Friday, December 13, 2019

Friday Poem

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Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

I know that this is not the season for roses but this reminder of late summer's roses in early winter seems a good thing.

The poem is by Willa Cather.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Another Casualty of Climate Change

Image result for earthwormsEnvironmental & Science Education
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

"It may be doubted if there are any other animals which have played such an important part in the history of the world as these lowly organized creatures."--Charles Darwin on Earthworms

Darwin's last book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits (aka Earthworms, Worms) was published in 1861. He had been collecting data on earthworms for years--perhaps it us fairer to say that his "research group" had been, for this is a publication in which his children played a role in making observations and collecting data. 

In a New York Public Library blog on Darwin's last manuscript, Jeremy Mcgrew notes one experiment in which "Darwin measured the rate of burial by using his famous 'worm stone' which was a stationary stone whose slow submersion was tracked and charted by Darwin and his son Horace."

The book sold very well and was also the subject of humor.

In a just published paper in the journal Science led by Dr. Helen Phillips, at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (Leipzig University), a "global dataset of sampled earthworm communities from 6928 sites in 57 countries...climate variables were found to be more important in shaping earthworm communities than soil properties or habitat cover. These findings suggest that climate change may have serious implications for earthworm communities and for the functions they provide." 

The study involved 141 scientists from 35 countries among whom, as Deanne Morrison points out in the University of Minnesota (UM) on-line publication, Inquiry: Exploring the Impact of University Research, includes Adrian Wackett, a graduate student in the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate (SWAC) in the UM's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS). Wackett collected samples in the arctic and boreal areas of Sweden and Finland.

In her essay, Morrison tells us what's at stake. The short answer is much more than we realize. She writes,

'"It has long been thought, said Wackett, that earthworm distributions are governed by where soils are most fertile; e.g., with suitable acidity, texture, and availability of calcium, nitrogen, and other essential nutrients. But he wasn’t shocked that these properties turned out to be of comparably less importance.
'“I’ve seen some invasive earthworms living at acidities close to vinegar,” he said. “I view earthworms as regulating and enriching soils more than vice versa.(My emphasis)
"For example, earthworms make excellent “bioreactors for nutrient recycling,” Wackett said. In their guts, they catalyze the decomposition of plant litter and unlock vital nutrients trapped in the soil matrix, then excrete those nutrients back into the soil. This turns “raw,” inaccessible elements like phosphorus, nitrogen, and calcium into plant-available forms that nourish plant and animal life above ground. This recycling system is particularly vital in tropical ecosystems, where many soils are nutrient-poor.
Image result for buckthorn"But in high-latitude places like northern Minnesota, when earthworms eat leaf litter and move nutrients deeper into the soil, it can have adverse effects. Many native forest plants, like lady slippers and ferns, evolved with shallow roots to mine nutrients from the litter layers that accumulate in formerly glaciated forests without earthworms. When feeding by invasive earthworms thins these litter layers, many native forest plants are starved of nutrients, while native tree saplings are left unprotected against browsing by hungry deer. Eventually, this combination wipes out the entire forest understory, creating openings for invasive species like buckthorn."
Ecosystems respond differently to changing climate. In the tropics for example, dry conditions could result in loss of native earthworms with changes in those ecosystems. In northern latitudes, much like has occurred in northern Minnesota, invasive earthworms, could spread as those areas get warmer, reducing and then inhibiting the build-up of forest floor litter.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

In the News: PISA and Estonia

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Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) measures 15-year-olds' ability to use their reading, mathematics, and science knowledge and skills to meet real-life situations and challenges. It is administered by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD).

The 2018 results have been released and here I focus on one nation's performance: Estonia. Compared to other European countries it is tops in reading, maths, and science and also the highest placed European country overall when aggregate scores are compared. Here are some of the details from EER News, Estonia Public Broadcasting.

The 2018 results--we love races way too much when it comes to education--can be seen there with the scores of all participating nations, including the United States, ranked by reading scores. The east still dominates (the top four places are held by China and Singapore). There is a study summary in 5-bullets.

