Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler
Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

Today's poem is by one of the greatest of Russian poets, Anna Akmatova (1889 - 1966).

This poem commemorates Germany's declaration of war on Russia, July 19, 1914.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Geology of Rocky Mountain National Park--A 360 Degree View

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

By Daniel Mayer (Mav) (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

This virtual geology lesson describes what has been learned from the glacier-carved peaks of the Rocky Mountains.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Biotech Cartoon

History of Science
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

By Glenn Fawcett ( [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
I first learned about the biotech company Theranos, a silicon valley company from Ken Auletta's article in The New Yorker, December 15, 2014. It was a profile of its CEO, Elizabeth Holmes. Her intent was as Auletta put it "to upend the lucrative business of blood testing."

Holmes struck me as a phenomenon, charismatic, brilliant with a very strong sense of purpose. Driven comes to mind. She started the company at age 19, a drop-out of Stanford University. Theranos had many of the qualities of a company that would know success. At the time of Auletta's essay she was 30 years old.

Homes had a powerhouse board, e.g., George Schultz, William Frist, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn. Auletta describes some of the details of board structure and function as well as investors and Holmes's view of how the company would be grown.

A history of the rise and fall of Theranos is found in a cartoon history. It is from NPR ((KQED) and is very clever and fascinating. Don't miss it. In addition to the cartoon you will find many links to accounts of Theranos story.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

By Michael Gwyther-Jones from UK (Spring Tulip)
[CC BY 2.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons
This week's poem is by Jeanne Lohmann.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

World Population Day

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

I'm a day late.

Junuxx at en.wikipedia
[CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or
GFDL (],
via Wikimedia Commons

July 11 is the day designated as World Population Day. There are 7.3 billion of us. That descriptive statistic offers much to consider. It is a very large number.

Annenberg Learner has some charts and graphs showing how world population has grown by the billion here.

See page for author [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

National Public Radio posted some photographs of how we live. The photographs are from the 2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. In her NPR piece, Krisin Adair provides a link to more photographs from that contest.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is by Sarah Freligh.
By The Master of Marradi [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

She has been a visiting professor at St. John Fisher College (Rochester, NY) and Missouri State University (Springfield, MO).

Thursday, July 7, 2016

St. Croix River Institute Wednesday, June 29: Engineering Challenges & Final River Reflection

By Steven Beardsley
Wednesday June 29, 2016 – Day 3

Sil the Cat and Ed the Engineer
High School Physics Teacher reads his creative piece about Sil and Ed
The last day of the institute opened up with teachers sharing either the creative piece or scientific journal entry based on what they did yesterday. We had some interesting field entries on damselflies with poems and stories on forest inquiry and the river. A high school Physics teacher also shared a fun story about Sil and Ed with Sil being trapped up in a tree and Ed trying to get her down. At the end of the story though, Sil managed to get down on her own, showing Ed who "controls" the relationship. It was a fun opening that also led to some discussions around the importance of including engineering with science.

Field Journal Entry on a Dragonfly Larva
Poem about Dragonflies and Damselflies

Exploring “Waters to the Seas” and Bridge Construction
CGEE's John Shepard goes over multimedia 
The second part of the morning involved CGEE’s own John Shepard giving a demonstration of CGEE’s latest multimedia projects along with some revamped old ones. The first one focused on the construction of bridges inspired by the bridge being built by Stillwater. It combines physics concepts such as torsion, ductility, and how forces interact with bridges along with the history of bridge creation and destruction in the U.S. Overall, it was a fun and interactive demonstration as the multimedia combines videos as well as opportunities to use different everyday shapes to build bridges. John also demonstrated CGEE’s latest multimedia touchscreen table that allows up to four people to watch videos and work with interactive games and puzzles.

This followed a revamped version of the Waters to the Seas multimedia (provide link) with new rendering of the “Journey of the Raindrop” and “Water Cycle” modules. All of these can be used in classrooms, and were made possible by some grants that CGEE managed to get the past couple of years. We have our own version of the table at the Center and hope to get it in some state parks nearby.

David demonstrates getting students involved n Engineering with a video of his youngest daughter

After that interactive demonstration David showed teachers the importance of getting students to do engineering projects with some help from parents if taken home but encouraging more guidance and problem solving from the student. He demonstrated this by providing a video of his youngest daughter who read “The Billy Goat’s Gruff” in class and then had to construct a way to get the goat across a river. She managed, with some help from David and his wife, to create a zipline system with a Barbie car to safely zip the Billy coat over the cliff and across the river.

