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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Having What It Takes

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Do you have what it takes, or do you just think that you do? This article on incompetence kinda made me a little paranoid about whether I’m as good as I think I am. I mean, here I am, blogging and spouting off about things, and does that really make me a better teacher? On the other hand, it seems like a lack of self-reflection seems to be the downfall of the people termed “incompetent,” so maybe I’m okay.

Apparently, this isn’t a new idea.

So, what do you do for self-reflection / evaluation? And, probably more importantly, how do you use that information to improve?

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Advocation Avocation

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(See what I did there?)

Bill Nye the Science Guy was on TV a little after my middle-school tenure, but my early students requested his videos constantly, even when they were really too old for the level of presentation. Even xkcd loves him.

Be still, my little nerd-heart, where it says Bill Nye and Dr. Tyson count each other as best friends! The NYTimes has an article about Nye’s new activities as a science-literacy advocate. Highlight:

“When people call [evolution, climate change, etc.] ‘controversial topics,’ that’s misleading,” he continued. “They are only controversial politically. And politics is not necessarily evidence-based.”

They also had a mock-clash, where Mr. Nye pinned Dr. Tyson’s arms back so Brian Greene could take a couple of swings. The whole lecture on storytelling in science (which I’m still working through) is fascinating, but the wrestling clip is here in case you’re impatient.

I sorta almost worked for Bill Nye. During college, I had an internship at a large paper product company. For their back-to-school launch of facial tissues, Bill Nye was the official brand that year. He was going to present to the marketing people and executives and give them some sort of pep talk. A marketing guy heard I ran a chemistry show for my college and maybe I’d like to help make a demo for Mr. Nye to use. Would I?? The happy-nerd-dance was probably embarrassing, but fortunately, cellphone cameras weren’t yet around. As per the marketing guy’s instructions (“something like, baking soda and vinegar makes bubbles or fizz or something, right?”), I made some instructions for his marketing experiment, and warned him that it wouldn’t work the way he wanted, so I also included some alternatives. He promised to call me when Mr. Nye came to campus for the event, but he never called. I guess that was my almost-brush with greatness. I might still be a little bitter.

So here’s the thing: did it work? Did Bill Nye really change the world? We’ll see what current mid-20-somethings do with it.

Lunch Dates: Smarter Every Day

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Mix together a bit of firearms, some strange (yet, more or less) everyday happenstances and situations, and some slow-motion video, and you might get Destin from Smarter Every Day. Okay, he’s not entirely about firearms, but there’s a lot of things that my colleagues would categorize as “things to attract boys” (like guns, explosions, helicopters, and spiders). Destin’s channel is also not entirely slow-mo, but a lot of the videos I use for class happen to be.

Oh, and add in there the enthusiasm and a constant smirk. Kinda a smile, but really, mostly a smirk. Probably because he seems genuinely fascinated by whatever he’s filming (emphasized by the Psalm 111:2 he posts at the end of his videos). This guy loves what he does. I wonder if he was the nerd in the classroom, or the closet-nerd (I’m leaning toward the latter).

I think I first found Destin while looking for something to help teach about rotational inertia. Like why cats always land on their feet:

I’m equally delighted by his off-channel, Funner Every Day… random videos that aren’t necessarily science-related. This video of his daughter folding Vi Hart hexaflexagons is fantastic!

Things to ask during lunch:

  • Do your kids go to public or private school now? Why?
  • What has the internet brought you?
  • How do you think of new ideas?
  • How do you contact people for trying new stuff?
  • What does your “normal” job help you do on your videos?
  • How did you get into videos, anyway? and slow-motion stuff?
  • How do research some of the science involved in your videos?
  • What should random internet-people take from your videos?
  • What do you want to explore next? Anything you want to do but can’t?
  • What do you think of Gever Tulley and Mythbusters, especially in terms of education?
  • What makes a good teacher, anyway?
  • I know you’re doing this for your kids’ college funds (which is all kinds of awesome). What do you hope they can get from your videos?
  • What do you hope they do with their college experiences?

What’s Right With Our Schools?

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Politicians and the collective media like to point out the horror stories and slides of public education. After all, bad news makes for more readers/viewers. In the case of schools, not all publicity is good publicity. Really, all bad school news does is make people (including [especially?] media-people) make blanket statements about the condition of the whole educational system based on single incidents (much like this sentence).

And I’m not saying that the bad attention isn’t warranted. There are problems in the American education system, like rubber rooms in NYC, teachers betraying community’s trust and having illicit or inappropriate relationships with students, and teachers not doing their jobs. And the bad news is somehow even worse when it’s a teacher (or clergy or police), someone who’s supposed to protect. People not doing their jobs or taking advantage of underage kids don’t often make headlines when their job is in banking or marketing or computer programming or construction or even politics (heck, some of these people even get re-elected).

Fortunately, these terrible scandals are not the norm for most schools, public or private. And in terms of academics, most of these scandals aren’t applicable.

There must be something right with today’s education system, too.

According to the CIA Worldbook, 99% of Americans over the age of 15 are literate. That’s a pretty positive statistic. Reading is, obviously, not the end goal of all education and won’t make kids able to inherently function in modern society, but it’s a good start.

Okay, so we (by the way, who’s “we” anyway?) need to change our education because someone has deemed it to be not-working. Let’s figure out just how not-working our kids are… which means they should take some sort of test. Here’s an old (2010?) article from the NEA, but I really like the cartoon. I mean, how does testing actually boost school achievement? Here’s how the failing rate of schools looked in 2011:


As the Atlantic article also notes, this chart tells us nothing about how “failing” was calculated, nor what to do about it. Very different solutions are needed for schools that failed because of teacher incompetence versus lack of textbooks versus high-poverty area kids focusing on lunch rather than tests. And really, check out those numbers again. Nearly half of our schools across the country are failing? And in just six school years, the failure rate increased from 29% to 48%? How realistic is that? Maybe it’s the tests that aren’t accurately measuring our students’ successes.

One solution for avoiding public schools is to, well… avoid them. Getting rid of public schools (otherwise known as charter schools or voucher programs for private schools or computer installations), however, isn’t a proven solution at all. This article from Salon talks about the failure of “reform” tactics in public schools.

Our public schools do a lot of things correctly. If we, as a society, chose to celebrate the fabulous things they do and support all of the kids and teachers, and even administrators in there, I think we’d find a more invested society in the positive outcomes of the systems, rather than the unfortunate detractors that occasionally occur. Here‘s a nice list, based on research, of ways that parents and others in the community can reach out (reach into?) schools to provide kids with positive support.