Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Let's take a cue from Professor Edwards and the Flint water crisis

The Water Next Time: Professor Who Helped Expose Crisis in Flint Says Public Science Is Broken - The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Flint water crisis isn't the first man-made or natural disaster we've had to respond to but it is one of those unusual eye-opening events that elevates the underlying problem in plain view: we have a substantial problem in this country (in this world) adequately maintaining our natural resources and providing a healthy environment for everyone, regardless of levels of affluence.

As this interview with Professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech points out, we have a national problem with science in general. I'm simplifying what he actually talks about so I encourage you to read the entire article and then come back to hear what else I have to say.

Politics aside (because I think this country also lacks a strong, ethical political system focused on the public good), we have a big need to strengthen our science programs beginning in the K-12 system and before any lame-brain ed-reformist gets ideas, I'm not talking about making curriculum standards tougher and testing kids more. Our science education programs should be place-based learning experiences where kids are exposed to the current, real-world problems and asked to help solve them. Not more memorization of easily retrievable facts and figures (I avoided a science minor in college to go along with my math major because I hated memorizing the periodic table of elements in high school - HATED IT), but hands on work in the community to analyze problems, develop hypothesis, design experiments, collect and analyze samples, design blind tests, synthesize data, and develop possible solutions. At a minimum, this rigorous and relevant learning should begin at the 5th grade but should be on steroids by the time kids reach their high school years.

Other content areas should join in wherever it is obvious that science is not separate from language arts, math, civics, health and physical education. In fact, the best schools would make it difficult to determine where one ends and the other starts. You wouldn't be able to find the "English classroom" simply by walking the halls and seeing a sign. The core classes would blend into a rainbow of real life.

So if we want to help solve a growing litany of mostly man-made problems, and at the same time convert our factory-model schools into laboratories of relevant learning, let's take a cue from Professor Edwards and the Flint water crisis.

And let's stop talking about it and start now. In every school.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Organizing your research and interests

Important to our school district's two-year human-centered design project is the gathering of secondary resources to combine with interview data to identify and analyze patterns that will point our design thinking towards prototyping and other action. I've found that educators sometimes have very weak skills in finding, evaluating and storing this type of research because they've done so little of it since their undergrad days.

For me, the most effective Internet search tool for resources I'm interested in is through Twitter and relevant hashtags. Because I use Tweetdeck on my MacBook Air with multiple feed columns based on hashtags or lists for relevant topics, much of the research comes to me instead of wasting hours on Google or other similar search machines. When I quickly peruse the latest Tweets that come in, if I spot a link that interests me I can quickly scan it and decide if it's something I want to share or explore in more depth. I can then either bookmark the article/post or favorite it in my Tweetdeck feed for later.

One other organizing tool I use is called DEVONthink which allows me to quickly drag a link or article into an Inbox (the general inbox or a folder I've set up for a topic) for later. DEVONthink is a powerful research and writing tool because it has the capability of searching your resources based on tags or topics. I've only begun to better understand how to use this power.

Online sources that are particularly relevant to me I bookmark in my RSS reader and follow their posts more closely. I use Protopage as my reader because its so simple to add another source and organize them by my interests (i.e., News, Education, Detroit Red Wings, Running).

I know I'm preaching to the choir for most of you on Twitter who came to read this post, but there may be those in your schools or districts who could use a little help getting organized. I would also be interested in hearing what works for you.

Below are screenshots taken for each of the three tools I mentioned above as I was writing this Sunday morning post.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

For what it's worth, Governor Snyder should have sent in a general

Look, we elect mayors and governors and presidents thinking that whoever it is will be able to handle the office and whatever comes up, but the truth is few of them ever have an opportunity (thankfully) to handle a crisis such as the Flint Water scandal. What we've found in out in Michigan is that Governor Rick Snyder is incapable of crisis leadership. No shame there, most folks would have fouled it up just as bad. Leading a computer company and whatever other business enriched his bank account doesn't qualify him to take the reins in a crisis of this magnitude and lead. In fact, he would have been far better off delegating full authority and responsibility for this crisis back when it first surfaced to my old friend, and now commander of the Michigan National Guard, Major General Greg Vadnais.
During General Vadnais' tenure as Commander, 38th Infantry Division (Mechanized), over 9,000 soldiers were mobilized and deployed to 17 different countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Egypt and to numerous other security missions in the United States and abroad. Greg was the Commander for Joint Task Force-Cyclone in response to Hurricane Katrina providing command and control of the over 14,000 Soldiers and Airmen deployed in Mississippi. When he commanded the 46th Brigade 38th Infantry Division, I was serving as his deputy. I know what he's capable of and he would have definitely kept Snyder's bacon out of the fire. He would have acted decisively and left the studying to the academics.
Instead, General Vadnais was left with cleaning up some of Snyder's mess by commanding water resupply, long after the Governor's damage was done.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Last minute bait-and-switch by Michigan legislature will gag schools and local communities trying to inform their electorate

UPDATED: From the Detroit Free Press, 12/20/15
"But it wasn't just the voting process Republican lawmakers were out to re-engineer. They also made some 11th-hour changes to campaign finance laws, making it more difficult for voters to find information about ballot issues and preserving reporting requirements that allow so-called independent political donors to delay disclosing their political expenditures on behalf of candidates until after the election has taken place. 
"When (Rep. Lisa) Lyons' committee voted unanimously to recommend its passage a week ago, SB 571 was a 12-page bill that reduced paperwork, but not disclosure requirements, for political action committees across the state. It had breezed through the state Senate with nary an objection from lawmakers of either party. 
"But when it emerged from a Republican caucus room Wednesday evening, SB 571 had metastasized into a 53-page behemoth that included GOP-friendly amendments to 10 different sections of Michigan's Campaign Finance Act. It was adopted by both houses late Wednesday night without a single Democratic vote or amendment, and after the Republican majority voted to clear the Senate chamber of Democratic staffers and lock the senators themselves inside."

Moments before recessing for the holidays, the Michigan House and Senate rushed through a bill intended to improve campaign finance reporting, but included somebody's pet amendment designed to silence school districts and communities who want to provide factual information within sixty days of an election. The original bill as reported by the House Committee earlier did not contain this restriction.

Below is an excerpt of the final bill (SB 571, H-3) passed by both bodies and headed to the Governor for signature. In addition, I've included excerpts of both the House and Senate journals so you can see how this unfolded and who supported it. Click on any item to enlarge it for viewing.

From the House Journal:

From the Senate Journal: