Sunday, October 15, 2017

Flip the wrench, NGSS style

I once worked on the docks of Newark. I am glad I did, even more so since the asbestos in my lungs has not (yet) led to mesothelioma. *Knock on wood* (oh yes I did).





I learned how to fix things.

"Things" like gears, cables, and booms were no longer magic, but things made by men (and a very few women back then). Not much you couldn't do with a torch, an arc welder, and a machine shop.

While taking apart some hydraulic apparatus I knew little about, John the Polack offered this timeless advice:

If it don't fit, don't force it.
Turn it over and try again.

John was old. He fed the feral cats, gave me coffee loaded with whiskey (but only during overtime), and he's probably dead  now.

But he was wise, he was kind, and he spent his life loading ships headed for places he would never see. nor will you.

What does any of this have to do with NGSS?
Pretty much everything if you do it right, if I am getting the thrust behind the new standards.

When you use a wrench in tight spaces, flipping it with each turn gives you a hair more turn. If you use a wrench, you know this. It's not innate, but it feels like it after a few decades using wrenches.

We are clever mammals, both blessed and condemned by our cleverness. We cannot be our mammal selves playing on screens. We need more screws in our lives.'

Teach kids how to fix things. It will make them a lot happier than learning most of anything else we pretend to teach them in high school.




I'm not kidding.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

It's not all about science

This popped up in my Facebook feed today.

Sean Nash says I said it, and I'll take his word on it.
I must have liked it then.




I still like it now.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Mid-October


The number of years I have of days growing shorter is growing shorter, true for everybody, I suppose, but still surprising to me.

The sun has gotten lazy, the night more bold.

Monarchs will land on my shoulder now, and a hummingbird buzzed inches from my ear a couple of weeks ago. Other beings no longer see me as a threat, though I still have most of my teeth.


I continue to teach, hope to do so for some time, and some time is all we can ask for. As the stridency of the college-ready, career-ready corporate crowd rises to octaves above this old man's range, the reason I teach, and the reason public education matters, gets down to empathy and the pursuit of happiness.

As we head to darker times, knowing (and remembering) what matters matters.


I think I am a happier creature than many (if not most) of my lambs. I'd like to make that untrue.

So I teach.



I trust I make a difference.
I hope I makes a difference.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

My sister's birthday

Written by Leslie, my love, about my sister.
She was killed by a Christian missionary who told me it was God's will.




Mary Beth Doyle's birthday falling at the start of the school year is always a reminder to me to approach my classes with the warmth, wisdom, compassion, and humor that she brought to every moment of life. Particularly with the way the world is now, I hope to have the strength she had. I wrote this almost 13 years ago and shared it here before; seems like a moment to share it again:

"I am at work, sitting under my desk, listening to Mary Beth’s voice. I have done this several times this week. It could become a bad habit. There’s hardly room for me and the computer under here. I’m hoping no one comes to the door. It would be difficult to explain why you’re under your desk, listening to your dead sister-in-law speak about avoiding toxins in everyday life, holding back tears, again.

The radio interviewer is good; his voice is warm and clear and he asks pithy questions that open up the conversation to right where MB wants it to be. But her musical, low-pitched voice doesn’t carry well through the desk from the speaker of the computer tucked underneath. Even with the volume up high, I can’t make out her words. So I try sitting underneath, right next to the speaker. This works, and I find out I kind of like it down here.

Mary Beth and I met almost thirty years ago, before I was dating or married to her brother. We did some dumb things together; not lethal or illegal or the kinds of things you don’t tell your kids, just dumb in the ordinary sense. ‘Cause they seemed like they might be fun at the time. Like going up a down escalator. That kind of thing.


One day, way back before real life had set in, we were at a pinball joint on the Jersey Shore in Long Branch with a bunch of friends. Wizard World. My favorite pinball machine was “Old Chicago”, beautiful Art Deco shapes in pink, black, silver and tan. But after hearing the “special” light thunk a few times, I was ready to call it a night. MB was done with whatever she was playing, too, so we walked down to the beach.

The waves were huge that night; there’d been a storm recently. Salty spray speckled us, so we figured, what the hell, why not walk out on a jetty? The flat black rocks were slippery, but it was a beautiful night, and the view back from the end of to the beach and the boardwalk lights was lovely. Until the first wave hit us.

Now, waves don’t usually break across the jetty; it stands up pretty high. After all, that’s what it’s there for, to limit and control the waves into some kind of polite, sloshy order. But some combination of high tides and offshore storm was sending these waves slap across our path, threatening to knock our legs out from under us.

Cleverly, they’d waited till we were out at the end and coming back to pull off this little bit of theatricality. I can attest that there were no drugs or other mind-altering substances involved, but MB and I thought that this effort by the ocean to bat us off the jetty into possible deaths by skull-crushing rocks or drowning was just the funniest thing ever. We kept plowing forward, laughing, and waves kept crashing around our knees. When we finally made it to the beach, we were soaked to the skin, and still convulsed with laughter.


Her brother, my future husband, thought, I think, that we were nuts—you know, a piece of driftwood in those waves would’ve knocked you both off. But, on the other hand, I like to think we’re two of his favorite people, and he’s been known to do a couple needlessly life-threatening things in his time. Eventually, the three of us ended up at the same college.

