16 December 2009


I think its time for some closure on Educational Research. Through talking to several people, I have drawn the conclusion that Ed. Research is one of the most stressful classes in the program. Well good. At least it's over. In the words of another professor, "let the stress ooze out of your fingertips, use the words "I" and "me" freely". It looks like the tone of the current writing class is going to be much more conversational, so I thought it would be appropriate to have a (probably one-way) conversation about Research. Let's finalize that and get back to the casual style of writing with which we are more comfortable, shall we?

I think I'll just post the summaries sent to me by my colleagues about their presentations in a nice numbered list with my comments following:

  1. "My paper was about pacing calendars.  Teachers and administrators are in agreement that they want pacing calendars but would like them to be flexible documents that allow teachers to do what is best for their students yet gives them direction in accomplishing all the state standards before the testing window in April. ~R.G." This presentation had a great opening, in which she took many large books and dropped them on the table and reminded us what it was like to be a new, overwhelmed teacher.

  2. "Title:  The ADD Learner The research took a closer look at children with ADD and the challenges each faces when trying to learn and survive in the educational environment. The study looked at people who are affected by ADD and how parents, teachers and family can have a huge impact on the success or failure of the person with ADD. ~T.B."  I learned so much from this one! There are so many issues that students with ADD deal with each day. Many of the symptoms were unknown to me previous to this class. Hopefully, I'll be able to recognize them now and offer some assistance.

  3. "Student Nutrition or a lack of it is a large part of our Discipline problems.  Google the Healthy Schools Program and read a little.  The schools that have done a whole school concept have been extremely successful. How much better could our schools be if our Professional Development was on Nutrition and Fitness and the teachers, staff and students share this together with parent education.  I would rather spend time teaching than dealing with the behavior problems we are dealing with now. ~S.T." This one took a really hard look at the nutrition programs of our schools and made me re-think some of the choice I make in my own life. I also loved the "fake food" that looked exceptionally real

  4. "Homework in Elementary Schools -- While the current research CLEARLY states that there is no academic benefit to giving elementary students homework, EVERY teacher interviewed uses it regularly. Conclusion: teachers assign homework out of tradition and not based on available research. ~K.R." Even though this one was specifically about elementary school, I did a lot of soul searching about homework in my own classroom. I wondered, WHY do I give homework? Is it necessary? Is there a correlation in my class between student achievement and homework? Interesting!

  5. "Mine was Cell Phones in School. Basically, it was looking at the pros and cons of using cell phones at school. I also looked at using cell phones for technology use in the classroom. ~K.B." If you've read this blog for very long you know exactly how I feel about this one! I embrace technology integration, especially cellphones. Its the one piece of technology that nearly 100% of students have, even if they have no internet access, they have a phone.

  6. "All things are difficult before they become easy."- Thomas Fuller "This quote best describes English language learners and writing skills. With a variety of effective teaching methods available it all comes down to each individual English language learner, meaningful experiences, and daily writing practices. ~R.J." I really had to take a hard look at the way in which I deal with ELL and ESL students in my class. I constantly wonder, am I being too easy on them? Am I using skills which will enable them to be more successful? Or am I JUST enabling?

  7. "The topic of my presentation was the motivation of Pre-Advanced Placement Students.  Here's a run down of what I found the most important to me:
    1) Students can't achieve without motivation.  Doesn't happen.
    2) Giftedness isn't just genetics, so you can gain it or lose it based on your environment.
    3) It's not about stopping apathy, but correcting the state prior to apathy.
    4) The three main sources of motivation identified by the students were parents, college, and accomplishment.
    5)  The three main sources of apathy identified by the students were not understanding, when hard work doesn't pay off, and low grades. (Remember they're perfectionists...)
    My favorite quote due to its percise truth: "I've been taught that if you work hard, it will happen."  We teach this to our kids all the time, but do we really teach them what to do if it doesn't? ~S.A." Yikes. What do we do when students work hard and they don't get all they had hoped for? Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. I've used those words in conversation many times since hearing this presentation. Thanks for good information. I'm rethinking how I treat my honors and non-honors kids.

  8. "What Teacher strategies helped you learn Spanish Fast. Students were interviewed to find the most effective strategies that helped them learn the language fast. They were Span. III students. The most repetive pattern was repetion and a descriptive teacher. ~Z.B." This one had the best video, made by students, I had seen in quite some time. Really enjoyed seeing the fruits of a caring teacher's labor.

All of the presentations, even the ones not listed here, were top notch. I am in a class with some really high achievers. That really puts the pressure on my to be on my game. Thanks to all of you who responded with summaries. And to those of you who weren't able to, thanks also! This class and the people contained in it have already made a tremendous impact on me, both personally and professionally. I'm looking forward to growing both as a colleague and as an instructor. Keep up the good work guys!

As always, thanks for reading.

I am

an accomplished teacher because: I care about my students (Core Prop 3). I have developed relationships with students. Students come and ask me for my opinion about life issues. I was a finalist for teacher of the year which leads me to believe my peers feel I am an accomplished teacher (Core Prop 5). I have a difficult time promoting myself. I have difficulty giving myself compliments because there are probably some self image issues that I have unresolved for whatever reason (Core Prop 4). My students come to me for help with things like participating in a holiday assembly (as the teacher who tweets), to proctor military physical entrance tests (as the timer, not as a co-runner), and to talk about which college they should attend. I don't think I am the only teacher with whom students have this type of relationship (Core Prop 5). However, when I began teaching, I remember wanting to teach because my wife was someone who had this type of relationship with students and I wanted to be an influence (Core Prop 1)  on students in the same way she was.  My mantra of teaching is "to build and maintain good relationships with students and be a positive influence in their lives (Core Prop 2)." I am an accomplished teacher because I am doing that. I set out with a purpose and I am succeeding at achieving that goal.

This writing is being done in class as part of a graduate-level Reflective Writing class designed to help me learn to write for the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification. The writing prompt was: I am an accomplished teacher because... I also had to go back and see which of the NBPTS Core Propositions we wrote to without even knowing what they were.

13 December 2009

the power of social media

While helping my favorite son with his homework this morning, I got a phone call. It was my wife calling. This may not seem strange and normally it wouldn't be, but she was calling from the other end of the house. She called because there was a great segment on the Oprah show (we DVR anything we want to watch) she wanted me to see. If you decide not to read the link, I'll sum it up in a few short sentences: Journey got a new lead singer because of social media, specifically, Youtube. The band's guitar player and spokesperson, was about ready to give up on the 10 year search for a lead singer when he happened to see a Youtube video (I don't think I got the exact video, but its the same singer and band in the same venue) of a guy in the Philippines who was covering one of Journey's hits, "Faithfully" at the Hard Rock Cafe' in Manila. To make a long story short, Journey found its new lead singer. Thanks, at least in part, to social media.

The wife didn't call me back because of the social media connection, she simply wanted to share a "rags to riches" story, probably because she knows I'm a sap and enjoy a good segment of Oprah every now and then (no need to spread that kind of information around, though). I was simply struck by the incredible power of social media, whether purposefully used, or accidentally "stumbled upon", pun intended. As I said in my research paper, its no answer to any of the world's problems, but it is a very powerful tool which can be used to affect change.

