Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Whatever Happened to the Skinny Teacher?

Mathematics Education
Water & Watersheds
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Students have a way of taking courses and then disappearing from our lives. In the great scheme of things this is the way it should be. Still we sometimes wonder whether there were any effects and what they were.  What happened as a result of this recipe of curriculum/instruction, the experiences provided, and the student with an added dollop of time?

Photo by Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune.
Abdikadir Mohamed Aden was a CGEE Rivers Institute participant six years ago. In a recent article (see link below) he noted that this sparked his interest in the environment. Aden came to this country from Somalia with great dreams and a matching ambition.  The route here and while here has many twists and turns. He became a mathematics educator.

Aden is now blind due to diabetes but continues his work in mathematics education as a tutor. He is also known as Macalin Xiito (Skinny Teacher). His original dream changed but his ambition and persistence remain the same, appearing to me even stronger.

Xiito is also working with the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization as a community educator for Somalis on clean water. In addition he has a made a YouTube video on water protection.

Faiza Mahumed of the Star Tribune wrote a lovely profile of this keeper of mathematics, water and life. Read it and give thanks for him and his work.

h/t Sara Robertson, CGEE

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler
Major Jackson.
Photo credit: Erin Patrice O'Brien.

This year marks the centennial of the National Park Service.

In today's poem, Major Jackson, University of Vermont, marks and celebrates this birthday.

Read the poem and about him here.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Nobel Medals and $

History of Science
Environmental & Science Education
by Edward Hessler

I noticed several announcements that the 1994 medal for the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel awarded to John F. Nash, Jr. was to be auctioned at Sotheby's in New York, October 17. This includes the original red Morocco case. Its estimate is valued at $1.5 to $4 million. Nash received the honor for contributions to non-cooperative game theory made while he was a graduate student at Princeton University.
John F. Nash, Jr. [Wikimedia Commons]

Nash shared the economics award with John C. Harsangi and Reinhard Selton. The press release from the Nobel Foundation provides information about the three honorees and their contributions. Nash's work turned upside down 150 years of Adam Smith's ideas of me-first, self-interest in decision making.

Auction results may be seen here. There you will find photographs, full details about the medal, a film clip, a thorough catalog description of Nash's life and contributions, and personal remembrances.

Nash's life is told in Sylvia Nasar's beautifully told and carefully researched biography, A Beautiful Mind. His career was interrupted for some thirty years by schizophrenia from which he recovered, returned to work and later received his Nobel prize. The book was later made into a film to very mixed reviews.

This made me wonder about the fate of Nobel Prize medals. I had known that some were auctioned but not many of the details. An article at for October 3, 2015 provides some details and a few of these are found below...

— 889 medals have been awarded in the past 114 years (to 2015). The awards are for what is regarded pioneering, breakthrough work in these areas: chemistry, literature, medicine, peace, physics and since 1969, economics

— The price range has been $13,650 (at today's rate) to $4.76 million. The former is for the Nobel Peace prize medal awarded to French Prime Minister Aristide Briand in 1924. The latter is for James Watson's 1962 medal in physiology or medicine in 1962. The award was for elucidating the structure of DNA and shared with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. Crick's medal was auctioned for about half the amount of Watson's.

— Watson's medal auction deserves a little more detail. His medal was auctioned while he was still alive (December 2014) which is somewhat unusual. The Russian billionaire, Alisher Usmanov purchased the medal and then returned it to Watson in gratitude for his work. Watson sold the medal because he "needed the money." The reason was for some very James Watson-like behavior for which see here.

There is one other Nobel awardee whose medal was sold while still living — Leon Lederman, physics, age 93, May 2016. It was sold in an on-line auction ($765,000) with the proceeds used for treatment and care of his dementia.
Nobel Prize Medal [Wikipedia]

According to an Associated Press release May 25, 2016, 19 Nobel prize medals have gone to auction.

An entry from the Nobel Foundation on the medals describes their design and fascinating details including how they are inscribed. There you will find a film on how they are manufactured. What about the gold which all of us are interested in? The website notes that Up to 1980 the "Swedish" medals, each weighing approximately 200 g and with a diameter of 66 mm, were made of 23 carat gold. Since then they have been made of 18 carat recycled gold. The weight is set to 175 g for all medals, except for the Medal for the Prize in Economic Sciences. Its weight is set to 185 g.

One of the most remarkable stories about the medals involves the Hungarian physical chemist Georg Karl von Hevesy. von Hevesy was working in the laboratory of Niels Bohr when the Germans invaded Denmark in World War II. The German government prohibited German nominees/recipients from accepting or keeping the prizes. Furthermore, they forbade any gold leaving Germany. They wanted the gold.

Two medalists had sent their medals to Denmark for safe-keeping where, while the German army was approaching, von Hevesy dissolved the Nobel Prize medals of Max von Laue (1914) and James Franck (1925) in aqua regia. von Hevesy placed the resulting orange solution on a high laboratory shelf where it remained ignored (and safe) until after the war! von Hevesy then precipitated the gold from the acid solution and the gold was returned to the Nobel Foundation. There, the Nobel medals were re-cast and then re-presented to Laue and Franck.

Aqua regia also known as "royal water" and "kings water," is a potent mixture of two acids, hydrochloric and nitric. Its name calls attention to the property that it can dissolve the noble medals, gold and platinum.
Aqua regia, dissolving gold. [Wikimedia Commons]

NPR's Robert Krulwich did a wonderful program on this story which also includes a link to a video showing the dissolution in action. It is not a fast reaction. The re-casting of the medals and their presentation to the original laureates is sweet in and of itself. It is even sweeter. von Hevesy was awared a Nobel prize in chemistry in 1943. Niels Bohr who was the director of the institute where von Hevesy worked had sold his medal to raise money for the Finnish Relief effort. An anonymous buyer (Krulwich refers to him as Mr. Anonymous) purchased AND later returned the medal to the Danish Historical Museum of Fredrikborg where it still resides.

Bohr was one of the giants of theoretical physics in the early to middle part of the last century. He did truly foundational work in atomic structure and in quantum physics, a well-founded description of nature that says at its fundamental levels, it is probabilistic. In addition, Bohr's fingerprints on physics are everywhere. He profoundly influenced and was a mentor to many, if not all the most brilliant physicists of that fertile era in theoretical physics.  Bohr received the Nobel prize in physics in 1922.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Five Minutes of Physics

Envionmental & Science Education
History of Science
Edward Hessler

Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll (California Institute of Technology) has collaborated with Henry Reich (Minute Physics) in producing five one-minute videos on big ideas in physics.

Why Doesn't Time Flow Backwards?
Do Cause and Effect Really Exist?
Where Does Complexity Come From?
How Entropy Powers the Earth?
What is the Purpose of Life?

Each film is based on sections of Carroll's recent book, The Big Picture.  The thread that connects these everyday ideas is the arrow of time and entropy.

Carroll and Reich co-authored the scripts with Carroll reading and Reich illustrating them on a white board.

One useful feature is their shortness so if you find an idea in a film confusing, you can view the entire film again to place the confusing section in context. Of course, you can always move the small ball on the time bar back and see that section again (and over again). A lot is said and drawn in a small amount of time!

Professor Carroll posted them on his blog.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday Poem

Image result for november

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Introspection is a mark of Lisel Mueller's work. Here is a poem about this month — November — that lays, in this part of the world, between fall and winter.

And here is some information about her, an interview with Jim Lehrerer, PBS on the occasion of her receiving the Pultizer Prize for Poetry.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

It's About Relationships

Environmental and Science Education
Mathematics Education
by Edward Hessler

It seems that everyday we see a new headline suggesting a relationship between some X and some Y as though it was causal.

The political season is rich in such reports, e.g., relating one's politics/political leanings-Republican, Independent, Green Party, Democrat, liberal, conservative, with personality.

Maria Konnikova's wrote a short piece in The New Yorker on the so-called relationship between politics and personality. She reviewed research done by Brad Verhulst, Virginia Commonwealth University and also talked with him about it. This may be one of the reasons that the subheading for her essay reads "most of what you read is malarkey." There may be relationships but they are all too often stated much too strongly.

In this essay Konnikova mentioned Tyler Vygen's website, Spurious Correlations. This is the main purpose of this post: to point you to his web site.

Vygen, a Harvard law student, has a love for numbers and science. He is not a math/stats person. About the charts on his website he writes that they "aren't meant to imply causation nor are they meant to create a distrust for research or correlation data. Rather, I hope the project fosters interest in statistics and numerical research." (emphasis added)

Vygen's graphs are free for the taking. Anything he posts is "released under a Creative Commons Attribution License." Such a deal!

Konnikova's essay is a lesson on how one comes to trust research by first asking some questions about the data.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Report on the Status of Non-Human Vertebrates

Biological Diversity
Sustainability Energy & Transportation
Edward Hessler

World Wildlife Federation

The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) has released its 2016 Living Planet Report.

