Washington State Magazine

Fall 2011 Earth, Wind and Food

Fall 2011

Earth, Wind - and Food

In This Issue...


A Fine Thin Skin—wind, water, volcanoes, and ice :: Different as they seem, the soils of Eastern and Western Washington have one thing in common. They come—either by water, wind, or ice—generally from elsewhere. And what takes eons to form can be covered over or erode away in a geologic heartbeat. by Tim Steury

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Map: Washington soils }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Story: How you contribute to soil health }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Story: When soil goes sour }

Above & Beyond :: In the spring of 1792, George Vancouver praised “the delightful serenity of the weather.” A few years later, William Clark complained of a dour winter that was “cloudy, dark and disagreeable.” How right they both were. Weather patterns determined by mountains and ocean grant the Pacific Northwest a temperate climate that also has a dark and unpredictable side. by Hannelore Sudermann

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Links: Links to weather news, AgWeatherNet, and other resources for following Pacific Northwest weather }

Billions Served :: Seven billion people will soon become nine billion before the global population levels off. Can so many people be fed from a finite Earth? Yes, they can, say WSU researchers. But the solutions will necessarily be many. by Eric Sorensen


{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Images of Antarctica: WSU geochemist Jeff Vervoort and interior design assistant professor Kathleen Ryan discuss their exhibit of photos from the frozen continent. }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Puzzle: Creature crossings: A lesson in teaching the nature of science }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Video: Valley View Fires of 2008 and Firewise Community Produced by the Spokane County Conservation District }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Map: Historic wildfires of the Pacific Northwest }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Story: How to protect your home from wildfires }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Video: Small forest management }


{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Project: Coug-o-lantern Stencils for carving the WSU Cougar head logo on pumpkins }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Illustrations: Plans and sketches for new WSU football facilities and Martin Stadium }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Recipes: Pumpkin recipes }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Interactive photo: Tour the Admiralty Head Lighthouse }


{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Cougar logo through the years }

New media

:: The Docks by Bill Sharpsteen ’80

:: L.A. Rendezvous by Charles Argersinger

:: A Chinaman’s Chance by Alex Kuo

Cover photo: “Small Forest in the Palouse Hills” by Chip Phillips

Judy Morrison helps teachers and students find science’s creative side. <em>Zach Mazur</em>


Judy Morrison helps teachers and students find science’s creative side. Zach Mazur

Some of the most important things your science teacher taught you are wrong

by | © Washington State University

There’s the science most of us learned as kids. Then there’s the science that scientists actually do.

The K-12 variety is more like a cooking class, but with chemicals, goggles, an occasional Erlenmeyer flask, the unforgettable smell of formaldehyde, and nothing you would want to eat. There, the scientific method is reduced to the formula of a lab report: hypothesize, test, gather data, evaluate, conclude, generally along the lines the teacher told you to expect.

Outside the classroom, science has over the centuries spawned revolutionary advances in knowledge and well-being. But in the classroom it’s, what? Predictable. Formulaic. Boring. All of the above.

Judy Morrison, an associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at WSU Tri-Cities, is out to change that.

“One of the things that we as science teachers need to remember is that school science really needs to reflect the scientific endeavor,” she says. “There has been a disconnect between those two things. School science is not often how science is actually practiced.”

Fittingly, Morrison is standing at the front of a classroom, before a dozen or so school teachers in a professional development workshop, “The Nature of Scientific Inquiry,” at WSU Tri-Cities. She prefaces the workshop by noting that she herself spent several years teaching science, only to see how much more needed to be done for students to appreciate the field’s whys and wherefores.

 “I started realizing that my students didn’t understand what was going on and they didn’t have a clue,” says Morrison, who this year was named the state’s Higher Education Science Teacher of the Year. “You teach and teach and teach all this stuff and then they take the test and they might have a right answer, but there isn’t complete understanding there.”

The misunderstanding starts with our popular notions of what the word “scientist” means, which Morrison gets at by asking the class to describe what comes to mind when they hear it.

Wild hair. Glasses. Lab coat. Standing next to some foaming chemicals. As recently as the ’70s, says Morrison, some textbooks portrayed scientists exclusively as white men in lab coats.

Over the next few hours, Morrison starts chipping away at the stereotype and, more dramatically, what he—or she—does. She starts with images of black marks crossing a white space. The workshop participants suggest they look like bird tracks in the sand, or dinosaur tracks, or birds flying.

Morrison now asks the teachers to get “metacognitive,” to think about how they thought. If they were thinking literally, says Morrison, all they could really say is the black marks are, well, black marks. Everything else—like the notion that the marks look like bird tracks and may represent some bird behavior—are inferences, she says. That’s a good thing, she adds. Inferences are crucial to scientific knowledge.

“Sometimes in science we try to think, ‘Oh, just make observations, just stick to the observations,’” she says. “That’s really not how science is. We don’t stop at observations. It takes that creative endeavor to figure out inferences: What could this be? What might this be?”

Science has other tools, too: building models, drawing analogies, recognizing patterns. These might not be employed in any particular order, and creativity and imagination can come into play at any moment.

Morrison produces a large cylindrical tube, much like an oatmeal container. Four knotted ropes stick out its side. When she pulls out a lower rope, its opposite rope goes in. That seems simple enough; they must be connected. But when she pulls an upper rope, the lower rope across from it goes in.

Morrison hands out a few of the tubes and the room grows animated as different groups start looking for patterns and analogies to draw. 

“That one pulls at an angle ...”

“Pull that ...” 

“What’s happening? Weird.” 

“Bottom right… like slip knots.” 

“What’s the experiment called?” someone asks.

Morrison, smelling a ploy, says: “You can’t Google it.”

A hypothesis emerges: the four ropes are joined by a knot in the center, so all are connected and prevented from coming out.

 “Does that fit the evidence?” Morrison says. “It can’t be one piece of rope with four ends.”

Morrison’s work grows out of an effort launched in the early 1990s to communicate science as it is really done. She has a lot to get across: that science is a way of knowing and constructing reality, but not the only way; that its knowledge is provisional and subject to change under new evidence; that it is rigorous, but also a human affair, subject to human psychology and complications.

With a hypothesis in mind, the teachers in the classroom are reanimated as they start testing the ropes anew. You can hear the gears turning.

“I think there’s a little gnome inside, a little leprechaun,” one of the men says.

“This is good,” says Morrison. “This is where we go back to our characteristics of science. And we talk about the possibility of gnomes. Does this fit into what we know about science? Is this a logical, possible, based-on-what-you-know-about-the-world explanation?”

Categories: Education | Tags: Teaching, Science education

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