International Law and Sustainable Agriculture

Most of us are excited about the great progress technology is making to improve crop yields, reduce chemical use in agriculture and making agriculture more sustainable to help feed our growing population. But will the simple act of farmers using this technology feed the world?

Doubtful according to the University of Kansas Law Professor, John Head. In Head’s new book, “International Law and Agroecological Husbandry: Building Legal Foundations for a New Agriculture,” he argues that there must be international legal mechanisms to ensure that the benefits of this technology are distributed equitably.


One of the key aspects to his vision, is long term planning and thinking as espoused by a few of my heroes such as Wendell Berry and the visionaries at the Long Now Foundation. Head talks about the need to move beyond thinking in 5 year cycles and to vision decades into the future such as developing a “50 year farm bill” that Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson wrote about in a NY Times article.

Check out Mike Krings’ feature on John Head and his book for more details of this important, perhaps essential element, of a transition to a sustainable, equitable world. I think creative educators might create a wonderful activity- a thematic unit on sustainable agriculture integrating the science, the marketing, the economics, and the legal. How would you do this in your classroom? Let us know!

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is the “extractive agriculture” system?
  2. What are elements of an “agro-ecological” approach?
  3. Why will simply implementing higher yield crops not simply solve the problem of food insecurity?
  4. Why is long-term planning and thinking essential to solving issues of food insecurity?
  5. How do you think professor Head’s background impacted his interest in this topic?
  6. The article talks about the  need for new global treaties to address this topic-what might these treaties consist of? Who would be the involved nations?
  7. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, do?”


Feeding the World from the University of Minnesota

For an inspiring source of information on efforts to feed the world check out the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities website.

In these dark days of midwest winter, when the cold earth seems barren of life, this series of articles and videos on kernza, a new higher protein wheat, that will stay in production for five years, reducing the need for tilling the soil is truly inspiring. As is the feature on the graduate student, Caroline Jones, who is going into accounting to help reduce poverty by working in non-profits dedicated to this mission.


I enjoyed the wonderful feature on professor James Bradeen, who is researching ways to reduce chemical use in food production. The post features a great series of info graphics and brief videos highlighting the importance of the potato in food security. Did you know the potato has over 39,000 genes and that over 1 million people died during the potato famine?

I really love how the University of Minnesota web and news team integrated these inspiring and informational stories in a thematic way.

As an educator concerned with helping students think of non-traditional careers (plant research is non-traditional in suburban Detroit, as is accounting for non-profits!!), I really love how the team wove the personalities into the science.

I think educators who are interested in helping students find ways to solve-pressing real world problems would find this series of features from the University of Minnesota to be a great resource.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why is food security such an important issue?
  2. How many potato genes are involved in detecting pathogens?
  3. Why is reducing chemical use in food production important?
  4. What are the benefits of kernza? Can you think of any negative consequences?
  5. Why is the potato such an important element of food security?
  6. How has genetic research changed in the past ten years? How has this change been helpful?
  7. Where did Caroline Jones work as a field accountant? What does she see is her true passion?
  8. What other crops do you think are essential to food security?
  9. What crops are important in your state?
  10. Why is an interdisciplinary approach essential to solving the issue of food insecurity and hunger?
  11. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, and do?”

Bee Research from Montana State University

For an insightful look at the effect of virus on bee pollination, check out Michelle Flenniken’s article. 

The article describes the work of three Montana State University graduate students who presented at an international pollinator research conference. The students highlighted research that showed the impact of Lake Sinai viruses, which have been discovered in bee colonies internationally, including Montana, and are associated with significant colony loss.

This colony loss, on the average of 33% per year is a concern for “scientists” and “people who care about food security” according to the article.

One of the researchers, Laura Brutscher, investigates which genes are expressed when the bee is infected with a pathogen, helping to understand how they fight off the virus at the cellular level.

The article includes a link to additional pollinator research occurring at Montana State University, which educators might find helpful for additional enrichment information. It includes excellent research reports including a bee identification guide- very cool! Biology and Ecology teachers will find this information especially helpful.


Questions for Discussion

  1. What are the Lake Sinai viruses?
  2. What are the implications of colony loss for food security?
  3. What is the process of pollination?
  4. What was the hypothesis that Laura Brutscher investigated?
  5. How do you imagine this data was actually collected?
  6. According to the additional information from the pollinator research link at Montana State University what are some “pollinator friendly  plants?”
  7. What implications can you imagine for studying how bees immune systems respond to viruses?
  8. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, do?”



3-d Printing Outreach at University of New Hampshire.


For an inspiring read on bridging the gap between the University and the K-12 system, one of the missions of this blog, please check out Kristen Bulger’s article on University of New Hampshire professor, Yaning Li. Li is assistant professor of mechanical engineering who specializes in auxetic spiral composites.

According to Bulger, these materials, “can flex and stretch easily, making them useful in biomedical applications as well as in cushioning for helmets, where they excel in absorbing energy.”

Li, utilizes a 3-d printer which allows her to not only test the material and create with it, but to interact with k-12 students and educators who will clearly benefit from the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning.

Thanks for the article and for the award-winning professor’s efforts at educational outreach, helping to make academic research accessible to the next generation of “dreamers, learners, and makers!”