The findings are summarized in a less than encouraging graph, referred to as the Living Planet Index (LPI). It is a measure of the state of the world's biological vertebrate diversity found in terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats. The graph is based on population trends from 18290 populations of 3669 vertebrate species.

The LPI has been adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to indicate progress towards the 2011-2020 target to "take effective and urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity."

The LPI shows a decline of 58 per cent for all vertebrates between 1970 and 2012. This means that should current trends continue the decline could be as high as two-thirds of all vertebrates by the 2020 target.

Freshwater habitats are the most threatened

Here is the breakdown by habitats for the period of 1970 to 2012:

Terrestrial. The vertebrate LPI shows a population decline of thirty-eight percent.

Freshwater. The vertebrate LPI shows a population decline of eighty-one percent.

Marine. The vertebrate LPI shows a population decline of thirty-six percent.  

The major threats are habitat loss and degradation, species over-exploitation, pollution, invasive species and disease and climate change.  And what is the major threat to declining populations?  As you probably know it is loss and degradation of habitat. In other words we are and continue to overdraw our account.

The major actions that we can take to progress toward the goal of halting the loss of vertebrate diversity are found in two sectors, reform of food and energy systems.

Changes to the Earth's systems in the Anthropocene age

The report places the planet in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, a term coined by Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen who, with Mario J. Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland received the award for 1995.  The award for chemistry recognized "their work in atmospheric chemistry, particularly concerning the formation and destruction of ozone."

The Anthropocene follows the Holocene which we've been living in for the last ~ 12,000 years. The Anthropocene is not a formally defined geological unit but is a popular term used widely by scientists and non-scientists to acknowledge human influence on the dynamics and future of the Earth system. According to the Anthropocene working group it is "widely agreed that the Earth is currently in this state."

The Living Planet findings are viewed in an Earth system perspective. The framework, Planetary Boundaries, calls attention to nine human-produced alterations to the functioning of the Earth system. "They are:

1) biosphere integrity (or destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity),
2) climate change, and
3) its twin problem ocean acidification,
4) land-system change,
5) unsustainable freshwater use,
6) perturbation of biogeochemical flows (nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to the biosphere),
7) alteration of atmospheric aerosols,
8) pollution by novel entities,
9) stratospheric ozone depletion."

Ocean acidification leads to coral "bleaching.

These alterations cannot be navigated and managed in isolation of one another. It is important, an imperative, to pay considerable attention to each subsystem as decisions are made about a particular subsystem. Subsystems will be affected to a greater or lesser extent by any change focusing only on one subsystem.

The report includes Ecological Footprint data for four decades. These data show that reductions in the total global Ecological Footprint do not correspond to intentional policies that limit or change our impact on the natural world. Instead, they have been reactive polices or actions dictated by major economic crises such as the 1973 oil crisis, the deep economic recession in the USA and many of the OECD countries during 1980-1982 and the 2008-2009 global economic recession.  The reductions in Ecological Footprint were only temporary and quickly followed by a rapid climb.

A map showing the world's ecological footprint of consumption on a per capita basis shows that nations with the largest footprints are those that have the highest fossil fuel consumption and energy-intensive goods (from cradle to grave). Those nations include the United States, of course. The United States is among those nations which use six times more than the available per capita share of global biocapacity. 

Four level of thinking

To accomplish the maintenance of nature and equitable living conditions for all humans will require systems thinking as well as acting as a result of such thinking. A common tool used in systems thinking, the “four levels of thinking model," is presented.

— the first level of thinking — events — is about the "tip of the iceberg" in a system and is often the place where most problem-solving, interventions and policy discussion occurs. The result is that this it is about treating symptoms rather than the sources of the problem.

— the second level of thinking — patterns — concerns the patterns that emerge when a set of events leads to recognizable behaviors or outomes.

— the third level of thinking — systemic structures — reveals the political, social, biophysical or economic structures that constrain the way different elements in the system can behave and interact. .

— the fourth and deepest level — mental models — reflects the beliefs, values and assumptions of individuals and organizations. Mental models vary across cultures and interestingly have are rarely taken into account in decision making. Mental models influence design of system structures, our behaviors as well as cultural guidelines and incentives, events that together make up the flow of daily life in society.

The capital value of natural ecosystems

Natural capital assets of ecosystems are easily overlooked or taken for granted. These assets have been assumed as enduring, regardless of how they are used.  The report calls attention to four assets.

Provisioning. Products such as raw materials, medical resources, fresh water, food.

