Bright Spots: STEM Week

Source: Bright Spots: STEM Week

Looking at a continuously changing world we can’t miss what is happening in education. Not only we are teaching different subject matter in our schools but we are doing it in a different way too. Great Britain is leading the way with these innovative programs.

Is It Changing Again?

Nothing stays the same, the only constant in life is change. How we cope with change is a reflection of our intelligence. Be it analytical intelligence or emotional intelligence. Developing skill and competencies for change is what for me is developing intelligence. The aptitude for adaptation.

As we live in a world that is continually changing we get anxious and afraid. We want to be in control, and we believe that the easiest way to control is to keep things as they are, to keep them stationary without change. An impossible task.

Going to the circus is a great experience because we see change first hand. We experience the moment when jugglers, trampolinists, trapeze artists, and everyone on scene are moving. Life is in a way like participating in a circus, many times it has been used as a metaphor. Planning is necessary but being ready for the unexpected is also part of the experience. Being prepared is more than having a program for the show in our hands. It requires an attitude.

As we experience a dynamic world today, with socio-economic-political forces many times out of our control, we need to be prepared. Prepared with a plan, and with the right attitude for experiencing the unexpected. This is where having core values that lead and enlighten our way is crucial, values that reinforce our humanity and by doing that reinforce the relationships we have. Relationships at a diverse level of interaction, work related, family, friends, and neighborhood. Technology is as has always been part of that interaction. From direct to indirect communication, now of course with the use of cyber-space that is changing the dimension of size, things are now closer and get here sooner. Distances are shorter and times are smaller.

If there is one thing I have learned is that as times are changing there is not effort capable of stopping the change so there is only one thing left, the intelligence for adaptation.


Place in Time

This last Friday we had a conversation about the realities that surround Warner Pacific College-WPC at our monthly Faculty meeting. Our small group was given the task to analyze what is the reality related to place. As a context for our conversation we were given some ideas developed by CREDO a consulting firm specializing in higher education.

WPC is located in SE Portland. If we use a radius of about 100 miles for our impact we see that there is diversity involved, so our conversation converged in the analysis of how we at WPC are and can be prepared for this diversity. How the academic programs that we offer can target this diverse population. How can we develop new academic programs that better suit the needs of this diverse population.

One of the members in our small group mention the metaphor of having a discussion or a rolling train. The train is already moving and we are forced to adapt to the fact that it is already moving. This comment about the metaphor allowed me to mention a physical fact about reality: We live in a Space-Time four-dimensional reality. Time has to be part of our conversation.

Even though I mention the need to include time it felt to me that my colleagues didn’t get it. They omitted to share to the whole meeting this need to include time in our analysis. This is what I think about including time in our conversation.

Life is ever changing. WPC mission statement (Warner Pacific College is a Christ-centered, urban, liberal arts college dedicated to providing students from a diverse background an education that prepares them to engage actively in a constantly changing world) clearly articulates the need to prepare students not only to be ready for change but also to be part, to engage in this change.

What is then the context related to time that we have to analyze? What are the circumstances that surround us and our students that are changing? What kind of convictions, knowledge, competencies, skills, and tools are now modeling and constructing the pedagogical reality relative to how we now engage in the world?

These are questions among others that should be analyzed and answered. These answers will help WPC looks at the needed changes relative to academic programs. Academic programs that will produce capable professionals. Ethical professionals with a strong liberal arts foundation that will enhance our society, as students become positive and ethical agents of change.


I was asked to speak today at our Quaker meeting as many religious organization celebrate “Evolution Sunday”. This day (a Sunday close to the anniversary of the birth date of Charles Darwin) we celebrate science as a human endeavor within our spiritual life. As I was thinking about the dichotomy between science and religion the idea of miracles came to mind, so I talked about miracles. This is what I share this morning 2-12-2017.

