The Very Spring and Root

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

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We Need More Science Teachers

One more video posted from BTR, this one an interview on science teaching in particular and why we need more science teachers.

Hauben’s “Above the Standard” is Timely, Poignant, and Beautiful

The title piece involves hundreds of #2 pencils, each hammered into it's designated place.
The title piece involves hundreds of #2 pencils, each hammered into it’s designated place. No metaphors there, certainly.

I rarely think of contemporary fine art as engaging or inspiring, let alone speaking to something real and relevant in society. Too much post-modernism perhaps. But Ari Hauben‘s solo art show ABOVE THE STANDARD recently set me straight on the gritty power of art in today’s modern world. From his site:

ABOVE THE STANDARD (an education in the art of Mr. Hauben) is a solo art show created by Ari Hauben, an artist and Boston Public School art teacher, which responds to the detrimental effects of the increasingly standardized and mechanized worlds of education and society.

Hauben investigates this theme through installations and artwork created from the very things we usually associate with standard education: desks, tests, grades, etc. In addition this examination will lead the public through different styles of Hauben’s multimedia works which cover a broad spectrum of topics, styles, and materials that reflect his creative response to working “above the standards” and the positive outcome that can occur when operating outside these confines in all aspects of society.

Much of the floor is made of the infamous Scantron answer sheets, placing visitors literally "above the standard".
Much of the floor is made of the Scantron bubble sheets, placing visitors literally “above the standard”.

For example, Hauben’s show includes mixed media paintings on canvas made of the infamous Scantron multiple-choice answer sheets, and installations that depict children either being molded into conformity or playfully casting it aside. In many parts of the gallery, visitors are literally “above the standard” while walking on multiple choice bubble sheets.

(For some reason, Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” kept playing in my head…)

In addition to the artwork that criticizes the increasing standardization of education, Hauben’s show includes a blend of street and pop art works depicting inspirational figures such as Sally Ride, made on intricate mathematical equations and complex scientific texts. In this way he also shows the beautiful power of education to uplift and explore, if we let it.

The show is especially personal to Hauben, as in addition to working as a practicing artist, he is also a Boston Public art teacher at a high school for students with learning disabilities. As an urban public school teacher myself, I’m not sure how he finds the time, but I am inspired by his example!

The gallery hosting ABOVE THE STANDARD is in a converted space at 50 Melcher St in Fort Point. Walk east from South Station on Spring St, across the bridge into Southie. Take the first right after the bridge onto Melcher St. The gallery is on the left hand side, just before you reach A Street.

The show was originally to close on June 1, but Hauben has extended it through June 15th. Thursday and Friday 5-10pm, Saturday 12-6pm, Sunday 12-5pm.

For those interested in the politics that are ravaging our public schools, or just seeing some great and relevant art, I definitely recommend stopping by.

If you go, be sure to add the name of your favorite teacher to the giant chalkboard wall:

Visitors are greeted with a giant chalkboard wall, on which they are invited to write the name of their favorite teacher.
Visitors are greeted with a giant chalkboard wall, on which they are invited to write the name of their favorite teacher.

Love it.

Lesson Plan: Conservation of Energy using a Music Video

Lesson 2.2: Exploring Conservation of Energy

Unit: Work and Energy, Component 2 – Conservation of Energy
Date: January 10th, 2013
Day/Block: Day 1 –  A/E/F
Time Available: A 58min / E 48min / F 65min

You will be able to design and analyze a Rube Goldberg Machine using the Law of Conservation of Energy.

Criteria for Success:
Can I design my own machine that transfers mechanical energy between objects through work?

Can I use the Law of Conservation of Energy to explain how my design transfers energy?

Handout with machine design and analysis questions.


[10 min] DoNow:

The complicated chain of events in the music video is called a “Rube Goldberg Machine”. These machines use many transfers of energy between a whole lot of objects in order to do a very simple task.

Invent your own small (2 objects) Rube Goldberg machine. How would you use one object to make another object do something else? Where is there work and energy? How does one object transfer energy to another?


[10 min] Discussion: Music Video

Show OK Go’s music video for “This Too Shall Pass”: (4 min)

Note: Watching the video was assigned as homework the previous night, along with the following guided questions: Where do you see work? Where do you see energy being transferred from one form to another? Write down at least 1 example (note the video time), and make sure to explain what object is doing work on what other object, what kind of energy is being transferred, and how you know.

Talk to a partner next to you and share 1 example of work and energy being transferred from one object to another. I will ask several students to share an observation that their partner noticed, and explain to me what object is having work done on it and what kinds of energy are involved.

Possible questions to ask:
What did you see? Be specific, tell me what happened to the object that makes you think there was work done. What kinds of energy do you think that the object has?  How do you know that the object has that kind of energy?

Record student observations on the whiteboard.

[15 min] In-Depth Analysis: Tire

Show video clip of the tire section twice (7 second clip starting at 1:03). Ask students to write down exactly what they see happening to the tire. Have students share their observations, and assemble a record of the tire’s journey on the board to refer to later.  (Make sure that the bucket hitting the tire is included.)  Hand out the worksheet for scaffolded analysis of the tire scenario.