Regulating. These include the processes that regulate ecosystems such air, water, erosion, climate.

Supporting. These are services necessary for maintaining healthy ecosystems such as nutrient cycles, photosynthesis, soil formation.

Culture.  These are the non-material benefits ecosystems provide such as aesthetic, emotional/physical health, recreation/ecotourism.

The rainforests, the "lungs" of the earth.
The challenge of this century is profound: to maintain nature in all its forms most glorious and to live on the resources of a finite planet in a way that is equitable for all. According to the report this requires a "One Planet Perspective."

It is based on the idea of ecosystem resilience, i.e., preserving the ability of natural ecosystems to recover from perturbations or adapt to them. This will require considerable research and then using those results, even when they are in-motion, to make policy decisions under conditions of uncertainty.

The One Planet Perspective includes the preservation of natural capital, production methods that promote sustainable and sustain ecosystems, and wise consumption practices (reducing ecological footprints personally and nationally).  We must, in other words, govern resources in ways that are equitable as well as redirect financial flows in ways that value nature.

An immediate threat

By all accounts we are at a place in history where the rate of transition is increasingly visible and the Earth's meters and dials increasingly announce changes we've not experienced. The report is clear about the danger to animals with backbones. One can infer others as well since vertebrates do not exist in communities alone.  They live with plants, predators, insects, decomposers, microbes and invertebrates.

Does the majority of the Earth's population value nature and recognize its needs AND the close link between humans and nature?  If not, what is the path to this kind of shared understanding?  Is it even possible at the scale that is required? In the end are we capable of considering these kinds of ideas, the actions they require and then making them, living as though the full planet matters? Or, will this be just another report with politics and business-as-usual interests continuing?

However, there are some facts that we disregard at great peril. Numbers. The basic arithmetic of change as well as of its scale. Washington Post writer, Chris Mooney writes about one of these: holding the world's warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It is a harsh dose of reality and is where the maths kick- in.

The emissions gap for the 1.5 degree Celsius target according to Mooney's article ranges between 15 and 17 gigatons per year. Not only do they sound like big numbers; they are. So, what do they mean in daily life?  Mooney quotes Jacqueline McGlade, the chief scientist of the United Nations Environmental Program: When you think that one gigaton is the equivalent of taking all European vehicles off the road for one year, and he gap is beween 12 and 14 gigatons, you see what the scale of the problem is. See Mooney's excellent piece for the details.

A vibrant summary of the WWF report with pictures, diagrams, graphs and tables is included.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Friday Poem

Art and Poetry
by Edward Hessler

Max Ritvo, from Divedapper.
Today's poem is by Max Ritvo.
Ritvo was diagnosed with terminal cancer (Ewing's sarcoma) when he was sixteen. He was a chronicler about his cancer, writing with great candor and sometimes humor. He graduated from Yale and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University. This boundlessly talented poet died August 23, 2016 at age 25.
Here is an interview in which he talks about himself and his first book, Four Incarnations which was published posthumously.
Today's poem was one of several of Ritvo's poems published in The New Yorker magazine.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Scientists React to the Election

Image result for donald trump

Environmental & Science Education
by Edward Hessler

Nature, a widely-circulated British international scientific journal has an article about the reaction of scientists to the election of Donald J. Trump, an election which the head-line notes, "stuns scientists."
The essay may be read on-line.

Environmental Studies Field Trips: Wastewater Treatment Plant

CGEE Student Voice
by Jenni Abere

This week, Hamline Environmental Studies students got a special "Metro After Dark" tour of the Wastewater Treatment Plant. This plant covers a lot of land: I guess I expected it to be much more compact. This plant is also very old, so many of the buildings are no longer used. As we travelled from building to building, following the path of wastewater, the sun set and it was dark when we reached the final stage. At this point, the water was heading back into the Mississippi. It smelled like river water, and it looked black in the darkness.

This old-fashioned gauge was at one point the only way they could monitor flow.
Although it is still hooked up to monitors today, it's mostly decorative. 

The process

This plant treats an average of 160 million gallons of wastewater per day. The total used to be much higher when storm-water was also treated, but these two water streams have been separated. Storm water goes directly into the river without treatment.

Wastewater will also return to the river once treated, and much cleaner than typical river water.

1. Removing grit

Sand, rocks, and "grit" is first removed to prevent damage to the machinery.

2. Settling and skimming

This is done to remove solids, both things that float, by skimming the surface, and things that sink, by allowing them to settle to the bottom.

