The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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May 2013

BBC – Future – Science & Environment – Why everyone must understand science

Via BBC – Future – Science & Environment – Why everyone must understand science:

People feel excluded by science and debates about science, they use laptops, they fly in planes, use appliances in the home and they don’t know what’s behind this technology. That is a problem, as it turns people into the slaves of our technology. The less people know the more they are likely to be manipulated or influenced by people who may not have their best interests at heart.

I say amen. Articles, conversations, and thoughts about how much science and technology pervade our daily lives always remind me of how much more I want to be blogging about science accessibility. Certainly science education is a part of that, but only a part.

The “Science and Engineering” category on this blog was supposed to be for finding cool science that is going on right now and putting it in accessible terms for the general public. Also to add commentary, speculation, and in general try to be a bridge between the three largely separate discourses of education (via pedagogy), the classroom (via students), and science (via practitioners of science).

Sigh. I can make time, I can make time…



The Role of the Science Classroom in an Enlightened Democracy, Revisited

Below is a revision of my Philosophy of Education paper, which I posted earlier. Many thanks to Dr. Yamila Hussein (Boston Teacher Residency), Dr. Christian Gelzer (NASA Dryden Flight Research Center), and my colleagues in BTR Cohort X for their extensive feedback and suggestions for revision. 

Comments welcome. This document will likely be revised repeatedly over time.

________

The purpose of formulating my philosophy of education is to articulate and thereby organize the core principles around which I will center  my pedagogy. My efforts are toward the establishment of a democratic classroom in which my students acquire scientific literacy. I should state at the outset  that I do not pretend to be objective, only logical — which is not the same thing. In this paper, I begin with personal, core beliefs about the nature of humanity, justice, and democracy. These principles are a product of my social location, and starting from them I then attempt to logically derive what my philosophy of education must be.

This goal is difficult to address without clearly defining what I mean by democracy and scientific literacy1. The latter term I will address later in this paper. For my conceptualization of democracy I will defer to John Dewey, who both sums up my conception of democracy and places education in the context of democracy in the same passage of Democracy and Education:

“If democracy has a moral and ideal meaning, it is that a social return be demanded from all and that opportunity for development of distinctive capacities be afforded all. The separation of these aims in education is fatal to democracy” (Dewey 2004, p 117).

Contained within Dewey’s assertion is that true democracy is not self-sustaining2, nor is the health of a democracy separable from the moral and ideological character of its citizens. To the contrary, Dewey implies that a stable democracy is explicitly contingent upon the existence of equitable development of individual capacity and the parallel development of social consciousness in all citizens.  If rule is to be of, by, and for the people, then it follows that fulfilling the promise of a free, just, and enlightened state depends on the existence of an independent, intellectually critical, and socially conscious electorate made up equitably of all peoples within the state’s domain. Further, in expressly laying the expectation of social return upon the citizens of a democracy, it is necessary that the opportunity to develop the distinctive capacities of each individual be made equitably accessible to all; otherwise, there is no justice in expecting these capacities to exist in all citizens, nor does it follow that they could be then exhorted to service on behalf of one’s community and fellow human beings3.

Once it is agreed that the social contract of democracy requires the development of individual capacity in exchange for an obligation to the common weal (developing common social capacity), I can then assert my view of the purpose of public education: that it is explicitly the function and proper aim of the public education system within a democracy to cultivate these very two qualities in its citizens. Thus,firstly, such a system is contractually bound to develop the distinctive capabilities of every individual who is expected to participate in the democracy; secondly, it must instill a sense of social awareness and impetus for community action that will motivate the application of these distinctive capacities towards the betterment of our shared human condition in the world.

I will consider the aim of developing individual distinctive capacity first, as well as its implications for the role of the education system and the educator.  A student who graduates from the public education system in the possession of developed capacities may be said to have acquired agency – the means and self-knowledge necessary to interpret the world on one’s own terms and to act upon it with intention. However, it stands to reason that the groups, factions, races, etc of people who are in power would, maliciously or not4, see it to their advantage to deny acquisition of agency to those who are perceived to threaten the existing social order. This reason alone is sufficient to subject the public education system, and any public educator acting towards this fundamental aim of education, to suspicion of subversion by the dominant elite.

