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Educating for "Sapience"


Posted: Sep 8 2013 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Evolution, Systems Thinking, Community, Metacognition, Solving Societal Problems

I've recently been digging into the writings of George Mobus on the subject of "Sapience." Mobus begins by asking himself and his readers "If we are such a clever species, why is the world the way it is, and heading in such a bad direction?"

His answer is that most humans, even very intelligent and clever ones, have too little "sapience."

"Sapience" is Mobus' term for a human attribute that is a combination of judgement (based on life experiences), moral sense (primarily altruism, thinking about the welfare of the group as well as of yourself), taking a long view of the future (strategic perspective), and systems perspective. He thinks that sapience is present in all humans, but very unevenly distributed with a few people having a lot and most people having little. More

Embedded Energy versus Embedded Cognition


Posted: Sep 7 2011 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Solving Societal Problems, Energy

"Embedded energy" refers to the energy that was used to create an object–including mining or growing or catching the raw materials, manufacturing and assembling the pieces, transporting the raw materials and finished product, and installing the object in its place of use. A spoon, to take a simple example, required energy to mine the ore, to smelt the ore to make the metal, to shape the metal into spoon shape, plus more energy to transport ore to the smelter, metal to the factory, spoon to the store. Embedded energy is contrasted with the energy required to power or use the product during its lifetime.

There is a somewhat parallel concept, which refers to the knowledge and thinking that was required to design and perfect the object. More

In which I encounter a "Merchant Of Doubt"


Posted: May 24 2011 by Kim Kastens
Topics: History of Geosciences, Solving Societal Problems

Cover of "Merchants of Doubt" In the course of my work with science and environmental journalism students, I had repeatedly heard of efforts by various people and organizations to stir up doubt about the scientific evidence concerning prominent medical and environmental issues. Thus it was with great interest that I opened a new book, Merchants of Doubt, by Namoi Oreskes and Erik Conway. The book promised to tell me "How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Climate Warming," with chapters on acid rain, the ozone hole, second hand tobacco smoke, global warming, and DDT.

A short way into the book, my interest took a sharp turn towards the personal. One of the four protagonists of the story turned out to be Dr. William Nierenberg, who had been the Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography during the years that I studied there for my PhD. Nierenberg starred in two chapters: on acid rain and global climate change. More

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Engineering & Technology for All?


Posted: Jul 15 2010 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Solving Societal Problems
In my most recent post, I asked whether modern education was providing adequate on-ramps into science-related careers for young people whose talents lie in making things, building things, and fixing things. In this context, it is interesting to take a look at the recently released "Framework for Science Education" from the Board on Science Education of National Academies. This new framework organizes disciplinary content into four domains. Three are familiar from the 1996 standards: Physical Sciences, Earth & Space Sciences, and Life Sciences. But the fourth domain is new: "Engineering & Technology." More

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New Jersey Increases Coverage of Human/Environment Interactions in Education Standards


Posted: Jun 22 2010 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Solving Societal Problems

A few years ago, Margie Turrin and I plunged up to our eyebrows into the gory details of the science education standards for 49 U.S. states. We were trying get a handle on how the country was answering the perplexing question "To what extent should human/environment interactions be included in science education?" We coded and tallied instances in which teachers were being told to teach about ways in which the environment impacts humans (e.g. natural hazards or ecosystem services) or humans impact the environment (e.g. pollution.) We wrote two papers from the resulting data, saying in short that there was no consensus on this question, that there was more emphasis on humans impacting the environment than the environment impacting humanity, more emphasis on impacts caused by collective entities (e.g. "society," "industry," "agriculture") than by individuals, and that fragments of human/environment education were strewn across the curriculum in disciplines as disparate as health, character education, tech ed, and geography, as well as science.

Although our lab is in New York, the New Jersey state line is just 100m or so away, and many New Jersey teachers come to our education programs. So when New Jersey undertook a massive revision of their science standards, we couldn't resist taking a look. We found much to admire in the new standards:

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