Food is NOT trash

Everyday we eat trash, breathe trash, make trash, and throw away trash. We can’t escape trash.

This fall our Science STARS have been embarking on a journey of science, filmmaking, and activism around the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We’ve explored all of the ways that we intersect with trash and “recycling” throughout our daily lives – where it goes, what it does to our environment, and what we can do to rewrite, or rethink the story of trash.

But we’ve mainly focused on trash and “recycling” like:

  • Plastic bottles
  • Metal cans
  • Glass bottles
  • Plastic bags
  • Cardboard
  • Styrofoam

We’ve had this focus because we’re thinking about how we can reduce, reuse, and recycle these materials to help create a better world.

But, we’ve been missing a HUGE part of trash:

FOOD!

Statistics…

1 in 7 people in the world are hungry while 1/3 of food is wasted (Source: WFP)

In 3 zip codes in the city of Rochester, 40% of residents are food-insecure, meaning they lack access to enough affordable and healthy food (Source: Foodlink)

Statistics in context
How can a country with staggering access to fast food, luxury food, genetically modified food, and local and organic food have people hungry, overweight, and be throwing away so much food?
We could ask these questions in the context of our 3R model: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. At first, I thought the 3R’s were only for materials like plastic, metal, or glass.
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1. Why don’t we REDUCE the amount of food:
  • Consumers demand less food
  • Producers produce less food
  • Consumers buy less food
  • Consumers use the food that they buy

This reduces not only the amount of food we throw away, but the energy and resources used to produce food, care for animals that we eventually eat, or ship and transport food across continents.

2. Why don’t we REUSE food:

  • If we have food that is produced but is past the expiration date to be sold in stores, is the food still usable, healthful, and edible for those without food.

This helps cut down on our problem of wasting 1/3 of food while helping feed one more person in the 1 of 7 that are hungry today.

Image result for foodlink food bank

Photo: Democrat and Chronicle

3. Why don’t we RECYCLE food:

  • Composting helps return nutrients and energy from food back into the soil to make it more viable and productive for future uses.

Think about how a plastic bottle can be recycled and return as part of a park bench. How might the skin of an onion return as a tomato plant the next year?

Image result for composting

Photo: Permaculture

But is that all?

If we reduce, reuse, and recycle our food – will this help solve issues like climate change, obesity, poverty, hunger, and health problems? I think the 3R’s help us see ways to approach how we can lower the impact of trash and waste on these issues. But, I think we more importantly need to RETHINK the story of trash and waste if we are going to make an even greater impact on our communities.

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My hope is that our Science STARS see themselves as able to rethink and rewrite the story of trash and waste in their life.

 

Science Bars

I’m not talking about granola bars or sharing science at the bar (like we did this summer with Thinkers and Drinkers). I’m talking about bars… 

I barely knew what “bars” were until a few weeks ago a student of mine was rapping in class and a friend turned to her and said “you got bars”. I had them break it down for me and explain what is meant by bars. Is it a rap? Is it any song? Does it have to do with the content of the lyrics? I learned that “spitting bars” can refer to all of the above, but are usually like the verse of a song or the measure of a section of a rap.

I wondered if bars were ever used in school. So I asked them if they ever did in a class, for homework, or in school besides just with friends. I was met with a “haaaaaaa, noooo” as if spitting bars were held for a very distinct time and space… and that space wasn’t school.

What if we spit bars in science?

Now admittedly, I’ve wondered where hip hop, rap, and creative writing intersects with science. I had not seen any examples of this in my 18+ years of education or in my life. It’s not a part of my cultural experience. So it has been hard to imagine what this would look like.

While this video is funny, I imagine it actually looks strikingly similar to classrooms throughout our history all the way into the start of our 2018-2019 school year.

“Teacher: Franklin is going to grace us with an extra credit presentation

Franklin: It’s a rap on global warming.

Teacher: Woah woah woah woah, no rap. That’s not an academic presentation.

Franklin: No, no you didn’t say that. You said a creative presentation.

Teacher: I don’t care, sit back down we’re going to start the test.”

Now Franklin spit bars and he rattled off what looks and sounds like a gapless explanation of global warming. I would love if a student turned a creative assignment into something like a poem, rap, or a song. If we learn by doing, then can creating and doing a rap like Franklin help students learn science? Can it be a part of doing science? My concern is that the rap itself can just become another assignment about regurgitating facts versus learning about science, doing science, and learning scientific practices.

