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Month: October 2013

Project Adult Literacy Society – A Very Noble Cause!

Project Adult Literacy Society – A Very Noble Cause!

When people think about English as a Second Language (ESL), we often don’t consider the full implications of needing to get proper language training. It’s often a lot more serious than just being able to participate in everyday conversation.

Consider that many immigrants may want to qualify for colleges or training programs. For example, how do you pass an entrance exam for a science program, when you don’t know science vocabulary in the English language?

Thankfully, there are some wonderful programs out there that help to bridge the gap. For example, there is the wonderful P.A.L.S program (Project Adult Literacy Society) – in Edmonton, P.A.L.S. connects volunteer tutors with those who need ESL assistance.

But this type of program is highly dependent on volunteers – so if you can help out, please consider donating a couple of hours of your time here and there. It certainly is for a great cause.

Plastic Pump Bottles – An Environmental Scourge!

Plastic Pump Bottles – An Environmental Scourge!

OK, I admit it, I’m a bit of a “tree-hugger”, and that means I re-use and recycle pretty religiously. So take my following comments with a grain of salt!

One consumer product item that gets my goat a bit is pump bottles. Have you ever taken these things apart? It’s surprising how many plastic, metal, and rubber parts contribute to these pump mechanisms:


Now for some products, it might be a net benefit – for example, the liquid soap dispenser in the pictured product actually stretches the product – when dispensed as a foam, the soap actually lasts much longer, thereby lowering consumption. BUT… wouldn’t it be nice if they sold REFILL bottles of this product? They are nowhere to be found!

QUICK TIP for the science teachers! These “Method” plastic bottles make great flasks! Of course you can’t heat them, but the wide bottom makes them very stable, and being wide-mouthed and see-through makes them useful for all sorts of experiments. Don’t forget to recycle them when you’re done with them!

One set of products where pump bottles should be outlawed are lotions and creams. First off, why do you need a pump? A simple flip-cap will allow you to squeeze out the contents effectively. When a pump is used, a great deal more plastic and other materials are needed to make the pump mechanism – check out this from a Lubriderm bottle:


But what’s worse, is that the pump is complete ineffective at getting the last of the product out from the bottom of the bottle. Of course, they don’t make refills, either! The following picture shows I was able to extract 28 mls of product from a 480 ml bottle, after it became completely impossible to pump it out.


That’s 6% of the product that would otherwise go into the trash! Imagine the millions of litres of these products are wasted each year in North America, simply because of ineffective, wasteful plastic pumps.

And yes… I use plastic syringes to collect and dispense the remainder from bottles where the last bit is difficult to extract – I told you I was a tree hugger!

Solar Panels Dangerous? Or Power Industry Propaganda?

Solar Panels Dangerous? Or Power Industry Propaganda?

I recently had a good look at the shingles on my house, and unfortunately, it looks like they need replacing. But then I got to thinking, perhaps, since I have to do work on the roof anyway, this might be a good time to investigate solar energy.

A rooftop solar installation.
A rooftop solar installation.

What’s really neat is there is a great source of solar panel and off-grid information right in my backyard – is located in Wabamun, AB, very close to where I live. I doubt I want to go completely off-grid, but it would be really nice to tie in some solar panels to reduce my electric bills – we all know those electricity costs have been increasing, and probably will continue to do so. Considering that the price of solar panels has really dropped, and they are much more readily available, I’m thinking now is the time to jump.

But during my Internet research, I came across a couple of disturbing articles. First, there’s threats by various power utilities that they may begin charging service fees to users who have implemented solar panels:

Power companies look at charging customers for solar energy
Utilities, Solar Companies in Fight Over Rates

Like most service fees charged by power utilities, this really sounds out to lunch. Like it says in the AP article, this really sounds like power companies are out to punish those who use less electricity from the grid.

And on another disturbing front, I came across this CBC article relating the concerns of Ontario firefighters – they claim rooftop solar panels make fires more dangerous to fight:

Rooftop Solar Panels Pose Dangers

This article also has a bit of head-scratch to it – firefighting is an inherently dangerous job, necessitating dealing with all sorts of chemicals, electrical, and gas situations. Firefighters mitigate these dangers through situation assessment and fighting the fire according to the what dangers are presented. I don’t see how a solar panel on a roof is any different from a cabin with a large propane tank.

My perspective on this is perhaps a bit paranoid, but I’m really starting to suspect that industry propaganda is behind some of this “seeding of doubt” in the minds of consumers. I think what’s going to be needed is a strong educational campaign by the solar industry, and hopefully, some forward-thinking legislation that protects consumers who invest in solar technology. It would be nice if government actually helped encourage the growth of the solar industry, but don’t hold your breath.