As Giroux (2008) so poignantly reminds us, “education is always political because it is concerned with the acquisition of agency” (transcript p 1). It should be no surprise that the education system finds itself in a paradox, both politically and existentially. On the one hand, public education must be provided by the state in order to be truly public — that is, accessible by all. Yet, by virtue of the fact that it is a public institution, it is also by definition an arm of the state, which is disproportionately influenced by those with a vested interest in maintaining their dominant position in the hierarchy of society. Truly public education in the context of a democracy cannot (and should not) evade this conflict; the political element is unavoidable for any self-aware public educator acting in good conscience. Education, in spite of – indeed, because of – its immense capacity for liberation and empowerment of all people towards the ideal of our common humanity, is subject to the pervasive influence of the political machinations of those in power at every level.

Within the education system, face to face with the individual student, is the public educator who is the human interface between the institution and the hierarchies that it represents on one side, and the moral imperative for cultivation and liberation of the student on the other.  De los Reyes and Gozemba (2002) provide the blueprint for how educators may use this unique position in the matrices of power to pave the way toward democratic liberation for all students:

“Teachers with a passion for democracy play the central role in pockets of hope. Their commitment to sharing power and engaging themselves and their students in the ‘practice of freedom’ transforms their educational projects from the all too common power-over paradigm to a power-with experience” (p 19).

From this perspective, it is easily to see how the educator is the linchpin, the key link, the daily human contact that mediates ideas about the extent, limits, and legitimacy of power between the greater society and the students’ own growing understanding of themselves and the world. The secret to doing so well, according to De los Reyes and Gozemba (and with whom I agree), is for teachers to deliberately share the power of their unique position with their students in the service of developing their distinctive individual capacities as human beings5.

Towards what end is this liberating power shared and applied? The answer to this question lies in the second aim of public education: the importance of expecting a social return from all in a stable democracy. A fair expectation of reasoned and moral civic engagement by all citizens is certainly predicated upon equity of access to the development of individual agency. But without explicit cultivation of the sense of moral purpose and duty to the common weal, democracy devolves into a mere collection of individual bubbles of social-libertarian, consumerist nihilism — in which short-term interests and instant personal gratification rule and any issue which does not directly affect an individual may be dismissed in a socially legitimized way6.

Such a condition leads to the worst possible manifestation of democracy, a state which Benjamin Franklin wryly described as “two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” He did not, however, leave our general system of government without redemption. Speaking of the importance of minority rights as a co-equal partner to the principle of majority rule, Franklin went on to add: “Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” I think that this distinction is important, especially in an age for which democracy and liberty often seem to be used synonymously. Democracy neither requires nor demands liberty7 – but the claims of the former ring quite hollow indeed without the latter.

Here I am forced to make a rather abstract chain of connections in order to maintain the logical integrity of my primary argument. I will attempt to connect the necessity of liberty in a democracy to the necessity of a proper scientific education in the individual, a task for which I am at a loss as to how it may be accomplished without resort to both epistemology and metaphysics. I assert, without detailed explication, that I believe Immanuel Kant’s Third Conflict of Transcendental Ideas8 solidly establishes that freedom of mind is the only form in which the idea of liberty meets the minimum criteria of ontological self-consistency (Kant 2007). Thus, in order to continue in the vein of pursuing that which ensures liberty as the tempering ingredient of democracy, I must accept that the kind of freedom which would best serve the aims that I have accepted for education and democratic classrooms is freedom of mind. This is a very particular form of freedom, one existentially separate from the conventional use of the word. Bloom (1987) phrases it well, and points to what I mean:

“Freedom of mind requires not only, not even especially, the absence of legal constraints but the presence of alternative thoughts. The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside” (p 249).

How to promote the proliferation of alternate possibilities for explaining what is outside of us? As the final step in this metaphysical bridge, I posit that the primary means by which we as humans have explored and tested the viability of alternative ideas and new possibilities about the world and our place in it is, in fact, science. Science, in forcing us to constantly evaluate and reevaluate our existential position as human beings, is a constant reminder that there is an “outside”, a beyond, an unknown in which we are immersed and towards which we are bound. In other words, science, properly wielded, is freedom of mind. And with that step, hopefully, I find myself on firmer logical footing, now in the realm of exploring what the role of science education should be in the context of my goal of establishing a democratic classroom.

In a modern republic – in which nearly all aspects of ideas and power are governed by, transmitted through, mediated with, and built on science and technology – there can be no true agency without scientific literacy9. Even over a century ago, Dewey foresaw this role for science in the broader context of democratic education when he wrote that “the function which science has to perform in the curriculum is that which it has performed for the race – emancipation” (Dewey 2004, p 221).

