Journal series on progressive education

The International Journal of Progressive Education (IJPE) has now published a series of three special issues on “Progressive Education: Past, Present and Future”:

  1. Progressive Education: Antecedents of Educating for Democracy (IJPE 9.1, February 2013)
  2. Progressive Education: Educating for Democracy and the Process of Authority (IJPE 9.2, June 2013)
  3. What’s Next?: The Future of Progressivism as an “Infinite Succession of Presents” (IJPE 9.3, October 2013)

I worked on these journal issues with John Pecore, Brian Drayton, and Maureen Hogan, as well as article contributors from around the world. We’re now exploring options for developing some of the articles along with some additional material into a handbook. The series is timely given current debates about the purpose and form of education in an era of rapid technological change, globalization, demographic and political shifts, and growing economic inequities. It asks, “What have we learned about pedagogy that can support democratic, humanistic, and morally responsible development for individuals and societies?”

Progressive education is a pedagogical movement that emphasizes aspects such as learning by doing, student-centered learning, valuing diversity, integrated curriculum, problem solvingcritical thinking, collaborative learning, education for social responsibility, and lifelong learning. It situates learning within social, community, and political contexts. It was promoted by the Progressive Education Association in the US from 1919 to 1955, and reflected in the educational philosophy of John Dewey.

But as an approach to pedagogy, progressive education is in no way limited to the US or the past century. In France, the Ecole Moderne, developed from the work of Célestin Freinet, emphasizes the social activism side of progressive education. Loris Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education demonstrates the importance of art in learning, a key element of the holistic approach in progressive education. Paulo Freire’s work in Brazil on critical literacy, highlights the link between politics and pedagogy. Similarly, influenced by his experiences in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi’s conception of basic education resonates with progressive ideals of learning generated within everyday life, cooperation, and educating the whole person, including moral development.

It is worth noting that progressive education invariably seeks to go beyond the classroom walls. Thus, the work of Jane Addams and others at Hull House with immigrants fits, even if it is not situated within a traditional school. Myles Horton and the Highlander Folk School focused on social activism with adults, exemplifying the progressive education ideals. So too is the Escuela Nueva in Spain, Colombia, and elsewhere. The informal learning in museums, libraries, community and economic development, and online may express progressive education more fully than what we see in many schools today.

We hope that these issues will prove to be a useful resource for anyone interested improving education for a healthier world.

Progressive Education: Past, Present and Future

I’ve agreed to serve as guest editor for a Special Issue of the International Journal of Progressive Education (February, 2013, Vol 9 – No 1). Here’s the Call for Manuscripts:

The International Journal of Progressive Education (IJPE) plans a special issue on “Progressive Education: Past, Present and Future.” We invite submissions of proposals for articles.

This issue is timely given current debates about the purpose and form of education in an era of rapid technological change, globalization, demographic and political shifts, and growing economic inequities. It asks, “What have we learned about pedagogy that can support democratic, humanistic, and morally responsible development for individuals and societies?”

Background and Scope

Progressive education is a pedagogical movement that emphasizes aspects such as learning by doing, student-centered learning, valuing diversity, integrated curriculum, problem solvingcritical thinking, collaborative learning, education for social responsibility, and lifelong learning. It situates learning within social, community, and political contexts.

In the US, progressive education is often seen as beginning with the work of Francis Parker. It was promoted by the Progressive Education Association from 1919 to 1955, and reflected in the educational philosophy of John Dewey. The movement has continued through efforts to promote project-based learning, whole language, hands-on learning in mathematics and science, and by organizations such as the Progressive Education Network (PEN). More broadly, it is linked with efforts to promote critical pedagogy and democratic education. Recently, the core ideas appear in the social justice youth development model.

But as an approach to pedagogy, progressive education is in no way limited to the US. The ideas grew out of work in other countries, and can be traced back to the earliest theories of teaching and learning. Some other examples may be useful to consider: In France, the Ecole Moderne, developed from the work of Célestin Freinet, showing how to realize the social activism side of progressive education. Loris Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education are another manifestation, demonstrating among other things the importance of art in learning. Paulo Freire’s work in Brazil on critical literacy, later extended to many other countries, is another contemporary example, one that emphasizes the political as well as the pedagogical. Similarly, influenced by his experiences in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi developed a conception of basic education that resonates with progressive education. It was concerned with learning generated within everyday life, relied on cooperation among individuals, and aimed at educating the whole person, including moral development.

