All About Science

Month: August 2021

Blogging in the 21st-Century Classroom

Photo credit: iStockPhoto

This year, I admitted a hard truth to myself. I wasn’t having my students write enough. In an attempt to follow Kelly Gallagher’s advice that students should write more than we can assess, I decided to have them blog weekly.

One Assignment, Many Objectives

After giving students some practice and solidifying my ideas by talking to a colleague and past student, I developed this assignment. I tried to ensure that the assignment would:

  • Address multiple Common Core standards
  • Hold students accountable while minimizing stress
  • Be structured enough to provide clarity while giving freedom to experiment
  • Be varied enough to keep students engaged
  • Get students to write for multiple purposes

I introduced blogging to my juniors, reminding them to keep an open mind about this experiment (they could relate to that; I teach in a STEM school that focuses on life science and experimental research). We spent one-period creating profiles and writing ungraded posts to get to know the interface. (Side note: students are allowed to make blogs private as long as they provide access to me. As far as I know, no one has chosen this option.) After that, I let them loose.

It. Is. Awesome.

Skill and Enthusiasm

First and foremost, student writing is improving by leaps and bounds. When I read their blogs (which, by the way, are mature, insightful, funny, and engaging), I don’t find myself pulling my hair out over the careless mistakes they make in formal papers. Not every post is perfect, but the majority are well written and free of grammar and usage issues that I am so familiar with seeing in their other work. If they become sloppy, all I need to do is politely comment about it on their blog, and I don’t see it again.

Their improved skills transfer to formal work. Integrating quotations in literary papers has become simple now that we have so much practice with smoothly embedding hyperlinks. Additionally, student response to texts has improved; some of the posts they must write are based on stimulus texts of their choice. Once a student blogs about archetypes in Kim Possible, tackling Pride and Prejudice becomes that much easier.

Students’ persuasive writing is improving, too. A mini-lesson and quick in-class prompt using rhetorical questions has resulted not only in well-argued blog posts but also in students excitedly telling me how they used that technique for their HSPA persuasive task.

Benefits extend beyond the classroom. Introverted students tend to share more online than they do in person; blogging is an invaluable way for me to get to know them better as people and students. It’s also great to see reserved students garnering attention from their peers. Furthermore, students understand the importance of hearing many voices. One recently noted that she enjoys the blogs because “[s]ome of the quieter folks during the discussion can talk about their opinions too, so we finally get to hear them.”

Less Agonizing Pain

It’s no secret that students value an authentic audience for their writing. One student enthusiastically posted on my class Facebook wall that his blog post turned his friend into a Dave Matthews Band fan. As the new fan says, it’s “the power of the pen (or the keyboard in this case)”! Additionally, I post exemplars on a student showcase, and students are visibly proud when I ask for permission to share their work with a broader audience.

I surveyed students for feedback, and the majority of responses were favorable. Here are a few:

  • “[I]t forces me to write. I usually try to write a couple times a month on my own but that is pushed to the side when I have too much homework.”
  • “It is a good way to have us write without it being formal or full of pressure. I also like the fact that I have control over what I write about, and that definitely makes the assignment easier.”
  • (my personal favorite) “I don’t like any assignments in general. However, I feel like the loose nature of the structure of the assignment makes it less agonizingly painful to do than most other assignments.”

If making my homework “less agonizingly painful” than other assignments isn’t a success, I don’t know what is!

Of course, some students aren’t enamored by blogging, expressing frustration with the class-related response (one of the required posts). I can understand their point, though I keep the assignment as written because I want to provide them with different levels of challenge. If the passion and free-choice posts are easy, the class-related responses should be more difficult. This reinforces the fact that writers need to have a broad repertoire when they encounter more challenging tasks.

I believe this assignment can be adapted to every grade and subject area. Encouraging students to blog about topics from other classes helps them see connections among subjects and realize that writing is a worthwhile skill in any field. As an added bonus, blogging addresses many of the Common Core literacy standards that most teachers now need to address.