Science is both a system of knowledge production and a mindset, a perspective on the world. It is the idea that the universe is knowable, and that our lives can be made better through the deliberate construction of a world that is friendly our shared needs and aspirations. It is the idea that the general may be deduced from the particular – and conversely that specific phenomena are the result of universal and coherent structures which we can both comprehend and extend. Certainly, our perception as human beings is limited, and the social consequences of scientific discoveries are subject to social and political influences. But this only reinforces the idea that science needs to not only be taught as a means of empowerment, but also that the social and moral questions that surround the use and abuse of scientific argument are made clear to students, who are, after all, the developing citizens of our shared democracy.

This desired end state, in which the developing citizen graduates from high school with knowledge of both scientific content and context, is what I mean by the term scientific literacy.  Because many of the respected, high-demand, and skilled professions of the modern world reside in science, engineering, and technology, inequity in opportunity to pursue these professions results in a much wider social disparity beyond just who does or does not do well in a science classroom.

Further, while science is always ostensibly used to help people, it is a tool that can also be wielded for harmful, destructive, or manipulative purposes. Science which is politicized suffers from accusations of manipulative agendas, and the science which touches on contemporary social issues is often labeled as “controversial” or “disputed” by those whose world-view or livelihood is threatened. It is easy to see how the science classroom is politically vulnerable to interests that would reduce it to a safe (and nicely quantifiable) diet of equations, proofs, and rote memorization – all of which symbolize what Freire (2000) called the banking model of education, and which run counter to a democratic and liberating concept of scientific literacy.

The uncomfortable truth is that science cannot ever be de-politicized or de-socialized. Science is always conducted toward some end, and these ends are driven (and funded) based on socio-political objectives and needs. To isolate science from the other disciplines and focus purely on its quantitative aspects is to strip science of its essential humanity, and relegate it to the safe sterility of some abstract laboratory in the public imagination. This dehumanization of the field in effect denies students the civic empowerment of being scientifically literate citizens, regardless of whether or not they go on to become scientists or engineers in their careers. And further, we must recall that there is a faction within society that would be quite happy if equitable access to this form of civic empowerment were denied.

Though scientific literacy is the key to the development of certain important distinctive capacities (and thus the acquisition of agency), it is not enough to simply arm students with the content of science. Bloom (1987) puts it bluntly: “In general, [science] increases man’s power without increasing his virtue, hence increasing his power to do both good and evil” (p 298). If given the power of scientific reasoning, students must also be given the moral tools to make community-based judgments about their own scientific conclusions and those of others in a social context; otherwise, as Dewey warned, the result will be just as fatal to democracy as an ignorant and undeveloped citizenry.

Fortunately, Bloom also points us to the missing link: “Science has broken off from the self-consciousness about science that was the core of ancient science. This loss of self-consciousness is somehow connected with the banishment of poetry” (p 298).  What Bloom laments throughout most of The Closing of the American Mind is the decay of holistic interconnectedness between the academic disciplines – the loss of what he calls the unity of knowledge, the idea that all disciplines, including literature and art, point us in the same direction (toward a metaphysical understanding of the self and the universe), each from its own perspective and domain of inquiry. In light of this observation, I conclude that the manner in which scientific literacy can best be taught in the service of establishing democratic classrooms is one that treats science as it once was: as natural philosophy, the branch of metaphysics – the study of the self as it relates to what is – that can be empirically tested against nature.

Restoring the exploration of science in its original context as natural philosophy reintroduces the element most precious to Freire’s (2000) problem-posing model of education back into science: the quest for an individual sense of place. A problem-posing science classroom, a liberated science classroom, a democratic science classroom can provide: a perspective that the universe is a beautiful and endlessly fascinating arena full of challenge and discovery — and that therefore, on that principle alone, it is worthy of study and exploration; an understanding of the rigorous tools of scientific analysis and inquiry that have allowed us as a species to discard illusions and improve our standard of living; further, a realization that they must use these tools daily as citizens in the modern world as a defense against manipulation by interests who would misrepresent science for self-serving ends; and lastly, a cohesive story of our human quest for truth — the part that has been grounded in empiricism and fueled by curiosity — which has brought us to our present understanding of what we are, where we came from, and where we are going.

This perspective is that which can provide the moral and social context needed to bridge the content of science with the social return that we must expect from citizens in a true democracy. It connects science education to social justice, becoming a means to a larger end, rather than an end in itself.

