Archive for the ‘World’ category

PUTTING STEAM BACK INTO STEM EDUCATION

November 13, 2011

Recent media reports express concern over the number of college students who are deciding not to continue their science based studies. The major reasons are the unanticipated difficulty of both the math and science courses. Analysts state that the decline in solid elementary and secondary education in math and science are major contributing factors. Considering the national goals of expanding and invigorating instruction and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), this is a discouraging development.

IT’S THE TEACHERS, RIGHT? This is the motivator for all of the local, state and national efforts to tighten the methods and extent of teacher evaluations. In my opinion, with minor exceptions, we should not thump the teachers. The classic barriers of over-populated classes, curriculum goals that seek to satisfy national testing rather than student learning, and dreadfully fickle administrative guidelines that undergo school-board opinionated revisions, all turn the education process upside down. By the time all of this descends upon and around the teacher, student education has become a locked-stepped march into confusion. In spite of this, most teachers strive to teach and to inspire each student to learn. This turns a regular school day for teachers into an average 12 to 15 hour day when they really work to make learning successful and joyful.

JOYFUL LEARNING? There is an inherent stress for most youngsters during the education process; even for the super-bright ones. Making the process joyful, when suitable, reduces the stress, opens the mind and makes learning pleasurable instead of either deadly dull or frightening. In most cases, this approach is the product of highly motivated teachers who dress up their presentations (art, videos, student demonstrations, visiting heroes, etc) that far exceed the dry-as-toast curriculum dictated by the national test score mantra. All of these extra efforts are variables and in many cases difficult to consistently sustain so overall the education process FAILS with respect to future STEM success.

SO WHAT’S TO BE DONE? As and example let’s take five critical areas for consideration. These examples all presume a standardized education concept that enhances both STEM and HAMLIT education. This combination imposes a considerable demand on teachers through all elementary and secondary grades. Right now both are cut short because of the imposition of that national testing mantra. Yes, we do need to evaluate the system and how well it is serving the education of our young, but under no circumstances should that evaluation debilitate a sound and well structured curriculum. Broadly speaking the White House does not seem to recognize this educational impediment built into its mandates.

The five critical areas are as follows (The emphasis on items 1-3 are for elementary education, K-3):

  1. STEM and HAMLIT should be specifically present at the Kindergarten level, but in a most innovative way. Here the joy of learning is most important. Simple math concepts and delightful literature and music experiences should be presented in a most memorable and enjoyable way.  Young minds grab at these concepts when presented in this manner. Additionally, parents must be more actively recruited to support what is happening in Kindergarten. They should be fully aware of the program and the variety of supportive things they can do to enhance their children’s early learning experiences.
  2. STEM and HAMLIT follow the youngsters out of Kindergarten into the first stages of elementary school.  Now all children don’t learn at the same rate and not all will be serious STEM learners, but all of them will be at ease with HAMLIT when creatively presented. Yes, creative presentations. Most teachers, particularly elementary level teachers do this automatically and usually very creatively. These efforts must be extended to STEM as well. Math can be so dreadfully dull if presented in that way, but when creatively presented (using a variety of teaching aids) it can win over children that appeared not to be good STEM candidates.
  3. ENTER THE COMPUTER: Although the students may have already had some exposure (home or school) to computers, the Third Grade is the key place to begin using the computer to enhance STEM learning. Right now, there is some concerns about how effective this will be, but as the article in the foregoing link points out there are steps that, if taken, can make the computer a vital and highly productive instrument for enhancing the learning process; particularly for STEM. Teachers must be directly involved in the choice of software programs to be used. A misfit of program and teacher methods will produce a zero learning result with both frustrated students and teachers. Administrators and school-board officials must recognize this and insist on teacher input in the software selection process.
  4. ELEMENTARY LEVEL EDUCATION is critical to the full success of the youngsters through their Middle and High School experiences. A poor foundation in this area coupled with the greater student independence and learning responsibilities in these advanced grade levels can lead to a student drop-out. This is quite simply a tragedy whether the student was a good STEM candidate or more HAMLIT oriented. Dropping out is like shooting curiosity and imagination on the spot. Again, teacher instructional latitude, even with heavy computer participation, is critical. Impositions of the standard testing mantra, worrisome and severe teacher evaluations and often bumbling administrative processes can severely cripple these advanced learning experiences. So again, before harping, its the teachers, we need to carefully examine the teaching environment, the available tools and the level of administrative imposition that distracts teacher productivity.
  5. COLLEGE/CAREER PREP should actually start in Middle School and increase in supportive ways through the remainder of secondary education. Right now the push is for college from everywhere and everyone, and yet many students are either not ready or are just not interested in that direction for their future. Sound counseling on alternatives that continue to bolster the students opportunity profile should be included along with the standard college pep talks. There are a host of technical training opportunities, including the military services, that provide a student with some promising career alternatives. These should not be ignored. Additionally joint sessions with the non-college oriented students and their parents should be conducted to help prevent the forceful persuasiveness of parents fixated on college for the kids.
ALL of the above requires extensive time and effort on the part of both teachers and counselors. Again, the extremely tight schedules, mandated curriculum and standards test preparation along with the complexity of both STEM and HAMLIT subject matter demand more from teachers than neither time nor class size permit.  Yes, computers will help somewhat, but under no circumstances should they become tools to free up a teacher to perform those distracting administrative tasks. Computers are good, but they cannot sense all the nuances of each student’s learning method. Only a teacher can do that, and when he or she is intensely distracted by non-academic endeavors that alertness is muted. Guess who suffers?
Well, it is obvious that things must change, and the responsibility rests with every one of us, not just parents, teachers and board-members. All levels of government that interact with our education system must hear from us, and what we say must be in full concert with making sure that there is an ample supply of steam in the STEM program and also lots of bright words, art and stunning music in the HAMLIT program. We can then begin to bask again in the aura of bright, highly creative and dedicated young people and adults whom we so desperately need to keep us moving forward.
Well, it really all comes down to this (See video)>
About the Author: XiNeutrino (Waddell Robey) after leaving the high-tech aerospace and health science fields, he devoted a little over seven years working as both a TSS (Therapeutic Staff Support) and Therapist in Children and Family Services. Most of his time was spent in school settings with his young clients and this has given him a unique and highly informative perspective on our education system, its teachers, and the varying success of its students. Those experiences along with his independent observations and discussion with teachers and administrators have formed the opinions and recommendations expressed in this blog article.