It is worth noting that progressive education invariably seeks to go beyond the classroom walls. Thus, the work of Jane Addams and others at Hull House to work with new immigrants might be considered as progressive education, even if it is not situated within a traditional school. Myles Horton and the Highlander Folk School focused on social activism with adults, but a case can be made for their work as exemplifying the progressive education ideals. Similarly, there is much work in museums, libraries, community and economic development, online collaboration, and other areas of informal education that may express progressive education more fully than what we see in schools today. The issue is not restricted to any one educational level, e.g., K-12 or university. Articles may focus on formal or informal learning in any setting, including online.

Themes for the Special Issue

The special issue will develop these and related ideas, considering both the past successes and failures of progressive education, as well as current work and future possibilities. Authors are invited to develop and justify their own definitions for progressive education and not to be limited by official statements.

Articles that show how ideas have evolved will fit well the purpose of the special issue: What has progressive education been? What is it today? What could it become? However, some articles may focus on particular approaches as exemplars of challenges or opportunities for progressive education. Others may focus on the historical or philosophical basis for progressive education. Critiques of progressive education in general, or of particular efforts to realize it are welcome.

There are no limitations regarding age or grade level, or area of the curriculum. To the contrary, articles that can develop connections across the curriculum, across ages or settings, may fit best with the progressive education spirit.

Articles should include the author(s) conception of progressive education as well as a justification for why the particular examples or issues chosen fit within that conception. Some articles may focus on progressive education as it was enacted in early 20th century US, but those that broaden that view in productive ways are strongly encouraged as well.

Schedule and Submission Guidelines

The issue will contain:

  • An editorial highlighting key themes and briefly summarizing the articles;
  • Six-eight articles (~6000 words each) incorporating a range of perspectives on progressive education;
  • Reviews of recent books on progressive education (~600 words each).

Submission of proposals for articles: March 15, 2012. These should consist of a proposed title and a synopsis of no more than 200 words.  The proposals will be considered by the editorial board, and a selection made to ensure a balanced range of content.

Invitation to submit full article: April 15, 2012. A limited number of articles will be commissioned by this date.

First submission by selected authors: June 22, 2012. All submissions will be subject to a review by the editorial board. Submissions should follow the guidelines at

Feedback and requests for revisions:  September 15, 2012. The editorial board will request any needed revisions by this date.

Final submissions:  November 20, 2012.

Final copy to press: January 6, 2013.

Publication: The special issue will appear in IJPE on February 2, 2013, Volume 9 – Number 1. We are also planning a book publication.

The International Journal of Progressive Education (IJPE) (ISSN 1554-5210) is a peer reviewed journal sponsored by the International Association of Educators and in part by the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois. It is published three times a year: February, June, and October, in both print and online versions.

All submissions and questions should be directed to:

Bertram (Chip) Bruce
Professor Emeritus, Library & Information Science
Post: 130 Daniels Drive, Wellfleet, MA 02667, USA

Youth planners in Richmond, CA

I was fortunate to have a visit with youth planners at the Kennedy High School in Richmond, CA on Wednesday this week. These were students studying their own community and developing plans to improve it. They’ll be presenting these plans to the Mayor next month.

What I saw is part of Y-PLAN (Youth — Plan, Learn, Act, Now), a city planning program run by UC Berkeley’s Center for Cities & Schools. Deborah McKoy is the creator of Y-PLAN and the center’s founder and executive director.

Sarah Van Wart from the UC Berkeley I School was my guide. She and two undergrads, Arturo and Sarir had been leading the high school students in a community planning exercise. They first examined their current situation, using dialogue, photos, and data. They then considered alternatives and how those might apply to a planned urban development project.

The development will include schools, housing, a park, and community center, but the questions for city planners, include “How should these be designed?” “How can they be connected?” “How can they be made safe, useful, and aesthetically pleasing?”

