MARS

2016 TV Series produced by National Geographic

I finished a two-season TV show last night, “MARS.” What’s most interesting about the program is its play between documentary and drama, separated by 17 years. The drama is a mission to the red planet, the intent of which is starting a colony. There are no return tickets. They will either find water and protection from solar radiation or they won’t, and will perish. With two seasons, the outcome of is apparent.

Season one is on Netflix and season two on the National Geographic Channel

The documentary part is mostly interviews with persons involved in planning, designing and testing for future exploration and colonization of Mars. They include  Elon MuskAndy WeirRobert Zubrin, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Eventually the science colony, which is supported by the International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF), a multinational funding and governing organization, is joined by a second colony, Lukrum. A resource extraction corporation, Lukrum has powerful interests in nearly every country represented in IMSF, and they use that leverage to promote and prioritize their mining activities on Mars.

The miners are all likable characters as are the scientists (with one exception) and they get along together gangbusters, as one would expect for people who are ultimately isolated from Earth for years. It’s only when commercial activities collide with scientific discovery that things break down. Even at that, the personal fondness and even trust between the commanders and their crews mostly continue.

Of course, the 2016 interviews and documentary footage shifts its focus to our planet’s ongoing competition between corporate interests and the common good, and that there is little reason to believe that the same will not happen as we become an interplanetary race. These points may be handled a bit heavy-handedly by the show, though I don’t dispute the sentiments, especially considering how much space exploration is being promoted today by commercial organizations.

The show ends on a positive note, especially as one of my favorite characters survives, a short-tempered Spaniard who leaves every conflict spouting rapid Spanish exclamation, Ricky Ricardo style.

Will Your Learners become better Educated as a Result of ISTE 2014

I know that I’ve not been blogging a lot lately, because the first thing I had to do this morning was update MarsEdit, my blog-writing software.

Yesterday, watching the tweets and status updates being posted by educators packing their bags, arriving at airports and train stations, bound for Atlanta and ISTE 2014 — well it got me to thinking. I’ve been an educator for almost 40 years and that many years in such a dynamic field makes you opinionated.  ..and I suppose it’s part of the character of old folks (60+) to express their opinions.

That’s why I tweeted out yesterday…

There were retweets, agreeing replies, and some push-back — reminding me that this old dog will never learn to fit his thinking into a 140 character message. So here’s what I meant to say.

You will speak to vendors and listen to speakers in Atlanta who claim to know how to fix education, how this practice or product will improve resource efficiency, teacher effectiveness and student performance.  Don’t ignore them, but ask yourself, “Are they answering the right question?”

I would suggest that rather than asking, “How do we improve education?” we should be asking ourselves, “What does it mean to be educated?” 

Years ago, when my Great Uncle Jim, the last of my family to live in the old Istlandoll home, passed away, and the house was sold, we were given permission to visit and take any furniture or other items, for which we had a use.  My prize was an old quilt that had obviously been stitched together during a quilting party, dated in the late 1800s.

Both Uncle Jim and my Grandfather grew up in this house, and they both went to college, Jim to NCSU (engineering) and my Grandfather to UNC (classics).  But when they graduated, they returned to rural Lincoln County, without daily newspapers, monthly journals or a convenient library.  They returned to an astonishingly information scarce world.

Being educated then was indicated by what you knew, the knowledge that you’d memorized, knowledge and skills that would serve you for most of the remaining decades of your life.

Today, we are swimming in information and struggling with a rapidly changing world, and the very best that any “education” can do, is provide for us is what we need to know or know how to do for the next couple of years.

Being education is no long indicated by what you’ve been successfully taught.  

Being educated today is your ability to resourcefully learn new knowledge and skills and responsibly use them to answer new questions, solve emerging problems and accomplish meaningful goals.

Being educated today is no longer measured by the number of questions we can correctly answer.

It’s measured by how well we you can discover or invent new answers, effectively defend those answers, and then we them to make our lives, communities and world better.

If they’re trying to sell you something at ISTE, ask them, “How will this help my learners to become better educated?”

If they ask you, “What do you mean by educated?” Then there’s hope.

Exactly 2¢ Worth!

