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Lunch Dates: Emily Graslie

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Is your job what some would consider gross or icky or ewwwwwwwwwwwwdonttouchmewiththosehands? Do you love your job? No, I mean reaaaaally love your job? Emily Graslie does.

It still has brains on it…

This is The Brain Scoop. How can you not love her enthusiasm and genuine awe for nature and all of its creations? And the way she can rattle off the names of bones and tissue, not to mention Latin genus-species combos, is awesome.

Discovered by Hank Green (yes, that and that and that Hank Green) when he visited the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum in Montana, Ms. Graslie took him on a tour of the building and its inhabitants (mostly stuffed and/or preserved animals), and Mr. Green encouraged her to put up a YouTube channel.

Ms. Graslie has a Tumblr as well, where she posts random findings at her new museum-home, Chicago’s Field Museum. Her role as “Chief Curiosity Correspondant” is now letting her serve as an ambassador to the public, showing visitors what the museum has to offer, and even some of what hides in the collections.

What makes her relevant to WWNdTD? It’s the joy and pride she takes in her craft. It’s totally okay for her to be fascinated in things that other people aren’t. And even better, even if you can’t stomach the dissection videos, she is clearly captivated by everything there despite her own “ewww!”s and “oh wow!”s, enthralled in the beauty of how nature works, and makes no judgement on you. It’s how you want students to be absolutely engrossed by what they do, no matter what anyone else says.

Questions for during lunch:

  • Since you have a BFA, I assume you still do some kind of art/craft stuff. Do you still paint in your free time?
  • You started in preserving museum specimens and are now working on a Museum Studies degree (awesome!) Why museum studies and not conservation/restoration?
  • As a fellow art/science nerd, I really appreciate your fascination with the minutia. Did you consider something like scientific illustration as a career?
  • Would you like to do other aspects of museum work eventually?
  • Are you mostly on the floor of the museum or behind the scenes? What is your typical day now like?
  • Would you like to do more museum outreach stuff instead of museum work?
  • Your background isn’t particularly science-y, but would you take science courses now?
  • You’ve got an awesome video on what makes a museum. Would you like to work at other science museums? history museums? art museums? children’s museums? Smithsonians?
  • I also worked at a museum (see how similar we are? we should be friends!) and the upstairs storage loft of randomly-donated things was fascinating. But, funnier to me were the phone calls from news outlets when something weird appeared on beaches, and they wanted us to identify it. Got any good phone calls?
  • What’s your favorite key on your museum key ring?
  • What kinds of classes or skills should today’s students learn in school?
  • Who was your favorite teacher? your most respected teacher?
  • Ever considered teaching as a career?

Lunch Dates: Wil Wheaton

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Maybe there really isn’t such as thing as bad publicity.

If you’re not a Trekkie, or a fan of The Guild, or The Big Bang Theory, or a bunch of other stuff on TV, video, audiobook, and even book-books, then perhaps you haven’t heard of Wil Wheaton. One of his first screen-credits was in the animated version of The Rats of NIMH, which was my favorite book as a kid, although the movie scared the bejeebers out of me.

With a slogan of “Don’t be a dick!”, Mr. Wheaton must be aware of his characters’ sometimes questionable moral views. But there’s also “Be honest, be kind, be honorable, and always be awesome,” and “It’s not what you love, but how you love it,” which show up on a lot of specially-made shirts and posters.

Wil Wheaton is a huge proponent of technology-related stuff. His blog is full of things he’s thinking and doing. He brews beer. His Twitter feed is covered with a background that parodies the Neil deGrasse Tyson wavy-hands thing. He raises money (with his wife) for shelter animals. He’s got a beard and wears snappy t-shirts. He’s basically a Seattle-ite.