On the day I visited, the youth had already developed general ideas on what they’d like to see in the development. Now they were to make these ideas more concrete through 3-D modeling. Using clay, toothpicks, construction paper, dried algae, stickers, variously colored small rocks, and other objects, they constructed scale models of the 30 square block development. One resource they had was contact sheets of photos of other urban environments. They could select from those to include as examples to emulate or to avoid.

I was impressed with the dedication and skill of the leaders of the project, including also the teacher, Mr. G. But the most striking thing was how engaged the young people were. I heard some healthy arguing about design, but I didn’t see the disaffection that is so common some high schools today.

My only regret is that I wasn’t able to follow the process from beginning to end. But from the rich, albeit limited, glimpse I had, the project is an excellent way to engage young people in their own communities, to use multimedia for learning and action in the world, and to learn how to work together on meaningful tasks. It’s a good example of community inquiry.

Sara Bernard has a more detailed article on the project on Edutopia, which includes an audio slide show:

Audio slide show: Putting Schools on the Map Slide Show
Putting Schools on the Map


Bernard, Sara (2008, October). Mapping their futures: Kids foster school-community connections.

Bierbaum, Ariel H., & McKoy, Deborah L. (2008, Spring). Y-PLAN: A tool for engaging youth and schools in planning for the future of their communities. IMPACT: A Multidisciplinary Journal Addressing the Issues of Urban Youth, 2(1).

McKoy, Deborah, & Vincent, J. 2007. Engaging schools in urban revitalization: The Y-PLAN (Youth-Plan, Learn, Act, Now). Journal of Planning Education and Research, 26, 389-403.

Open world learning

People often talk of the Internet as a venue for open learning. But this openness often means simply that students can explore a vast array of resources, perhaps coming across sources that neither they nor their teacher expected.

It’s useful to think about the various ways that new information and communication technologies (ICTs) create additional possibilities for open learning, including both its benefits and costs. Several years ago, Umesh Thakkar, Eric Jakobsson, and I along with others developed such an analysis for the case of Biology Workbench (see Molecular Science Student workbench and Swami). The general idea is that Biology Workbench could facilitate open world learning.

Biology Workbench is a suite of computational tools and data sources, which is used by scientists across a wide range of disciplines to explore and analyze protein and nucleic acid sequence databases. There is a wide variety of analysis and modeling tools, within a point and click interface that ensures file format compatibility.

Thus, Biology Workbench is not an alternative tool for teaching biological concepts, although students who work within it can expand their understanding of biology significantly. Rather, it is an exemplar of a venue for learning, one in which students explore genetics, protein structure and function, physics, chemistry, and other domains of inquiry, invoking processes of pattern-matching, probabilistic reasoning, and both inductive and deductive analysis. Its potential significance for learning relates to three major ways in which it is an open system.

Open Data and Problems

The Workbench architecture provides the potential for using information technology to provide an open world of learning and exploration. Previous approaches to using computers in education have focused on the creation of closed worlds in which students could navigate and explore. Many of these computational environments are excellent and useful, but they are limited. Students are not encouraged to investigate the unknown. In general, students cannot investigate phenomena that the creators of the environment themselves do not know.

The open environment of the Biology Workbench is fundamentally different. By providing access to essentially all that is known about biomolecular sequences and structures, together with powerful analysis and visualization tools, the Workbench makes it possible for students to learn more than what their mentors and teachers know, and even to generate new basic knowledge. The key idea here is not only that there is a large amount of material, but that the data are constantly changing as a result of scientific work. This is true of course for the Web in general, but appears more striking in the case of rapidly changing molecular data (see point #2 below).

This aspect of the Workbench was exemplified by one instructor who was using the Workbench in a university class. She commented that once the students went beyond working through specified exercises, they were essentially doing original biological research, doing analyses that perhaps had not been done before, and she was hard pressed to know how to grade their work.

