Monday, January 31, 2011

Science fiction

 13 percent of teachers explicitly endorse creationism or intelligent design, and spend at least on hour of class time presenting it in a positive light. An additional 5 percent reported that they support creationism in passing or when answering students’ questions.
from Wired, citing Science.

What if 13% of science teachers announced in class that they didn't believe that our current economic system is sustainable, that there are limits in biology, that capitalism as practiced today will collapse in the face on natural limits? How long would they last?

What if 13% of science teachers made it a point to discuss the biological basis of homosexuality, to explicitly analyze twin studies suggesting that genetics plays a role in sexual behaviors? How long would they last?

What if 13% of science teachers explicitly discussed the phenomenal rise of breast cancer in our land since the 1940's, the rise of carcinogens found in breast milk, the local CEOs who dumped toxins on our towns, the politics of industrial waste disposal?

Heck, what if 13% of science teachers explicitly discussed the threat of leprous leprechauns roaming the countryside?

Ask your child what your science teacher "believes"--then do something about it.

The photo of the book cover from here.
And no, I do not speak of economic collapse in class. 
We do talk about population growth and carrying capacity. I let your children come to their own conclusions.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

EduCon Retweet

A few of us are looking from the outside in, peering into our Twitterboxes, painted in the same vague blue of the Magic 8 Ball.

Aesop was a wise man, but really, the "Fox and the Grapes" fable was a bit over the top, no?

Still, those of us not rubbing iPads in Philly peer into our monitors like voyeurs, sifting through the tea leaves, deciphering the top tweets.

For entertainment purposes only--these are tweets, not treatises, and should be taken as such.

@plugusin: Note to principals: If you want me to innovate, you've got to create conditions that encourage me to experiment. 76 Retweets

I used to ply my trade, succoring the afflicted, in public housing, in homeless shelters, on the street.  A lot of docs still do. You won't hear much about them, but they're out there....because they did not wait for administrators "to create conditions" that encouraged them to do what they do.

Teachers need to take to heart these words: It is easier to be forgiven than to get permission. Truly.

Experiment, and let the chips fall--if you're working in the best interests of the children, you will land on your feet. Principals have their hands full with NCLB, budgets, local superintendents, county superintendents, governors. Take a risk, get it right, and they'll toss you a bone.

To blame principals for our inaction only feeds the perception that we're "just" teachers.

@NMHS_Principal: Good teaching is exhausting, but bad teaching is just as if not more exhausting @garystager 31 Retweets

No, bad teaching is easy--it's why it's so prevalent. Serial work sheets. Canned PowerPoints. Quick referrals to admins. Jabber on about how kids suck at academics, and slither out of the building hours before the sun sets.

If teaching badly was hard, few people would do it.

@dcinc66: "we must be WILDLY creative in order to solve our problems in education" 8 Retweets

Nope. Creativity isn't the problem. Courage is.
How many of us feel NCLB testing harms education, and participate anyway?

@colonelb: What if we gathered up the admins and teachers at #Educon and started our own charter district? Awesome thought! 4 Retweets
Maybe an awesome thought, but a terrible idea. The gated community mind-set has killed the commons. Public school hangs on by a thread--and democracy depends on a functional public.

We need good admins, good teachers, for every child, for every district. That this only got 4 Retweets gives me some comfort.

Yes, tweets are spontaneous, brief, and often incomplete--retweets, however, take a tweet to the next level, from the amygdala to the cortex. Think before you retweet.

A lot of us are watching....

I'd love to know what the RealTeacher/EverybodyElse ratio™ is at EduCon today. Any ideas?
Fox drawing fromLitscape here. It was from 1881, so I think it's in public domain now.

Midterm blues

Imbolc's just a few days away, and the crocuses will not be far behind. They are already stirring beneath the frozen earth. I forget this, every year.

I am wrestling with our midterms--I am sifting through our essential questions, through conversations that crackled in July (and no doubt are continuing today at EduCon), and through my goals for the year, and there's a huge cognitive dissonance brewing. I am blessed to have a supervisor who not only encourages reflection (it's easy enough to say), but also allows us to work towards solutions.

Be careful what you wish for--I am trying to construct a better mousetrap for assessing what my students can do, within the constraints of a traditional midterm format. How we assess reflects on what we think matters.

If I fail, and I might, at least I have a better handle now on what's been roiling in my skull. Our current system rewards the wrong things. Deliberately.

A child can parrot the Calvin cycle without knowing a thing about a seed, about food, about the billions, trillions of other organisms teeming around him.

I love Steinbeck's Cannery Row, partly because of its wonderful biology, mostly because of Steinbeck's loving, honest look at people.
The kind of women who put papers on shelves and had little towels like that instinctively distrusted and disliked Mack and the boys. Such women knew that they were the worst threats to a home, for they offered ease and thought and companionship as opposed to neatness, order, and properness.

Change "women" to teachers, and "home" to classroom. 

I teach biology, the study of life, in a culture that fails to recognize death. The children spray themselves with unnatural scents, yet shy from the pond water and the mud brought in from outside.

We got peas and carrots and basil and dill and tomatoes and egg plants and wheat sprawling all over the classroom. The kids are getting better at this planting thing. They no longer plant 25 seeds in one pot, no longer over-water, no longer expect insta-grow seedlings.

I can hardly grade a child on her ability to keep a plant alive in a public building. I cannot ask a child to slaughter a calf in class. I can ask her to tell me how many NADH molecules are generated from one molecule of glucose during the Krebs cycle.

As much as Hans Krebs and I stammer in excitement over the citric cycle, as much as I can teach the children how to  paw at the ground like Clever Hans, the wonder horse that could count, as much as we want to compare how well our students paw at the ground in China and Korea, none of that is science.

I have scanned through thousands of  released questions, and very few of them go beyond challenging the Clever Hans's in our midst.

If we want children to re-discover the world most westernized adults have left, we need to assess what matters.

The scary thing is that I suspect that's what the dominant culture thinks matters--how else to explain our idolatry of standardized tests?

Neatness. Order. Properness. Get the degree, kid, or starve to death. Now there's a lesson in biology....

Clever Hans photo found and  discussed here.

