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The Alice Challenge

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“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Hello fellow permies! I offer you all the challenge to yourself and your students and friends to think of six impossible things every day before breakfast. If possible, please elaborate on ways to make those impossible things possible.

Best wishes, and have fun!
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Location: Montana
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Here's a bonus: two impossible things synthesized into one.

#1. There are about 8 million students in the US in 7th and 8th grades. Conservatively assuming 12.5% of these do science fair projects, there's a million science fair projects annually. When my oldest sons did this, deciding on a project was a major hassle. There are many websites that suggest potential projects, but many of them are rehashing projects that have been done a zillion times and everybody knows the expected outcome. Kids understand this and aren't terribly excited to regurgitate the expected answers yet again. So...

Imagine we created a website designed to suggest science fair project ideas - which were legitimate research projects answering questions related to permaculture. Here's a few possible examples:
  • compare a few rocket mass heater designs, measuring cleanliness of output gasses and temperature of output gasses over time period of burning a given quantity of fuel
  • compare weight of plants produced, and possibly nutritional analysis, for plants grown in living soil vs. sterile soil
  • compare soil life (via microscope analysis that Elaine Ingham recommends) 30 days after applying compost, compost tea, or commercial fertilizer
  • compare water needs (or performance with fixed watering provided) for garden plants in conventional beds vs. raised beds vs. sheet mulched beds vs. hugelkultur beds
  • compare overall productivity of a monocrop bed vs. a bed planted with complimentary plant guilds
  • compare overall productivity of a specific guilds
  • get lab tests done for nutritional content of eggs from various grocery stores and local suppliers, collate this with data on suppliers farming methods
  • get lab tests done for known toxins in produce from grocery stores and various local suppliers, collate this with data on suppliers farming methods.
  • compare thermal efficiency (heat out / solar insolation) and economic efficiency (heat out / $ investment) for several solar water heating systems, including low tech and DIY solutions
  • compare production of plants in hot climates when exposed to direct sunlight vs. grown under 10% to 50% shade cloth
  • (I bet we could generate five dozen other great experiments by end of month simply by throwing this topic in a separate thread...)

  • Image that website not only connected students with ideas for legitimate research, but also connected them with individuals willing to mentor them on initial research, constructing their hypothesis, experimental design, connecting them with labs and other resources where applicable, guidance in analyzing data, and feedback as they edit their conclusions and final paper.

    Imagine that website also provided a "journal" where students results could be published.

    Think what amazing benefits could accrue for legitimate learning rather than rote repetition... for connecting students to mentors, labs, technicians, scientists, and others who would take an interest... think how it could affect student's futures.

    Think how cool it would be to get some research done on permaculture topics... and who says young teenagers aren't capable of real research... my ten year old daughter is begging for more of my help in projects like these. I wonder what will happen in a couple years when she's officially in the science fair!

    #2. If you haven't heard John D Liu's talk from PV2, listen to it here: http://www.permaculturevoices.com/podcast/the-great-work-of-our-time-presented-at-pv2-by-john-d-liu-pvp103/. His thesis is that productivity follows ecology; systems that focus on productivity first will eventually destroy both productivity and ecology, where systems that focus on ecology first rapidly improve both ecology and productivity. Therefore, the great work of our time is repairing the disconnected mental models that focus on profits without understanding the primacy of ecology. To prevent our society from following the errors and decline of prior societies, this thinking much reach a tipping point.

    Imagine that one percent of children doing science fair projects do permaculture related projects via impossible idea #1 - that's ten thousand students learning about permaculture and contributing related research each year. Imagine the rukus ten thousand students doing legitimate research could cause. Image those children get infected with permaculture, help catalyze this great work of our time, and help reach the tipping point John D Liu called for!

    Regarding, "please elaborate on ways to make those impossible things possible"...

    Are these things possible? Absolutely!

    What would it take? Is anybody besides me interested in brainstorming a starter list of potential science fair permie projects? Would anyone volunteer to mentor a student adopting one of those projects?

    The web resources for something like this aren't rocket science. The real issue is connecting a good list of candidate projects with willing mentors and pioneer students. If pioneer students (and mentors) do well, succession will happen and results will snowball.

    There will be plenty of time to discuss your objections when and if you return. The cargo is this tiny ad:
    1st edition of Living Wood Magazine--Now free for a while
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