IMAGE CREDIT: Cartoon depiction of STEM at work. Courtesy: eidmladenkaraman.com

The Power of Nosy

October 31, 2011

Today, with the immense spread of social networks, exclaiming about nosy-ness is really a non-sequitur. We are all partial voyeurs as we “follow” the chatterings of Twitter or Facebook members. We even exercise a kind of “nosy-ness” by adding our comments to those of other network members discussing a topic, incident or opinion. All of this is participatory and so the rather unwelcome category of being nosy just does not fit or apply. Is this a good thing?

We think social networking takes an inherent natural sense of curiosity and allows it to express itself in many different ways. Yes, some of those expression may be regarded by some as nosy-ness, but the odds are those individuals are either unfamiliar with network socialization or are just extremely private individuals who carefully guard their personhood. Regardless, we are doing what comes naturally, as the image of the curious infant above illustrates. In that context, you have got to love it.

So where is the power? Well, we have seen that power as deeply moving calls for help such as the horrible Haitian earthquake or the original bold cries for change from the Arab Spring and both have had major social and political impact that has and is changing our world. Both of the foregoing are vitally important as examples of international communications that are reshaping nations. Perhaps the most universal power is the new and expanding culture-sharing that is spanning the globe. Insularity is crumbling as we come to not just make contact with, but begin to know humans from lands we have never visited and in some cases may never have heard about. This is a touching of minds and spirits that has never happened before on the scale of millions. Can this be a gateway to world peace?

Yes, there is some insularity within social networking as common interest groups form and relate. This should not be discouraged. Ideally, efforts should be made to expand those groups to reach out to include interested netmembers from various cultures, nations and politics. This is timidly happening and that timidity is due more to shyness about cultural and or political differences. Additionally, political forces, including our own, at least attempt to monitor the networks and some (like China) even restrict the scope and topic range of social networking. Believe it or not these impairments are a good sign. The politicos are cautious, worried and feeling threatened because the networks reach across most barriers and open the world to potential unity. The power and reality is that the networks and the linkages will prevail.

The New Nosy: Well, above you imply that nosy-ness is an non-sequitur;  so you are contradicting yourselves? Yes, on the surface it would appear we are, but the new nosy is just that new and different. In social networking many reach the point where they begin to share personal information including highly emotional topics. Suddenly the feeling is we are reading very personal words from a stranger. New nosy eliminates this anxiety and reticence. In the instance just described, new nosy enables us to communicate compassion by responding to the message from a “network friend” not a stranger. Another example is someone announces a significant accomplishment. We read and do more than nod; we respond with words of praise and congratulations.  Sure that is what they hoped for, but wouldn’t you also? Lastly, we have articulated expressions of political or social dismay, disapproval or approval. With new nosy, we respond with questions, with gentle arguments, and with counter-points that often create a blend of the original idea. Here again we must  ask are we at a gateway for world peace?

Summary:  Above all else, social networking and the power of new nosy ignores race, sex, national origin, religion, and ethnicity not by legislation but through the gentleness of human nature and the joy of connectivity that the network brings. Yes, some of us start out not so gentle, but the interchange of cultures, viewpoints and beliefs erodes prejudice and induces a shear joy of comradeship. So call it dreaming if you wish, but in reality it is slowly happening and we must do our very best to help the power grow and expand.  So nosy around and help strengthen the threads of world understanding and peace.

IMAGE CREDIT:

New Nosy – Image from “A Curious Baby” wallpaper http://zastavki.com

WANTED: A New Band of Brothers

October 28, 2011

Original photo of Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic Explorer Team.