And now a PSA--get your flu shots! I should be in Philly...sigh.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Despite his penchant for the Phillies, Chris Lehman strikes me as a mensch, a term I rarely use, and he promised me a cheesesteak. Sean Nash is there, who has bent my concept of friend. So is Jen Orr, who makes me think every time she blogs. And Jose Vilson, who, whether he likes it or not, is going to be a focal point of the next real revolution in public education, because he worries about the kids the charter schools leave behind, and because he's brilliant, and because he has cojones most of us lack.

I wanted to bang heads with Gary Stager, who seems to shy from real discussion in the virtual world (but then again I'm small potatoes). I hoped to tangle with Eric Sheninger, who has no problem exposing his lambs, though I suspect his heart is in the right place. I wanted to dance with Alec Couros, who has the 21st century view of privacy. I love conflict, because that's where we solve things.

I'm an old fart with a new-fangled virus coursing my veins--not sure if it's the California, Perth, or Brisbane forms making the rounds that got me, but I got got pretty good.

So it's wait 'til next year! If the EduCon registrations are transferable (and I have no idea if they are), let me know if you want in, and you can pretend to be me.

I'm sorry to kiss away the $150, even more sorry to kiss away the experience. On the plus side, I'm a huge believer in Home & School Associations--I did my part for the SLA.

And maybe someone can talk Principal Lehman into an EduCon lite for the summer when the teachers among the educationerati have a moment to breathe.

Sean, give them hell....


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Basil vs. the Big Bang

Stories matter. Words matter.

The more I "teach" science, the more time I spend on language. If you cannot grasp the essence of a story, you cannot grasp science.

Our stories belie comprehension. If you introduce the Big Bang model into your classroom, describing it as an explosion, using a model that looks at it from the outside, you are not practicing science, you are practicing religion. You've missed the whole point.

It is pointless, truly pointless, to wrestle with pseudo-cosmology. Yet New Jersey wants just that:
"Critique evidence for the theory that the universe evolved as it expanded from a single point 13.7 billion years ago."

The Big Bang model works well to explain why things appear the way they are in cosmology, but--and this is a big but (a gluteus maximus?)--the universe is not expanding within a larger space. Most folks who think they get the Big Bang (including many teachers) do not grasp this. I doubt the committee that drew up Jersey's standards grasps this, either--if they do, they bolloxed the language.

Children will take down the notes, fill in the bubbles, and know nothing.

Meanwhile Jupiter shines brightly over their heads in the early evening, and over and over and over again, the students flat out refuse to believe that it's Jupiter, until they look through the scope we set up outside the school on Telescope Nights.

Every child in every class plants a seed. Today I am picking through last fall's basil, squeezing out tiny black seeds from dead flower heads. The sweet earthy aroma stirs my limbus, defying words.

Next week I will start a flat of basil in the classroom--tiny black specks will grow into ridiculously bright green leaves whose aroma will stir memories.

You won't find the word "basil" in the standards. Nor "seedling" or "fertilizer",  or "wheat" or "bread." No mud or ooze or rot or urine. The only time "death" is used is to define the end of a star.

The science standards are crisp and clean, and I'm being churlish, true. But there's more to be learned from the tiny basil seed  than from the religiosity of a badly presented cosmology.

So we will continue to sow in B362.

Monday, January 24, 2011

On the mosquito

I call thee stranger, for the town, I ween,
Has not the honor of so proud a birth-
Thou com'st from Jersey meadows, fresh and green,
The offspring of the gods, though born on earth;
For Titan was thy sire, and fair was she,
The ocean nymph that nursed thy infancy.

I witnessed a miracle tonight,
Well, maybe not a miracle, it happens millions of time a day, but today it happened in my classroom.

I saw a pupating mosquito larva erupt into a tiny pale adult.

The late January sunset floods the back wall of or classroom. I have a small tank of elodea. A few snail keep the plants company. About a week ago, I noticed a few wrigglers in the tank. I have no idea how they got there. 

Just before I leave, I make my rounds, checking our plants, our roly polies, our snails. I love watching the elodea bubble off oxygen. It's a nice way to end my work school day.

Just under the water's surface, I glimpsed a violent wiggling. A glassine wriggler struggled at the surface, occasionally contracting violently, reminiscent of the last violent transition stage of human birth.

In this tiny universe, the glassine mosquito struggled against the water's skin. The pupa looked like fine crystal, lit by the setting sun and the tiny light above.

I watched for about 15 minutes, until, finally, a pale adult mosquito emerged, paused, then attempted flight. Three times it jumped, three times it came back to the water, with the tentativeness of a newborn foal testing its legs. 

It needs nectar, and it won't find it tonight. I suspect it will be dead by morning.

Where did it come from? How do the countless microscopic critters alive in our room find their way here?

I encourage my students to draw conclusions from the observations they make. They now have a decision.

They can trust me when I tell them spontaneous generation does not happen, that all cells come from pre-existing cells, that life only comes from existing life. The ponds outside a frozen, the snow over a foot deep. We have not seen flying insects outside for over a month.

And I have a tank full of wrigglers sitting in the back of my classroom.

Or they can quietly believe in spontaneous generation. For a few moments tonight, as I knelt watching the emerging pale ghost of a mosquito erupt from the water, I would have quietly agreed with them.

The poem excerpt is from The Mosquito, written in the 19th century.
The music is from Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, "I'm Nature's Mosquito"--I'm playing it in class tomorrow.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

NY Times, testing, and SQ3R

We knew the Washington Post was in the  Broad Boys' Testocracy Club. They have a vested interest--Kaplan pays their bills.

The New York Times has joined in the Hypocrisy Testocracy with just plain bad reporting. Read "To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test."

Yes, if you read a brief passage, then make yourself try to recall it, you retain the information better. There are various forms of this--I like SQ3R (survey, question, read, recite, and review), but there are many variations on the theme.

Really, next time invest the $15 it takes to get the whole article.

Or just ask one of us. We used to be professionals.

Superlative fatigue

We don't know what we want.

Twitter is without a doubt the best way to share and discover what is happening right now.

iPad:  A magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price.
Dell: The power to do more.
Constructing Modern Knowledge: The best educational event of the year. 
Lenovo education: Learn how to ignite learning, enhance efficiency, and have fun.
Acer: Empowering people.
Smart: A new frontier of collaborative learning has arrived.
InterwriteMobi: Collaboration at its finest.
SanDisk: Now you can take it all with you. And when we say ''all'' we mean everything.

To see what we "need" is to see how we see ourselves. And it's frightening.

I get the logic. Create the need, sell the product.
I get the allure of capitalism.
I get that these are just slogans.

