Solving Poverty in Africa with Drones-Research from Oakland University

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Regular readers of this blog know that I am in deep admiration for those researchers who are using their skills to tackle the seemingly intractable problems that plague so many-especially poverty and extreme poverty.

I am in awe of researchers such as Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug who was widely considered the father of the “green revolution,” the wonderful work at MSU helping to tackle  food scarcity in Flint with the Flint Eats app and other creative uses of technology such as the Michigan State University research teaching farmers in East Africa using video technology.  

Now we can add Oakland University researcher, Jon Carroll to the list of researchers using technology to solve the problem of poverty in Africa. Dr. Carroll is using drones to create very precise images of water and chlorophyll in the plants which can then lead to precise, hyper-localized solutions for crop  yield leading to a very sustainable agricultural model.

In the excellent article by OU News, Dr. Carroll talks about the impact that this research experience had on him.

He states, “This was a very different kind of project because I was surrounded by the people who were going to be affected by this research.”

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why is sustainable agriculture important to Jon Carroll?
  2. How did he use the drone technology to improve crop yields?
  3. What are some of the solutions he might recommend to farmers?
  4. Why was this experience so memorable for him?
  5. How else could you imagine using the drone technology to help the farmers in Africa?

Rust Belt America-Flint in Perspective

Those of us who live in Michigan, are well versed with the challenges facing the Flint community over the last several decades (and longer.)

Beginning with the hit by Michael Moore- Roger and Me which explored the devastating impact that the decline on the auto industry had on the community, through the Water Crisis, the emergency manager, and so on, a multi-disciplinary course called “Rust Belt America-Flint in Perspective,” could be an important addition to a university curriculum or upper level high school thematic unit.

An important element to the Flint story would be the work the many glimmers of hope-including the Flint Institute of Arts, currently undergoing a major expansion. They are putting on an important exhibit through the end of March, curated by the Smithsonian Anacostia, called Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence, which I also wrote about here.

I would encourage anyone who is able to visit the Flint Institute of Arts to catch this moving, challenging, and ultimately hopeful exhibit.

To add to the inspiring work to improve the lives of the citizens of Flint, I would like to point out the work of Michigan State University researcher Joshua Introne, assistant professor in the Department of Media and Information. Introne’s work is an app that would help turn Flint from a food desert into a food oasis.

A food desert is an area with limited access to healthy, fresh food options. Through this app, “Flint Eats” Introne hopes to provide a flow of information to consumers and retailers to improve access to healthy food.

As reported in the MSU Today article by Kristen Parker,”The key is that we have to build some trust back into the community,” We have to give residents a sense of ownership over the food system. The project is not an app. The project is trying to address some fundamental social and economic problems. The app is really the visible part of this much larger effort.”

Here’s hoping Introne’s work succeeds and is one of many bright spots to emerge from Flint.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is the a food desert?
  2. What factors contribute to a food desert?
  3. How does the Flint Eats app address a root cause of the food desert in Flint-identify the root cause.
  4. What other solutions to address this issue might you consider?
  5. Below is a sample list of topics/questions  for a course called, “Rust Belt America: Flint in Perspective”-what would you add or change?

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RUST BELT AMERICA: FLINT IN PERSPECTIVE TOPICS

  1. Naming the Rust Belt- What is the Rust Belt?  How is it named? Who is able to name a region?
  2. Why is Flint, a city with a current population of about 97,000 important to study? What are the historical trends and demographics of Flint? In what ways do demographics define a city/region? How can you examine Flint from the lens of human geography?
  3. Boom and Bust Cycles in Flint- Examining the Economic History of Flint.
  4. Flint and the World: Macroeconomic backdrop to the Crisis
  5. Timeline of Crisis: What actually happened and when did it happen? An urban studies/journalism perspective.
  6. The Crisis and Citizens-how did the crisis impact citizens and how did they respond? How were self-governance and representative democracy impacted? A political science perspective.
  7. The Crisis and Children-how did this affect the most vulnerable and what are the long term impacts of lead on brain development-a neuropsychological and mental health perspective.
  8. Flint and Culture: How did artists respond to the crisis? An MFA perspective.
  9. Flint in the Media: How has Flint been portrayed in the media? A media studies perspective.
  10. Flint and Opportunity: What are some promising developments in Flint- a business/entrepreneur perspective.
  11. What does Flint mean to the region, the country, the world? Is the “Rust Belt” still a meaningful name? A summation and next steps.

I would love to hear what you think about the questions posed above and to hear about other good news coming from Flint.  Please plan a visit to check out the Flint Institute of Arts and best of luck to the Flint Eats team!

 

Fashion and Function at Central Michigan University

What does it mean to be beautiful?

This is a question humans throughout history and across cultures grapple. So often, our traditions present images of a certain type of ideals of beauty that rarely have relevance for the vast majority of people.

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These stereotypes and ideals often leave individuals with disabilities out of the narrative completely.

That is changing and being challenged more frequently as witnessed by an exhibit by Central Michigan University audiology professor, Stacey Lim, called, “(dis)ABLED BEAUTY: the evolution of beauty, disability, and beauty,” which is running through August at CMU’s Clarke Historical Library.

Professor Lim, was born with profound hearing loss as well as a keen interest in fashion.