It seems to me that when one thinks about the difficulties of bringing science and religion together we immediately think about the difficulties of bringing the supernatural and the natural together. And the impossibility of having both at the same time. Some times that is the case because by definition we want to keep the natural world separate from the supernatural, but it is not necessary that we do it. The main problem I find is the limiting shackles of language. There are many instances in the Bible where certain stories are enhanced by metaphorical descriptions of unbelievable events that we called miracles, let me start with one found in the book of Exodus, it describes the event when after crossing the Red Sea the Israelites are complaining about getting to a place in the desert where they couldn’t drink the water. This is the passage called “The Waters of Marah and Elim (Exodus 15:22 -27)”

“22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.[f])24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.

There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”

27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.”

In this passage we clearly see the miracle of Moses turning bitter (alkaline/basic) water into drinkable potable water, neutral water in chemical terms. We read also that in order to fix these bitter waters Moses had to throw a piece of old wood that has been for long sitting on the sun, could it be that the cellulose and other wood materials were affected by the sun and maybe transformed into some kind of acidic solid alcohol? If so casting this piece of acidic wood into the basic water would indeed neutralized it, therefore making it drinkable.

Now let me be clear, understanding this phenomenon doesn’t take the miraculous nature away, on the contrary it makes it even better because we now have the miracle of our understanding, the miracle of humans being able to think and to develop  theories like evolution that help us live better lives.

After talking about Marah I performed a demonstration, using phenolphthalein as a color indicator. I used a diluted solutions of sodium hydroxide (a base) where the phenolphthalein becomes bright rose color and hydrochloric acid where the phenolphthalein is completely clear. Mixing these we can have an acid-base neutralization reaction to show how we could change the color of water (making the joke that it was wine) from clear to “rose” and to clear again.

Finally I said something about water and how I believe in miracles.

First let’s look at how Galileo around 1600 being a devout Catholic got in trouble with the church because he didn’t believe that the earth was at the center of the universe, he was trying to prove that the world was moving. [Of course everybody knows the earth is not moving! Just look out of the window, the earth is not moving, it is just common sense!] So if nobody can see that earth is moving how can we explain why we can’t see it moving if it is moving. Galileo thought that the movement of the ocean tides was proof of the earth’s motion but he was mistaken, when people said that there was a correlation between the tides and the faces of the moon he could not believe it as he thought that was kind of supernatural or occult. It was of course about one hundred years later that Isaac Newton came with the idea the theory of gravitation that connected the motion of the moon with the tides of the oceans. So Galileo develop a thought experiment and came with the explanation that if we couldn’t see the earth moving it was because we were moving with it! Of course today this principle of relativity is obvious as we have been traveling inside vehicles for a long time.

The birth of a baby is a miracle. We experience a deep sense of awe when a new being is born, we sense deep harmony as the newborn is suddenly functioning as an independent individual, breathing by itself.

Water is a miracle. Water is not a normal substance, its molecular structure allows water to have properties that are not common, for example: when material cool they normally contract becoming more dense, water doesn’t do that when it freezes for example it expands, that is why ice floats on water. As a liquid water conducts heat but as a solid ice is a thermal isolator,

So when there is cold weather in a lake, say in Minnesota, water freezes on the top and the ice keeps the water below warmer than the air above the surface of the lake. Fish can survive the harsh winter thanks to the “behavior” (properties) of water, Wouldn’t you say that water is a miraculous substance?

Open Letter to Pete Carroll

Dear Coach Carroll,

Why is it that many like me are fans of the Seahawks? I really don’t know about the others but for sure I know why I am! So I thought I should let you know. The main reason I think is important for me to let you know is because we are now going through a very difficult time in the life of our nation. One reason for which it is a difficult time is because there is a lot of confusion and resentment. I think you have a lot in your hands so I will not ask you to do anything else of what you are already doing. Keep up with the good work you are doing, leading the team and in some ways leading us in the understanding of what is going on. Leading us by continuing playing the game with all your energy and most important playing the game with joy.

This is how I see it. Life is kind of a game, there are winners, and some times there are injuries. In life some times there is even tragedy and suffering, but at the end life goes on. Life is in a continuous process of change and it is only with some sense of humor that we can survive. For sure I don’t like it when we lose a game, but I know you all did the best you could until the very end of the game. Many times after it looks like all is lost, you all manage to turn things around and win, then is when many of us say that we see the best of you. I have seen how in the mist of what appears to be a definite defeat you all are able to enjoy the game (I see you faces showing that you are not in despair) and sometimes turn it around with a win. Some time you do crazy things and some times you play it safe. It is when you don’t play it safe that you are at your best. Taking chances, risking, and doing unexpected passes and moves is what keeps me (and I think many of us) glued to your team.

