Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Brain, the Enlightenment, and Coffeehouses

Over the centuries, there was never a shortage of admonitions based on the negative effects of alcohol and frequent drunkenness. While the mountain of related warnings continued to increase, there was a distinct period in Western Civilization during which all caution went largely unheeded. Today, we recognize the long- and short-term effects of alcohol on the human brain.

Neurons are the brain cells that are largely responsible for communicating with one another to produce behavior and cognition. However, alcohol can block the communication signals between neurons, prompting the conspicuous signs of intoxication including slower reflexes, poor recall, slurred speech, moderated judgment and decreased problem-solving capabilities. Cognitive impairment is a long-term  consequence of heavy drinking, with his own visible signs including difficulties in paying attention, verbal fluency, working memory and controlling impulses. Excessive alcohol consumption eventually leads to a decreased brain cell count.

During the Middle Ages, due to the poor sanitary practices of the times (primarily associated with human waste disposal), water was rarely potable in England and therefore, unsafe for human consumption. The most common substitutes for water were ales, beers, and wine, which were indulged in both day and night, resulting in a slightly intoxicated public most waking hours.

Coffee, which originated in Ethiopia in the 10th century, ushered in a new era in England and Europe. When water is heated above the boiling point to produce a coffee, bacteria and parasites that cause most illnesses are eliminated. Not only could large numbers of people remain sober, as a bonus to their newfound sobriety, the caffeine in coffee was a stimulant. Suddenly, coffeehouses spread throughout England in the early 1600s, and this addictive brain stimulant helped to usher in the European period known best for a "rationalist and scientific approach to the understanding of human society, the law, religion, and individualism" or the period of Enlightenment.

Coffeehouses became the central hub for exchanging ideas, conducting business, spreading the latest news and gossip, and meeting up with other like-minded thinkers. Coffeehouses were places where one could discuss and debate with his ideological, theological, and political opponents, as well as friends. For a mere penny entry fee, the door to nearly any coffeehouse would open as if by magic giving one access to uniquely stimulating conversations fostered by the stimulant caffeine.
Most importantly, 17th and 18th century coffeehouses became the primary location where one could learn from colleagues, "authorities," friends, and complete strangers who gathered in the coffeehouses to introduce, explain, critique, compare, and exchange innovative and scientific ideas. The Enlightenment also saw individuals challenge the traditional religious-based pseudo-scientific notions that opened the window to transformative scientific examinations of commonly held ideas that were intensely advocated by the church. Thus, these establishments became known as “penny universities,” and emerged as the most appropriate and most common venue to conduct business, becoming an integral component in British commerce. 

Coffeehouses became the most dynamic social, intellectual, and commercial hubs where professionals, merchants and farmers could confer with colleagues and complete strangers in specified businesses and in support of specific professions. Coffeehouses near the Westminster became the places for politicians to meet. Coffeehouses in the proximity of the Royal Exchange catered to the merchant and business communities, while theologians and clergymen gravitated to the coffeehouses nearest the major churches. Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctioneers were spinoffs of the coffeehouses near the auctioneers. “Jonathan’s coffeehouse” was the principal hangout for London’s stockbrokers and was the location from which the London Stock Exchange emerged. The establishment known as "Lloyd’s Coffeehouse," was the main scene for insurance transactions. It evolved into the Lloyd’s of London insurance company.

Recognizing the  high neurological price one pays when small or moderate doses of alcohol impact the central nervous system (processing, learning, remembering, rational thinking, etc.), what might the long-term toll be on the CNS brought on by a lifetime of nearly nonstop alcohol consumption? Diminished cognitive performance would be the first expected outcome.

During the Enlightenment, the needle for all cultural, religious, political, and scientific conversations moved dramatically after the introduction of sustained sobriety brought about by the introduction of coffee. The coffeehouses and their "secret ingredient" caffeine were instrumental in developing and expanding complex circuitry in sober brains during the Enlightenment, rather than damaging brain cells and the vital dendritic connections that formed the basis of transformational and creative thinking.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Next Generation Science Standards in a Historical Context - Part VII: Key Science Organizations and Conclusion

Key Science Organizations

·        1857 – The National Education Association is founded in Philadelphia by forty-three educators with a total membership of 100 educators.

·        1900 – The American Association of Universities is founded for the purpose of overseeing the competitive nature of American universities compared to their European counterparts.

·        1916 - The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is founded, and; the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is founded.

·        1920 - The National Council of the Teachers of Mathematics is founded.

·        1944 - The National Science Teachers Association is founded.


