Friday, July 31, 2015

No Plastic Bags

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Plastic bags
By Trosmisiek (Own work) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
In the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minneapolis resident and world traveler, Karen Louise Booth Acharya reports that just before landing in Rwanda, a flight attendant announced: "Plastic bags are not allowed in Rwanda. Please remove any belongings, including duty-free shopping, from their plastic bags and leave the bags on board."


Ms. Acharya's arrival coincided with Umuganda, which combines two meanings. All able-bodied people, from top to bottom are required to participate in the cleaning-up of neighborhood streets and sidewalks.

So what if both were to be replicated in cities around the planet?

Today, an editorial in the Star Tribune, considers the implications of half of this, a plastic bag ban in Minneapolis.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Stereotypes and Science, the journal

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Science 1883 Cover
By The Science Company [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

I am not a regular reader of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest scientific organization in the world.  I have no defense. Hamline University's Bush Memorial Library is just across the street--"just a stone's throw away" (a stretch, though, for my arm but not for my legs).

Earlier this summer I discovered that Science publishes advice for scientists. I'd never heard about it.

I read one of the letters and the advice which was widely circulated on the blogosphere. In the mildest of terms, I was put-off. Disbelieving. First, it was from an organization that has a public commitment to welcoming, nurturing and advancing women in science.  Second, the advice was from a woman to a woman.  I had to read her name twice for that to register. How in this wide world could her response make it through what I assumed was a rigorous and critical editing and review process of a premier journal.

Recently, a letter was sent to the publisher of Science and to BuzzFeed News, signed by about 600 scientists denouncing this obvious example of sexism as well as other instances which reinforce stereotypes.

BuzzFeed News reporters Cat Ferguson and Azeen Ghorayshi provide background and examples in their column which includes examples. And I learned that the advice column has a name: Science Careers. One of the recommendations in the letter--there are several--is diversity training.

About time.

WaterWorks! Wednesday, August 6: History of Water in Minnesota & Groundwater Unit Study

by Steven Beardsley

Lee presents “All the Water in the World”
Last Day:
Today marked the last day of WaterWorks! 2014. Lee Schmitt led the group in a brief demo illustrating the amount of water available for public consumption. Participants also got to discuss ways of engaging students in understanding water as a limited resource and how it affects communities with limited access to it. Then, Dr. John Afinson from the National Park Services presented an early history of water in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Participants were surprised to learn that folks in Minneapolis and Saint Paul did not learn about water as a conduit for illness until the early 1900’s. Prior to that, hundreds of people in both cities died of typhoid fever from contaminated water from the Mississippi river and nearby waterways. The presentation highlighted the importance of clean water in the cities today and how Minneapolis and Saint Paul have grown because of access to water resources in nearby waterways.

Dr. John Afinson on History of Water in Minneapolis and Saint Paul

Justin Blum on Groundwater Protection & Hydrogeology

PFCs and Groundwater Protection

Tannie Eshenaur and PFCs in Minnesota Water

Following Afinson’s presentation was Tannie Eshenaur from the Minnesota Department of Health. Her presentation talked about perfluorochemicals in Minnesota Water and how the Legacy Amendment and Clean Water acts help her and individuals in the Department of Health monitor new chemicals in the water. She talked about the challenges of identifying these chemicals and analyzing if high amounts have any lasting effects on the human body. Then, Justin Blum, from the Source Water Protection Unit in the Minnesota Department of Health, presented on groundwater protection and hydrogeology. He focused on the construction of wells and the difficulties of taking water from aquifers in the ground.

Science Museum & Final Conversations

Superintendents come to talk to teachers
The last part of the day involved conversations with superintendents within different school districts along with a unit study led by Larry Thomas from the Science Museum of Minnesota. Larry Thomas had participants look at how water is absorbed into a rock through a high powered microscope. He then had participants experiment with groundwater models to see how water is stored within and in between the rocks underground. Participants also followed along by demonstrating various learning goals such as being able to show that water moves freely underground. After experimenting with taking out and putting water in their models, participants added painted sponges that served as models of point source pollution. When teachers used their beakers to rain water on the sponges, they got to see how pollution spreads through a lake and into the groundwater. The rest of the day involved getting into grade groups to discuss how teachers would implement what they’ve learned from the institute into their teaching.
Pollution getting into the water