Another take on hip hop and science comes from one of my favorite writers and presenters in education, Dr. Chris Emdin. He did(/does?) an after school science/hip hop club in some ways like our after school science/activism/filmmaking club Science STARS.

“Even though we’re pretty good at Hip Hop, we can get better at it. Plus we can get better at Science” says one student.

The after school program starts with students writing bars after a short presentation about a scientific word, photosynthesis. It’s not evident how long was spent on each activity, but by the end of the video, students have written multiple sentences about photosynthesis and rap it to their classmates.

Is this practice culturally sustaining?

Is mixing hip hop and science itself culturally sustaining? I would suggest that hip hop itself is culturally sustaining, but for some students there still may need to be a deeper connection with the content. Otherwise, why else should I care about photosynthesis?

Along with Emdin, I hope that my science classroom will reflect the lives of students and that we can both learn and do science together. I wonder how science bars may fit in.

What is science? Well, let’s find out…

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? Well, let’s find out…

I remember watching this commercial on Nickelodeon when I was in elementary school.

“BOY: Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?

MR OWL: Let’s find out… One.. Two…Three

*CRUNCH NOISE*

MR OWL: Three

BOY: If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s a smart owl.

ANNOUNCER: How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? The world may never know.”

This commercial did its job. I wanted to jump right off of my couch and ask my parents to buy me a Tootsie Pop. Even as Rugrats came back on screen and I followed Tommy, Chuckie, Phil & Lils quest to return the baby lizard to Reptar, the question about how many licks it takes to get to the center of the tootsie pop irked me.

Why didn’t I just sit contently watching TV? Well, like the kid in the commercial and like most scientists… I wasn’t satisfied with Mr. Owl’s answer. I even asked one of my parents and they said, “Probably like a few hundred or a thousand but it’d take a long time and your tongue would hurt. I wouldn’t recommend it.”

I remember my experimental procedure like it was yesterday.

  1. “Mom, can I get this?” as I point at the orange flavored tootsie pop at the grocery store.
  2. Ripping off the plastic wrapper while exiting the store.
  3. Counting in my head each and every lick of the tootsie pop from store exit… to getting in the car… to buckling my seat belt… to stepping out of the car… to opening the door.
  4. But then I was interrupted. Woops, I was supposed to help mom carry in groceries.
  5. Quickly write down what number I was up to on a post it note. 383.
  6. Put half licked tootsie pop on same post it note.
  7. Bring in groceries as fast as humanly possible.
  8. Rush back to my tootsie pop!!!
  9. Ew…it’s sticking to the post-it note.
  10. That’s okay, let’s continue. 384…
  11. Phew this is taking a while.
  12. Mom was right, my tongue does hurt.
  13. …CHOCOLATE? DID I JUST TASTE CHOCOLATE?
  14. 822.
  15. 822 licks is the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop. SUCCESS!
  16. Wait, what if each tootsie pop is different?

I’ve been wondering a lot lately about what qualifies as science.

I used to ask: Does science only happen in a lab? Does science only happen by people with PhD’s?

But I’m now wondering: Where does science happen in my life, everyday? Where does science happen in the lives of my students?

What is science?

My tootsie pop story is a science story of mine. Is science me knowing the answer? Eh. Is science the question that was asked? It’s a start. Is science understanding how we got to the answer? It could help. Is science testing the question? That’s part of it. Is science the process of testing something that you don’t know with the tools at your disposal and using the results to ask new questions or build on your current understanding? I hope so, because that’s what science is to me.

What is science to you? Comment below!

 

PS. It turns out that OTHER SCIENTISTS ASKED THE SAME QUESTION AS ME! One of the most important things that we can do with our science is share it with others and compare what we found to what others found. Read below the video after you watch it to see how we compare!

“See Gurl Try” got 702. That’s pretty close to 822. But why were our numbers so different? One YouTube commenter said they got 2,617, That is almost 4 TIMES as many licks.

That got me thinking…

What qualifies as one complete lick?

Is each tootsie roll situated a little differently inside of each tootsie pop?

Was the owl right all along… it depends on how you eat it?

Where STARS is situated…

Stay tuned for a link to the GRS blog about our first week of class.

Our class of 9 master’s and 5 doctoral students jumped into a fairly jargon heavy academic article on the idea that learning is situated. What does it mean to be situated?