Engineering Challeng es

"Irrigation" Challenge
"Oil Spill" Challenge
Actually, David’s oldest daughter also joined us in some Engineering challenges that divided teachers into six groups. The first was a “Oil Spill” challenge where teachers had to use various materials such as moss, paper towels, and soap to clean up an oil mixture in tanks of water. Another was an “Irrigation” challenge that had teachers get water down from one cup to three others in equal amounts. Another involved ducks achieving neutral buoyancy neutral buoyancy.

"Can you Canoe?" Challenge
New Challenge based on 1800's settlers crossing a river
"Neutral Buoyancy" Challenge

"Water Filtration" Challenge

We also had a water filtration challenge, a “Can you Canoe?” challenge that involved participants creating a canoe that could self propel itself and hold a certain amount of weight in the water, and a final new activity that David’s daughter joined. This new activity went well with history and language arts because it involved either roleplaying as settlers in the 1800’s or bankers who needed to cross the river. The parameters of the challenge for the settlers meant that they had to design a raft that would float for two minutes. We got some creative designs that teachers got to show and teach one another as each group rotated to the next one. You can see more pictures of the groups on the facebook page. If you are interested in seeing some designs you can comment below, but we do not put the images up so that we do not spoil the challenges/give hints to teachers who are planning on attending the institutes in the future.

The combined river groups for the "Sum of the Parts" activity
“Sum of the Parts” and Final River Reflection
After the Engineering challenges and lunch, teachers got to take out their million dollar homes and place them together to represent homes along a river. We got a variety of properties from a “Pretty Pink Princess Castle” (One of David’s daughters drew that one), to various cabins with rain gardens and other homes with boats. Teachers got to talk about what kind of impact their homes would have on the river especially on homes that were at the very end of the river or right next to them. To represent this impact each teacher put something that they carried in a bucket and passed it to the next one. This activity also led to a discussion of point and non-point pollution as well as relating activities and content to current events such as Minnesota’s current concerns with agricultural runoff.

Poison Ivy: Leaves of 3 with a woody stem
David reads us a poem about the St. Croix River before we spend our alone time by it
The final part of the day involved a short walk down to a clearing by the river. We divided into three groups with David, Ed, and Sil each leading a group. Depending on the group, teachers got to learn and experience different things. Sil’s group got to learn more about the different birds and bird calls while David’s group got to do some tree rubbings and learn more about the different kinds of trees leading down to the clearing. David also had us explore a little before reading a poem about the river and having each of us find our own spot to either draw, write, and/or reflect in the river.

Concluding thoughts
The 2016 St. Croix River Institute Cohort
This year’s institute was a resounding success with perfect weather and great reflections and ideas from teachers from a variety of subjects. It still amazes me how the institute is capable of combining history with creative writing and science and engineering. This year’s institute also seemed to encourage teachers to push their students to inquire for themselves and to see how what they are learning relates to current issues around water, the environment, and engineering challenges and problems around us. I’m very excited for the next and my last Mississippi River institute at the end of July. Thanks for reading and if you are interested in learning more about/participating in the institutes feel free to comment or contact Sara Robertson at

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

St. Croix River Institute Tuesday, June 28: Macroinvertebrates & Forestry Inquiry

By Steven Beardsley
Tuesday June 28, 2016 – Day 2

Logos from Yesterday and “Blue River.”
Teachers sharing their logos with each other

David started off the day by having participants go around looking at each other’s logos from the boat trip down the river and the geological inquiry. You can see more of these images on our Facebook album, but we had some pretty creative ones. David also had participants share their logos and go over some feedback on instruction that was provided from yesterday. This feedback led to Ed looking up some maps on google on the topography of Interstate Park where the glacial potholes formed. You can take a look here. We also had more instructors introduce themselves such as Janine Kohn from the Minnesota DNR and Project WET along with Sil talking more about the Jeffers Foundation and the workshops they provide for teachers too.

