Archive for the ‘Imagination’ category

Exploring The Digital Classroom

September 29, 2011


Digitizing the classroom, especially, in elementary education is on its way to becoming a standard. It is possible that youngsters intent on their laptops and digital subject-matter will rarely interact with their teacher or with each other. How good is this, and how bad could it be? A former New York city schools chancellor and education professor, Rudy Crew, states that. “the best of technology is never proxy for the best of instruction.”   Similarly, in an elementary school in Arizona that has a digital classroom curriculum, records show that although digital learning is exciting, test scores are not reflecting the same level of exciting progress.

Good, Bad or Indifferent: Considering the above, both many parents and teachers have reservations about the efficacy of a totally digital curriculum. As professor Crew exclaims the absence of direct personal instruction by a teacher cannot be as effective as parents should expect in their children’s education. So is technology-based education leading our future in the wrong direction?

A direct yes or no answer would be misleading in either case. The ideal, of course, is a mix of direct teacher instruction and computer instruction/exercises.  There is incredible potential in digital programs that can expand on a teacher’s efforts and increase individual student participation in the learning process. The key is an integrated curriculum that applies the very best of both methodologies. Let’s examine how that might be accomplished.

Curriculum Breakthroughs: The ideal mix will require a great deal of planning, teacher training and orientation, programming magic, and full-scale administrative and school board support. Most importantly, it is essential to understand that the digital classroom is not just the simple act of placing a laptop at the desk of every student. The teacher then is relied upon to bridge the gap between standard instructional methods and the new technology. This will spell F A I L.  Here are five key milestones that must be fully accomplished before a successful digital classroom enhances the education process.

  1. Teacher Readiness: This is a process of blending technology and curriculum with new presentation methods that link the teacher’s personal instruction with digitized course material. Separating the two will defeat all of the potential benefits of a digital classroom. System programming is a vital element of this process. The desired interactive instruction just won’t happen without an effective and efficient technology linkage that binds program, teacher and student into a fully interactive learning relationship.
  2. Student Readiness: Today’s youngsters are born almost computer literate. They take to the digital quickly and with great skill. With this realization, preparation of students for the digital classroom should start at the very beginning of their school experience – kindergarten. At this start-up level it is just introductory, but strictly within the context they will experience when they enter the digital classroom. This exposure increases in each successive grade with the student participating fully in a digital learning environment by the third grade.  Are we ready for this? Not right now, but adopting this concept insures that digital learning gets fully integrated into the curriculum and quickly loses its uniqueness. This latter phasing out of the “oooh ahhh” effect is vital to achieving full implementation of the technology into the curriculum.
  3. Programming Innovations: Some of the most creative people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing are computer programmers. Their ability to envision topic areas and then convert them to attractive, compelling digital presentations is a powerful combination of art and science. This is exactly what must be the pattern for digital learning systems in a school classroom setting. As stated above in the item on Teacher Readiness there must be a direct and essentially unnoticeable linkage between whats on the computer screen and what is being presented by the teacher. They must be mutually supportive. This will be a huge creative challenge for the programmers, but that is also a guarantee of some absolutely innovative programs. These efforts are expected to produce breakthrough technology in this new instructional methodology.
  4. Curriculum Development: Reading, writing and arithmetic are still essential regardless of the method of presentation. Additionally, presentations on the arts, history, and broader areas of science are also vital, especially in today’s high sci-tech society. Cramming all of this into an elementary school program is very demanding. Digital instruction directly linked to teacher presentations can better facilitate these efforts and also more vividly present the information to students. The key requirement is for the entire educational system to work with teachers and programmers to produce well integrated material. Patchwork, quick digital presentations will be forgotten two seconds after the laptop is shut down.  What you want is the youngster to go home and excitedly exclaim, “you know what we learned today?” This incident is very rare right now. In most cases parents have to pry from the youngster what was learned today, and some parents are too busy or stressed to do that.
  5. Bring In The Parents: There is nothing new here. Parent involvement remains an essential that is an extreme variable from a reality standpoint. There are a host of reasons or excuses for limited to poor parent involvement in the entire educational process of their children. Where there is direct involvement the overall benefit to the school, the teachers, the students and, most importantly, the parents is awesome. It moves the entire system smoothly forward. With digital learning, it must be stressed that the computer does not replace parent involvement with the school or at home. In fact, it should increase that involvement with a host of specific rewards for the parents. Parent-child interactive homework on a laptop can be structured so that the parent’s participation is recorded, acknowledged and rewarded. A unique bond begins to be created that reaches all the way back into the classroom. Now there can be an open dialog, almost daily, between parent and child on school lessons. It could even evolve into an exclamation by both parent and child stating, “look what WE learned today.”
Summary: Yes, I understand the above five key items are generalities that include many important details that will require creative efforts by all parties. This in itself poses a major evolution in our education system and its structure. To implant digital learning without going the full course of this evolution will at most present a fractured and frustrating learning system. The importance of increasing STEM instruction is an added demand that if the new system is only a haphazard effort then STEM staggers. In addition to STEM there must be both a renewed and expanded presentation of the arts, literature and history. This can be both highly challenging and exciting. Suddenly imparting knowledge to young minds reaches across to teachers, programmers, administrators, parents and even you and I as we welcome our future with both open arms and minds.
  • The video below is a very simple example of a combination of techniques to produce a memorable instruction, in this case on the importance of Zero. Certainly digital learning systems will be more sophisticated, but should not overlook or intentionally exclude fantasy or cartoon style presentations to make an important point. The grade level, the age of the students are key factors in the development of such presentations. Memorable, enjoyable are important factors, silly and forgetful are obviously to be avoided.
IMAGE CREDIT:
School children in a digital classroom: Courtesy   morrisworldnews.com
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A CASE FOR UNCOMMON SENSE.