"Screen and Grit" building

3. Micro-organisms

A variety of bacteria, affectionately called "bugs," perform their natural process, only much faster. Different bugs consume organic matter, phosphorous, and other pollutants. Some tanks are aerated and others are not, depending on the type of bacteria. 

4. Disinfection with bleach (seasonal)

During the warmer months when the river is used recreationally, the final stage is disinfection with bleach. Bleach is applied and then removed. This costly process is only required by the EPA six months of the year.

5. Solids 

Once solid waste has been removed, gravity and centrifuges are utilized to remove as much water as possible. This makes incineration more efficient. The solids are incinerated at incredibly high temperatures. The plant captures the heat (enough to heat the plant all winter long) and has steam turbines as well, providing 20% of the plant's energy needs.

The fine ash produced is then landfilled. They would prefer to find a use for this product. It used to be made into cement, until concerns about heavy metals ended this.

Threats to water quality

1. Anti-bacterial soap and hand-sanitizer 

I've always avoided anti-bacterial soap and hand-sanitizer because it can produce anti-biotic-immune bacteria. However, I had never considered the impact on water treatment. Bacteria are vital to water treatment, so we don't want things going down the drain that will kill bacteria.

Use alcohol-based hand-sanitizers instead because these break down. 

2. Micro-plastics

Minnesota recently banned the used of plastic micro-beads in personal care products such as soaps and toothpaste. However, this hasn't solved the problem entirely. Tons of micro-plastics enter the water stream through washing machines: synthetic fibers come off clothing with every wash and go down the drain. 

There is currently no way to remove these in water treatment. 

The Rozalia Project is currently working on a filter that people can use at their home washing machines to collect the plastic fibers before they go down the drain. Landfilling these plastic fibers is not nearly as harmful. However, the best solution (if an impractical one) is to buy clothing with no synthetic fibers. 

3. Pharmaceuticals 

Pharmaceuticals should be disposed of through Household Hazardous Waste programs, so they can be incinerated. Do not flush medicine! Endocrine disruptors, such as from birth control, are especially harmful to amphibians. 

To learn more about this wastewater treatment plant, watch the Metropolitan Council's video below:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Science: The Early Years of Minnesota's History

History of Science
Edward Hessler

I recently discovered an article on the history of the Minnesota Academy of Natural Sciences (MANS) by Martha C. Bray.

From the Minnesota Academy of Science website.

A few gleanings:

  • The Minnesota Historical Society was created in 1849.
  • The MANS was formed by 11 citizens on January 6, 1873.  The founders had previously considered a narrower and more ponderous name, "Geological, Paleontological, and Archaeological Society of Minnesota". The founders included six medical doctors, a businessman, a mathematics instructor, a dentist, a superintendent of schools, and a scientist.
  • The lone scientist was Newton H. Winchell, director of the geological and natural history survey authorized a year earlier by the state legislature.
  • It's purpose "to observe and investigate natural phenomena; to make collections of specimens illustrating the various departments of science; to name, classify, and preserve same; also, to discuss such questions as shall come within the province of the Academy."
  • The annual fee was five-dollars (not a small sum in those days) and this practice was continued for two decades.
  • At the end of 1873, the membership of the MANS was thirty-two.
  • I love the statement of an earlier contributor who sent fossils to the society. He described his contribution as "geological, bugological, fishological or illogical, I don't know which, but not being an ologist of any kind, I am unable to give the society any information. If Darwin is true, these are the ancestors of the present miners."
  • In 1891, the MANS asked school principals and college professors to comment on the state of science education in Minnesota. The correspondence is in the Academy Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society.
  • In the 1880s membership included a few women, e.g., a skilled mounter of bird skins, a corresponding secretary and a teacher at North Side High School. The total membership at that time was sixty-one.
  • In 1890 the academy provided some support to the University of Michigan for a two-year collecting trip to the Philippine Islands, a collection that came to be known as the Menage Collection. It was a long struggle, especially the financing. In 1894, "Letter from the Menage Scientific Expedition" was published in the Bulletins of the academy.  Another paper "Preliminary Notes on the Birds and Mammals Collected by the Menage Scientific Expedition to the Philippine Islands" followed in the first, and only, Occasional Papers.
  • Specimens from the Menage expedition were exhibited in the Minneapolis public library.  Admission was ten cents for adults and five cents for children.  It was well attended in the first nine weeks. The amount collected was $358.85, sufficient  enough to to hire and pay a curator.
  • A membership decline occurred during the period of the Menage expedition and the membership fee was reduced to three dollars. However, even with this a letter written in 1897 noted that "people are not falling over each other in their zeal to identify themselves with the organization."
  • In 1899 the American Association for the Advancement of Science made local group affiliation possible.  This did not attract the notice of the academy.
  • In 1904, the annual dues were again reduced, this time from three dollars to one dollar in an effort to renew interest in the organization. However, by 1910 the organization was essentially moribund.
  • The organization was officially dissolved in 1928.
  • In 1932 the current Minnesota Academy of Sciences (MAS) was organized, an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  MAS never had an link with Minnesota's first academy.

