Corvallis Middle School seventh grade students spent three days of designing, cutting and gluing to create a hot-air balloon from tissue paper.
On Thursday morning, they tested the air-worthiness of their creations with a launch at the school’s football field and track.
Educator Stacy Jessop said the annual event is a 20-year tradition.
“We used to do an entire unit on aviation,” Jessop said. “Now there are so many other things to teach we just have a few days for this. We talk about structure, panels, design and the history of flight. We view the hot-air balloon show that happens each year in Albuquerque, New Mexico.”
Each balloon has a sign that says “If found return to Corvallis Middle School.”
“We have had a few fly away and we want to track how high and how far they go,” Jessop said. “We have had them go as far as Woodside, a mile or two.”
The 137 students were launching, chasing and repairing their balloons in groups of two and three. With the heat at 65 degrees and no breeze, most of the balloons did not fly farther than the field. The few that went further stuck in trees of homes in East Corvallis.
Teacher Dave Bradshaw said students were creative.
“Students make their own design,” Bradshaw said. “They glue the panels together and use a template to cut it out then they glue the pieces together. The balloons are very delicate. If there is any little hole the kids will find out when they put the hot air in there.”
Corvallis Middle School science teacher Chris Maul-Smith said he looks forward to the balloon project.
“It is a great way to celebrate the end of the year for students and for the teachers as well,” he said. “It is a way to bring everyone together and have fun constructing a balloon.”
Maul-Smith said the balloons rise up to 200 feet and travel usually 200 to 300 yards, depending on the weather. The colder the day the higher the balloons fly.
“We fill each balloon with hot air from a stove pipe that is attached to a heater donated from Mom’s Rentals in Hamilton,” he said. “They do this every year and make this possible. We hold the opening of each balloon over the stovepipe until it is super-filled and super-warm and then let it go. If there is enough temperature difference, they fly really well. Today is a much better temperature than yesterday.”
Maul-Smith and Dave Chimo filled the balloons and released them into the air.
The balloon team of Amanda Boelman and Madelyn Shepherd said it was a fun project.
“We learned about hot-air balloons and it was great,” Boelman said.
Stephanie Weber and Alexa Sunderland said creating and launching their balloon was cool.
“I was hoping it would go higher,” Weber said. “We’ve got the streamers on ours to make it extra fancy.”
Sunderland said, “It went farther than I thought but it would have been cool to go further and out of the field.” Ramsey Snider and Carter Humphrey repaired their balloon’s several holes after their first launch. This is Jennifer Powell’s first year to teach seventh grade. She was delighted to be included in this project that she has heard about for years.
“Both my own children participated in this fun science project,” she said. “It is just the perfect day and the perfect ending to a great year of school.”
Mountain View, Calif. — THE humanities are kaput. Sorry, liberal arts cap-and-gowners. You blew it. In a software-run world, what’s wanted are more engineers.
At least, so goes the argument in a rising number of states, which have embraced a funding model for higher education that uses tuition “bonuses” to favor hard-skilled degrees like computer science over the humanities. The trend is backed by countless think pieces. “Macbeth does not make my priority list,” wrote Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and the author of a widely shared blog post titled “Is Majoring in Liberal Arts a Mistake for Students?” (Subtitle: “Critical Thinking and the Scientific Process First — Humanities Later”).
The technologist’s argument begins with a suspicion that the liberal arts are of dubious academic rigor, suited mostly to dreamers. From there it proceeds to a reminder: Software powers the world, ergo, the only rational education is one built on STEM. Finally, lest he be accused of making a pyre of the canon, the technologist grants that yes, after students have finished their engineering degrees and found jobs, they should pick up a book — history, poetry, whatever.
As a liberal-arts major who went on to a career in software, I can only scratch my head.
Fresh out of college in 1993, I signed on with a large technology consultancy. The firm’s idea was that by hiring a certain lunatic fringe of humanities majors, it might cut down on engineering groupthink. After a six-week programming boot camp, we were pitched headfirst into the deep end of software development.
My first project could hardly have been worse. We (mostly engineers, with a spritzing of humanities majors) were attached to an enormous cellular carrier. Our assignment was to rewrite its rating and billing system — a thing that rivaled maritime law in its complexity.
I was assigned to a team charged with one of the hairier programs in the system, which concerned the movement of individual mobile subscribers from one “parent” account plan to another. Each one of these moves caused an avalanche of plan activations and terminations, carry-overs or forfeitures of accumulated talk minutes, and umpteen other causal conditionals that would affect the subscriber’s bill.
