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Would You Rather: “Wish Upon a Star? Carry Moonbeams Home in a Jar? Be Better Off Than You Are? …Or, Would You Rather…” Design & Assemble Aquatic Ecosystems (for an entire school year)?

9 Feb Photo by Robert Jakus

The title of this post is intended to convey an idealized spirit of free and engaged learning. The popular song upon which this post title is based is: Swinging on a Star.” According to Wikipedia, this song “is an American pop standard with music composed by Jimmy Van Heusen and lyrics by Johnny Burke.[1] It was introduced by Bing Crosby in the 1944 film Going My Way, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song that year,[1][2] and has been recorded by numerous artists since then. In 2004, it finished at No. 37 in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.”

As it relates to the book/curriculum, Beyond the Classroom Aquarium, the title of this post invites teachers and learners to actively exercise their own choice, voice and Joyfullness in pursuit of knowledge and understanding. Every word in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium is intended to encourage students to engage in a uniquely personal sequence of learning projects. The educational jargon might call this “agency.”

According to his Indiegogo fundraising event in 2016, Bob, the author, is a knowledgeable and caring educator – recently retired; An “old-school” character in an ever-accelerating society; he appreciates natural and universal principles of our common “human condition.” He admires classical thinkers like Socrates, Plato, Euclid, Archimedes, Epicurus and Edu-Thinkers like Dewey and Escalante. Bob has long held hopeful expectations for a more peaceful and healthy society.

Bob continues to have an abiding interest in further sharing his Edu-Vision thru intensive weeklong ‘Beyond the Classroom Aquarium’ Professional Development workshops (as reflected in his previously unsuccessful Indiegogo curriculum PD campaign).

If this post puts a song in your heart then it has been of some great value. Thank you for visiting.

A List of Questions About Beyond the Classroom Aquarium (for example: Why does it not cost less? Why select it over curricula produced by major publishing houses? Why use it when student success would require extensive effort, time, work and support? Why use this curriculum in view of the financial expenses it requires? and more)

20 Apr

Starting with…

        Question NUMBER TEN-A;

10A. Why, Aside from:

  • Receiving 60% royalty on all monies beyond the minimum $41.90 sale price that covers Kindle’s printing cost ($25.14) and other fees ($16.76)? As for example the price for this book is currently set at $58.56 I may expect to receive a royalty of $10.00. ….AND;
  • After years of committing portions of my own personal teaching salary funds to procure and install classroom aquatic ecosystem materials, equipment and livestock, AND;
  • Committing further personal monies associated with attendance at more than a dozen classes, professional conferences and professional development workshops to explore and develop Beyond the Classroom Aquarium? curriculum related ideas, AND;
  • Dispensing additional funds associated with royalty payments to other publishers who granted premission to use portions of their content in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium, AND;
  • Considering the many intangible costs associated with years of reading, studying, photocopying, etc. related to the curriculum, AND;
  • Years (20+) spent thinking, writing, and revising conceptual designs of the Beyond the Classroom Aquarium curriculum and the persistence to complete it; Why then

        … does this book not cost less?

Moving right along to:

          Question Number 10-B

10B. If

  • a publishing company did not publish it (Beyond the Classroom Aquarium is self-published and print on demand) …and
  • my school district’s curriculum committee did not authorize adoption of it,

Why should I give it the time of day? After all, a lot of experts and top dollar educational corporations have developed and endorsed a plethora of reviewed and highly rated curricular materials.

     … Question Number NINE

9. The level of knowledge and skill required of the lead teacher in this project based curriculum is uncommonly extreme. Getting students to be successful with this curriculum would require extensive effort, time, work and support. No thanks (Please share your reaction to this comment).

    … Question Number EIGHT.

8. It would cost way too much to implement the projects in this curriculum at my school (a small fortune). Even though it may well be worth it, where do startup funds to implement this curriculum come from? Why DIY so many systems and components when many high quality components can be purchased (plug and play). Cutting corners and finding novel ways to design and produce system components is just not how I view my role as an educator (Please share your reaction to this comment).

    … Question Number SEVEN.

7. Projects in this curriculum are designed to address modern day math standards, next generation science standards, and standards relating to integration of technology, engineering and the arts into learning activities. This kind of integration may make daily work with students more complicated than some educators might prefer (Please share your reaction to this comment).

      … Question Number SIX.

