Keynote Address: National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) National Conference, March 10-13, 2011, San Francisco

 Posted by DrJeff on February 2nd, 2011

 Copyright 2011  |  About this blog


At a time when it should be the birthright of all students to an education

that allows them to successfully enter the job markets of the 21st century…

At a time when America must inspire its next generation of scientists and

engineers if we as a nation are to compete in the technology markets

of the 21st century…


Are we rising to the challenge?


I have been asked to give the keynote address for the 2011 NSTA National Conference. There is no higher honor for a science educator than to be invited to address one’s peers at NSTA, and share both one’s love of learning and how it can be imparted to the next generation.


I am very aware that I’ve been asked to address possibly 10,000 teachers of science at a sobering time for both U.S. science education and the general education community. There is significant national emphasis being placed on science, and more generally STEM education, due to a recognition that our success is critical to America’s ability to compete in the 21st century marketplace. I agree deeply with this assessment (see , e.g., Troubled About America’s Future). Yet a significant systemic response has been to elevate testing to the point where one has to question whether testing still serves education, or education now serves testing. I am absolutely convinced that denying a joyful classroom to students AND teachers is not the road to success. And at this critical time for American education, there is a perfect storm. Severe budget cuts at the State and local levels have placed great stress on our school systems … and caused deep anxiety for our educators.


I believe the best thing I can do with this keynote, at a conference whose theme is Celebrating the Joy of Science, is to reaffirm that teaching is the noblest profession, that teachers are truly our future, and the joy of learning must always be the wellspring of our childrens’ experiences in our classrooms and our schools. And that the joy of teaching must always be the wellspring for all of our teachers who are so dedicated to passing a piece of themselves to the next generation.


We are a family … a family of educators. And in trying times, families come together so that the moral support of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. An NSTA conference is about family.


Finally, I need to repeat something that I said at the keynote for the NSTA Regional Conference in Kansas City last year. The future of America rests in our ability to train the next generation of scientists and engineers, make sure we open high technology job sectors that embrace graduates with good jobs, and work toward a more scientifically literate public so that we the people can make informed decisions. Science education is key, and the National Science Teachers Association provides coherence and common ground for this nation’s teachers of science. When it comes to America’s Future, I look upon NSTA as a national treasure.


Below is the full description of my keynote address for NSTA in San Francisco. And for anyone that would like to read more, I’ve provided numerous links to essays I have written on teaching, human exploration, and the nature of our existence.


I’ve also provided a link to a raft of posts that were designed to be used as lessons by teachers in the classroom. The aim is science education as conceptual understanding at an emotional level (read About this Blog.) And these essays address a range of topics across the Earth and space strand, including: climate change, solar system studies, history of exploration, and studies of the greater universe.


So … I invite you to grab a cup of coffee, get comfortable, and read some essays that I hope will provide brave new insights into our world, and how to joyfully bring them into the classroom. I also invite you, if you are so moved, to leave a comment below!


(And if you are going to NSTA in SF, come say hello:)



ps- you might want to follow me on Twitter: @doctorjeff and/or subscribe to this Blog on the Universe.



Keynote Address: Science – It’s Not a Book of Knowledge … It’s a Journey


Dr. Jeff Goldstein

Center Director

National Center for Earth and Space Science Education


Every parent remembers that magical time when our children first began to speak, that moment marking the beginning of an unending flow of questions. In our children we can see our humanity — our innate curiosity — and recognize the obvious … that we are born to explore!

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The Address of A Self-Important World

 Posted by DrJeff on May 3rd, 2010

 Copyright 2010  |  About this blog


Photo caption: Earth as seen by the MESSENGER spacecraft as it flew by our planet on August 2 2005.

This post is a Dr. Jeff Speaks Out.


This is crossposted at the Huffington Post HERE and at the Space Tweep Society Blog HERE.

Don’t let your seemingly vast experience as an inhabitant of this world fool you. It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of self-importance. Let me explain.