The train of logic has been thus: Firstly, democracy depends on the development of distinctive capacities in every participant individual, and the cultivation of the  moral context for providing a social return to the common good. It is manifestly the role of the public education system to ensure that these two aims are met in all students as developing participants in a true and just democracy. The educator, as the interface between the student and the matrices of institutional power, has the moral imperative to act toward the liberation of each and every student through the implementation of problem-posing education, resulting in the sharing of power and the acquisition of agency by students. It is observed that, owning to the pervasive role of science and technology in the present condition of the species, it is impossible to have true human agency in a contemporary context without scientific literacy. Further, the scientific mindset itself is one that inherently promotes intellectual emancipation. Thus, the method by which science in the curriculum can be pressed into the service of establishing democratic classrooms (in the sense of Dewey and Freire) is through deliberate action by the public science educator to ensure the acquisition of moral scientific literacy by all students.

The above philosophic argument has at its foundation a certain idea of what democracy is, and what our relationship to each other and the world should be as humans in the context of a democracy.   In an increasingly nihilistic and post-modernist world, a moral argument for how and why I believe science should be taught runs the risk of being perceived as archaic or academically illegitimate. But as Nieto (2003) reminds us, teaching in any holistic sense is inseparable from who we are as people. What I have chosen to believe about the moral nature of the world and human action within it, including the ontological place of the scientific perspective in promoting freedom of mind, leads me inexorably towards placing my philosophy of education in the service of emancipation and in the framework of natural philosophy.

That eminent prophet of science, Carl Sagan, wrote in The Demon-Haunted World:

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light‐years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual” (Sagan 2006, p 29).

I can think of no better intention for a science educator than to instill Sagan’s sense of awe before the universe in every student – indeed, I believe it is the key to unlocking their self-actualization, and a necessary component of their acquisition of agency as the rising citizens of an enlightened democracy.

 

DISPLAY REFERENCES.

Bloom, A. (1987). The Closing of the American Mind: How High Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Dewey, J. (2004). Democracy and Education. New York: Dover. (Originally published in 1916).

De los Reyes, E. and Gozemba, P.A. (2002). Introduction: Education as the Practice of Freedom. In Pockets of Hope: How Students and Teachers Change the World. Westport, Connecticut: Bergin and Garvey.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary Edition. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Ch 2, pp 71-86. (Originally published in 1967).

Garcia-Lopez, S. P. (2002). Swimming against the Mainstream: Examining Cultural Assumptions in the Classroom. In Learning to teach for social justice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. pp 22-29.

Giroux, H. (2008). Rethinking the Promise of Critical Education under an Obama Regime. Interview. December 2008.

Harro, B. (2008). The Cycle of Socialization. In M. Adams, W. Blumenfeld, C. Castañeda, H. Hackman, M. Peters and X. Zúñiga (Eds.), Readings for Diversity and Social Justice. 2nd ed. (2010), New York: Routledge. pp 45-51.

Kant, I. (2007). Antithetic of Pure Reason. In M. Weigelt (Translator), Critique of Pure Reason. New York: Penguin Classics. Second division, book II, chapter II, section II, pp 378-484. (First published in Prussia, 1781).

Lee, S.J. (2008).  Model Minorities and Perpetual Foreigners: The Impact of Stereotyping on Asian American Students.  In M. Sadowski (Ed.), Adolescents at school: Perspectives on Youth, Identity, and Education.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard Education Press.  Ch 4, pp 74-83.

Nieto, Sonia. (2003). Teaching as Autobiography. In What keeps teachers going? New York: Teachers College Press. Ch 2, pp 22-36.

Tatum, B.D. (2000). The Complexity of Identity: Who Am I? In M. Adams, W. Blumenfeld, C. Castañeda, H. Hackman, M. Peters and X. Zúñiga (Eds.), Readings for Diversity and Social Justice. 2nd ed. (2010), New York: Routledge. pp 8-14.

Sagan, C. (1996). The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Ballantine.

Suarez-Orozco, C., Quin, D.B., & Amthor, R.F. (2008).  Adolescents from Immigrant Families: Relationships and Adaptations at School.  In M. Sadowski (Ed.), Adolescents at School: Perspectives on Youth, Identity, and Education.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard Education Press. Ch 3.