6.  The man who wrote this curriculum has put a lot of passion into it. Somehow he devised a way to unify all of these aquatic ecosystem themed projects into a logical curricular sequence. In addition to being a veteran educator (of more than 35 years), he went to great lengths to ensure this work would address a range of issuses of interest in numerous professional aquatic ecosystem fields of study and work. Obsessive/compulsive? Maybe he should have just joined a rock band instead? (Please share your reaction to this comment).

     … Question Number FIVE.

5. How can modern day persons perform these projects via digital learning or while being home schooled? These conditions make implementation of such a project based curriculum even more difficult. (Please share your reaction to this comment).

     … Question Number FOUR.

4. I think students would never buy-in to a yearlong project based, aquatic ecosystem themed structuted sequence of multidisciplinary learning activities. They have such limited attention spans and get bored so easily….  What do you think? (Please share your reaction to this comment).

    … Question Number THREE.

3. What examples of application of knowlegde and skill could be presented from students who have participated in this sequence of projects – in science, technology, engineering, art, and math? The author seems to think that learning about aquatic ecosystem is an enriching vehicle for guiding students to learn math & more (and apply it in real world contexts). (Please share your reaction to this comment).

     … Question Number TWO.

2. What might a classroom look like after a full school year of successful project participation in all 14 projects and related assessment activities has occurred? Could such a learning space serve as a demonstration  model and professional development learning space? (Please share your reaction to this comment).

     … And finally, Last but not least,

         Question Number ONE.

1. Has this author put together a Beyond the Classroom Aquarium professional development workshop for interested educators; a workshop that could be held in an operational beyond the classroom aquatic ecosystem learning space? Would it be FREE? (Please share your reaction to this comment).

I believe you can find answers to these questions and many others in the book. I will be happy to read your own comment about any of the questions on this list or other relevant concern(s) even if you have not yet read or used this curriculum. In particular, I am deeply interested in what you believe a fair price for this book might be. What do you think is a reasonable expectation for a royalty of this book? Although I did not write this book to make money I did hope I might recover expenses in the process of sharing this amazong curriculum.

Thank you.

Beyond the Classroom Aquarium – A Non-Fiction Title for STEM Educators

19 Jun

 Beyond the Classroom Aquarium learning projects have been designed for use by all learners!

One trend in the field of educational analysis that interests me is the seeming increase in the proportion of pedagogists who are proponents of skillfully applied ‘educational craftsmanship’ by which every educator may implement strategies to more effectively apply his or her personal voice/vision during day to day work with students and also obtain more personally relevant professional development. Beyond the Classroom Aquarium is my “grass-roots” contribution in support the development of autonomous pedagogical craftsmanship. I believe some peers will appreciate that it offers much more than just another educational twist on the recent trend in aquaculture curricula.

Beyond the Classroom Aquarium presents a curricular sequence of 14 project based, STEM-Oriented aquatic ecosystem themed learning activities students will love. Some use it as a curriculum resource; others as a ‘take action now’ project guide. Many educators who use it with their own students or participate in a related workshop/class also find that they are being guided to refine & implement their own personalized educational voice/vision.

In addition to being educationally valuable, Beyond the Classroom Aquarium projects are affordably scalable. A plethora of suggestions to help budget challenged educators make affordable project modifications are provided throughout the book.

As you review information provided here, please try to imagine scaling and implementing one or more Beyond the Classroom Aquarium project for your students – in your learning space.

“Many educators will find practical value in this innovatively hybridized curriculum….”

“I’m not familiar with another project based, aquatic ecosys-STEM themed curriculum  that is as comprehensive.”



                                                  “I am impressed….”

The above remarks were expressed by #NMEA15 conference (National Marine Educators Association) attendees who sat down with me, during the conference (in Newport, RI), and reviewed Beyond the Classroom Aquarium.


The NMEA is a branch of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) that focuses on increasing knowledge of the world of water and the practice of educating people about it. Beyond the Classroom Aquarium was recently mentioned in the “New Books and Media” section in the Fall 2016 edition of: Current: The Journal of Marine Education; a “peer-reviewed journal of the National Marine Educators Association. Current features lively, in-depth articles and learning activities relating to all aspects of the world of water….”

Until Dec 31, 2016, Beyond the Classroom Aquarium was available as an 8.5″ by 11″ softcover book available through Createspace’s “Print on Demand” (POD) service. It is 347 pages in length. This book provides guidance and structure that educators find useful for effectively leading students through a yearlong Curricular Sequence of 14 Project Based, STEM Oriented Aquatic Ecosystem Themed Learning Activities Their Students Will Love. Designed to start on the first day of school and continue throughout the year, I believe innovative educators will find a lifetime’s worth of projects and ideas in this book (through which they may guide their students. It is now available through the Kindle Direct Publishing eStore.

