Thursday, January 22, 2009

Constructing Modern Math/Science: Inquiry Driven Projects and the Development of STEM skills

Dr. David Thornburg, with whom I had a good breakfast conversation with,
started with information from Mark Tucker ( about how in the US, creative work such as research, development, design, marketing, sales, and "Global Supply Chain Management" hasn't been outsourced as much as routine tasks done by people or machines which is done in less developed countries. Brazil, Russia, India and China has gotten much closer to us in GDP, despite the fact we have been growing.
The way for us to stay ahead is to focus on Integrating STEM skills. Currently Math and Science are currently taught in traditional schools where technology and engineering are taught in specialized schools. They should be taught together!
Thornburg lamented the fact that currently, 20th century mathematics is not being taught in our schools. The traveling salesman problem and the 4 color map problem, chaos theory are examples.

Our task today:
  • US economic recovery
  • Energy independence
  • Global Climate Change
  • Develop a singe program that addresses all three of these challenges at the same time.
  • After the research and design phase, create a storyboard of a presentation on your solution.
60 watt incandecent bulb has same lumens as 12 watt florescent and 3 watt LED.
Tanzania-50 gallon drum w/ zinc on the bottom, w/ 1 day of COW dung covered w/graphite will create a battery that can light a house for 3 years!

Thornburg said the trick in inquiry is not to provide too much information, but to STOP TALKING!! This will be an uncomfortable experience for many students...(Reminds me of our CoP!)
The goals of this workshop are to model a lesson but also to get feedback on our comfort level during the experience.
My group consisted of Dan Sutherland from New Jersey and Bud Hunt, better known as "Budtheteacher", from Colorado. Bud set up a chat on "Chatterous" to bring in others to the conversation. Then we added a ustream channel, but not effective.

  1. Harness Educational community for alternatives, Enhance Consumer Education, Refit buildings, Public outreach-Currently people don't think about carbon footprint, and are apathetic, government has not been pro-conservation Tools: Word, PowerPoint,
  2. Our idea -Tools: Google, Chatterous (Thornburg: today: Collaboration, 10 years ago: Cheating), Ustream, Google Doc.
  3. Using Hydro power (Thornburg: The power of 1:1 computing-The tools were used but he didn't teach us to use them. They faded into the background)
  4. Wind Turbines-Tools:
  5. Hydro power, wave turbines, incentives to reduce energy: insulation, batteries, sliding scale for energy use, generate themselves Tools: collaboration, research a little, but mostly talked
  6. Energy Monitoring (SLA student presented this) monitors on appliances/homes to track energy use, tax rebates for lowering energy consumption, (monitors would be manditory like smoke detectors are today)
Questions for us:
How many think that portions of the conversation touched on Science, Technology, Engineering or Math? Most said yes..
Thornburg: If you have a climate where well formed questions are generated, STEM topics will naturally bubble up.
He gave the example of designing gloves for NASA so that tools don't get lost in space, by giving students the task of constructing something out of Legos while wearing oven mits.
Instead of giving the classic "2 trains" problem, give this one: "What is the optimum alignment for earth and mars so that the trip distance is minimized?"
One member of the group observed that initially it's hard to come up with these questions, but after 45 minutes working on a problem, it was much easier to generate them.
Thornburg pointed out that you need some prior knowledge prior to being able to generate them.
He stated that "You should never ask a question for which you know the answer." Once you start doing that you lose some credibility. He said, teach them Zeno's paradox, but then ask students what would happen if you changed the variable. The kids who go by the book might freak out, but the others might really blow your mind!

Here's a great example of an inquiry driven question like this in a subject other that Math or Science:
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