The second time today I was struck by the power of social media tools was when I made a humorous/serious comment on Facebook about a great movie, "The Breakfast Club". Here's my comment: "I think about things I hear at school. Like "these kids have changed" "they are more arrogant this year" and then I wonder about the custodian in The Breakfast Club when he said: "Oh come on Vernon, the kids didn't change, you did." Hmmm. Is there truth to that? Will I ever feel that way? I hope not."  If you'd like to see the entire conversation that ensued, its here. One of my students chimed in and I thought, what a great opportunity for a guest blog post. A perspective on generation-Y from someone of that generation! I know, you are wondering when I'll get to the point. Well, its now. We were conversing using social media. This was pointed out (by me) in our conversation. There is no way I ever would have had that conversation with a student inside the walls of my classroom. #1, I'm not that good at remembering what I did over the weekend, #2 we have too much information to cover and never would have taken the time to talk about this.

I think social media is changing not only the how we communicate, but the "with whom" we communicate. I can tell you from experience, no matter your thoughts on the evils or advantages of social media in education, I have deeper relationships with my students than I ever would have if I still had the rule of "Yes I have a Facebook and No I will not friend you". This was where I was when I first started teaching. I've changed a bit since then. Not sure why, not sure how, but I've changed. I, for one, think its for the better.

What do you think?

11 December 2009


I suppose its not really doubt as much as it is rethinking and reevaluating why I blog. You know, what's the point? Do I aspire to be someone like @BadAstronomer? Or @wesfryer? Or even @pursuingtruth? These guys all blog for different reasons and I'm sure they receive some benefits that are intrinsic to blogging. I guess what I am trying to say is this: "Is there any intrinsic benefit to blogging?"

This post is really a reminder to myself that there is a reason putting thoughts in my head down into the keyboard, which really means into the blogosphere. Its a big world out there and there a lots of people with a lot (and nothing) to say. I think most of the time I fall into the latter category and less into the former. I started blogging for me. In fact, I've been asked recently about the feasibility of adding an online component (particularly blogging) to the graduate program in which I am involved. An email I wrote today just talked about the fact that I am becoming more and more of a believer in journaling, which I realize is nothing new to many of you. That's really the reason I decided to do this. It wasn't to gain a large following (I'm saying this as I have, in the last 30 minutes, invited about 50 people to follow my blog through Facebook). I didn't do it to effect a major change on the educational system as some people are doing with the voices of their blogs. I certainly didn't do it to make any money. Good Lord. I'm a public school teacher. I don't do anything for the money.

On the other hand, part of journaling is going back and looking at what I have written in the past. Its about reflecting on what I've done in the past and how I have grown/changed/been affected. But, when is the last time I did that? Just last week, I was posting parts of my research paper here expecting you guys to reflect on it for me! Okay Bowie! You are totally missing the point!

I think its time to go back and read what I've written in the past. How have I grown? How have I changed? What am I doing (if anything) different than I was then? What did I say I'd do differently the next time I taught a lesson? If I'm not doing that, I'm definitely blogging for the wrong reasons.

Why do you blog? Why do you tweet? Is it because you want to be heard? Or is it because you want to look revisit a picture from the past? Either way, I'd love to hear your comments. After all, its supposed to be a two-way conversation even if its just me talking to myself!

07 December 2009


Here's the abstract of my research paper. I honed what I had initially done as a significance of study and then added what should be in an abstract. Honestly, whether you guys like it or not, I think its some of my best writing and I'll probably go with it. However, if you have positive comments, I'd love to hear 'em. I could use a little encouragement about now.

I'm just ready for this project to be over. I'm not sure I'll ever have it in me to do any kind of dissertation. I can't imagine what writing something like this would be like.

So, here it is:

Much of contemporary pedagogy is based on the belief that education should be made relevant to students. Social media is one way to achieve that relevance in today’s culture. Society as a whole continues to rely on electronic exchanges of information in presentation, acquisition and production. The day of immediate access to knowledge has arrived, and it has come in the form of social media. Surveys indicate that students are heavy users of social media and are not opposed to its use in an educational setting. Social media has evolved out of the early write-only Internet to a place filled with scholarly opportunities for community. This evolution has education poised to capitalize on the collaborative and creative aspects of social media. As a result, educators around the world are experiencing success in the integration of social media into the classroom as an educational tool. This research was conducted through interviews of educators and students using social media as the sole vessel of communication. The data notwithstanding, that an entire study was researched, composed and even redacted utilizing only social media demonstrates the power of these tools. The conclusion of this study is that social media, while not problem free, can certainly be used as a tool to augment purposefully planned lessons, build community and encourage students to become producers not just consumers of knowledge. Whether the course content is focused on writing, mathematics, technology, or science, social media can be smoothly integrated into an already effective educational experience or strengthen one that is not quite engaging students.

05 December 2009

Within this paper I have to tell the reason for conducting the research. I basically have to "sell" my reasoning for doing the research. It's freaking social media! Enough said, right? Well, apparently not because that's not the "way its done" in formal academic writing. Following is a very very very rough draft of my "significance of study" section. I'm interested to hear what you have to say about it, so here goes...btw, it'll be the last post of the evening as tomorrow will be here soon and I'm ready to pull the pork out of the smoker and hit the sack! So here it is:

Significance of Study
Many schools of education rely heavily on the belief that education should be made relevant to students. Social media a one way to make be relevant in today’s culture. Society as a whole is moving, more and more, toward an electronic exchange of information. What possible motivation do students have to buy in to the need to get an education when it is using a system of information delivery, bound textbooks, that is based on technology dating back to the early Greeks? Education is being left behind by not adapting to current trends in culture and society. Social media is becoming more and more pervasive throughout society. Companies are implementing viral marketing campaigns through mediums such as Twitter and Facebook. New job descriptions are being written everyday, which involve marketing through social media. Information is exchanged freely without cost. Companies no longer rely on advertising firms to get their product in front of the consumer; they simply hire a social media consultant and take matters into their own hands. Why should education be any different? There is no reason to wait for the next textbook to come out when, through a collaboration of many classrooms, a current textbook could be written in wiki format. It could be changed to remain up to date. Why do teachers need to wait for the next how-to-teach book to come out when they can begin adding book writers to a network of social bookmarks and start synthesizing the exact same information the authors are reading?

The day of immediate access to information has arrived and it has come in the form of social media. Wikipedia is a great example of this. Celebrity pages on Wikipedia are updated before shows cataloging their ridiculous antics are even on commercial break. It seems there is a never-ending stream of editors willing to make this worldwide collaborative effort the be-all, end-all fountain of information. Social media tools like wikis are more accurate than print information because there is no waiting for a new edition to be printed.