When in an interview some one asked you about a move that injured one of your players implying you were taking risks, you answered showing empathy for your man but also asking what is the purpose of the game? (In terms of doing things different and creatively.) What I got from that interview and answer is that if you are not going to “play” why are you in the game? For me this has a deep meaning and it is a lesson for life.

As I stated at the beginning I think that life is sort of a game. I’m a teaching professor, my role is not that of providing information, it is a bit like a coach. Even though my subjects are in science, chemistry and environmental, there are plentiful of opportunities to talk about living. Living and learning. Thinking about my relationship with my students I have to see how others relate and how you relate and are part of your team.

Finally let me tell you that over the many years I have been a professor there is one important lesson I have learned. It is: “If you are not having fun, you are not learning!” I tell this to my students over and over again, they have to see that even in the most difficult algebraic problem solving stoichiometry they have to enjoy what they are doing. There is no way they can learn and have a good life in they are not enjoying it. I know is kind of a paradox to be joyful even in time of distress, but I know is necessary for a good life. That is the lesson I want to get when watching the Hawks play! I want to see you enjoying the game always!

I mean always!

Wishing you the best for this 2017.



End of Year Reflection Looking Forward

As 2016 came to an end, and the new year starts I’m looking back thinking about what 2016 brought to my life, and what I hope 2017 will bring. I can’t stop being human for sure so my feelings come with a sense of paradox. A paradox that brings happiness and sadness together; hope and concern for the future, and an appreciation of what we have and don’t have.

One thing I like to do is read about philosophy and psychology in general. And about human nature in particular. Both from the neurochemical aspect of who we are to the sociological-evolutionary aspect of our development and progress. So this year I read a few books that I’ll mention next.

Let me start with Kropotkin’s Ethics. Continued my reading of Kropotkin after Mutual Aid last year. These books are based on evolutionary philosophy and are contrary to the hypothesis that evolution is an individual phenomena. His main point is the relationship between elements and groups of societies as guiding forces in evolution. Following the trait of relationships I read “No Man is an Island” by T. Merton.

Thomas Merton was a deep intellectual Catholic monk so his book “No Man Is an Island” is based on his theological knowledge and insight. I like in particular the way that Merton has a continuous lead on human nature as it related to the goodness of creation. The main point that I got from this book is the strong sense of connection. There is no way we can be connected to God if we are not connected to each other.

Related to my role in higher education I am looking for insights to be a better teaching professor so I am not only strongly interested on pedagogy and didactics but also deeply interested in the social and political context of our education. Started reading Suzanne Mettler’s “Degrees of Inequality” at the end of 2015 finishing it at the beginning of 2016. In this book Mettler clearly takes into account the relationship of the historical development of higher education in the US with the present circumstances that define both the strengths and weaknesses of our system.

“Crimes Against Logic” by Jamie Whyte is an extraordinary book, a brief and concise account of how we use feelings and cultural norms to avoid looking at the reality of truth, a relevant issue today that when it looks like we are getting into a post-truth epoch. Whyte clearly unmasks trick that people use to argue in favor of their hypothesis or in denial of the opposite ideas. Moving forward to this “post-truth” cultural environment, the strategies outlined in this book become efficient tools for my educator role.

For personal satisfaction and growth I like to re-read some books this time it was Bertrand Russell’s “The Conquest of Happiness.” Russell is always refreshing, and in this book we have to go back to basics. What is the purpose of life? As stated in the declaration of the US independence: “the pursuit of happiness” becomes the goal. I have to make the point that it is not happiness but the pursuit of it that is the goal. Interesting dynamics when in today’s world commodification has made objects the final goal and not states of mind or processes. In these regards the book “The Givenness of Things” that I read for the first time was a great complement.

Author of “When I was a child I read books”(read it last year) Marilynne Robinson wrote “The Givenness of Things” apparently trying to clarify how confusing our thinking is today. Together with Richard White’s “The Heart of Wisdom” bring higher complexity in the way we act every day. I feel that I should take some time to write about these two books as they are by themselves full of great ideas about how we should live our lives.

