"Some Students Will..."

Posted: Apr 21 2012 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Interpretation/Inference, Metacognition

Mediterranean Salinity Map Recently my "Teaching & Learning Concepts In Earth Sciences" students and I renovated one of my old data-using lab activities, from the days when I used to teach "Planet Earth" to non-science majors. The old version of the activity led students step-by-step through a series of manipulations of an on-line global data base, using a professional data visualization tool. The old directions provided a lot of scaffolding for how to make data displays of ocean salinity in and around the Mediterranean Sea, but little support for how to extract insights about earth processes from those displays. The new version assumes that students are already pretty adept at getting computer apps to do what they want, and refocuses the scaffolding on how to think like a geoscientist, how to think about the meaning of the data. More

A more nuanced view of Concept-driven versus Data-driven visualizations

Posted: Mar 12 2012 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Interpretation/Inference, Spatial Thinking, Perception/Observation
In several previous posts, I explored how Clark & Weibe's (2000) idea of data-driven versus concept-driven visualizations plays out in geosciences and how this distinction could be important as we help students learn to learn from visualizations. This semester, in my course on "Teaching & Learning Concepts in Earth Sciences," students found and documented visualizations that afford insights via spatial thinking about a topic they are working on for a semester long project. Applying the idea of data-driven versus concept-driven visualizations to this image collection surfaced several additional nuances to the categorization schema. More


Posted: Feb 19 2012 by David Mogk

Record of the national debt. From U.S. Treasury Dept.


"Here we must speak the truth. Yes, this level of debt is unsustainable. It is also immoral. Yes, this debt is a mortal threat to our country. It is also a moral threat. It is immoral to bind our children to as leeching and destructive a force as debt. It is immoral to rob our children's future and make them beholden to China. No society is worthy that treats its children so shabbily. 'A good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children', Proverbs reminds us. For too long, Washington has been ignoring this time-honored principle. These are the remarks by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention, Nashville, TN as delivered February 27, 2011. In preparing this speech, it is clear that Speaker Boehner is concerned about long-term impacts of our country's current spending practices, is worried about unsustainable budgetary policies, and advocates for a sense of responsibility to future generations. Implicit in these remarks is an understanding of the consequences of exponential growth, the ability to conceptualize really big numbers, and rationalization of competing rates of inputs (revenues) and outputs (expenditures) that lead to systemic instabilities that must ultimately be rectified. The alarm surrounding the burgeoning levels of the federal debt resonates with many. But one has to wonder: why does this econo-logic not translate into eco-logic?

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Turning Nature Into Categories

Posted: Feb 13 2012 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Metacognition, Perception/Observation, Interpretation/Inference

Two years ago in this space, I wrote about "Turning Nature into Numbers," humanity's accomplishment of developing instruments and methodologies that can turn the fleeting qualitative impressions that we have of our surroundings into quantitative values–numbers–which can be readily stored, shared, transmitted and compared.

Numbers are great, but it seems to me that for developing an opinion or making a decision, humans often want categories rather than numbers. More

In the Eye of the Beholder

Posted: Jan 30 2012 by David Mogk

Hubble's 20th anniversary image shows a mountain of dust and gas rising in the Carina Nebula. The top of a three-light-year tall pillar of cool hydrogen is being worn away by the radiation of nearby stars, while stars within the pillar unleash jets of gas that stream from the peaks.

Credit: http://www.nasa.gov/, http://www.spacetelescope.org/, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team

I recently had the pleasure of attending a multi-media performance, "A Universe of Dreams", which showed spectacular astronomical images acquired by the Hubble space telescope, set to the lilting Celtic music of the Ensemble Galilei, and with thought-provoking narrative and poetry read by Neil Conan (of NPR's "Talk of the Nation" fame). This program delivered an awe-inspiring integration of Science and Art. The images were fantastic beyond description. But, as I drifted through the images of the far universe during the presentation, I realized that I really had no idea what I was looking at. Beyond the aesthetic appeal, I had to admit that I was woefully ignorant (or at least uninformed) about the scientific significance of the images. As I searched for meaning in the gallery of images, I found myself reflecting on how the images were acquired, and for what purpose. Somebody made the decision to take a given image. What was it that they saw that compelled them to take just THAT image? What insights could they gain about the nature of the universe from this perspective? What wavelengths were recorded—the visible spectrum, infrared, ultraviolet, X-ray, or other? Are these true color images, or were these images enhanced by processing software? And most important (to me) what did the structures captured in these images reveal about cosmic history or processes? The multi-media presentation was lovely, but I wanted to know more. More

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