Engineering and Curiosity

What of these complex machines do you use in class? What complex machines do you and your students use every day? How will you use these machines to teach your students? One idea for teaching your students over the course of a year could be the development of discoveries from the simple to the complex. […]

What of these complex machines do you use in class? What complex machines do you and your students use every day? How will you use these machines to teach your students? One idea for teaching your students over the course of a year could be the development of discoveries from the simple to the complex. Helping your students understand the development of discoveries over time, and allowing them discover them in an accelorated manner may help them understand the significance of modern science.

The end of video shared that there are more discoveries in the universe. In modern era, sometimes we cannot see what is undiscovered. The majority of the world has not only been explored, but much of it is lived on. While it simply requires a look up into the sky to see what has not been discovered, it takes money to get up there. Fortunately for us, despite money, people were able to get across the Atlantic Ocean to discover and settle America. Encourage your students to not let money stop their dreams. Education is a valuable form of currency as well.

Blog: http://anewdomain.net/2014/04/03/engineering-curiosity-video-week/

Rice Engineering team helps someone out

This is very cool to see. A team of of Rice Engineering students have created a device to help a young man with brittle bone disease be able to do very simple tasks that he wouldn’t normally be able to because of the dangers of his condition. I’ll often see a video of a team […]

This is very cool to see. A team of of Rice Engineering students have created a device to help a young man with brittle bone disease be able to do very simple tasks that he wouldn’t normally be able to because of the dangers of his condition. I’ll often see a video of a team of students making a cool futuristic gadget, but this is much more moving. It’s great to see not only the smile on the face of the recipient, but also the reactions of the team getting to see their life-changing work in motion.

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You Can Get A Better Job

I was scanning through one of my favorite Infographics blogs a feed of infographic-related tweets this morning, taking quick peeks at a variety of projects for design ideas, when I hit this one, “20 Resume Power Words.” There was nothing about the design that caught my eye, so I swiped on to the next one. But then, about three graphics later, my mind finally registered on some of the words, and I backed up to look a little more closely.

  • Conceptualized
  • Trained
  • Built
  • Introduced
  • Strengthened
  • Directed
  • Persuaded
  • Forecasted
  • Projected
  • Assessed
  • Set goals
  • Promoted
  • Oversaw
  • Improved
  • Adapted
  • Solved
  • Initiated
  • Planned
  • Managed
  • Increased

On second glance, I realized that there was not a one of these words that any good teacher couldn’t “use in a sentence” to describe what he or she can do or has accomplished.

If this list can truly energize your resume, then you can get a better job!

Ok, there is no better job than teaching.  There is no more exciting profession, and it’s going to – trust me – get a lot better.  But there are jobs that will, right now, earn you more respect, more support, more hours for lunch, more chances to travel, less stress, less emotional chaos, and in many states, a lot more money.

In North Carolina, a starting teacher now makes less money than what fast-food workers are currently striking to earn.

Ask any sales rep, engineer, plant manager, product designer, or copy writer to conceptualize for, train, build for, introduce to, strengthen, direct, persuade, forecast and project for, assess, set goals for, promote, oversee, improve, adapt to, solve for, initiate, plan for, manage and increase the performance of

Twenty-five 13 year-olds.

‘nough said!

The Man who made and Island

Meet Richart Sowa, visionary. At face value he could be the craziest character on a sit-com, but it turns out there’s a great method to his alternative lifestyle. He decided he could make an island out of normally disposed-of materials, and he actually pulled it off. Not only does he have a floating piece of […]

Meet Richart Sowa, visionary. At face value he could be the craziest character on a sit-com, but it turns out there’s a great method to his alternative lifestyle. He decided he could make an island out of normally disposed-of materials, and he actually pulled it off. Not only does he have a floating piece of “land”, but a very suitable home on top of it.

Now I’m no engineer or ocean scientist, but this seems pretty solid to me. Obviously the biggest immediate danger would be major weather events, but perhaps in places where those are less likely to happen, we might see some more of these cropping up. This guy may be a true pioneer.

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Where Do We Go to Measure Success?

 

We hear it just about everywhere and every time we turn around –– STEM. The country (USA) desperately needs more scientists, Technologists, Engineers and Mathematicians. It’s our way of securing our superiority and prosperity and ramping up S, T, E & M instruction in our schools is the way to succeed.