The complete essay may be read on-line.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election 2016: Science and the Office of President

Environmental & Science Education
by Edward Hessler

The 21 October 2016 issue of Science, the most widely circulated science journal in the world, had an article "Science lessons for the next president." I just found it but that doesn't mean it is too late.

This election campaign was less than light on science but issues associated with and informed by science are very much a part of governing. They are bound to come up.

Sea level predictions [Source]
The list in Science did not aim at comprehensiveness but covered a range of important issues and suggests how pervasive science is in modern life. The issues discussed with great clarity are:

  • Evolution. The race between pathogens and defenses against them and our overuse of drugs.
  • Genome Editing (CRISPR).  This is not the drawer in refrigerators but an astonishing tool that allows genes to be edited therefore raising deep ethical issues as well as opening immense health-related possibilities.
  • Sea Rise. This is already happening even here on our shores and that rise is noticeable and increasingly alarming.
  • Brain Health. Alzheimer's is one of several brain-related diseases.  As our population ages they become more prevalent which is part of growing old.  They incur immense costs, social and financial.
  • Artificial Intelligence. This is a transforming technology and one with implications for the workplace and for work in general.
  • Risk.  If there is one thing we are not very good at it is judging risks of public policy proposals as well as assessing risks, e.g., those associated with new medicines.

Each is discussed in terms of what the science says, why it is important and pending policy issues.

These lessons are not just for the president. They are lessons for all. There is the body of government known as the United States Congress that will have a say on any for which policy is considered.  And then there is us -- citizens. We need to be informed enough to let legislators know our thoughts and the reasons (evidence) for them rather than just our opinions or beliefs.

This listing indicates one of the reasons that learning science, learning about it, and understanding how it works is essential to citizenship and to stewarding resources. Learning science provides us with skills and knowledge that can be used to help is be better consumers of information.

The essay may be read here.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Frogs In Town

Environmental & Science Education
Sustainable Energy & Transportation
Water & Watersheds
by Edward Hessler

It was Will Rogers who said, "Well, I only know what I read in the newspapers."  I'm becoming that guy, too but I seem to be slower at it. It is clear that I've not been paying attention to the newspapers, including some neighborhood newspapers. I'm embarrassed since I should have known about a specific green initiative that is a part of a much larger greening of a diverse Saint Paul neighborhood.

I don't live/work too far from a great Saint Paul neighborhood known colloquially as Frogtown. How it got its name is nicely explained in information from a walking historical tour of this planning district of Saint. Paul, MN, the Thomas-Dale neighborhood.
Frogtown Mural, photo by Koua Mai Yang

Frogtown is on land that used to be dotted with wetlands, swamps, marshes and small ponds and frogs could be heard calling during the spring. The land was filled and pollution from a landfill changed all this. However, new changes are in the air and ground and have been for some time, as I just learned.

Frogtown is a neighborhood where the answer to the question on how a neighborhood can be healthier, wealthier and more beautiful is to make it the greenest neighborhood in Saint Paul. And its residents are doing just that.

There is an article by James Walsh in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (October 18 2016) on one recent change, bringing some of frogs back by restoring frog habitat.  The project is known FrogLab, a part of FrogtownGreen. It is an environmental education program that Chee Yang, an environmental science student at the University of Minnesota, led this summer.  The intent is to refresh a pond habitat and add some frogs.

FrogLab is one of several green initiatives which include butterfly gardens, a 40 bed community garden, an art in the garden tour, tree planting and an Asian American Elders Garden. The Twin Cities are known for its trees and water but Frogtown has less tree canopy on private land than any Saint Paul neighborhood.  This is changing.

Home Sweet Home!

Home Green Home!

Home Sweet Green Home!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Environmental & Science Education

DNA structure
This is the first of several poems that I'm likely to post by May Swenson.  Maybe I'll even sneak two in as the Friday poem some Friday. And three wouldn't surprise me, either!

Here is one on a very familiar molecule, the discovery of which revolutionized genetics, cell biology and molecular biology.