Have you tried blogging in the classroom? Or will you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

How do we affect our evolution?

Scientists sometimes conceal a lack of knowledge with vague words | Science  News

Medical advances

In the past, those of our ancestors who were best adapted to the environment passed on their genes to their offspring. Today, medical advances have allowed those that would not previously have survived to reproduce and contribute to the human gene pool. The benefits to the individual person are obvious. However, due to the size of our population, this has little effect on the overall genetic make-up of our species. The major consequence of medicine has been the increase of genes that have little or no resistance to disease. In the future, there will be a greater reliance on medicine for survival rather than genetic adaptations.

Curing disease

Infectious diseases are one of the major causes of human mortality and were responsible for over 25 per cent of all deaths in developed nations prior to the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s. The application of vaccinations and antibiotics has reduced this figure to about 1 per cent. Unfortunately, not all humans share such access to modern medicine and preventable infectious disease remains the largest killer of people in developing nations, accounting for over 40 per cent of all deaths. In the developed world, over-use of antibiotics has led to most of the harmful bacteria becoming immune, so that many infectious diseases are once again becoming significant killers.

Living longer

The last century has seen a tripling of newborn life expectancy in developed nations. This means that nearly all children in those countries will survive childhood and live to the age that they can reproduce. This, rather than increased adult survival, is one of the major causes behind the increase in average life expectancy, and is linked to improvements in medicine and hygiene.

Reproducing later

UNESCO, WHO and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights call for “open  science”

An interesting consequence of improved medical technology is that humans can now reproduce, or prefer to reproduce, at a later age. This increases the chance of a mutation occurring in the sex cells and being passed on to offspring. The long-term effect is that more genetic mutations, and hence variation, will be introduced into the human gene pool.

Fixing our genes: the human genome project

This research project, overseen by the Human Genome Organisation, is locating and mapping every gene contained in human DNA. By knowing the position of each gene, it is possible to understand what they do and how genetic diseases arise. The impact of this will be felt in every area of biology and medicine throughout the next century, with huge implications for the prevention and diagnosis of disease. Scientists predict that some potential diseases will be cured at the molecular level before they arise in an individual.

Technological advances

Technology has helped us to become the first species capable of adapting the environment, to a certain degree, to suit ourselves. This has reduced the need to rely on genetic adaptations like our ancestors did in the past. We now have the ability to live in any climate and, assisted by transportation, have become a global species.

Technology has also had a negative impact on our species. It has been responsible for the deaths of millions- through war, environmental pollution and degradation and the introduction and spread of disease.

Technology and the end of isolation

In the past, our ancestors lived in small, isolated populations, where inbreeding was common and genetic mutations could spread easily. Over time this could lead to the evolution of a new species. We now live in a highly populated world where we have the ability to travel anywhere and potentially share our genes with anyone. The end of isolation has significantly reduced the chance of evolutionary change.

The impact of agriculture on human evolution

The role of agriculture was important in the development of civilisation and the ability to sustain large populations of people. It has also been responsible for the introduction of diseases, such as smallpox and measles, which developed from diseases plaguing domestic animals about 10,000 years ago. Although farmers eventually evolved genes resistant to these diseases, hunter-gatherers died in droves when they were first affected.

Genetic adaptations evolving from agricultural lifestyles

Many groups have developed specialised eating habits due to their lifestyle. One such habit that has been identified as a genetic trait is the ability to digest milk as an adult. All infant mammals rely on milk for sustenance but, as they grow older, the enzyme that digests lactose (a sugar found in milk) disappears. This means adult mammals cannot normally tolerate milk. However, as a result of an agricultural ancestry, some adults, like the Masai of Kenya, the Beduoin and most Europeans, are still able to digest milk. Others, such as Australian Aborigines and west and central Africans, find milk indigestible. This adaptation probably only evolved in the last 10,000 years as agriculture developed and animal milk was collected and consumed.

Will we become extinct?