This program, thousands of lines of code long and growing by the hour, was passed around our team like an exquisite corpse. The subscribers and their parent accounts were rendered on our screens as a series of S’s and A’s. After we stared at these figures for weeks, they began to infect our dreams. (One I still remember. I was a baby in a vast crib. Just overhead, turning slowly and radiating malice, was an enormous iron mobile whose arms strained under the weight of certain capital letters.)
Our first big break came from a music major. A pianist, I think, who joined our team several months into the project. Within a matter of weeks, she had hit upon a method to make the S’s hold on to the correct attributes even when their parent A was changed.
We had been paralyzed. The minute we tweaked one bit of logic, we realized we’d fouled up another. But our music major moved freely. Instead of freezing up over the logical permutations behind each A and S, she found that these symbols put her in the mind of musical notes. As notes, they could be made to work in concert. They could be orchestrated.
On a subsequent project, our problem was pointers. In programming language, a pointer is an object that refers to some master value stored elsewhere. This might sound straightforward, but pointers are like ghosts in the system. A single misdirected one can crash a program. Our pointer wizard was a philosophy major who had no trouble at all with the idea of a named “thing” being a transient stand-in for some other unseen Thing. For a Plato man, this was mother’s milk.
I’ve worked in software for years and, time and again, I’ve seen someone apply the arts to solve a problem of systems. The reason for this is simple. As a practice, software development is far more creative than algorithmic.
The developer stands before her source code editor in the same way the author confronts the blank page. There’s an idea for what is to be created, and the (daunting) knowledge that there are a billion possible ways to go about it. To proceed, each relies on one part training to three parts creative intuition. They may also share a healthy impatience for the ways things “have always been done” and a generative desire to break conventions. When the module is finished or the pages complete, their quality is judged against many of the same standards: elegance, concision, cohesion; the discovery of symmetries where none were seen to exist. Yes, even beauty.
To be sure, each craft also requires a command of the language and its rules of syntax. But these are only starting points. To say that more good developers will be produced by swapping the arts for engineering is like saying that to produce great writers, we should double down on sentence diagraming.
Here the technologists may cry foul, say I’m misrepresenting the argument, that they’re not calling to avoid the humanities altogether, but only to replace them in undergraduate study. “Let college be for science and engineering, with the humanities later.” In tech speak, this is an argument for the humanities as plug-in.
But if anything can be treated as a plug-in, it’s learning how to code. It took me 18 months to become proficient as a developer. This isn’t to pretend software development is easy — those were long months, and I never touched the heights of my truly gifted peers. But in my experience, programming lends itself to concentrated self-study in a way that, say, “To the Lighthouse” or “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction” do not. To learn how to write code, you need a few good books. To enter the mind of an artist, you need a human guide.
For folks like Mr. Khosla, such an approach is dangerous: “If subjects like history and literature are focused on too early, it is easy for someone not to learn to think for themselves and not to question assumptions, conclusions, and expert philosophies.” (Where some of these kill-the-humanities pieces are concerned, the strongest case for the liberal arts is made just in trying to read them.)
How much better is the view of another Silicon Valley figure, who argued that “technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.”
His name? Steve Jobs.
Let’s focus on just one aspect of the nature of science that often gives students (and all sorts of people) problems.
Science Is a Creative Process
Here are some examples from the history of science.
- Einstein used curved space-time to explain gravity (and other things).
- Euler and Lagrange created the calculus of variations in order to solve the brachistochrone problem (path between two points with the shortest time). Oh, and calculus of variations is used in Lagrangian Mechanics—so it’s sort of a big deal.
- Schrödinger developed an equation with wave-like properties to use in Quantum Mechanics.
- Bohr created a model of the atom to explain the spectrum of light produced by hydrogen gas.
This is my quick summary of science: Science is all about making models. These can be physical models, or a mathematical model or even a conceptual model. If the model agrees with real life, then that’s great. If there is an experiment that disagrees with a model, then we have to change that model. That’s it.
If you want to explore the unknown, you first have to follow a trail to get to the uncharted regions.
The creative part of science comes into play in the creation of models. In order to have a model to test, you need to build a model. You can’t just stop by the model shop and pick up a model—no, in real science you have to make these models yourself. You might start off with a terrible model, but you need to start somewhere. Once you have a model, you need an experiment. Sometimes these experiments are simple to see—but other times you need to think of a creative way to collect data. Just look at the LIGO experiment and the detection of gravitational waves as an example. Scientists have to be creative.