You likely live in a house or apartment on a street, and in a community that’s part of some town, maybe even some major urban area. Your community is likely part of a much larger state or province of one of the nations of Earth—which are themselves nothing more than imaginary constructs of human society. Your country is also likely assigned to one of the continental masses whose sum total of land area is just 29% of the planet’s surface. You are small and the Earth is seemingly vast, as if we humans to Earth are just so many micro-organisms scurrying about each day (each rotation of Earth), and following rules of social engagement that often defy logic.


It’s a story that at a most fundamental level defines your address. It may be all the address you need to ship a package to your friend across the ocean. But it won’t cut it with the intergalactic post office. As I said, don’t let your experience and perception fool you. It’s the rest of the address of which most Earthlings are unaware. For so many reasons it’s also the most important part of the address.


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Firestorm in the Arctic: Al Gore Vindicated on Comments in Copenhagen

 Posted by DrJeff on December 16th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog



This is a Teachable Moment in the News and a Dr. Jeff Speaks Out.


This is crossposted at the Huffington Post HERE.

I had a day of meetings yesterday, with no connection to the outside world. When I got home a good friend stopped over and asked if I heard what Al Gore had said in Copenhagen, and the firestorm it created in the world media. I had not. So I made a beeline for the computer and sought out the circus-sphere passing for journalism these days. Here is what I found.


A Timesonline story titled “Inconvenient truth for Al Gore as his north pole sums don’t add up”, may have been the focal point. Apparently Mr. Gore said, as reported by the Timesonline—


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A Doctor Jeff Myth Buster: Carbon Dioxide is Just a Trace Gas – BIG DEAL!

 Posted by DrJeff on October 24th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog


testPhoto caption: CO2 concentration in the atmosphere in parts per million over the last 400,000 years. Credit: NOAA.


This post is a Teachable Moment in the News and a Dr. Jeff Speaks Out.

This is crossposted at the Huffington Post HERE.


Here’s how the argument goes—and do it justice by reading it out loud, and kinda yelling whenever you see words in CAPS.


“Hey, you’re worried about CO2 concentration in the atmosphere going up because of human activity and causing an increase in global temperature?! GIVE ME A BREAK! It’s only a TRACE gas, currently making up only 0.038% of the atmosphere, or 380 parts per MILLION!!  SO WHAT if we increase it to a WHOPPING 1,000 parts per million (ppm) by 2100. Then it would ONLY comprise 0.1% of the atmosphere. BIG DEAL!! There is NO CONCEIVABLE WAY that changes in such a miniscule amount of CO2 could have any significant impact on the global environment. You’re preaching the sky is falling, and ANYONE WITH HALF A BRAIN can see that this is just SILLY! YOU must be part of some Scientists-in-Need-of-Federal-Funds—Green Business—Government (SiNoFF-GB-G) conspiracy that’s bent on destroying everything that is good. TAKE A WALK YOU ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST IN NEED OF A CAUSE. Why … you’re likely a paid operative of the SINoFF-GB-G machine!”


Ummm.. has anybody else heard this argument, or is it just me? Here’s my rebuttal (and you’re still using the CAPS-means-shouting thing.)


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Weekly Challenge 8: How Big is Big? The Earth Edition

 Posted by DrJeff on October 16th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog



This post is a Dr. Jeff’s Weekly Challenge and a Driving with Jordi.

Photo caption: the Hawaiian Islands, with the Big Island of Hawai’i at lower right. The Big Island was formed from five volcanoes including Mauna Kea. True color from the NASA Terra satellite, May 27, 2003.

The solution to this Challenge will be posted Monday, October 26, 2009.

It’s a new school year, and I couldn’t wait to get back into the routine of my morning drive with Jordi. I missed our daily conversations about Earth, space and everything else in his known universe while we navigate the fabled Washington, DC, Beltway to his school. Sure, we spent lots of great family time together over the summer at the pool club, and in New York. But there was something magical about taking 30 minutes of dull driving each morning and turning it into a free-for-all ‘Jordi where do you want to take the conversation today?’