Questions to ask during lunch:

  • As a tech-loving guy, what do you think about Slashdot and Tested? Other tech favorites?
  • Do you also build stuff, like models and electric things, or stick mostly to web/computer/writing things?
  • Are you the kind of person who distinguishes between nerd and geek?
  • Having been on TV and a board game YouTube channel, you must be a nerd. Do you think of yourself as a nerd or a geek?
  • Do you encourage nerd-ness in your kids or was it inevitable?
  • You seem to have the dream nerd-life doing things like moderating a Comic Con panel for Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage. Do you like being a celebrity?
  • You attend various Cons, but from your blog, you don’t seem to like being in the public eye very much, and yet, can rally a lot of people at once. Besides some charity work, what do you want to do with that kind of power?
  • Who was/is your favorite character to play in a role?
  • Is it strange to play a version of yourself on BBT? Do people expect you to act in certain ways when they meet you?
  • Do you feel a sense of obligation to defend nerd-things (like commenting on the Discovery Network‘s truth-stretching/fiction for high ratings)?
  • What do you see as the biggest role for Hollywood (and other media) in terms of education?
  • What are your favorite shows? favorite educational shows? Least favorite and/or poser education shows?

Lunch Dates: Joe Hanson

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I totally apologize for the mostly-unflattering gif, but I really like his shirt. And it reminds me of this.

Wanna see some neat science? Some weird science? Videos? Pictures? Gifs? Links to science articles you didn’t know you wanted to read? Commentary on current science topics? You need It’s Okay To Be Smart!

Joe Hanson is the keeper of this awesome Tumblr feed of science. Oh, and he also has a YouTube channel through PBS. It’s basically popcorn for your nerd-brain: you just keep wanting and consuming more. I actually use this page as a back-up for student who think they aren’t interested in science. We just scroll through and look at the amazing stuff that’s going on.

What’s the big deal about another science blogger? Besides being in awe of fantastic science videos and gifs, Dr. Hanson can write in complete sentences… paragraphs, even! With jokes and puns and sarcasm! And he can laugh at himself, which I think is a sign of strength of character. Oh, and he seems to enjoy what he’s doing, and even to be pretty darn excited by it.

Things to ask during lunch:

  • Congrats on the recent PhD! What did you think you’d be doing with it?
  • Why did you start a Tumblr? a science Tumblr?
  • Where do you see the Tumblr going in the next few years?
  • Are there topics you want to explore, more than just re-posting cool stuff?
  • I know you have certain websites you visit all the time, but how do you find new sources of information?
  • You also have a book list, but what do you consider essential reading for a nerd? for a non-science person?
  • What do you see as your role in the greater internet?
  • Do you consider yourself an educator, or part of a virtual/digital museum?
  • What is a good amount of science knowledge for the non-science person?
  • Are there parts of science that you’re less interested in? more interested? (You seem to have a lot of astronomy-related stuff, as least, in my head.)
  • What’s the coolest thing about being a recognized internet-guy?
  • You’ve already met a bunch of other fascinating YouTube-rs. Who else do you want to meet?

Lunch Dates: Dan Meyer

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Lately, I’ve read a lot of articles and papers and expositions (with a Platonic-conversation-twist, even!) on how mathematics curricula is terrible and demoralizing and demeaning and meaningless.

Enter Dan Meyer. He doesn’t like the current direction math is “supposed” to be taught. He also has a TEDx talk, in which he describes student impatience and complacency that is awfully applicable to math and non-math subjects alike. His blog, dy/dan is already listed in my links (didja get the calculus joke?)

I think I first found Mr. Meyer through a random search online. I somehow got to this lesson on filling a water tank:


It was one of the first entries his series called “What Can You Do With This?” Through several of these videos, he refined the format for his WCYDWT videos. After more adjustments, he now creates Three-Act Tasks, a generalized pattern for everyday, yet simple, situations for students to create their own questions and puzzle through their own answers. Three-Act Tasks are now created and tweaked by his numerous blog and Twitter followers. Recently, he’s started a group effort to fix textbook questions into Three-Act Task formats, to make them more (frankly) interesting and applicable.

To me, it’s kinda sad that such a thoughtful teacher has left the profession in favor of a PhD. On the other hand, hopefully he can continue to inspire even more teachers online than he has already touched in his (pretty faithful) following.

What’s so compelling about Mr. Meyer? He seems like a genuine who truly wants to help kids not-hate math, and maybe even enjoy it a little. And, hey, individual thinking skills and actually creating curiosity in the classroom is not terrible either. Not only that, but he also seems to want to help other teachers re-engage with their enjoyment of teaching and sharing that passion with their students. You can’t get a whole lot better than that.