Among the historical events directly and tangentially shaping the nature of contemporary science instruction are the transformative demographic changes that modified the target population of students we serve. When over 3 million immigrants entered the country in the mid-19th century, educational policy was created to successfully absorb them into the American fabric. A similarly monumental challenge faces us today in successfully preparing millions of students of color, who constitute the new “majority minority” (an oxymoron although accepted in educational circles) and science and STEM education. Effectively educating students who are different than the type of students for whom our colleges of education were initially designed, becomes a primary concern of mathematics, science, and STEM education. This consideration has important implications in the implementation of the NGSS over the next five years.

Addressing this goal translates into a carefully planned professional development undertaking concentrating not only on how to teach the Next Generation Science Standards, but also on how the human brain best encodes, processes, stores, retrieves, and applies the new 3-D content, practices, and protocols for assessment. In cognitive science, we recognize that all brains are basically gray and it is exclusively the gray matter that truly matters in the areas of learning and memory. However, are there teaching and learning strategies expressed or implicit in the NGSS that should be underscored in professional development for classroom practitioners teaching the “new majority” in our schools? When the new assessment items on the NGSS assessment tools are written and field-tested, how will the needs of these students be reflected? Hopefully, history is not poised to repeat itself.

The relationship between economic prosperity and the successful delivery of science and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education has become increasingly apparent to economists, policymakers, and educators. Stephen Priutt, who played a lead role in crafting the NGSS said, “The need for a quality science education for all students has never been more critical than it is in the 21st century.”  While the fundamental principles of science have not changed, how we will teach those principles in the future has changed. The degree of student engagement in long-term science investigations, where students take a “deep dive” into the content with new performance expectations (combining content with claims, evidence, and reasoning) and enhanced learning outcomes in mind, indeed will differ dramatically from how students learned science in the past.

In 1865, British mathematician Charles Dodgson, wrote the children’s tale, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, under the pseudonym “Lewis Carroll.” Well into the story, Alice asks the Cheshire Cat, “Which way ought I go from here?” The Cheshire Cat responds, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” When Alice says that she really doesn’t care where she gets to, the Cheshire Cat informs her that, “If you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will get you there.” Equally important, not knowing where we hope to be in science education would lead us anywhere, including places we have already gone, as well as places at which we do not wish to be. The path formed by scientific discoveries, public policy, and educational psychology over this vast time period have taken us to where we currently are in science education. Fortuitously, with the Next Generation Science Standards we know where we are headed, we know how we will get there, and we have established the benchmarks tell us that we have indeed arrived.

Next Generation Science Standards in a Historical Context - Part VI: Tools and Technologies for Learning

Tools and Technologies for Learning

·        1609 – Galileo observes the moon with a telescope, moving astronomy out of the realm of religion and into the world of science.

·        1638 – The first printing press in the American Colonies is installed at Harvard College permitting the production of academic literature and textbooks.

·        1654 - The first slide rule with the familiar inner sliding rule is invented by instrument-maker Robert Bissaker. Until handheld calculators are invented 300 years later, slide rules remain the most commonly used calculation tool in engineering and the sciences. 

·        1801 - The blackboard is invented by James Pillans, allowing teachers to share information with an entire class simultaneously. It becomes the most widely used educational tool worldwide for the next two centuries. 

·        1868 - The “modern” typewriter is invented in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by Sholes, Frank Hall, Carlos Glidden and Samuel Soule.

·        1902 - Pencils and paper are mass-produced for the first time making them affordable and readily available to nearly all American students, teachers, and schools. In tandem, the two products quickly replace slates as the most dominant means of learning and practicing the 3R’s in classrooms.

·        1939 - Televisions are introduced into the classroom as an instructional learning tool.

·        1959 The Xerox Corporation introduces the Xerox copier rendering the ditto machine obsolete; personal computers (PCs) are used for the first time in public schools (New York).

·        1962 - Roger Appledorn, an engineer with the 3M Corporation, advances the technology that makes overhead projector one of the most widely used tools in the history of classrooms and boardrooms.

·        1964 - IBM releases the first Magnetic Tape/Selectric Typewriter (MT/ST).

·        1972 - Texas Instruments produces the first line of electronic handheld calculators.

·        1973 – The first handheld cell phone (mobile telephone) is invented by Martin Cooper.

·        1977 - The Apple Computer Company headed by Steve Wozniak and Steven Jobs introduces the Apple II personal computer, which is enthusiastically adopted by American schools.

·        1981 - IBM introduces the PC and MS-DOS.

·        1990 - The Internet becomes accessible to the public; Whiteboards are introduced to American schools replacing blackboards; Multimedia features were developed into PCs making possible high-capacity simulations, videos, games, sound and animation.

