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?

01 November 2009

a social media research project

This week finds me thinking about a research project we started in the Educational Research module of the MACI program at SNU.  This module may prove to be the most challenging class of my academic career, but possibly the most rewarding. I am integrating the research project into a some sub-committee work I am doing with the Putnam City Technology Committee. We are tasked with integrating online resources into our curriculum and I think social media is a great extension of the classroom.

My research is qualitative in nature, probably due to the time constraints of a six week-long module, so I will not have any hard numbers to analyze. I have already begun to notify my peer learning network of this project and will be contacting many of them further, via social media, of course!

Since my research is about social media, I thought it might be appropriate to talk about the different types I use in my classroom.

  • Facebook - I friend students (at their request, not mine) on facebook and use it as a way to build community beyond my classroom. Students communicate with me for homework help via the chat function. I get better insight into student's home life through status updates. I am also able to show students that I am a real person as they read my status updates. They can get some insight into my home life, as well, and begin to understand that I do normal things; I am just a person with many of the same life struggles as they have.

  • Twitter - I only have a few students who use twitter, but I still consider it social media in my classroom. Most of the students I am in contact with through twitter are in my advisory class (Pirate Time - kind of like a homeroom, which students attend once a week).  This enables me to know what is going on in their lives, since I only get to see them once a week.

  • Wikis - I do a wiki project in my physics class, which has been mentioned several times on this blog. Its seems to be more "acceptable" to students, instead of a straight ahead research paper, even though that's what they are doing. It is a "paperless" research paper. They even submit the entire project to turnitin.com at the conclusion of the project. Its much easier to grade, since I only need an internet capable computer, instead of carrying around a gigantic stack of papers. The point of the project, however, is not to make things easy on me. The point is to teach students they have the ability to contribute to the body of knowledge and their contributions can be seen/used by others. It extends the boundaries of our classroom beyond the walls of our school.  English teachers constantly talk to students about "writing to their audience", but do they do anything to extend the audience beyond the teachers themselves? In most cases, probably not.  This project also teaches students not to be afraid of Wikipedia, but that's an entirely different post.

  • Skype - I am very new to skype. Skype is a free, voice over IP (VOIP), which allows free videoconferencing. I've been consulting with mishelleyb since last year about this, but am just now getting its use implemented. I have some ideas for this in the classroom and they include:

  1. Guest scientists - Its much easier to have a researcher talk to a webcam for 15 minutes than it is to have them travel to Oklahoma City.

  2. Collaboration with other classrooms - I just contacted another Earth Science teacher in Maine via email and we are hoping to talk to each others classrooms about the differences in climate, types of storms, etc. through skype.

  • Social Bookmarking - I am vested in delicious.com, even though there are several platforms out there, which offer the same benefits. I require, at the beginning of the wiki project, each student to setup an account with Delicious. They save each bookmark on delicious as while they are working on the research project. I require them to tag each bookmark with "pcwiki", so they are easily searchable. Anyone can go to the website and search for that tag and see the resources we are using for the project. It also allows me to easily share bookmarks with students as I find them by simply tagging them when I save the bookmark. It makes the transition from home computer to school computer much easier by eliminating the need for saving all bookmarks in a document on a flash drive. I have noticed my most successful students continue to use this tool even after they leave my classroom, especially as they begin to work on projects in college. This fact makes me very happy!

Have you noticed a recurring theme in my reasoning for the use of social media? If you guessed extending the boundaries of my classroom, you guessed correctly! Each different type of social media I use were chosen specifically for that reason.

The following are a list of questions I am going to begin using in my research project. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas about them. If you are interested in being an interviewee, please contact me via email (jbowie at putnamcityschools dot org) or direct message me on twitter. Do you use social media in your classroom? Why do you use it? Why do you not use it? What experience have you had with social media in the past? Do you feel your students are prepared for the 21st century?  Why or why not? Do they have the ICT skills needed to be successful after leaving your classroom? Are you aligning your curriculum to include these technology standards? Why or why not? Would you please share a positive or negative experience you have had with the use of social media in an educational setting?

I am looking forward to your comments! As always, thanks for reading.