Logo on the Glacial Potholes 
Logo on the River Exploration
After some logo sharing and going over some reflections, Janine and Karl led participants in the “Blue River” activity. This activity modeled how water travels down multiple rivers. We had three different lines of teachers with a few at the center passing down different colored beads and macaroni pieces to the very end where other teachers counted and recorded what made it down. We could only pass either one tiny piece of macaroni or bead at a time during winter or when it flooded in spring we could pass everything down at once. Another thing that was added was pollution in the form of small fuzzy balls. Overall, it was a fun hands-on activity and one that can be sustainable with the use of recyclable/biodegradable materials.

Janine walks us through other Project WET resources before going into "Blue River."

Passing down water at the confluence during "Blue River"

Directed Inquiry: Macroinvertebrates
Karl demonstrates how to use a net to collect macroinvertebrates
The second part of the day involved groups splitting off again to do either forest inquiry or macroinvertebrates. The only difference was that the first group would do a directed inquiry (question provided by the instructors) while the second group would do a guided inquiry (questions generated by the students). Jenni and I went with the first group for Macroinvertebrates whose question involved seeing if there was a difference in the number of macroinvertebrate species in the man-made lake nearby versus the part of the river by the parking lot. Janine, Karl, and Sil led us in the activity with Karl and Janine demonstrating the use of nets and proper technique in disturbing the water to catch more macroinvertebrates rather than plant debris.

Some teachers also got to try out the large black net that requires two people to hold onto while a second person disturbs the water in front of them.

Using the black net to get a bunch of macroinvertebrates

We did find out that there was a difference in species between the two bodies of water. Actually, one of the teachers, Sam, found a damselfly in addition to a slug and even a snail in the St. Croix River.

Teacher Sam with her damselfly

We also saw some water boatmen, and other teachers got adventurous and looked at some of the murkier water in the little marsh by the water. There was indeed a larger diversity of macroinvertebrates in the river water that indicates healthy water quality while the man-made lake had fewer species.

Open Inquiry: Forestry
This group presenting what they found about the soil in the area
Since we were the first group to do macroinvertebrates we naturally became the second group to do forestry. This time we got to choose our own question based on looking at changes along forest transect lines from the river. Jenni and I had done something similar at Hamline through the Conservation Biology class, but, Terry, the other instructor, suggested that we could look at deer browsing and how it changes from 40 feet from the river but just off the trail to about 90 feet into the forest. We hypothesized that the farther away from the river we would encounter more browsing. What we counted as browsing was any evidence that a deer had nipped at the leaves of a plant.

We actually found that the amount of browsing decreased to zero because we encountered a large clearing in the forest with only large trees that deer couldn’t get to. Other groups did similar studies looking at different species such as buckthorn while others looked at the soil. We began to wonder what caused the large clearing in the forest, and Terry and David both suggested that it could be due to earthworms in that area preventing small plants from growing. To be sure, we could test it by putting a solution of mustard and oil in the earth, which apparently is an irritant to earthworms and causes them to leave the earth.

Concluding Thoughts
Instructor David guides us down the transect line from the river
This was another great day of reflection and inquiry. I also learned a lot when it came to doing forest investigation and thinking about the different plant species and deer browsing. Teachers also got to experience the difference between directed and guided inquiry. Personally, I think guided inquiry also takes the form of research papers and projects, which I think can be a great way for students and individuals to take control of their learning. Tomorrow is, sadly, the last day of the institute, but teachers have a lot to look forward to as we wrap up “Sum of the Parts” and do some Engineering challenges.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

St. Croix River Institute Monday, June 27: Taylors Falls Princess Boat Trip & Geological Inquiry

by Steven Beardsley
Monday, June 27, 2016 – Day 1

The Scientific Journey Begins
Teachers record their results for "The Incredible Journey"
Today marked the first day of the annual St. Croix River Institute St. Croix River Institute at Interstate State Park and William O’Brien State Park. 43 teachers attended this year’s three-week institute along with students in Patty Born Selly’s MAT group at Hamline. We had a wide variety of teachers from High School Physics to ELL, ESL, English/Creative Writing, and general science education. Actually, this year marked probably the greatest diversity in terms of subject range, showing how inquiry, science, and literacy are all interacted when learning and teaching about the environment.

