First PENN conference, Kathmandu

15232068_1685659911459594_7389935162873165852_n
The First Annual Conference of
Progressive Educators Network of Nepal (PENN) held on Friday was a big success, thanks to collaborators from King’s College, Kathmandu Living Labs, Karkhana and Teach for Nepal. The theme for this year was “the community is the curriculum.”

15355647_1684340441591541_5119271557140173330_nThere were about twice as many people as we expected, but more importantly, many people directly contributed with activities or presentations, and everyone seemed to be engaged and committed to continuing the effort.

I was very fortunate to be a part of this. As the foreign visitor, I was officially the “lead facilitator,” but I felt that I was the one who was learning. I also shared quite sincerely that I can’t recall another such meeting with the same level of commitment or willingness to listen and learn from one another.

15267728_1684346728257579_116754909530787023_nWe talked about the issue of importing ideas from abroad. But there are impressive things underway here in schools, colleges, and informal learning that could be a model others around the world.

I’d like to add that when I heard the initial plans for my trip to Nepal, I couldn’t quite believe that it would all come together: workshops, community inquiry in a village, and a national conference.

15220016_1684347144924204_2798198498524614991_n But that all happened better than I expected. The reality went beyond the original plan and came to include multiple organizations, trips to excellent schools, and the creation of PENN.

I want to both thank and congratulate Umes Shrestha, Narottam Aryal, Nama Raj Budhathoki, Swastika Shrestha, Pavitra Gautam, Aakriti Thapa, Krishnakumar KC, Amrit Poudel, Shisir Khanal, Raj Poudel, and so many others.

(Now, I’m thinking of all those I just left off the list, some of whom made perhaps even more major contributions. Please accept my apology, but especially, my thanks to all.)

You can see more of the activities pictured in this facebook album.

A conference in Taipei

The conference in Taipei a little over a week ago was really two-in-one. It combined “Museums in Everyday Life” with “Educational and Communication Technology Transforms the Future.” The museum part meant that we had tours of several local museums as part of the conference activities, rather than requiring one to skip sessions.

At the end, there was a wonderful dinner with Taiwanese specialities at Qingtian 76 (also see), a Japanese-styled building that had once been the residence for National Taiwan University professors and is now an excellent and charming restaurant.

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Sharing science across generations

In my last post I talked about an intergenerational reading experience. The day after that occurred, I had an intergenerational science experience when I attended the 12th Annual State of Wellfleet Harbor Conference.

The Harbor conference is always interesting, moving smoothly between very local issues in Wellfleet Harbor to regional issues in Cape Cod and New England, and on to global issues, especially those related to human activity, such as global warming, sea level rise, pollution, and decreasing biodiversity.

The presentations and posters dealt with a wide variety of topics: river herring spawning migration, including transponder tracking, training robots to assess landscape change in the Herring River floodplain, shellfish for nitrogen mitigation, horseshoe crab conservation, modeling sea level rise and vegetation change, ocean sunfish strandings, eel monitoring, restoring the Mayo Creek salt marshes, diamondback terrapin nesting, among others.

Although the sessions were diverse, there was a common theme of restoration, going from “How can we assess the damage?” to “How bad will it get?” to “Is there anything that can be done?” It was depressing to see the many ways that we’ve destroyed a beautiful habitat, even one that is supposedly protected by the National Seashore. On the other hand the efforts at restoration are impressive and may at least provide information about what not to do in the future. There was discussion of plans to restore Herring River and Mayo Creek, salt marshes, and many individual species of sea life. If these restoration projects are to succeed they need to involve a large public of all ages, not just a few scientists.

The conference was a delight to attend, even more so since most of the topics related to areas easily accessible by walking or paddling from our home. For example, we’ve seen the amazing ocean sunfish stranded on Mayo Beach only ten walking minutes from home and friends have encountered live ones while kayaking just offshore.

Aside from presenting an opportunity to learn about many topics, the conference was another good example of an intergenerational experience. Presenters included college students and volunteers of all ages. The audience was diverse as well, with some who remember well times long before the National Seashore was created.

One of the presentations was by Nauset Regional High about their own research in collaboration with the Wellfleet and Truro fifth grades. It was the first time to have K-12 presenters at the conference. The students wanted to compare oyster growth and mortality in Herring River and Mayo Creek. An interesting question for their study is that the streams experience tidal variation and high salinity at their outlets, but vary to mostly fresh water higher up: Would oysters be able to survive and thrive away from the sea? Each group of students measured and marked a set of ten oysters. There were five bags for different locations on the Herring River and three for Mayo Creek. The young scientists left each bag with oysters for six weeks, then collected it and re-measured the oysters.