Refer to your handout. Take 30 seconds to answer the first question by yourself. Ask one student to share what they wrote with the class.
1. At the beginning of the scenario, does the tire already have mechanical energy? If so, what form(s) is it in, and how do you know?

Take two minutes to answer questions 2 and 3 with a partner.  Ask one or two pairs to share, depending on time.
2. During the scenario, is work done on the tire by any other object?  Is this work positive or negative, and how do you know?
3. What happens to the tire’s total mechanical energy when the work is done to it?

Take four minutes to answer questions 4 and 5 with a partner. Ask one or two pairs to share, depending on time.
4. Describe what happens to the tire’s GPE, KE, and total ME as it goes through the scenario.
5.  What happens to the tire’s mechanical energy at the end of the scenario?

[15 min] Creative Activity: Design and Analyze

Turn over your handout. Now you have a chance to design your own Rube Goldberg machine! Draw your machine in the space provided, and use the Tire Analysis as a guide to answer the analysis questions below. The questions are due tomorrow for stamps. If you don’t finish in class, please complete the analysis questions as homework.

6. Draw your own piece of this Rube Goldberg Machine that uses 1 object. You must include at least 1 transfer of energy from one object to another.

7. What is your main object in this scenario? :

8. Describe what happens to your object’s GPE, KE, and total ME as it goes through the scenario beginning to end..

9. Where is work done on your object or by your object? How does this work change your object’s total mechanical energy?

10. Explain how your machine obeys the Law of Conservation of Energy, MEi + W = MEf.

What is 21st Century Education?

In PD last week, we watched this video as a precursor to a discussion on how to incorporate more leadership skills into our school curricula and activities:

I love this; it’s a great visual montage of data is continuing to change.  To me this is among the best arguments for designing curricula that go well beyond what we simply want students to know. Because knowledge itself is changing so quickly (and so instantly and comprehensively searchable now to boot), the value of content knowledge for it’s own sake has become necessarily rather dilute.

My only complaint with this video is that it makes it seem like the disconnect between rote content instruction and more authentic learning is some recent deficiency in how we approach education, brought on by the sudden techno-boom of the 21st century. This is not a recent problem which we have been merely a little slow in recognizing.

While the contemporary world certainly comes with unique challenges that we cannot ignore, great minds in education have long railed against the futility of teaching nothing but facts and expecting the process to result in authentically well-educated individuals.

In 1968, Paulo Freire wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

Education this becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. […] [The students] do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers [sic] of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart of inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. [pg 72]

In 1916, John Dewey wrote in his collection of essays, Democracy and Education:

Why is it, in spite of the fact that teaching by pouring in, learning by passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so entrenched in practice? That education is not an act of “telling” and being told, but an active and constructive process, is a principle almost as generally violated in practice as conceded in theory. [pg 38, III. “Education as Direction”]

That science may be taught as a set of formal and technical exercises is only too true. This happens whenever information about the world is made an end in itself. The failure of such instruction to procure culture is not, however, evidence of the antithesis of natural knowledge to humanistic concern, but evidence of a wrong educational attitude. [pg 219, XVII. “Science in the Course of Study”]

So even without cellphones, YouTube, and Google, these educators (writing 45 and 97 years ago, respectively) understood that a good education (and particularly for Dewey, a good science education) cannot be measured in units of facts-retained.

So why hasn’t anything changed in at least a hundred years or so? What Freire calls the “banking” model of education continues to be the bread and butter of mainline K-12 pedagogy — driven not by teachers, but by the archaic curriculum standards to which they are beholden. Of what value is the ability to regurgitate Newton’s Laws on an exam if the student’s curiosity and ability to engage with humanity’s understanding of the world is left underdeveloped? To be sure, content and curiosity are not mutually exclusive. But in the presence of so much negative pressure from quantitative standards and positive pressure from the ease of rote instruction, where is the weighting of that balance going to inevitably lean?

With the onset of the kind of change highlighted in the video, the imperative for “21st century education” does not become any different, though it certainly becomes all the more emphatic. When Dewey set up his University of Chicago Schools near the end of the 19th century, I think it likely that he made many of the same kinds of arguments that we are making in the early years of the 21st. That means that at least several generations of the status quo have passed by since this idea was proposed. What shall we do now, in the times we have been given?

Creative Engineering

“We believe that technology plus creativity equals art and innovation.”

– Adam Sadowsky.

Neat talk by Sadowsky at Google ZeitGeist on some of the crazily creative engineering projects that they have put together recently. Who says science and engineering folks don’t have an artistic side?

And I actually have an indirect connection to the work these guys do… A few of my former colleagues at NASA Dryden competed as Team Aerospace on the show Unchained Reactions: Fire and Ice. I was actually originally on the team as well, but couldn’t make the filming dates due to the fact that a play I was acting in was opening that weekend!

Anyway, their innovative ideas got noticed by others, and they’ve been working with Brett Doar (the guy doing the demonstration at the end of this video) on some upcoming big-budget ads (which they can’t tell us about yet).

Ken Robinson: Schools Kill Creativity [TED Talk]

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson challenges the way we’re educating our children. He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” (Ken Robinson)