June 30, 2011

Ages hence will remember our century not for its barbaric wars, but for its major contributions to fundamental scientific knowledge…..Whatever the scientific discoveries of future ages, they will be based upon the body of twentieth century science.” 

From: “Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science” by Alan Cromer ISBN 0-19-509636- 3(Pbk.)

When the brothers Robert and Courtland Gross hocked just about everything they owned to raised the $40,000+ to buy Lockheed from the Scottish Loughead brothers it was a very bold, very innovative move. One could say they definitely used uncommon sense, considering the fledgling world of aviation at that time. I personally hope, they regularly shake hands, even hug, as they look down on their dream today.

When that young, bold airmail pilot, Charles Lindbergh decided to enter the contest for a transoceanic flight to Paris, he had a dream far beyond that of winning the challenge money. Like the Gross brothers, Lindbergh was motivated to boost aviation as an up and coming means of safe transportation that also would spell great opportunity for humankind. When he declared he would enter the contest as a solo pilot in a single engine plane he used brave, stunning uncommon sense to fulfill his dream. I hope he and the Gross brothers, whom he knew well, gleefully join in frequent celebration as they look over the results of their efforts.

The above stories are just two examples of many, many cases where bold entrepreneurs have used uncommon sense to make dreams and ideas into productive reality. Well, right now in this country, we are running low on uncommon sense and running high or finger pointing and blame dodging which produces screeching halts in our reputation for striking, and successful innovation. Yes, the political cries calling for common sense in this and that is a daily diatribe. Once in awhile we here a faint whisper calling for more uncommon sense. The problem is, the investor, the bold entrepreneurs of the Gross and Loughead brothers type are today playing with paper (stocks and bonds, etc) rather than dreams and ideas. We have essentially ceded to EurAsia (Europe, India, China, etc) the uncommon sense modus operandi. Interesting enough, in America the continuing examples of that uncommon sense rests with those early pioneers that produced Lockheed, Boeing, Northrup, Ryan, Douglas and many other dreamers. So, why have we given up on what we do best – innovation?

When the shuttle Atlantis launches next month in its final flight and the closing chapter of NASA’s glorious, innovative shuttle program, the book of uncommon sense stands the chance of being slammed shut. Yes, just like in those earlier, innovative days, there are young design and development companies out there struggling to break out on their own. They are trying to do this in a national atmosphere of fear. Fear of deficit an arch enemy of innovation. This barrier is exacerbated by political opportunists who see the deficit as the lever to bring the nation into a sharp turn backwards. If this should come to pass then both common and uncommon sense will be locked away. The best and saving solution is an immediate burst of uncommon sense, or more practically speaking, an outburst of innovation.