The students learned some of the challenges of field science. For example, one of the oyster bags was missing when they went back to collect it. Valerie Bell, the environmental science teacher at the high school, asked the audience almost as a joke, “if you come across a bag like this can you give us a call?” To my amazement, someone in the back called out that they had in fact found the bag. It must have broken from its mooring and floated with the tide to another location. It was a small thing, but a nice example of community science in action.

Citizen Science in Wellfleet

Herring River estuary

Herring River estuary

The current habitat for communication between science and the public is dysfunctional. One need only look at the “debates” about climate change or disease prevention to see the problem.

Scientific findings are regularly misrepresented and sensationalized in the mass and social media. Even when well presented, those findings are ignored or distorted, attacked through faulty arguments, or tied to unsupported inferences. At its best, current science/public dialogue tends to be one-way, with the occasional enlightening article, book, or video, followed by public commentary. This rarely serves to deepen  understanding, much less lead to enhanced inquiry.

State of Wellfleet Harbor Conference 

Wellfleet marina

Wellfleet marina, note osprey nest, upper left

The 10th Annual State of Wellfleet Harbor Conference held yesterday at the Wellfleet Elementary School represents an alternative to that typical dysfunctional science/public relationship. One refreshing note was an effort by scientists to explain not only the results, but also the assumptions, methods, and theories behind them. People asked about the selection of factors to study, or about habitat assessment in tidal river versus bay sites, not to discredit a finding, but to understand more about how results were achieved. The conference was itself a small data point for the case that ordinary citizens can engage in science-based discussions, given enough time and well-crafted presentations, displays, videos, and other materials.

Poster session

Poster session

You can see from the schedule that there was a wide variety of presentations and posters. There was talk about dolphin mass strandings, bathymetry, auditory evoked potential, sentinel species, estuaries, cross-shore sediment transport, salt marsh backup, turtle gardens, terrapin clutches, brumation, eutrophication, cultching, winter/spring blooms, quahog seed, anoxic shellfish, temperature-dependent sex determination, anthropogenic effects, and many other topics related to the diverse ecosystems of the Outer Cape.

There were some good videos from the Friends of Herring River and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Brian Sharp complemented the latter with a talk and a tour of the IFAW van used for marine mammal rescues. This was especially salient given the mass strandings of dolphins in Wellfleet Bay in the early part of the year.

Mayo Beach, with groin

Mayo Beach, with groin

These presentations emphasized the interconnectedness of ecosystems, with humans as an integral part. Mark Borrelli from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies talked about how groins and revetments prevent local beach erosion, e.g., to protect a house, but shift the erosion elsewhere. Thus, they are simply “erosion relocation structures.” Sarah Martinez from the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary presented a poster on the consequences for horseshoe crabs of their use as bait for conch and eels. Moreover, the revetments that relocate beach erosion also disturb the spawning, much of which occurs above the high tide mark.Vincent Malkoski from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries spoke about the data on horseshoe crab fisheries. These findings have led to harvesting closures for five days around the new and full moons in May and June to allow lunar spawning. Diane Murphy from the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension and Woods Hole Sea Grant spoke on the relation between oyster and clam growth and the wide variety of habitats they find in Cape Cod Bay.

Avoiding Either/Or Thinking 

Fishing boats

Fishing boats

One consequence of creating the forum in this way was that discussions avoided the either/or kind of thinking often expressed in mainstream media. For example, although most of the participants shared deep commitments to preserving natural environments and generally opposed rampant development, I heard statements such as “you can’t say that dredging is always bad or good; the decision is about choices and values.” There would then be productive dialogue that critiqued human-made alterations of the shoreline, estuaries, ponds, and so on, but acknowledged values others might hold for commerce, recreation, or housing. Zero-based planning  is no longer an option in the Wellfleet area: Every change today, even one that seeks to undo earlier construction, interacts with a myriad of alterations over centuries and can have unintended consequences for the environment.

Interactive map

Interactive map

Multilogue

Through Q/A, posters, and ample time for informal discussion, the conference fostered one to many, many to one, and many to many conversations among participants including scientists in the same and other disciplines, students, and general public. There was an interactive map on which people could write their hopes and concerns and peg them to a geographic spot. The map activity will be continued at the library to solicit input from those who did not attend the conference. I saw numerous examples of scientists taking seriously the concerns or knowledge of the public.

This was perhaps enhanced by the fact that many of the projects involve direct citizen science participation , e.g., the river herring count, the horseshoe crab spawning assessment, terrapin sightings, and the dolphin rescues. Others involve coordination with local activist organizations, such as the Wellfleet Conservation Trust.

Some were of special relevance to those involved in commerce, such as oyster farmers. Jessica Smith and Barbara Brennessel from Wheaton College had an interesting poster on a study of genetic diversity among hatchery versus reef oysters, showing, as one might expect, a greater diversity for the reef oysters. This provides indirect support for seeding oyster beds with pelagic, rather than hatchery, veligers. Some oyster farmers still collect these wild larvae for seeing their beds, despite the method being considered slower, difficult, and old-fashioned. A quahog farmer of 30 years was able to add comments about changes over three decades that was missing from most of the shorter-term scientific studies.

