Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Last week's poem was by novelist, short-story writer, screenplay writer and poet, Sherman Alexie.

After high school, Alexie attended Gonzaga University but dropped out to follow a girlfriend to Washington State University. There, he enrolled in a poetry workshop where he was assigned a poem that changed his life. He has said, "If I hadn't found this poem, I don't think I ever would have found my way as a writer."

Joe Fassler, in a series on writers for The Atlantic, did a profile on Sherman Alexie which includes that poem, "Elegy for the Forgotten Oldsmobile." Alexie found one line in that poem transforming, a line that is repeated several times. This line is not, however, as Fassler wrote, the first line of the poem.

By GPS 56 from New Zealand (1962 Oldsmobile Starfire)
[CC BY 2.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

You may read about the author of the poem, Adrian C. Louis, here. A visit to this website will not let you down. There is a pleasing Minnesota connection that I note. Mr. Louis retired from Minnesota State University Marshall in 2014.

A section on the website is titled "Requisite Puffery." Here is a "puff" by Sherman Alexie that sheds light on the power of this poem.

I read one line in one poem in particular that was revolutionary and revelatory. The line was I’m in the reservation of my mind. It was by Adrian Louis, a Paiute poet. For me, that was like Because I could not stop for death, death kindly stopped for me... It was I sing the body electric... It was all that and more. It was the first line I ever read in any work, anywhere that applied to something I knew. It was a flash of lightning, a roll of thunder, when I understood everything that I ever wanted to be. When I read that line, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

From the Dictionary of Science Education

Environmental & Science Education
Student Achievement
Edward Hessler


By Gardenschool1961 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0
via Wikimedia Commons
A standard, in its broadest sense, is something against which other things can be compared for the purpose of determining accuracy, estimating quantity, or judging quality. In practice, standards may take the form of requirements established by authority, indicators such as test scores or operating norms approved of and fostered by a profession.
But that bypasses more interesting and important issues: For what aspects of science education do fully spelled-out national standards make sense? ... to be of much use, standards must be limited and lasting in significance. In that way, standards will free educators to concentrate on the quality of student learning rather than on its sheer quantity.
--Benchmarks for Science Literacy, Project 2061, 1993

Project 2061 on Benchmarks

By Michael Hicks from Saint Paul, MN, USA (img_6416)
[CC BY 2.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons
In developing its goal statements for science education, Project 2061 chose to develop benchmarks rather than standards, taking the view that these are "reference points for analyzing existing or proposed curricula in the light of science-literacy goals". Three years later, the National Research Council (NRC) published the National Science Education Standards, making the choice to use standards for goal statements that are both "limited and lasting in significance".
In that document, the authors noted that "the term 'standards' has multiple meanings. Science education standards are criteria to judge quality ... criteria to judge progress toward a national vision of learning and teaching science in a system that promotes excellence, providing a banner around which reformers can rally."
Because the cover of the 1996 National Science Education Standards was gold in color, the book was often referred to as "the golden rule".
Following the publication of these two documents, states developed their own standards, many of them were informed by national standards, with some states choosing one or the other of the national documents. Minnesota, for example, developed the Minnesota Academic Standards in Science.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

However, after some 15 years as well as insights from research on how students learn generally and science in particular, it was time to develop a new set of national standards. Minnesota, one of 26 states, worked with a 41-member writing team in the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). A Minnesota science teacher served on the earth science standards writing team.
By The original uploader was Mgoutsidou at Greek Wikipedia (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or
GFDL (],
via Wikimedia Commons
Currently, fourteen states (including the District of Columbia) have adopted the NGSS, including Arkansas, California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Several other states that have adopted new standards in science that are heavily influenced by the NGSS. The NGSS has a subtitle I very much like: Developed by States For States.
Minnesota's participation in the development of the NGSS did not include a commitment to adopting the NGSS, indeed that would have been impossible since Minnesota's standards are in statute. The current standards are scheduled for revision in 2018-2019 and it is possible that these new standards will be adopted or strongly influence the revised Minnesota standards for science.
Impediments to their adoption is that grade level benchmarks would have to be written for them and several legislative mandates and requirements would have to be met. The standards development/revision process is described in a FAQ.
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has a growing collection of resources for the NGSS. One that I recommend is Parent Q and A about them. This brochure is a useful introduction to the NGSS for anyone unfamiliar with their content as well as for those who know a little about them.  It traces the history of their development, what is significant about them as standards and also how science is learned based on current research in learning.
One of the many services NSTA provides for science educators is a series of position statements. These statements are carefully researched and reviewed before they are published. One of these is the statement on the NGSS. It includes discussions of the conceptual shifts in these new standards, notes on their implementation, the roles and responsibilities of policy makers, historical background and references that informed the development of the position paper. It is a very useful primer on NGSS.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