Now, President Obama has spoken eloquently about the importance of innovation in our future and as a mechanism to invigorate our economy, but he too is hampered by the deficit aura. This is where the breakout must occur. The White House and Congress must exercise uncommon sense to defy the deficit by directly stimulating innovation in our automobile, energy, science research, and space systems activities. Yes, there are other areas, but these areas will respond most quickly to uncommon sense by exercising it themselves to design, develop, and discover new paths of growth for this nation and for humankind.  We need:

  • Fuel efficient cars – not legislation, but actual vehicles that use other energy sources efficiently and inexpensively.
  • To accept the responsibility of nuclear power generation as the greenest method of high energy production. The challenge is not design, the challenge is to innovate safety and endurance.
  • To discourage political opportunists who seek to stifle science not recognizing that our future existence depends on a broadly aggressive scientific research environment.
  • To prevent the stifling of our exploration of our solar system and deep space. To ignore this urgent matter is to essentially return humankind to darkened caves at a time when our continuing evolution demands that we seek understanding of all that surrounds us.
  • To acknowledge the warnings and cries for help from our environment and in doing so begin to recognize that a safe and living Earth is the most vital resource we have for our continuing existence.
So, uncommon sense, long in use to move humankind beneficially forward must not be discouraged or disabled. If  boosted by government support and allowed its fullest expression, we will see that deficit dragon diminish in pace with the increased innovation that will set us free again. Mr.  President, Congress, don’t tell us about it, DO IT,  get uncommon and sensible now and save this nation.

IMAGE CREDIT: Wright brothers first flight at KittyHawk, NC  http://tinyurl.com/3kjuhlj

MOM,DAD,TEACHER: Help Me Achieve Me!

March 19, 2011

The music the teacher is playing was written by one of the students.

A Preamble: There is so much criticism and outright political abuse of our education system and teachers that this author wishes to assure prospective readers that this is NOT another one of those mindless and highly prejudiced attacks. This author has spent a good part of his life as a children and family therapy worker with considerable time in both classrooms and homes. So what is written below comes from first-hand knowledge and exposure. It’s about a lot of wonderful resources that are either misapplied or overstressed (teachers, parents and CHILDREN).

Every child is unique, and by the time they arrive for their first day of school they have added to their genetic profile their individual family imprint. Both their educational and social experiences in their elementary school years will further define their intellectual and behavioral profiles, but not exclusively. What the child’s home-life is like can either enrich and encourage that blossoming intelligence or actually discourage, even undermine it.

Regarding a child’s home-life experiences the above is not implying that if his or her intellectual development regresses that it is due to intentional acts by parents or older siblings. In most cases it results from poor encouragement or the total absence thereof. Commanding, “do your homework, now” is not encouragement. It is actually a dismissal of parental involvement.

Yes, the above comes across as overly simplified opinions that seem to ignore the complexity of family life in today’s culture. Therein resides a major cause that affects a child’s intellectual growth and maturity. How can we address it?

The Critical Venue: The life venue of a child is never standard. Like the child, it is unique and remains such despite efforts by parents and others (teachers and friends) to seek to mold a child to fit a certain pattern. The challenge is to encourage the child’s individual development while providing good behavioral and intellectual support. This is a process that begins with just the family and expands to include the array of human influence. The support that is provided by the parents is critical because it provides the child with both self-confidence and a set of rules that help the child move forward while resisting misleading distractions from outsiders. This is not an easy task for parents, particularly if there are more children in the household.

To be supportive while encouraging a child’s growing independence and self-confidence takes a lot of individual effort by the parents (sometimes older siblings too). In today’s working family environment this is even more demanding and difficult. As a result there is the spillover effect where teachers are faced with providing some of the normal parental support. This latter situation is untenable. Teachers just cannot pick up the slack despite their desire to try to help. In many instances this produces an atmosphere of mutual resentment between frustrated parents and even more frustrated teachers. Most serious, is the effect it can have upon the child’s intellectual and behavioral development.

The Family Partnership: Both parents are vital in the process of rearing a child, but the role of the mother is both emotionally and biologically stronger. Regardless, the child should feel secure in that both parents are equal and trusted resources. This is strengthened by the very manner in which the parents work as a team in the child rearing process. Yes, single parent families or families where a supportive partnership does not exist gravely reduces the effectiveness of parental support and guidance. This is not to say that many single parent families do manage well, but this is often due to outside supportive resources. The child responds behaviorally and intellectually (good or poor school performance). When stresses across the family increase there is  a parallel decrease in the child’s developmental progress. Problems, intellectual and behavioral, crop up in school; adding a new element of stress between teacher, child and parents.

