Science Achievement, Hampered by the Policies and the Test Police, and Lack of Understanding of the Joy of Learning

I can tell you about a digital and a science divide.

We throw teachers at the students most needy for science and enrichment who are not well-trained, steeped in the ways of science and who have little or no training for hands on science.  I respect those who have never taught who want to change schools but TFA can’t create the learning landscape that is needed for sustainable science education in a couple of weeks. Science requires immersion, involvement, and evaluation.Loving, caring teachers who esteem the use of science, technology materials  and engineering are needed especially in communities where the parents are not scientists… and I throw in computational thinking. In education science has gotten the short stick. Computational thinking forms habits of mind. What is that? The site to begin  is here, and then look at this.

The George Lucas Educational Foundation accepted me on their advisory board and I learned even more. Rob Semper from the Exploratorium was often there, and George Lucas is visionary. We were learning about visualization and modeling, astronomy .. every time I got depressed about how science was “supposed to be taught” the experts around the table at the Ranch would share more information and ideas with me. I think we were ahead of our times. Think Bugscope. Think University of Illinois and NCSA.

An online project that puts access to an extremely powerful electron microscope into the hands of students all over the country has been selected by the journal …

I love science. I started my career as a regular classroom teacher, from a minority HBCU, but I had powerful help in emerging as a science and technology specialist. In my college, the major work at that time was to bring students up to speed so that they could be college graduates. A lot of the kids were from schools that were not so good.  But I managed to learn. I am sure that no one expected me, who first decided to be a model, to be a great science teacher.

There are groups who offer assistance and help and professional development. But most school systems opted for vendor driven professional development. There are projects now like ITEST, but I remember being mocked and made fun of for using CUSEEME. It was not so much the teaching staff, it was the Washington Post that made fun of the new uses of technology. I survived, but others who used it were run out of teaching. And what are we doing now? Technology of course . We are talking digital textbooks , bring your own device and schooling by the Internet. Who knew?

The department of Education at one time was a leader in sharing  initiatives, like the Jason Project. I particularly loved the Voyage of the Mimi , Part two, it taught us to integrate subjects , it was truly interdisciplinary and it had proper ideational scaffolding. It was archaeology, it was science and experiments, it was games, it was videos, it was awesome to be able to teach. How did we get permission, well no one would claim the project, so the Gifted and Talented Supervisor let us do it without trouble. What a wonderful example it was for us. The children personalized the learning, and parents were engaged.

I am a PAEMST awardee for the State of Virginia. I have awards in many areas in science, earth science, Earthwatch Grants, and NSTA initiatives > Did I mention There were always people wanting to teach me more science. That’s the great thing. The sad thing is that science seemed to be mysterious to administrators, so we had to use.There are the opportunities but the policies of NCLB and restrictive principals caused science to be thrown overboard.. Gerry Wheeler of the NSTA is my hero for saying that we teachers were blocked from teaching science in the NCLB testing frenzy. Here is the article to read. Read it well.

Let me say that kids who love school, will work , work, learn and then some. The NASA resources that we used were so powerful. There was a time when teachers could build their curriculum using NASA modules and ideas. I will never forget being with 10 of my students at the White House. We worked hard for that. We were Young Astronauts, Challenger Center students and Goddard Astronomers. I am a geographer at heart. Lookhere to  see my perspective and this is  citizen science. Danny Edelson of the National Geographic says” Citizen science is the name for scientific research projects that engage members of the public in some aspect of their research. There have been some high-profile citizen science projects recently in which members of the public have conducted image analysis and solved protein-folding problems, but the overwhelming majority of citizen science projects involve crowdsourced data collection.”

The last time I was able to share my craft in science was in a Smithsonian Summer Camp. I was not sure that it would work with rising first graders, but they loved every bit of the science and two of the children signed up for the next camp.

I was the teacher that principals loved to hate, except one or two. I had rocks, bones, skeletons, probes, kits of all kind. I blame it on Wendell Mohling a friend of mine. He was on a plane to a science conference that I was attending ( I was going  without permission)

So here was the President of the NSTA who was also going without permission. I heard him say that and I went up and introduced myself. We started working to broaden engagement and make science known to lots of students.