“I think being able to express yourself physically help breaks down the negative stereotypes of people with disabilities.” — Stacey Lim

If you and your students are looking for hope and inspiration on the power of creativity and technology to make a difference in people’s lives, in short, the best of what we as educators are aspiring to, please read Gary Piatek’s article and check out the exhibit next time you are on Central Michigan University’s Campus.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What was professor Lim’s motivation for this exhibit?
  2. What was professor Lim and her collaborator, Tameka Ellington’s first research project?
  3. What university has the largest collection of hearing aids?
  4. What is professor Lim’s hope for this exhibit?
  5. What  other research questions can you generate that would extend this research?

75 Years of the Nuclear Age- University of Chicago

On December, 2 1942, in a lab at the University of Chicago, scientists created the first self-sustained controlled nuclear chain reaction.

Seventy five years later, the university is engaging in a thought-provoking reflection and examination of this event with events throughout the community and via excellent resources posted on their website.

One of the most compelling is the public art installation of Nuclear Thresholds which is integrated into Henry Moore’s Nuclear Energy.

The seventy five foot long black cords lay in a messy heap next to Moore’s well contained forms, leaving the viewer uneasy, unsure of what to make of the thin black materials.

For sure, this piece will generate conversation and hopefully a deeper reflection on the role this technological advancement has played in our society.

If you missed the actual anniversary last month, I believe a well thought out thematic unit can still explore the numerous questions evoked by this anniversary. A great video resource produced by UChicago Creative is a must see for all secondary educators interested in using this topic for critical reasoning and discussion-Nuclear Reactions-a Complex Legacy. 

How are you teaching about this significant historical event?

It seems like following the inspiration of University of Chicago and approaching it with a multidisciplinary perspective might be a wonderful way to engage your students and discuss a topic whose relevance is as timely as ever. The video concludes with a call for interdisciplinary collaboration to tackle the world’s biggest problems and asks, “What is your contribution going to be?”

A great question to reflect upon as we begin this new year.

Questions for Discussion following the video:

  1. What is your reaction to the quote by University of Chicago president, George Wells Beadle in 1967?
  2. What was the initial reaction to the development of the atomic bomb?
  3. How did the University of Chicago faculty respond to the development of the atomic bomb?
  4. How was nuclear technology used to benefit people?
  5. The video asks,” How do we get to a world without nuclear weapons?”

 

Rethinking Assessment from MIT

One of the greatest challenges educators face is how to accurately assess student learning.

So often, the assessment tools are divorced from both the curriculum and common sense,  leaving the educator struggling to chase not only a moving target, but a target that changes with shifting political winds.

This is true even in the emerging pedagogy of “maker spaces.” The maker movement which is growing in popularity in the U.S. currently has all the trappings of just another educational fad, despite its well-intentioned ideals.

In an effort to legitimize the movement, there is now an effort to create assessments that might help educators understand the student learning process. So, MIT in collaboration with Maker Ed    has developed a research project to study this-Beyond Rubrics.

The three main questions the Beyond Rubrics projects will attempt to answer, according to the website:

 

  • What might embedded assessment in maker activities look like?
  • How do teachers codesign embedded assessments for maker-centered learning, and practice the skills necessary for implementing them?
  • How does embedded assessment in making support the student learning experience?

 

In all honesty, I am not sure these research questions are necessarily unique to the “maker” movement. Eliminate the word “maker” from any of the above sentences and you have the essential questions that all educators grapple with daily as they wrestle with educating students for a world that does not yet exist, assessed on outcomes that can be analyzed using the most advanced statistical techniques, but tell us nothing.

Best of luck.

 

 

Parkinson’s Research at Michigan State University

What is the relationship between our sense of smell and Parkinson’s disease?

That is the question being investigated by Michigan State University researcher Honglei Chen.

Chen’s work was inspired by the established research suggesting that loss of sense of smell is an early marker for Parkinson’s disease. Apparently, over 90% of people with the disease have had issues with their sense of smell years before the onset of the disease.

Chen is trying to find out what exactly is the pathway by which our nerve cells stop working -is it inflammation caused possibly by air pollution?

Understanding this correlation is an important aspect of developing both treatment and prevention for this devastating neurological disorder.

For the full article in MSU Today by Sarina Gleason, please click here. 

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is Chen’s research hypothesis?
  2. What percentage of people with Parkinson’s have issues with their sense of smell?
  3. Does the article say that a poor sense of smell is ONLY related to Parkinson’s?
  4. What is Chen’s research population?
  5. What role is it believed pollution plays in inflammation?
  6. How could Chen’s research be used to both prevent and treat this disease?

Transparent Solar Cells- Innovation at Michigan State University

When you think of solar panels, do you think of the large dark panels sitting on rooftops or in fields?

Think again, thanks to Michigan State University researcher, Richard Lunt, who developed transparent solar cells. These cells, which are see-through and could be placed on existing windows could eventually ensure all of U.S. energy demands are met through solar power.

Although not as efficient as the traditional solar panel, the ubiquity of glass windows help make them transparent solar cell a compelling option.

For more information, please check out Andy Henion’s article in MSU today.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. According to the article where can transparent solar cells be added?
  2. What type of light does the transparent solar cell convert to energy? How is this accomplished?
  3. Currently, what percentage of energy demand globally is met by solar power?
  4. Why is professor Lunt optimistic about the transparent solar cells?