Questions for Discussion

  1. How would you describe auxetic spiral composites?
  2. What are their physical characteristics when stretched and compressed?
  3. What are some possible uses for this material, according to the article?
  4. What other uses can you imagine for this material?
  5. What background knowledge is necessary to understand the properties of this material?
  6. Does your school have a 3-d printer- how is it used with students?
  7. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, do?”

3 Ways to Make Class Projects Fun


Wichita State University students in the Elliot School of Communication  demonstrate three ways  to add zip to classroom projects of any kind.

  1. Hands-On. Projects where students actually make something, not just a slideshow followed by the students reading the slides aloud. In the Elliot School example, the students not only made their own “instruments” but they made the video as well. Can we go beyond speeches, debates, collages, and posters and inspire our students to actually “make” something?
  2. Simplicity. I have no idea what the actual assignment the Wichita State students were asked to do, but it strikes me that they found a simple solution. Although this video is quite minimalistic- a group of college students drumming for about 90 seconds, it left me smiling at the end. Minimal instructions, minimal time, minimal budget-maximum creativity.
  3. Community. As an introvert, I generally loathe group projects, where school, like life, one person does 90% of the work and the credit is shared equally, or the group is stuck following a dull idea, simply because the “leader” persuaded the others to do it. That being said, we humans are social creatures, and finding ways to engage our social nature is an important part of increasing the enjoyment of the project. Whether this is through an actual group project-as a parent, I beg of you make sure the “group” part is done at school. We are all too busy and have such varied family needs that trying to get a group of students together in the evening and weekend is too much work. If it is a group project, let the students do individual work at home, research, drafting, etc. and then let the group work during class time.  For sure, saving time for a communal sharing and celebration will likely be appreciated by nearly all of your students!

Questions for Discussion

  1. How do you make your projects fun?
  2. How do you ensure all students are engaged-introverts, extroverts, analytical, creative?
  3. How do you assess the project?
  4. How do you monitor the project on an ongoing basis?
  5. What have been the most enjoyable or results?
  6. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, do?”

Screen Time and Youth

For an excellent article on the implications of screen time on child and adolescent development, please read Dan Digmann’s article  on the work of Central Michigan University researcher, Dr. Sarah Domoff and the work of the Family Health Research Lab.

One of the most revelatory findings in this article is the finding that youth are engaged with digital media on average 7 hours per day. Yes, longer than they are in a classroom. Although it is not mentioned in the article, I am guessing they are not writing their own code, reading Milton’s collected poetry, or solving systems of equations on Khan Academy!

The lab is investigating the health effects on children, such as the correlation with obesity and other negative health outcomes. Additionally, the lab hopes to develop research based tips for “effective media parenting.”


For more information on Dr. Domoff and the Family Health Research Lab, please check out the Science, Math and Technology page of this website.

It includes a link to a television news feature on this work including the finding that over 50% of the time their was no parent/child interaction during the child’s use of digital screen time. Also,  parents with higher levels of education tended to interact more and encourage their children to view educational media.

In my opinion, this has significant implications for a child’s development, especially when we know from Hart and Risley’s research how essential parent-child interaction is for language development as they highlighted in their seminal research, The Thirty Million Word Gap. 

A big thank you to Dr. Domoff for helping with this blog’s core mission, and taking the time to answer questions that might help high school teachers promote students’ research literacy, which is also found on the Science, Math and Technology page.

Questions for Discussion

  1. How young do children engage in social media?
  2. How many subjects were in the study?
  3. How was the data collected and analyzed?
  4. What would a possible null hypothesis be for this research?
  5. What do you “guess” might be the correlation between screen time and obesity?
  6. What other negative health outcomes might there be?
  7. Is there a difference between type of screen time and cognitive development?
  8. To create more context, why are parents allowing their children to engage in so much screen time?
  9. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, do?”




Research Partnerships at New Mexico State University

Congratulations to New Mexico State University for their inclusion of high school students in an immersive research experience. 

Readers of this blog know that one of my missions is to support and encourage these wonderful collaborative experiences to help inspire our students. For too long there has been a huge chasm between the different levels of the educational system which I feel has done a tremendous disservice to our students.

In this climate of punitive high stakes testing in which end of semester common assessments can determine a teacher’s employment future, it is no wonder they avoid labs and research-who has the time? In this climate of diminished funding for public higher education, where professors futures are determined by their research output and ability to secure grant funding, who has time to work with students, let alone high schoolers?


Yet, we all know collaboration, communication, innovation, critical thinking, and research literacy are necessary to truly fulfill the promise and potential of our public educational system, a system that to truly serve the common good should be a seamless Pre-k-16 system. A system in which content knowledge and skill application are interwoven.

At New Mexico State 5 high school students were immersed in the College of Engineering and learned design, project management, programming, 3-d printing, as well as other essential research skills. One of the most important skills I would suggest was to deal with the frustration and mistakes imbued in any creative process.

Thanks to writer Tiffany Acosta for her article and New Mexico State University for jumping in the messy world of innovation and inspiring us all!

Questions for Discussion

  1. What were some of the highlights for the high school students?
  2. What were some of the benefit from the “near-peer” NMSU Engineering students?
  3. How could they consider expanding this or “scaling” this project?
  4. How could this model be implemented in other disciplines?
  5. How can high school and university level staff more effectively collaborate?
  6. What else does this inspire you “dream, learn, do?”