Social Media is going to be revolution. Albert Einstein once said, “If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting the results you've been getting.” This is the trap of education. Many teachers are unwilling to change their method simply because they have always done it that way. That is not a good reason to keep teaching students the same way. In many ways, its similar to a farmer who plants his seeds by hand and harvests his wheat using a hand-swung scythe. Meanwhile, his neighbor is using a state-of-the-art tractor planting machine and an air-conditioned, satellite navigation equipped combine to harvest. The old-fashioned farmer is constantly wondering, “Why am I not being more productive like my neighbor?” Hopefully the education system, with some help from the inside, will realize we have been planting all of our seeds by hand while there is a state-of-the-art electronic planter sitting in our classroom waiting to be used.

forshadowed problems

In this section I'm supposed to talk about questions that may or may not be answered, but nevertheless are questions about my subject. I'll let you in on a secret, I don't answer most of these questions, but I'd like to. Especially the ones about funding the technology. Maybe some money will fall from the sky into my classroom account.

Without further adieu, here are the foreshadowed problems from my research paper:

How does one get teachers to buy into using social media? How can students be convinced social media has educational value, as well as social? How do school districts control the potentially dangerous aspects of social media, e.g. predators, sexting, cyber-bullying? How much instructional time should be committed to the use of social media? How do districts fund technology access to create a successful social media environment? Once funding is determined, how do districts address the physical security issues inherent with expensive computer equipment, i.e. what will prevent laptops from walking out of the school? How do teachers keep from blurring the line between recreational use of social media and instructional use? How can teachers be taught where the line is between recreational use and educational use? Is it the job of the school district to make education this relevant? If it is the district’s job, how does a district go about implementing a plan to begin social media integration? If it is not the district’s job and is a gray area, should social media usage become its own class and then the students are responsible to apply this knowledge to other classes? Is this integration the job of secondary education or is it the job of post-secondary education? Since social media changes so rapidly, when does a particular aspect of social media become out of date and no longer relevant to education? How does education know when to integrate some part of social media? Is longevity a determining factor? Is it permanency? Or is there some combination of these and other factors?

data analysis

Please be kind...this is my first attempt at actually writing a true research paper. I'm talking about a paper in which I did real field research. Sure I've synthesized stuff I've read, but gathering data? Never really had experience doing it... So, here comes the first draft of the data analysis. Seems to me there is more talking and less analyzing than there should be...let me know what you think.

While the group interviewed during the process of gathering data on social media usage in an educational setting was not a large one, the subjects were chosen purposefully so that data would be obtained from participants who have experience with the use of social media, either positive or negative. The overwhelming majority of participants stated that their student’s educational experiences were enriched because of the use of social media. Many of these educational professionals feel that students are “plugged in” after school and it is “silly not to utilize social media to present information to students”. They also felt that it is a teacher’s duty to expose students to the type of tools they will be required to use both in the post-secondary education setting and in the corporate world.

When asked “why do you use social media in your classroom” a high school computer applications teacher said, “I came from the corporate world and I see these as tools with which students must, at the bare minimum, be familiar.” She felt if she didn’t teach them about social media, she would be doing them a great disservice. When the instructional technologist was asked the same question, she said, “This type of interaction encourages collaboration, not only between students, but between teachers and students”. It can really change the relationship between a student and a teacher. When teachers are willing to be transparent and step out into cyberspace with a real, authentic persona, students recognize what is happening and are more willing to be real with the teacher in return. Another teacher said he uses social media to “add interest to the class” and “encourage engagement” in what might otherwise be a fairly boring project. Another teacher indicated that students are going to use this type of media outside of class and it was “her duty to teach them to use it correctly and safely”. One of the participants made the analogy to sex education; students are going to figure out what to do, now would you rather have them figure it out from someone who might not be teaching them the most intelligent, safe way to do it? While that may be a rather crude analogy, it really makes an excellent point. Students need to be taught good digital citizenship because they are going to learn how to use it one way or another.

A Department of Education official stated he teaches teachers how to use social media because it “gives a sense of empowerment whereby they have access to a vast network that has been purposefully created”. The interaction he is referring to is his Twitter and Delicious network, which he has created by looking for people with common interests. He follows people for whom he has respect and through social media is able to see what they are talking about and what they are reading. Its similar to hero worship wherein one does the same things his or her hero does. Thereby, becoming more like the hero.

The only student available for interview summed up the reason high school teachers should be using social media; “Every student should be exposed to some kind of social media in high school because they basically throw it at you in college”. This brings up an excellent point: why the disparity between high school and college? Why are high school teachers so reluctant to bring social media, i.e. online collaboration, into the classroom when college professors are typically more willing to embrace it? This seems like a good topic to research further.

A Junior-level Earth Science teacher talked at length about a wiki project he had been working on for over the course of about six weeks. In this project, students are required to write about a particular phenomena related to astronomy or geology, or research a scientist and synthesize the information about the person’s life. When asked which aspects of the project he liked, the teacher responded with an answer that is thematic in wiki projects: “As a teacher (and consequent grader) I can track all changes a student has made to the wiki through the history tab”. This coupled with the ability to revert to any version in the history of the page, make wikis an excellent platform to use for almost any kind of writing project. During the course of the project, the teacher set weekly goals for students. The student progress towards a particular goal was easily traced by looking to see which page a student had edited and how often (or rarely) editing was done. He also liked the ability for students to be able to access their work from any computer with Internet access. He works in a school district in which students can only access work stored on the district “H-drive” when they are logged on to a school computer. With a wiki, this problem is eliminated; all a student needs is access to a computer with Internet capability. This teacher had students peer-edit each other’s pages. This is exactly what wikis are intended for and develop not only collaborative skills but writing skills, as well.

An instructional technologist pointed out to the researcher that wikis are also an excellent way to showcase student’s work. She also noted that it encourages “peer accountability”. She recounted an instance to demonstrate the fact:

I had been involved with a classroom of secondary students working on a wiki. There was one student who, during the course of his writing made the comment that he was “proud to be a racist”. Before the teacher could even be made aware of what was being said, the student’s peers stepped in and moderated the document to remove the offensive material. This was far beyond what teachers normally expect in this type of project.

She continued to point out that this was the first instance she had ever encountered this type of interaction between students. If this were carried out live in the classroom, it is likely it would not have been quite as civil of an exchange.

One of the participants in this survey is an English teacher at a large urban high school. She teaches Junior-level English to a wide socio-economic variety of students. One of the ideas she constantly stresses to her classes is to consider their audience when writing. She stated,

Wikis and blogs really broaden the audience of student writing. Up to this point these kids have only been writing for a teacher to read. No one else gets to see the finished work. What motivation do they have to seriously consider the audience when it is only a teacher reading it? With a wiki or a blog, students have to consider the fact that anyone with an Internet-connected computer has access to their work.

She continued to point out that there are actually widgets which can be inserted into your website which will give a visual representation, usually in the form of a map with dots, to show where the visitors to a website are coming from. Students are better able to get a sense they are writing to a broader audience when these tools are utilized.