·        1991 - The Smart Board (an interactive Whiteboard) is released by SMART Technologies.

·        1994 - Netscape Communications (previously Mosaic Communications) releases Mozilla 1.0, the first commercial web browser.

·        1998 - Google begins operation.

·        2002 - 99% of American schools have Internet access.

·        2007 - The Kindle electronic readers (e-books) are commercially sold for the first time by revolutionizing how people read books and store books in their libraries; the Apple Company introduces the iPhone, the first touchscreen cell phone.

·        2010 - The Apple Company releases the iPad, a “slate computer” and schools begin substituting multiple textbooks with single iPads.

·        2013 - Approximately 36% of humanity worldwide has Internet access

·        2015 – The beginning of the Innovation Age as more than 50% of humanity has access not only to the Internet, but to the Cloud.

Next Generation Science Standards in a Historical Context - Part V: Research and Practices

Research and practices

·        1500 - Leonardo da Vinci declares that experimentation and observation are essential to all human learning, particularly the sciences.

·        1637 - RenĂ© Descartes presents “The Scientific Method,” which influences science teaching and learning for the next 350 years.

·        1690The Essay Concerning Human Understanding is published by John Locke, an advocate of the tabula rasa theory (“clean slate” or “blank slate”) of the human mind.

·        1779 – A future US President, Thomas Jefferson, proposes a two-track educational system with one track intended for students destined to become laborers and another track for the more promising "learned" individuals. 

·        1892 - The Committee of Ten, a working group of leading educators convenes at the behest of the National Education Association, and publishes its trailblazing report offering the first standard curriculum for US schools. It recommended that science (with labs) should constitute 25% of the curriculum.

·        1899 – The first US Science Curriculum is published calling for two lessons per week in K-8 schools on Nature Study (an interdisciplinary investigation of plants, animals, and ecology). It recommends four lessons per week on physical geography, biology, physics, and chemistry for secondary schools.

·        1916 - John Dewey’s Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education is published, arguing that student centered, hands-on curriculum constitutes the most effective approach to student learning, and that schools are the best agents of democracy.

·        1956 - (Benjamin) Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives is published dividing the cognitive domain into six levels.

·        1958 - Paul DeHart Hurd coins the term “scientific literacy” in his article Science Literacy: It’s Meaning for American Schools, defining scientific literacy as a conceptual understanding of science and its application to societal experiences.

·        1960 - “New Math” is introduced to American schools. Lev Vygotsky’s 1934 book Thought and Language introduces the concept of “Zones of Proximal Development.”

·        1966 – Jerome Bruner offers an alternative to behaviorism in his book Toward a Theory of Instruction, which introduces his Constructivist Learning Theory.

·        1964 - the NSF sponsors 20 innovative hands-on, interactive curriculum projects marking the first time that science curriculum was influenced from a national level.

·        1970 – Jean Piaget’s book, the Science of Education is published in which his Learning Cycle Model stresses the value of discovery-based teaching approaches, particularly in the sciences.

·        1975 - Why Johnny Can’t Write is published in the December 8 issue of Newsweek magazine bringing literacy to the political forefront, and contributes to the “Back to Basics” Movement reversing 20 years of progressive education.

·        1982 - Howard Gardner introduces the Multiple Intelligences Learning Theory in his book Art, Mind and Brain.

·        1983 - A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform is released by the National Commission on Excellence in Education calling for reforms in public education and teacher training, stating that “the educational foundations of our society are being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity.”

·        1993 - Benchmarks for Science Literacy is released providing coherent end-of-year learning goals for students in grades 2, 5, 8, and 12 in the areas of science, mathematics, and technology. The Benchmarks shape future state and national science standards.

·        2007 - The American Competitiveness Initiative is signed into law adding $136 billion over a 10-year period for research, development and education in the STEM fields.  

·        2009 - The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts is launched. 

·        2013 - The Next Generation Science Standards establish new science standards and curriculum recommendations for standard-specific performance expectations.

·        2017 - Implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards begins nationwide.


Next Generation Science Standards in a Historical Context - Part IV: Law and Policy

Law and Policy

·        1791- The US Bill of Rights passes and makes formal education a function of the states rather than a responsibility of the federal government.

·        1833 - The Factory Act is passed prohibiting the employment of children until they are at least 9 years of age.

·        1865-1877: With the end of race-based legalized slavery in the US, African-Americans establish a network of black public schools throughout the South.

·        1867 - The U.S. Department of Education is established to coordinate the policies and practices used in public school systems throughout the states.

·        1925 - In the Tennessee vs. John Scopes trial (the “Monkey Trial”), Scopes is convicted of the then-scandalous crime of teaching evolution.