Yes, wars create bands of brothers who often act as one and who always have each others “back.” The new band of brothers would grow together not from war, but from the incredible bond created by exploratory expeditions.  We know this too because our global history testifies to those many challenging, exciting, and sometimes deadly human probes into the unknown. In the majority of cases, it was a “band of brothers” involved in those explorations. To this very day, we continue to remember and honor their heroic efforts to explore, discover and then explain to us all the many wonders of our Earth and all that surrounds it.

Right now, we have a clear and active example of the band of brothers we are envisioning here. That example is the International Space Station. Participation in the ISS program has included astronauts from 5 countries and also includes shared launch support of both spacecraft and launch facilities. In the new band of brothers concept this shared support would increase in both the number of participating nations and in the services provided. China would be one of the new member nations along with Brazil, the ESA space familyIndia, Japan,  SouthAfrica, Russia, and the UK .

Successfully achieving this impressive band of space brothers will require some significant shifts in national policies regarding space exploration. The old competitive spirit that existed in the earliest days of space exploration would need to mellow out and instead redirect that zest in support of this new international alliance. In fact we can easily envision a formal organization known as the International Alliance for Space Exploration (IASE). We also envision the first joint space program of the IASE to be the establishment of a Lunar Research Base; more realistically known as the IASE SpaceStation. This exploration concept would enable many of the IASE members to participate in Lunar research that would otherwise be beyond their overall financial and sci-tech capabilities. This is exactly as it should be and as such insures the widest possible global dispersal of Lunar research results and benefits. At last, human space exploration is no longer reserved for just a few, but actually is the  international sharing of  space exploration goals and accomplishments.

Luna as the next International Space Station: Yes, returning to the Moon has been and remains a heavily debated mission. Many space enthusiasts see returning to the Moon as a step backwards or a kind of side step. Others, including the first human to stand on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, call for a return to the Moon as both a continuation of a mission that was never allowed to finish and as a vital preparatory step for future explorations. Supporters of a return to the Moon, that include both Russia and China, envision not just another set of short visits, but instead the establishment of a long term, perhaps permanent,  Lunar Research Base. We need to avoid a politically motivated space race, which as we have learned collapses as the politicians and public lose interest. The only way this is avoided is if we truly create the IASE. When this happens, we eliminate some of the political frenzy and on again off again publicity that controlled our earlier efforts.  Yes, it can become boring for many, but they awaken again each time there are new discoveries and accomplishments. IASE needs to be driven by program goals not political and public cheers or yawns.

Who will be the leader of the band? Russia and the United States have the greatest human spaceflight experience, and should definitely hold key positions, but as we have done with the ISS, leadership of the IASE should rotate and this again keeps involvement interest high and makes sure that many good ideas from smaller or less prominent members are presented, considered and implemented. One of the most important aspects of IASE is it lays the groundwork for commercial activities on Luna after there have been successful investigations by the IASE teams. This insures that we have exploration without desecration.

The video below clearly illustrates the unique values and public support of the ISS astro-brotherhood and its significant “first step” toward the IASE concept. As you watch please look at all images including the people who are reaching out to the astronauts right up to the launch site. We had this here for awhile in America, but  are losing it again as the shuttle program fades from our memories. IASE will not fade, because as boring as some of it may be, it moves forward and produces an array of new discoveries that will benefit us all. Can we do it? Will we do it? United we can and will with an enduring new band of international brothers.


WHAT!?! Abandon the ISS?

August 31, 2011

AN EDITORIAL: The opinions are exclusively the author’s.

In answer to the question about the current astronaut crew on the ISS and the future staffing and support of that vital space research system, the obvious answer should NOT be ABANDON SHIP!

It is so patently obvious that it is US politics not international decisions that is driving this possible outcome. Regardless of the anticipated duration of abandonment, it sets the stage for a complete cancellation of the future of this spacecraft and the research it supports.

The accidental failure of a ROSCOSMOS rocket system should have been anticipated and backup plans in existence. Our view is that ROSCOSMOS has such a plan and is making sure that the next human launching is both safe and successful. Space politicians running up and down the hallways muttering to the media about abandoning the ISS is another knife in the back of space exploration. It has nothing, in our opinion, to do with safety or progress, but is one more slice at science and especially space science by the growing popularity of the political assassination of all science.

Yes, the cancellation of the shuttle program certainly put a large crimp in the support plans for the ISS. Equally challenged is the commercial efforts to provide that support. The time-frame was greater than what faces them now. We are pushing them to step in, and heroically they are responding. Our worry is that they may not be quite ready.  Any failure, including ‘nogo’ launches sets them back, and that should not be their future.

Yes, positive, aggressive action on an international basis is needed. Defeatist, ‘give-up’ chatter is not wanted and is totally damaging. Meanwhile, get off the “sell news at any price” kick, media, and come out instead with loud supportive urging for us to succeed in sustaining the ISS.

We can do it, and we will do it, if we affirm the entire philosophy of space exploration – WE WILL GO THERE.  Spock, Yoda, ObiWan, Captain Piccard, Apollo Astronauts, speak up, shout, stomp your feet and drive us forward. Don’t let them drive us into the closet.