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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Analogy Games

Quia (Jeopardy-style) and Sadlier-Oxford (speed) have games to test out your analogy skills.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

B.S. (Bad Science): Web Site

Here's a website talking about bad science that science teachers and their textbooks teach called Bad Science. I checked out the bad chemistry and I have read and repeated some of these items to students, but they seem minor quibbles. All teachers teach something wrong; for example, the same chemistry professor wraps up with:
"[Adding salt to boil water will] only decrease the cooking time by a few percent. If you are such a Type A personality that you feel compelled to save even this small cooking time, then the last thing you need is to risk increasing your blood pressure further by consuming so much sodium!"
Actually, your blood pressure constantly fluctuates. There's nothing wrong with eating salty food so long as your blood vessels are supple--that is, not hardened or calcified via atherosclerosis. Ah, well. Even professors get it wrong.

I have asked graduating students who take the same classes in college to inform me of anything they wish I'd done differently or gotten wrong. Perhaps younger students worry about perfection, idealizing teachers as infallible founts of all information, but older students may be more capable of understanding the science teacher's actual role to teach how to
  1. assimilate basic science facts (hopefully, mostly true)
  2. process new information in a scientific manner
  3. test simple hypotheses
  4. practice learning, critical-thinking, work-ethic, and human-interaction skills
  5. something else?
If I've gotten anything wrong, feel free to share.

B.S. (Bad Science): Water Marbles

I did a few B.S. sessions last Fall with students who brought in various videos asking if they were real. One was this video of water marbles (Youtube). We walked through this, step by step. Questions to ask:
  1. Combining acetic acid (vinegar: CH3COOH) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda: NaHCO3) produces sodium acetate, CO2 and water. Hey, maybe these guys are on to something! If one wants to supply B.S. (Bad Science), it is critical first to supply truth. Famous liars: Satan, Iago, Jabba the Hut.
  2. The next step is calcium carbonate (shown in video as a solid but according to Wiki exists only in the aqueous form (ions dissolved). It sure looks and sounds scientific though.
  3. Also, grab some "ionized salt." Look up ion. Look up salt. One exists as a solid, the other is what happens when dissolved. Well, it could a typo for iodized salt.
  4. What happens when you add Calcium bicarbonate to Sodium acetate? What kind of reaction is that? Double Displacment: Ca(HCO3)2 + 2NaCH3COO --> 2NaHCO3 + Ca(C2H3O2)2. According to our equation, we just made more baking soda and calcium acetate (check out uses). Both of these are bases.
  5. Wiki: "Chemistry teachers often prepare 'California Snowballs,' a mixture of calcium acetate solution and ethanol." Sounds fun. Probably the baking soda would interfere, unfortunately.
  6. The fizz shown in the video (what caused the fizz earlier? What causes fizz in soda pop?) must be residual vinegar mixing with baking soda.
  7. Where'd all that liquid come from? (Conservation of Matter)
  8. Take a look at the size and shape of all those marbles. What do you notice? Why is that unusual?
  9. How did the water turn purple? Why might it be important to use coloring? Refractive index of the marbles hidden in the water must be quite similar. Also, it doesn't hurt to be looking at the water through a translucent plastic.
  10. Have the student most convinced of the reality of these water marbles look up "polar hability." Would water be water if it stopped being polar? What makes water polar? What would happen if water were no longer polar? Would it stick to itself? I have no idea what hability is.
  11. How can water be a solid if what you were making was a polymer of calcium acetate?
  12. What happens to the water marble that falls outside the plastic tub?
Somehow I still had a student who wanted replicate this experiment.

If I've gotten anything wrong, feel free to share.

National Geographic Educational Resources

Last year, we used way-cool [please pardon technical jargon] National Geographic educational interactive programs to create tornadoes and shake buildings to rubble. The junior high students and I enjoyed this. Unfortunately, if they have similar programs for other educational curriculum, I cannot find them. In fact, I didn't spot these in their lesson plans. It might help if the site provided more clues on how to track down some of these sites.

8 to Great: The Foundation

These are notes and reflections on the book by MK Mueller that may 1) inspire you to purchase it for yourself or 2) tell you that it's not for you, or 3) if you already own and read it, engage you in a conversation that you can continue in your head or in the comments below.