Eventually, I married her brother, and our lives followed different trajectories as we became young parents, while MB traveled the world, providing my kids with a really cool postcard collection—who else had regular correspondence from Turkey, Israel, Egypt, France, Germany, Argentina, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh? She was the exotic aunt who swept into our tiny apartment with dolls and elephant puppets from India, and tales of camel rides in Egypt, baby lion pets in Sri Lanka, tea every afternoon for a summer in Turkey. And whenever she visited, everyone danced.

As time passed, she settled in Michigan and became an important mover in the environmental health and justice movement. Two jobs and two kids kept Michael and I pretty busy. No matter what else was going on, though, we knew we’d always see MB in June. Our extended family spent a week every summer at Cape May on the tip of the Jersey Shore. Michael and MB and I bought kayaks and hauled them there, us from North Jersey, her all the way from Michigan. We paddled every chance we could get.


The other time we saw her regularly was Christmas. A nonbeliever, she nevertheless came to Christmas Eve service for a number of years with us. She liked the music and the candle lighting, but especially, I think, she adored the afterwards tradition wherein our family and whoever was visiting drove to the next town to see an elaborate Christmas display including two-story wooden houses filled with Santa’s elves and Biblical characters which moved when a bystander pushed a button, lots and lots of lights, piped-in carols, and live reindeer (really). Now, that was her kind of Christmas celebration!

Afterward, she would wait up with me for the kids to fall asleep to help put the presents under the tree, and roll her eyes at my inability to resist over-consumption despite knowing better. She and I often sat up long after everyone else had fallen asleep, me drinking Amaretto and her Sambuca, watching the tree lights blink, and catch up on each other’s lives.

Mary Beth had an uncanny ability, and this was repeated over and over by speakers at her memorial service, to understand you at your best, and help you through your worst. Some years ago, when I felt my life was falling apart, it was she who strode beside me on the jetty, acknowledging how slippery the rocks were, and how goddamn sneaky the waves had been, but fairly sure, I think, that I’d get back to the beach. Which, in the end, I did.


So when I opened the door to the sight of two policemen on my front porch, on a beautiful Saturday morning last fall, asking if my husband was home, and if he had a sister named “Mary,” nothing in me was prepared to hear of her death on a dark Michigan road the evening before, and I wanted to scream, No, no! her name is Mary Beth, you’ve got the wrong house.

So here I am, now, sitting under my desk, listening to her voice full of reassurance and grace, gently explaining how to protect your children from household toxins, just about a month before she died. The day of her memorial was declared “Mary Beth Doyle Day” by the governor of Michigan, we were told, and a couple months later, a portion of a Michigan bill designed to remove toxic flame retardants from the environment was named after her, because she’d worked so hard on the issue.

And her message on this broadcast, which I listen to over and over, is to be vigilant, to do the best you can, raise your voice for justice, and then sleep well at night. And that’s what I’ll try to do, if I can get out from under this desk, off this jetty, back to the beach."





Some things you just never recover from.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Parts of the cell


  • Ribosomes are not like factories.
  • The nucleus is not like a brain.
  • Mitochondria are not like power plants.
Using analogies for cell organelles presumes that the students know what how brains or factories or power plants work. Most students do not. Most teachers do not, either.

Building a "cell city" gives the illusion that learning science is happening. It is not.

When a child creates a cell model based on analogies, they learn that compliance (and using lots of pastel colors) gets you ahead in the school game. 

Students believe getting ahead in the school game matters because that gets you a leg up on the job game so you can make more money. They believe that because we tell them that, and at least that's more reasonable than telling a student that the nucleus is like a brain.

I want a child who, if she spills a drop of blood in class, imagines one of her white blood cells sliding through its liquid world, desperately fighting the microbes among the hordes that sit on her desktop.

A child who uses her brain in school is much more difficult to "handle" than the child who slides by on compliance.





Which child do you want in your classroom?







Thursday, August 31, 2017

Science teacher's prayer

please grant me

a slab of slate
a chunk of chalk

a live critter
a dead ego

a magnet
a marble

curious children
and a sundial's sense of time.

amen



Yes, a repeat, but what does amen mean?










Monday, August 28, 2017

On well-meaning whites, Chapter 23,456: This time #Edchat



*We* are tone deaf, color blind, and oblivious. But God knows *we* are polite.

This is a sanctuary question--it gives *us* a place to hide while ignoring the systemic cultural oppression.

#Edchat, a large community for teachers on Twitter, put this up as a possible topic this week. There should be no need for discussion, yet here *we* offer *our* rejection of the straw man as an act of atonement.

It's not the "bigots" that are the problem, as problematic as they are--it's *our* need to be civil when civility is the subtle tool *we* use to maintain a status quo that has resulted in a society where low SES becomes a synonym for black or brown..

Today marks the anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech. *We* eat it like a casserole at a potluck church dinner--soothing, warm, down-to-earth meal served in the local church basement, sharing food with the others. Then we go home.

Today also marks the murder of 14 year old Emmett Till. This is not a coincidence. But I bet more whites will celebrate King's speech than acknowledge Emmett Till's murder.


"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."


So here we are again, another school year, another year of hand-wringing over the test score gap--either you believe that children of color are inferior, or you believe something else might be going on.

Unless *we* believe a bigot here or there has this much effect on "our" children, *we* have to do more than out the "bigots" among us.





Right now the bigots are doing *us* a favor, relieving too many of us from our duty to dig deeper into the bigger problems.