Larry Thomas from the Science Museum

Concluding Thoughts:

Conversations in Grade Groups
Teachers got to engage in hands-on activities and listen to compelling presentations on water, water chemistry, and conservation. The institute also helped teachers connect these ideas to art and community service in addition to connecting these issues with contemporary problems in the community. The growing challenge that teachers cited throughout the institute was convincing their students to care about water conservation despite living in a state with ready access to clean water. I believe that the institute helps teachers meet this challenge by highlighting places where people have to walk miles to get clean water to seeing how local communities are struggling with lower water levels such as White Bear Lake. The idea is to help students see how precious water is and how water conservation and consumption affects everyone.

Monday, July 27, 2015

No Child Left Behind: Vermont's Response

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

By U.S. Department of Education,
via Wikimedia Commons
Some material in this post is dated but the content of a memorandum written by a state official to parents and caregivers isn't. It is one of those "keepers".

As you probably know, under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, the U. S. Department of Education (U. S. DoED) requires teacher evaluations to include student test scores. It has narrowed the curriculum and placed a focus on teaching to the test.

States have 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 denies the waiver, the state is 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 is a potent stick.

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

Of these, Vermont is the only state that refused to bother with the waiver process. In early August, Vermont Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe, sent a remarkable and clear, child- and learner-centered memorandum to Vermont parents and caregivers about this decision on NCLB.

The memorandum describes reasons why Vermont is a very good public education system, one committed to improving. In the memorandum, Secretary Holcombe,describes NCLB, discusses alternatives to NCLB requirements, points out what is wrong with a single measure of proficiency, and provides a list of questions that parents and caregivers can ask that will yield evidence about a child's progress in school.

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

This stirring memorandum is about growing minds; not mindlessness.

WaterWorks! Tuesday, August 5: Connecting Science with Community Service & Water Activities

by Steven Beardsley

Participants Discuss Takeaways from Yesterday
We started the day by relating takeaways we had from yesterday. For instance, a lot of participants talked about the controversy surrounding adding fluoride to water to help with teeth health. We then went into a series of presentations that connected water issues with art and community service. The first presenter was Mary Johnson from Public Art Saint Paul Public Art Saint Paul. They are a nonprofit organization that has Artists and STEM professionals collaborating together to provide fun activities for kids. Mary also talked about their Spider Mobile where kids gather to engage in various art projects that teach about the river and water conservation. She then led us in an activity to create our own river fish through multi-colored paper. Her presentation related the power of art in creating strong messages about the environment that children and adults can take with them.

Mary Johnson from Public Art Saint Paul
Sherry with her River Fish

H2O for Life & “Where is the Water in White Bear Lake?”

Patty Hall from “H2O for Life”

After Mary’s presentation, Patty Hall, who is the director of H20 for Life, led a presentation on how students in Minnesota schools can become engaged in global projects that help students in other countries have access to clean water and water facilities. She talked about various projects that she’s engaged in with other schools and how teachers at the institute can get their students involved in these projects. The biggest thing about these projects is providing students the opportunity to learn about the environment, cultural differences, and also make a positive in a community outside their own.

Amy Okaya presents her documentary on White Bear Lake

One of the last presentations for the day was led by Amy Okaya of Okaya Studios who presented her documentary on White Bear Lake called "Where is the water in White Bear Lake?" Her documentary pointed out the reasons for lower lake levels during the past couple of years and how this has affected the community. Moreover, the documentary shows residents who talked about how lower lake levels have negatively impacted recreation from swimming to boating. Amy also provided a variety of book resources for teachers that taught about water.

Urban Water Cycle & Water Activities

Participants in Water Cycle Activity
Doug Paulson helping lead Water Activities

Stew Thornley also did a brief presentation on the "Urban Water Cycle"created by CGEE. The rest of the day involved a series of water challenges led by John Olson, a Minnesota Science Specialist, and Doug Paulson, a Minnesota STEM Specialist. John and Doug first had participants draw their own version of the water cycle, pointing out the limitations and advantages of the model. Participants then got to go into the hall to mimic that model in a hands-on activity.