Like most first nonfiction books, the first chapter has flab--trying to sell you on the book, saying how wonderful it is. But it also has some food for thought: that your power is dependent on your attitude or your mental state. If feeling 95% good, you're working at 95% efficiency. There's some truth to this, but at the same time, teachers (or students) will have bad days. The main thing to focus on is that not everyone has the same opinion. Try not to let one poor encounter infect other encounters. Keep smiling. If you pretend like it's not there, the feeling will go away faster.

In summary, Mueller advises we imagine the future we want, take risks to get it (overcome fears), own past mistakes, don't bottle up feelings, and communicate honestly.

: Mueller says to Forget the past, be Grateful for something in your present circumstances, and maintain Hope for the future. Great idea, but can you access this info while preoccupied with teaching? That's the key.

I'm supposed to write down three things I'm grateful for, everyday:
  1. I'm not dead (yet)
  2. Yeti have not clobbered me (yet)
  3. My parents love me (Aw. Isn't that sweet? I had to say something nice).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sketchup (Google)

Sketchup (Google) creates virtual models students can build and rotate in 3D. Walking through the first 3 basic tutorials (~15min) and practicing as the concepts were introduced, I felt fairly confident that I and my students could use this for projects. Presently, the only application I can think of is for an invention unit where students create their own models. Please suggest other applications that you come up with.


Picasa (Google) was offered to teachers as a bell ringer:
Create a slide show of pictures intimating what they'll be studying that day. You can pilfer pictures already uploaded.
Still, unless you only have one or two classes, it doesn't sound practical. The amount of time invested may not pay off. Interesting idea, though. It may be worth trying a time or two.

Thursday, July 22, 2010 claims its fame as being truly random. You can flip coins from different eras and countries. Coin flipping is useful for genetics and radioactive decay. Maybe this would be useful for time pressure, but I suspect that actual coins might feel more engaging.

Also of note is a piece by Samuel Beckett--"Lessness"--which is 120 sentences that can be mixed up. Unfortunately, you need a password to use this.

National Geographic Games

National Geographic games appear to have little connection to curriculum. Please let me know if you find some of relevance.

Pluto's Secret has some content (minor facts about the planets). Play is along the lines of the old Duke Nuke Em. Most of it's about the game play. It might have been interesting to show different gravities on each planet. It does try to cover up why things that shouldn't work do: Our intrepid heroes walk on Jupiter: "How can we walk on gas?" "It's our special mystery boots."

Library of Congress' American Memory

Library of Congress' American Memory has oodles of original documents to peruse. Useful for English and social studies teachers. There may be a use for science, but it's certainly not easily navigable for such a purpose.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid

  • Text (online -- broken as if it were a poem)
  • Text (interactive, online -- including pre-packaged interpretations)
  • Video (student production -- very well done but perhaps it forces an interpretation upon the work)
  • Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction
  1. Is this a story? Do any of the characters change? Should they have changed? Does your perspective change when the characters do not? Support your answers from the text.
  2. What effect does the lack of quotes give?
  3. Is this a dialogue or a monologue? How does this affect our view of the speaker?
  4. How fast does time pass during the course of the work? Are these independent clauses spoken one after another or must actions take place between them? How does the passage of time affect interpretation, either way? Write down how long you think these words were spoken and why you think that. Compare your answer with your classmates.
  5. Make a list of things attributed to the younger woman. Add question marks or questions to items you're not sure if you buy. Make a list of characteristics you suspect about the speaker.
  6. Why might a mother say, "don't squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy, you know?" How old might the daughter be? Write down your answer. (It's difficult to assess as it may not be our culture. A low number would affect how the reader interprets the text; however, older girls can be interested in the affairs of younger children, especially those interested in having children of their own one day.)
  7. What kind of mother would say, "this is how to spit up in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move quick so that it doesn't fall on you?" All serious business?
  8. What does the addressee respond to? What does she not respond to that you would think she would? Why do you suppose she does not?
  9. How does the title elaborate or alter our understanding of this work?
  • Without the above questions, interpretations on the internet tend to be rather flat: Bad mama tongue-lashes her daughter. The Bedford virtual anthology does suggest that the mama is a product of her society and can't help being... unfriendly. The unfortunate problem with jumping to Bedford's interpretations is that we lose sight of the characters in favor of pre-packaged interpretations guided by politics. They may be reliable, but the story should be tackled for itself before tacking on one's pet interpretation templates. Let's focus instead on characters: What do they do, and what should they do?
  • The girl states, "but I don't sing benna on Sundays at all" [emphasis mine]. Afterward, she states, "and never in Sunday school" [emphasis mine]. What does the effect of the second half of the statement make? If she doesn't sing on Sundays at all, why does she state "never in Sunday school." Perhaps the implication here is that she does sometimes sing benna on Sunday.
  • But more important is that she does not respond to what we would think she would respond to: the shocking "on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming." Clearly, the girl is not afraid to deny. Why doesn't she deny wanting to be a slut instead of denying spreading gossip (benna)? How does this inform their characters and their world?
  • Note, too, that the mother stated, "on Sundays." So is it okay to walk "like the slut" on other days of the week?
  • Notes on the use of "slut":
  1. That the daughter does not respond suggests the term is not terribly damning.
  2. This may mean something closer too overly flirtatious. An Alice Munro character discussed how girls tested out flirtation with everyone. Perhaps the daughter is the kind of girl who wants to be seen as attractive and flirts with everyone, so the term has no denigration in her mind (at least at this point in her life).
  3. Also, in a word processor, count the words in phrases that sound cruel and cutting to you. Now count the rest--full of useful advice. Coupling this with the daughter's lack of emotional despondency, does this mother truly sound like she doesn't love her daughter? Has one of your parents ever disapproved of one of your behaviors?
  4. Does the mother even disapprove of this behavior? It's only on Sunday that the mother suggests it's wrong.
  • The mother states, "this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you; this is how to love a man; and if this doesn't work there are other ways, and if they don't work don't feel too bad about giving up." Does this sound like a helpless, embittered victim? If society has pushed her down, it sounds like she's coping quite well.
  • When the daughter asks, "but what if the baker won't let me feel the bread?" The mother responds, "you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won't let near the bread?"
  • How could the daughter become a woman that the baker will let near? Let the text suggest an answer. Two possibilities exist, but they may be closely related.
  • Feel free to suggest other interpretations, questions or new ideas.
About the Author:

Drawing Applications

Crayola has a drawing application, but it appears useful for either lower elementary grades or art classes.

GE has a rather nifty one, Imagination Cubed, you can use to replay the work done, which would animate processes or cycles quite nicely.

Voice Thread

Voice Thread appears to be a useful resource for displaying illustrations or pictures or graphs that have a lot of information embedded in them.

I'd like to try this out with various biological cycles--to check out how well it goes over: 1) one class to break up the class into groups, one for each cycle--variable sizes as some cycles require more work than others, 2) present info beginning at the end of the period or maybe the next class period.

Like a lot of these online resources, I will look for how much learning is accomplished for the amount of time invested. Of note are the multiple intelligences involved. Here's a class dissecting the carbon cycle that shows a number of students using sign language to explain what's happening as well.

At the moment, I'm not sure what I'd do about students who don't add much (or even add accidental misinformation or misleading information). Redo as homework? Probably. As a group, students should help each other and correct problems.

Ed Heads: Science Resource (upper elementary to jr. high)

Ed Heads is a fun little interactive program introducing a few scientific concepts. The concepts and questions are basic. As yet, most of these are not integral to your curriculum, but they might be a good way to spark interest in your subject for students who finish their assignments early.

Google Lit Trips: English Resource

Google Lit Trips allows students to visualize where characters journey during the course of a book. As yet, not too many books are listed, but maybe your class can create one for themselves. As one teacher put it, you don't have to know the technology: just set the kids loose to figure it out.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wordle: English Resource

Wordle allows users to enter a document or webpage and displays the frequency of various words' appearances via a correspondent increase in font size. This may help readers identify motifs and words the author found important.

It's fun to play with, for the writer as well.

Science Magazine: Improving Adolescent Learning

Learning declines for adolescents entering puberty--for human beings or mice. In mice, scientists discovered that learning improves when administered a stress hormone. This phenomenon does not appear in adults or the prepubescent.

Audio (largely layman's)
Transcript of Audio Interview

Monday, July 5, 2010

WOWIO: Free eBook in July

WOWIO is offering Daniel A. Rabuzzi's novel, Choir Boats, for free.

