Posted tagged ‘education’

The ‘Earthification’ of Science

December 18, 2011

All people from all nations must support Earth Science

“…To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”  – Carl Sagan

No, no, this is not one of those “evil, evil man was never meant to fly” type hyperventilations. It is an effort to point out that despite the scientific community‘s obligation to explore, discover and explain the Cosmos, it must also continue to accord the same intense curiosity about our home planet, Earth. This must be regardless of the rising number of discoveries of exoplanets including some that promise to be uniquely Earth-like (Kepler 22b). Science must increase its understanding of the entire evolution of Earth and in achieving this understanding, dictate its preservation
Yes, humankind must survive and Earth is our life-supporting host, but we must evolve our dependence to not continue to suck the very life from Earth while also tearing at its own life-giving entrails. Earth-focused science and technology is the answer. This is where we continue to enjoy and benefit from Earth’s bounty, but at the same time continue to insure that we do not abuse it benevolence. In times of crises such as those surrounding us now, it is even more critical that we defer to science for help in coping constructively with our crises in a manner that protects; even enhances our home planet.
No political head butting here, no cries of environmentalists seek to increase joblessness, and no defiance of the gifted and dedicated by the intense Earth abusers who seek immediate returns in trade for a degraded planet. Yes, we can enrich ourselves from this planet’s munificence, but we must do it in such manner that we preserve that abundance of resources while protecting the well-being of ALL life here at home. In this respect, organizations that are both global and territorial in scope seek to inspire greater Earth-science solutions to this challenge. One such public persuasion in this regard is clearly illustrated by the following video from the advocates for protecting millions of life-forms including Homo sapiens.
Science is the answer and for it to address ALL of the issues and challenges we must press hard upon the political button to bring about the changes and enactments needed to preserve planet Earth and in doing so preserve and enrich all life. ALL of us, tiny cells to towering Homo sapiens, are an integral part of this planet’s very existence. We are and must remain inseparable, and unified on behalf of Earth and life.

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

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

TAG-ALONG SCIENCE – PART II: Taking The Lead

November 22, 2010

It is our opinion, and we emphasize opinion, that humankind is on the cusp of an evolutionary leap. Key words are cusp and leap. Cusp in our context means turning point, and we use leap because we see the transition as abrupt and significant and not gradual and possibly insignificant.

The cusp is at the intersection of our scientific and technological (S&T) progress, and the steady decline in humankind’s support of S&T. This diminishing public interest in S&T and its benefits to human society is expressed through political policy decisions that rarely give priority to S&T goals and benefits.

The leap constitutes the direction and benefits, or the lack thereof, depending upon which way humankind moves in the next several centuries. Wait! Wait, don’t let the time factor turn you away with shrugs of indifference. Humankind has reached the level where time increments have accelerated so that when we speak about centuries we are literally talking about immediate concerns. What we start or stop today has an accelerated impact that extends well into mega-millenniums.

Turning the leap into a long-jump: Yes, we are following our opinion and are turning forward not backward.  Most importantly, we envision a series of both policy and program changes that begin the process of bringing S&T into the daily lives of humankind in very obvious and tangible ways. Regardless, none of this is will be a flash-bang magic show. It is envisioned as an orderly and very dedicated process. The following represents the key preparations we must make for that long-jump.

A new S&T model: Right now the majority of our science and technology programs have tight links to political policy. As a result many very important programs suffer: (a) see-saw levels of importance and (b) funding cycles that range from affluence to total poverty. A twist in political party power often puts an S&T program in jeopardy. Usually the threat is preceded by deflated funding or the lack thereof. This lack of consistent and long-term political and policy support short-changes both research and its beneficiaries; the citizens of this nation and usually the world.

A new and different Office of Science and Technology Policy. Exclusive of those specialized programs associated with defense and national security, S&T policies should be established by public referendum and are mandated to persist regardless of changes in the current political party controlling the  government. This means that the current Executive Branch’s  Office of Science and Technology Policy is replaced by a very open, and broad-based S&T policy administration program. This program forms the core of the public S&T referendum.

A new governing body: Key members of the science and technology community come together under a Federal mandate to draft the structure and initial program definitions that the public will consider and approve or disapprove. Participation is by all divisions of the National Academy of Sciences, by leading private research institutions, by major university science and technology departments, and by all Federal agencies and departments that have S&T functions and responsibilities.