The fossil record demonstrates that all organisms exist for a limited time span and then become extinct. This suggests that extinction would also be the expected outcome for our own species. Some of the extinction events in the past, such as meteorite or comet impacts, are beyond our control. Most other causes of extinction, including major climate change, can now be overcome by technology, if we are willing to act. Although technology may allow us to avoid the fates of all other species, if we are not careful how we use it, technology could also lead to the destruction of our planet.

Meteorite or comet impact

Major collisions like this are a statistical certainty in the Earth’s future, and would be catastrophic for most species. The ‘nuclear winter’ that could follow the impact would profoundly disturb global ecology, leading to mass extinction. Around 500 meteorites hit the Earth each year, with most landing in the oceans.

Spread of plagues and viruses

In the age of travel it is easy for disease to become pandemic (widespread) overnight. Crowded cities and poor hygiene are breeding grounds for many of these organisms. New strains of virus and bacteria can develop rapidly, with new types emerging that we are not aware of and that we may not be able to fight effectively.

The worst pandemic in modern times was the bubonic plague or Black Death (caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis) which occurred in Europe between 1346 and 1353. Over one third of the population died from this disease. Other outbreaks occurred over the centuries but the plague is now eradicated from Europe, although it still exists in other regions of the world.

Destruction of the biosphere

We are the only species capable of destroying the biosphere. Many ecosystems have now been lost through pollution, land clearance,climate change and overpopulation. We cannot have such an affect on our planet without feeling the impact of our actions in the future.

How to Teach Kids Science and Why It’s Important

Young boy looking at flower through magnifier

Science has led to the discovery of everything from gravity to medicine. Science is based on curiosity—and when children aim to learn more about the world around them, it is science that often holds the clues they need for a better understanding.

Why Science Matters in Daily Life

Science, directly and indirectly, influences all aspects of everyday life. From the food we eat to the way we get around, science is everywhere. Once you begin to see all the opportunities to learn, the relationship between science and critical-thinking skills become apparent.

Beginning when children are very young, science helps shape their development. As they learn to ask questions, make predictions, observe, test, and then communicate their findings, they are developing critical science skills.

Kids should learn science because:

  • Science helps children develop key life skills, including an ability to communicate, remain organized and focused, and even form their own opinions based on observation. Science also helps children develop their senses and overall awareness.
  • Children are hands-on learners, and the world around them provides so many natural opportunities. That is why you should never underestimate the power of learning through play. Interacting with their environment will support their intellectual development.
  • Children are primed for learning, and what they learn while they’re young can impact their interests later in life. Studies have shown that students begin to develop an interest in  science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) during the elementary years. Having an interest and knowledge in these subject areas provides future career opportunities.

Parents Want to Help Their Children Learn Science

A recent study, conducted by the Education Development Center and SRI International, found that while 9 out of 10 parents help their young children complete learning activities daily, only around half say that these activities are science-based.

Although parents are eager to teach their children science-related topics, many admit that they lack the tools and confidence to do so. Unfortunately, this is a missed opportunity—and for the most part, the concept of “science” is being overthought.

Science can be simple, and it can be fun. Whether you head out into the backyard to observe a colony of ants or watch a storm roll in, these everyday scenarios are learning opportunities parents can take advantage of.

Tips to Help Children Learn Science

  • Explore, explore, explore! Science is everywhere, which is why a visit to the park or an afternoon in the yard provide so many opportunities to learn. Always encourage your child to question their surroundings, and then discuss. If there is something you’re unsure of, research and learn the answer together. You don’t need to know all the answers—in fact, as a parent, it is beneficial when YOU ask questions and model curiosity as well.
  • Remember, science is cumulative. This means that children will build knowledge from what they already know. Start celebrating science in your home as early as possible, discuss science-based topics daily, and make it fun! Whether that means you head out for a special family constellation night or bake a cake, these are everyday opportunities that allow you to discuss science.
  • Always consider your child’s individual personality, interests, and social habits. This will allow you to come up with engaging activities that make them feel excited yet comfortable. Also, be mindful of what your child wants to do, as this will heighten their ability to learn.
  • Invest in a few pieces of equipment if your child is interested in learning more. An inexpensive microscope, for instance, could turn a trip to your local pond into an afternoon of wonder and learning. There are so many fun toys that will also get kids involved, including ant farms, astronomy kits, and kitchen science experiments, so have fun with science!

