "a parenting class, where day care instructors learn how their ancestors raised small children hundreds--perhaps even thousands--of years ago." 
Image result for inuit children

Doucleff's report is a must read because I can't do justice to its fullness. She includes more information, including how stories are used in raising children, comments by professionals, the results of a study on story-telling and the author reports on her experiences on story telling with her daughter. Furthermore, it is richly and wonderfully illustrated. 

Clinical psychologist Laura Markham calls attention to the power and value of children's play, describing it as "children's work," an idea I first heard long, long ago when I was lucky enough to attend a day-long session presented by Doris (?) Nash on learning in English infant schools. The power of play as you may recall from other posts, is being emphasized by a number of significant early childhood educators and associations in the United States.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Funding STEM

Image result for Kareem Abdul-JabbarEnvironmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

The Hill reports that National Basketball Association legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is auctioning off some of his keepsakes (including 4 of his 6 championship rings).  According to The Hill, "most of the profits will go toward the Skyhook Foundation, which he founded to bring science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) opportunities to underserved communities."

This is how he put this decision: Looking back on what I have done with my life, instead of gazing at the sparkle of jewels or gold plating celebrating something I did a long time ago, I'd rather look into the delighted face of a child holding their first caterpillar and think about what I might be doing for their future.

What a lovely expression of intent.  

Monday, April 1, 2019

Web Life

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Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

If you'd like to know more about spiders, especially spider silk, then this video is for you.

I didn't know that scientists have identified 46,000 different kinds (species) of spiders in the world (so far) or that they make more than one kind of silk--four to eight different kinds.

One of the special features in this film is the conversation with Dr. Cheryl Hayashi an expert on spider silks. You will also learn why we have an interest in spider silk beyond its science. It has potential applications, e.g., in bioengineering.

Dr. Hayashi received a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2007 when she was at the University of California--Riverside..