In preparing for a talk to parents in suburban Edmonton, Alberta this week, I searched for data on Canadian college graduates and the degrees conferred to them. In the process, I ran across a report from the U.S. Institute of Education Sciences.* I copied a data table called Bachelor’s degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by field of study, and converted it to an Open Office Spreadsheet (ODS) file to see what I might learn from the data.

The table offered the number of graduates receiving degrees from 32 fields of study, from selected years between 1970 and 2010. I devised and ran formulas that calculated the percent of change in the number of degrees by decade. I also created an additional set of rows that calculated the percent of each years total graduates receiving specific degrees to factor out the effects of changes in the total number of graduates. When sorting the degrees by the percent of increase from 2000 to 2010, the rank was somewhat surprising.

At the bottom of the list, the fields showing the least growth, was Computer and Information Sciences. Though the 1970s saw an impressive increase in computer science degrees (469%), the increase dropped to 42% during the 80s, 33% in the 90s, and then a decline (-32%) during the first decade of the 21st century.

Other fields suffering declines were education, and english and literature/letters, both bested slightly by Engineering technologies, which fell only 17% (-17% change). Falling less than that were agriculture, architecture, liberal arts, sciences, general studies and humanities, topped by engineering, with a 6% (-6% change) decline. Just better than engineering was theology and religious vocations (-5% change).

Enjoying substantial increases in degree from 2000-2010, from high to low, were communication technologies; military technologies; legal professions; parks, recreation, leisure and fitness; homeland security, law enforcement and firefighting; library sciences; and visual and performing arts. (see graph)

Click Graph for Larger Version

This was a fairly startling discovery to me, considering the funding, resources, and time invested in STEM education and its cost to other subject areas, not to mention the political capital gained from reciting the mantra to constituents and voters.

It the results were such a surprise that and I’ve questioned my math several times, checking and rechecking the formulas.  I invite you to double check my spreadsheet [here].

If this is, indeed, an indication of our students’ interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics during the early 21st century, then is STEM education doing what its suppose to do –– even if test scores are rising?

Please double and triple check my spreadsheet. and if you find problems with my formulas, please post them in my comments.

 

* United States. Institute of Education Sciences. Bachelor’s degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by field of study. Washington, 2011. Web. <http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d11/tables/dt11_286.asp>.

We Want to be Together

I’m getting old and starting to reconsider some of the positions and issues I’ve tried to champion over the years.

I was reminded of this last night, while Michael Coghlan, from Adelaide (where it was the next morning) was interviewing me for their Design for Flexibility project. At the end of the interview, he asked if I had seen the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars and the reactions in the control room at JPL. I said that I had and then went off on this old-man reminiscence about “back before satellites, when we hadn’t even seen the Earth from outer space, and now we carry around in our pockets, blah blah blah.”

Then he said, but did you see the excitement, hear the yells of triumph, the hugging and hi-five’ing — and I realized that I had missed his point entirely. These really smart people had worked for months, together, breathing the same air, experiencing the same thrills and let-downs, listening the the vibrations of their actual voices. Not only would these engineers have been unable to celebrate their accomplishment in such a way and with such zeal if they had all been working remotely and virtually, but they may not even have wanted to.

Many of us become excited and energized by the magic of technology — and rightly so. But we must be careful that living and working through networks should never be our preference. It should be the alternative that enables us to bridge gaps, to accomplish things that we never could before.

We should cherish and celebrate the electricity of eye contact, the warm affirmation of a smile and the agreement, even if to disagree, that a handshake acknowledges.

 

Sustaining an Innovation-Friendly School – Reflection 1 from Educon 2.4

Some might wonder about the sanity of taking a late afternoon flight out of Fort Worth, later arrival at the hotel, an almost descent night’s sleep, all to attend only the last day of Educon 2.4.  What I wonder about is the potential malign effects of three whole days of deep and enthrawling conversations, nearly every one pushing my thinking in subtile or dramatically new directions.