In addition to exploring and communicating as a family, it is important to invest in your child’s willingness to learn. There are many programs available that are fun and interactive, helping them build a solid foundation in science.

From life sciences to environmental sciencephysical science to earth science, when children express interests in these subjects, encourage them and learn with them. After all, author, Mahtab Narsimhan, said it best, “A good education is the greatest gift you can give yourself or anyone else.”

Science in Everyday Life and Its Importance

Life Sciences - InFlow Technology

You can see the use of science in each and every aspect of our life. Science is an essential element in daily life. We can’t escape from the importance of science and its uses in our daily life. Basic knowledge of science is mandatory for everyone as it makes life easier and open our mind in many ways. As science is completely based on facts and experiments so, it doesn’t change with time, basics always remain same.

You can get explanation of everything through science from magic performed by magician to vehicles running by using hydrogen gas. Every new technology relied on science. Science and technology complement each other. Science deals with natural phenomenon on the basis of facts and gives rise to new technology which makes our life easier. Science always promotes curiosity and asking questions. Once Einstein said – 

Importance of Science in Our Daily Life 

Science in everyday life - Choose science

Science is very essential in our daily life. We use science in day to day life. We wake up and use paste and brush which both are given by science. We use science in cooking, eating, clothing etc. Baking involves basic knowledge of science and baking machines such as oven, microwave are endowments of science. Can you imagine your life without electricity? If no, then u must know that electricity is also given by science. Examples of use of science in everyday life are as follows – 

  • We use cars, bike or bicycles to go from one place to another, these all are inventions of science. 
  • We use soaps, these are also given by science. 
  • We use LPG gas, stove etc. for cooking, these all given by science. 
  • Even the house in which we live is a product of science. 
  • The iron which we use to iron our cloths is an invention of science even the cloths we wear are given by science.

Uses of Science in Different Fields 

Uses of science in different fields are as follows – 

  • In agriculture – In the field of agriculture, science has made its mark by contributing so much. In present days machines are available even for sowing the seeds on fields. Tractor, thresher, drip irrigation system, sprinkler irrigation system etc. all are given by science. All fertilizers are also given by chemical science.                       
  • In medicine – The medical field is based entirely on usage of science. All the drugs are given by medicinal chemistry. Tools used in the medical field are also given by science. Machines such as stretchers, ECG machine, MRI machines even injections are invented by science.       
  • In transportation – All the vehicles are invention of science. Science has made the world a small place. You can reach from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in just few hours. Cycle, scooter, cars, aircrafts etc. all are inventions of science. We can transport goods easily and faster by the use of machines given by science. 
  • In communication – Science has made the world very small. You can talk to anyone anywhere in fraction of seconds. Telephones, mobile phones etc. all are the inventions of science. All these medium of communications are available at very low cost as well. So, all are in the reach of common man. Science has made is very easy and cheap to talk to someone using a mobile phone. 
  • In construction – Science is the base of all buildings constructed by us. Construction of buildings is completed based on the technology given by science. Machines used in the construction work such as motor graders, buildozers, backhoe loaders etc. given by science. 
  • In photography – Science has given many machines for photography. Now a days it’s very easy to click a picture. Camera has been inserted even in your small mobiles phones. Apart from these, science has given many machines which are useful in each and every aspect of our life such as computers. 

Thus, science has vast use in all fields of human life. It is of great importance to make our life easier it gives answer of all curiosities of us related to life. It gives wings to our imagination by its facts and theories. Contact us for more information.