John is certified to handle this dangerous chemical
Making Groundwater Models

Participants divided into groups based on where water goes in the water cycle (i.e. glaciers, oceans, etc.) and had to roll a wooden dice that told them where to go next or if they had to stay and roll again. For example, people who started out in glaciers rolled the dice to see if they would go to another station like animals or stay and roll again. Participants recorded their data and went upstairs in the lab to undergo a series of water activities. These challenges included: filtrating contaminated water, creating water bottle biomes, looking at water resources, conducting a variety of water quality tests, making groundwater models, and analyzing different layers of sediment in the ground. John finished the day off with a visual representation of how cold water and hot water mix. He also talked about Dihydrogen monoxide (H2O, water) and how dangerous it is (i.e. how calling a chemical an unfamiliar name can be used to fool the public.)

Final Presentation by John, cold water is green and hot water is red
When Hot Water, Cold Water, and a Mix of both are together

Concluding Thoughts

The day involved a variety of presentations that connected water education with artistic projects and community involvement. Teachers learned about how to get their students engaged with water conservation and how to help them put their education into action. For instance, Patty Hall noted that community projects that benefit a school in Kenya teach students in the United States that one does not have to be an adult to make a difference. The final water activities also helped teachers gather information about activities that can help students understand the advantages and disadvantages of various models and how to manipulate models to see different phenomenon. Overall, these activities help students learn about the importance of water and its impact on the community.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

WaterWorks! Monday, August 4: MINNCOR Industries Presentations and Treatment Plant Tour

by Steven Beardsley

We were in the MINNCOR Industries Conference Room at the ETC
Today marked the start of the 3 day teacher’s Institute, WaterWorks!, that focuses on providing resources to teachers for integrating water into their curriculum. The institute has been running for fifteen years thanks to the diligence of Associate Director of Professional Development at Hamline, Lee Schmitt, and Stew Thornley from the Department of Health. The day started off with Lee leading teachers in a discussion of what they wished teaching science was like with a lot of metaphors talking about science being dynamic and interesting like a waterfall or diving deep into an ocean. We then did an activity where participants had to determine which clear liquid was water through a series of tests. Participants used a variety of tests to determine the liquid’s identity including: solubility, ph, smell, surface tension, reaction with baking soda, and reaction with a penny. This was a fun activity that got participants thinking about how to manage finite resources while trying to identify an important resource.

Lee Leading Morning Activities
“Water on Zork” activity

Stew Thornley presents on Water in Minnesota

MINNCOR Industries and Water Treatment Presentations

VP of Sales, Mark Thompsen, presenting on MINNCOR
After the morning activities, Mark Thompsen, who is the VP of Sales at MINNCOR Industries, did a presentation about the work that he does for MINNCOR. He helps sell the variety of products that individuals incarcerated make such as paintings, dorm room furniture, license plates, tables, and more. MINNCOR provided a great example of diversifying their products in order to meet the needs of a variety of people. Stew Thornley did a presentation about the history of water treatment. His presentation revealed that it wasn’t until about a hundred years ago that people started to realize that contaminated water could actually spread diseases. Keeping water clean through a variety of methods also becomes complicated.

Bus to Saint Paul Regional Water Services

Tour of Water Treatment Facility and Water Chemistry

John Thom on Water Chemistry

In fact, John Thom from SEH, Inc., gave a presentation about the chemistry involved in water treatment. He talked mostly about water hardness, alkalinity, and ph. Moreover, removing certain contaminants from water means that other things needed to be added in in order to balance the ph and other qualities. Participants got to experience this by visiting the Saint Paul Regional Water Services. We got a tour around the building and were able to see the various stages that water goes through from flocculation to filtration. This particular plant pumps up to 50 million gallons of water on average on a given day in a year. We also got the chance to test water ph with various water bottles filled from water around the state including: water from wells, water from Brooklyn Park, Saint Paul, and other places. The ph varied in these particular places, revealing a lot about water management and treatment. We also got the chance to measure fluoridation in the water, or the amount of fluoride added in the water to reduce tooth decay.