National Science Board on Higher Education

Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

By National Science Foundation [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
The National Science Foundation Act of 1950, which created the NSF, states that “The Foundation shall consist of a National Science Board … and a Director.” Jointly the Board and the Director pursue the goals and function of the NSF, including the duty to “recommend and encourage the pursuit of national policies for the promotion of research and education in science and engineering.” This week, the National Science Board released a report on the value of higher education as a private and public good. It notes that "policy discussions about higher education have become increasingly limited, focusing on its near-term, individual, and private benefits. This approach fails to recognize the full range of near- and long-term public and private benefits of higher education, and that these benefits are deeply intertwined and mutually reinforcing."
This is a statement in support of all forms of higher education.
The comments and findings of the report are nicely summarized in a "sense-of-the-board" statement.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler
I, Terryballard [GFDL (,
or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

Today's poem, Evolution, is by Sherman Alexie.

Next week, the poem is going to be by the writer-poet whose poem inspired Sherman Alexie to believe that he could write.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Large Wave

Science & Environmental Education, History of Science
by Edward Hessler

On the volcanic highlands of Santiago Island, an island in the Cape Verde group are found huge rocks of basalt and limestone which originated from the cliff faces below.

The Cape Verde Megatsunami

By User:SirGorg original (PD),
English text User:FT2 (also PD) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Somehow, they ended up about 183 meters (600') above sea level and in some cases as much as ~610 meters (~2000') inland. Some of them weigh in the neighborhood of 635000 kg (~1700 tons).
Research published in mega-tsunami approximately 244 meters high (~800') that propelled these boulders to where they are found today.
This occurred some 73,000 years ago when a flank on the island of Fogo, an island about 55 km (~35 miles) from Santiago collapsed into the sea. The dating technique was new to me and a good explanation may be found here: helium-3 cosmogenic nuclide dating.

Helium-3 Cosmogenic Nuclide Dating

By Uwe W. (Own work) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Cosmic rays, primarily from supernovae, during their interaction with atoms on the rock surfaces produce distinctive isotopes. One of them is helium-3. The helium-3 accumulation is measured and can be used to determine the time from first interactions to present.
The measurement corroborated previous geological work--fine-tuned it, shifting it from rock age to deposition time.
The section of the paper on helium-3 chronology begins innocently enough as one would expect. I was in familiar territory but not for long. "We collected samples from the top surface of selected megaclasts using hammer and chisel...."
The paper includes pictures, diagrams and maps.
And for some perspective on this long ago event, the 2011 tsunami in Japan reached run-up heights of up to 39 meters (~128' and reached inland as far as 10 km (6 miles)). You may recall some of the worldwide/earth effects which are listed as "amazing facts" (and they are that) here. The earth, no doubt, shuddered way back then.

Global Warming & a Future Deluge?

Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
This was a fast disaster, one which grabs our attention and interest, including learning a little about the techniques and reasoning that scientists bring to uncovering evidence for it. The current slow potential catastrophe called global warming simmers like a crockpot and our attention waxes and wanes as we get on with our lives. Too many politicians are denying that they are saying, "Apres moi le deluge."
That deluge could be one of quite a different sort than the mega-tsunami that struck Santiago Island so long ago. It will have world-wide effects we can both imagine and not imagine.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

The Academy of American Poets Educator Newsletter for May was rich in resources and ideas, building on the energy of April, National Poetry Month. 

You can sign up for the newsletter as well as for the service "Teach this Poem." Today's poem is from that series. The Carolina Wren by Laura Donnelly includes a tape of its song from the American Bird Conservancy.