What I don't get is why they work so well in a profession ostensibly charged with teaching others how to think for themselves.

xkcd rocks....
Slogans lifted straight off respective websites. Baaaa....

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Late harvest

As I was poking around the classroom garden yesterday, getting the plants ready for the weekend, I found a pea pod dangling from a tiny pea vine.

The child who nurtured it will get "extra credit"--I used promises of points to get the some of my lambs 'interested' in putting dried peas into icky peat moss. She won't remember the points. She will remember the pod.

I hope she remembers the countless times she breathed on her hand--carbon dioxide and water released deep in her cells. Our plants are built on the carbon backbone of our exhaled breaths.

I do not pretend to know anything of God or gods. I enjoy reading the words of cultures past, to see what they saw when words were still so young that they were used carefully.

I can recognize grace, though--a pea pod given to us for the cost of our breath and a little bit of water.


I just came in from picking a few scrawny Brussels sprouts from very chilly plants--two of them now gracefully bend towards the ground, forming archways, seemingly honoring the earth that bore them, the last harvest of last spring's garden.

The sun is returning, slowly, so that our exhaled carbon dioxide can be used again, with grace.

 I can show the kids the graph above--the annual wobble in CO2 levels reflects the dance between the light of life and the ensuing darkness each winter.

Chloroplasts and mitochondria, ancient critters in cells that keep much of the living alive, work in tandem. Chloroplasts capture the energy of the sun in sugar, and mitochondria release the energy as the sugars tumble back to water and CO2.

A child feeds on the lies of our culture. Magic erupts from screens, voices erupt from wire. We are consumers on the infinite, and we tell the children lies because we believe them ourselves.

She memorizes the photosythesis equation without understanding,  because we tell her she must, in order to graduate, in order to get to college, in order to earn money, in order to eat.

A tiny pod just might put a tiny seed of doubt in her. It came from nothing, or so it seems.
It's tangible in a way photons can never be, no matter how thin the computer, how bright the screen.


So I will keep teaching about electron transport chains and ATP and things that can be tested with no more than a scantron and a pencil. I get paid to do this, and I enjoy it.

Our classroom garden provides the real lessons. Heads of wheat are erupting from plastic bottles, impossibly yellow squash flowers lean over plastic trays, and the peas keep wrapping themselves around everything in their path.

Not everything thrives--some of the children get quiet when their seedling wilts, a few get angry. There are always more peat pots and seeds in the back, and eventually another seed gets planted, converting our breath again to the living.


Do not confuse grace with religion, nor technology with science. I know nothing. None of us do.
The veggies came from the back yard, the graph originally from NOAA

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On words

I mucked around my classroom long after my lambs had left. One tank needed cleaning, another could use a few beakers of water. A third I stared at for a bit just because, and found a few squiggly things that looked suspiciously like mosquito larvae. I think maybe the spontaneous generationalists had it right.

Civil twilight lasted until almost 5:30 tonight--the slate-blue evening wrapped itself around me as I slid home on wet ice, full moon rising.

Language cannot describe this light, at least not the language of the Europeans. Maybe no language.(I suspect that any culture that pays attention to light has a word for the mid-January evening light that cuddles the few folks who still walk around these parts.)

I could take a picture of it, but it would fail. Words fail, too, unless you're beside me, and if you were, a sigh would suffice.

We've only been writing a few thousand years, and even now, many of us do fine without it.

Words help define us, but written words impose a steep price--they separate us from the world.

Never forget that science is based on models, on words, on artificial constructs. Science works by reducing the world into manageable bits. Never forget that science can limit our focus even as it expands our knowledge.

And if a child rejects science, do not reject the child. Every child in public schools here in Jersey is required to take three (and pass) years of science to get a diploma, because those of us in power have decreed that that matters. Every child has something to teach us, often beyond words.

As I walked home tonight, wrapped in mid-winter's gloomy light, with Jupiter shining up in the southwest sky, the glistening, crunchy water at my feet, my knowledge extended past the walls of words and artifice.

You'll just have to take my word for it, if howling at the rising moon counts as words.

Photo by Leslie--sunset in January on the Delaware Bay.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Blue oyster cultch revisited

Someone stumbled on this old post yesterday, and kindly commented. 
As we celebrate Dr. King's birthday today, it seemed like a good one to repeat....

Organizations love mottoes and mission statements and other sorts of committee-speak that expend lots of time and energy that might actually be used for, say, teaching.

Committees drink lots of coffee, committees fill appointment calendars, committees eventually compromise on some pablum. I never expect committees to spew anything resembling wisdom.

I teach at Bloomfield High. I live in Bloomfield. I grow vegetables in Bloomfield. I scan its skies through the urban glow to see miracles above me. We don't have a ton of money, but we have stoops and more than a few stay at home parents. Many of our children here will work in the family business whatever that may be--painting, masonry, landscaping, plumbing.

While the glorified among us search for bodies to fill the elite skilled positions in life, towns like Bloomfield continue to provide a sturdy class of citizens ready to roll up their sleeves, lend a hand, make a community work. We've got real bakeries, real pizza, real craftsmen (and craftswomen) and real stoops.

The motto for our school district reflects committee-speak:

Educating the Leaders of Tomorrow

Few folks buy it. While Bloomfield has produced a few leaders, even our town's namesake, General Joseph Bloomfield, did not actually live here.

Still, we're not a town of followers either. Connie Francis lived here, Tony Soprano died here, and Sarah Vaughn is buried here. We're Norman Rockwellville with an edge. It's a great place to rear edgy children.

The town supports its schools.

Let me say that again. Bloomfield, a decent but not particularly wealthy town, supports its schools. We pay taxes. We go to the school plays, the games, the art shows. Most of our local taxes go to support our schools, and most adults in town do not have kids in school.

We are not unique that way.

Our high school, however, has its own motto. I'm not sure it's the official town creed, but it's how we live.

So, Mr. Arne Duncan, let me toss my high school's motto your way, a motto painted boldly on a wall next to our arts atrium on the second floor, a wall painted by students on a weekend.

In three words it captures our town, and I think most of the nation not warped by the Wall Street madness that infects so much of our public life today.

Learn to live!

It's right up there, big as day. It's not "Learn to work!" or "Learn to follow!" or "Learn to do Algebra 2! or "Learn to kick India's ass!"

Learn to live.