The National Institute for Science and Technology Policy (NISTP): We have boldly stepped forward to prepare a preliminary definition document for the NISTP and how it can work. You may get access to it here, as a download, in PDF format.  We have done it this way to avoid producing a very, very long blog page, and to give you ample time to review our document. We sincerely hope you will take the time to consider it and hopefully comment here.  Please remember, what we are proposing here is a system whereby S&T research and development is for and by the people and not just the product of political or special interests. Our document gives attention to this transition and how it can be both developed and sustained.

Reflections and Conclusion: In many pages of this blog as well as in others we have written, we emphasize that we must become a spacefaring nation. Actually we extend this to include a spacefaring world as an important evolutionary step for humankind. Well, to achieve this highly essential state we must first become a nation and a world community where science and technology are in the forefront of our daily lives. No, we are not talking about a civilization that is dominated by S&T, we are talking about a civilization that is universally enriched by S&T research and development. Enrichment in this case is both economic and sociological.

Most importantly humankind, as we have consistently maintained, is here not to fail but to move forward in time and space.

We are now pretty certain that we are not alone in this universe and although we have never met ET, they are out there and in time we will meet, and, in our opinion, peaceably. None of this will come to pass without our immediate involvement in the growth and spread of S&T as humankind’s vital evolutionary resource.

As we have proposed here, S&T growth should be essentially in the hands of we-the-people and not at the whim of politicians and/or special interests. We also believe that what is coming will be the most exciting, the most fulfilling moment in our evolution since that time when we rose up from the sea and stepped upon this land. In all of this, time never waits, and we believe neither should we. It is time, now, to take the lead.

REFERENCES:

Scientific regress: When science goes backward

Planning for the Future of American Science

CREDITS:

Clip-Art Cartoon, modified by Waddell Robey to include the letters “S&T” on a cartoon figure.


 

TAG-ALONG SCIENCE: Following The Money

November 16, 2010

With spurts of government boldness, great moments in science have been born. With spurts of corporate courage equally great breakthroughs in science have occurred.  Our global history of scientific, engineering and technical achievement relates the endless struggle by new discoveries and new ideas to receive the financial support they need to reach their goals. Fickle government budgeting and the absence of vision by corporate leaders are the key barriers to progressive and successful scientific progress. Miraculously humankind has progressed this far because of those spurts of boldness and courage. We need more and we need them consistently.

Saving Science: Right now, the key dependence of science and technology (S&T) for funding support is upon the political system and the budgeting process. This is an extreme variable that depends on too much politics and too little attention to S&T input.

Within our government there are a host of Congressional committees and subcommittees involved in various ways in the process of providing funding support for S&T. Additionally the Executive Branch of government has its own advisory staff that makes recommendations on what the priorities should be for funding these research efforts. For example:

“Almost every congressional committee is in some way involved in S&T policy decision-making or uses the scientific and technical knowledge currently available to help them make decisions.” (From: Science and Technology Policymaking: A Primer by Deborah D. Stine – Congressional Research Service. (http://bit.ly/9wvcAA)

Taking S&T out of the lobby: In line with the various committee involvements in the funding for S&T, there is, of course the interactions of lobbyists to seek to direct that funding toward the organizations or corporations they represent. In some cases this helps certain, but limited S&T programs, but it also can deprive other critical areas of needed funding. You may click here to get and example of the lobbying process and how funds are diverted to select organizations (Data related to the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act [ARRA] -2009). These activities are costly and produce well paid lobbyists at the cost of a more equitably and better funded S&T community.

Is there a better and definitely more equitable way? We think there is, and in this two-part presentation we will offer our idea of how that can become a reality. What we are looking at is a way for all S&T programs to have increased access to all funding resources. This would be within a setting that brings to bear a more focused assessment process of S&T programs that use much broader and definitive measures to make funding decisions. The key consideration is public benefit. In stating this we acknowledge the challenge it will be to clearly and universally (politically and ethically) define public benefit. Right now, the majority of  S&T goes unnoticed or discredited by the public. One of the key aims ,therefore, of our presentation is to directly address the publics’ “opinions about science and technology.” Additionally, what we will avoid in our presentation is relegating the S&T/Public interaction as a dispute between science and religion.