Many individuals and organizations granted me permission to share their ideas with fellow educators (and students). These persons and organizations are acknowledged in the “Acknowledgement” post that is listed below.

I am deeply grateful to my many peers who have demonstrated a keen interest in reading Beyond the Classroom Aquarium and applying information presented in it as they work with their own students. Beyond the Classroom Aquarium was designed to be used from the first day of a new school year – every day – until the school year concludes. 

Although more information about the book is provided in the remaining text on this page, you may also read more about Beyond the Classroom Aquarium, it’s structure/format, and also review my grateful acknowledgements to those who have directly supported my efforts to pilot various activities with students by clicking on a link to one of the four bulleted posts below. The fourth post provides information that offers readers a fuller sense of my background and credibility as author of Beyond the Classroom Aquarium.

A General Overview of Beyond the Classroom Aquarium:  A Curricular Sequence of 14 Project-Based, STEM-Oriented, Aquatic Ecosystem Themed Learning Activities Your Students Will Love

Although titled: Beyond the Classroom Aquarium, the primary setting for the projects and activities described in this book is the classroom. However, scattered throughout the curriculum (particularly in the final five projects 10 – 14), despite the curriculum’s classroom setting, projects are designed to guide students to extend their application of skills and knowledge in STEM-Oriented and aquatic ecosystem themed learning activities well beyond their classrooms. The book’s title is intended to denote that the classroom activities and projects described in it are creative and transformative spin-offs of introductory classroom aquarium activities. Each of the seven chapters describes ways to guide secondary students through a structured sequence of aquatic ecosystem themed, STEM-oriented, project based learning activities.

By participating in the project based activities described in this book, students are exposed to concepts and skills that encompass but are not limited to: oceanography, physics, chemistry, biology, aquaponics, gardening; designing, critiquing, and constructing aquatic ecosystems (involving trades of carpentry, plumbing, and electronics); data collection, data analysis, design of auxiliary aquatic ecosystem components, microscopy, aquaculture, propagation of invertebrates, (from algae to coral), computer automation of aquatic ecosystem components, research design, community service, cultural awareness, public outreach (and public sharing of research results). Although most projects are designed to occur within a classroom setting, some activities are designed to help students directly apply developing knowledge and skills ” beyond  the classroom.

Beyond the Classroom Aquarium is an ambitious curriculum for in-service veteran educators, students in pre-service education programs and other educators who seek bold approaches for providing comprehensive, individualized and year-long STEM-Oriented instruction in a unique and high interest, aquatic ecosystem themed project based learning context. The material in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium serves as a curricular template that educators may follow in guiding their students through the structured sequence of activities described in the book.

Chapter and section introductions are designed to encourage teachers to both personalize and scale the activities in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium to best meet the needs of their own students, school and setting. Information in each chapter introduction is also intended to encourage autonomous teacher decisions and actions required to guide students through the project activities. Educators may supplement Beyond the Classroom Aquarium project work with other educational resources and textbooks of their own choosing. Throughout, teachers are encouraged to guide students through an individualized math curriculum and help them explore direct connections between the math concepts they are studying and math related aquatic ecosystem concepts. Technological and design/engineering related activities are also important components of every project.

The book provides enough structure and information to enable teachers to guide their students through a yearlong series of STEM-Oriented aquatic ecosystem themed learning projects. Yet most teachers will appreciate the encouragement they are given to utilize their own instructional autonomy, flexibility, and newly discovered resources, to thoughtfully deviate from the program described in the book. Many timely technical support suggestions teachers will find easy to follow are also provided.

Unlike other curricula, daily involvement with classroom aquarium projects in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium allows students expansive and authentic hands-on exploration, discovery, inquiry and knowledge development; all under the guidance of an educator; in the context of a classroom or other amenable educational setting.

Included among the key features and benefits students derive from participation in the yearlong series of projects in this thoughtful anthology of aquatic ecosystem themed learning activities, is the recurrent opportunity to authentically apply newly developing skills and knowledge with each successive project.

In addition to helping students achieve common standards, and exposing students to a structured sequence of high interest, hands-on aquatic ecosystem related activities in the areas mentioned above, Beyond the Classroom Aquarium is written so as to ensure that all students are critically challenged; nurtured to acquire entrepreneurial skills that enable them to turn ideas into action; and guided to develop a critical mix of success-oriented attitudes of initiative, intelligent risk-taking, collaboration, and opportunity recognition.