I’ve said something like “I’m getting situated” when moving to a new place, starting a new school, or beginning a new job. Getting situated is about a place, but it’s also about contextculture, and the activities that come with that new place. So I guess you can say I’m getting situated with my new graduate program and the start of a new school year.

I am also a part of a team, the TRASH TALKERS alongside Ms. Coonce and Mr. W for an after school club called Science STARS. Our team will be investigating authentic and relevant science led by students to create change in their world. It’s important for us to consider where STARS is situated and imagine how it can be better situated for authentic learning to take place.

STARS is situated at School 58, World of Inquiry, in the context of being a 7th or 8th grader in the city of Rochester, with the purpose of creating change through science and filmmaking. How does this support or hinder authentic student experiences and authentic learning?

Questions to consider:

How else is STARS situated?

What ways can we better understand where students are situated to improve their experience in STARS?

 

 

The Sorting Hat

These past few weeks we have been preparing tirelessly to make our STEM camp for students in Sodus nothing short of engaging, powerful, and very much Sodus. Behind the scenes and behind the screens you could find Robin, Lisa, and I in long text threads and shared Google Drives into the night considering how to best plan our lessons for the better of students – and meeting with Sodus teachers and absorbing their insights, expertise and passion for their students.

LOYAL TO SOIL DOES SCIENCE

Loyal to Soil has brought our original investigation full circle to now include our most essential piece, Sodus students! We invited students to not only join our group, but also to add value by bringing their own life experiences and interests, their own expertise on Sodus, and to make this investigation something that matters to them. TEAM is one of the few main focuses of our camp:

Teens

Engaging

in Activism

that Matters

We wouldn’t be a team or able to accomplish TEAM without teens in our group however, so on Day 1 of our camp we (along with Stink Squad and Ex-Stream Team) showed students what we did based on some of their previous wonderings about Sodus. In case you aren’t in the loop, we learned that students care about the food that they eat at home and in school – if it’s healthy and what makes it tasty or not. We told our science story (Robin, Lisa, and I – and all the Sodus people who influenced and impacted our investigation) but also to invite new investigators using PowToon to create a blockumentary.

OUR SCIENCE INVESTIGATION

SHAMELESSLY SELLING OUR SCIENCE

We also let students do their own investigating, noticing, and wondering about soil, plants, and the taste of berries. They rotated at stations within Loyal to Soil to begin to consider where food comes from, how it grows, and what might change the way it tastes.

 

Lisa asking students what they notice and wonder about two plants: one grown with water, one grown without water.

 

I conducted a taste test where students tried berries from Burnap’s Farms and berries from the grocery store shipped from out of state. They told us what tastes better (more to come on the results later!)

 

Robin had students feel and look at different types of soil, and wonder about how soil might impact the way that plants grow and what the fruit that comes from some of those plants might look or taste like.

 

PATIENTLY WAITING FLYING

After students rotated through our group we anxiously awaited as students were being placed into Loyal to Soil (us), Stink Squad, and Ex-Stream team. The mystery of the sorting process felt more like being Sorted into a Hogwarts House via the magic (i.e UofR faculty and Sodus teachers)

 

…LOYAL TO SOIL!

Together 20 students were sorted into Loyal to Soil. Just like Harry Potter in many ways chose Gryffindor, we imagine they chose Loyal to Soil as well. During our brief time with these students on Day 1 we invited them to do their own science investigation at Burnap’s Farm on Day 2 of camp. We designed an invitation to Burnap’s Farm via the website Canva.

 

 

REWIND TO FLYING

Rewind through the magical sorting process and students joining our team. While they were being sorted, we introduced them to aerial photography. Think about how you might get a camera up high enough in the air to take a picture from above of… a strawberry field… a river… a habitat of bugs…

We used balloons, a camera and protection for the camera, and some string for students to practice aerial photography and consider how they might build it differently or use it to investigate what their STEM team (Loyal to Soil, Stink Squad, Ex-Stream team) was investigating. The students practiced by setting up the rigs, taking turns flying the balloons to try to reach an optimal and steady height, and even organized below into a question mark, circle… and free for all formation. On the fly (ha!) we showed them what these photos from the sky looked like.

 

 

 

I hope you look forward to my next post about what we did at Burnap’s Farm and what the students found!

In the mean time, think about some things our investigators (students) are considering:

  • What is different about the soil that might be able to tell us why berries from strawberry field taste better from berries from a different strawberry field?
  • What else can we learn about Burnap’s Farm and the areas we investigated using aerial photography to give us a new lens (ha pt. 2!) and perspective about our question?