I'd never heard anything about Estonian education until yesterday when I watched a BBC video titled Why Do Estonian Children Start School at Seven?  I was informed today that this video is no longer available at this location but was told to try later. So please try. It is a lovely and important video on early childhood education. I just found it on Facebook and while the screen is smaller it provides a good idea of how Estonian educators think about young children and their learning. It is about 2 minutes long and worth several minutes more.

I also add a much longer video on Estonian education. With visuals in the background an Estonian professor (Tallinn University) does a very nice job of describing the entire system. It is longer than I usually post (~18 minutes). This video, shorter (~3 minutes) shows children in a variety of grade levels and how multimedia are used.  And finally, I can't resist this playful video--Why Estonians are So Smart. I think it will make you smile while also providing information on Estonian schools.

I needed a geography refresher. Here is the Wiki entry on Estonia with a map.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

World Scientists Call for Climate Emergency

Image result for climate emergencyEnvironmental and Science Education
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

--When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.--John Muir

A BioScience Viewpoint titled "World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency" was published on November 5, 2019 by William Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas Newsome, Phoebe Barnard, William Moomaw and 11,258 scientist signatories from 153 countries. They represent the Alliance of World Scientists.

The authors begin by noting that "Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to 'tell it like it is.' On the basis of this obligation and the graphical indicators presented below we declare ... clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency."

The authors call attention to a fact about most public discussions of climate change. They are "based on global surface temperature only." That measure alone is not enough to "capture the breadth of human activities" as well as the dangers to the planet.  The authors present a series of vital signs of climate change over the last 40 years (15 graphs) that can affect Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions" and graphs of "actual climatic impacts (14 graphs)."  The graphs are based on "relevant data sets that ..." have been "systematically collected for at least the last 5 years, and updated at least annually." graphically "over.

The authors list "six critical and interrelated steps (in no particular order) that governments, businesses, and the rest of us can taken to lessen the worst effects of climate change."

Energy. This includes energy efficiency, conservation and replacing fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables.

Short-Lived Pollutants. These include methane, soot (black carbon), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Nature. Protection and restoration of the planet's ecosystems.

Food. I use a well known phrase of Michael Pollen to characterize the recommendation. "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

Economy. The curtailment of "excessive extraction of materials and overexploitation of ecosystems--a shift in emphasis on GDP growth to sustainable development.

Population. Stabilization and gradual reduction of the number of humans.

The paper is short, readable and the graphs are generally reasonable-- can certainly be grasped without knowing the full details. One of the things I like about this paper is the emphasis on how interconnected the natural world is.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Why One Teacher Quit After 12 Years

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Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

When I read this Facebook post by Jessica Gantz, a 12-year veteran of a Kindergarten classroom at Stone Spring Elementary School, Harrisburg, VA, I realized I'd heard these sentiments and thoughts from other teachers but not said as completely. Ms. Gantz quit but not for the reasons you might think although it is not uncommon. It is one of the reasons often mentioned on why teachers starting out leave the profession.

Gantz left for five reasons. Here is a taste of each. You can read her complete Facebook entry (It is not to be missed.) in which she further explains. It is clear that she is a thoughtful and caring teacher...committed to her work with young children.

1. The old excuse "the kids have changed". No. No friggin way. Kids are kids. PARENTING has changed. SOCIETY has changed. The kids are just the innocent victims of that.

2.  In the midst of all of this... our response is we need to be "21st Century" schools. 1 to 1 student to technology. Oh. Okay. So forget the basics of relationship building and hands on learning. Kids already can't read social cues and conduct themselves appropriately in social settings... let's toss more devices at them because it looks good on our website.

3. And since our technology approach doesn't seem to be working, teachers must need more training. So take away two planning periods a week. And render that time utterly worthless when it comes to ADDING to the quality of the instruction.