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Footnotes:

Show 9 footnotes

  1. Strictly, I would have to go further and establish what I believe to be democracy’s legitimacy and role in human life, but we have to start with some givens and anyway that would be an alarmingly long paper.
  2. I would go further and say that nor is it stable, particularly when coupled with neo-liberal capitalism.
  3. The ethical basis for why people should be exhorted to some degree of altruism at all is a philosophical matter on which I have many strong opinions. However, again, establishing an adequate basis for this belief in this paper would distract from the main point.
  4. Indeed, even consciously or not.
  5. Sharing power does not have to mean giving them complete control over the classroom. Students, as developing adults, need a fair amount of structure and guidance. The real question is, in what ways can we give students a sense of ownership and agency in their education that are meaningful and productive?
  6. By all evidence, we are actually already here. The society we have created and currently live in is straight out of a 1970s cyberpunk dystopia, mingled with everything Nietzsche feared and despised in a consumerist bourgeoisie. As much as I share a measure of Nietzsche’s contempt, I find it hard to blame the general population for disaffection when our society has given them no reason whatsoever to believe in the social contract. However, I have to believe that there is always hope and that it is worth fighting for; because, after all, that is kind of the point of this paper.
  7. Witness, as but one example, the horrifying (but quite democratic) erosions of our civil liberties in the name of security.
  8. One of my millions of pending projects is to see if there is a way to mesh the intellectual philosophy of Kant with a contemporary interpretation of the social philosophy of Buddhism, thus strengthening this connection.
  9. In order to focus on science education, I am largely ignoring for the moment the role of the arts and humanities in ensuring a holistic sense of self. That scientific literacy is necessary for individual emancipation does not make it sufficient, a criticism of early drafts to which I readily concede. If we want to get all Kantian, I would say that scientific literacy is the key to agency about what is knowable about the world, external to the self, or empirical. The arts and humanities provide the co-equal component of agency through knowledge of the self, or the exploration of what is knowable a priori.


Waves Project: Earthquakes and Tsunamis

[Note: Scroll down to the Files section for downloadable lesson/project materials.]

Background

I’ve been reading and learning a lot this year about the benefits of incorporating authentic tasks, project based learning, data, analysis, synthesis, and scientific discourse into the classroom. As we approach the end of the year, I’ve finally felt confident enough to try putting together my own project to fit with the principles I want to apply in my physics classroom.

Today is Day 1… I’ll post again with a reflection on how the whole thing goes.

This project is taking place about halfway through our unit on Waves — after mechanical waves but before electromagnetic waves. My hope is that students would be able to apply what they have learned to an authentic task that mimicked how science is really used to study the world and try to help people.

I want to emphasize that I am still near the end of my BTR residency year and M.Ed. program while designing this project. This is the first time that I attempted designing a project of this scale, and also the first time teaching it. I would definitely appreciate any feedback or suggestions for further refinement.

Project Overview

The project is based on the 2004 Sumatra Earthquake and Tsunami that devastated much of South East Asia. Students are given an introduction to earthquakes and tsunamis, provided with a project overview handout, and shown some video clips and photos.

Students are told that a massive earthquake and tsunami scenario has just occurred in the Indian Ocean, and that their lab groups are an investigative team that will be responsible for constructing a “What Happened” story using scientific analysis. Each team is assigned a particular city of interest: Banda Aceh (Indonesia), Chennai (India), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Mogadishu (Somalia), Padang (Indonesia), or Trincomalee (Sri Lanka).

The first part of the Work Packet involves background reading in the textbook 1, interpretation questions, and group discussion. The teams then receive two “technical memos”: one from the USGS National Earthquake Information Center, and one from the NOAA Tsunami Program. The data, properly interpreted, allow students to calculate the basic features of the earthquake p-waves and s-waves as well as some properties of the tsunami wave (such as arrival time at various cities, difference in speed and amplitude between open ocean and shore, etc). The third component of the project is an interpretation and discussion segment, followed by a final poster to present the final conclusions.

Design

This section describes my thought process and sources while putting together the project.

Lesson plans for every day of the project include silent individual work and think time. This is an access issue — many students prefer and may even require individual reflection and a chance to organize their thoughts before being ready to participate in group work.

I also have planned time into each day to allow for class-wide or group discussion designed to share information between groups, make sense of new vocabulary or concepts as a class, and engage in dialogue. Video clips, photographs, and eyewitness accounts from the real 2004 Sumatra disaster are also used to engage and interest students, as well as to maintain connections to the big ideas about how science is used in the real world.

Alignment With Standards

As per UbD philosophy, I started with the standards for which I wanted students to show evidence of applied knowledge. Based on where we were in the unit, I selected the following Massachusetts Physics Framework standards for focus:

  • 4.1 Describe the measurable properties of waves (velocity, frequency, wavelength, amplitude, period) and explain the relationships among them. Recognize examples of simple harmonic motion.
  • 4.3 Distinguish between the two types of mechanical waves, transverse and longitudinal.
  • 4.5 Recognize that mechanical waves generally move faster through a solid than through a liquid and faster through a liquid than through a gas.