#WeAreDoingScience

 

 

 

 

 

If a scientist makes a discovery and…

…nobody hears about it, does it matter?

This past week we teamed up with Thinkers and Drinkers at the University of Rochester to practice our communication with public audiences about science and science education. We met at Rohrbach’s Beer Hall for some great beer and conversation.

Pictured above is Lisa, Sam, and I!

One of the goals of Thinkers and Drinkers is to take scientists out of their bubble in academia and bring them and their work “into the real world”. But it’s also to make the public more aware of science that is happening all around them and how science done by normal people that shop at the same grocery store as you or go to the same bar as you. I love this idea and have found it incredibly helpful to practice my own science communication. But it also is amazing to learn from people who are deeply connected with science around them (and may know it or not) even if they aren’t “scientists”. But why is science communication even important?

Data from the Pew Research Center suggests that the general public doesn’t always trust scientists or even trust science, especially on issues that are political because they matter deeply to people and their communities but are politicized by political parties – such as climate change or genetically modified food! Some of you may be reading this and think… well science is rooted in evidence and “facts” so how could someone not trust it? Others of you might be thinking about a ‘pop-sci’ article you saw with a title like “Scientists prove that ice cream cures cancer” and be skeptical about science. Well, to both of those thoughts – yes! There is a miscommunication between scientists and science, and the way it is communicated and implemented.

So what does this mean for scientists and science education as a whole?

Should scientists take more steps outside of their lab and make it a point to learn how to better communicate their science? Yesterday, Dr. Heather Natola and Jessica Hogestyn from the University of Rochester discussed on Connections with Evan Dawson their thoughts on the importance of science communication.

Heather brought up an interesting point — if a scientist is working in the lab, makes progress, or makes a discovery but nobody hears about it or uses it, does it matter? The answer isn’t an easy yes or no, but it once again points to the greater issue…

  1. What is the purpose of science? A loaded question, I know. Is it just important to make discoveries that make an “impact” or is it important to do theoretical work that plays on our creativity and curiosity?
  2. Can science be “wrong” and what does it mean when a scientists make a discovery that is in opposition to a currently held view or practice? I’d suggest that this is science, as new evidence comes to light we can refine our models, tools, or understandings of the world.
  3. How do we build better relationships and communicate better across academia, industry, K-12 education, policy makers, and more importantly – all of us who live in the world and make decisions about our health, our environment, and our communities?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I believe questions like these and groups like Thinkers and Drinkers will help us understand better ways to communicate science no matter where or how you intersect with science each and every day!

The LARGEST organism on Earth

I have always been fascinated by what I couldn’t observe with my senses. During my experience in science I’ve focused on things that are so small that I couldn’t even see them. I’ve investigated microscopic parts of the human brain, and tiny organisms like bacteria and roundworms called C. elegans.

                         

Bacteria: (www.bacteriamicroscopes.com)                                                            C. Elegans: (https://qbi.uq.edu.au/research/area/celegans)

 

This recently had me wondering the opposite: What are some of the largest organisms on Earth? 

I remember learning in school that the largest mammal is the Blue Whale. A blue whale’s TONGUE weighs more than an elephant and a blue whale can grow to be bigger than 3 SCHOOL BUSES. One blue whale can weigh more than EVERY adult and student COMBINED at East High School in Rochester, New York (1). That’s massive.

Image result for largest mammal

(Scale of Animals: https://www.quora.com/Why-cant-mammals-grow-as-large-as-the-largest-dinosaurs)

What if I told you the blue whale weighed 30 times LESS and is 500 times SMALLER in length than the largest organism on Earth?

 

Image result for pando

(Pando: https://imgur.com/gallery/1kZAZ)

Pando is a tree. Well, it’s actually a clonal colony. A clonal colony is made up of IDENTICAL trees all coming from the same central tree, connected by ONE root system. Imagine if the streets in your neighborhood were all like the roots of one tree. Some streets are longer than others, others are shorter. Some are wide and some are skinny. Same thing with the roots of Pando. The roots all connect to the trees of Pando much like how roads connect to buildings like houses, schools, and stores. Here’s a visual idea of another large clonal colony called the Honey mushroom.