  • Note: If you feel a knot growing in your stomach as you read the two paragraphs above, then you know exactly what this is all about. Be assured, that as I write and read the above, I also get knots in my stomach.  If we are parents, then to varying degrees, we have experienced some of what is cited above.

As stated above, in most families today, both parents work full-time. Regardless of their motivations to work as partners in rearing their offspring, there is both extreme daily time limitations and the simple ability of the parents to put the utmost into their relationships with their child or children after a demanding and tiring work day. If the partnership is active and strong then alternating which parent gives full attention to the child can help both alleviate fatigue stress and give full support to the child. There is no hard and fast rules here. How such a plan works depends on the unique partnership plan the parents have established. Such plans are very specific with regard to each parents work regimen and hours. They can only deal with variances in work schedules if they are a fully committed parental partnership.

A major factor that can reduce stress and increase the effectiveness of a given family plan, is the inclusion of the child. Children are very sensitive to the emotional environment around them and when they are excluded, they worry and their stress levels increase. Insuring that the child feels included has a tremendous benefit in his or her cooperativeness and strengthens their sense of membership in the family. Encouraging them to speak up on family issues, even those involving only the parents, may seem to invite distractions, but actually enriches the entire child-rearing process. We should never underestimate the observational powers of children and the often amazing and highly relevant comments and suggestions they can make. As they become participants, they more strongly feel the parents love because they are encouraged to openly express their concerns and love. It is a powerful family adhesive.  In this regard, when a parent exclaims to a child, I need you, or I need you to do this for us, the child that is an included member of the family team responds positively and cooperatively.

Creative Spark: There is a great deal of both information and speculation about the creative spark and how to detect and nurture it. Unfortunately it is quite often presented in such a way that it seems to exclude children that seem  intellectually challenged (more crudely termed: dumb).Yes, there are definite variations in a child’s intellectual strengths, but that does not rule out the creative spark. The problem is, if the child is classed by both family and teachers as”slow”, then that spark is never even looked for, much less nurtured. The bright child’s creative spark is loud and noticeable so-to-speak. Parents and teachers will not be able to ignore it. In fact, the adults often tend to downplay those sparks as being too aggressive (noisy, insistent, etc). The change then must come as a universal attention and support of this creative energy from ALL children. The creative spark is vital. It is the cognitive expressway that helps accelerate the learning process; especially in the case of special needs children. In ALL children this expressway optimizes how a child processes new information because it leads to a highly receptive cognitive area of the brain. Nurturing this expressway also empowers the child to begin to enhance their inherent curiosity and to then begin independent exploration: self-learning.

Ancient Prejudices vs Active Listening: Most parents have dreams for their children’s future and those dreams are a strong motivation to nurture the creative spark. Unfortunately many parents project some of their own “missed opportunities” into their plans for their offspring’s future.  When the child’s interests and exploratory behaviors are in conflict with those parental goals there can be direct discouragement by the parents. This discouragement is rarely negative. It is more often expressed as advocacy for the child’s future that fits the parents unfulfilled dreams. In many cases the child adheres to parental advice and follows a described course (education, sports, art, music, etc). Often this is in direct conflict with the creative spark the child has displayed. These parental influences, based upon the parents unfulfilled goals, are regarded as prejudices against a child’s expressed interests.

None of the above is intended to criticize wise counsel from parents where the child has confused on unattainable goals. Wise counsel, however, is most effective where there is active listening by the parent. This allows them to detect that creative spark, and begin to actively nurture it. In this arrangement, the child becomes the explorer with support from parents. In many cases this involves both parent and child jointly investigating the child’s expressed interests and goals. Furthermore, engaging teachers in this process further insures a growing support for the child’s successful and essentially independent development. WARNING! Some teachers and some education systems are so forcefully structured by regulations (vs theory and practice) that a new barrier presents itself. Here is where the parent is vital. They must not let a distorted system discourage their child’s potential.

The Learning and Inspiration Team: Ideally the process of nurturing and supporting a child’s intellectual and behavioral development is accomplished by what can be regarded as a learning and inspiration team. The team’s key members are the child, the parents and the teachers. Because it is a team, there is no independent actions, even by the child. All are focused on fulfilling the child’s potential and creative spark. Unfortunately, now, these teams rarely exists for a variety of combinations of the problems presented above.