Questions during lunch:

  • Why did you enter teaching?
  • Why are you leaving teaching?
  • What do you miss about teaching? and not miss?
  • In your classroom, what kinds of assessments or rubrics or evaluation tools did you use to grade students?
  • What do you want to get from the, may I say, fantastic network of people you blog to/with?
  • What should general-society people know to be mathematically literate? Mathematically functional?
  • What makes a good student?
  • What makes a good teacher?
  • Is there a part of math that isn’t taught that should be?
  • You seem to have a beef with Khan Academy-style stuff (and I happen to agree). But what in particular bugs you about it more than textbooks or canned lessons? What do you think about online learning in general?
  • How do you feel about public verses private schools? Charters?
  • Is STEM learning the right solution?
  • What do you want to do once you finish your PhD?
  • What do you hope to hear from students who visit you in 5 or 10 years?

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?

Lunch Dates: Chris Hadfield

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What’s so enthralling about another guy on YouTube? For one thing, he made videos in space.

Sometimes I’ll take a minute between classes and “look” for the ISS with this and then “look out” the ISS window with this. I think most little kids (and many bigger kids) wonder about space and going in a rocket ship somewhere. Few people actually get to experience it. The first astronauts were declared heroes, advancing nations in their quest for knowledge and competition and technology. Current astronauts (at least, in the U.S.) get little to no recognition unless tragedy strikes. Somehow, this guy is different. He’s wired-in.

In case you’ve been missing his tweets, his YouTube videos, and a bunch of news articles (and it would be so, so sad if you haven’t seen them), Chris Hadfield has recently left the ISS as the first Canadian commander of the space station. He just strikes me as an interesting guy. C’mon… he’s singing David Bowie as one of his last submissions from orbit. That can only come from a person with whom I’d like to have lunch.

Major nerd-crush here.

Hadfield (and two other astronauts, Roman Romanenko and Tom Marshburn) just returned from space, landing in Kazakhstan via a Soyuz capsule. He says that being in space was too good to keep to himself.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I (and so many other people) are drawn to his videos. In space. He’s just doing his job. In space. But really, he’s answering simple questions, doing complex research, and acting like a real person. In space. Clearly, he’s not just an everyday guy. He’s military-trained, a test pilot, has an advanced degree, is a Commander. In space. But through his time in videos, it feels like you can ask him anything. He’s not judgemental or condescending. I’d like to think that he knows just how many people want to try out what he did. It’s a kind of charisma, I guess. In space. It goes along with this video (which I’ve posted before) from Dr. Tyson, regarding stopping dreaming:

Random side note: spell check recognizes “YouTube” and “Soyuz” but not “WordPress”. Heh.

Questions and thoughts for lunch conversation:

  • What were the coolest three things that you could do on the ISS? What will you miss?
  • What were the most mundane or annoying things you did on the ISS?
  • What did you miss most on Earth (besides family, I’m sure)?
  • Other astronauts have sent videos back to Earth, aimed at schoolkids, but they haven’t really been popular (or viral). Why do you think yours are such a draw?
  • Are there similar videos by other ISS members (for Russian audiences, etc.)?
  • If you’re online, what are your favorite or most frequently visited websites?
  • Are most transactions on the ISS are in English? How much Russian did you learn?
  • What makes for a good astronaut, and what makes for a good ground-crew member?
  • On the station, how do you monitor or record or keep track of the 100+ experiments? Do you find out the results, or just take data?
  • Did your military training prepare you well for this kind of task? Would you say that military people make better astronauts?
  • What’s the way to encourage education (and science education) in classrooms?
  • Who was your favorite teacher in school? Why?
  • How did you get into YouTube and Twitter in the first place?
  • If your face and nasal passages swell in space, does the food really taste all that good (or bad)?
  • Would you like to go back into space?
  • What’s next?

Lunch Dates: Derek Muller

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Perhaps better known by his super neat videos on physics, Derek Muller (a.k.a. Veritasium) has produced a bunch of cool and informative videos on how stuff works. His usual format consists of asking a central question, asking real n-the-street people for input, performing the experiment, and an explanation for the workings… sort of a version of Mythbusters, but without the explosions or crazy prop shop. He, instead, visits a lot of universities (and professors at/from universities) to get high-quality explanations and demonstrations.