During an interview with a technology teacher, the topic of process skills being taught when using social media in the classroom was addressed. She indicated that the main “meta-skill” taught is the process of critical thinking. Learning to use one type of social media carries with it a set of skills that can be readily applied to another type of media. For instance, synthesizing a paragraph into a 140-character post for Twitter applies to synthesizing research ideas to a wiki page. A Department of Education official stated he teaches teachers how to use social media because it “gives a sense of empowerment whereby he has access to a vast network that has been purposefully created”. The interaction he is referring to is his Twitter and Delicious network, which he has set out to create. He follows people for whom he has respect and through social media is able to see what they are talking about and what they are reading. Its similar to hero worship wherein one does the same things his or her hero does. Thereby, becoming more like the hero. When asked how student’s educational experiences are enriched by the use of social media, he replied, “Have you heard of the two by four by eight model of education? Students learn within two covers of a textbook, inside the four walls of a classroom, during eight hours of a school day; social media has the capacity to transcend that.” This is really the heart of what social media is about, at least when it is applied to an educational setting: it extends the classroom out into an environment in which students are more comfortable.

Social media can also extend the hours of a school day. A technology teacher informed the researcher of having the ability to see when students were online and actively posting on the discussion board within a Ning. She was pleasantly surprised to see that students were online occasionally on Friday nights completing assignments, many times well in advance of the due date.

The participants in this project have all had varying degrees of success in their efforts to integrate social media into some type of educational setting. A science teacher said his students didn’t really get the point of doing a wiki instead of a standard research paper, but many did enjoy the more creative aspect of making a webpage instead of “just writing a boring old paper”. A technology teacher indicated that she was “surprised at the high level of thinking students were putting into their responses on the discussion board”. It also seemed to her that students who seemed shy in class were more willing to open up and share in an asynchronous online setting. A state Department of Education employee stated that its very difficult, especially with Twitter, to “keep the signal to noise ratio” down. Sometimes there is so much information, its difficult to sift through what is important and what is just garbage. It simply becomes overwhelming and the reader gets nothing because of information overload. Another science teacher, who uses a discussion board as a means of having student review articles online, stated, “This type of interaction gives my students a non-threatening way to see there are many diverse worldviews, just inside our classroom. Think of all of the worldviews when you consider the enormous number of people outside our classroom walls!” He is actually building community by pointing out their diversity.

Many of those interviewed have future plans when it comes to social media. One said, “I just want to keep up with the most current tools available, my students are going to know what they are, so I have to do the same.” The Earth Science teacher said he would continue to use his wiki project even though some of his students “didn’t get it”. He feels you cannot adequately judge the success of a project based only on a single group of students. A technology teacher is going to increase the integration of social media into her courses. She feels this is the format of a class, especially a class in which students are learning about computers and specifically digital citizenship.


Here is the intro to my paper so far, cut and pasted right out the document:

With social media becoming increasingly popular in today’s “connected” culture, it seems inevitable that it would invade the ranks of education. It appears to be doing just that, albeit very slowly. Teachers are resistant to change. Tradition runs deep in the education sector and social media is a very young kid on the proverbial block. Whether contributing to a wiki project, being part of a discussion board, communicating through Facebook, sharing online bookmarks through sites such as Delicious or Diigo, or using Skype to bring an expert into the classroom, participants in this study agreed that students are interacting, collaborating, building community, and networking. These skills are needed to keep students successful in the future. They are process skills that may not be specifically stated in any skill set put forth by any Department of Education, but they are certainly eluded to, especially in the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.

Many naysayers of social media are slowly starting to change their tune. Just a year or two ago it would have been common to overhear a comment that went something like this: “With all of the computer stuff like Facebook and MySpace, kids are becoming less and less communicative, Before long, they will not be able to talk to each other at all”. Actually, it seems the opposite is true. Students are becoming more and more communicative. While they are using a computer keyboard to do it, they are still learning how to communicate through verbal and written expression like never before. Negative comments seem to be fewer and farther between as we go.

27 November 2009

Thanksgiving fare at the Bowie's

Thanksgiving is definitely my favorite holiday. Mostly because of the food. And the family. We tend to do things our own way around the house, since we aren't your typical Oklahoma, midwestern family. Yesterday morning, I got up pretty early and fried two turkeys. One of them was to take to Granny Jones' house, but the other one, was to keep a secret and remain here at home. You see, it had a secret ingredient. I'm trying to figure out something to have that's different than anyone else and I just may have found it. I (along with the help of my brother-in-law named it the Red Dirt Cajun Fried Turkey. Its very spicy. And very good (if I do say so myself).

I have also figured out what to do with the bones from a fried turkey: make gumbo. This dish is something I am capable of doing fairly well, if my guests are to be believed. Normally, I boil a whole chicken and use the stock from it to make the gumbo. However, @mishelleyb recommended we boil the bones of the turkeys and use that as the stock. I thought, why not? Oh yeah! It was excellent. Instead of boning and entire chicken, I just used some frozen chicken breasts with the turkey broth. Oh, did I mention there was a lot of skin on the bones which gave up all of their delicious flavor? Oh yes. They took one for the team. I've never made gumbo that I haven't added some seasoning. Well, that's no longer true after today.

Anyway, I was trying to find one good recipe and got two! What a bonus! So, when you want some "Red Dirt Backyard Gumbo" or a "Red Dirt Cajun Fried Turkey", drop me a line.

24 November 2009

everything you thought you knew

About Science is wrong. I love to turn student's worlds upside-down with that statement. I'll give you some examples:

  1. There is no such thing as suction, there is only the absence of air. Its called a vacuum. Many students are heavily vested in this particular misconception, especially since it is such a part of our vernacular. Basically, atmospheric pressure is very, very strong! Check out the Madgeberg Spheres as an example of just how hard it will resist. Think of vector arrows pushing in on the spheres from all directions.

  2. There is no such thing as cold, only the absence of heat. Its called the Kinetic Theory of Gases. Temperature is a measure of the kinetic energy of the molecules of an object, whether its a gas or not.

Yes, its late. Yes, I'm tired. I'll continue this list in another post. Stay tuned and as always, thanks for reading.

23 November 2009

just some thoughts on the day

It was a day like any other day (except for the fact that it was Monday, but seemed like a Thursday since tomorrow is Tuesday, but is really Friday). I made it through 1st and 2nd block easily, but then 3rd block rolled around. Not that I have anything against 3rd block. Really. I don't. But it started off with a very nasty habit many of the students in that block have: being polite. Yes, they are polite to a fault. I'll try to explain.

Students are tardy if the they enter the classroom after the tardy bell rings. Makes sense, right? At Putnam City, all of the doors are kept locked when shut, therefore, students cannot enter the classroom late, unless someone opens the door for them. And therein lies the problem with their politeness. I'll continue to explain. I usually stand at the door and close it just as the tardy bell rings. I then proceed to get students going on the bellwork or whatever other task I have for them to start class. This means I am not at the door and cannot see who comes in late to class. There is a sign on my door, which says "For entry, knock politely" which students read "To sneak in, knock quietly". This is what usually happens. Students knock quietly and my students, being the polite human beings they are, open the door and return to their seat. Usually before I can see who is coming in tardy.

So there you have it, my students are annoyingly polite! This put me in a other than pleasant mood since it happened once, I addressed it, and then it happened twice more! We then proceeded to submit papers to turnitin.com, which you don't even want to hear about. Really. I'm not going to talk about it.