Change is vital and despite the best efforts of the parents in advocating for and supporting their offspring, the education system simply cannot work as a fully committed team member. This is because of the aforementioned regulatory misdirection of the education process. Committed parents often resort to “home-schooling” which has strong benefits from a nurturing standpoint, but deprives the child of the social contacts essential for full development. Additionally, most parents, despite dedication, do not have the total experience necessary to fully ensure the support of their offspring’s creative spark. Similarly, the education system, seeking standardization, rarely on its own will meet the desired level of support and nurturing.

A balanced compromise by the team that acknowledges the necessary rigidity of the educational system, while preserving the overall goals of the team, can produce a successful nurturing of the child’s intellectual  and behavioral development. Engaging the teachers within this compromise structure can be effective and highly supported by the teacher. This is particularly true where the parents and the teachers arrive at a common goal in which they share joint responsibilities. In those cases where this is put in place, the entire attitude and performance of the child is both astounding and mutually rewarding. This is true especially in the case of special needs children. Suddenly the adversarial relationship between parents, teachers and the child disappears. So does the stress on all the team members. Unfortunately this is not a common practice, but where it happens an entire school is both inspired and enhanced. The concentration by the team to fully support the independent development of the child keeps the child an active team member and enforces active listening and wise counseling by all parties. Yes, even the child will actively listen and give astounding wise counseling to the adult team members.

At last, elementary education of a child ceases to be an ordeal for all parties and instead becomes an environment of mutual progress and reward. The future has become more secure and humankind all the richer.

There are many ways to sing the praises of the joyful benefits of a unity of child, parents and teacher in nurturing our future, but the following video link says it simply and from the heart to all who seek to ….!

RAISE A CHILD

CREDIT:

To all those youngsters I had the pleasure and honor of working with. Each of them “raised me up beyond all I could be.

BONDING WITH “WHY”: The Citizen-Scientist

November 12, 2010

“We are unlikely to survive if we do not make full and creative use of our human intelligence” The preceding and prophetic observation was made by astrophysicist Carl Sagan in his book,The Dragons of Eden. We quote it here to emphasize the increasing need for the citizen-scientist as an evolutionary energizer.

It is usually a very rapid event after a young child begins to talk that he or she will, one day, use the why word. This is the vital and first step of both an inquisitive mind and a potential, future citizen-scientist. Oh yes, some of those children will go one to become professional scientists, but many, many others will follow different life patterns; however, in each case that inquisitiveness exists and if properly cultivated lives on as an agile mind.

Oh dear, this is one of those techy talks that expect the reader to run and gather up scientific paraphernalia in preparation for some unique little experiment, right? Actually no, although some of those programs or exercises can be both interesting and instructive. We are writing this blog to acknowledge the value of appreciating those who chase why and the benefits it can bring to all of us.

The basic, all-purpose citizen-scientist: Becoming a citizen-scientist is a nurturing process that, as we have indicated above, begins in childhood. That natural curiosity is encouraged by parents and later by teachers to the point where the youngster feels very comfortable asking why and following its implications. As we also stated, some of these youth will go on to become scientists or teachers of science. We, however, want to consider those followers of science not as an intellectual pursuits, but as ongoing delights in their exposure to the revelations and issues that come from answers to why. Just like the child that gets responsive explanations or demonstrations from a supportive respondent, the basic citizen-scientist looks for and responds to the products of scientific exploration.

The amateur anthropologist, archaeologist, astronomer, biologist (ecologist), botanist (horticulturist) and so on are specific and highly defined examples of the citizen-scientists that go beyond the basic stage. We are talking about the individual or even family that takes a very broad interest in science in different ways. They can be described as generally responsive to all scientific revelations and are usually eager to share this information with others. Their excitement comes from both reports of the exploration process and generalized reports of results. They identify with the explorers and often regard them as heroes. On the other hand, they can often become disappointed, even losing interest, when there is a stifling of the flow of science progress’ exciting exploration stories. We write more on this issue, below.

Simple joys from personal discoveries: The broad, general, scientific interests we are discussing here often encourages its followers to explore on their own. This can produce stunning and memorable moments and rewards. The image included in our blog header for this issue is an example.