 

Image result for clonal colony

(Honey mushroom: https://www.zmescience.com/other/science-abc/largest-organism-world-mushroom/)

Pando and other clonal colonies like the Honey mushroom are incredible to me because just like the really tiny parts of biology that I’ve studied (bacteria, roundworms, or microscopic parts of the brain), clonal colonies are also hard to observe but for different reasons. How do we even measure how big clonal colonies are? How do they transport water and nutrients across hundreds of acres? What happens when one tree in the colony dies and how do new trees grow?

It doesn’t matter if you study things that are large, small, or in between in science. We’re all curious about the parts that we can’t easily observe. The amazing process of science involves building or figuring out the right tools to use to study things 6 million times bigger than you and me or 1 million times smaller than the cell phone you’re holding.

I loved this video on the scale of the universe. It made me think about all of the wonderful parts of science that I usually don’t think about because they’re normally unobservable either because they’re too small or too big. And it also made me curious about how scientists developed tools to observe all of these microscopic or humongous parts of our world.

What is something you want to know about something really BIG or really SMALL in science?

Sources:

  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/b/blue-whale/

Tasty science

Imagine the best piece of fruit you’ve ever tasted.

What did it taste like? What made it taste so good? What makes it so memorable?

 

Source: https://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/blogs/why-is-whole-fruit-healthier-than-smoothie

We (Loyal to Soil) asked middle school students the same question at Sodus this week. The response was amazing.  Apples, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, bananas… on and on. One of the students, Willy, said that his favorite fruit was a mango.

Lisa, a fellow aspiring teacher asked Willy if every mango he had ever tasted was that good. “No”, he said. Some mangos are better than others. We asked this to encourage students to wonder why do some [insert your favorite fruit] taste better than others? 

We wanted the students to bring their own experiences in to their learning. We learned that there are small farms all throughout the Sodus region including apple and berry farmers. What did the students know about local fruit that we didn’t? Is there a “go to” berry farm? Does berries from grocery stores taste different?

Our goal was also to give the students a chance to think about on their own terms why they think some strawberries (for example) taste better than other strawberries, before we showed them what we thought about the question. Here is how we investigated that question and the tools we used to try to figure out why some berries taste better than others.

After doing our own science investigation, consulting with our experts – Kendra, Ed & Jan Burnap from Burnap’s Farm, getting student feedback at Sodus, here are a few takeaways I’ve learned.

  1. Embodied and experiential learning about real world happenings leads to better learning. We experienced as scientists that being out on the farm, taking samples ourselves, and learning about the living experiences of real farmers made this a scientific issue in an actual time and place – that impacts real people everyday. For the students, we tried to mimic this in our short time with them by having them imagining fruit for themselves and giving them strawberries from Burnap’s Farm to get them to think about the science in their community happening everyday.
  2. Context matters for teaching about science ideas or processes. Part of our video had some science potential science jargon – Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K) – that out of context could mean nothing to someone watching it. Do these chemical elements mean anything to you? I did not have a deep understanding of N, P, and K as it relates to plants – but instead have learned about them in the air, in drugs, or in the human body. I had some context but what about for our students who didn’t? We tried to provide more context by showing how N, P, and K can be important for all different parts of the plants – from leaves to roots to growth to fruit. Our hope was that we could develop science ideas in a context for plants, considering how nutrients and other factors are needed for general health.
  3. Science here, there, and everywhere. Often times science was presented to me as this investigation far off in a fancy lab or at a fancy university. For students in Sodus, I worried about the idea of them seeing science as something that happens out at the University of Rochester or in the city. Instead, they have a rich history and culture of science practices especially within the farming community. We hoped that our activity would help them have multiple avenues to access science either through relevance of interests, way of life, and personal experience in their own community.

 

What are the ways that you have learned science the best? What are the ways that you have learned science through experience? And of course, what’s the tastiest fruit you’ve ever had and why?

 

Science for All

It’s 1985. You’re laying outside staring up at the stars. But tonight is different than other nights. Tonight, Halley’s Comet soars across the night sky.

Source: NSSDC’s Photo Gallery (NASA)

Halley’s Comet is a spectacular  example of how scientific discoveries don’t go away. Over 2,000 years ago it was seen by the Chinese and Ancient Greeks. Then, William the Conqueror may have interpreted it as a sign that he was meant to invade England in 1066. The comet might have even inspired a part of one of Shakespeare’s plays (Space, 2017).