Are Gas Ranges a Potential Carbon Monoxide Danger?

Are Gas Ranges a Potential Carbon Monoxide Danger?

co_detectorMost of us have carbon monoxide detectors in our homes, but don’t give them a second thought. That was the case for me as well, at least until yesterday.
While hacking away at the computer, I was startled by a repeating series of deafening beeps – once my slow brain figured out that it was not the smoke detector, I noticed that display on the CO detector was flashing with a reading of 357 ppm. It turns out the flashing meant that it was displaying a peak value – once I reset the unit, it read steadily around 40-50 ppm. Considering normal atmospheric levels of CO are less than 1 ppm, those numbers are unacceptably high.
Most worksite regulations prohibit exposure to 50 ppm CO for extended periods of time, so certainly you shouldn’t have those levels in your home! Check out this page – it has great description of CO levels and their potential dangers.
The first thing I suspected was our furnace, but the weather was still warm, so it wasn’t even running. So I moved around the house, and quickly noticed that the readings got higher in the kitchen, and were very high (400 ppm!) by the gas stove. My wife was doing some baking, so needless to say I turned it off! This immediately stopped the source of the CO – and opening up some windows quickly brought the CO levels back to less than 1 ppm. Obviously, our gas stove needs servicing.
With a little web research, I was very surprised to learn that excessive CO production by gas ranges is actually quite common. The leading culprits are improper gas pressure, and more commonly, incomplete combustion caused by faulty burners.
I don’t have any Earth-shaking conclusions to this story – just sharing something that was surprising to me, and a reminder to make sure you always have a functioning CO detector in your home.
Scientific Explorer Series on the Sun

Scientific Explorer Series on the Sun

Scientific ExplorerA stunning series on the Sun from Scientific Explorer has recently been published – this is an 8-part gem you really need to read.

Here are the links to every excellent entry in the series:

Surviving Teaching

Surviving Teaching

It’s natural that as education theory progresses, teachers have to learn, adapt, and make changes to their instruction. Just one example – as curriculum and resources implement principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), teachers obviously need to adjust their lessons and teaching techniques accordingly. Most teachers know this comes with the territory, and happily exercise their professionalism in putting in the extra time that is needed to make sure their students are getting the best instruction possible.

However, teacher-time is being squeezed on multiple fronts especially in the area of technology, tightening budgets, and in many areas of the North America, increased class sizes. Just one example – in Alberta, recent severe cutbacks to distance learning have resulted, in many jurisdictions and schools, teachers having to pick up the slack to design and deliver distance education programs that were previously handled by outreaches or third parties such as the Alberta Distance Learning Centre.

I certainly don’t have all the answers to these increasing demands on teacher time – but I am very, very concerned that we are approaching a tipping point where the capacity of teachers to absorb, adjust, multi-task and adapt to additional tasks will soon exceed their professional and human capacity. When that point is reached, education, and ultimately students, will suffer… has that point been passed already?

Can we do better? Can we respect the capacity of teachers as the demands on them increase? Well, I’m not smart enough to answer those questions! But I can point out some good websites and commentary that deal with these issues. However you personally deal these demands, just make sure that you take good care, and make sure you take some time to reflect, and be good to yourself.

  • The “Shift” In Education – this is a very thoughtful blog that primarily focusses on the increasing role that technology plays in education, and how teachers can adapt and cope.
  • – Edudemic specializes in connecting education and technology, but in a way that won’t take up a bunch of your time. The posts at Edudemic are written to bring you the maximum amount of facts and logistics for implementation, with the minimum amount of verbiage.
  • Tools That Do Not Make a Teacher’s Life Easier – this commentary expresses important concerns about tech integration very eloquently.
  • Is Technology Making Us Lonely? – while this TED talk is a more generally pertains to how we all relate to each in an increasingly technological world, I think it also has implications for how we as teachers communicate with each other and our students.
  • Teachers Benefit From Mindfulness Training – OK, you might think this is a bit “new-agey”, but hey, you can’t argue with results!
Sustainability Articles at Scientific Explorer

Sustainability Articles at Scientific Explorer

Scientific Explorer

Scientific Explorer has some of the best science writing on the Internet – if you aren’t following this blog, you’re really missing out. Each article has many interesting tidbits nestled into intriguing reading.

Recently, Scientific Explorer has gone on an ecological journey, and written great articles on Ecotourism and Birding. There are some very neat stories and videos you can share with your students about sustainability, ecological awareness, and invasive species:

Also note that Scientific Explorer now has an easy-to-use index, great for sharing with your students for research projects.