Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Future of Food: Monsanto vs. the Common Man

I just watched The Future of Food on hulu and wow am I fired up! It has given me a clearer perspective on Monsanto and genetically modified anythings. I will leave it to the documentary to explain the horrifying details, but I need to clear my head a little bit, because I'm not sure I'll be able to function as a human being if I don't.

The movie seemed to highlight some broken aspects of our society.
1) The US patent system especially in regards to genes and plants.
2) The incestuous relationship between the government and big business, in this case Monsanto. No new laws would be passed to hinder Monsanto because all the politicians in the cabinet either worked for or were largely funded by Monsanto.

Wikipedia has a quick list of things Monsanto has been involved with over the last 100 years, as well as a list of board members and employees who are or have held political office. (Some of this might sound surprising, but I assure you there were no "flags" on this Wikipedia entry):
The Manhattan Project
Agent Orange
Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) and rBGH
styrofoam manufacturing

And then there's all the farming havoc they've caused. I know understand Monsanto to be a bully. Perhaps one of the biggest bullies in the modern world.

So how do you stop a bully? Their legal record is incredible. They have threatened states with law suits if their products are banned. They sue small farmers who are found to have plants with their genetic coding even if the farmers did nothing malicious at all!

University of Vermont has long been involved with Monsanto, as they have funded research into BGH and rBGH. What if UVM turned them down?

What if we were somehow able to change the patent laws about plants and genes. The laws are simply unjust, but I don't know that anyone has been able to articulate exactly why they are "insane", as a farmer from the documentary described.

I don't feel much better. The patent thing is still irking me. I need to do more thinking and research.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Leadership as a Newbie Teacher

I just got back from Denver, where the 2004 Knowles Science Teaching Fellows had their (sniff) last meeting with just each other. It's been five years that we've gone to these meetings together and we've seen each other go through pre-service, to student teaching, to first year, and for some of us up to our fifth year of teaching. There have been tears of exasperation, many epiphanies, and lots of laughter. We've learned about effective physics and chemistry curricula, inquiry, differentiated instruction, and assessment. So what else is there to learn? We're all becoming quite confident in our own classrooms, so where do you go from here?

Our last meeting with Steve D'Angelis from Maine was focused on Personal Learning Communities (like the DuFour model), and I think I'm the only one from the group currently leading a PLC group at my school. This is mainly because I found out the school was already going to adopt this as a project and they were looking for leaders. As we talked about how to start PLCs at our schools (mainly without administrative support), something really interesting came out: many of us had major mental blocks to the idea of being leaders at our schools.

Some people were just straight up afraid; others didn't want to be the person "telling other people what to do"; still others didn't want to step on anybody's toes. I couldn't say for sure, but I think when this came out Steve changed the agenda for the rest of the weekend. He asked questions like, "What does it mean to be a leader?" and "Do you want to be a leader?" and "How do you picture yourself as a leader in your school? Best case scenario?"

I'm still reflecting on these questions. What makes it difficult for new teachers to become leaders at their schools? There are probably a hundred reasons, but it makes me think about one particular dynamic. Many of us teachers have heard the phrase "we tried that years ago and it didn't work." It demonstrates to me the common faculty dynamic where the jaded lead the new. Perhaps it's related to the teacher's union where age amounts to seniority, and therefore leadership.

Here's my point:
If your most cynical and unimaginative teachers are the ones leading the way, one can only assume the school is destined for mediocrity.

I don't think it's fair to say though that all older teachers are jaded, however. In fact, I would replace cynicism with wisdom in a more idealistic teaching community. And that really should be heeded.

So what shall I conclude? There should be a balance between these two forces: wisdom and imagination, in order to avoid their dopplegangers cynicism and folly, respectively.

(I am, of course, speaking very stereotypically here. So I feel the need to acknowledge that it is certainly possible to have older teachers with imagination and creativity, and younger teachers with a lot of wisdom or cynicism for that matter).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Situation Prediction Reality Explanation

Lately I've been employing a strategy I learned from a Knowles Fellow. It's a cycle of experimentation where: 

I pose a situation 
Students predict something 
I ask them to vote for their prediction 
We try it, and they write down the reality 
They write an explanation for what they saw. 

This cycle has been highly successful and the students really like it. I have them create a chart which follows those steps: 
Situation - Prediction - Reality - Explanation 
So far I've used this to examine the motion of marbles on ramps, pendulums, bulbs in series and parallel circuits. 

I'm tempted to write about this for an article in some science teaching journal, (my fellowship with KSTF would probably support such an endeavor... maybe I should do it.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Church Garden Update: Rock Point!

St. Andrew's finally settled on a location for the new summer project: the church farm/garden. It will be at Rock Point in Burlington (it's behind Burlington High School) which is also near the Bishop Booth Conference Center. This looks to be an excellent match as it fits everything we hope for in the future: multiple biomes, a facility that can host a lot of people if we have a conference, proximity to the Old North End, etc. Wow, that was perfect.

So far the response to this project in general has been polarizing. I heard from one girl after we presented the idea at church, "So I thought I was supposed to move once I graduated in May, but now I know I'm not supposed to." Sweet. This is the most extreme comment I received but other people are similarly excited.

On the flip side some peoples' response has been more like "I don't get it" followed by general disgruntlement. Which is fine - I don't necessarily expect everyone to jump on board all at once or ever. Who knows, maybe it will flop, or maybe it will be freaking amazing.

I think I need to visualize freaking amazing, so that we can better get there....