Next week is the HSPA testing. This week the state (again) changed its mind on the curriculum. I can't really blame them--they're trying to train students for corporate jobs that don't yet exist.

When I left school today, a few dozen students were going through our musical's dress rehearsal. A dozen more young women played basketball in front of a hundred or so locals watching our kids in our gymnasium, paid for by us.

A dozen more kids were selling pretzels and candy for the Key Club, money ultimately donated to several local causes involving local people.

Here's a list of companies and foundations not giving us money:

Gates Foundation.
Walton Foundation.
Bruhn-Morris Family Foundation.
Capital One
City First Bank
Comcast Cable
Donatelli & Klein
Graham Fund
Hattie M. Strong Foundation
Marpat Foundation
National Geographic
National Home Library Foundation
Payless ShoeSource Foundation
Radio One
The Sallie Mae Fund
Susan W. Agger Family Fund of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region
Target Stores
The Washington Post Educational Foundation

Learn to live.


If I wasn't under the NCLB gun to get my kids through the HSPA, here's a lesson I might teach my lambs--the history of oystering in the United States.

We all have property rights independent of whatever patch of land the few of us might be lucky enough to own.

We all own a piece of public land, the commons. We all have a stake in the "public trust doctrine"--we, as citizens, have rights allowing us to gain access to water and land that we do not individually own.

I can gather oysters on the Delaware Bay without interference (beyond applying for a license and spitting out $10). Without the public trust doctrine, I am nothing more than a pirate (which would be way cool, of course).

I have this right because a few folks braver than me fought on the Mullica River back in 1907. Two hundred or so oystermen fought against the few who were among the privileged.

You won't read about this in any high school history textbook. You won't read much about the coal wars fought by miners, or Tom the Tinkerer (Whiskey Rebellion). Kids learn about the Boston Tea Party without grasping its anti-corporate thrust.

A child can go through school in Jersey without learning a thing about how to get an oyster just a few miles away from her classroom while being forced to learn the quadratic equation if she wants to earn a diploma.

Oystering melds biology and history and craftsmanship and industrial arts and nutrition and, perhaps most important, citizenship. The story reminds us how we, as American citizens, serve as the foundation of the Great Experiment.

HSPA won't test this. It's not in the biology curriculum. It's not in the history curriculum. It's not in the industrial arts curriculum.

Still, it matters. And I teach in a town that still recognizes this.

Oysters live on oyster beds. They cannot live on bare sand or mud--they'd suffocate.

When I pull a few oysters off a bed, I just about always pull a few off that are too small too eat. Oysters wrap themselves around each other, and pulling one involves pulling several.

When I get a handful of oysters, I break off the small ones and toss them back to the bed. Oysters pile on top of oysters which pile on top of oysters.

The cultch is the pile of shells and debris that allow oysters to continue to reproduce. Oysters need hard surfaces, oysters need calcium. When I toss my tiny oysters back, I am helping the community to survive.

I cannot oyster on Sundays, but I usually return to the beds anyway, to toss back the shells of the oysters I ate the day before.

I could throw them in the garbage. A truck comes by every week to pick up most anything I want to throw away.

My oysters were alive Friday. I killed them Saturday. On Sunday, I return the shells to the bed. The flesh of the oysters is a true gift, unearned.

I was born in America yesterday. I reap the benefits today. I hope to give back to the children what I have enjoyed. Living in America, our America, is a true gift, unearned.

The least I can do is prepare the bed for future generations.

My bias is, obviously, oysters. The American story can be told by weavers, by farmers, by miners, by carpenters, told by soldiers.

Our story is local.
Our story is real.
Our story matters.

I do not recognize the American Diploma Project as citizens, despite the name; I do not recognize multinational corporations as American; I do not believe that CEOs of multinationals have my town's interests at heart.

I cannot think globally. No one can. It's a lie. I can imagine a village here, a city there, but imagining a global village is like imagining a million deaths--both become abstract piles of numbers . I can imagine, however, a single child dying. We all can. We're human.

Get your butt outside, get to know your neighbors. Get involved with your school district's curriculum.

I'll take care of the oyster cultch. You take care of what matters in your neighborhood.

And if you think your neighbor is worthy of teaching your children your local history, get involved in education.

ATT isn't going to take care of you when you're old or ill, but your neighbor will.

Photo by Leslie.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Bambification of Dr. King

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice....Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

Martin Luther King, Jr., from "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"

Death's shadow stretches long on a mid-day January beach.

Energy's no longer cheap. Last year's abundance has become scarce, and  the sun is too oblique to fulfill last summer's promises.

Purple sandpipers picked at the remnants of horseshoe crabs that failed to return with the last tide; several vultures hunkered down at the edge of the bay.Glistening glass orbs marked the end of comb jellies just out of reach of the receding waters.

We stumbled upon a hole dug by a gull, its presence betrayed by its footprints. Next to the whole lay a small, live clam. I tossed it back into the bay, figuring the gull had given up.

A few steps later, I found another displaced clam, again sitting next to a hole dug out by a gull, and again I tossed the critter back in the sea.

Then a third.

Winter beaches kill the ignorant. I looked around. Several similar holes, each with a clam next to it.

Gulls know how to open clams--I've watched them do it. They pick them up, hover over the jetty, then drop them, following them as they fall, ready to eat the freshly exposed flesh as the shell shatters on the rocks.

I suspect the clams had been left to die--their gaping shells would have saved a gull a few trips over the jetty.

I left the remaining clams on the beach.

One creature's death is another creature's grace. Powerful stories emerge daily from the beach--stories of grace and power and even love. None of them, however, are "nice."

Bambi never lived in the real world.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was loving, and kind, and powerful. His words still resonate, should you choose to hear them.

Do not confuse non-violence with passivity.
Do not confuse kindness with niceness.

During school announcements yesterday, our students were told that Dr. King pushed "cooperation." Rania Jones, a 3rd grade winner of the Milwaukee Public Schools' "People Must Work Together" King contest wrote "That's what we must do today - demonstrate cooperation." This is the Dr. King lite version of a complex story. This is the version that gives so many of us the day off on Monday.

"Love" is a complex word, and one not easily used in public settings. "Cooperation" is much safer, more sanitary.

And it's the wrong message.

My Dad joined  the 1963 March on Washington, dressed in full uniform, a proud US Marine officer. He flew A4 Phantom Skyhawks off carriers, in love with a country that let poor first generation children fly.