To help you picture it, I’m always driving with my cup of coffee, glancing in the rear view mirror—waiting. He’s usually staring forward, transfixed. You’d almost think that my now 7-year-old is just zoning—except that he’s got that slight squint which tells me wheels are turning furiously inside. Then BOOM! He launches our great morning adventure with a simple, elegant, deep thought.

So last week, like always, just out of the blue—

“Daddy, how many Empire State Buildings tall is the tallest mountain?”

Today he wanted daddy to help him conceptualize the height of a really tall mountain. He wanted to use a familiar ruler.

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TMN QuickLinks: Five Powerful Climate Change Lessons for A Very Important Earth Science Week October 11-17, 2009

 Posted by DrJeff on October 11th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog


EarthFromSpace_2560x1024Photo Caption: The Sun setting over the Pacific and a towering thundercloud, July 21, 2003 as seen from the International Space Station (Expedition 7). Click on the image and explore your world close-up using the scroll bars. The time to protect it is at hand.

This is a Teachable Moments in the News QuickLinks Post. It connects a news story with this Blog’s existing powerful library of Posts and Resource Pages. The cited Posts and Pages provide a deep understanding of concepts in the earth and space sciences relevant to the news story. Teachers—the Posts and Pages are also designed for use as lessons, allowing you to easily bring current science into the classroom as a teachable moment. Each cited Post is outlined in the Teachers Lesson Planner, which includes the Post’s essential questions, concepts, objectives, and math skills.



Earth Science Week takes on a rather unique importance in 2009. This year’s theme is Understanding Climate. On December 7-18. 2009, the entire world will meet in Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, to hammer out the next international agreement on climate change and put in place new targets for greenhouse gas emissions. It may be humanity’s last opportunity to craft an agreement—AND get it ratified by the world’s nations—before the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 (and in force in 2005) expires in 2012. This seems to me to be a very big deal for the future of this planet, particularly in light of the latest projections for the impact of global warming—which indicate we need to act NOW or face irreversible consequences (see CNN, March 12, 2009)—and Copenhagen is the venue for that action.


The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has now issued 4 Reports, the last issued February 2, 2007:


On Feb. 2, 2007, the United Nations scientific panel studying climate change declared that the evidence of a warming trend is “unequivocal,” and that human activity has “very likely” been the driving force in that change over the last 50 years.

New York Times, October 11, 2009


If we allow things to continue unchanged and we don’t take action today, it would destabilize human society.

—Rajendra Pachaurihead, Head of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “Climate chief warns against ‘Tragic’ inaction”, CNN, August 21, 2008

Here are some relevant links:

Findings of the UN IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, see Union of Concerned Scientists, February 16, 2007


June 16, 2009 White  House Report Global Climate Change Impacts the United States: coverage by USAToday (‘Game Changer’),  CBS (White House Sounds Alarm), CNN (Report Warns of Cimate Change Effects), ABC (US Climate Report Dire)


Assessment by U.S. Department of Defense on U.S. National Security, and on the grave scenarios that can play out from global warming: New York Times (August 8, 2009)


My point is that over the next few months, the world faces a unique and seminally important moment in time, and Earth Science Week 2009 should serve as a timely catalyst for education in the US. HERE is the countdown clock to Copenhagen.


To date I’ve created 5 Posts at Blog on the Universe—5 powerful lessons—on climate change and global warming that I’d like to share with you as resources to use in classrooms and in discussions at home this coming week.


First, what is Earth Science Week?


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THE SOLUTION TO Weekly Challenge 7: Spaceship Earth

 Posted by DrJeff on September 15th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog


Read Original Challenge HERE.


Photo caption: Computer-generated image of the Milky Way galaxy based on real data.


This post is a Dr. Jeff’s Weekly Challenge. It was requested by (teacher extraordinaire) Jami Lupold and her class in the great city of Houston, Texas, USA.

If you’re a teacher and your class has an idea for a blog post, slip me a note!