That was the "bad" part of my day. Not very bad, right? I didn't think so either. I love my job. And therein lies the good part of my day. I went up to the teacher workroom to check my mail box and was greeted by a fluorescent pink sheet of paper there in the box. What was this pink paper? Glad you asked. It was the final ballot of the "teacher of the year" voting for our school. You might ask why that is significant. My colleagues have voted me through the first two rounds which means I'm on the final ballot "against" two other teachers. Knowing these two people, there's no way I have a chance to be voted teacher of the year for Putnam City High School, but that's okay. The other two teachers are the type of teachers who make an impact on students and they are both very deserving and after all, that's what its all about anyway. Impacting students lives. I am just honored to be nominated. Thanks faculty, I appreciate your confidence.

22 November 2009

deep fried goodness

Its off topic Sunday, so let's talk about food. It's the only think I like better than Physics.

Some of you know, some of you may not know: I hope to someday have a catering business and/or restaurant. I like to think I can do pulled pork pretty well. I have a small following of folks who tell me that my pork is pretty good. I also do a pretty good job of (real) chicken and sausage gumbo and I make a decent crawfish Étouffée. It's all homemade from scratch, there's no boxed stuff in our house when it comes to cajun food. Oh, by the way, I'm originally from Louisiana.

This weekend I decided I'd like to try adding another something to my menu, at least one that could be seasonal. That's one thing about the South you should know, they deep fry everything! So, why not a turkey? Yes, a full sized turkey. Here's how you prepare it:

  1. Thaw your turkey.

  2. Prepare a marinade known as "creole butter", which contains butter and so many seasonings I don't have room to list them all here.

  3. Inject your turkey with the marinade, using a very large hypodermic needle-type device.

  4. Let rest for at least 1 hour.

  5. Cook for about 45 minutes (14 lb. turkey) in a hot bath of peanut oil, which was previously heated to approximately 350° F.

  6. Remove from oil bath.

  7. Eat the most tasty, flavorful, moist, turkey you've ever eaten.

I cooked one tonight and it was delicious. I'll definitely be cooking it with the spicy marinade when I do it from here on out.  There's no way I can take steps backwards from the tastiness we had tonight. The skin is delicious, but I only had two bites of it. Seriously.

We checked with a local cajun restaurant in town and they want $56 for a fried turkey. Yikes! I think I can do it quite a bit cheaper than that. I'm not trying to undercut them too much, because its a valuable product, but $56? Come on!

If you are interested in ordering, "JB's BBQ" is officially taking orders. It's tasty!

20 November 2009


It seems those crazy scientists are ready to play with their toys again; I guess they are still interested in finding out just exactly how the Universe works. Of course you know I'm talking about the Large Hadron Collider. I'm following the success (hopefully) of this venture as they go, step by step, using twitter. If you tweet and would like to follow CERN, go here. I am getting live information as it happens; where the beam is located, what systems are running, etc. And its all LIVE! I love social media!

I'll just be here, in my classroom, with students who are retaking tests, listening to music, and getting updates on the most expensive, most complicated machine known to man, learning how what causes the Universe to exist in the state in which it does. That is all.

19 November 2009

Using social media to study social media

Today I had the opportunity to use social media to conduct an interview in which I was studying social media. The specific media I was using was Skype. I think I am so fortunate to live in an era in which I have access to free video conferencing. I can call anyone in the United States using video and talk for free. Am I the only person in the world who thinks that has an endless number of possibilities in the classroom?

18 November 2009

definition by example

Tonight in class, our professor was talking about correlations between matched/paired vs. non-matched/non-paired and he chose not to give a definition as to what those are. I won't speculate on the reasoning behind his choice; I'll just say he chose to define them by giving examples.

I only bring this up because I did the same thing today in class and therein lies my question. Is this a valid way to teach students the definition of a term/word? Because I can tell you I didn't really get a good grasp on the meaning of these two contrasting educational research terms.

I wonder if my students felt the same way about the terms I was working with in class this morning? We were talking about constructive and destructive interference. I defined those two terms for them, but I chose not to define in-phase and out-of-phase. This refers to two signals which either correspond directly (in-phase) or are offset from each other (out-of-phase). Signals can be anywhere from zero to 359 degrees out of phase with one another. I guess my one saving grace is that I did a demo using two phase-shifted speakers which completely cancel the sound from the other speaker. Its my favorite demo of the year, by the way.

I will be revisiting phase shift with students tomorrow. Even if there is a chance students feel half as vague about phase as I do about about matched pairs, I need to re-teach the concept. At the bare minimum, I'll be asking if anyone has any questions at all about phase and I will certainly think twice before teaching "definition by example" next time.

17 November 2009

teacher vs. parent

No, this is not about a fight between a parent and a teacher. Maybe I need to think about that as a fundraiser for Physics and Astronomy Club. This is just a little reflection on the day.

Today I have been working as both teacher and parent. Instead of working on schoolwork, both for the classes I am teaching and for the classes I am taking, I have been working as a parent. Studying grades, visiting with students, i.e. having discussions about make-up work and test re-takes, you know all of the stuff that makes being a parent fun.

I must admit, sometimes it can be a sticky situation, since my children tell me one thing and then a colleagues tell me other things, meaning the stories don't always agree. Its difficult. In many ways I love having my kids here at school with me; I wouldn't want to change it. Then, in other ways, such as the one discussed here, it would be so much easier if they were simply a teacher at another district school.

Its really much easier to treat it like a normal parent would by just emailing the teacher. I could easily talk to them at lunch, but why ruin lunch with talk of business? There's enough of that going on at lunch anyway.

I'll just keep trying to be a teacher/parent and make the best of it. After all, what more can anyone ask? Its all I ask of my own kids and my own students.

Thanks for reading.

16 November 2009

why am I so fortunate, part II

[caption id="attachment_246" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image courtesy of Learn Share Act"]Image courtesy of Learn Share Act[/caption]

Again its time to count my blessings, so here goes.

I've lived in Oklahoma long enough now (12 years) that it feels like home. When I drive into Oklahoma City and see that familiar shape of the downtown skyline, I know I've made it. Getting in touch with my Okie side, I really enjoy watching shows on television about Oklahoma History. Specifically, the Dust Bowl era is a time period which is fascinating to me. My grandfather-in-law was an adolescent during that time and they did the whole "sharecroppers-riding the running boards-grapes of wrath-move to California sort of thing" way back then.

Tonight, while watching "An American Experience: Surviving the Dust Bowl", I wondered, why am I so fortunate to live in the time in which I live? I mean, do we live in a time now, which future generations will look back on and be thankful they didn't live through? It was interesting to hear the survivors (who were all little children in those days) say things like "what did we do to cause this" or "is this really going to be the end of the world?" That sentiment is in stark contrast to the prevailing attitudes of today, when we hear things like "that group over there has caused the woes of today" or "this is all so-and-so's fault".

I guess life really is all about your perspective. On this side of the Dust Bowl, it is easy to see what the causes were and how mankind contributed to the disaster. However, in those days, I'm sure it was overwhelming to consider surviving. I can imagine that families could only see the dust. Everything was obscured by the dust. Security, happiness, fellowship, the hood of the car (at times), all blotted out by the never-ending cloud of dust. I doubt they could see any other problems in life. I'm sure their mission in life, at that time, was just to survive.