My dad was pulled to the front of the parade, or so the story goes. If you see a full-dressed USMC officer in photos from the parade, it may well be Bill Doyle. Dr. King later went on to oppose the Viet Nam War as unjust, and my father, a die-hard leatherneck, resigned his commission for the same reason.

I grew up in an Irish Catholic home, but Dr. King held as much influence as the Pope, maybe more, years before he was assassinated. My Dad loved the man, not the cartoon he has become.

Read "Letter From a Birmingham Jail."
Take a walk outside and watch the grace and agony of life around us.

Yes, it's complicated. Life is complex,

Bambi's just the celluloid illusion of a corporation that owns a good chunk of the airwaves today, including ABC. I'm betting you won't hear much about King's letter from jail Monday.

You want to learn about Dr. King? Go read his words, listen to his speeches, learn everything you can about him. But don't "cooperate" with those who would steal his image without his words, the Glenn Becks, the Arne Duncans, the innumerable talking heads that will piously bow on Monday.

Take a walk on Monday, a walk outside, away from noise. Carry a copy of King's letter and read it under the January sunlight.

Share it. Live it.
Don't let the dream die.

The photo of Dr. King (D.C., August, 1963)  is from the National Archives and is the public domain.
The crab claw was taken by Leslie.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bell jar

No, nothing metaphorical. The real thing.

I cleared out some space from one of our hallway exhibits to make room for our horseshoe crab art exhibit--a wonderful art teacher is integrating art and science, and the results have been lovely.

I took out an old microscope, a shark jaw (and the log-dead critter drew blood yet one more time), and a big glass bell jar.

Bell jars command attention, sometimes the wrong kind ("yes, Ralph, I realize it looks like a giant condom, let's get back to the lesson...").

I wiled away a lunch period with two other science teachers, trying to see how long we could keep a candle burning inside the bell jar, using various plants and light sources, ostensibly to create a nice demo for the kids, but the three of us were, well, having fun.

We "failed," or rather, ran out of time before we got a workable demo, and I'm sure we'll play with the bell jar again.

It dawned on me that there is little science in the demo.

"Look kids, no plants, candle goes out...." Kids stare for a minute as the flame dies.
"Look kids, lots of plants, candle stays lit..." Kids stare out the windows.

I would ask the obvious questions, then, waiting for the magical words, another science class liturgy, the teacher leading a communal response, another ritual without much thought.


For a few students, the demo could be brain-popping amazing, I suppose. For most, it cannot compete with the electronic looking glass resting in their pocket, a dopamine injecting machine, pure jolts of pleasure that does not diminish with dose after dose after dose.

Playing with a candle, a bell jar, and a couple of plants through lunch soaked my limbic system with dopamine. I would like my students to get stoked, too, but the joy comes from the discovery, not the finished product.

Because we lack time, because we have a state end-of-course exam, I rush through science as a bad history lesson ("We know this and this and this and this...."). Teaching science this way would be like an English teacher asking children to enjoy literature through SparkNotes.

It cannot be done.
We try to do it anyway.

The longer I teach, the messier it becomes, again not metaphorical.

Biology is messy and wet. At the end of each day my classroom screams entropy. Yesterday I picked up a remnant of fat left from sheep's heart on a lab table, rescued a couple of red worms abandoned in a Petri dish, and wiped off the Vaseline used to seal the bell jar on my desk. I put away the microscope used to show the soldier fly's compound eyes via the class projector. I tossed two peat pots left with dead seedlings--not all children care for their plants, and they die.

While my classroom gets plenty messy, my lessons may not be messy enough. I can show the bell jar demo in 5 minutes, or I can let go and let the kids figure it out themselves at the risk of broken glass, burned fingers, and Vaseline smeared all over the room.

So far I've taken the ostensibly low-risk, high efficiency  route, cradling "science" with demos that hold science in a bell jar, a few students watching the show, many just amused by any diversion in rooms of cinder block and white boards.

It's long past time to take the bell jar off of the lessons.

The doll heads in the bell jars photo was lifted from Eliot Glazer's post on urlesque here, permission pending.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

November light

The last time these parts saw 9 1/2 hours of sunlight was the last day in November. The darkest 6 weeks of the year are over.


Photons strike chlorophyll, electrons get pumped up, organic compounds grow. We need the sun. Not in a metaphorical sense.

Every breath you take, every thought you think, every sound you make requires energy, energy released when you break the bonds in the bread you eat.

The energy came from the sun, caught by plants, stored in bonds. The bonds get broken, our daily bread again reduced to (or, I suppose, oxidized, for you chemistry folks out there) to carbon dioxide, to water, the raw ingredients plants need for creating the stuff that ultimately creates us.

I cannot (and would not) presume to teach any religious creed in class. I do talk about this, though. Photosynthesis and respiration, molecules dancing together, joined together by the grace of sunlight, then breaking apart to release the energy within ourselves, energy needed to read these words.

The sunlight is returning. The days are lengthening.

And our lives depend on it.

Photo by Leslie.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Crocuses and clams

We're a few weeks away from the crocuses. They know the sun is coming back. I do not know how they know but they do. Soon green fingers will break through the corms.

Meanwhile, my clams have settled in for the winter. Not deep, maybe 2 or 3 inches deeper than July, but still deeper, clammed up tight, waiting for the water to warm. Deep for a clam, though.

We still have a few stalks of Brussels sprouts growing, still with a few tiny sprouts left.

At this moment, the tide is just starting to rise again on the mudflats, under a crescent moon dancing between wintry clouds low in the west. The clams are there, under the black water glistening from the sliver of moonlight, as they have been before we came, as they will be when we're gone.

In a few more hours, a few feet of water will rise over the clams, then recede again before dawn.


We can teach about tides and the moon, we can talk of gravity, but until a child wrestles a clam from the mud, she knows nothing about them.

Most of what we teach, or pretend to teach, means nothing to a child, but often, sadly, nothing to the teacher as well.

I know of tides, but not the taiga or the tiger.

I know of quahogs, and reasonably well, but my words and pictures cannot replace an afternoon on the mudflats, the pungent sweet smell of life mingling with death, jolting young noses more familiar with Amber Romance and Axe.

A single afternoon on the flats can be ruined if I emphasize the abstract, especially to a generation that knows only the abstract. So I will pretend to care about mantles and siphons and the economic importance of hard shell clams while I hope that a few of the children get curious about this unknowable universe we've kept hidden from them.