Open Computational Environment

In addition to providing a window to the entire world of molecular biology, the Biology Workbench is open in a second sense. It is continually growing, adding new features that extend its capabilities and domain of applicability. New domains of applicability include the ability to reconstruct metabolic pathways by utilizing data from newly developed microarrays (gene chips and metabolic flux chips) and the ability to do molecular simulations. The Workbench continues to grow as the whole field of computational molecular biology grows, because it is more than a computer program. It is a computational environment that integrates tools for exploring and learning about all aspects of molecular biology. This dynamic growth is both a plus and a challenge for teachers or curriculum designers who might reasonably seek consistency in their curricula.

Open Community

The Biology Workbench exists within a community of investigators working across a variety of areas within molecular biology. These investigators are not only users, but creators of the system, as they add their research results to the available corpus of articles or their findings result in additions or other modifications of the databases. This community is a powerful resource for education, but it does not exist to meet educational needs per se.

Students who attempt to learn through the Workbench are able to enter into that community of investigators. In so doing, they have stepped outside of the protected world of the classroom. Their learning becomes much less structured, even potentially hazardous without the assurance of carefully vetted curricula, but it can also be far more engaging and applicable to learning beyond the classroom.


Since 2002 ReadWriteThink has provided literacy educators with access to a large and growing collection of free educational materials. There are hundreds of lesson plans, calendar resources, printouts, and interactive tools.

The site has become one of the most used web resources for educators and students, and has just released a much-improved design. The content is now browsable by type, grade, learning objective, theme, and allotted time. Out-of-school resources for parents and afterschool providers have been consolidated into an easily accessible section.

ReadWriteThink is a partnership between the National Council of Teachers of English, the International Reading Association, and Verizon Thinkfinity. Bringing these organizations together has been an important contribution of the project in its own right.

Fort Worth Museum of Science and History

As a reward for hours spent with packing, house repairs, and financial stuff, my mother and I went to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History yesterday.

We had a good lunch at the Stars Cafe and a fascinating, though all too brief, visit to the exhibits, including interesting talks staff about the Museum’s history. In addition to being our reward, the visit was a commemoration. it was nearly 60 years ago, on George Washington’s birthday, that my parents and I moved to Fort Worth from Houston. On his birthday this year, my mother will be packing her belongings to move to Austin.

Not long after we arrived, she enrolled me in The Frisky and Blossom Club, the first class of the Museum School. So, a return to the Museum marked both her time in Fort Worth and the evolution of the Museum itself, from being a children’s museum in a house to the recently renovated, massive complex of today.

The current Museum is grand and spacious, with atriums and courtyards. But the prior Fort Worth Children’s Museum was a wonderful place in a different way, with a sense of mysteries tucked away in crowded rooms and clubs devoted to astronomy and insects. But it was my first encounter with the Museum at its Summit house location that hooked me on museums:

The museum’s history actually began in 1939 when the local council of Administrative Women in Education began a study of children’s museums, with the idea of starting one in Fort Worth. Two years later the charter was filed, but it would be almost four years before the museum would find a physical home. With the help of the city’s school board, the museum opened in early 1945 in two rooms in De Zavala Elementary School.

In 1947 the museum moved into the large R.E. Harding House at 1306 Summit, where it kept growing in size and popularity. Three years later two significant entities appeared: The Ladies Auxiliary of the Fort Worth Children’s Museum (now the Museum Guild), and “The Frisky and Blossom Club,” the forerunner of Museum School®. Soon it became apparent that a much larger facility was needed to serve the growing needs of the community. Ground was broken for a new facility in 1952. On January 25, 1954, the museum open the building at 1501 Montgomery Street. The following year the Charlie Mary Noble Planetarium, the first public planetarium in the region, opened.

In 1968 the name was changed to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History so that adults even without children could enjoy the Museum. It worked! Today more than half the Museum’s visitors are adults. Much of that is due to the addition of the Omni Theater in 1983. The Omni was the first IMAX® dome theater in the Southwest and continues to be one of the most successful in the world.

Minds-on Math, Science, and Social Studies with standard school supplies

Jack Easley was an professor at the University of Illinois from 1962 until his retirement in 1989. His research on cognitive development in the learning of science and mathematics across various cultures influenced educators around the world. He co-founded the Dialogues in Methods of Education group, which continues to this day. He was also a much loved friend, who died December 10, 1994.