And though they are not yet binding on BPS, I figured while I was at it to take a look at the relevant Next Generation Science Standards as well. I did not consider NGSS when designing the project; these suggested alignments are made in retrospect.

NGSS Dimension 1 – Practices2:

  • Practice 1 – Asking Questions
  • Practice 4 – Analyzing and Interpreting Models
  • Practice 6 – Constructing Explanations

NGSS Dimension 3 – Core Ideas3:

  • HS-PS4-1. Use mathematical representations to support a claim regarding relationships among the frequency, wavelength, and speed of waves traveling in various media.

 Technical Aspects

Nearly all scientific and technical information that I used concerning the physics of earthquakes/tsunamis, including how they are studied and measured, was found at the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program and the NOAA Tsunami webpages. Specifics for the 2004 Sumatra earthquake and tsunami, which formed the baseline data set I started from, were either directly on, or linked from, the USGS 2004 Sumatra quake page and the NOAA Center for Tsunami Research.

Earthquake p-wave travel times were estimated based on data from the USGS National Earthquake Information Center. S-wave arrival times were estimated using a base speed of 4.5 km/s, and then adjusted lower based on the distance from the epicenter to the arrival point. This accounts for the fact that both P and S waves move faster through the deeper layers of the earth.

My initial thought was to have students interpret a real seismogram trace from the USGS archives. However, I had to balance the complexity of teaching/learning all the features of a real trace with the objectives of the project. Since the point of the project was to learn about and apply knowledge of waves (not earth science per se), I decided to sacrifice some realism of the seismology aspect and focus on wave physics.

I made my own simplified seismogram trace in Matlab using a base sine function for each of the p-waves and s-waves. Wave parameters (amplitude, frequency) were taken from representative values for the Sumatra quake. Both waveforms were then perturbed with an additional, superposed sine wave with a randomized small amplitude, in order to give the waveform the look of “real” noisy data. I know it doesn’t quote look like a real seismogram trace would (especially the duration), but again, my focus for now was to see how they handle interpreting the wave information.

Tsunami arrival times were estimated from a simulated reconstruction of the wavefront propagation done by Japan’s AIST.

Surface distances from the epicenter (3.316°N, 95.854°E) to the selected cities of interest were calculated using the Latitude/Longitude Distance Converter from the National Weather Service.

Tsunami heights reaching the shores of the selected cities were eyeballed from a mix of published simulation results and from Googling eyewitness accounts and field reports.

Files

I would love to hear back from anyone who uses these! Feedback, comments, and areas for improvement would be greatly appreciated.

(Note: Only the most recent versions of each file are shown. The changelog is below, and see the comments thread for the thought process. I would be happy to share old versions by request, though bear in mind that there is usually a good reason I would take the time to update them.)

If you make use of these materials, please consider leaving a comment or contacting me with your thoughts. 

CHANGELOG:

v130522 – original project files

v130606 – revisions made after trying it on three blocks of junior-level high school physics:

  • Data: Earthquake waveform made more realistic. (Though this is still greatly simplified.)
  • Data: p/s-waves lumped together into body waves, then surface waves added.
  • Data: body wave arrival times distributed around assumption of  7.1 km/s
  • Data: surface wave arrival times distributed around assumption of 3.8 km/s (down from about 5 km/s)
  • Data: separation of non-related sentences (reduce confusion).
  • Work Packet: adjusted to ask for body waves and surface waves instead.
  • Work Packet: rephrasing to be more specific about what is being asked.
  • Rubric: tightened the difference between Partial and Acceptable (was very wide before)
  • Rubric: added point values
  • Rubric: more specific phrasings
  • Rubric: moved 5% of weight from poster to teamwork/participation
  • Added Matlab waveform generator .m script and .fig file. (You should be able to run this in Octave too if you change the % comment markers to #. The plot commands probably won’t work.)

Acknowledgements

Many of the resources available at Tools for Ambitious Science Teaching (particularly the Discourse Tools) were enormously helpful in the planning process for this project. Additionally, the GRASPS method of planning a rich learning task (part of the Understanding By Design framework) was used to lay out and organize the initial ideas, as part of the full UbD plan for the unit.

Also many thanks are due to my BTR co-resident Akil Srinivasan, my residency collaborating teacher Sotiris Pentidis (Boston Community Leadership Academy), and my clinical teacher educator Andrea Wells (Boston Teacher Residency).

