Fall 2010 STEM Tuesday Seminars


STEM seminars are held at 4PM on the first and third Tuesdays of each month during the academic year in Hasbrouck 138. Everyone is welcome; no reservations are needed, and there is no charge. Parking is available in the Campus Center Garage.


September 21


Neil Stillings

Hampshire College

Dean, School of Cognitive Sciences


“Space, Time, and Complexity: Thinking and Learning about the Earth and Climate”


Over the past six years the speaker has participated in two NSF-funded projects to promote research on thinking and learning in the geosciences, titled Bringing Research on Learning to the Geosciences and Synthesis of Research on Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences. The projects involved collaborations among researchers and teachers in the geosciences and cognitive scientists who work on learning and development; thinking and reasoning; visual cognition; and instructional design. The talk will describe what we learned on these projects, particularly about the roles of space, time, and complexity in thinking and learning about the earth and climate change.

October 5

Tina Grotzer

Harvard Graduate School of Education


“Reasoning about Causal Complexity: Climate Change and other Complex Problems”


Our world has never been simple, yet our minds often reduce complexity to simpler forms as we process the information. In the Understandings of Consequence Project, we have been researching how people deal with causal complexity and how this can be a problem given some of the intractable problems of our time, for instance climate change.  The talk will introduce some patterns that we default towards and how they differ from

ways of thinking that capture complexity and enable sustainability.  I'll share some of the work that we are doing in K-12 classrooms to help the next generation deal with complex causality.



October 19


Jean Johnson

Executive Vice President, Public Agenda


"Are We Beginning to See the Light? A Look at the Public's Perspective on Energy, the Environment, Scientists and Science Education"


An informed public is crucial to solving the country's energy and environmental problems, and the United States needs to ramp up science and math education nationwide to maintain a strong economy. How well do Americans understand these science and technology challenges? What can scientists and science educators do to advance public understanding and engagement on these issues?


November 2

Jonathan King                   

Molecular Biology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


“Hazards to Productive STEM Education through Excessive Reliance on Standardized Tests”


 The introduction of science education into the curriculum developed slowly and unevenly from colonial times until WWII. In the period after WWII and particularly after Sputnik, US scientific and engineering productivity led the world. This extraordinary scientific and technical innovation had its roots in a broad-based system of public education emphasizing hands-on experience, and departing from the European model of tracking with standard national tests. In the last decade US public education has been deeply perturbed by the introduction of mandatory standardized tests, most notably through the NCLB. The introduction of high stakes tests, for example the MCAS tests in Massachusetts, was brought about by a small but influential group allied with conservative think tanks advocating privatization of public education. High stakes tests were implemented over the opposition of the major organizations in Mass who were knowledgeable about education and learning, and counter to the recommendations of national scientific bodies1. The impact of high stakes tests are to narrow curriculum, drive creative teachers out of education, and replace inquiry-based learning with 19th century rote drill and kill rote learning classes2. This is particularly damaging in STEM education where students need to be able to formulate questions, design experiments, interpret unexpected results, and make new and novel connections and observations. The very considerable expenditures to the test industry should be redirected to investment in laboratory facilities and supplies, teacher training and professional development, computer access, and resources for projects and field trips. Standardized tests can be used as one component of student and school assessment, but always combined with more authentic measures including classroom tests, lab reports, science projects, and public presentations.
1 Science for all Americans, Project 2061, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington DC 1989; High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion and Graduation, (Edited by Jay P. Heubert and Robert M. Hauser), National Research Council (1999).
2 David C. Berliner and Sharon L. Nichols, Collateral Damage (Harvard University Press, 2007); Alfie Kohn The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools (Portsmouth, N.H.,Heinemann, 2000).

 November 16

Evan Hadingham 

Senior Science editor



“Communicating Climate Change on Television”


How do you translate the abstract science and politics of global warming to television, a highly visual medium that demands a lot of emotion and action? Climate programs tend to fall into predictable genres, ranging from "gloom and doom" exploitations of disaster to "eco-fantasies" about the environmental future. In this talk, Evan Hadingham, Science Editor of the PBS NOVA series, will discuss NOVA's approach to producing shows about global warming, highlighting the special challenges of covering this vital subject. The take-home message is that climate programs can be successful without relying on "disaster porn."


December 7


Raymond S. Bradley

Climate System Research Center

Department of Geosciences

University of Massachusetts, Amherst


Where do we stand on Global Warming?


Global temperatures have risen by ~1°C since the end of the 19th century.  This increase has not been linear, as there have been periods when temperatures were stable for short periods before rising once again.  The reasons for these changes in the rate of temperature rise are related to anthropogenic factors (sulphate aerosol pollution versus greenhouse gas inputs to the atmosphere) as well as to natural factors (volcanic eruptions, solar irradiance variations, El Niño/Southern Oscillation [ENSO] fluctuations, etc).  Over the last decade or so, temperatures have not risen at the same rate as in previous decades, and this has led to speculation that global warming is over.  This view was reinforced by the unusually cold winter that many parts of the United States and western Europe experienced in recent months.  However, such a conclusion was premature.  January 2010 was one of the warmest Januaries on record when the entire globe is considered, subsequent months broke records for high temperatures, and the last decade was the warmest, globally, for many centuries.  Extreme events this year have been common.  Nevertheless, many politicians who do not favor controls on carbon emissions insist on presenting a one-sided view of the situation to the public.  This effort has been reinforced by a relentless campaign to find and publicize a few errors in the IPCC 4th Assessment Report, to shake the public’s confidence in that Report’s main conclusions.  Meanwhile, while the political bickering goes on, the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to increase, more heat accumulates in the oceans, sea-level keeps rising as glaciers and ice caps melt, and phenological indicators from many regions demonstrate disruptions to the seasonality of biological activity.  And as these changes occur, world population keeps increasing, at a rate of ~240,000 people per day, most of whom will grow up to be subsistence or small-scale agriculturalists, who will be just as vulnerable to climatic anomalies as late prehistoric/early historic societies were.  Climatologists, and other environmental scientists have a responsibility to ensure that the public, and the politicians they elect, fully understand these issues so that they can better appreciate the consequences of inaction over controlling greenhouse gas emissions.