What’s so incredible about Halley’s Comet is that it has influenced people across the Earth and across time. The reason why might be that Halley’s Comet comes back into view from Earth every 75 years. The last time that it was seen was 1986 making 2061 the next time it will be visible with the naked eye. The story might seem to end for you there. You might be thinking, why do I care about what happens in 41 years? One reason might be because what we do now affects our future – ourselves, our community, and our planet.

The American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) also cared so much that in 1986 they made a 75 year plan to think about a couple of interesting questions in regards to the public and science:

  1. What should Americans be learning about in science that will equip them for the future – at home, in their community, and across the globe?
  2. How do we cultivate “scientifically literate” Americans?

These are excellent questions to think about. And I’m not sure we’d all agree on what this looks like in practice. But I’m really inspired by one way that the AAAS began to redefine and reshape “who can do science” and “what science is”. They reframed “the scientific method” to “scientific methods” and began to break down constraints and limitations to who can do science and what science is. In my opinion, they really challenged the culture around science in the US.

A quick search of Twitter hashtags reveals the way that this has manifested. The community of science on Twitter has challenged the identity of scientists.

 

(Source: Clipartpanda.com)

 

The idea of a scientist as an old, white, man in a lab coat not only doesn’t represent who scientists are but it also limits who identifies as a scientist. Here are some hashtags that I found surrounding a campaign to challenge who can be a scientist and what a scientist does. Follow #scientistswhoselfie and you’ll find that the image above isn’t the only scientist around.

The hashtags attached to these scientists tell us about what their identity is in science:

#WomeninScience, #LatinainSTEM, #BlackandSTEM, #PhDMom, #QueerSTEM, #PhDShawty, #DisabledScientist

So I decided to think about the same for myself. What makes me identity as a scientist? Why did I think about pursuing a career in science? Did science ever seem inaccessible to me? Pretty much all of my identity markers like being white or identifying as a man made me never question the idea of becoming a scientist.

I collected some items that are a part of my science identity. In some cases they have served as my “lab coat”, my “safety goggles” or my “pipette” and in other cases they’ve acted as a means to explore the world and ask questions about it even if I didn’t conduct an experiment or gather results. So what I mean is lab coats, safety goggles, and pipettes don’t mean science is happening or define a scientist. They’re just some of the tools we use to do some types of science or be safe when doing science. Here are some of my tools that enable me to participate in the world of science or what AAAS might define as my tools to make sense of “how the world works; to think critically and independently; and to lead interesting, responsible, and productive lives in a culture increasingly shaped by science and technology?”

Some of these don’t make me a scientist or mean science is happening. But sometimes they do and sometimes they have. Regardless, they are ways that I think about and make sense of my health and life, the science of my hobbies and interests, the health of our environment, and the impact that I have on plants, animals, and people. It’s my “Halley’s Comet” that inspires me to think of science in the world around me during the next 75 years of life.

My jacket, tights, and gloves are like my labcoat. They don’t protect against chemical burns, but they sure do protect against frost bite. My snowshoes are like protective boots that scientists may use when exploring volcanos or rivers. They also help keep me from slipping and falling. This day I was only going for a run and thinking about my physical and mental health. But snowshoes have also been a part of me collecting data about average snowfall and animal migration.

My canoe allowed me to explore Assateague Island to observe wild horses in the water. I had only ever seen horses on a farm or on land before. Boats and other water tools have been used to ask cool questions about how and why horses travel.

I also have science tools in my kitchen. I love making meals, trying new spices and new foods. Sometimes the food I make doesn’t taste great. That means I return to the “drawing board” or in this case, the cutting board to think about things like: how long I cook something for, how hot of a temperature it’s cooked at, and what amount of ingredients I add. While everyone’s taste is different, cooking is highly scientific in the sense that you can change parts of the experiment and get wildly different outcomes. It’s also highly scientific because it rarely comes out the same twice.

My snowshoes, my canoe, and my spatula. They’re all just tools I use to think about science, ask scientific questions, and even sometimes conduct experiments. They’re not the only science tools that I use, and they’re not the only science tools that you might use. But what they provide for me is a joy and an identity in science outside of the “lab”.

I hope you also can think about the tools that enable you to do or think about science everyday.

What are some of your science tools that aren’t lab coats, goggles, and pipettes?

When good science = failing

Failing has always terrified me and I hate letting people down.

Somewhere along the way school taught me that failing is bad and that there are “right” and “wrong” ways to do science or be a student. I didn’t learn how to get something wrong, how to ask questions, or even feel safe to try something because I was curious until college. I’ve had a fear of failure because I’ve never wanted to let others or myself down. But reality (and science) is full of failure, rebuilding, disappointment, perseverance, defeat, and hope –  so our schools should encourage the messiness of this process.