Inside the Filter Room
Final Thoughts

Water is an important resource that has influenced the rise and fall of civilizations. States across the country, countries across the globe, and other parts of the world are dealing with access to clean sources of water. It’s clear that the treatment of water will become even more important in the near future as more cities like Toledo and San Francisco search for cleaner sources of water. Overall, it was a good day to learn more about where our water comes from and the complicated steps involved in treating it.
Flocculator inside the Treatment Plant

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mississippi River Institute Wednesday, July 30: Engineering Challenges and Closing Activities

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - Day 3

by Steven Beardsley

Cinda brought in a lobster for her reading
Our last day opened up with some fun presentations of personal narratives done from the previous day. Participants were asked to write from the perspective from anything along the river or even the river itself. We had a variety of presentations including: a talking lobster, a rap about the river, and an account of alligators trying to survive in their habitats. The narratives were a fun way of meeting language arts standards, but I also thought they reinforced a greater appreciation for life along the Mississippi River. After sharing personal narratives and a couple Minnesota Science Teacher resources such as MAEE and MNA (, participants went outside to do the “Sum of the Parts" activity.

“Sum of the Parts” & Blue River Activities

“Sum of the Parts” activity

A community along a river

Would you swim in this lake? Fish in it? Go boating on it?
“Sum of the Parts” involved creating a development along the river with just one million dollars. Participants combined their creations to simulate a river with various communities along it. The activity raised issues of pollution from neighboring communities such as oil leaks from cars in parking lots, trash from community centers, and different fertilizers for gardens. Participants also got to think about raising these questions in the classroom and thinking about ways to mitigate pollution through environmental management and more permeable surfaces.

The water gets less clear as more pollutants are added

After “Sum of the Parts,” participants listened to program director Cara read a story about a common river system. When Cara mentioned a specific source of pollution in the story, participants went up to pour that piece into a tub of water. We got some nasty results, illustrating the importance of keeping waterways clean and how difficult it is do so in real life situations.

Engineering Challenges

Several Challenges along the benches

The next part of the day involved a series of engineering challenges. One involved cleaning up the disaster from the last activity, while others included: building paddleboats, developing an irrigation system, cleaning up an oil spill, achieving neutral buoyancy with ducks, and getting off a desert island.

Oil Spill Challenge Group

Hike to Pike Island

David leads us on a trip to Pike Island
For the last part of the day, participants got to vote on which activity they wanted to do. The activities included: a hike to pike island to learn about the geological history of the Mississippi river, more tree investigation through a transect line from the river to the forest, and science notebooks and other miscellaneous topics inside. I got to go on the hike to pike island that had been flooded a month ago. Our own John Shepard kayaked
above the island ( On the hike, David gave a presentation on glaciers and how the movement of glaciers has influenced the creation of the Highway 5 bridge over the Mississippi River and the Mendota Bridge over the Minnesota River. The size of the bridges was influenced by the rivers and the bridges have also influenced the sedimentary rock that has formed along the rivers.

David and his “portable smart board”

Last thoughts on the Institute

Overall, the Mississippi River institute was a great way for teachers to learn about getting their students outside to learn about the ecosystems around them. I remember taking a Conservation Biology class at Hamline that involved experiments in the Hamline gardens and Newell Park. These experiences reinforced my learning but also gave me an appreciation for my community and the natural world around me. It’s important that future generations experience the outdoors because the communities we live in would not exist without the rivers, forests, and other ecological formations that we depend on. I think that the institute provides the unique opportunity to learn more about how to get kids outside, but I also think it’s more than that. Being outside creates not only compassion and goodwill toward the environment but life-long learning in the form of self-directed inquiry.

The Mighty Mississippi

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Planetary Health

Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

Factory in China
By High Contrast (Own work)
[CC BY 2.0 de (],
via Wikimedia Commons

"Far-reaching changes to the structure and function of the Earth’s natural systems represent a growing threat to human health. And yet, global health has mainly improved as these changes have gathered pace. What is the explanation?"

So begins "Safeguarding Human Health in the Anthropocene Epoch: Report of the Rockefeller Foundation--Lancet Commission on Planetary Health" that examines this paradox. These are the key messages from this report:

Key Messages
1. The concept of planetary health is based on the understanding that human health and human civilisation depend on flourishing natural systems and the wise stewardship of those natural systems. However, natural systems are being degraded to an extent unprecedented in human history.

2. Environmental threats to human health and human civilisation will be characterised by surprise and uncertainty. Our societies face clear and potent dangers that require urgent and transformative actions to protect present and future generations.

3. The present systems of governance and organisation of human knowledge are inadequate to address the threats to planetary health. We call for improved governance to aid the integration of social, economic, and environmental policies and for the creation, synthesis, and application of interdisciplinary knowledge to strengthen planetary health.