In closing this first part of our discussion on this topic we emphasize that we absolutely dislike categorizing people who have a weak grasp of S&T as stupid (lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind; dull.). We find this demeaning and we find it a common reaction to those persons who openly display their confusion or misunderstanding of parts or all of S&T. Yes, unfortunately, there are some of us who through a variety of physiological causes suffer cognitive dysfunction. These people have our understanding and compassion. The rest of those often called stupid have, instead, extreme shortages of formal education, especially in basic science, as well as having experienced cold rejection by some in the S&T community. In our opinion this latter situation must be changed if we want increased public awareness and support for S&T.

Coming Soon, Part II: S&T, A Common Cause and Benefit.

CREDITS:

Header Image: Original photo-art by Waddell Robey (c)2010

Lab researcher: Modified clipart from Microsoft. Modification (Traffic sign) added by Waddell Robey.

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

“PUSHING THE ENVELOPE”: Exploration’s Focus!

November 3, 2010

“Pushing the envelope” is not a new phrase to most of us. Upon hearing it, we usually immediately envision daring test pilots, like Chuck Yeager, or all the equally daring and courageous astronauts such as Alan Shepard or Eileen Collins. In reality that phrase pretty well describes the focus of all exploration activities. It is a vital focus that turns curious wanderings or speculations into positive breakthroughs and discoveries.

We selected the image on the left above as our view of what pushing the envelope looks like. It also directly appeals to our belief in the importance of humankind’s efforts to explore deep space; however, these are big, dramatic efforts, and the process or focus is at all levels of human inquisitiveness and endeavor. That is right, most likely every one of us has challenged the status quo, or the rules to advance. When we do it with a high element of personal risk we are truly at the edge of the envelope. Additionally, this focus does not advocate or include recklessness. It does include definite risk taking, and challenging known boundaries as we search the unknown, but it is done in a way that the risks are considered solid investments for the future of humankind. Here are some examples of what we mean:

  • Life Sciences: Certainly a clear example is the current research into the understanding and therapeutic use of human stem cells. The risk is an ethics issue that if left unresolved will ignore one of the greatest potentials to revive and support human health and homeostasis. Another current example is a breakthrough discovery by researchers of a way to strengthen a weakened or weakening heart muscle.
  • Astrobiology: Yes this is related to the Life Sciences group above, but represents a broader and deeper view into the existence of life within the universe. Recent research emphasizes the importance of energy in the beginnings of life here, and essentially throughout the universe.
  • Human Spaceflight: The risks and dangers are both obvious and serious, and we have already seen the benefits of this exploratory focus. A classic and important example is the ongoing International Space Station program that is providing important research in a variety of critical areas. Most importantly the research into what happens to humans as they spend extended periods of time in space where weightlessness and cosmic radiation exposures are critical issues.
  • Personal life challenges: We may not consider these critical, but the simple acts of personal weight control, stopping smoking, making a dramatic career change, stepping forward to speak out against illegal and/or inhuman actions are all examples of personal challenges we accept and carry out. Depending upon the individual, the elements of risk and hazard will vary, but the exploratory focus to find solutions for change is common. In most cases, acts of courage unique to the person are present.
  • All Science: Scientific research regularly pushes the envelope. Now not all scientists push, but within their respective disciplines there are many bold, courageous risk takers carrying forward the exploratory focus. The risks vary from total failure to unexpected and sometimes dangerous outcomes. (a) The physicist Marie Curie was at great personal risk of radiation poisoning. (b)Professor August Raspet of Mississippi State College gave his life to improve our understanding of boundary layer control and laminar air flow in aircraft design. (c) Antarctic Explorer Sir Robert Scott, shared vital data on this polar region and lost his life and that of his fellow explorers in the process. The list is endless and rich with major contributions to all areas of the sciences and, most importantly, to the well-being of humankind.

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” This quote by writer and social philosopher, Kurt Vonnegut, in our mind, clearly defines the exploratory focus. Our schools, our families, our corporations, and our very lifestyles should at least include acknowledgement of this focus, and ideally should make it a central functional theme. This, however, is not enough. Parents, schools, leaders must teach, encourage and support the exploratory urge. In the process we learn about risk, how to assess it, and when to accept it as a partner in our search for new discoveries, new explanations, and a growing body of science. This is how we as humans, have moved forward, and it is vital to us in our efforts to understand the origins of life here, and forever beyond.

Go now to the edge, take a long, deep look, and then “push the envelope.”

CREDITS:

The image of the Heliosphere is courtesy NASA/JPL/CalTech

EVA Image: Astronaut Mark Lee testing EVA safety and rescue systems. Courtesy NASA/JPL –  STS-64