Sustainability

IFAW van

IFAW van

Perhaps a meeting like this requires a supportive habitat such as Wellfleet in order to thrive, just as the terrapins, horseshoe crabs, eels, dolphins, ospreys, and other creatures do. Would it fail to survive elsewhere?

Richard Lewontin points out in The Triple Helix that no organism can survive without a supportive environment, but also that no living environment exists without organisms. In this case, the conference organism succeeds because of the town environment, but also shapes it to become more supportive of exactly the kind of discussion heard today.

The conference was well-organized with good snacks, including clam chowder. I came away with a renewed appreciation for the special beauty of Wellfleet, but also sadness about what we’ve done to destroy this, and so much else of the natural world. The fact that a conference such as this is so rare punctuates that sadness. How much did you hear from political candidates or mass media this year about protecting the environment we all live in and depend upon?

Small but good things are worth preserving. I hope to make the conference an annual event.

Jane Addams Conference on Social Entrepreneurship

I just learned, too late I’m afraid, about the Jane Addams Conference on Social Entrepreneurship to be held in Uppsala, November 18-19. It’s organized by the department of Sociology at Uppsala University in cooperation with the Nobel Museum, Stockholm.

You may like to look at the conference program, even if you can’t pop over to Sweden for a couple of days. It’s interesting to see the level of interest in Jane Addams (also John Dewey and WIlliam James) here in Sweden. In many other places in Europe, I’ve seen more interest in the more analytical approach represented by Charles Sanders Peirce (e.g., Kaiserlslautern, Germany) or the language focus represented by Richard Rorty (Cluj-Napoca, Romania), among those working in pragmatism.

World Universities Congress, Çanakkale

Last week I attended the World Universities Congress in Çanakkale, Turkey, organized by Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University. The theme was new aims and responsibilities of universities in the context of globalization.

It was a fascinating and worthwhile event. Conferences like this are intrinsically interesting because of the venue and the assemblage of attendees from around the world.

The sessions highlighted the special role that Turkey plays in the world today, as a bridge between East and West, Christianity and Islam, modern and traditional, Europe and Asia. When you consider Turkey’s neighbors (Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and just across the water, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Lebanon, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Libya), it’s clear that Turkey’s success is essential for all of us.

But there were also a number of excellent sessions and discussions interesting in purely academic terms. For example, in a panel I was on, I learned about a community/university project led by Arzu Başaran Uysal (stage right in the photo) to build playgrounds in Çanakkale. Although the setting was quite different, the course of the project reminded me of many of ours in community informatics. I presented on Youth Community Informatics and co-presented on our GK-12 project.

Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, or ÇOMÜ, went all out, offering cultural events including music, dancing, tours to Troy and Gallipoli, just across the straits, and a dinner where we saw börek made.

Börek is a baked or fried filled pastry, made of thin flaky yufka dough and filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables. Originating in Central Asia, it’s become popular every place we went in Turkey.

We stayed at ÇOMÜ’s beautiful Dardanos guest house, situated on the shore of the Dardanelles, the straits that connect the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. We could watch the sun setting over Gallipoli every evening, as in the photo above.

[Thanks to Del Harnisch for the second and third photos here.]

John Dewey and Daisaku Ikeda

ikeda-headshotI attended the 6th Annual Ikeda Forum for Intercultural Dialogue yesterday at the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue in Cambridge. The topic was John Dewey, Daisaku Ikeda, and the Quest for a New Humanism. The occasion was the 150th Anniversary of John Dewey’s birth.

Although Ikeda’s Nichiren Buddhism, a form of Mahayana Buddhism, may at first seem far removed from Dewey’s American pragmatism, the speakers found many areas of consonance between the work of the two. I was pleased to see that Jane Addams was brought into the conversation, too.

Ikeda CenterNichiren was a 13th century Buddhist reformer, who based his teachings on the Lotus Sutra and its  message of the dignity of all life. Like Dewey’s pragmatism, Nichiren Buddhism is grounded in the realities of daily life. It promotes “human revolution,” in which individuals take responsibility for their lives and help to build a world in which diverse peoples can live in peace.

Ikeda is the founder of the Soka Gakkai International, a movement characterized by its emphasis on value creation (soka). This implies that each individual needs the opportunity to find value in their unique path while contributing value to humanity. Soka schools have much in common with the kinds of schools Dewey envisaged (but rarely saw enacted).

At the Ikeda Forum discussions focused on connections and divergences between Dewey’s naturalistic humanism and Ikeda’s Buddhist humanism. Presentations examined how their work can be used as resources for individual and social change.