Teaching Science

I loved October, I would get out my disarticulated skeletons, minks, rabbits, cat and a few articulated ones and some sample bones that I had and the kids would try to figure out how to make the skeleton. It took lots of time. I did have some surprises with the owl pellets as one child created a perfect example of a skeleton of some animal the Owl had consumed. So I had as a wonderful place to take kids the Naturalist Center at the Smithsonian . Hal Banks helped me learn to teach kids science and there were plenty of collections for teachers who did not have access to the resources, skeletons, rocks, and coral. I got in trouble once for taking the rocks, un-gluing them from the boxes. I just wondered what the fuss was all about as there were about 45 boxes of rocks in the science closet that no one ever used or looked at. There are probably enough iron filings in science closets in the US to build a battleship. But I digress.

I loved spring, we would hatch chickens, raise frogs and butterflies, start a worm farm and plant a garden. It was hard work. There was parents who loved my work and teachers who blocked me at every stop of the way. Finally I gave up. Pushing both technology and science became difficult. I had an ally in Marc Prensky who understood how sharing resources with people in the field or in the know , worked. An example is COSEE on line work with NOAA. It is outstanding pioneering work

Shirley Malcom and the AAAS gave us tools and connections to the curriculum on-line with interactive links and programs. But the administrators were not interested. It was sad to try to push the needed work, when tests were all that mattered. Here is my work with teachers and sadly, there was some pushback within certain communitiesto teachers learning supercomputing and computational thinking. Bob Panoff and Scott Lathrop helped us bring teacher communities to supercomputing thinking.

My friend Mano works in areas of need in rural Virginia. There are lots of us who have the aptitude to teach students. Permission is something else.

We were into rocks and charts. We grew our own crystals, and we sliced some geodes, and polished some other rocks. Parents helped me, and we wrote grants. In ESS Rocks and Charts you learn to test rocks for various properties. I loved watching the kids figure it out. I had taken that course at Marymount. There was a STEM initiative to help us transform our learning and make science real for the children. Fairfax county used to built these hands on kits for teachers in the system. Some teachers built their own kids nation wide.


Because I was interested in science, when the National Geographic did the first Kidsnetwork, in which a real scientist reported to kids and helped them to create a project around a topic I was able to explore Acid Rain, Water, Trash and Pets. These kinds of projects exist today at the National Geographic and are available as citizen science for classes, communities and those who want to learn. The National Geographic has lots of projects on the education site and a network of alliances to help teachers in each state.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, the Smithsonian Estuary Center, all of these were available to the students, parents and I. We had an Eat a Crab Lab, we dissected fish, we went out on the pier and did salinity studies, surveyed the wind and tides, did microscopic studies, and looked for the various stages of the crab.  Look here. I could share so many things about science teaching, but they are in my previous blogs. Here is a set of pictures from my Facebook page on a great subject. We studied through NASA and learned in the museums.

From the River to the Sea- and Ocean Literacy


The Chesapeake Bay

cbToday, the Chesapeake yields more fish and shellfish than any other estuary in the country, close to 45,000 tons annually.  But due to increasing acidity in some parts of the bay, the shells of young oysters are growing as thick as in the past, making them easy prey for crabs.

According to a study conducted at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science  , acidity is increasing in some parts of the Chesapeake Bay faster than it is occurring in the open ocean.  The study should be of interest to citizen scientists.

When I was a small child, long ago, the sea was where the beach was. I had no conceptual framework of the idea of the ocean.

The science that I was taught was not the kind of science I learned about in deep kinds of learning. I went to a Catholic school and we did not have much science. I was an adult before I understood much about the Chesapeake Bay. Because of fear, and segregation we rarely visited any but the “Black” beaches.  They were not the best. So when I was a new teacher and learned a lot about water, and specifically the Chesapeake Bay; I was fascinated to learn the history of the Chesapeake Bay. The book by Michener helped to frame my ideas of the region.

My family has native American roots, so we were interested in the history of the people native to the region.


Back in the day, Blacks and Native Americans lived in Freetowns. ( where they were allowed to live.) That history and that of the people who helped slaves and Native Americans was interesting as well.

The storyline, like much of Michener’s work, depicts a number of characters over a long time period. Each chapter begins with a voyage which provides the foundation for the chapter plot. It starts in 1583 with American Indian tribes warring, moves through English settlers throughout the 17th century, slavery and tobacco growing, pirate attacks, the American Revolution and the Civil WarEmancipation and attempted assimilation, to the final major event being the Watergate scandal. The last voyage, a funeral, is in 1978.