If you subscribe you will receive a poem, related resources and classrooms in your inbox each Monday morning throughout the school year with ideas and suggestions on teaching the poem.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

An Official National Mammal

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Before European settlement the range of the bison (Bison bison) extended from the arctic lowland taiga forests to the western grasslands of what is now Mexico and then east from what is now the great basin of Nevada to the mountain range now known as the Appalachians. It ranged over 22 major biomes.
By No machine-readable author provided.
MONGO assumed (based on copyright claims).
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

H.R. 2908: Bison as National Mammal

On Monday, May 9, 2016 President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law. The American bison is now the national mammal of the United States. It joins the Bald Eagle as a national symbol. A fact-sheet with photographs prepared by the U. S. Department of the Interior may be found here.
H. R. 2908, beginning with "Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled" passed the House of Representatives April 26, 2016. The designation of the American bison as the national mammal is the result of a coalition of conservationists, ranchers and the Inter Tribal Bison Council (ITBC).
The ITBC grew from a gathering of nineteen tribes in South Dakota 1991, united for a common mission: Restoring buffalo to the Indian Country, to preserve our historical, cultural, traditional and spiritual relationship for future generations. Currently it "has a membership of 58 tribes in 19 states with a collective herd of over 15,000 buffalo." ... "ITBC is committed to reestablishing buffalo herds on Indian lands in a manner that promotes cultural enhancement, spiritual revitalization, ecological restoration, and economic development."

The Destruction of the Bison

By No machine-readable author provided.
Chensiyuan assumed (based on copyright claims).
[GFDL (,
CC-BY-SA-3.0 (
or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0
via Wikimedia Commons
From a peak population of about 30 million, bison were hunted to less than 500 by about 1900. The hunting included a strategy by the U.S. Army to confine plains Indians and change their nomadic way of life, i.e., to force them to live on reservations. The history of the decline and its complex causes may be found in Andrew C. Isenberg's definitive and thoroughly researched book, The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History 1750-1920.
Elahe Izadi's story for the Washington Post provides a condensed history of the bison's near-extinction and of the effort that led to President Obama signing the National Bison Legacy Act.
And for information about bison, the Wiki entry on this iconic animal covers considerable territory.
Geary Hobson's poem about this once-free ranging mammal returns us to the spirit of a time when buffalo roamed freely, a time that buffalo or us will never know.

Buffalo Poem #1
On hearing that a small herd of buffalo has "broken loose" and is "running wild" at the Albuquerque Airport--September 26, 1975
---roam, on brothers...

What a story!

Monday, May 9, 2016


Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler
Steve Jennings
[CC BY 2.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

A day doesn't pass without a newscaster saying "a new study released today shows...." But does it show anything of the sort reported? Is it to be trusted? Has it been replicated? How was it designed? What is the difference between the press release and the paper which reported the findings?

John Oliver strikes again with this video on the reporting of scientific research as well as the nature of more "studies" than we want to believe exist.

Oliver offers an alternative to TED talks. These are TODD (Trends, Observations, and Dangerous Drivel) Talks. In a format just like TED talks TODD talks expose "the intellectual rigor of morning news shows."

Trigger alert: cursing, innuendo, clear talk about scientific thinking and religious thinking, etc. I think it is overly long by about 10 minutes and the TODD Talks were not nearly as close to a TED talk as they might have been while still capturing their sometimes and all too often vacuity.

h/t: Huffington Post

Friday, May 6, 2016

Friday Poem

Art and Science
Edward Hessler

By Malene Thyssen
(Own work)
[GFDL (,
( or
CC BY-SA 2.5 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

In honor of National Poetry Month (April), the Washington Post asked ten poets to read a poem and ten animators to illustrate them. You can listen to the poems as well as read them.  10 poets...10 animators....

And, yeah it is May, another good month for poetry as is June and so on.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Tree of Life: Interactive

Biological Evolution
Edward Hessler

Raphaël Toussaint [GFDL
( or
CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0
via Wikimedia Commons
The idea of a tree of life was described by Charles Darwin to describe evolutionary relationships.

Over at WEIT, Jerry Coyne drew attention to "a new, fractally constructed tree of life...and you must take a look at it." I agree. You must! It is the best!

The newest tree is called OneZoom, "a vivid and interactive guide to the relationships between all life on earth." Coyne provides some useful comments on OneZoom.

Click on he magnifying glass at the bottom of a OneZoom page to learn everything you might want to know about OneZoom--how to use it, the software used, where the images are from, list of data sources, what red leaves mean (threatened) and what dotted leaves mean (incomplete and in search of a sponsor).