Monday, October 25, 2010

Elections in Lake County - Choose Bond and Seals

As the midterm election comes up on us next week, we must make important choices at both the state and national level for Congress. It is a period where being an incumbent, and this is something that appears to be crossing party lines, is toxic, regardless of the record of certain individuals. We are seeing as emotional a period as I have witnessed in my 41 years of life, to be sure.

If you live in Illinois State Senate District 31, I would urge you to vote for Michael Bond. He has done what he promised when he ran four years ago to become the first Democrat from the district to win the seat. He is a finance expert who has good ideas to help fight the state budget crisis...I just wish he was in the leadership and had some control of the agenda, for he is the type who does not care who comes up with a good idea - a good idea is a good idea, and the time for political games is OVER. He is serious about doing what is right for the state and for the district.

For Congress, the Illinois 10th district will hopefully, and finally, go to Dan Seals. I met Dan and have talked with numerous people who know him, and I am convinced he is an honorable man, who like Michael, wants to do what is right for the state and the nation. Both men have kids the same age as mine, and they have their hearts and minds in the right place. They will do what they think is right, and have it in them to oppose the leadership if need be. Their kids' futures depend on what they will end up voting for or against, and they understand that responsibility.

Vote Michael Bond and Dan Seals!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Fantastic Video About Educational Paradigm Shift

Sir Ken Robinson gave a lecture about the reasons we need an educational paradigm shift for the age of globalization, which breaks from the current system built for the industrial age. It is a wonderful animated video! Do check it out.

Keep in mind there are no solutions offered as to how to implement the new paradigm into classroom learning and teaching, but I think this is precisely the type of presentation needed for policymakers, the vast majority of whom never have taught and continue to call for 'reform' that is simply a variation on a theme of the status quo industrial model. Even Race to the Top is stuck in standardization mode, so it will also likely fail to produce any changes in achievement, just as No Child Left Behind has failed to see any real improvements in academic achievement of children. When will the politicians see the light that many educators have already seen for some time????

Thanks to Zenpundit for linking to this and making me aware of it!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

"The Simple" Tend to be Not So Simple

What could be more basic or common in life than stepping up to a drinking fountain and taking a sip of water. A stream of water becomes a fluid projectile, and it lands on the metal surface of the fountain, splashing a bit, but nothing too extreme. At least, nothing too extreme at a first, quick glance.

I do an activity from time to time with students, as well as science teacher colleagues at some past workshops, where we reproduce the water fountain experience in an even simpler way. Simply take a large beaker full of water and pour it gently on a hard surface. When one does this and then begins to observe what happens a little more closely, they quickly realize there is more to this event. First, a smooth circular region appears around where the stream of water lands on the surface, and then at a certain radius, the water level dramatically lifts up. This is the well-known hydraulic jump. Most people have never paid attention to water from a faucet landing in their sinks at home, so this tends to be a surprise. But then, I will ask the students or colleagues to do something else. Make a list of any variables you can think of where the size and pattern you see could be changed. That is, what could the hydraulic jump depend on, and what are the variables you could select to investigate in controlled experiments to better understand this feature of fluid flow? Here is one list that developed from this simple demonstration of a hydraulic jump:

• The amount of water in the stream, or ‘jet,’ being poured out of the cup – this is the flow rate of the water;
• The height the water is poured from the cup – this determines the energy and speed at which the water hits the surface;
• The diameter of the stream coming down to the surface;
• The temperature of the water;
• The temperature of the surface;
• The material the surface is made from;
• Whether the surface is horizontal or sloped relative to the ground;
• The type of liquid being poured – one student said syrup being poured would look very different compared to water, so this would refer to viscosity;
• The strength of gravity – some students predicted the jump would look different if this experiment were performed on the Moon;
• Whether the surface is still or rotating;
• Whether the stream of water was laminar flow versus turbulent flow before hitting the surface;
• Whether the stream hit perpendicular to the surface or at another angle relative to the surface;
• The topology of the surface – differences would likely appear if there was a curve to the surface, instead of being flat;
• If there were any barriers or obstacles on the surface close to where the stream hit the surface;
• If there was more than one stream of water coming down – what would the consequences be if there were multiple, interacting hydraulic jumps?
• The size of the surface;
• If there were any horizontal vibrations of the surface;
• If there were any vertical vibrations of the surface.

Again, this long list catches even colleagues by complete surprise. After all, this is a very "simple" physical event - water pouring onto a surface. A simple pattern appears. But when one begins to really think about the phenomenon, clearly it is more complicated than one could initially imagine.

This is a wonderful way to get students to a new level of observation and thought. It is a wonderful way to get someone out of a textbook way of thinking and step into the complexities of reality. And I am a firm believer that getting students to be able to identify and accept more complexity than what is allowed for in standard textbooks at younger ages (such as in high school, if not middle school) is something we should look to be doing in education. I personally was not exposed to this way of thinking until my second year in college, and I regretted it because I realized I had been missing out on almost being forced to think more creatively about problems and analysis.

While it is vital to simplify problems by making assumptions and approximations, if for any other reason to be able to gain initial insights into the physical system and actually solve the resulting mathematics that appear in the theoretical models,
what we overlook by NOT considering the complexity include second- and third-order effects that can collect together to cause subtle differences in the system when compared to theoretical models. These higher-order effects are also regions to explore for new discoveries and insights into deeper, better models of how the world work. And beyond that, it allows students to have to think about how they could design experiments to test the effects of variables never considered in the textbook, and this usually requires the students to be innovative and creative in trying to solve such design challenges. If the students then actually try the experiments they develop on paper, they then have to troubleshoot their experiment, which inevitably does not work the first time they set it up.

Complexity is all around us, even in what we would categorize as the most "simple" systems. In an age where creativity and advanced problem solving is in decline even though such skills are some of the most important to have in this day and age, educators should not be shy about pointing out how to break-down the 'simple' to find the complex, and then allow the student to attack the complex and unknown with abandon, developing new ideas and getting their hands dirty trying out their ideas. There is A LOT to be learned by all involved in such a dynamic process!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Single Story - Leading to Bias and Sterotypes

There is so much to the old saying, "Variety is the spice of life." Exposing oneself to variety of any kind allows him or her to see the world in multiple ways. Possibilities to compare and contrast, to learn, to experience, and to react exist when one expands their knowledge of the world. But so many individuals do not take the time to go out of their way to expose themselves to variety in any aspect of life. When this happens, and individuals only experience one way of doing something or one way of thinking about something, that is, only see one story, then any variety that may exist escapes their view and cannot influence their thoughts and feelings in any way. Without such variety, it is easy to fall into the very human traps of bias and stereotypes.

Nigerian-born author Chimamanda Adichie does a beautiful job of capturing the essence of the single story, and the dangers in thought it presents. A lack of exposure to new ideas, new cultures, trips to locations never before traveled, new stories, and variety in any way, restricts thought and the notion of other possibilities. Too often bias and prejudice are the results due to a mindset that prevents one from making a realization that 'one size does NOT fit all.' Adichie offers personal stories to make such a case, and I find her story compelling and thought-provoking, as well as convincing. I recommend watching her presentation, and keeping an open mind that variety exists in all areas of life.