Last week I gave you a scare. It happened when I told you that you’re really on a spaceship hurtling through space. I was in the midst of describing all of Earth’s motions—it spins, it orbits the Sun, the Sun orbits the center of our galaxy carrying Earth and the Solar System along for the ride—and that’s when I saw panic on your face. You started to get a bit dizzy, so I turned on the “fasten seat belt sign” in light of all the conceptual turbulence ahead. To keep your mind off all the spinnin’ and revolvin’ I gave you an assignment to calculate Earth’s speed—your speed—due to these three motions. Does this all ring a bell? No? Why don’t you go and re-read the original challenge from last week, so you can refocus.


Good. Now that you’re back. Let’s get to the answers. Did I mention this week’s challenge was in our in-flight magazine in the seat pocket in front of you? By the way, I see you dug your fingernails into your seat, and your fingertips seem a bit blue. (Hope the answers don’t send you into a panic.)


And now the answers—

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Weekly Challenge 7: Spaceship Earth

 Posted by DrJeff on September 4th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog



Photo caption: Computer-generated image of the Milky Way galaxy based on real data.


This post is a Dr. Jeff’s Weekly Challenge. It was requested by (teacher extraordinaire) Jami Lupold and her class in the great city of Houston, Texas, USA.

If you’re a teacher and your class has an idea for a blog post, slip me a note!


You wanted to be an astronaut? Poof. Done.


You and your friends are on a spaceship called Earth—with all known life aboard. With you sitting there calmly reading this, and no obvious need to hold on to something for dear life, it might seem that the spaceship under your feet is carrying you on a nice steady trajectory through space. Uh … Nope. Right now you’re being carried along on something more akin to a cosmic-sized amusement park ride. Earth is rotating on its axis, it’s orbiting the Sun, and the whole Solar System (the Sun and its planets, dwarf planets, asteroids, comets, and Trans-Neptunian Objects) is orbiting the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way itself is moving relative to other nearby galaxies, the local group of galaxies is moving through a greater space, and all this is set against a backdrop of an expanding fabric of space and time across the entire universe. I know!!!! (© Craig Ferguson) Dizzy?


[Pleasant Ding] The captain has just turned on the seat belt sign. There may be some conceptual turbulence up ahead. But I’ll make the ride as smooth as possible.


OK, I think a Weekly Challenge requesting that you calculate all the spinning, and revolving, and free-flying is a bit much, so let’s concentrate on three things:


Here now the Challenge—


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THE SOLUTION TO Weekly Challenge 6: Today’s Special in the Cosmic Kitchen is …

 Posted by DrJeff on August 24th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog


Read Original Challenge HERE.


This post is a Dr. Jeff’s Weekly Challenge.


Welcome humans nice folks. We have assumed you are here for the answer to Weekly Challenge 6. Men in black team #26,342 is therefore now en route to your home. If you don’t know why, before reading any further we recommend (with great strength) that you read Weekly Challenge 6. Our team is rolling (very fast).


And now the answer—


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Weekly Challenge 6: Twilight Zone, the Missing Episode – “Today’s Special in the Cosmic Kitchen”

 Posted by DrJeff on August 17th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog



This post is a Dr. Jeff’s Weekly Challenge.


On a recent tour of CBS, I got separated from my group, got pretty lost, and ended up in a dusty storage room filled with nightmarish props that really creeped me out. In the corner I found an old envelope marked “Rod Serling’ with a script inside. Wow. I decided to turn it into a BotU Weekly Challenge and introduce a new character kinda like, well, me. (It is my Blog.)


First a word from our Sponsor—

Come back Monday, August 24. for the solution to this Weekly Challenge.

Come back Friday, August 21, for a new post “The Scale of the Solar System—A Voyage in Corpus Christi”



Submitted for your consideration, I invite you to accompany me to a Cosmic Kitchen where each entree is of galactic proportions, and ingredients are folded together with forces both unimaginable and seemingly limitless. As we enter the infinite spaces allocated for baking, a solar-system-sized pasta press has just been loaded with planet Earth, and an ejector plate has been inserted which has but a single hole in the center with an adjustable diameter. Chef Jeff has closed the massive door behind the planet, and now the only way out for Earth is through that small opening—for today’s special in the Cosmic Kitchen is Earth spaghetti.


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