We published his poem, Emperor Fish, at Abyss & Apex in 2009--a poem brimming with images and imagination.

Falling Torch by Algis Budrys

  • The Earth's government, now graying and pleasantly employed on Cheiron, has been in exile from invaders for twenty years. Few are even motivated to liberate Earth any longer. Michael Wireman, son of Earth's president, joins a group of rebels to liberate Earth. The leaders, however, are self-serving (engaging in battles only to pay back a man who insulted him) instead of focusing on the job of liberation. So Wireman goes to join the Invaders, to belong within any framework of humanity. But even here there's vague dissatisfaction in that the people lack freedom and power to do what they would like with their lives. Moreover, the invader society lacks a place for Wireman, so Wireman is forced to foment his own rebellion.
  • This is a fun, rollicking one: Young man learns he has more to him than he thought. Events lead him to self-discovery.
  • This reads almost like a prescription for how to overthrow your invaders in a cold-war world.
  • John Clute in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls this discursive and that it "asks of its generic structure rather more significance than generic structures of this kind have perhaps been designed to bear." It has moments of discursiveness, but they all flow out of the narrative, making them interesting to read. Contrast Heinlein's Starship Troopers to Stranger in a Strange Land, where the former's discursiveness is interesting due to its narrative and the latter is interesting as a philosophical tract or as a cultural document of the 60s). Falling Torch falls into the Starship Troopers camp. The speculation is perhaps more subtle and psychological/sociological (who is a man? what is his potential? where does he belong in society?) than futuristic science and technology, but the plot is quite a ride, making the second read enjoyable, not to mention worth plundering for thought.
  • Steven Silver writes, "most of [Michael Silverman's] growth is either behind the scenes or only comes into play when it is needed." True, but this struck me as part of the novel's point: We learn and grow as we go. You have to do it on the fly. We have the information we need to succeed: We just have to put together who we are for ourselves when it's needed, reminescent of the notions presented in Malcolm Gladwell's Blink.
  • As a critique of the Cold War era, it's objective and relentless. The invaders are much kinder than expected but destroy freedom through prescribed occupations (what if you want a different occupation than the one they tell you you're best suited for?). The Centaurian leaders are well-meaning but self-serving. And the rebel leaders are corrupt.
  • History: 20th Century, Eastern European, Cold War, etc.
  • It might prove fruitful to compare this to Milan Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being--although these have different perspective (Kundera's view of life on the inside).

How to Survive a Robot Uprising by Daniel H. Wilson

  • On the face of this nonfiction book, it's a humorous poke at the popular media's portrayal of robots. However, in the process of discussing how to elude and avoid detection, it discusses the problems of having robots perceive and navigate their environments. Humorous, fun, and enlightening. Keep it in stock to hand your advanced students looking for something to do.
  • If they're doing it for credit, students might write down three things they learned about robotics for each chapter they read.
  • (If they write down one or more of the jokes, inform them that these are good attempts but they need X more to get credit. If they insist that they have followed the assignment, tell them that this will be a good time for them to learn how to distinguish humor from science.)

Fear by L. Ron Hubbard

  • James Lowry, professor and ethnologist, claims publicly that demons do not exist. That's when he loses his hat and four hours of his life. When he tries to find them, he confronts the very real possibility that these creatures do exist and that they are entangled in his life. They force him to find both and to find the demon lodged inside.
  • This first appeared in the WWII-era magazine, Unknown, edited by John W. Campbell. The magazine's focus was to treat fantasy as if it were science--an idea of combining supposedly conflicting elements (supernatural vs. natural) that's still appealing.
  • Fast-paced tale that follows a strange nightmare logic. Readers are likely to recognize the dream-like structures.
  • Probably longer than most students would want; however, the nightmare imagery/logic is likely to appeal to a certain subset of students (tale recommended by Stephen King--if that will help explain the subset).
  • The idea worth exploring here is that science may not have all the information necessary to dismiss ideas out of hand. This idea may not be as effective with more skeptical students as they could contend that if demons were to actually confront those who disbelieve, should not the world's skeptics not exist?
  • On the other hand, you could ask the student to reflect on the title and the ending and ask whether the fantastic events actually took place. Maybe they can debate, using the text, why it may have happened and why not.