The Look and Feel of 21st Century Science

In this time of disruptive change, we need to rethink the basic structures of knowledge.

Humanity is going through unprecedented global change. The systems that arose to organize societies in the last 400 years are breaking down — and now is the time to envision what will come next.

I recall a talk that inspired me several years ago by the eclectic scholar, Dougald Hine where he explained that knowledge systems change in a nested manner. Some things (like the way we get news on a daily basis) can evolve quickly as new technologies alter media institutions on timescales of a few years or decades. Other things move more slowly.

An example he gave for these historic sloths was the organization of academic disciplines at universities — some of which have been very slow to change in a hundred years (think about the presumed boundary between “hard” and “soft” science that is so resistant to leaving). Yet the slowest of all is in the archival institutions that we call libraries. It is to changes in these modes of information storage for long periods of time that we must look when paradigmatic change is upon us. Such a change is now upon us right now.

The oldest libraries were storehouses of pottery. Data was painted onto clay pots to record important information about crop yields that go back thousands of years in places like Mesopotamia and ancient China. Later it was scrolling like those famously burned in the Great Library of Alexandria. More recently it has been bounded paper volumes that we call books, as the printing press gave rise to literate societies in the last few hundred years.

Now we are fully in the digital age when it comes to information systems. And digital data is profoundly networked and ephemeral in ways that were simply not possible before. We can update the linkages and information content with ease that makes book printing look cumbersome by comparison. So it has become paradigmatic that libraries are “going digital” and building up a network ecology framework for organizing the knowledge of societies.

What does this have to do with the look and feel of 21st Century science? In a word, everything. For humanity is now on the cusp of a planetary-scale crisis. According to earth system scientists at the Stockholm Resilience Institute, the Earth has now passed at least four of nine “planetary boundaries” that define a safe operating range for global civilization. We are fully in overshoot-and-collapse — living through an Easter Island type of instability on a planetary scale.

At the same time, our social systems are in deep turmoil due to massive wealth inequality and the various forms of institutional decline that come with collapsing trust in an unequal world. This is apparent in the rise of authoritarian leaders in many countries in concert with a rapid drop of trust in authoritative expertise. Science is in crisis alongside the political and economic systems of the world that are in turmoil today.

So we must envision a look and feel for science in the future that is networked, agile, and ever-evolving, relevant to the pressing issues of the day, and deeply, DEEPLY ecologically human. This last point bears elaboration. And a brief side comments about the fundamental importance of metaphors for organizing knowledge in societies.

The guiding metaphor for the Modern Era was the “clockwork universe” of Enlightenment thinkers like René Descartes. I wrote more about this in an earlier essay, The Great Lie of Living on a Dead Planet. When we separate mind from body; humans from nature; and societies from their environments; we are doing so by presuming the Universe to be a giant mechanical device with no morality or soul inside. This metaphor gave rise to the mechanistic sciences of physics and chemistry in the 16th through 19th Centuries.

Many of the systemic problems we face today — from climate change to political corruption — are traceable back to this illusion of separation between machines and living things. And so it should come as no surprise that the 20th Century was a period of ascendence for systems thinking in fields like ecology, computer science, quantum mechanics, and the study of social networks. Herein we can see the early shape of the new paradigm for 21st Century science.

The guiding metaphor here is ecological networks. Living systems that function through their interdependence, networked relationships among functional parts, and dynamism of emergence that is not reducible. The science of the last few hundred years may necessarily have been reductionistic (breaking complexity down into manageably simple parts in order to make sense of it) but the science that is emerging will equally strongly require holism in order to make sense of the interwoven patterns that arise as global systemic behaviors.

Let me demonstrate the difference with a concrete example from my work as the coordinator for birthing a new scientific society for the study of cultural evolution. I have worked with a team of researchers to map out the knowledge ecology of this field. We did this because a survey of our founding membership revealed a strong desire for knowledge synthesis across the divided silos of university departments.

A beautiful map for the knowledge ecology of Cultural Evolution Society members.