First I studied at the National Aquarium in Baltimore with Dr. Valerie Chase, as we created the “Living in Water” curriculum.

IntroductionProcess-Orientated Science in the ClassroomThe Hands-on Approach: What Research SaysScience process skills used in theis curriculumTeaching hands-on science

I had a lot to learn. Before working with Dr. Chase, my science learning about the Bay was reading science. What a wonderful experience I had learning ecosystems, and adaptations and all about The first several days were headache days, because I had never heard of most of what she was talking about and I had a lot of vocabulary, ideas, and information to review.

This is their mission.
Through transforming experiences, the National Aquarium Institute inspires people to enjoy, respect, and protect the aquatic world.

But hard science became fun science. I loved the work at the Aquarium and we were in the field, and behind the scenes at the Aquarium. I treasured the learning experience and became a better teacher.

Here is the home page of the Aquarium ,

You can take a virtual tour here

This is important because there is a cost associated with the visit and there were parents who did not want to pay it. So the kids and I applied for grants that would make this tour a part of our learning.

Ever hear of Anoxia Mae?You do know what Anoxia is , don’t you?

Here is a history tour of Solomon’s Island

This is a tour of Wye Mills

This is an awesome place on the Rhode River.

The Learning Lab at SERC.

SERC Canoe Trip

Never mind that my principal was not into hands on science. I did it. It was wonderful. Parents loved the idea that we were being active scientists.

But now there are even better ways to study the Bay.

This from the National Geographic


Sea Rise and the Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay FieldScope Project is a “citizen science” initiative in which students investigate water quality issues on local and regional scales and collaborate with students across the Bay to analyze data and take action. Chesapeake Bay FieldScope is a project of National Geographic’s Education Programs in collaboration with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office.

For more on the Chesapeake Bay FieldScope project, visit the National Geographic site here.

Chesapeake Bay FieldScope consists of four project-based learning modules that leverage the FieldScope tool:

  • Connecting to the Watershed with Maps
  • Field Investigation & Data Collection
  • Data Sharing and Analysis
  • Taking Action

I was one in a workshop at the University of Illinois when this project was shared as well as ESRI information.

I believe in STEAM, but it is a part of the way in which I teach.  I think Eat a Crab Lab is both science , and a culinary tour.

I know the songs of the Chesapeake Bay and we as teachers read the saga of the bay by Skipjacks and in children’s literature.

I went to the National Geographic for a Summer Workshop. I was lucky enough to be one of two people selected to participate  from the state of Virginia.

I had so much to learn. People talk about STEAM. Well I suppose if you have never been taught well, you have to insert the arts into your work.

I was taught to include a cross section of subjects into my work and we actually wrote lesson plans and tested them in front of an audience of our geographic peers. Years later I am still trying to repay that wonderful summer by teaching as best as I can and sharing the knowledge. I learned the history of, saw a wonderful film produced by the National Geographic and we actually traveled to several places on the Chesapeake Bay. With the National Geographic you take a look at many ways of thinking about a subject.

Maybe the reason most people have to think of STEAM is because they are not rooted in geography. A geo-literate population can make far-reaching decisions about their health, their environment, and their community.

Geography is the study of natural and human constructed phenomena from a spatial perspective. Geography has two main sub disciplines:

  • Human geography includes such subjects as demography, human settlements, transportation, recreation and tourism, resources, religion, social traditions, human migration, agriculture, urban systems, and economic activities
  • Physical geography  is concerned with the study of the Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere from theoretical and applied viewpoints.

Sometimes the disciplines of human and physical geography combine knowledge to create a more holistic synthesis.

Dr. Danny Edelson shared his ideas in this essay.

By Daniel C. Edelson, PhD

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Whether they realize it or not, every member of our modern society makes far-reaching decisions every day. A far-reaching decision is one that has impacts far beyond the time and place where the decision is being made. For example, when commuters choose between driving or taking public transportation, when corporate boards consider whether they should shift manufacturing from one country to another, and when troops in the field translate orders into actions, they are all making far-reaching decisions.