 

Show 3 footnotes

  1. We are using CPO Science’s Physics: A First Course this year.
  2. I haven’t really sat down and scoured these for intended implementation. My claim of alignment is based on the summary descriptions in the Framework.
  3. As much as I love many aspects of the NGSS, I am disappointed that the Core Ideas dimension contains wave physics almost solely in a technology/application context. This is the only “pure” wave standard I found.


Saddle Up

Today was our last Science Content Methods course, which was a little sad. Not too much though, since I know I will be continuing to work with my classmates as colleagues and friends for quite awhile yet. One thing that was really nice was the opening of our “time capsule” of sorts. Last summer, in the third week of the program (seems like a decade ago), we wrote ourselves letters to be opened at the end of the year.  Here’s mine:

scan0002

 

Wherever you find yourself, there you are.

(Live truthfully in your given circumstances.)

Saddle up.

 



Review of “Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction” (Anthology)

Menial: Skilled Labor in Science FictionMenial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction by Kelly Jennings (editor)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Crossed Genres has released a great collection in MENIAL. Rating an anthology is always difficult, because my ratings for individual stories tend to vary. I would really like to give MENIAL a 3.5; alas, that is not an option, so I’ll go conservative and 3 it is.

Here’s the good. Firstly, I LOVE the theme of the anthology. MENIAL focuses on the people whose lives, hopes, struggles, and dreams would never have crossed the minds of the bridge crew of the Enterprise. They are the common folk, the laborers. The sometimes reviled, but more often ignored. And they are always at the mercy of the exploitation of those at the top of the food chain, and their own vulnerability to the vagaries of chance. Secondly, as with all of what Crossed Genres publishes, MENIAL features characters whose meta-identities are disproportionately ignored or invisible in the greater tapestry of speculative fiction (in authentic ways at least). By these I mean anyone but straight, cis, able-bodied, rich, anglophone, white males. Not that such characters (or writers) are bad or need be eliminated from the genre, I hardly mean that at all. Just that their stories should not be 99% of the stories being told. CG does a fine job of advancing the genre on that front, and MENIAL is no exception.

For the above reasons alone, I strongly recommend taking a look at this anthology, especially if you are a writer. Exposure to the perspectives of the speculative working class and the conflicts of identity presented herein will make your own reading and writing more aware of all facets of the human element.

Here is my complaint. I’m not one who believes that “speculative fiction” means that you can do whatever you want. Believable worlds (even imaginary ones) must be self-consistent, and I believe many of the stories in the anthology fall short on that count. Advancing diversity in the genre should not come at the price of diluted rigor.

Science fiction should most certainly speculate on what we think could be true; and certainly no holds barred on anything we do not know for sure cannot be true. But if you are writing fiction that blatantly violates known laws of physics, chemistry, or biology, there had better be a damn good (and explained) reason. Fantasy is not exempt: superheroes, wizards, and Jedi all must use their powers in particular ways, which are governed by rules that create consistent limitations (and interesting plot points).

As one example, if your story takes place in an asteroid belt (especially ours), then it is ludicrously improbable that one could be suddenly hit by one. The asteroids are hundreds of thousands of kilometers apart, with relative velocities perhaps in the tens of kilometers per second or less. It is highly unlikely that you would even be able to see another asteroid while flying near any particular one, and you’d have days or weeks to see one coming (especially with the level of technology required to have private spacecraft flying around). You’d have to intentionally try to hit one, and it it would be difficult to do so. This is simple math on facts that are not hard to look up. I’ll leave it there with this one example, but I highlighted close to forty instances.

In several stories, it was never really explained why such menial positions exist for humans at all, given the level of technology explicit or implicit in the milieu. Though several of these stories had interesting characters and consistent science and technology, it was hard to concentrate on the story when the engineering part of my brain would remind me every page or two that “we already have robots that could do this… faster, cheaper, and better.” This is of course a hugely unexplored consequence of the future trajectory of the “knowledge economy.” As Pournelle says, if you invent a technology that drives the truck for you, what do you do with the truck driver? No doubt this made writing stories for MENIAL quite difficult.