Our lead instructor, David Groack, also talked at length about this after participants did the institute’s first activity: “The Incredible Journey.” For this activity teachers modeled the water cycle by rolling a six-sided die that told them to either stay at a station or move to others. The stations represented different areas where water travels such as: oceans, groundwater, clouds, rivers, and lakes. Teachers also got the chance to practice using their science notebooks to write down how often they left or stayed at a station. The activity was a great energizer to show how water travels and sometimes ends up trapped longer in certain places over others. This was the first of many Project WET activities that the institute is supported by.

Riding the Taylor Falls Queen down the St. Croix
A Bald Eagle in a tree. One of many along the river.

The second part of the morning involved riding down the St. Croix on the Taylors Falls Queen on a scenic boat tour where we learned a little bit about the river and the interesting rock formations down there. Teachers did not get to simply listen to our boat driver though because we were all instructed to use four of our five senses (sight, smell, touch, and hearing, but not taste because most of what we could taste were the bagels and/or coffee we’d had while on the trip or before boarding) to write down observations along the river.

The St. Croix Cross. St. Croix actually means "Holy Cross."

This was a fun creative writing activity for me because I got to practice smelling things and noticing things like the exhaust from the boat we were riding on to the cold breeze that day. Our boat captain also talked a lot about the different rock formations that he thought looked like George Washington to one that he believed was representative of a witch.

I thought the one that the one named the Saint Croix Cross (what the river was named after) was interesting including the indigenous pictographs on the rock by the river. Sil Pembleton and David Groack also pointed out differences in tree species and foliage along the river, and we saw and took great pictures of some Bald Eagles and even some Turkey Vultures. It was harder to take a Turkey Vulture photo since they were flying around the eagles. We also learned that Highway 8 may be closing down because there are some endangered bats that need to be moved nearby. Just goes to show that you learn a lot going on a boat trip down the river, something that not everyone gets the chance to do.

Making observations while riding the boat

Geological Inquiry: Re-creating our story of the St. Croix Potholes
Sil modeling rainfall and how rivers form before we do Stream Tables

Teachers discussing after their first time playing with the stream tables
After lunch we divided up into 2 groups with one group going with David and Karl to explore the glacial potholes with the other working with Sil and Ed on stream tables. Jenni and I managed to do stream tables at first and, even though I’ve done them at past institutes, it was still fun modeling how water travels through land and how it erodes certain areas.

The activity also connected a lot to how residents and engineers place housing and other developments along rivers. With my particular group we noticed how putting rocks to shield houses from being flooded diverted the water to other areas that quickly got eroded. Also, houses that seemed safe from flooding also had a water problem, which meant they needed to dig into the ground for water. Overall, the activity was good for showing students and even reminding others the importance of realizing how one action may impact someone else down the river.

Our Million dollar mansions on the river

Karl takes us to our first stop on the tour
Our final activity and the second part of Geological inquiry today involved hiking and touring some of the glacial potholes in the park. We were further divided into one group that specialized in geology and teaching earth science while the second group got more guided inquiry from Karl. I learned quite a few things on the walk such as the white spots on rocks on the trail were from lichen which is a symbiotic relationship between algae and moss. Another cool thing I learned was that agates form in the vesicles (or little bubbles) in the rock.

A glacial pothole at the park
We also learned more about how the glacial potholes formed, but we got to piece it together with our own observations, which is what inquiry and even story telling is about. I also know that fables and folk tales and other oral tales are often ways of how different cultures understand the natural world; I think oral tales are also valuable when thinking about the science behind things. You can learn more about the glacial potholes through this link, though I encourage you to attend the institute itself next year especially if you’re thinking about engaging students in this particular topic :D. History of Interstate State Park.

Concluding Thoughts
Squeezing through the day
This was a great first day and start to the institute. We learned a lot in terms of gathering data and asking questions. We also practiced writing questions that we would share the following day on anything we learned while on the river or through the geology inquiry. David, our lead instructor, also introduced the “Sum of the Parts” activity where each participant is given 1 million dollars (figuratively not literally, the institute is free but not THAT free), to create their own dream house on the river. He also had participants draw logos that represented what they learned on the boat trip and during the geological inquiry. You can see some cool logos on our facebook page too or in the next blog post (provide link when that post is up too).

Friday, July 1, 2016

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

By The original uploader was Mcjsfreak07 at English Wikisource
(Transferred from en.wikisource to Commons.)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Today's poem is by Eavan Boland who was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1944.