Research in psychology was not adequately being informed by (or informing) that which was taking place in anthropology or sociology. Historians were not in sufficient dialogue with archeologists or population ecologists. A political scientist hadn’t played well with economists. Biologists weren’t working closely with humanities scholars. What’s worse, researchers in each of these siloed fields have scarcely been in dialogue with each other either. According to one illustrative study, 90% of all peer-review journal articles have never been read!

In another essay, I called this The Predicament of Knowledge and it is now chronic as humanity is clearly failing to apply all of this compartmentalized knowledge to the crises of living in a 21st Century world. The argument I made there was that we collectively have all the knowledge we need to solve every major social problem in the world. Yet we lack the capacity to synthesize and apply all this knowledge in real-time.

This is where the Cultural Evolution Society comes into play. The mechanistic divisions of Modern-Era science have led to treating science as an industrial manufacturing process devoid of human sentiment or morality (think of all the animal testing done in cages throughout the last 400 years). What is needed to replace it is a living intelligence process guided by evolution for sense-making and collective learning. This requires a 21st Century understanding of (a) what it means to be a living thing, and more specifically (b) what it means to be human.

Sciences of the future will need to be integrative and holistic, emergent and evolutionary, and profoundly informed by knowledge of their interdependencies. No more “Cartesian” separations. No more dividing knowledge into silos. No more treating humans as an industrial input into corporate machines. Instead, we need to apply the ecological principles of regeneration, resilience and thriving. Scientists of the future will work together as networks — an evolutionary step beyond the ad hoc interdisciplinary teams of the late 20th Century.

Tools for synthesis will include group facilitation, scientific visualization, computer modeling and simulation, and iterative design practices. We will need to actively co-create in pluralistic communities where those trained in specific domains of knowledge are partnered with transdisciplinary scholars who specialize in facilitating knowledge synthesis. These are the new and improved generalists of a bygone era. They are fully human as networked ecosystems of people learning together using tools, theoretical frameworks, and social practices that are incentivized for collective intelligence.

Critical for this science to emerge will be that it avoids its greatest current threat — a 21st Century version of the burning of Alexandria’s great library. We need our science to survive the potential collapse of global civilization in the next 50 years. Let this sink in. It is a very serious issue that is hardly on anyone’s radar at the moment.

Yes, there is a crisis in peer-review publishing.

Yes, there is a crisis in public understanding of science for policymaking.

Yes, there is a crisis of impending ecological collapse of the biosphere.

Yes, there is a crisis of anti-science demagogues replacing rigorous methods with ideology.

Yet at the deep systemic level, there is a greater crisis of unraveling paradigms for knowledge systems as humanity goes through its next great transition as a species.

It is here that the new sciences must emerge. It must not be based on a separation of theory and practice — for it will be the practices of working with, studying, and guiding the evolution of complex social systems that will enable the sciences to advance. And also what enables the social systems themselves to maintain the efficacy to continue their existence. These things are inseparable in reality and must be dealt with accordingly.

Applying this back to the observation that started this essay, we must envision libraries of the future as networked living systems of interconnected human beings. The “digital divide” between those with access to the internet and those without is only one use for this phrase. Another is the deeper semantic separation presumed by disembodied rationality — that there is no digital without physical and all human knowledge is worthless if it fails to be embodied by human societies as social norms, behaviors, narratives, and institutional practices.

The digital libraries of the future will be cyborgs… interwoven human-machine meshworks for active learning. The singularity is us as human beings. The look and feel of 21st Century science will be human through and through. There will be holism and integration; emotion and reason recombined in resonance with findings from the cognitive and behavioral sciences. And it will be ecological; embedded in human networks which are themselves embedded within physical and social geographies.

Let us rapidly transform the look and feel of science to reflect its best face. Let it be systemic and integrative. Let it be moral and political. And let it be relevant and responsive to the crises we all face together on a daily basis in the real world.

Onward, fellow humans.