I enjoy this picture because the words: fail, end, and no have often been walls that I have been too afraid to climb instead of the sledgehammer I need to break the wall down or the rope to climb over.

(Source: https://twitter.com/mccoachcoach)

Why do we teach kids how to be instead of asking them how they think they and the world should be?

I’ve been wrestling with all of the ways that I can passively and accidentally teach kids the same thing that I learned. Will I focus on good test scores or only applaud the experiment that goes well? Or will I encourage the best part of science which is tinkering with something that isn’t working or having your mind blown about a result you couldn’t have imagined?  I hope that I can be a teacher that gets excited when a student shows me how they approached a problem, why they asked the question they did, or has their own way of knowing that challenges how I have thought about science. Maybe my fear of failure hasn’t left and I’m afraid of a classroom that teaches kids how to be instead of learning about who they are, what they care about, and then equipping them to solve questions and problems meaningful to them.

I guess the best way to overcome this fear is to share how awesome it is to do “good science” meaning: have almost nothing turn out as planned. Robin, Ms. D, and I were inspired by a student that we met, Amelia, at Sodus Jr./Sr. High School who wanted to know why apples she had from the store tasted chemically. She wondered if what we put into the ground has anything to do with it. We thought and talked about local fruit compared with shipping fruit from across the United States and decided that we better consult the experts. We spent time with the owner and founders of Burnap’s Farm Kendra, Ed, and Jan who graciously welcomed us and shared their time and expertise with us.

(From left to right: Kendra, Robin, Ms. D, me, Ed, Jan)

We could have stayed on the farm for hours and learned from Jan, Ed, and Kendra for months. But in our short couple of hours there we learned so much from them and got to do our own science investigation. Inspired by Amelia’s question we wanted to know: does the soil affect how many berries grow, and of course what everyone is wondering – does it also change how the berries taste? Now we know that farm fresh fruit tastes tremendously better than store bought fruit, but does soil composition (what is in the soil) on different parts of the farm change how many berries there are and how they taste?

I’m not going to answer that question for you today. I probably won’t even until July. And even then I’ll probably be sharing about new fascinations and troubles that we’ve run into. So for today I just wanted to share two of Robin, Ms. D, and I’s experiences of GOOD science that gave us no promising results and a whole lot more questions.

 

  1. The plan: We have been trying to build onto a balloon or kite so that we can take really cool pictures from up in the sky, looking down at the farm.
    The actual: I lost a balloon immediately into the sky before even getting started. Our camera dropped out of the sky and fell to the ground. The wind made it hard for the balloons to get up high enough and made the camera bounce around.
    I said “Good” science = failing, right? We’ve got to figure out how we can get our camera to stay more steady up in the air. We’ve got to secure it better. Maybe we’ll use a kite? Maybe we’ll use the balloons in a different way. Maybe my team will have me tie the balloons together and to myself so that I don’t lose them 🙂
  2. The plan: We want to test the soil for chemical elements – phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium to name a few. I’ll write a future post on why these elements are important for soil, but I like to think of them as different parts of different food that I like to eat. I need protein like meat or beans, carbs like pasta or rice, and fruits and veggies to keep me healthy. Plants need food too. Our plan was to take soil and soak it in water. We thought the water would then hold the chemical elements in it and then we could test for those elements in the water.
    The actual: Soaking the soil in water made mud, not water. We tried to separate the water from the mud using a coffee filter – that didn’t help too much. Almost all of our tests except for two came back with no result.
    Good science means failing because now we can ask WHY we didn’t get the result we thought we would. Maybe the chemical elements from the soil didn’t get into the water? Maybe we need to let the water and soil sit together longer? Maybe we’ll use a different test for the soil? Maybe we’ll measure something different in the soil?

I hope you’re not disappointed that we didn’t solve Amelia’s mystery of what makes our food taste good or bad? But I hope you’re encouraged by good science meaning failure, rebuilding, disappointment, perseverance, defeat, and hope. We have more questions than answers and that’s what makes science beautiful: it’s never ending meaning you can explore forever, you can redo it or try a new way, and you have friends that sometimes have better ideas than you to help you figure out your problem.

I probably won’t use the word failure too much again. But it’s okay to be stuck. It’s okay for things to go wrong. It’s okay to fail.