4. Solutions lie within reach and should be based on the redefinition of prosperity to focus on the enhancement of quality of life and delivery of improved health for all, together with respect for the integrity of natural systems. This endeavour will necessitate that societies address the drivers of environmental change by promoting sustainable and equitable patterns of consumption, reducing population growth, and harnessing the power of technology for change.

A sample of its 56-pages includes an executive summary, a glossary, short case studies (e.g., Ebola, ecosystem restoration and relieving poverty, hurricane Katrina), the concept of planetary health, how the Earth's global ecosystems are changing, non-linear changes and interactions, and population growth, consumption, and technology as causes of environmental change, conflict and displacement, extreme events (floods, storms, cyclones, wild fires, landslides, droughts and heat waves), decision making under conditions of uncertainty) solutions for the drivers of global environmental change charting a course for the future and policy.

3 Policy Propositions
The report concludes with three policy propositions to advance planetary health. Each of these are detailed in compact bullet-points.

1. Advancing imagination challenges (conceptual and empathy).

2. Advancing research and information challenges.

3. Advancing governance challenges (delay in recognizing and responding to threats).

I urge you to read Tony Dokoupil's piece on MSNBC (to whom I owe the discovery of this report and a h/t).  It is jarring. He captures our current management of the planet in a sentence that sticks in my head. "You get the sense of an insurance man reviewing the damage to a hotel room." This report is filled with doable ideas on how to repair that damage, i.e., it ends on a hopeful note. However, the question whether we can/will change or whether it will take much grimmer circumstances to force us to change lingers.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Faces of Environmental Appreciation

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Image from

I just learned about Outdoor Afro--tagline, "where black people & nature meet."  It was the subject of a feature story on NPR. 

When Rue Mapp was an investment analyst, she asked someone she trusted for advice on whether she should pursue an MBA.  Her wise mentor turned the question back, asking "If you could be doing anything right now, what would it be?" It turned out it wasn't an MBA.  Shereen Marisol Meraji writes "(Mapp) decided to combine everything she loved--from nature to community to technology--into an organization that would reconnect African Americans to the outdoors."

My, how often a career can turn on a question which forces an examination of "what do I really want to be when I grow up?"

There is a local connection to this story, too: Outdoor Afro Minneapolis.

And then there is Dudley Edmondson, nature photographer, wildlife enthusiast, videographer, writer and avid birder who lives in Duluth.  Mr. Edmondson is the author of a lovely book The Black & Brown Faces in America's Wild Places. The purpose of the book is to "create a set of 'Outdoor Role Models'" for people of color.

Mr. Edmondson's website notes that this book is used in the St. Paul Public Schools program known as AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) This is an in-school, college preparatory program for students, grade 4-12.

Happy trails!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Artistic Interpretations of Science

by Edward Hessler

Dance, music and photography are often used to provide different representations of science and environmental science.  The intent and hope is that they may help non-scientists refine their understanding of the underlying science.  Three examples follow.

Site Specific Performances

1.This year marked the final performance--the 19th--of Solstice River, at the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis honoring the Mississippi River on the longest day of the year.  It was conceived by Marylee Hardenbergh, an artist-in-residence at the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE) who is quick to note that many others--choreographers, a ceremonialist, musicians and a radio station--were involved in the creation and performance.

The announcement of Solstice River XIX, included A Water Wheel of Time on the front of the post card, pie-shaped images of the previous 18 years. These small slices show how that site was used--the river, piers, weirs, buildings, the bridge and boats.  This year also marked the third biennial of Global Water Dances. This involves over 70 cities on six continents, which on a single day use dance to inspire international collaboration for sustainable water solutions through the language and logic of dance.  This idea was originally conceived by a meeting of Laban Movement Analysts who attended a conference on Dance and the Environment in July 2008 at Schumacher College, England.

The spirit and the intent of these Laban Movement Analysts is captured in this statement: "Participation in planning local events or Global Water Dances is open to anyone who loves to move."  Some of us prefer to do this privately, though and to watch those who can move, move.

Why did this good thing, Solstice XIX, come to an end? A long article in Redcurrent tells why and is a wonderful story about Marylee Hardenbergh, career as well as her thoughts about how one thing often leads to another.