Props to the following specific stories that I thought did an excellent job of seamlessly integrating the theme into a solid story without sacrificing rigor or consistency:

  • Thirty-Four Dollars, by M. Bernnardo
  • Storage, by Matthew Cherry
  • The Belt, by Kevin Bennet (though I question the effect of one major collision)
  • Air Supply, by Sophie Constable
  • Leviathan, by Jasmine M. Templet<
  • The Heart of the Union, by Dany G. Zuwen (absolutely fascinating projection of nanobot technology into military use)
  • Ember, by Sabrina Vourvoulias

Props to the following specific stories that I thought did an exceptional job of rendering believable, authentic characters who promote diversity in science fiction without being gratuitous:

  • Thirty-Four Dollars, by M. Bernnardo
  • A Tale of a Fast Horse, by Sean Jones
  • Carnivores, by A.D. Spencer
  • Snowball the Rabbit Was Dead, by Angeli Primlani
  • Storage, by Matthew Cherry
  • Ember, by Sabrina Vourvoulias

And double props to the following stories which made at least one of the above lists AND did it through great prose (i.e., the writing itself was also enjoyable):

  • A Tale of a Fast Horse, by Sean Jones
  • Leviathan, by Jasmine M. Templet
  • The Heart of the Union, by Dany G. Zuwen
  • Ember, by Sabrina Vourvoulias

I note that Ember is the only one to make all three lists. I wish it were more science fiction than fantastic, but I can’t argue with how much I appreciated it as a work of speculative short fiction.

I will conclude with a positive as well. MENIAL has definitely been a strong influence on the process of planning a novella/novel I am working on, through which I am attempting to explore social justice issues projected forward into a near-future, space colonization setting. As one of my main characters would probably fit in with many of the protagonists in MENIAL, it’s easy to see how I have this anthology to thank for many new ideas which are now simmering.

In sum, notwithstanding my ranting about consistency, I think that MENIAL is worth the read (especially for the particular stories that I called out) and also to support the diversification of the genre.

View all my reviews



Lesson Plan: Intro to Parallel Circuits

I’ve been wanting to upload more lesson plans and materials that I think worked well — like everything else, its just a matter of finding the time.

BACKGROUND

The attached are a lesson plan and a handout for how I did the introduction to parallel circuits. At this point in the unit, we had already covered the conceptual understanding of what voltage, current, and resistance area. We had already covered Ohm’s Law as well, both activity-based and mathematically.

I have removed the following from the lesson plan:

  • Mention of or planning for individual students. Normally, in addition to planning for all students in general, I am preparing for particular students who tend to need additional prodding to focus, often have clarification questions, or perhaps need additional language assistance. 
  • The section on planning for individual students with learning disabilities, since the plans would necessarily detail confidential information about my students.

 

My students had not done series circuits yet. The decision to start with parallel came after some thought — I wondered if there are good reasons why series circuits a usually taught first. I really couldn’t think of any that didn’t also have an analog on the parallel side. For example, in a series circuit, it is usually intuitive why the current is the same through all components (there is only one path for the charges to take).

However, understanding why the voltage drops in a series circuit have to add up to the total battery voltage (proportional to their resistances) requires more thought (and a good understanding of what voltage physically is). On the other hand, in a parallel circuit, the idea that the current in each branch should sum to the total entering and leaving the battery is easy to visually demonstrate. But why should the voltage across all components never change, no matter how many you add or remove (within reason)?

I figured it was six one way, half a dozen the other and went with parallel first for the novelty.

FILES

These are free to use, modify, and distribute. Please credit me and/or this blog if you use it for something, and I’d love to hear any revision suggestions for next year or reports on how it went with other students! 

Lesson3.1A-ParallelCircuits [pdf]

Lesson3.1A-Handout [pdf]

ANALYSIS

Students in general pieced the important concepts together well. One thing that surprised me was that one group seemed to be able to use the data they were getting in the lesson to validate an incorrect model of parallel circuits: that it was always the closest resistor to the battery that got the most current. I realized 1) that this was not a student idea that I had anticipated, and 2) that the setup of the lab allowed this alternative conception to be reinforced (note that the resistor with lower resistance is, in fact, closer to the battery on the circuit diagram).

I asked that group to test out their idea by swapping the resistor positions, telling them to predict what would happen first. They conferred and said that “it was probably about fifty-fifty” on whether or not their theory would be disproven by the new data. They were able to discover that the current depends only on the relative value of the resistances.

I then reframed the post-activity discussion to center on this student reasoning/discovery instead of my originally planned questions. In a way, this was serendipitous — I got students to demonstrate for their peers what real science looks like. We have an initial model that attempts to explain something we observe, we ask ourselves what we need to do to validate that model, we attempt validation, and then revise our model. That meta lesson was possibly more important in the long run than the actual content of parallel circuits.

The next day, we followed up with discussion, reading, and applying mathematical relations to what we learned in the exploratory activity.




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