Archive for the ‘Lifeness’ 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

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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

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

A FLIGHT TO REMEMBER!

April 22, 2011

The image above is of Thatch Cay a small island off St. Thomas of the U. S. Virgin Islands. This is where we all took the flight we shall always remember.

It was December 24, 1981 and the four of us were in a great holiday mood. It was then we decided we needed to go diving, but at a very quiet and peaceful spot. The small island, Thatch Cay, within the U. S. Virgin Islands was ideal. It was rarely crowded with snorkelers and divers and had a number of glorious coral communities in the half-moon bay on the Atlantic side of the cay.

We headed out for Thatch Cay and its lovely bay. It was an absolutely glorious day. The weather was perfect and our dives in the bay area was so peaceful. We had the area all to ourselves; well except for all the friendly fish that joined our exploration. Of course, their friendliness was inspired by the little waterproof sacks of dry cat-food we brought with us. The fish love it, and they were all around us; even aggressively brushing against us to hurry us up to hand out the snacks. The idea of fish eating cat-food always makes me chuckle.

Since the dive in the bay took us to around 70 feet we cut it short because we also wanted to dive along the other side of the cay. We dove in the area just to the left of the arrow shown in the above image. That was the Caribbean side and the coral reef there was different, but strikingly beautiful and full of life. We were very careful to not create disturbing currents around the coral life with our dive-fins.  Of course, some of our fish friends from the other side had followed us around to the second dive site. Characters all of them. They are like house pets and just as apparently affectionate.

In settings like the ones we were enjoying, it is very easy to ignore your dive time and air status. I learned my lesson about this the previous year when I was so fascinated with a dozen or more Barracuda that had surrounded me that I ran out of air. I was at 90 feet! Fortunately my dive partner. a young lady, had air to spare and an octopus rig, so we shared her air as we ascended and returned to our boat. Dive partners are an essential both for safety and shared enjoyment. So, taking that lesson seriously I beckoned for all of us to begin to ascend and head for the boat.

As we were swimming up and toward our boat, on our right there appeared 9 very large and very relaxed Manta Rays, swimming along in loose formation. We immediately turned an swam towards them. This was in the area marked by the arrow in the above image. They did not shy away, but instead spread out a bit and appeared to welcome us as we joined up and begin to swim with them. Actually it is more like flying with them than swimming. These gentle giants, and members of the shark family are so magnificent, and here we humans were sharing space and time with them in their glorious universe.  I looked across at my dive partner, a beautiful, casting director for major motion picture companies, and saw that she was alternatively smiling and crying as we swam up close and personal with our ray escorts. Well, I was so excited I was sucking up air at a monstrous rate, so I knew I had to surface. I did so with regret and sadly bubbled goodbye to our Manta Ray buddies.

When we all got back to the boat, we just sat silently, not saying a word. It was obvious that we were deeply affected by what we had just experienced. To be welcomed so completely by another life form, in their environment was emotionally overwhelming and unforgettable.

We remained silent even during our trip back to St. Thomas and it was not until we were ashore that we reached out hugging each other, laughing, wiping away tears and each vowing to never forget our brief and glorious adventure. We had been in another world where we shared flight time with some of its most gentle and friendly citizens.

If you wish, click HERE to view a video that will give you a small taste of what we experienced. May it also leave with you, even vicariously, a deep and lasting appreciation for all that surrounds us here on Earth and throughout the Cosmos.

IMAGE CREDIT: The image of Thatch Cay is from Private Islands Online: http://tinyurl.com/2nku

WE WILL GO THERE, But First….!

April 8, 2011

The “October Sky” style youthful achievement shown in the above video is a clear statement of the deep commitment to space exploration that we must achieve to again venture forth. Human spaceflight will evolve as a combination of government, private industry and both human and robotic astronauts. Right now, in this year 2011, it all looks only slightly brighter than dim. Most importantly, real and awesome success will come from the unity of effort of government and industry as well as with our international partners. We must work as one if we are to successfully go into deep space.

The following are five critical accomplishments that must become active reality if we are going to take humankind to our solar system and then out into our newest frontier – our galaxy. We must also realize that it is not a “final frontier”. We have an entire Cosmos to explore. Let’s get started.