I recently came across some insightful email messages from Jack. Here’s one that I’m certain he would like to have shared more widely, even though they were simply rough notes related to a project:

There is a lot of attention given over to kits and manipulative materials for inquiry. Since these are not always available, it is worthwhile looking at what can be done without the kits, the manipulative blocks, etc.


The Japanese schools use cardboard replicas of plastic tiles, and several teachers in the US have found that these can be cut out of file folders with a paper cutter. It is not necessary to have one set for each child, but the following sizes would be appropriate for each team:

  • 5 square units (half-inch squares are usually fine, but 1in or 1 cm can be used.)
  • 2 oblongs, 5 units long (e.g., .5 in by 2.5 in)
  • 5 oblongs, 10 units long (e.g., .5 in by 5 in)
  • 2 fifties (e.g., 2.5 in by 5 in)
  • 10 hundreds (e.g., 5 by 5 in)

With rulers, children can mark one side of the oblongs, fifties and hundreds into ways that show how they all fit together. Other sizes ( 20s, 40s, 25s, etc.) are often convenient, depending on the story problems (going to the bank, etc.) children are solving with these cardboard tiles.

Using bulletin board paper, scrolls of 500 or 1,000 units can also be cut and rolled up (e.g., 5 in by 25 in, or 5 in by 50 in). To make representations of even larger numbers is not much of a problem with the smaller sized units, but if you use 1 sq in as a unit, it begins to get out of hand.

The size of unit can be chosen not only with the fine motor coordination of children in mind, but with the fact that place value and round numbers upwards of 99 are much easier to talk about than those between 9 and 100. Smaller unit sizes (.5 in or 1 cm) should permit more meaningful work with scrolls for numbers like 5,000 or 10,000.

In my opinion, and that of a minority of mathematics educators, the word “ten” is one of the least often suspected but most often confused among number names. The problem may be that “ten” is not a word that easily takes adjectival modification as in “Two tens, three tens, etc.” Ten is most often used as an adjective itself as in “ten fingers, ten hundred, etc.” Research suggests that it takes children until about fourth grade to realize that ten can be a unit instead of just a counting number or the cardinal number of a collection (Cobb & Wheatley, 1988; Steffe, 1983; Steffe & Cobb, 1988.) Informal observations suggest that 100, 1,000, and 1,000,000 are treated as abstract units quite naturally by most 6-year-olds. The debate is whether or not young children can plausibly attach concrete representations to those units.

There are other troubles with the names of numbers greater than 9 and less than 100, e.g., 18 and 81 sound too much alike, both beginning with the word, “eight,” and there are few people who would think that “twenty” was originally pronounced, and possibly spelled, “twain tens.” (Some have tried introducing new number names, onety, twoty, threety, fourty, fivety, and doing that seems to help in regrouping, but teachers and parents complain that children don’t know how to translate them into standard English.) Saying how many tens there are in 11, 22, 35, etc. is no longer a part of English speech today. Instead, everyone learns to rattle off the counting numbers 1 to 100 without pausing to think that there are ten cycles in that series. It may work like telling time or money. (With digital timepieces, we count minutes from 01 to 59 and then hours. We count cents from 01 to 99 and then dollars.) Starting over, which is the essence of place value, is something we don’t seem to think about naturally with those funny two-digit number names. (In the orient, and many native American languages, number names are much more sensible than in European languages.) However, all is well when we get to a hundred and we have three digits. A great deal of regrouping in arithmetic, which is the real advantage of understanding place value, can be learned by working with cardboard tiles and scrolls, without adding and subtracting those peculiarly named numbers from 10 through 99. Adding and subtracting hundreds and thousands, multiplying and dividing by hundreds and by thousands teach place value well and provide ample practice for first and second graders on basic, one-digit addition and subtraction facts.

Cutting templates for drawing the cm size tiles and scrolls in coffee can lids permits children in first and second grade to represent numbers by drawings on paper instead of actually manipulating the tiles themselves. The Japanese have found that drawings of tiles to represent an operation is a valuable intermediate step between manipulation of tiles with number sentences and writing numerical algorithms without manipulations, for it helps children invent and test their own algorithms.