While the impacts of any particular far-reaching decision may be small, the cumulative impact of the decisions made by millions of people is enormous. The National Geographic Society is working to prepare our young people for the far-reaching decisions they will face throughout their lives. To be prepared for these decisions, they must be able to recognize the far-reaching implications of the decisions they make, and they must be able to take those impacts into account when making decisions. This requires that they have three forms of understanding:

  • How our world works. Modern science characterizes our world as a set of interconnected physical, biological, and social systems. These systems create, move, and transform resources. For example, in ecosystems, nutrients are created, transformed, and transported through food chains. Similarly, in economic systems, people transform natural resources into objects with economic value, which can be transported, used, traded, and sold. Every human decision is affected by these systems and has effects on them.
  • How our world is connected. Today more than ever, every place in our world is connected to every other place. To understand the far-reaching implications of decisions, one must understand how human and natural systems connect places to each other. For example, in the 1980s, scientists discovered that the prevailing winds that speed flights from Chicago to Boston were also carrying power plant emissions from the Midwest that were causing acid rain in New England.
  • How to make well-reasoned decisions. Good decision-making involves systematic analysis of outcomes based on priorities. For example, in deciding where to build a road, a planner will establish priorities for cost, capacity, and impact on communities and the natural environment. He will then predict the outcomes of different options based on those criteria, and will weigh the tradeoffs between these options based on values associated with the different criteria.


We call the combination of skills and understanding necessary to make far-reaching decisions geo-literacy. The three components of geo-literacy are understanding human and natural systems, geographic reasoning, and systematic decision-making.

  • Understanding human and natural systems: A geo-literate individual is able to reason about the creation, movement, and transformation of materials in human and natural systems.
  • Geographic reasoning: A geo-literate individual is able to reason about the characteristics of a location and its connections to other locations.
  • Systematic decision-making: A geo-literate individual is able to articulate decision-making criteria, project outcomes of alternatives, and evaluate those outcomes in terms of the established criteria.

To be geo-literate is to be able to combine these three abilities to make decisions in real-world contexts. Systems understanding and geographic reasoning enable a geo-literate individual to analyze the options in a decision. Systematic decision-making enables a geo-literate individual to weigh those options carefully.

But back to the Chesapeake Bay

Estuary? Do you know what it is? Most don’t. I read an essay about a


Estuaries are bodies of water formed where freshwater from rivers or streams connect with salt ocean water. The mixed water is called brackish, and the salinity may fluctuate dramatically for example depending on freshwater input from rains and waves and tides influences from the ocean. Estuary areas include river mouths, bays, lagoons and salt marshes Source

Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, boundary map. (Source:NOAA)

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and is roughly divided between the states of Maryland and Virginia. In the Maryland portion there are some 6,945 miles of shoreline, encompassing a wide variety of habitats fromsalt marshes to riverine systems to tidal, freshwater marshes.

The multi-component Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Maryland reflects this diversity of habitatgeographypopulation and culture. Each component is unique, but the goals of research, monitoring, education and stewardship remain consistent throughout. Components (sites) are located at Otter Point Creek in Harford County, Jug Bay in Anne Arundel and Prince Georges Counties and Monie Bay in Somerset County.

A component is a part of the whole. In the Maryland Reserve there are three “components” which are listed above. Each component represents a different habitat found within the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Maryland Reserve is one of 27 within the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS), forming a partnership between coastal states and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to protect valuable estuarine habitats.

A cooperative management approach is used involving the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which promotes long-term research, education and stewardship.

Here is an exciting project for teachers to use.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and is home to unique biodiversity. The Bay plays an important role in local commerce, history, and is a critical environmental resource.

The Chesapeake Bay Water Quality Project is a project-based, citizen science educational initiative that engages students in 21st century investigations of watershed health using real-time geospatial technology. The project provides students with a dynamic experience that combines classroom learning with outdoor field experiences and technology-supported inquiry. Students useFieldscope, a web-based interactive mapping tool, to share and analyze data they collect on the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Through this project, students will gain a better understanding of water quality issues and the interconnectedness between humans and their environment. Students are encouraged to embark upon their own projects to put their learning into action through watershed clean-up activities, participation in Bay restoration projects, and the like..

How we know that online technology works is that I can offer this to you and Google Maps, and ESRI resources to share observing the ocean.
Hopefully this will lead to Ocean Literacy.

The ocean is the defining feature of our planet. Ocean Literacy means understanding the ocean’s influence on you and your influence on the ocean. There are 7 principles of Ocean Literacy — ideas scientists and educators agree everyone should understand about the ocean. Join the Network to build a more ocean literate society!

Explore the Site