Hardenbergh has always been open to the possibilities of nearly any site.  One of them marked the opening of a sewage treatment plant and included a truck driver with his truck as well as other plant personnel.

So Marylee, what can be said to you for 19 moving (forgive me but they were on two levels) Solstice River celebrations and experiences?  Thank you is perfect.

2.  In March 2015, a dance about climate change was performed at the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, the American Museum of Natural History.  The choreography was by Karole Armitage, the performance was narrated by Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich and shaped by the exhibits and conversations with museum curator Rob DeSalle. Several well known musicians were involved in developing a score and performing it.

The dance's title, On the Nature of Things, was intentional. The dance is a descendant of a two-thousand-year-old poem of the same name by Lucretius (De Rerum Natura).  The poem is about a material world and cosmos and human agency.  There is nothing divine about it all, from creation to its end. It prefigures, in some ways, modern science.

Deborah Coen, a Professor of History at Barnard College, Columbia University wrote a review for Public Books.  She calls our attention to Ehrlich's deep interest in what he refers to as the "culture gap," a division between two kinds of knowledge, societal and personal.  To stitch this gap closer together he suggests that different ways of disseminating what scientists know about ecology and human behavior should be used.

Professor Coen notes some of the dangers in this approach to closing "the culture gap," including an important basic claim by Ehrlich as well as a stereotype of scientists which the staging of the performance inadvertently reinforces.  However, she writes that the dance "shows how science and dance can partner to deepen our visceral understanding of human impacts on the earth."  Her review is thoughtful, and an invaluable guide to what are sometimes referred to as different ways of knowing.


1. Scientific papers make considerable use of visual displays, graphs and tables, which can be daunting, if not at all understandable, by many non-experts.  These summaries of the data often require expertise, familiarity with the field and its conventions and the time required to study them.

Daniel Crawford was an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota when he had an internship with Professor Scott St. George that led Crawford to writing a score for cello that might help others make sense of the story of climate change held in data representations. A Song of Our Warming Planet translates year-by-year surface temperature data collected from 1880 to 2012 into musical notes.  Low notes represent warm years and high notes represent cool years.

2. Two years after the debut of A Song of Our Warming Planet, Daniel Crawford and Scott St. George joined forces again to create a new composition, Planetary Bands, Warming World.  It was written for a string quartet consisting of cello, viola, and two violins. The cello notes represent the equatorial band, viola notes, the mid-latitudes and violins, the high latitudes and the arctic.

Environmental Photography

Cause & Effect is the current exhibit at the Verve Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Most of the images are on how human activities are altering the environment. The exhibit dates are from July 3, 2015 to September 5, 2015.

Interestingly, theguardian (England) took note of this event and published a small gallery of the photographs. I shouldn't be surprised since this paper includes a gallery (environment + gallery) section.

Back to Schooling

Long ago (it now seems long ago) the idea of alternative assessments for showing evidence of science learning held sway (well, some).  In Minnesota they were used in the Minnesota Graduation Standards known as the Profile of Learning, a program with a short shelf-life.

Among the national leaders were the late Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe who wrote a useful book which is described on the website of Wiggins's consulting firm Authentic Design. It is about designing lessons for understanding based on the idea that "performance is the key to understanding."  These kinds of lessons demand that we start backwards from what would be evidence of understanding, revealing performance tasks, criteria to distinguish work and likely student misunderstandings, including checking for them before the lesson is designed.

I'm reminded of such tasks when I think about dance, music and photography.  When I attend an artist's openings, I always hope that there will be an artist's statement. I want them to help me enter the work but also to help me think about it more deeply. I would like to know how the artist was thinking about the art in the kinds of ways that Wiggins and McTighe describe in their very useful book.

And when I read Deborah Coen's review of the March 2015 dance performance at the American Museum of Natural History, knowing "stuff" such as context, history, concepts in science and dance, staging etc., adds to the mystery, pleasure and delight of learning about this world.

Going Green Between Chemistry Tests

by Krista Sanow

Formic Acid Hydrogenbridge V.1
By Jü, via Wikimedia Commons
From my first year here at Hamline, I learned two things. One, fruit snacks and a mixing bowl don’t make a good mouse trap. Two, it’s really hard to remember to be eco-friendly after staying up until 3 a.m. trying to finish a paper and study for a chemistry final.