Geometrical forms can be cut out of folders or paper. Also, it is instructive to draw circles, squares, triangles, and other regular figures six or seven inches across and measure their circumferences in various ways. One way to measure a circumference is to set the compass for an inch or a cm of separation and count how many steps it takes to walk around the figure and back to the starting point.

Place a pencil across your hand near the tips of your fingers. Put the heel of your other hand on top of it. Predict, Observe, Explain (POE) where the pencil will be when you have moved the heel of your top hand back until it is over the heel of the bottom hand. Do this motion several times without the pencil, then POE where the pencil will be.


Tiling patterns that repeat endlessly can be made on a flat surface. One interesting challenge is to design and cut-out a piece of paper that folds up to make a box, a prism, a pyramid, or some other shaped three-dimensional object.

Columns can be made from rolled or folded construction paper and tested for load bearing by piling textbooks on top. The number of science books, or math books, that a column can hold is something to predict, observe, and explain (POE). One can even measure (POEM) the length, diameter, and circumference of such columns and figure out some kind of graph that represents how those quantities relate to the load a column will carry. Applications (POEMA) of what has been learned can be found, in studying the structure of buildings, bridge supports, street light and traffic light posts, and in making models of buildings. (This is also a good use for science and mathematics books which children and teachers find boring.)

Making designs for stained glass windows with a compass is an intriguing activity. A six-pointed rose window is one goal, but many other designs are possible. Of course coloring one’s design in the most attractive way possible is an added challenge, which assumes everyone has some crayons, or whatever to color them with.


Punching a pencil through the middle of a dark piece of construction paper 8-11 inches wide and laying it down on a white piece of paper on a flat desk in a well-lighted classroom raises the following question: Looking at the white spot (after making the edges neat by tearing off or folding back the torn pieces the pencil left), try to predict (P) what shape and size that white spot will become when the dark paper is raised an inch or two. (Of the hundreds of people I have asked that question, only one 3rd grade girl, who must have tried it before and one physics Ph.D. could come close.) Observe and Explain (POE) what has been observed. Measure (POEM) how high the dark paper is raised above the white paper and measure what you can of the pattern of light you can see when looking underneath the dark paper (POEM). Is there a relation between the two measurements? What is the best way to make such measurements as you gradually raise the dark paper higher and higher? Plot a graph.

Apply (POEMA) this phenomenon to other sources of light besides schoolroom lights. E.g., tape the dark paper to the window, and cover the rest of the window(s) and turn out the lights. If you hold a thin piece of white paper near the pencil hole, can you see any pattern on the white paper? Substitute a magnifying glass or hand lens for the pencil hole? How does that change the way things look? the graph? Go outdoors on a sunny day with a piece of dark paper in which you have carefully cut three or four different shaped holes about the size of a dime or less. Hold the dark paper so it casts a shadow over a white paper. What is the shape of the light spots going through the holes? How do they change as you move the dark paper higher? (POEM)

Put some water in the plastic cup or glass bottle. Put a pencil in the water. How does it look? Why? If you can find a straight soda straw, put it in and compare it’s shape with the pencil. POE what you will see when you look through the soda straw into the water.


  • Blow through a piece of tubing or soda straw into a jar or cup of water. What is the smallest bubble you can blow? What is the biggest bubble you can blow? Can you blow a bubble and suck it back in before it leaves the end of the tube or straw? What is inside the bubbles you blow? How is it different from the air in the room? Where does the air in the bubble come from? Where does it go when a bubble pops?
  • Put a wad of tissue or paper towel in the bottom of the plastic cup or glass bottle, big enough so it won’t fall out when you turn it upside down. (Use tape if necessary to hold it.) POE what will happen to the paper when you push it carefully up-side down into a coffee can, plastic tub, acquarium, or other large container half full of water. (POEM) Measure how much water goes into the cup or jar. If possible, make measurements at different depths under the water. Plot a graph of how much water goes into the jar for each depth under the water. POEMA What use can you think of for the air trapped in an open container under water? Can you arrange for a cricket or other small animal to breathe that air while under water? Pour out the air trapped in a container while it is under water. Do you think you could catch it in another container under the water, pouring it from one to the other under water? Borrow another container and try.
  • Put a soda straw into water and place your finger or thumb over the open end. Raise it out of the water. What is inside? Can you do that with a piece of hose? (POE) What makes the water run back when you let go? (POEA) Homework (with parental consent and assistance): Can you do it with a wide tube like a cardboard tube waterproofed with rubber cement or melted wax?
  • If you can get a box that a drink (milk or juice) was in, and put the hose over the straw, can you blow and suck on the tube to make the sides of the box go out and in? What does it take to make a tight fit? What happens when the air can leak around the straw? What happens to the tube when you blow or suck on it?