Walking along a narrow trail in a deep, shadowy forest the citizen-explorer follows a trail that leads to a sunlit patch of wildflowers. There, in bright humility, a jewel of nature shares its breathtaking beauty. It is an awesome moment that is never forgotten. Most importantly,  the encounter exposes the citizen-scientist to the same kind of exultant reactions that the professional scientist often experiences. This is when his or her research yields breakthrough results. Both are “eureka” moments.

The scientists share their discoveries in very formal and careful ways with colleagues and the science community. The citizen-scientists with a generalized interest tend to share their discoveries or new information with friends and family and usually with a handful of fellow citizen-scientists. The more specialized citizen-scientists listed above tend to officially present their findings within an organized group. A group that can be global in size and reach. Regardless, the products of chasing why are shared and invigorated by this extended, public interest.

The art of sharing: So why is there not more of those exciting citizen-scientist discovery exchanges, and why are there not more generalized citizen-scientists? Now, we are considering two interactive why’s. A common factor is the need for broadly effective and interesting information exchanges. In some cases the exchange is too tightly wrapped in the learned vocabularies of the special interest citizen-scientists. These tend to either overwhelm or even coldly exclude the general interest citizen-scientist. This can be quite off-putting.

In the public venue, the media (print, radio and television) have produced some totally astounding science programs that capture both the generalist and specialist citizen-scientists. The problem is, these highlights are random and vary in the quality of their content and accuracy. This problem is confounded by some presentations that are more editorial than informational. The results in these latter instances distract the audience with sociopolitical issues forcing their followers to lose their link to the basic scientific content. Informational and inspirational outcome is shut down! This can cause more than an incidental reaction it can, sometimes, push a fledgling citizen-scientist away.

For many of us, finding answers to why has taken on spiritual connotations that offer soothing but also often inexplicable answers. At the same time, either through a fear of science with its direct statements asserting it does have an answer or our needs for reassurances about life on Earth, we turn to the orderly structure of a religion. This should not prevent our desires to follow the why’s in life while also getting many answers from the sciences. The net personal effect is peace of mind and personal fulfillment as we understand more about all that surrounds us. We also come to find that although we are not eternal as humans, we are forever eternal as a glorious composite of energy that goes on, and on long after our human shell has expired. We are, and always will be one with the universe.

Let science abound: The more involved with science, to any degree, that we become the greater evolutionary strength and progress we make as humankind. As this happens, and as Carl Sagan has advised, our awareness of a host of issues that threaten that progress inspires us to unify and speak-out.

Oh no, you mean we have to become political activists? I don’t like that at all. No, activism in that respect can be expressed in one simple act – voting. The political system looks to dominant influences (dollars, political theories, and even public interests). A unified electorate that have a large population of citizen-scientists can gain important influence that serves to both save our home planet, and assure that humankind will continue to evolve. In short, we become more comfortable with our neighborhood; the Universe.

We are so busy. Family life is scattered and demanding. How can we do this too? It seems just too difficult. Yes, it can, but within a family, an ideal starting place is with your children. The younger they are the better, but age should not be a barrier. Let science come to dinner, let it also join the soccer, or baseball or football team your child is involved with. As you, the parent, look for general science links to share, you are on your way to becoming a citizen-scientist too.

Science is not drudgery. Visit a science museum, a planetarium, an aquarium, or even watch good (not wacky) scifi TV or movies that don’t necessarily educate, but do stimulate questions. In this latter case, your responsibility is to have or know where to find the correct answers.  Guess what? Your family is becoming a citizen-science enclave.  See over there, Einstein is doing a happy dance.

Well, that is interesting and I agree possible. My problem is our kids come home telling us their teachers got angry with them when they tried to use their new science awareness to correct the teacher. Yes, that will be a challenge, until you as citizen-scientist, parents take positive action to improve education in our schools.  No, don’t cry about not having enough time. If your child is gravely ill you rush to the doctors or hospital. Likewise, when your child is suffering from cognitive starvation you must rush to your school systems and get them fixed.

Science seems so remote and distant from our daily lives. We suggest that is wrong, and urge you to think about it obviousness and simplicity as did Galileo when he wrote:

” The Sun, with all the planets revolving around it, and depending on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as though it had nothing else in the Universe to do.” – Galileo Galilei

Get started today on your journey to becoming a citizen-scientist. When you hear or read the word why, follow through and seek the answer or if not that seek those who seek the answer and follow them.