Nowadays, everywhere you look there are people or advertisements telling you to “Go Green!”, “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle,” or “Live green, love green, think green.” The word green is spoken so much that it tends to lose meaning. What exactly does it mean to be “green,” and how do I do it while in college?

If I’m being completely honest, making environmentally conscious decisions wasn’t something I often did until I started working at the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE) this past January. Sure, I tried to recycle when I could, and I shut the lights off when I left the room, but my efforts to protect the planet never stretched much farther than that. Working at CGEE is now a weekly reminder that the way we all live now is unsustainable, and that I can change some of the things in my life to keep our big, beautiful planet big and beautiful.

After that initial epiphany, however, the question remained -- how can I, a college student living on campus with a sparse budget, make a positive difference to the natural world around

I found some simple ways to “go green” without spending too much effort or the pennies remaining in my ever-dwindling bank account:

Crystal Project switch
By Everaldo Coelho, via Wikimedia Commons
ChromiumoxidegreenUsing Electricity
First, there’s the simple yet exceedingly important act of turning off lights and unplugging appliances when not in use. Both are such easy tasks, yet they are often over-looked. says that a simple rule to live by is to turn off the lights if you’re leaving the room for longer than 15 minutes. Sure, it seems easy enough, but sometimes shutting off the lights slips the mind, especially if you have a heap of assignments to work through. The same goes for unplugging appliances. Using a surge protector power strip makes it exceptionally easy to keep “phantom energy” (energy sucked up by appliances that are plugged in but aren’t turned on) from being used. With the surge protector, all it takes to be more “green” is the flip of a switch!

How about being green while staying up all night cramming for that midterm? Well, if you plan on relying on coffee to keep you going, why not drink it in a reusable cup? Even though they’ll cost a little more up front, buying and reusing a cup from your favorite coffee store could save you money in the long run, because a good majority of coffee stores now give a discount to those who use those reusable mugs. So, it’s a win-win for everyone!

Shopping bag
By Paul Robinson, via Wikimedia Commons
On the topic of reusable items, cloth totes are always a good purchase; some places sell them for 50 cents. They’re a ridiculously cheap investment that can have a huge impact on the environment. Plastic bags, when burned, emit toxic gases into the atmosphere. Or, if a bag isn’t burned, it’s likely to end up blowing around on land or causing trouble in waterways. Since they take an obscene amount of time to breakdown, a single plastic bag can end up killing a staggering number of animals. So make the investment, it’s definitely worth it.

ChromiumoxidegreenDoing Laundry
Now how do we make every college student’s favorite past time (laundry, obviously) more ecological? Embarrassingly enough, my first time doing my own laundry was during my second week of classes. Luckily there was a chart on the wall that guided me through the confusing time. However, had I known that washing clothes in cold water saves energy and is consequently good for the environment, I would have been pressing “cold” every time! Going one step further, you can save energy by leaving some of your clothes out to dry rather than using a dryer. It really doesn’t take that long for clothes to dry, and buying a cheap drying rack can make it that much easier.

Metro Transit bus-20070505
By Randy Stern from Minneapolis, MN, USA
ChromiumoxidegreenGoing Places
Last but not least, transportation. Going to school in a city was a blessing for me, because I wasn’t able to have a car on campus. Not having a car has allowed me to get pretty close and personal with public transportation. At first, taking it was tricky; navigating the bus routes or knowing which stop to get off on the Light Rail seemed impossible. If I can do it, though, anyone can. It’s definitely worth the initial struggle, too. Taking public transit greatly reduces carbon emissions, reduces oil dependency -- which means, if you’re like me, you can spend less money on gas and more on snacks and movie tickets -- and you don’t have to waste time trying to find somewhere to park in the city. Another perk to being in a city is having the opportunity to walk or bike places. Walking or biking are both triple threats. Saving money? Check. Getting exercise? Done. Being environmentally friendly? You bet.

There are so many ways to be good to the environment while in college, but unfortunately, being eco-friendly isn’t always on every student’s mind. Day-to-day, it’s the little things that count. Shopping with a cloth tote, reusing coffee mugs or water bottles, walking places, hanging clothes to dry, and unplugging appliances all add up. One person doing all of these things -- or even some of them -- can have a huge impact on the surrounding world. It’s everyone’s responsibility to keep our planet green and full of life. You can develop environmentally responsible habits at any time, but what better time is there than while in college?