And for the next few weeks, I am trapped in their world, until the crocuses come back.

Thanks to PSE&G, about 150 young adults will get to spend a day on a tidal flat in May.

Should I Stager should I go?

Dr. Gary S. Stager is one of the good guys. He works and thinks hard, has no trouble crashing through conventions, and he has spent his life helping teachers focus on how learning works, infusing technology into the bigger questions of how learning happens.

He's also a Jets fan, so he's got that going for him.

He recently posted quick thoughts on screen time in the classroom, asked by the ISTE "to participate in a Point/Counterpoint faux debate."

I thought maybe his response was tongue-in-cheek, he assured me it was not.

Here was my response. His words are italicized.

Dear Gary,

At the risk of falling into a Swiftian rabbit hole, I’ll bite. I am a parent, a science teacher, and a retired pediatrician.

It is wrong to be capriciously mean to children.

If you care to have a constructive discussion, you’d do better than to assume off the bat that those of us who minimize “screen time” do so to be “capriciously mean.” If an adult believes (and has evidence) that a particular practice may be harmful, well, a responsible adult would limit the harm. I would not allow a two year old to drink whiskey, nor an eight year old drive a car, even if I do risk escalating inter-generational tension.

Children only do things for long periods of time that they find interesting.

Another strawman–I’ll counter with a lazy jab. Children breathe, pretty much all the time, whether or not they’re interested.

More to the point, just because an activity can hold a child’s interest doesn’t make it useful or safe. More than a few of us could have completely blown away our later childhood doing really dumb things that kept our interest.

If your point is that children find screens interesting, well, um, yeah–that’s why we’re discussing whether screen time should be monitored.

Educators have (limited) jurisdiction over classrooms and playgrounds, not living rooms.

Yep, no argument here. I can only control what I can control–but if it’s harmful, then it should be limited. We can debate whether it’s harmful, or whether it cuts into activities that matter more in school.

I disagree vehemently that computers should be used for science experiments, unless you want to compare the acceleration of an iPod against, say, a Dell PC in a vacuum in a 100 meter fall. Simulated experiments kill inquiry, and should go the way of filmstrips and ink wells.

I do agree that we need to frame our discussions more coherently–”screen time” is so nebulous it’s near useless. I would also suggest that we tone down the hyperbole. “Bankruptcy of imaginations”? Really?

I suspect you have other articles where you appeal to the cortex instead of the amygdala, and I’d be glad to read some of them if you’d be kind enough to point the way. You have a wonderful reputation in the edu-sphere. Don’t fritter it away.

His response:
I’m a fan of tactile messy science experiences. I don’t believe I made any statement that chooses computers over real stuff. I want kids to have access to the widest deepest range of experiences possible. Nothing in the article I completely stand behind, or in my 29 years of work, suggest otherwise.

His words surprised me.

Geez, Dr. Stager, I know you're busy, I know you have almost 3 decades of heft behind you, I get that you're hoi oligoi, but if you're going to respond at all to hoi polloi, talk to us.

Some of us who love children, have a modicum of maturity, and experience with "screen time" have concerns. The cult of personality thrives in the edutech world. Quite a few folks make a decent living rousing the crowds, spreading the edutech gospel.

Most of us in the classrooms, however, are working hard every day to open the world to a generation of children living inside their glass screens. Most of us are willing to change our ways to make the world more interesting, to help our children lead happy and productive lives.

I know you do, too.

Dr. Gary S. Stager's original post is on Stager-To-Go.

Cartoon by Robin Hutton, used under CC. some rights reserved.

And, oh, one more thing--I use 1:1 computing, and encourage all kinds of screens in class.
Not so good at it, yet, but getting better.

Pension tension

(A heads up--this is local and has little to do with science, unless economics counts.)

We're in the dead of winter now, the last few days of the darkest six weeks of the year. My crank-o-meter needle is dancing on the right side of the dial (yes, it's analog).

Last year Governor Christie skipped a 3.1 billion dollar payment to the pension fund, one of the few truly bipartisan acts we get these days--preceding Democratic and Republican governors had done the same for over a decade!

Our fine money managers managed to blow huge chunks of the money that had been put in, losing "almost 9 billion dollars in October [2008]," and over 20 billion dollars the same year. (In 2008, the total payout by the state was 5.2 billion dollars.)

Yesterday, on a snowy Friday when folks were busy shoveling, the NJ Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, joined forces with Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, another Democrat, to announce the end of the current state pension plan.

Those of us not yet retired, all of us, are affected. Those of us with less than 5 years of service are affected more--we will lose cost of living adjustments.

Those of you retired are safe.

This is the best case scenario. Sweeney and Oliver are doing this to help us.

If you are looking for a teaching position in New Jersey, great news! Any rational teacher vested in the pension system has a hard decision to make. Some will stay because they love (and live) for teaching, and never planned to retire anyway.

Many will need to leave because as much as they love teaching, they love the idea of eating and keeping a roof over their heads during their retirement years.

I entered teaching way too late for this to be disastrous news--the newer members of the profession were already getting hammered while local unions strived to protect the dwindling benefits for their more senior members. Property taxes were already becoming unsustainable.

Anyone with even a modicum of economic sense saw the massive market bubble was about to burst the year I entered teaching. (The state market managers used the ol' wing and a prayer strategy--oops....)

The only thing I trust for my retirement is that the seeds will still grow, and that clams and fish will still be in the bay. I trust the laws of nature more than I trust the laws of humans.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Faith and fear

For I took an Earthen vessel, in which I put 200 pounds of Earth that had been dried in a Furnace, which I moystened with Rainwater, and I implanted therein the Trunk or Stem of a Willow Tree, weighing five pounds; and at length, five years being finished, the Tree sprung from thence, did weigh 169 pounds, and about three ounces... I again dried the Earth of the Vessell, and there were found the same two hundred pounds, wanting about two ounces. Therefore 164 pounds of Wood, Barks, and Roots, arose out of water onely.

Jean Baptista van Helmont
Early 17th century experiment

That's how it works. You observe the natural world, take a stab at explaining it, and get it wrong. Van Helmont could have stayed on sure footing--the "stuff" of the tree did not come from the earth he used.

This week I am asking my lambs to memorize the photosynthesis equation. I have them breathe on their hands to remind them what "stuff" plants need for this (carbon dioxide and water), and the warmth of the breath reminds them that the plant needs energy to put the stuff together.