So, why am I able to do so much more than survive? Why do I get to live in a great home, have a great job (doing something I love and am passionate about), work with interesting people, be blessed with a fantastic wife and two amazing kids? What did I ever do to deserve all this (and the myriad of blessings I am not listing here)?

Or, is the it that I didn't do anything to deserve it? Is it more like there are some people who work to be happy and  then there are those who have happiness thrust upon them? (Did you get the "Night at the Museum" reference?) I think I have worked to be happy. I have worked hard to find a job doing something I love and about which I am passionate. Lord only knows I waited long enough. (In case you don't know, I didn't start teaching until I was 38 years old.) I work hard at my marriage. I have, and still do, put a lot of effort into the relationship I have with my children.

[caption id="attachment_248" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image courtesy of Encyclopedia Brittanica"]Image courtesy of Encyclopedia Brittanica[/caption]

Maybe it is simply that I took a piece of advice my dad gave me way back when I was 18, on the day I was leaving to enter the Navy: "Son, I hope you will be content in whichever state you find yourself". Of course I'm paraphrasing his exact words since he most likely would have ended the sentence with a preposition, but I digress. We both laughed about that little saying, since I was leaving for a different state that day. Both a different state literally and figuratively. That's one piece of advice I have never forgotten and hopefully, I won't ever.

I suppose what I am trying to say is this: Life is what you make of it. If you simply see dust all around you, so much so that you can't see the hood of the car, you'll probably live in the dust bowl your whole life. But if you consider that you are surrounded by people who care about you; people who may be going through the same lung-choking, blinding dust you are. Well then you have changed your perspective and things probably look a bit clearer. I constantly tell my students that physics is all about perspective. Newton's 3rd Law (loosely translated into the Bowie version) states: You cannot push without being pushed. Basically, life will push back just as hard as you push. I think I'll take a another piece of advice, this one given recently by one of my professors: "sometimes its best just to put a period and let the question be answered".

15 November 2009

Some ask "why?"

While others ask "why not?"

I was working on an assignment for Ed Research tonight. I was required to create a questionnaire and while working on it, it hit me: Why not use google docs for this assignment? The other part of the assignment is to bring a transparency copy of the questionnaire, so the entire class can view it at our next meeting. Of course, my brain, left unchecked, went down the path to the end and I've chronicled that below.

We are a graduate level class, training to be National Board Certified teachers. We should be using every available technology resource at our disposal. Yet, we are using transparencies. Technology that has been around since 1945 and widely used in education since the late 1950's. It gets my ire up when I see a blatant disregard of the use of free resources, especially in education. People whine and moan about not having the right tools to do the job, but, honestly there are many tools, which sit unused. We could very easily email a link to a googledoc to the professor, who could then show our questionnaire to the class through a computer projector. Instead, we will print out an actual transparency sheet. Yes, we will waste plastic. Good job. Way to be environmentally conscious, but that's a whole other post. I won't even go there.

So, here's my question: Why not? Why does this particular program not embrace technology? Is it Tradition? Ignorance? Laziness? Honestly, I don't know. I suspect its a combination of several of those issues.

These are not rhetorical questions. I really would like to find some answers. I want to affect change in the system. I'd like to find out why, in some sectors of higher education, technology is shunned and in others it is embraced. Is it strictly a professor's preference? Is it program leadership? Is it discipline specific? If you know, I'd sure like to find out what you have to say.

I wonder if its too late to change my research question?

13 November 2009

everyone loves a tesla coil

Wired.com posted a great video with Dr. Megavolt. Dr. Richards, as his alter-ego is known, lives a normal life as a particle physicist working on the AMANDA telescope, which interacts with neutrinos instead of visible light. In the video, Dr. Megavolt performs a some cool demos with his metal suit and Tesla Coil, reminiscent of Nikola Tesla's shows, way back in the day. It's a spectacular show and I believe I need to find out when he plans to come to the Science Museum of Oklahoma. I'm sure this type of demo leave a lasting impression on the viewer, especially when you consider that Tesla did his demos without a metal suit. No wonder people thought he was crazy and we now realize he was a genius. Probably mentally ill in some capacity, as well.

Check out the video and then go get out your Tesla Coil and light up some light bulbs or something! I can't wait to get mine out in class. The students never forget it.

12 November 2009

Who needs science fiction

When you have reality? Universe, you never cease to amaze me. Ever.

I follow a blog called Physics and Physicists (for obvious reasons) and I normally enjoy what ZapperZ has to say. I say normally because I have a difference of viewpoint on the occasion of this post. It seems that there are some inaccuracies in an article in the Telegraph called "The 10 weirdest Physics facts" and he chooses not to nitpick because "it won't matter for those who don't understand physics", even though it seems he encourages his readers to pick out the aforementioned inaccuracies. That said, this is just the kind of article in which high school student would become immersed.

Sure, the content of anything should NOT be sacrificed just because it is delivered in an interesting manner. However, we're talking about extremely abstract concepts that might not be completely understood by the general public, especially by a humanities graduate that writes articles for the Telegraph. Okay, I haven't made my point very well; hopefully, that has more to do with the residual effects of my dental visit today and not the early stages of dementia. *puts soapbox away and gets back to the strange Universe*

The strangest theory of physics (from the article mentioned above) states: "The fundamental description of the universe does not account for a past, present or future." Basically, that means there is no absolute reality. (please save all arguments about absolutes for your religion class) Reality is different for each observer and is based on their velocity and their location. If you were moving significantly faster than I was, your clock would still tick the seconds as normal, for you. But from my vantage point, it would keep time much slower than my own, identical clock. This, of course, means you would age much slower than I would, since your reality is that time is moving at that pace. This could also be true if you were much closer to the center of the Earth, a.k.a it's "gravity well". Next time you use the GPS navigation system, remember: someone had to calculate how far away the satellite for navigation would be from the gravity well (causing its clock to run faster) and how fast it is moving (causing its clock to run slower). And this needs to be synced with a clock on the Earth in the receiver unit in your car. Someone is really smart. Really smart.

11 November 2009

An effective way to raise test scores?

Raising test scores may be the touchiest subject any for any teacher. This is especially true for teachers that teach End of Instruction testing classes. Any time “raising test scores” is mentioned, those EOI teachers get agitated. Get. Teachers. Talking. This is the way to raise test scores. Get the teachers talking.

Effective collaboration between teachers is a key component to student learning. Why not draw on other teacher’s expertise? This includes successes and failures. Teachers need to talk to each other about what works and what doesn’t work. Peer Learning Communities (PLC) are a great way to get this collaboration started. These communities should include a discussion of what is right with the class, what is wrong, and begin to work towards an alignment of the curriculum.

Communication between teachers and administration also needs to occur. If there is going to be a change in how things are going to be done, why not let the teachers decide how to do it? Or at least drive the early discussions? The teachers are the implementers of change, therefore, they probably need to have a say in how that change will/should occur. All of the tools for effective learning may already be in the building. Someone just needs to get the right people talking to each other so these tools can begin to work together.