Related to our minds and thinking I read several books (David Eagleman’s “The Brain”, “Phantoms in the brain” by Ramachandran and Blakeslee, “Mindset Mastery” by Nicholas Dodge, John Medina’s “Brain Rules”, and “Neuroscience and Philosophy” by Bennett, et al.) that helped me understand a bit more the intricacies of thinking. These books guided me in the search for meaning of what it means to be human. Ideas that I will use as I teach because it is important for me to make sure that students understand the connection between them as individuals with needs, desires, limitations, and a great potential and the reality of who we are as individuals members of a society that is hosted in the earth’s environment. Our home in space.

Ending with E. O Wilson “The Meaning of Human Nature” that I am now reading. Wilson the creator of sociobiology is well respected on issues of evolution and is a good “closing” for me as in a way reflects the views of Kropotkin that I started talking about today. The fact that it is through relationships that we have evolved, and making the distinction between progress of an individual within a group, versus the progress of a group within the context of many groups. Wilson states that an egocentric individual has advantages within a group and most likely succeed so his genes will be predominant in heredity within the group, but that groups with altruistic individuals do better than groups of selfish individuals. What seems like a paradox. But Wilson explains in easy terms how we have levels of association and development, as we have levels of complexity in organisms.

So, what is that I am looking for this year? I’ll continue to get good ideas from my friends about books to read. I’m looking forward to continue my conversations about life, nature, and our relationships. Specially, I am looking to learn more about helping my students reach their full potential.

Wishing you all a wonderful, prosperous, and peaceful 2017!


If You Are Not Having Fun, You’re Not Learning

It is the end of the fall semester and I am done with reading final papers, and grading final tests. It is a lot of work but it is rewarding to see how students have progressed, learned, and matured. Through hard work we all have become, in some way or another, better persons. This last months have been very difficult, traumatic but for sure have provided lessons with deep understanding that will take many years for them to be debriefed. Yes, I am talking about the presidential elections in the US. Elections that produced to certain extent unexpected results and created a political situation that will have grave economic implications. Many of us, the so called middle working class, are going to be negatively affected. For example those of us who depend or will depend on Medicare and Social Security will be hurt as these social programs will be gutted.

There is much we can do and must do to keep progressing in the right direction. Thinking and acting come together as thoughts and choices come together. It is a mistake to separate outcomes from attitudes, to separate achievements from goals. It is all about having the right attitude, the right mindset that will guide us to success. This is why when I teach I tell my students: If you are not having fun you’re not learning!

It seems a bit eccentric to say this, as many would argue that learning is hard work and that hard work can’t be fun. Here I have to ask myself what do I mean by having fun? As we grow up having fun would mean doing something without paying attention, leisurely without fear of consequences. Fun things are those we do for pleasure, where we don’t have to be forced to do it like work that it is paid to be done. In fact one definition of work is: something you do for money. Work is not something you do for pleasure, that would be fun. That would be play.

It might be a lack of literacy from my part but I refuse to accept the narrow minded definitions of work and fun stated before. If by having the positive attitude of doing what you love or loving what you do, then anything you do can be fun, even if you are paid to do it. Human have free choice and the most important choice we make is how we take the life we have to live. In school we ask our student to do things like reading and working with exercises outside to the class. It is called “homework” as we can call it anything I call it “homejoy” because doing it should produce a good and positive sense of accomplishment. Going to school is a privilege that only a few people in the world have, going to a higher education is even more of a privilege; so doing what is required to succeed should be a source of joy.

As with education, life should be considered a privilege. One must live every single day remembering that it is a privilege to be alive. Even when the situation political, economical, or social looks like is a disaster. And in many cases it is, what can I say about what is going on in Aleppo? It is for sure a sad and terrible human disaster. Next step is to do something about it. Everyone within his/her own means has to do something about it.

My goal is to have some influence in my students, to help them be better persons. Help them to find joy in everything they do no matter what. Even as I recognize that we are all different we all can come together for the good of the community, for the good of the global village that we are part of.