The warmth is sunlight transformed--to chemical bonds in plants, now to body heat.

The words "carbon dioxide" mean little to most, and many keep calling it "carbon"--I've broken a lot of pencils to show them what carbon looks like.

And yet I insist on teaching them that plants take it in on little more evidence than faith in me or in their fear of failing. Faith and fear may work for that old tyme religion, but it should have little place in a science class.

Which makes me a hypocrite--from the Greek hypokrites or "pretender" [Online Etymology Dictionary].

Van Helmont's experiment is wondrously flawed--he wanted to show that water feeds plants, but shoved 200 pounds of dirt between his willow and the water. He should have just planted the willow in plain water. (I learned this from David R. Hershey, who talks about this in a fun article "Digging Deeper into Helmont's Famous Willow Tree Experiment, " The American Biology Teacher, 1991.)

My students fear failure in class, and not irrationally. Failure kills students in public education.

We grow all kinds of things in class. Just this week, a child took home a fully formed carrot that grew in peat moss, fed by our breath and the water she gave it.

If I asked a very smart kindergartener how a plant grows seemingly from nothing, she might raise an eyebrow with an incredulous look--"It ate the water!"--how can a grown-up be so dense.

If I ask a sophomore, many will stumble, trying to give me sciency jargon. At least the kindergartner got it half right.

Unlearning is hard. My students have been blowing on their hands for 4 months now, since the first week, when we discussed why a candle (or anything else in the classroom) burns.

Over and over and over again I break things down into two categories--"stuff" or energy.

When you burn something, you end up with exactly the same amount of stuff you started with. Exactly, down to the atom. For all the light and heat and sound that erupt in from my lit propane torch, none of that energy cost an atom.

I sweep the propane torch on a large flask, fogging the glass with water, water that did not exist until that moment. I can talk of electrons and oxygen and energy states, but that's a lot of theory to toss out based on a little bit of fog from flame.

Faith, boys and girls, faith. And there's a test in two days. Fear, girls and boys, fear.

And why do I comply. Fear and selfishness. I love teaching, and pretend that I can slip some science in now and again. Right now the tests are winning.


Part of me believes that if I can get my students thinking, really thinking, they will do fine on the state exam. I'm not convinced. So long as the exam asks students to discuss invisible gases, I've got to push faith in the classroom. Ironically, van Helmont, who came up with the idea that carbon dioxide is a special kind of gas, distinct from air.

I am convinced that they will know more about the world in June than they did coming in, but, to be fair, that might just reflect a general maturity on their part.


I want my students to be wrong at least 5 times a class. At this point, I'll even except quiet wrongs, mistakes made on our old school whiteboards. I won't accept ludicrous wrongs unless there's a train of thought behind them.

One of the most important things I am just learning, now in my fifth year, that the truly ludicrous wrong answers have some thought or history behind them.

If a child hears over and over that photons are "particles" of light, well, then any rational child will think of light as "stuff." If a child hears over and over that plants make food from sunlight, it only confirms that light is "stuff." It's not, of course, but try unteaching this!

We spend a lot of class time unraveling bad science.

May is coming, the New Jersey Biology Competency Exam looms. Who has time for science? Trust me, lambs! Or else you will fail!


Ironically, van Helmont was a victim of faith and The Inquisition;
much of his work was not published in his lifetime, likely out of fear.

The cartoon is, of course, xkcd.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Fun with a microscope camera

You can tell kids that plants are alive, and they nod and write it down in their notebooks, then get on with their lives. Their notebooks reflect what the system tells them, not what they believe.

You can show pictures of chloroplasts, and they nod and draw them in their notebooks, then get on with their lives. There's no reason to invest a whole lot of thought in plants.

Or you can project the cytoplasmic streaming of an elodea leaf, sitting on a microscope on your desk.

"That's a video, right...?"
No, that's what's happening under that microscope

"That's the leaf? You mean, like, it's alive?"

To a child (or most adults), if it doesn't move, it's not alive.
And on some days, even this cranky old biology teacher feels the same way.

Their faces lit up as though they were watching fireworks.

We had the added bonus of seeing the chloroplasts change shape as they muddled through the cell. Watching the chloroplasts scrunch up as they hit the corner of a cell wall, bending like the water balloons they are, shows just how squiggly membranes are.

Seeing the chloroplasts live makes it real.

Not sure anybody wrote anything in their notebooks about what they saw--no need to. It's part of their lives.

The video was posted by on YouTube by pphotoex. His (her?) blog is in Japanese.

I am going to set the microscope camera out every day now --
I'm smacking myself on the head.
Such a simple idea, with a huge return.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Kim Foglia

"My biggest pet peeve about science teaching is approaching biology as a second language — making it an exercise in vocabulary memorization — rather than an approach to questioning how the world works and on the flipside an understanding of interwoven concepts explaining how the world works."

I learned tonight that Ms. Kim Foglia, the most generous teacher I never met, died today. I learned this from a post by one of her students, whom I never met, though did share a few words. I am glad I got to thank her for her help.

I kept a letter of hers in my pocket, written for struggling AP teachers like myself, trying to satisfy the College Board while guiding young adults through a dense curriculum. She reminded me (and so many others) why we teach, and that the why matters as much (or maybe more) than the what.

Kim also taught through her cancer. She shared her story as a teachable moment, but it never defined her.

She shared everything, everything!

We will miss her help, her words, her lessons, and her silly penguins.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Today's wheat prices

Wheat prices pushed past the $8/bushel barrier today, the same day my some of my students discovered wheat berries growing on their young wheat plants.

While a few wheat berries growing in Room B362 will not affect the futures price of wheat, they do tell a story.

The class plants were small brown kernels just a few weeks ago, and now stretch towards the lights, long, green stalks topped with new wheat kernels, still green, still growing.

Each wheat berry sown gets us a dozen or so new wheat berries, for the cost of a quart or two of water and a few hundred hours of fluorescent light. (We could save on the light and just use the windowsills as spring creeps closer).

Where did the "stuff" of the wheat come from? Water, cheap and plentiful here, and carbon dioxide, otherwise wasted breath in a classroom.

It's that simple.

So while my lambs will struggle with NADPH and the Calvin cycle, trip over cytochromes and chemiosmosis, they will at least get the gist of this whole photosynthesis thing.