Freedom of adaptation is the final piece of the puzzle. Teachers have to have some wiggle room to adapt for differentiated learning. Otherwise, why not just record one teacher, delivering the same content and replay it for every class. Teachers (at least the good ones) know (through assessment) when their students are learning. They also know how to adapt curriculum to fit the needs of their students. If a teacher does not know how to do that, an effective PLC and/or mentor teacher will be an invaluable resource.

Raising test scores is a goal that is attainable, but only if teachers are given the tools needed. It is attainable only if those tools are used effectively by the administration. Scores will go up when teachers are allowed to use their expertise to create an environment in which learning may occur.

10 November 2009

Change in the System

I had to do some writing for my Ed Research class so I thought I would post an excerpt of it here:

Tradition runs deep in education. Why? Maybe it is because the nature of teaching attracts people who thrive on “doing it the way its always been done”. Teachers do the same thing, over and over, year after year. “If it worked last year, why wouldn’t it work this year?” This is the danger of becoming stagnant in reflection. Teachers are finding that lesson plans have a place to reflect for a good reason. Reflection needs to be done! Constantly.

How can we accomplish change in the classroom/education system?
•    Have a purpose. Set common goals. Teachers and administrators cannot simply talk about change and expect it will happen.
•    Start small. Keep working towards a single goal. This brings up an interesting point. It is not possible to fix every problem at once. Choose a single goal and work towards it. Then look for other areas in which to improve.
•    Set attainable goals. Set the bar at a level that can be achieved in a reasonable amount of time. If teachers see the bar set too high, it will be so frustrating that they will not be motivated to achieve.
•    Track the progress. Make sure you let everyone know how he or she is doing. If they are not making progress, let them know it (in private). If they are getting closer to the goal, let them know that, as well (in public). Everyone needs some motivation and making teachers aware of their progress is a great way to motivate them.

Change is difficult. Many teachers are afraid of it. It may be due, in part, to the fear of the learner knowing more than the teacher. This fear must be gotten past. If teachers live with this fear, they might never fulfill their role as life-long learners. Working together toward a common, attainable goal may not ensure success, but it will increase the probability that some change will occur.

09 November 2009

Happy Birthday Carl Sagan!

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="175" caption="Dr. Carl Sagan (1934-1996)"][/caption]

If Carl Sagan were still alive, today would be his 75th birthday. He was born on November 9th, 1934 in Brooklyn, New York. He was a very popular astronomer, astrochemist, and popular spokesman for cosmological science. He co-wrote and co-produced the critically acclaimed "Cosmos" and wrote many books and articles during his lifetime. One of his books, "Contact" was eventually made into a motion picture. This movie is a fantastic glimpse into the mind of Sagan and the way he thought about science.

I show this movie in my classes and then we have a grand conversation to analyze the movie as literature. It usually turns into a discussion about religion and science. Students invariably ask questions, such as "Are we alone in the Universe?" I try to keep my mouth shut and let students talk (this is very difficult) during this conversation. Students have some really good thoughts this. What I'm trying to say is that this is one of the highlights of my semester. I enjoy it when students get engaged in a philosophical/scienctific discussion. I try hard to just get out of the way and let it happen.

I think Mr. Sagan was the equivalent of the likes of Dr. Michio Kaku and Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The difference is that cable television and the use of social media have popularized these two guys far beyond where Carl Sagan was on the event of his death. These guys (like Sagan) bring science to the masses in terms laymen can understand.

A great quote by Mr. Sagan - "For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

If you get a chance, check out "Cosmos". Its definitely worth the watch.

As always, thanks for reading.

08 November 2009

off topic sunday

We have a new feature coming to the Science Classroom: we are going to call it off-topic Sunday. Its a bit like open mic night at a club, but I am the one choosing the topic. If I ever have a guest blogger, say maybe a student or a colleague, then they will choose the topic. I see it as a way to make the blog more interesting and to encourage reader participation. If you are interested in writing, let me know and we will work something out.
Today's topic? I am considering something like "HIgh-School Pranks, How far is too far?" But since I'm still aggravated, I will resist the urge to get preach that one. I felt like maybe some lighter fare like "Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year".

I've been thinking a lot lately about the upcoming holidays (mostly since I don't want to do my homework, but that's a completely different topic) and I have decided the holidays really are the most wonderful time of the year.
Don't get me wrong, I love Summer. The pool, the Sun, riding my motorcycle and all of the other Summer activities. I love Spring, also. The renewal of the Earth, everything is in bloom, warmer weather, I can stop running the heater in the house. All of those things are great! But none compares to the changing leaves, the crisp, cool mornings, the prospect of seeing family and friends who only get together once a year, both at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I truly enjoy this time of year, particularly November and December. It just doesn't get much better.

Maybe its the anticipation. It could be that I like thinking about seeing everyone better than I like seeing them. I usually get stressed out when there is a houseful. Kids running everywhere, I don't get to control the remote for the television, people's stuff packed into every spare inch of the house. So maybe, just maybe, its not that I like Thanksgiving and Christmas as much as I like the anticipation of it. Either way, its my favorite time of year. It elicits feelings in me of hope, optimism, and joy. No other time of year does that for me. It borders on indescribable. I almost can't put it into words. Bottom line, I love the food, but mostly

[caption id="attachment_217" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image courtesy of creativecommons.org"]Image courtesy of creativecommons.org[/caption]

I love the fellowship. Whether its family or friends, I truly enjoy being around people. My wife and I value family above all else. We don't always show that with our actions (for those of you who are my family) but we really do.

If you also enjoy this time of year (or even if you don't), be sure you make it the best. It may be your last with someone. @mishellyb said something the other week which sounds like a great mantra for life: "Live life with no fear or regret". I would hate to wake up one day next year and know I hadn't made the best of the holidays this year.

Thanks for reading.

07 November 2009

What's the point, Mr. Bowie?

This was the question posed to me this week when we were discussion particle physics and the Large Hadron Collider in our classroom by an exceptionally bright student. She followed it up with "This just seems like an enormous waste of money."  I surely see her point. When you have friends at school who come from homes were there's not enough to eat or when they can't (or won't) keep the electric bill paid.

I imagine its also due (at least in part) to the idea students have that "everything that can be known, is".  As a student in high school, a person who has a constant inflow of information everyday, its easy to think the world is pretty well all figured out. I would say this is not the case, nor will it ever be. That doesn't mean we shouldn't stop questioning.  In fact, even if we, as scientists, think the world is all figured out, it would be a huge mistake to stop asking questions. According to Humphrey Davy: "Nothing is so dangerous to the progress of the human mind than to assume that our views of science are ultimate, that there are no mysteries in nature, that our triumphs are complete and that there are no new worlds to conquer." It is worth mentioning that Davy was the mentor of Michael Faraday, who produced the theory that electrical force and the magnetic force are the same thing. This was the first Unified Theory of Physics, which laid the groundwork for all other unification theories in Physics. So in essence, we can thank Davy for everything we know about Physics, for without his encouragement of Faraday, we might not understand physics much better than we did back in the 1800's.

I think Albert Einstein said it best: "The important thing is not to stop questioning".  That is the point! That is why we do research. All of the technology we gain from particle physics research is just a bonus. The reason to do the research is for the knowledge gained.

Thanks for reading.

