How much can you learn in a day?

I’ve been avidly following the White family’s round-the-world journey ( My latest favorite post is by teenage Alex, describing how she approaches bargaining in a Vietnamese market. It resonates with me as I reflect on work I’ve been doing with middle school teachers who insist their students just don’t understand measurement (a notoriously low score on PA’s state assessment).

Read Alex’s discussion of bargaining in which she describes the value of Vietnamese dong as compared to the US dollar and “tourist” vs “real” price (value) of the article she wants to purchase. If I were to align her experience to academic standards, I’d find connections in mathematics (measurement), social studies (economics), science (she describes the origin and quality of the silk), and language arts (communication, listening, speaking). Not only is she understanding the concepts, she’s applying them as well. (The know and do, the concepts and skills) She is gaining massive enduring understandings, not just in terms of economics, but in global cultural awareness.

And my analysis would be pretty “teachery” of me … rather, I like to think about the life skills she’s gaining: confidence, communication, worldliness. How well do you think she’ll do when she applies to college, to a job? Wouldn’t you want to hire hire someone with her confidence and skill?

What kind of price can you put on this form of education? Do yourself a favor and visit

(Full disclosure: I am affiliated with Small World Travel that planned the White family’s round-the-world journey)

Looking forward to 2011 …

So, it’s New Year’s Eve … time for reflection, time for planning. 2010 was a tumultuous year for me. Worked in a job I liked, but for someone I didn’t. Almost died in a car accident. Sort of recovered … visited the Galapagos Islands, and that helped. Went on a life changing trip to the Grand Canyon … and that helped me to recover completely and then some …

Realizing that life’s too short, I am revamping everything! I quit my predictable and safe full time job (eek!) and am now an independent educational consultant. I think my most exciting project is going to be acting as the Education Director for Small World Travel (a division of Brownell). This is a wonderful travel consultant group that focuses on family adventures. I will be developing curriculum for families that want to maximize the learning experience for their kids (and themselves) – even to the point of providing full year programs for round-the-world travelers that are schooling their children as they globe trot. Everyone who knows my passion for both education and travel will know that this is the perfect combination of my skills and interests.

Here’s a toast to an exciting 2011 … Hope everyone stays tuned to explore the world with me!

National Common Core Standards – an interesting publication from Fordham

An interesting new publication from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on the National Common Core Standards (and the coming national assessments). The major question this paper hopes to address: How does the adoption of common core affect curriculum and instructional implementation?

In brief, the paper suggests the creation of a coordinating council (made up of governors, legislators, and school officials) to keep track of Common Core implementation as it goes forward and facilitate inter-state communication, as well as monitor and report on progress.

A short video explaining the paper:

The paper itself:

“Math makes sense of the world.”

Dan Meyer gives a brilliant TED talk on re-making the math curriculum in order to engage students. His #1 piece of advice: Be less helpful.

I am consistently in awe of distinguished teachers who understand that students are not empty vessels to be filled with their words of wisdom. My daughter recently informed me that her peers frequently criticize her Honors Biology teacher because she “doesn’t really teach.” I asked what she meant by that, “So what happens during class … you all sit around and look at each other?”

“No, no … she sets up an experiment or gives us a question and then we work on it. She’s just there.

Of course this opened the door to a wonderful conversation with my kid about the nature of teaching. Is it a traditional model of the talking head, blah-blah-blah-ing in front of the class while kids write down information that must be regurgitated on a test later? Or is it someone who facilitates learning experiences that encourage thinking, analyzing, and decision-making?

As always, when evaluating teachers, it’s critically important to find out what’s going on from the students. They can (almost) always tell you what they are DOING, but rarely can they tell you what they are LEARNING.

And seriously … math teachers … check out Dan Meyer’s “What Can You Do With This?” He’s brilliantly remaking the curriculum – why not check it out?

Diane reminds us not to confuse motion for action.

“…one, federal control and direction of education policy have largely replaced state and local control, a decisive and historic change that can be credited to (or blamed on) President George W. Bush and NCLB; two, the models for Race to the Top—Chicago and New York City—indicate that our schools will see a great deal of change in the years ahead, but not much improvement in the quality of education, if any. To the contrary, the search for higher scores is likely to promote a significant narrowing of the curriculum, cheating, teaching to the test, and other negative outcomes. To the extent that our students learn less history, science, civics, geography, foreign languages, and the arts, their education will be far worse than it is today.”

The whole article from Diane Ravitch here in EdWeek.

GES DISC (Goddard Earth Science Data and Information Services Center)

Giovanni: Remote Sensing Data Access, Visualization, and Analysis

James Acker

The GES DISC (Goddard Earth Science Data and Information Services Center) provides an extensive public archive of Earth Science data to the global research community. With an emphasis on precipitation, atmospheric dynamics, and atmospheric chemistry, the GES DISC also provides weather and climate model data, land hydrology data, and ocean color radiometry data.

The GES DISC is NASA’s archive for Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission Data (TRMM), the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), the Ozone Measuring Instrument (OMI), and the Modern-Era Retrospective-Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA). The GES DISC will be the NASA archive for data form the upcoming GLORY mission.

The GES DISC’s innovative data search-and-order interface, Mirador, and the renowned Goddard Interactive Online Visualization And aNalysis Infrastructure (GIOVANNI) provide users of all skill and education levels the opportunity to find, examine, and use NASA Earth Science remote-sensing data.




Web-based, user friendly, customized data analyses and visualizations: lat/long maps, scatter plots, correlation maps, time series and difference plots, temporal animation plots

Laboratory for ocean color users: tutorials for using Giovanni to observe the oceans

NASA’s S’Cool Program

Any primary or secondary school teacher and his or her class is eligible to participate in S’COOL. We suggest students be at least nine to ten years old, but younger students have successfully participated and are welcome if the teacher feels it is appropriate. Teachers are invited to participate as it best fits with the curriculum they are teaching in the classroom. Note that there are many cross-disciplinary lesson plan ideas available. Occasionally Intensive Observing Periods (IOP) will still be announced, during which we would like to receive the most observations possible to contribute to validation of the CERES instrument data. The S’COOL letter of invitation provides details on how to register with the project. Find out How to Participate.

Those not at a fixed site such as a school are also invited to participate through the Rover part of the project.

Absolute requirements are: a teacher, some students, a place to observe the sky, and a convenient satellite overpass. We also suggest a few other items.

Current Participants

S’COOL currently reaches over 2800 schools in all 50 states and in over 75 countries. Most Recent MapComplete list of those who are currently active observers.