The first video to get attention had to do with Slinkies. Well, one Slinky:

(And check out the answer as well as the extended version.)

Oh, Dr. Muller’s a nerd all right. Check out his fantastically obvious nerdly delight at getting to touch THE kilogram:

Was it good for you, too?

In a number of his videos, Dr. Muller proposes an experiment, then asks a number of random bystanders what they think will happen. He has been called all sorts of names because of it. Really, he’s got his own PhD thesis to back up ferreting-out and addressing misconceptions head-on, as well as a short TEDx talk. I think he’d get along well with dy/dan who’s working on his own PhD (in math education).

Things to ask during lunch:

  • What is the most exciting thing about education today?
  • What do educational systems get right? wrong?
  • You’re not from or in the U.S.. What do the U.K. and Australia do better (and worse) than the U.S.?
  • Do you think that there should be more science education, and at what level(s)?
  • How do you think of new videos?
  • You probably didn’t think you’d be doing YouTube videos for a living. What did you intend on doing with your PhD?
  • You’ve already got a PhD, a successful YouTube channel, a loyal fanbase, and a TED talk under your belt. For you personally, what kind of recognition or kudos would you consider your ultimate goal?
  • Who in the non-formal-education arena would you like to meet?
  • Who influences you?
  • Was meeting other YouTube-rs as fun as it looked?
  • What would be your ideal day, working or not?
  • What’s your pet sub-subject? Besides education, the physics-related thing that you really love?

Lunch Dates: Mythbusters

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“The difference between screwing around and science is writing it down afterward.”

This was one of the last lines Adam Savage gave as part of their Behind the Myths touring show.

Having been treated to these tickets and staring at them in my hot little hands for a while, I’ve been dreaming and scheming of what kinds of questions to ask Jamie Hyneman or Adam. I didn’t actually ask any questions during the Q&A portion of the show (so many little kids wanted to ask about favorite explosions and scariest myths!), but I realized that there were a lot of things I’d love to discuss with them.

Tested was also billed as their new all-Adam-and-Jamie website (although I’m not so clear on the “new” designation, since I’ve been using the Reed Nuclear Reactor video for a couple of years, and their forums (fora?) go back three years). Definitely some cool, nerdy stuff going on in there.

I think a lot of people would love to have lunch with the Mythbusters. Why are so many people so fascinated with them? I think it’s safe to say that there are only a few kinds of people who watch Mythbusters: people who like explosions, kids who like explosions, people genuinely interested in why things work (or don’t work), and a few teachers. Those interested in explosions would have been far less interested in the early seasons. I’m certainly not one to complain about explosive myths, but there are a lot of myths that don’t involve C-4.

To me, Mythbusters is a lot of what I like in everyday people: curiosity about anything and everything, a go-for-it kind of infectious enthusiasm, and (at least to an outsider) fantastic reputations on a personal level. Jamie and Adam seem like genuinely good people, who work on things they like and want to try things for other people (and do some cool things along the way). And apparently, Adam likes to cook, which is definitely a plus in my nerdy-cooking family.

Questions to ask during lunch:

  • Are there criteria for types of myths that make the show?
  • What kinds of footage don’t make it to the TV show that you wish viewers would see? (Does it depend on the myth?)
  • Is there a myth you’d like to test, but it would be too boring for TV?
  • Who have you met, famous or not, who impressed you as a fan?
  • Do you consider yourselves professionals or hobbists?
  • To you, what’s the difference between a good use of tech and a poor or gratuitous one?
  • Adam, do your kids go to public or private school?
  • What are most U.S. kids missing today as part of their (formal or informal) education?
  • Do you like the idea of gadgets and technology in the classroom? What kinds of problems do you think tech solves?
  • Do you think STEM education is the right way to go for U.S. public schools?
  • Do you know of Gever Tulley? What do you think of him?
  • Would you like an official education person on staff at Mythbusters? I might know someone with an interest…

Lunch Dates: CGP Grey

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Starting with “Hello, Internet”, CGP Grey has produced a whole bunch of quick and informative videos on topics ranging from animal misconceptions to electing a new pope to the non-planet-ness of Pluto (one of my current favorites for physics classes). This makes his YouTube channel hard to classify (oh darn!), but that much more interesting to the general user (as opposed to a dedicated science or history blog, for example).

