Damped and Driven

so I about busted a gut/you learn something new everyday/i love science
April 10, 2008, 7:43 pm
Filed under: School, Science and Other Nerdiness

One thing thats great about being a teacher is that the kids are funny, or maybe more accurately, when kids are involved, things can be funny, actually f’in hillarious. Case in point: we’ve been working on waves last couple days. I had them do a short project where they were supposed to make a poster with the two kinds of waves that we talked about (transverse and longitudinal) on it. The poster was supposed to have definitions, diagrams, and examples from the web. The examples is where it got interesting.

One of my students had searched for ‘transverse’. And was looking at a picture she had found and said something like “gross, ewww..”- naturally i was intrigued. I went over and saw what looked like the inside of something, nay someone and thought uh-oh. What are the students looking at on my watch? I scanned the URL and the word ‘colonoscopy’ grabbed my attention, yikes! Turns out she had stumbled on a ‘tranverse’ image from a colonoscopy. I didn’t draw attention to it or tell her what it was (the inside of a butt) but told her to go back and did my best to quell totally busting out laughing. Apparently, transverse is also an anatomical word. Its more or less the plane that would go through your waist parallel with the floor (i never took anatomy), and i guess that was the orientation of the image. You learn something new every day.


April 8, 2008, 4:58 pm
Filed under: School, Science and Other Nerdiness

Recently i’ve been introduced to a new, wondrous, and horribly distracting and addicting feature of the internet called StumbleUpon. How it works is you enter a bunch of preferences of things that you’re interested in, from coffee to physics, from anthropology to zoology. Then when you find yourself with some free time, you push the little stumble button and it brings you to a random website culled from the interweb that it thinks you might enjoy based on your preferences. Its awesome. It’s kind of like if there was a grab-bag button on your TV remote that you could push that would bring you to an awesome channel that up to this point you didn’t know existed.

So if you know me you might not be surprised that this poster, actually a collection of them showed up one day based on my preferences. There are some really good ones in the collection: Realize Resist Revolt. I dig this kind of art, i like bold stuff. I think it draws me to woodcuts and etchings and messages that can be spray-paint stenciled onto the back of a t-shirt.

Anyway, the one above in particular resonated with me based on what i’m currently doing. It can be really saddening. Some of my kids are tough kids, they have a lot smarts, more wisdom than they should have at this age and tremendous will, but instead of directing that at kicking butt in school, sticking it to the stereotypes and finding out what they want in life and grabbing it, they direct it toward defiantly doing nothing and failing gloriously.

Which is why in the future, i plan on teaching them a lesson based around the idea in this poster. I have tried the message of “I know you can do well, believe in malleable intelligence, blah, blah, etc.” and the kids have heard it. That may work for some, but for others, for some of my hard screws, its not a message that reaches them. So instead i though i might be able to appeal to the indignant side, the defiant side. Something like: “Basically, if you don’t have an education, people who know more than you will take advantage of you. No, it’s not fair, but it is the way that things are, but you have the power to change that. I know you could kick butt at school and show them, but that has to be YOUR choice. What are you going to do?”

And i know they could do it, they could kick butt at school, if i can only convince them thats what they really want to do…Thoughts?

hindenerg: v. to fail catastrophically, really catastrophically
April 7, 2008, 9:34 pm
Filed under: Not School, School

A buddy of mine in college had that poster on the wall in his dorm room. I’d always got a kick out of it (no disrespect to the dead) but before becoming a teacher had never witnessed a situation so accurately represented by that picture as the feeling you get when a classroom devolves.

Some days class Hindenburgs on you, you might be bracing for it, you might not be expecting it. In either case, shit happens. Sometimes in retrospect, your plans for the day seem to make about as much sense as having a smoking room on blimp made out of a giant sack of extremely flammable gas(its true), but more often its a lack of planning rather than bad planning. Thankfully, tomorrow is another day to do better and to create better (air-tight you might say :P) lessons.

number senselessness
April 7, 2008, 12:33 pm
Filed under: School

So at the risk of kind of stepping on what i just talked about a few posts ago about being sensationalist, i want to type about something that it really hurts to see, especially as a science/math inclined person. Many of our kids struggle with math and sometimes it pops up in the strangest ways.

Here’s an example: recently in class we’ve been working on calculating kinetic energy, i.e. the old KE=1/2mv^2. Anyway, enough students for me to notice were having trouble with entering the equation into a calculator if they were doing a problem in a calculator. “how do we enter fractions, how do we enter the 1/2 into the calculator?” or something similar they would say, or i’d look down and see that they have: 1.2, or 1.5 entered to represent 1/2. Yikes! “These do not equal 1/2. You actually don’t have to enter it as a fraction, you can just enter 1 (division sign) 2 and go from there or .5” I’d say. I couldn’t believe it. Not that we haven’t run into problems with math before, it’s just this is such devastating example.

I think this is a pretty terrible example of what a calculator can do. Unless used with care, it robs them of the ability do basic computation, and worse, to recognize when it’s not doing what they think its doing.

A good example is with fractions goes something like this: “what do you think? if the number on top is smaller than the number on the bottom, when you divide it, will the result be greater or less than one?” A disturbing fraction of students won’t know. We shouldn’t even have to have this discussion! We shouldn’t have to reason through it. It makes it very clear though when we’re trying to build science concepts on such a foundation and use their math tools, why it can seem so daunting to some students. Arg. Teaching science often becomes teaching and reviewing math too.