On that wonderful, day-off,  fishing trip, while you wait for that exhilarating moment when a fish takes the bait, let your eyes follow the flight of a bird. There before you is nature’s mastery of what we still struggle to perfect.

Be amazed; seek answers; share answers, and welcome science into your mind and heart.

CREDITS:

Cartoon Image of Child with Questions: Courtesy of Parents in Education: Link>>http://www.pieinc.org/QandA.html

Wildflower image in header. From photography collection of Waddell Robey (c) 2007

BIRD BRAIN? Well, Thank You For The Compliment!

October 30, 2010

I see you, I hear you, I know you.

Brains, regardless of their hosts, are immense organs of great power and facilitation. The bird brain title for this blog acknowledges that relative power. If you have doubts, take some time and birdwatch. Watch small birds, big birds, seabirds, raptors and of course the great Bald Eagle. All are examples of the majesty of coordinated movement and navigation – while flying under their own power. Something not one of us can do; unassisted.

This blog article seeks to honor science’s explorations of the brain, especially the human brain. Most importantly, we need to understand we are still groping. Really? How so?

The work of neurologists, neuro-psychiatrists, neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, psychologists and philosophers all contribute, on a constant and ongoing basis, to our knowledge about the brain. As we learn more we discover one revelation after another of the amazing uniqueness and power of the brain, regardless, as I have stated, of its host organism.

Like our exploration of the universe, the cosmos of the brain constantly teases us to look further and deeper. It can be coy, confrontational, demanding, illusive, and always in power. It rumbles with laughter as we, with our brains, seek to discern brains in general. Who is in charge here? Personally, I remember how I stunned a radtech after I had an MRI of my brain by stating: “Hmmm, here my brain is looking at images of itself. What can it be thinking?”

Brain Recovery: My own experience in working with clients who had suffered traumatic brain injuries confirmed, on a daily basis, the power of the brain to not only survive, but to restore itself into full power.  Yes, in some cases there were memory and motor deficits that needed therapeutic assistance, but in most cases the brain responded with vigor and renewal of lost functions. Two classic examples: (a) The brain injured young man in a deep coma who physicians were now advising family to consider pulling the plug and agreeing to organ donations. That same afternoon, the young man is found sitting upright in his hospital bed asking a nurse why he was here and what had happened. This was five months after his initial injury, and (b) The young man seriously brain injured in a motorcycle accident. Staff writes him off as a candidate for placement in a permanent custodial facility. He fights it, both unconsciously and consciously and begins to return to full function. A thorough screening including an IQ evaluation reveal he had a recovery IQ of 135. This young man is now a successful auto-electronics systems specialist.

Despite these natural and assisted recovery efforts, sometimes the damage is so extensive and so deep that even the die-hard brain gives up. Tragic and sad? Yes, but also a reality. The important thing is that the research (explorations) of brain function and recovery continues, and as mentioned above, provides bountiful insights and surprises. It is possible that in the future there will be fewer cases where the brain gives up. One of these future breakthroughs, in my opinion, is the research associated with stem cell therapy.

Brain Death: Brains never want to die, but deprived of their vital nutrients and oxygen filled blood they begin to collapse and slowly shut down their host’s life support systems. Regardless, in reality, I believe they are the last to go. When they shut down because their host’s life support systems (heart, lungs, kidneys, etc) have failed they are still the last to go, albeit quickly in most cases. Well, what about deep comas? The host’s systems still function with external help, but the brain seems essentially shut down. This is where, in my opinion, we will find Stem Cell therapy may come to the rescue.

We still do not know fully how the brain exercises its repair and recovery process, but research in this area that involves the use of Stem Cell therapy may open entirely new pathways for recovery. Exciting and rewarding research awaits us. Additionally, in a great many cases, persons who have suffered traumatic brain injury have also suffered spinal cord injuries which puts them in a very limited lifestyle. Again, application of Stem Cell therapy to address both the brain and the spinal cord damages could produce stunning recoveries.

The Exploration Theme: Stem Cell research in this case fully utilizes the exploration theme. Scientists are exploring how and why stem cells work, and in doing so they are and continue to make discoveries. They seek to explain these discoveries and in so doing they are and will continue to find applications that both repair and enrich human life. Right now, we are just on the first leg of our explorations, With a fully expanded research program the discoveries and results could easily become one of the most important and vital medical outcomes affecting all humankind. Dare we not venture forth?