Thank you for visiting! Come on back and bring your friends, pets, peers, colleagues, students (and family).

Related articles (more to be added…. Your article / link suggestions are welcome!)

“Hold to A Dream:” A Math Ed. Connection to Martin Luther King Jr. via Jamie Escalante

22 Jan

HOLD TO A DREAM – By Jaime Escalante

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.’”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Not to compare myself with Dr. King, but I have a dream too.  And so do you. So do my students at Garfield High School in Los Angeles, and so do our children. Our dreams may, at times, be buried – by the passage of too much time without fulfillment, by loss, by poverty, by illness, by repression or by sheer laziness – but they are there. And, as my students have taught me, these dreams are extraordinarily powerful. A teacher teaches nothing if not this. And a society learns nothing if it does not learn this.

The legacy of greater freedom, justice and civil rights left by Dr. King raises an important question for us today as we celebrate his life and work: How will our children be judged – on color or character? It is my belief that our children will be judged in the same way we judge ourselves – by the power of our dreams and our ability to imbue the worlds in which we live, large or small, with those dreams.

In Spanish, we call it “ganas.” It is a word that does not translate well into English. Yes, it means to have a dream, and it means desire. But it is, in Spanish, a much stronger word. It suggests a powerful urge to get ahead, a willingness to sacrifice, and work hard. Moreover, ganas is a desire, which must emerge from within. It cannot be coerced.

I tell my students, “Set your goals and go for it. We’re going to be working very hard – before school, after school, and on weekends. But you’re going to make it. Here’s my home phone number. If you flunk, I flunk. But if you succeed that’s a big plus for your school, a big plus for your community and a big plus for you.”

You see, to be in my advanced placement Calculus class at Garfield High School, a student needs only ganas. I don’t use placement tests. I don’t check IQ’s. There is no need to be “gifted.” If a student has desire, they’re gifted enough for me. In childhood, the flame of ganas burns brightly, fueled by the challenges of each new day – the little dreams that when accomplished, are so rewarding not only to ourselves but to our family and friends as well. Our daily lives are consumed with the desire to walk, to catch a ball, to ride a two-wheeler.”

Before long though, life begins to “teach” us that some of our dreams are “out of reach.” That the tree is “too tall,” that the dress costs “too much,” that we’re “too young,” “too weak,” that it’s “too far,” or takes “too much time.” Some of us learn this lesson little by little, blunted desire by blunted desire, reinforced perhaps, by the nearsighted counsel of well-meaning adults who are sure it’s “not possible.” Others of us learn this “lesson” with the crushing authority of the loss of a loved one, and the shattering realization that we must set aside our dreams in the name of survival.

Yes, this lesson of life can be a powerful one. I do not underestimate it, nor would I ever sit in judgment against someone whose hardships, far greater than most of us could ever imagine, have caused him or her to turn aside from the withered dreams of long-forgotten youth.

But never will I accept, or allow my students to accept this “lesson” as having one grain of truth to it. If it were true, how could greatness exist? And if it is the barriers in life that are the executioners, why should I don the hangman’s hood? No, I would teach my students that ganas conquers all; that the power of their dreams can overcome all barriers.

And what are these barriers? Certainly, one is racism. Racism might be defined as an unwillingness or an inability, out of ignorance or malice, to dream for those of another race dreams of comparable magnitude to one’s own. It has many faces – happy, resentful, patronizing, bored…. A kindly bureaucrat will suggest that inner-city schools need to place greater emphasis on auto shop and less on academics; a teacher will snicker at the thought of trying to teach calculus to minority youth from the barrios.

Racism is best fought with education. Education is the greatest equalizer. My kids are proof enough – they have gone on to the best colleges and universities in the country and many have now graduated and have excellent jobs. This is also proof of a sort that a sane society is a “color-blind” society, although the use of the word “blind” in this context is perhaps inappropriate. Blindness is not a quality of a rational or educated mind. If a sane society might be characterized as “color-blind,” it should never be injustice-blind. When factors of race become matters of injustice, blatant or veiled, society is obligated to cast its 20-20 vision upon the perpetrators of such injustice and demand and secure its remedy. Socioeconomic barriers can also offer challenges to educators in minority communities. A hungry student does not learn well. A student who must work nights to help the family make ends meet, who starts his or her homework assignment late at night, exhausted, is likely to encounter problems in class. Poverty is a formidable barrier. And when it impacts upon the classroom, it must be addressed.