Unfortunately, a common idea about the nature of science is that scientists have to follow procedures without using any creativity. In fact, have you ever heard anyone say “I wouldn’t be a good scientist because I’m not creative”? No, instead people say “I’m not any good at math” or “I don’t like following boring procedures.” Yes, there are procedures in science—but that’s not the main objective. Scientists follow procedures so they can reproduce a result that someone else obtained. Procedures are sort of like a map into the wilderness. If you want to explore the unknown, you first have to follow a trail to get to the uncharted regions.
Science Is Creative, Science Classes Are Not
Perhaps the problem with creativity and science is our science classes. What do students do in a chemistry lab? Welcome to lab. Make sure you have your safety goggles and closed-toe shoes. Now carefully measure 2.3 mL of water and add it into the mixture. It goes on and on. Instructions. No wonder students don’t think science is creative.
But wait! If you don’t give students detailed instructions in lab, they are going to mess stuff up—or worse, get hurt—or even worse, fail the lab. It’s not just in chemistry lab that we (instructors) overuse instructions; it happens in physics and biology as well. The problem is that we wish to take our students to the wilderness—but it is an especially long journey. Even with a map, it can take 4 years of classes to get to the cool stuff.
Creativity Is Difficult to Grade
It’s not just that chemistry and physics are complicated. It’s also that creativity in science is difficult to grade, whereas following instructions is easy to grade. In this regard, science should be considered to be similar to art. In both cases, the student really needs to use some form of creativity—but it’s easier to just have them copy some work of art and see how close they can get to the original.
But there are plenty of opportunities for real creativity in science classes. One of my favorite classes is a physics class for elementary education majors. We use the textbook (really, it’s more like a workbook) Physics and Everyday Thinking. The primary goal of this course is to help students understand the nature of science (since they will be teaching science to kids). In one chapter, students try to create a model to explain what happens when you rub a nail with a magnet (it makes the nail act like a magnet). They then look at new experiments to refine their model.
Students often hate this chapter. They hate that there are no clear answers or a rigid set of procedures (there are procedures, just not for making the initial model). Although the students might not be happy, this is what happens in science—you have to create stuff.
You can also introduce creativity into the physics lab (at all levels) by giving fewer instructions. Yes, it can be scary at first—but I find that it works out quite well. One of my favorite labs is conservation of momentum in collisions. I used to give very detailed guidelines on how to collide two carts and show that momentum is conserved. Now, I just show them the carts and let them play for a bit. Students can find all sorts of cool collisions to explore. They can even be creative in their methods for measuring the initial and final velocities (I still give guidance, but they have more freedom).
Finally, there is another simple way to introduce creativity in the introductory physics courses—have the students create something. Yes, in this case I am talking about students creating a numerical model with code. Really, you should try this with your class. Students might be a little cautious at first but once they start making stuff, it’s going to be awesome. It’s even easy to grade. I have the students create a numerical calculation and create a short 5 minute screencast that shows how their program runs and what it does. Not only is it creative, using numerical calculations is just part of the way we do science now. You should be using coding in your physics class (there are no more excuses).
Let’s make science creative again.
The gap between the skills people learn and the skills people need is becoming more obvious, as traditional learning falls short of equipping students with the knowledge they need to thrive, according to the World Economic Forum reportNew Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning Through Technology.
Today’s job candidates must be able to collaborate, communicate and solve problems – skills developed mainly through social and emotional learning (SEL). Combined with traditional skills, this social and emotional proficiency will equip students to succeed in the evolving digital economy.
What skills will be needed most?
An analysis of 213 studies showed that students who received SEL instruction had achievement scores that averaged 11 percentile points higher than those who did not. And SEL potentially leads to long-term benefits such as higher rates of employment and educational fulfillment.
Good leadership skills as well as curiosity are also important for students to learn for their future jobs.
The report asked chief human resources and strategy officers from leading global employers what the current shifts mean, specifically for employment, skills and recruitment across industries and geographies.
Policy-makers, educators, parents, businesses, researchers, technology developers, investors and NGOs can together ensure that development of social and emotional skills becomes a shared goal and competency of education systems everywhere.
Nov. 27, 2012,
A new global league table, produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit for Pearson, has found Finland to be the best education system in the world.
The rankings combined international test results and data such as graduation rates between 2006 and 2010, the BBC reports.
For Finland, this is no fluke. Since it implemented huge education reforms 40 years ago, the country’s school system has consistently come in at the top for the international rankings for education systems.
But how do they do it?