For bird brains and human brains and all others, expanding our understanding of the immense complexity and power of the brain can only enrich all of us. Add to this an increased supplementary process to aid the brain in its resilience shines light into the darkest corners of its miraculous functions. Most importantly it will be the brain, not us, that finally puts to use our efforts to aid its glorious and amazing existence. So, there we are, our brains, aiding ours and other’s brains. Again, who is really in charge here?

REFERENCES:

Neural Stems Cells in the Adult Human Brain http://bit.ly/dtKV6g

Stromal Cell transplantation for traumatic brain injury repair. http://bit.ly/9fw9PX

Stem cell therapy in central nervous system injury. http://bit.ly/aqxsUr

CREDIT:

Image of Common Egret, from photo collection of Waddell Robey (c)1969, 2010 All Rights Reserved

Cartoon Image of the inquiring brain: From: http://bit.ly/WzA4H

Who Writes This Stuff Anyway?

October 27, 2010

Just a brief explanation. In many of my blog articles I use the first person plural, “We”, and in other articles I use the first person singular, “I.” I generally use “We” most of the time in deference to all the researchers whose works and comments I have read that contribute to my blog ideas. No, I do not plagiarise, but I feel that my ideas are stimulated by their efforts so I honor them by using the first person plural. Obviously, when I use “I” it is me swimming out there on my own. Additionally, I use links to specific data or reports when I am directly referring to another source’s work.

If you, dear readers, would like me to begin to include a list of references, where appropriate, in my blogs, please add a comment urging this.  Thank you.

CREDIT:

Cartoon image, from free clip art.

THAT IMAGINATION THING: An Exploration Seedling

October 12, 2010

Esteemed scientist, Albert Einstein once stated, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world.” We add that imagination now flies humankind to the Moon and beyond. Author and social philosopher, William Somerset Maugham expands on imagination when he states, “Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young.”

We are not alone in our view that imagination sparks dreams and that our dreams lay the groundwork for exploratory thoughts and plans.  Most importantly,  this kind of dreamthink is not reserved for just scientists. Great artists, authors, and inspired leaders have all been motivated by and have become explorers as the result of the imagination process. Is this an exclusive gift of the highly intelligent or is it a power that resides within each of us? Imagination is power for every one of us.

Like the exploratory urge or inquisitiveness, imagination begins at an early age, but as we mature it gains in both scope and strength. The more inspiration and support we receive in our imagination and related dreams the stronger it becomes and the more productive we become as explorers. The most critical and earliest source of that inspiration and support comes from within the family. An attentive parent is the most powerful force that helps imagination grow and expand its scope. Similarly, teachers and school curricula that promote and reward products of students’ imagination further aid its development and strength.

Would you believe that jealousy and envy are often active enemies of imagination? Rarely is it expressed openly. Most often it takes the form of discouragement or indifference which tends to limit imagination’s development. In this setting it takes an unusually strong and self-assured person to persist regardless of any discouragements. The history of humankind holds many instances of where this brave persistence has won, giving to all of us an immense array of discoveries, artistic masterpieces, and overpowering musically artistic expressions. We are blessed by all of it, but we are now in need of a new abundance of such blessings.

We are standing before the gateways of many new discovery areas. These gateways lead to: the origins of life here on Earth and in the universe, the universe itself, and the challenge of an expanded humankind that reaches far beyond the confines of our sweet planet. In order to address these challenges and to open and cross those gateways we need to revive and strengthen our imagination, the dreams it inspires, and the explorations that will give us new discoveries and their explanations. We must not let the jealous, the envious, the misinformed or the superstitious stifle this process. If we do, then we stifle the ongoing and rewarding evolution of humankind here and throughout the universe.

Yes, we know, we selected the modern music of the Beatles to emphasize one of our points. We see the Beatles musical imagination as very relevant social commentary to the issues we have presented here. We close this blog article with one more of their creative observations. Please, believe in your dreams, and by all means reach out and give support and courage to all those dreamers that abide here with you. This is the power that will move us forward.

CREDITS:

Image of Albert Einstein by Andrew Zimmerman Jones from About.com:Physics.

Image of artist Vincent Van Gogh – self-portrait. British Royal Academy and the London Evening Standard