  1. To ensure that we support a growing population of bright, young minds like those in the above video, we must both standardize and diversify our education system. This must start at the elementary level and progressively move all the way to graduate level studies. Diversification calls for strong science education, but also equally strong and inspiring education in the arts. Humankind is motivated both by dreams and by the arts (music, art, writing) that spread the word and the glory of those dreams. In all cases imagination and innovation dominate. Education cultivates and insures that domination.
  2. Solid, progressive governance is a vital ingredient of a space faring civilization. To insure both national and international political sanity we-the-people in all nations, must strive to achieve and sustain real democratic governance. To do this we must make sure that people shall prevail, and not greed and the addiction to power. The people must not let those dangers erode or even destroy that system. Not an easy task, and without an alert and devoted electorate, any nation can easily slip into pseudo-democracies dominated by only a select few. It is easy to snarl and complain, but that simply signifies a nation of people who have let things slip. Citizens committed to both democracy and to global unity have no time to snarl and complain, they are too busy and too involved in making governance work.
  3. Anyone who chooses to look up and behold the awesome glory of the night sky, or breathtaking dawns, or sunsets is easily mystified by all that overpowering beauty. Earliest humans translated those mystifying moments into expressed and treasured celebrations. These revered practices expanded and now seek to relate human morality and behavior to that mysticism. When all of those practices induce widespread compassion and a global sense of community among humankind they become strengthening and unifying. At the same time, science, equally mystified by all it sees and explores, diligently seeks to explain fully and truthfully. In both practices there are many moments of deep spirituality as we humans strengthen the bond between ourselves and all that surrounds us. For us to proceed across the cosmic seas we must achieve mutual respect and eschew distrust, suspicion and fear. We are enriched and made whole by all we come to learn. Lastly we come to accept all that proves to be true and to see it as a bond between humankind and the Cosmos. When we achieve this, we then joyfully join the cosmic community.
  4. We are not exclusive to all that is around us. We are in unity with it. Yes, all life-forms share resources and that give and take process is life-sustaining for the entire community. In this relationship, there is no malice or evil or chicanery only interdependence. When we nurture this interdependence we enrich both our lives and the community of  life that comprises this planet. If we fail in this respect we threaten the community and cause a decline in those vital resources and weaken that essential interdependence. Science calls this the process of extinction. If we seek to explore the Cosmos we must first stabilize and sustain the resource that supports that exploration. For now, for decades or maybe even for centuries to come, planet Earth (our community of life) must be protected to enable us to seek those cosmic revelations.
  5. We are not alone in the Cosmos. Yes, we have not yet made direct contact with other life-forms, but science on almost a daily basis is uncovering many clues that support the presence of life across the Cosmos. Life, in all its forms is, as stated above, interdependent and when we succeed in both respecting and protecting that reality then we are philosophically and sociologically reaching the stage where we can successfully meet other life in the Cosmos in a peaceable manner. Unlike those who first came from afar to this continent, we must not arrive to conquer, but to rejoice in our reunion with other members of the cosmic community. We must shed our warrior complex and sail that glorious cosmic sea as ambassadors of unity and peace. Remember, we are all interdependent.

Each of those five goals include within them long lists of responsibilities that we must fully exercise to meet each criterion to the fullest. In other words, we are facing an evolutionary life change. Hey, this is as it should be; otherwise, we stumble down the extinction pathway. There are a bounty of rewards as we exercise those responsibilities. Those rewards enrich us and inspire us to continue to move forward as a community of life. All of this, in my mind at least, restores and embeds hope in each of our hearts.

Lastly, the following video is a repeat, but says more eloquently than anything else who we are and why we are here and the glory that awaits us. Welcome to spaceship Earth.

ELEGANT, ELOQUENT and ELEMENTAL SCIENCE.

March 31, 2011

The dialog by noted astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a good introductory beginning for this blog article. Please take a few moments to view and enjoy it.

As Dr. Tyson stresses, there needs to be a common dialog between the sciences and the rest of us. This is best achieved by what he refers to as Science Literacy. Now, some folks get right nervous at that idea. They interpret Science Literacy to mean they must become knowledgeable in the sciences and immediately feel both dejected and rejected. On the other side, many scientists despite their own broad interests become both impatient and discouraged by what they interpret as disinterest or suspicion on the part of the non-scientist public.  This is a precipitous divide! We must close that divide to progress and evolve.

Paraphrasing Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman’s “Ode On A Flower” he acknowledges the beauty we all see, but he goes on to point out that as a scientist he sees deeper and reflects on the elegant science that describes how the flower came to be. Both views are valuable and are clear pathways that can lead to a unity of concept between the scientists and the rest of us. The common ground is our mutual appreciation of the respective elegance of the flower’s existence. We see beauty and delicacy, the scientist sees uniqueness and also a set of common interrelationships that produce the flower. All contribute to the flower’s glory that we both see. The challenge is for the layman and the scientist to appreciate each others particular way of seeing things.

The artist/author thinks he “shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” The botanist hopes he shall often see a living system as amazing as a tree.

There is eloquence in the expressions of appreciation and analysis from both sides. There will be unity when the layman stops to listen and learn a bit from the scientist while the scientist pauses to respect the layman’s perspective and to help to point out their mutuality, as Feynman does in his ode. The divide begins to close.

As a trained aeronautical engineer, I see a bird’s flight as optimum aerodynamics. As a long-time bird watcher I see the entire glory and beauty of both flight and the bird itself. This, to me, is an example of the successful merging of science and art.

If you wish, click on either or both of the image titles below to enjoy your own closing of the divide.  Additionally, you are encouraged to read Dr. Lewis Thomas‘s Lives of a Cell to gain an even deeper understanding of the vital link between science and the art of all that surrounds us.

CORAL KINGDOM

 

CELESTIAL CRAB

IMAGE CREDITS:

Coral Reef from> http://coastal-zone-management.blogspot.com

Crab Nebula: Astrophoto by Waddell Robey/Slooh.com

 

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