Social Studies

  • Sample people in your class to find out how many live with grandparents, aunts and uncles, with one parent, two parents, etc.
  • Find out who knows where various foods are produced, what kind of people produce them, etc.
  • Find out what children think about where adults get the money they need for food and rent if they work at a bank, a store, a restaurant, a post office, a police station, a school, as a house cleaner, a nurse, a doctor, a care giver, a university, a power company, etc. What do such people have to spend money for to do their work?


For the following science activities, certain other things like wax paper, a mirror, a soda straw, a milk carton, a large bowl, etc. are mentioned as needed. Other things in the generic kit may be used, and POEMA may be used also. They come from: Science Games & Puzzles, by Laurence B. White, Jr. drawings by Marc T. Brown, Addison Wesley, 1975

  • Racing drops of water on wax paper.
  • Stand sideways against a wall. Push the side of your foot against the wall. Now try to lift your other foot.
  • Dip one end of a drinking straw in dishwashing liquid. Take it out. Blow in the other end. Keep blowing. Try cut ting your straw end like a cross.
  • Blow bubbles on a very cold day. Your warm breath makes them very light.
  • Push a thumbtack into a pencil eraser. Touch the thumbtack on your lip. Rub the tack hard 20 times on your sleeve and touch it to your lips again.
  • Try to drop a coin into a glass under water in the middle of a big bowl.
  • Collect and taste rain water. Does it taste different from other water?
  • Try printing your name while looking at the pencil and paper in the mirror.
  • Roll a little piece of foil in a ball and drop it in a funnel. You cannot blow it out unless you stop up the funnel.
  • Balance a ruler on your finger. with & without a ball of clay on top.
  • Have your friend lay his (her) head on a table or desk while you tap softly on the bottom.
  • Hold a pencil in your teeth while scraping on it.
  • Is your pet right or left pawed? Put some food in a jar. Which paw is used?
  • Can you freeze a penny in the middle of a piece of ice?
  • Can you turn yourself upside down with a teaspoon?
  • Can you eat an apple without tasting it?
  • Which is longer your forearm or your foot?
  • Can you tie your arms in a knot? Cross them and hold the two ends of a tube while uncrossing.
  • Write ‘A BOX’ on a card and look at it in a mirror several different ways.
  • Punch three holes in a paper cup or milk carton. Which hole will squirt best?
  • Can water stick to itself? Punch two holes side by side.
  • Can you separate pepper and salt that have been mixed?
  • Roll down a slope a full can, an empty can, a hollow ball, a base ball, etc. Which one wins?
  • Tie a string around a nail, then tie the string around another nail, and another. This is how to make a string nail xylophone, which you can play with another nail.

Inquiry Based Learning interview

Michael Hallissy recently interviewed me from Dublin, Ireland for a podcast on Inquiry Based Learning. I can’t bear to listen to my recorded self, so I’m not sure why you would, but in case you’re a masochist, the link above should be just what you need. Extra credit if you can spot the two factual mistakes we made, one by Michael and one by me.

The Fun Theory

My sister, Susan, just sent a link to the Piano Staircase, which combines health, music, and fun, three of my favorite things:

Take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator and feel better” is something we often hear or read in the Sunday papers. Few people actually follow that advice. Can we get more people to take the stairs over the escalator by making it fun to do? See the results here.

The Piano Staircase is from the Fun Theory, which

is dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.

The site has all sorts of clever ideas, many of which have been realized, and some with videos.