06 November 2009

For the Love of Science!

Caution: this may be the most random, crazy post so far. Continue at your own risk. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Do you know anything about quantum mechanics? Well, that's good, because I don't really either. I once heard a quote by Richard Feynman: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics" (insert dramatic pause for effect, followed by laughter).  Actually, I know some of the basics of quantum mechanics, but being able to recite something, is a far cry from actually understanding it.

In quantum mechanics, there is an interpretation of the mathematical formulas, which seems to indicate that the observer of anything, affects the object. You can do a little research on Schrödinger's cat to get a little better understanding. Basically, the way his thought experiment worked, the only way to observe whether the cat is alive or dead, would kill the cat. Now I've been thinking about this for a couple of years now and I am just beginning to be able to wrap my brain around it (albeit not very tightly). So if you don't get it on the first go around, don't sweat it. Keep thinking about it. If you don't accept this basic tenet of quantum mechanics, stop reading now, because what follows is based on your acceptance of a theory which has some experimental evidence. To understand that evidence, you'll need to have a basic understanding of Young's double-slit experiment.

I know! What's the point? Right? Actually, I do have one and it goes something like this: if observing the Universe changes the condition of the Universe, how in the world do we know the condition of anything? Most of this thought applies to quantum mechanics, but we could also apply it to, say, a classroom. How many teachers have asked a principal to come observe a particularly rowdy class, only to find when the principal enters the classroom, the students act in a completely different manner? Okay, I know its a stretch, but that's why they are called analogies.

I'm asking these questions, not because I want you to do some thinking, although that is part of my purpose. I'm asking these questions because I really want to know some answers.  I'm not sure what the answer to the question is. The problem with even asking the questions is that humanity is intrinsically connected to the very thing which they are trying to understand. Its kind of like walking by a mirror and thinking, "That's not really what I look like! Is it?" Based on Snell's, you are seeing an exact representation of yourself being reflected back from the mirror. For many of us, we have picture in our heads of what we look like. This is our reality, but once we actually observe our reality, we change it. (I can almost hear the crickets from my vantage point.)

As usual, I always understand things better after I process them through writing. Even though I didn't talk specifically about quantum entanglement, I think I understand it better than I used to.

Any thoughts? As always, thanks for reading.

05 November 2009

Teaching the teachers

Today I got an opportunity I always enjoy: I got to teach the teachers. I had a chance today to help some teachers set up their webpages through the technology department in our district. This was the first time I had taught this class to strangers. I did it once in my building, with teachers I know, but strangers are a totally different story. It went pretty well I think. Each of the teachers told me how much they appreciated me "taking the time to teach them". Truly, it was a pleasure. They always are.

I was supposed to be meeting with other teachers about a move towards digital courses in our classrooms; however, I got double booked and had to keep my priorities straight. The teachers won out.

I am tempted to continue boring you with the mundane activities of my life, but I will resist. Thanks for reading. Its amazing how little I have to say when I start writing everyday.

04 November 2009

In my classroom

Today we had a special speaker in our Pre-AP Physics class, Dr. Flera Rizatdinova (who is originally from Moscow and has a very strong Russian accent, which makes the talk much more interesting) from the Oklahoma State University Dept. of Physics. She is a scientist working on the ATLAS collaboration at the Large Hadron Collider. She shared some of the writing she has been doing for the DOE (which I mistakenly confused with the Dept. of Ed. initially) towards the end of her presentation. She was writing for them about the "benefits of particle physics research" which is a subject that arises frequently in my class. I hear something like "Mr. Bowie, isn't this just an enormous waste of money?"

Dr. Rizatdinova talked extensively about what the questions the LHC is trying to answer (see previous post). This was the deepest part of the presentation and was probably a little above level of my students (but if I don't set the bar high, they won't achieve as much, right?).  At the end, she took some questions which was really good for the students. I'm glad they have some opportunities to interact with college professors/scientists.

There wasn't really any ground-breaking material in her talk. I have been keeping up with the goings-on of the LHC recently and did some research over the summer with Dr. Rizatdinova, so much of this was a review for me. I'm not sure how the students will react to it, I'll try to get some feedback tomorrow.  I was simply excited about having a real, live scientist in my classroom and wanted to share the experience!

Why are we here?

Literally, why are we here? What was the cause of our existence? I'm not asking "what is the meaning of life?" I'm asking "what is the mechanism which causes our Universe to exist?" This is the goal of the LHC: to find the reason our Universe is ordered the way it is. Many talk about this as "The Hunt for the Higgs Boson". I learned today (via a special guest speaker in my classroom) the only particles needed to build our Universe are two types of quarks, electron neutrinos, and electrons. Wow.  Our physics research (worldwide) wants to know "why do these particles exist?" "What causes our these particles to exist?" "What is it that tells those particles to form?"

Talk about some big questions! Its a really difficult issue to wrap your brain around. In fact, I'll admit, I can't do it. I'm not sure I could ever be a part of the collaboration(s) which are trying to study this. Its some big picture thinking, and I'm not great at that. I try, in class, to impress on my students the level of thinking at which top scientists work. I admit freely to them that I am not capable of this level of thinking. I suspect that every now and then I will run across a student who is and I hope I can inspire them to choose an area of physics which suits their level of thinking.

I realize you came here to get an answer to this post, but I have only raised more questions. That is part of my job as a teacher, not to answer questions, but to encourage students to ask "the right questions" (see critical thinking).  So, have I done my job? Do you have more questions now than you did a minute ago? Go ask the right questions!

03 November 2009

Living in the Information Age

Does anyone else ever thing about it? By "it" I mean the sheer volume of information that is available through the internet.  Mishelleyb and I were talking today about the librarian coming in to her class to talk to students about using the databases they have in through the R.T. Williams Learning Center, e.g. Ebscohost, FirstSearch, etc. I don't remember the number she and I talked about, but it was definitely in the 10's of thousands. How, before Al Gore invented the internet, did we ever get anything accomplished? I remember when I was in college the first time, going into the library and thumbing through journals looking for information. No keywords, no Boolean searches, no nothing, except microfiche and some printed journals. Many of those had to be ordered from other libraries.

It simply boggles my mind: the ease with which we access information. I just can't wrap my brain around it sometimes. Can you? Do you impress upon your students the amazingness of their lives? The immense amount of information the can access with just a few key strokes? If not, you should.

02 November 2009

National Blog Posting Month

I will just say it: I am committing to writing a post each day. This probably isn't the best month to make that commitment, at least by looking at the calendar, but its already out in the blogosphere. No taking it back. I won't go back and edit this post to remove it. I am committed to each of you. I'm going to do my best to write something each day. It may just be an excerpt of something I am already writing, but I'm going to do something each day.  I mean, National Blog Posting Month doesn't come around every month, does it? Just between us, I think it does. I joined a ning today which is entitled NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) and they do a theme every month. This month is: No Theme. Of course! Its a sign from the Blog gods! I am very good at writing about nothing. It just so happens that I tend to write about science, education, and science education; so a month with no theme is a good thing.

Just to recap, I am committing today to write something every single day for the month of November. Thanks, justjessa. Into what have I gotten myself?