Despite the stick-figure-with-glasses persona, there’s a bit more to him than black digital lines. An American living in London, Colin Grey has degrees in physics, sociology, and science education… just my kind of guy.

With a fast-moving pace and equally-fast wit (tossing in a little sarcasm and irreverence), Grey keeps his viewers moving along some good questions. His conversational style keeps my students (and me) enthralled in his topic of choice.

I appreciate that Grey actually researches (and/or lets other people research) his topics and even cites his references at the end of his videos. It makes my little teacher-nerd heart go all wibbly. Hooray for quality over quantity, and with citations!

A lot of questions I’d like to ask him were actually asked in his recent video,
Q&A With Grey for 500,000 Subscribers, however, here are some other things I’d like to think I’d ask during lunch:

  • Why did you start making videos?
  • With your education degree, did you ever teach in a UK classroom? (if yes, what did you teach?)
  • Are you hiding your face for a reason? a giant facial scar or a secret bloggy rant opportunity?
  • I know there’s a store for CGP Grey merchandise, but what else did you (do you) want to get out of the videos?
  • How are the American and UK educational systems similar? different? (in good ways and bad and indifferent)
  • Why would you like to see computer programming instead of foreign language? some programmers argue programming IS a foreign language.
  • What kinds of researching skills do students need today?
  • What sciences should students take in secondary education? to what degree?
  • Should secondary education be compulsory?
  • What do you think about cursive coming back into elementary-level curricula?
  • What’s a good way of evaluating whether your videos do a good job of conveying their intended purpose?

Lunch Dates: Vi Hart

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This is the second entry in the section of people I want to have lunch with because they’re interesting or just tickle my fancy.

Vi Hart (and her old page of videos here and her Khan Academy page here) is a self-described mathemusician. You might have noticed that she’s already in my list of “Science and Math links” on this page.

I think this was the first of her videos that I watched. They often start with, “So suppose you’re sitting in math class…”

Math is interesting?? And utilitarian? What a concept!

Actually, utility is kind off-topic. At least, at first. Ms. Hart always finds a way to quickly touch on the actual usage (or at least, a cool pattern trick) that the particular concept can be used for.

She’s fascinating to watch! Even non-mathy people enjoy her videos, at least for the silly sense of humor, if not for the content as a whole. The thing that makes Vi Hart’s videos so appealing is that the fast-paced, nearly-stream-of-consciousness topicality of brain-wanderings is so addictive and relate-able. You know that a non-engaged-in-math-class mind could definitely traipse along this particular path (or many others, and you could almost imagine Ms. Hart illustrating those too). Plus, many of them are drawn almost entirely in Sharpies (maybe that just appeals to my desire for order and permanency and non-smearing lines).

Wait, what’s this got to do with the music part of “mathemusician”? Oh, something like this:

And here are some of her other music links.

There’s actually quite a bit of info about Ms. Hart’s history and video-making-process already online. So, what else would I like to know? Things I might ask her during lunch, when I’m not too busy watching her dissect her plate’s contents into patterns and/or series:

  • Why did you start making videos?
  • What’s the deal with the Sharpies?
  • Do you think of your videos as educational, or are they more of musings to you (or something else entirely)?
  • Do you want to eventually teach people in person?
  • How is working for Khan Academy different from making your own videos?
  • You like math, you like music, you like art (or at least crafty patterny things)… is there something totally different you want to try?
  • Do you think we should do away with divisions of subject matters, like separate “art” and “math” and “science” classes, or do they have a value?
  • What do you think about STEM education that’s all the rage?
  • What kinds of math do you think school kids need to know, and what should they also learn?
  • Is there something you think the American education system is missing or missing out on?
  • Why do you think videos and YouTube are so popular now for education?
  • If you weren’t making these types of movies, what do you think you’d be doing?