In this poem Swenson refers to a famous painting, Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp who is associated with conceptual art and Cubism. The 2-Minute Masterpiece series explains and shows this moving piece of art.  And for me it does move or at least the eyes do as it follows the footsteps down the stair case.  The film is followed by another analysis which is about 5 minutes in length.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

About Academic Standards (Science)

Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler
Image result for science

Standards. 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

In developing its goal statements for science education, Project 2061 chose to develop benchmarks -- "reference points for analyzing existing or proposed curricula in the light of science-literacy goals." Three years later, 1996, the National Research Council (NRC) published the National Science Education Standards

In this 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."

Following the publication of these two documents, states developed their own standards, many informed and influenced by national standards, with some states choosing one or the other of the national documents. Minnesota developed its own, the Minnesota Academic Standards in Science.

Next Generation Science Standards

After some 15 years as well as on research on how students learn science, it seemed to national leaders and organizations that it was time to develop a new set of national standards. Minnesota, as a lead state partner was one of 26 participating states, worked with a 41-member writing team in the development of the Next Generation Science Standards. (NGSS) Minnesota also had a science teacher who served on the earth science standards writing team. Details about Minnesota's participation may be found in an NGSS summary.

My last count (February 18, 2016) of state adoptions was 18 with Hawaii being the most recent. That number has likely changed. Minnesota's participation in the development of the NGSS  did not include a commitment to adopting the NGSS. The current science standards were scheduled for revision in 2017-2018.  However, this timeline was changed during the 2016 legislative session.
The science standard review was delayed until 2018-2019. The reason is due to the adoption of physical education standards. What this means is that the implementation date for the 2018-2019 Minnesota science standards will be 3 to 4 years after the review, revision and adoption.  Following this, the science standards will then be reviewed in 10 year increments.  This means that the next review would be 2028-2029 which is out there!

Minnesota could adopt the NGSS but this would require the development of specific benchmarks for each standard as well as legislative mandates and requirements. This FAQ sheet from the Minnesota Department of Education describes these and other requirements. What must be kept in mind is that the FAQ sheet was written for the development of the science standards adopted in 2009.  However, these requirements are not likely to change too much.

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has a growing collection of resources for the NGSS. One of the most recent is a 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.

On June 21, 2016 a segment on the PBS NewsHour did a focus on the NGSS and how it is redefining classroom instruction and learning. The program may be viewed and also includes a transcript.

A State Lichen

Environmental & Science Education
History of Science
Edward Hessler

In the late 19th century the decision about what lichens were was fiercely contested. Before Beatrix Potter introduced readers to Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Hunca Munca, Tiggie-Winkle, Squirrel Nutkin and others, she was a participant in this controversy as an amateur scientist.

Ms. Potter's particular field of interest, starting when she was a teen, was the study of fungi--mycology. She made many paintings of them.  Eventually, she became interested in the nature of lichens, this curious union of fungus and alga. (Later it was learned that some cyanobacteria can also be involved.) Alga or cyanobacteria both make food for the fungus; the fungus provides habitat, a place to live. The term for this relationship is symbiosis.

Potter's role in providing evidence for an idea put forth by Simon Schwendener that lichens were not a single organism but consisted of two organisms has not been without misplaced enthusiasm for what was viewed as pioneering but disrespected work.

Lace Lichen
Tom Wakeford, in his book, Liaison's of Life, provides a summary of the standard story about Potter's rejected contributions, a story of young Beatrix v. Victorian scientists as well as her commitment to a disputed view on the nature of lichens.You may read chapter one here. This link also includes a review of Wakeford's book.

Subsequent research, though, has led to a much different conclusion. Nic Fleming of the BBC has written an essay on what the historical research has revealed. It is a fascinating story. In addition, his piece includes some of Potter's lovely paintings of fungi. She was a careful observer and first-rate painter.  In short, Potter has been given more credit than she deserved. She also really thought lichens were a single organism, not two, that is, she was not a symbiologist.

However, Potter made a genuine contribution to science -- beautiful and accurate paintings of fungi, some of which were used in early field guides to British fungi.  She also discovered fungi new to naturalists and scientists, one of which was only recently re-discovered.  For other images, including those from children's books, see here.

California is the first state to designate a lichen as a state symbol.  Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on July 15, 2015 making this designation.  It became effective July 1, 2016.  The lace lichen, Ramalina menziesii, is found along the Pacific coast and throughout the coastal ranges. View the text of Assembly Bill 1528.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


by Edward Hessler

I recently saw the 2007 documentary film, Please Vote for Me, which made me think about democracy, the things I take for granted and what I know about the idea. And it made me think about voting.