Light, breath, and water form our daily bread from a simple wheat berry.

Even at $8/bushel, wheat costs less than 14 cents a pound.

An iPod classic weighs 4.9 ounces, and checks in at $249, a bit over $800 per pound, and it won't do any good to water it. For the price of an iPod, you can get 3/4 tons of wheat.

Yes, of course, my bucket of wheat can't play music. But it sure tastes better than an iPod.

The lovely wheat spike picture is by from Texas A&M University
and the Soil and Crop Sciences Department found here.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Wanton wilderness

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.

William Blake, from "Auguries of Innocence"

We fear wilderness, and understandably so. We prefer edged lawns to thistle, Lord Byron Tennyson to William Blake, textbooks to open and changeable sources.

A wild child fails in our culture. Thankfully, we do a pretty good job at school, curing our children of natural impulses, of wanton behavior.


Wanton is an old word, now infused with ill will. It comes from wan, or lack (as in "for want of"), and togen, or pull. The roots literally mean "unpulled." To be wanton means to be unbridled. The word used to mean "sportive or frolicsome, as children or young animals."

As we dive deeper and deeper into a culture of efficiency, a culture dependent on artificial standards and goals, a culture that defines joy on its terms, we have less tolerance for the wild ones.


The wild ones got us here:

Isaac Newton (the same man who predicted the Apocalypse may fall as early as 2060, a man obsessed with alchemy and the Bible) "seem[ed] to have shown little promise in academic work. His school reports described him as 'idle' and 'inattentive'."

Einstein, an excellent math and science student despite the myths, believed that “it is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."

The history of science is littered with bright folks sticking things into places where they don't belong, just to see what happens. At this moment, deep underground in Europe, we are trying to find the "God particle" as the Large Hadron Collider bangs together particles at ungodly speeds.

If you already know what's going to happen, what's the point? School is designed to protect the order of things, to keep us safe, to tell us what is going to happen.

Except for science class.

Sparks fly, test tubes erupt and spew off foam and flames, white flies spontaneously generate among rows of peas and carrots that look so incongruous in a government building. Occasionally our high school gets evacuated because of our lambs wandered into the occasionally unpredictable world of science lab.

Stains on the ceiling, cracks in the world, and incident reports in central administration remind us that wilderness exists, even in a building where young lives are pre-planned, curricula set, protocols enforced.

If you teach, guide your lambs to the ledge:
  • If you teach language arts, push the wilderness. Read Blake with passion; you grasp that all this is miraculous, and that all this will end. Let your children see you bleed.
  • If you teach history, let the smells and sounds of battle waft into your room, let fear and hope swirl in your room as it swirls around us in the world. Let your children taste the blood that has spilled.
  • If you teach physical education, push a child to feel what reckless abandon feels like, when the body is allowed to break from the human forms of chairs and desks and burst into motion. Let the children fall and bleed.

We do not shed enough blood in the classroom, and there are good reasons for that. We fear lawsuits, we fear unruly classrooms, we fear chaos.

I think we most fear the wilderness. Order is seductive, civilization seduces us all. Schools produce the graduates we deserve.

Civilization matters, of course. I like my hot showers, my iPod, my tap water, my clothes. I like order and the daily insulation from death and entropy. I do not plan to paint anarchistic slogans on my walls.

I do hope, though, that I am a little bit more courageous sharing the wild with my students this coming year.

Yes, I know, we adore Blake now--he is safely dead, tucked in a dead and long ago age we call Romanticism. If you can read Blake without wanting to scream and run off naked into a July thunderstorm on the edge of the ocean, you're missing the point.

The Newton page predicting 2060 as our end is from, fittingly, Armageddon Online here.

William Blake's The Great Red Dragon and the Beast From the Sea found here.

Thank you to Josie Holford for helping me out with the poets.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Back to the future

With all the clitter clatter of folks rushing to toss out last week's toys for the new and improved 2.0 version, here are a few things now obsolete, but well worth bringing back:

1) Chalk
You cannot draw well with markers; it's even harder to draw with an interactive whiteboard. Subtlety matters. While a 256 color Powerpoint of a beating animated heart garners plenty of woo factor,

It's cheap! A dozen chalk sticks will run you less than a dollar; the same number of erasable markers costs a magnitude more.

It's therapeutic--snapping a piece of chalk in two satisfies the amygdala. Try breaking a marker in two. If things get really bad, you can eat the chalk as an emergency substitute for TUMS.

2) Overhear projectors
Using an overhead projector well requires a strong grasp of the material you are presenting. It has the added bonus of allowing you to face your students, your visage lit up eerily like a bad scary movie.

An overhead projector is a great source of light for biology teachers--I still dig one out when I want to show that chlorophyll fluoresces, or to test light's effects on oxygen production in plants.

(I won't even get into my talent for shadow puppets....)

3) Analog clocks
I still have no idea why they left--an analog clock gives more information than the digital variety, hands down. I guess you could argue that they cost a smidgen more--I do have to invest in a new battery every 3 or 4 years--but even I can spare a dollar or so a year.

I do not hold onto the old for old times' sake. I hold onto tools that work well, until replaced by something that works at least as well, everything else being equal.

Spending a lot on an interactive whiteboard does not make you smart, only your wallet.

Don't eat the chalk. Really.
Einstein photo from Seattle Weekly here.

Last day of 2010

Our last beach walk of the year. Much of the ice has melted, the animals can scavenge again, feasting on horseshoe crabs and blue claws dredged up by the grim grinding ice. Dying comb jellies glistened on the beach, ignored by the gulls.

I found a small whitish clam panning the beach with its foot, perhaps a young surf clam. I tossed it back into the bay, my last clam of the year.

The last day of the year is a human construct.,

Today will be a little different than yesterday, true. The sun will hang in the sky a minute longer today, angling a hair higher in the sky. High tide will be almost an hour later, and a few inches higher.

I teach indoors, obviously, in 48 minute chunks. Biology happens outside, in millennial chunks. Transferring knowledge of life is a Sisyphean task.

I condemn others' acts of hubris while ignoring my own, trying to stuff minds with abstract shadows of what can be found just outside the classroom window, if we took time to look.

The word "education" comes from educere, "to bring out, lead forth." My best days are those when I lead the students out the door to the real world outside, the one that created us, the one we cannot hope to fully grasp.

Photo by Leslie, December 31, 2010