·        1950 - The National Science Foundation is founded for the purpose of upgrading the teaching of science, and addressing the national manpower shortages of talented scientists and engineers.

·        1954 - Brown v. Board of Education (of Topeka, Kansas) ends the pretentious policy of “separate but equal” public in education based on race.

·        1958 - Triggered by Sputnik, Congress passes the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) allocating $887 million to boost research and education in science and mathematics.

·        1965 - The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (“Title I”) is signed into law by Pres. Johnson providing funds for poor children attending America’s public schools.

·        1968 - The Bilingual Education Act is passed by the US Congress providing federal funding to local school districts for teaching students with limited English backgrounds.

·        1970 - The National Environmental Education Act creates the Office of Environmental Education (although it is eliminated by Congress in 1981.)

·        1996 - The National Research Council publishes the National Science Education Standards (NSES) setting new goals for producing a scientifically literate populace.

·        2001 - Pres. George W Bush signs the No Child Left behind Act (NCLB) into law, which holds schools accountable for student test scores (“standards-based reform”) in the areas of reading and mathematics (but no mention of science education).

·        2005 - Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District reignites the evolution debate presenting “Intelligent Design” as an instructional alternative to evolution.

·        2010 - The Race to The Top was approved as a new educational reform initiative in which states would compete for federal grants (in the midst of an economic recession).

Next Generation Science Standards in a Historical Context - Part III: Advances and Inventions in Science

Advances and Inventions in Science

·        1687 – Isaac Newton formulates his three laws of motion.

·        1800 – The electric battery is created by Count Alessandro Volta.

·        1859 – Charles Darwin’s revolutionary treatise on evolution, the Origin of Species, is published.

·        1869 – Dmitri Mendeleev unveils the Periodic Table.

·        1879 - Thomas Edison invents the incandescent lamp (the “light bulb”), one of his 1,093 inventions.

·        1905 - Albert Einstein explains the relationship between speed, time and distance in his Theory of Relativity.

·        1953 - James Watson and Francis Crick describe the double-helix structure of DNA. 

·        1957 - The Soviet Union launches Sputnik I, the first man-made satellite to orbit Earth, beginning the “space race.

·        1960 - Stephen Hawking publishes the Grand Unified Theory, which explains the origin of the Universe.

·        1969 - The United States “wins” the space race when Apollo 11 lands on the moon, and Commander Neil Armstrong steps off the Lunar Module’s ladder and onto the surface of the moon.

·        1990 - The Hubble Space Telescope is launched into orbit from the space shuttle Discovery

·        1995 - Although originally developed in 1960 by the U.S. Navy, the GPS (Global Positioning System) becomes fully operational for general and commercial use.

·       2018 - Stephen Hawking dies at age 76. At the age of  22, Hawking was diagnosed with a rare form of a motor neuron disease and was given only a couple of years to live.   

Next Generation Science Standards in a Historical Context - Part II:

Unlike the biblical account of Moses returning to the Israelites’ campsite after receiving the 10 Commandments from the Almighty, the Next Generation Science Standards have them delivered with a well-known, deep, rich and unpredictable historical background. Arriving at our latest iteration of science standards in 2013 entailed a journey that began centuries ago. Over the past 500 years, inventions, great minds, scientific and engineering tools, educational policies and practices, research on human learning, the founding of scientific organizations, science curriculum development, educational psychology, Congressional acts, laws, court rulings, novel educational initiatives, standards-based movements, cognitive science, revised science standards, demographic changes, technology, and periodic trips “back to the basics” under the guise of educational reform have all played explicit or implicit role in shaping today’s Next Generation Science Standards.  

What are some of the key milestones in the history of science education? How did we get to where are today with the NGSS? Those questions cannot be satisfactorily answered without stepping back in time and taking a journey on a conceptual and historical “time machine,” where we can become a vicarious eyewitness to science education history and the hundreds of pieces comprising the intricate jigsaw puzzle that is defining how students will learn science during the next decade.

We are often cautioned against “getting too deep in the weeds,” but the “weeds” documented herein are comparable to the living and non-living parts of a vastly complex ecosystem, where each of the interacting components (the producers and the consumers) could not exist without the others that make up the whole.

The precursor to the NGSS of 2013 was not the 1996 National Science Education Standards nor the AAAS Benchmarks for Science Literacy published in 1993. Instead, centuries of myriad events ranging from the development of science curricula to more tangential affairs -- compulsory education, the space race, Apple Computer’s iPad -- all unfolded over a massive expanse of time. With the occurrence of each historical event, the destiny and direction of science education took a new turn, bringing us to where we are in the year 2018.