But a far greater obstacle today is a poverty of faith in the ability of young people to overcome adversity, to achieve, perhaps, what we, as adults, have failed to achieve. Our schools today have been pervaded, unfortunately in my opinion, by misguided psychological precepts which often ignore the spiritual, qualitative factors of life and learning, and which all too frequently tend to look upon disadvantaged minority students as though they were on the verge of a mental breakdown, to be protected from any undue stress. After all, the reasoning seems to go, these kids are already behind the eight ball of socioeconomic stress. We must not allow them to “burn out” at such a tender age.

Ideas such as this are not just false. They are the kiss of death for minority youth and, if allowed to proliferate, will significantly stall the advancement of minorities. Minority students don’t need any more false excuses from authorities about why they can’t cope, about why it’s OK to give up. Nor do they need to have their attention turned away from real-life barriers or educational difficulties, such that they begin to nervously “spin their wheels” trying to figure out “what’s wrong with me?” What they need is better guidance, more precise discipline and a better sense of their own responsibility for themselves and others. This will not only enable the child to succeed in a chosen field of work, but to comprehend and undertake his or her role as a contributor to a culture and to the society at large.

Cries for help come from students in many different ways. Some seek to become “invisible.” Others are angry and tell me emphatically that they “don’t have to take this anymore” and are quitting. If you want to utterly ruin such a student all you have to do is offer your deepest sympathy and suggest that he or she just “take it easy” for a while. I can’t imagine a more cruel act. Only a coward would let go of a student’s hand at such a time, a when all that’s needed is a little more help, a little more discipline, a little more love and encouragement and a little more faith that, yes, he or she can make it over this barrier and the one after that and the one after that

In this manner, ganas can be cultivated. It requires a team effort. There are always difficulties of one sort or another to surmount. Parents, friends, religious leaders, school administrators and teachers must all become involved. It is not always an easy task. But if we all believe in our children and our students and maintain high expectations and high admiration for them, they will soon start to believe in themselves. And at that point, anything becomes possible.

Finally, it should be said that the possible is best fostered through the use of correct educational methodologies. These are the methodologies that get results; the techniques that make educational statistics go up. They are not necessarily the “accepted” methodologies, or the ones that originated from the proper “institutions.” Any teacher undertaking responsibility for the lives of our future leaders should be granted the full authority to use any educational methods he or she finds workable, and to reject at once those that do not result in students who fully understand what they have learned. Such a teacher should be held accountable, but solely on the basis of the achievement of the students under his or her care.

Similarly, school principals, school board leaders, parent-teacher associations, governmental bodies and educational institutions should search out and identify, without prejudice as to race or place of origin, provably workable educational methods and demand that they be piloted and, if found effective, implemented. When I first decided to teach calculus at Garfield High School I was often told that: “it can’t be done.” Then, we did it. We developed, in an inner-city school, one of the top ten high school math programs – public or private – in the United State and were told, in effect, “well, you certainly do have wonderful personalities, but you simply have nothing of substance, no program which can be passed on to others.” So narrow and ingrained was the frame of reference against which we were evaluated that our methods and structures were literally invisible.

Lest anyone think I advocate on my own behalf, I hasten to add that while I have been blessed with bright, hard-working students and the support of many in my community, there are literally hundreds of teachers in this country possessed of educational abilities far greater than mine. It is time they received the support they have so long and so desperately needed from their schools and community leaders in both the public and private sectors. Do we need any more evidence that what has been accepted and used in the recent past has been, in the main, ineffective?

And to students everywhere, I pledge my support. My advice to you parallels my thoughts on education itself: find the ganas in your life – something you like, something which captures your imagination, something you can do to help others, to improve the world. Something that makes you dream. Then find a parent or a teacher or a friend – someone with as much ganas as you, someone who knows you can’t be stopped, someone who won’t let you let yourself down. And know that if you have desire, you have rights too. And one of those rights is the right to workable and understandable educational methods and materials and a teacher who will match your efforts stride for stride. You’re the best hope of the future. You’re going to make it. All you need do is learn well Dr. King’s lesson of the power of a dream, and holding to a dream. The rest – incredibly, miraculously, and inexorably – will almost take care of itself.

This article was written on the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday..

Jaime Escalante and the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education

Escalante, J. (1990). Hold to a dream. In Network News & Views (The Educational Excellence Network), 9(2), 14-16

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