4. Instead of holding parents accountable... and making them true partners, we've adopted a customer service mindset. ... Well, here's the thing... I can't teach your child if he's not in school. I was cussed out by parents who wanted to attend field trips but missed the THREE notes that went home--and when they did attend a trip, sat on their phone the entire time. I've had parents stand me up multiple times on Conference Days.... I've had parents tell me that I'm not allowed to tell their child 'no'....

5. My mental and physical health was in jeopardy Knowing that your kids need and deserve more than they're getting. Sitting in one meeting after another, begging for 
more support, only to be told 'don't lose sleep over them'...  

Saturday, December 7, 2019

An Extinction Event

Image result for george the snailEnvironmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

I previously posted on the death of George on new year's day, the last known snail (Achatinella apexfulva) of its kind, in Kailua, the Hawaiian Islands, The snail was 14-years-old.

Ed Yong, who writes on science for The Atlantic fills in many of the details on the death of this snail in another superb essay about the threats to Hawaiian snails, some of the scientists involved, care/maintenance of native species and events in the lives of the research team, which at times strike me as hospice care.

George had been cared for by David Sischo and his team all those years. Since 2012, the six of them have been trying to save native snails since 2012. During a visit, Sischo called Yong's attention to six cabinets in which there are 35 species. "Each one is already extinct in the wild, or about to be."

The Hawaiian Islands are a great place to study evolution. It is not known exactly when snails arrived on the island but since then, according to a publication for science educators titled "Evolution in Hawaii: A Supplement to 'Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science" (National Academy Press 2004), "the descendents of the original colonists have undergone what evolutionary biologists call an adaptive radiation. New species have evolved and have occupied a wide range of ecological niches."

The numbers in these adaptive radiations in Hawaii are astonishing, e.g., snails (750), birds (56 species of Honeycreepers of which only 18 survive today), crickets (240); and Drosophila (fruit flies), 800, the most in the world.

Image result for hawaii rainforestYong writes about the last years of the Rabbs' fringe-limbed tree frog." Mark Mandala, the executive director of the Amphibian Foundation who cared for him until he died in 2016--his son named him "Toughie." Yong provides a link to a recording of Toughie. "He was calling for a mate, and there wasn't a mate for him on the entire planet."

George's remains are in a glass vial stored in "a cupboard morbidly labeled death cabinet."

The last known survivor of a species is called an "endling," a term, Yong points out "of soft beauty, heartbreaking solitude, and chilling finality."

Friday, December 6, 2019

2020 National Poetry Month Finalists

Image result for teenager writing

Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

It is Friday poetry day and I was delighted with the coincidence of the following announcement.

The finalists of the National Academy of Poets 2020 National Poetry Month have been announced. Students, grades 9-12 made submissions and the judges somehow managed to sand these down to ten. Their next bit of work is to select ONE for the 2020 poster. The judges face a worthy task.

The winning artwork will become a poster sent to 100,000 libraries, schools, bookstores, and community centers nationwide and also made available by download on

View the ten here (with student statements) and thank all of the entrants for their contributions.

Be impressed.

Friday Poem

Image result for nature

Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is from Ted Kooser's American Life in Poetry.

The poem is by Jeffrey Harrison.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

An Analysis of the Rhetoric of Greta Thunberg's UN Speech

Image result for greta thunbergEnvironmental & Science Education
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

I suppose that it is not surprising that research on the effectiveness of climate activist Greta Thunberg has received scientific attention. However, I was.

In an essay in Nautilus, Scott Koenig describes research from the Media Neuroscience Lab (UCal, Santa Barbara) conducted by graduate student Frederic Hopp and the lab's director, Rene Weber on the power of Greta Thunberg rhetoric. It uses a complex tool--the Moral Narrative Analyzer (MoNA)--developed by the lab. Think of it as a way of studying "innate moral framing," or more specifically how Thunberg frames her message.

The Hopp-Weber analysis was based on Thunberg's powerful statement to the United Nations.

Rene Weber says that human moral systems consist of five categories. These are not of equal priority among people.