It’s simple — by going against the evaluation-driven, centralized model that much of the Western world uses.
Finnish children don’t start school until they are 7.
They rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens.
The children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education.
There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, taken when children are 16.
All children, clever or not, are taught in the same classrooms.
Finland spends around 30 percent less per student than the United States.
30 percent of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school.
66 percent of students go to college. The highest rate in Europe.
The difference between weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the World.
Science classes are capped at 16 students so that they may perform practical experiments in every class.
93 percent of Finns graduate from high school. 17.5 percent higher than the US.
43 percent of Finnish high-school students go to vocational schools.
43 percent of Finnish high-school students go to vocational schools.
Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day in Finnish versus an average of 27 minutes in the US.
Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom, and take 2 hours a week for “professional development.”
Finland has the same amount of teachers as New York City, but far fewer students. 600,000 students compared to 1.1 million in NYC.
The school system is 100% state funded.
All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidized.
The national curriculum is only broad guidelines.
Teachers are selected from the top 10% of graduates.
In 2010, 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots
The average starting salary for a Finnish teacher was $29,000 in 2008. Compared with $36,000 in the United States.
However, high school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102 percent of what other college graduates make. In the US, this figure is 62%.
There is no merit pay for teachers
Teachers are given the same status as doctors and lawyers
In an international standardized measurement in 2001, Finnish children came in at the top, or very close to the top, for science, reading and mathematics. It’s consistently come in at the top or very near every time since.
And despite the differences between Finland and the US, it easily beats countries with a similar demographic. Neighbor Norway, of a similar size and featuring a similar homogeneous culture, follows the same strategies as the USA and achieves similar rankings in international studies.
Cheney 7th-graders create innovations for Iditarod project
Students at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo had a tall task when they were given a week-and-a-half to research, design and test a new innovation to help Iditarod dog mushers during a fictitious race across North Dakota.
In the “I Will Survive!” project, 96 seventh-grade students in groups of two or three created a tangible invention to help the dogs or mushers complete and survive the long race across North Dakota. They presented their projects Friday in the school’s lunch commons.
Before students started their projects, they heard a presentation from a local veterinarian who discussed the problems and obstacles dogs and mushers face during an Iditarod race. The real Iditarod race began in Alaska in 1973, with a route from Anchorage to Nome. Mushers and dogs can face whiteout conditions and extremely cold temperatures.
Grace Planteen and Victoria Smith created a “doggy care kit” that includes a blanket with a heating system, a dog booty for paws and organic dog treats.
“We spent like a whole day thinking of many different designs and it just came to us,” Smith said.
“There was so much stuff that the mushers need that they can’t always fit all of their stuff they need for the dogs and so we thought, ‘Why can’t the dogs carry their own,’” Planteen added.
Items in the doggy care kit fit into a lightweight pack the girls designed to fit on the dogs. They even tested the packs on their own dogs.
Smith and Planteen said they both enjoyed working on the project. “I really liked creating the prototype,” Smith said. “I thought it was really fun to interact with it and just working with another person on making this happen.”
Two other students, Abigail Carlson and Elizabeth Lokosang, created a better braking system for sleds used in the Iditarod race that would make it safer for the mushers to slow down.
“We had a lot of ideas, but this is the one we really wanted to do because the mushers were falling off their sleds and getting hurt,” Lokosang said.
Carlson said she enjoyed the hands-on design part of the project and not the research, but said the project required her to become a better researcher.
Abigail Carlson and Elizabeth Lokosang talk about their Total Terrain project for the STEM survival, Iditarod unit. David Samson
The new braking system uses a hand brake to slow or stop the sled instead of the musher stepping on two brakes on the rear of the sled. Carlson said the current braking system leads to mushers falling off the sleds more easily.
Another pair of students created “Iditabars,” an energy bar snack for dogs to help them get the nutrients and energy they need to complete the race. Madison Huber and Jonny Schatz developed the recipe after extensive research. They also had to develop a way to keep the bars together after baking them proved impossible.
“Instead of baking them we froze them, so they’re like frozen dog treats,” Huber said.
Huber tested the treats on her own dog.
“He loved it,” she said. “He was just wagging his tail and he was running all night.”
Cheney Middle School seventh-grade teacher Karen Lietz said the project helps students prepare for future solution-based career fields.
“These kids when they graduate, they will have all of those 21st-century skills, with collaboration, creativity,” Lietz said. “They’ll be able to communicate effectively with others. They’ll have developed those soft skills as well as the problem-solving skills that are real-world.”