This documentary is about the election for the coveted position of being the 3rd grade class monitor (mostly 8 ya students) in a primary school in China. This is a position that until this election was appointed by the teacher. The competition is keen and at times hurly-burly.

The film is poignant as well as provocative.  In the Wikipedia entry above you will find a link to the film.

I would love to know where these children are today, what they are doing as well as their recollections and thoughts on this event.

I wondered, too, whether the teacher used this experience for instruction after the election and what the students learned about democracy and voting.

6 Things You Might Not Know About Recycling

CGEE Student Voice
by Jenni Abere
After a summer internship with Eureka Recycling, a zero-waste nonprofit that collects and processes recycling and organics composting in the Twin Cities, I have learned a lot about how the recycling process works. This process sheds some light on why some things can be recycled while others can’t.
Some of the points on this list may be specific to the Twin Cities, but these are generally universal rules.

1. Small objects may not get recycled.

Small objects like bottle caps and straws get lost in the sorting process, or get sorted incorrectly. To remedy this, put plastic bottle caps back on plastic bottles, and avoid unnecessary items like straws. To recycle metal bottle caps from glass containers, you can put them inside a steel can and then crush the top so they’re trapped inside.
Eureka Recycling uses a “tornado” to separate small paper scraps, so that this valuable material doesn’t go to waste. However, if you don’t have to shred paper, don’t, and recycle it in whole sheets.

2. You have to collect a lot of the same material in order to recycle it.

The "pile" at Eureka Recycling demonstrates how much material this industry deals with every day.
This might seem obvious, but it’s very important to remember this fact. It partially explains why polystyrene (#6 plastic) is so difficult to recycle. It takes a lot of forms, is very lightweight, and ends up all over the place (with most of it in trash bins). Collecting large and consistent amounts of flimsy, cheap, disposal polystyrene in a centralized way is unlikely. Recyclers have their plates full with more valuable and abundant materials.

3. Much of what goes to a conventional recycling company is thrown away.

This is called the “residual.” It’s allowed to be as high at 10-15% of what is collected, and it usually is that high. Large recycling companies often own their own landfills, so a high residual rate costs them nothing. Eureka Recycling, on the other hand, doesn’t own a landfill. Their residual rate is only 2%. How do they do it? For one, community outreach and education. They also analyze their residual line to see how they can improve their sorting process— sometimes they run the residual through again to catch what they missed.
I’ve spent some time watching the residual line flow by. It’s not a lot of stuff, but there are a few plastic water bottles and other easily recyclable materials. Much of it is small things, like straws and bottle caps. There are also a lot of weird things— Like flip flops and potatoes.

4. Black-colored plastic doesn’t get recycled.

An optical scanning system (lasers, basically) is used to sort plastics based on resin types. Lasers can’t reflect off of a black surface, so black-colored plastics leave the recycling plant as residual. While recyclers work on a solution, we should push companies to stop using black plastic. Most are unaware that it can’t be recycled, and only use black because it looks nice. This is a perfect example of how a simple design change can reduce waste.

5. Frozen and refrigerated food boxes can’t be recycled*.

The frozen food aisle suddenly appears very sad and wasteful.
*Except for pop and beer boxes. Cartons (such as orange juice cartons) can also be recycled once they are stripped of the plastic coating.
Freezer and fridge boxes are different, though. This paper is chemically treated so that it won’t break down when it gets wet. This is helpful when it’s sitting in your fridge or freezer. But to recycle paper, you have to — you guessed it — get it wet and break it down. You see the dilemma.
This is a tricky one, because frozen food is so ubiquitous, and it’s a shame to send all that valuable paper to landfills. While the recycling industry is working on a solution, be aware of this problem and try to buy fewer frozen foods in boxes.

6. The recycling symbol means nothing when you see it on packaging.

The usage of the recycling symbol is not regulated in any way. I’ve seen the recycling symbol and producer claims on nearly anything you can think of. Shower loofahs, napkins, chip bags, etc. These things are not recyclable!
The recycling symbol on the bottom of plastic containers is only there to identify the resin type and it does not mean the plastic is recyclable. Generally speaking, #3 and #6 are not recyclable.
The moral of the story is: Don’t trust producer claims. This rule also applies to composting. The word “biodegradable” means absolutely nothing anymore.
Recycling at first seems like a very straightforward and simple thing. Even environmentalists can ignore it in favor of new, more exciting ways of having an impact. However, there are still so many things for everyone to learn about how recycling works!