--Care vs. Harm
--Fairness vs. Cheating
--Loyalty vs. Betrayal
--Authority vs. Subversion
--Purity vs. Desecration

Harrison Tasoff in the UC-SB Current summarizes the findings. "In line with Thunberg's strong appeal to the harm and unfairness of the current climate crisis, MoNA identified care/harm and fairness/cheating as the most dominant moral frames in her speech." Tasoff continues. "'Research has shown that liberals are especially sensitive to violations of care and fairness,'" Weber explained, '"whereas conservative individuals tend to place greater emphasis on violations of loyalty, authority, sanctity."

This is not particularly surprising but Scott Koenig dug deeper. Hopp and Weber were primarily interested in whether MoNA  was a reliable and valid research tool "to extract moral framing from "real-world text." Koenig writes, "though (care and fairness) are more prominent for liberals, those two moral foundations appeal strongly to people on both sides of the aisle." Koenig cites research by Irina Vartanova and colleagues at the Institute of Future Studies who has found that these arguments are universal, "the arguments that are accepted by everyone."

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According to Koenig,Vartanova's group notes that some arguments have a "harm-fairness connection advantage." This means that such arguments are "rooted more deeply in care and fairness than (the) counterarguments." Koenig continues, "Varranova and her colleagues seems to have shown how exposure to the right arguments can predictably change not just individual opinons, but the belief systems of an entire society. As they put it, '"Our model illustrates that psychology can create culture.'"

Regardless, "one way or another," Koenig notes, "the needle is moving. ... But as the dangers of the climate crisis become less and less hypothetical, activists may want to use all the rhetorical tools they can get."

Thunberg relies on arguments based on sound science that are made even more forceful when she uses moral language. It is a powerful combination. She also notes the importance of personal actions  AND policy. "Listen to the scientists." Then act soon not later.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Sidor Clare (7th grade): 2019 Broadcom MASTERS Awardee

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Environmental & Science Education
Science Fairs
Edward Hessler

Fourteen-year old Sidor Clare, a seventh grader from Sandy, Utah won the 2019 Broadcom MASTERS* a $10,000 Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation. She developed a prototype brick that could be manufactured on Mars using local materials.

You may read answers to five questions here as well as learn about her project and the award.  This is part of what she had to say about taking risks. She also talks about what she would say to herself as a five-year-old from the vantage point of being fourteen today.

"The risks worth taking are the ones that help others. For example, you might risk your social status or your friends if you stick up for a peer, but by standing up for that peer, you’ve helped them become happier. Risks that result in helping others are worth it because whether you are humiliated or not, you’ve helped the world become a better place."

Here is a short video (~1 minute) where she describes her project. 

*MASTERS =  Math, Applied Science, Technology & Engineering for Rising Stars

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

COP 25

Image result for paris climate agreementEnvironmental & Science Education
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

The BBC has produced a short introduction on what you need to know about COP 25, the 25th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Madrid, December 2 - December 13, 2019.. You will recall that this was changed from Chile because of political unrest.

The task of COP 25 is to make sure that the Convention in making sure that  the 2015 Paris Agreement, which strengthens the Convention), are being implemented.

The BBC video is 3m20s long.

The New Scientist magazine has a very good summary on details such as who is attending, the aims, expectations, and key players. Much is at stake. 
Swedish youth activist, Greta Thunberg will be a late arrival, perhaps only by a day, to the Madrid meeting. She was in Los Angeles when she asked for help getting there by sea. An Australian couple and their son traveling the world by catamaran offered a berth.

And Ms. Thunberg has arrived after 20 days at sea.. Here is a video (6 m 46 s) about the trip and the arrival. 

Monday, December 2, 2019

Vote: Scientific Breakthrough of 2019

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Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

You've heard the overused phrase "breaking news." This is not breaking; it is close to broken.

The journal Science, the scientific journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is conducting its annual scientific breakthrough of the year selection.

This is very short notice as you will see but if you can't vote in this round there is a second, next week. However, this will give you an idea of what the editors of this journal think are important breakthroughs.

Underneath the picture of each breakthrough there is a short description.. In addition, a clock ticks away letting you know how many days, hours and minutes there is left. The first votes are due Monday, December 2.