I reminded Chris Lehmann, at the end of the last session, that I talk about this stuff just about every day.  Then I confessed that there was a moment during the afternoon that I realized that every contribution I had made the entire day had come from something else I’d heard at the conference.  Educon is a cauldron where our ideas about education get stirred up and mixed with those of others.  Our concepts get disassembled and recombined through  forces of attraction and repulsion that dazzle me, and every time it happened, it left me a little stunned for a moment.

The one complaint that I have about the Educon experience is the inability to spend at least 15 minutes reflecting after every conversation.  I am not referring to the larger conversation sessions, but every single conversation with every single person I encountered, in the sessions, in the hall, fixing coffee, checking my coat ….

This is what I hope to be the first of my Educon reflections about what I learned, unlearned, and relearned. ((“The illiterate of the future are not those that cannot read or write. They are those that cannot learn, unlearn, relearn.” – Alvin Toffler))

Chris Emdin compellingly making his point

The first formal part of the Sunday installment of Educon was the large group panel discussion, entitled, “How do Schools Sustain Innovation?”  I found myself feeling a bit sorry for the moderator, Kevin Hogan, because the panelists pretty much took off from the start and didn’t land again until Chris Lehmann had to fairly frantically call for an end.

It struck me during the discussion, that innovation – a means of finding or inventing a new and better way of accomplishing a goal (my definition) – has become “a goal.”  This is understandable within the education arena, because being an inventive, resourceful, free-thinking goal-achiever is part of the skill-set that we are coming to consider basic.  But innovation for innovation’s sake risks going down the same confusing road of technology for technology’s sake.  It gets taken apart, sequenced, classified, curriculumized — and it simply stops making sense.  Chris Emdin pointed this out when he suggested that innovations can get cooped, branded, and become dogma.  One of the many threads that I rode throughout the day was that there is no one-size-fits-all “vision” for schooling.

To me, the question at hand is, “How do we sustain an innvoation-friendly school?” and even though the general discussion was riveting, I did not get any clear message on how this is done.  So at some point, I started a branch on the concept map I was using to take notes where I added and eventually sorted a list of principles or process for sustaining an innovation-friendly environment.

At the heart is permission and facility.  An educational community that adapts to changing conditions grants its members permission to innovate and facilities or procedures for pursuing a better way.  It is part of the school’s culture.

Here is the list that I ended with.  Even though it is numbered, I now see that other arrangements are at least as appropriate as this.

  1. Permission to Identify and Describe a Problem
  2. I added permission here because several times during the day people described environments that were unwilling to admit problems or listen to those who suggested any course other than “business as usual.”

  3. Permission to Solve the Problem
  4. This one might actually be tougher to allow than it seems.  Having worked in state government, I know how risky it is to do anything that jeopardizes your reputation – or that of your boss.  In some environments, it is your job to make your boss look good.

    This one might better be labeled, “Permission to take a Chance.”

  5. Willingness to Let Go
  6. I suspect that many worthwhile innovations fail, because they are simply mounted on top of existing practices, rather than transforming existing practices.  This is illustrated by the three challenges, made by American education reformers, to the Finnish education model (see Finnish Miracles and American Myths).  The U.S. education reform movement seems unwilling to consider letting go of government testing, school competition, and accountability.

  7. Awareness of Other Boxes
  8. This is a bit of a twist from my usual reference to “outside the box” thinking.  It was actually sparked by a previous conversation with the Director of Applications Development at a large school district I recently worked in.  He told me that what he looks for in prospective hires for his programming staff is “creativity.”  He went on to say that the best part of his education was all of the history, literature, science, etc. that he took.

    I think that innovation does not necessarily come from outside the box, but from having access to other boxes that rearrange our perspectives and enable us to come at a problem from a different angle.

  9. Engineer a New Way
  10. This, I guess, is where the innovation happens, and much has been written about this by smarter people than me. I will humbly suggest that it requires research, design, collaboration, negotiation, and flexibility, to mention only a few of the skills.

  11. Permission to fail and re-engineer
  12. This may well be the toughest part to accomplish.  Innovation in business and industry are easy.  Failure in the public sector is fuel to those with political agendas.  In the private sector, R & D are considered a legitimate and necessary cost of doing business.  For schools, it is a waste of tax-payer money.  You can tell that I speak from some experience here.