Archive for Daily Thoughts

Should the teacher be ‘smarter’ than the student?

TRUE STORY: When a theoretical physicist walked up to me after I finished a science class and pointed out an error (an omission, really) I made when teaching to the students… and he asked how I could call myself a scientist, let alone a rocket scientist, when I couldn’t even get the ‘facts straight’. I simply listened as he continued to elaborate about his own work, the stuff he’d designed and developed, using words I had not only never heard of, but no idea how to begin to pronounce.

Then an incredible thought hit me.

Here standing before me was no doubt a very highly educated individual who had spent years honing his skill and talent in the world of theoretical physics, been to the finest schools, taught by the most brilliant minds of the century, and worked on the most cutting-edge projects that would probably remain top-secret until the next century.

Yet I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

It has never been my goal to be the intelligent person in the world, in the scientific field, or even in the classroom… nor have I ever claimed to be. I have claimed to be a ‘rocket scientist’, which for some reason, means the same thing as the word ‘genuis’ to most people on the planet. I am, to put it simply, a scientist who enjoys working on rockets. This fellow assumed I meant otherwise.

He also had no acuity. He continued to talk without stopping for breath for thirteen minutes.

So here we have a highly-intelligent human being that has no sense whatsoever that he’s bored his audience (me). And furthermore, he’s has not made it clear to his listener whatever it is he wanted to convey. (I still had no idea what he was describing – some sort of lasing device, but any further information was barred by complicated terms and abstract descriptions.)

So if my goal has never been to be the smartest person in the world… what has my goal been?

My goal has always been to be the bridge between the scientific community and the real world I take big ideas and break them down into small steps that my audience can understand… and I change my approach mid-stroke if I sense that something I’m doing isn’t working. I use all my senses and abilities to get feedback and information from my audience so I can figure out the best way to deliver the right information in the right way so it makes the biggest impact on their learning long-term. I find new ways to get students to say, “Oh, NOW I get it!” To do whatever it takes to get kids wildly excited about learning science by focusing on wonder, discovery, and exploration. I know enough science so I have something of value to offer my students.

Are my students sometimes smarter than me? You bet!

Do I mind? No way. Because I want my students to stand on the shoulders of giants, just like I did.

So – when this theoretical physicist (who had a daughter in the class I just taught) finally drew a breath, I piped up: “Thank you for noticing and taking the time to let me know your thoughts, because I’m definitely a work-in-progress, and I can always use insights from people. You’re right – next time I should mention the particle-wave duality principle when we introduce the basics of light and lasers like we did in class, but I’ll have to think how the best way to deliver it to first graders. Let me know if you have any ideas – I would appreciate any help. Thanks again…”

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Educational Freebies on the Internet

I got this email in my box a few days ago, and wanted to share it with you:

We just posted an article, “101 100+ Ways to Score Freebies For Your Classroom”. I thought I’d bring it to your attention in case you think your readers would find it interesting. (I am happy to let you know that your site has been included in this list!)

Either way, thanks for your time!
Kelly Sonora

Sooo – have fun!

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Green Flash at Sunset?

I received this question in an email, and thought I’d share my response with everyone, because it is such a cool thing to see (the flash, I mean… not my attempt to answer the question).

The green flash is very real, but it’s hard to see because you need very special conditions (like a very clear day at the Pacific or the Sahara) in order for it to be visible. Did you know that it can be blue or purple (violet) also? The human eye is tuned for green, so that’s the one we tend to see more easily. The green flash is usually a ray of green light firing vertically above the setting sun, although it can also be seen as a green band circling over the setting sun.

Why does it do that? You see a green flash because the sunlight rays refract (bend) when they zip through the air. But they bend in different amounts – violet bends the most, while red bends the least. At sunset, when the sun is at a very low angle, the sunlight is split into its spectrum of colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. The red, orange, and yellow light are the first to disappear (absorbed by the atmosphere), leaving the violet light to be last one visible… but blue and violet light are often scattered/absorbed by the atmosphere, so the last light left is green. (This effect only happens for a few short seconds, so we call it a ‘flash’.)

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Cheaper Kids – Inexpensive Science Ideas

Well, after that last entry about microscopes, telescopes, and binocs, we had another flood of emails asking us about CHEAPER ideas. Here’s a sample:

“Thanks for the information – we’ll save this for when we’re ready. Is there anything we can do now that’s a little cheaper? I have four kids, and getting each of them their own microscope is not in my budget, let alone a telescope!”

Okay, so here are a set of ideas that range from FREE to under $100. While we still think it’s important enough to start a pickle-jar savings account for those higher-priced items, here are a few ideas to get you started when there’s too much month at the end of the money.

Encourage your child to make use of all senses in discovering the surrounding world. Stimulate curiosity about the feel of textures and materials, characteristic smells, sounds, tastes, weights and sizes of things. Train the child to look carefully and to see beyond the surface appearance of the environment.

Children are amazingly curious… encourage them to find answers to questions by observation and through references, either at home or in libraries and museums. Some museums are online, like the Exploratorium in San Francisco!

Let the child manipulate and learn about familiar objects: a dripping faucet, the household water system, a nutcracker, an old doorbell, discarded appliances, locks and door hinges, household plants and gardens. Start asking questions about how stuff works.

When making household repairs, servicing the family car or other domestic equipment, include your child. Natural scientific and mechanical skills can be discovered and developed in this way, and many scientific principles can be demonstrated in firsthand and practical ways, using the scientific method.

Subscriptions to scientific magazines: Scientific American, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and MAKE Magazine are fantastic. You can also check out Sky & Telescope and Astronomy magazines.

There you have it – ideas and projects to set your mind spinning and get you moving in science. Let me know how it goes!


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Water is found on Mars!

This is just too phenomenal to not write about… you can read the updates here:

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Unlocking the Secrets to Becoming the Next Einstein…

I am hammering out a new article about the things I learned from my Supercharged Science cross-country tour and I have a few paragraphs for you to look over. Let me know what you think!

Unlocking the Secrets to Becoming the Next Einstein
Practical Pointers for Homeschool Families from a Real Rocket Scientist (by Aurora Lipper)

Did you have a teacher that really had an impact on you? Remember the excitement? Or the thrill you felt when you taught something to someone else and they really got it?

First, let me thank you for your commitment to education – a value that is high enough for you that you are either homeschooling your child or considering it.

In this article, I am going to share with you the seven keys you need to unlocking your child’s fullest potential.

Once you know, you can then focus on solutions. Perhaps you’ll find that you are already on track, and this may reaffirm that you are headed in the right direction. Are you ready? Let’s begin.

Key #1. Make an impact.

In today’s world, we’re so inundated with information that in order to really teach something new, you need to get someone’s attention. Think about food commercials. Advertisers first focus on getting you hooked, catching your eye – before they ever deliver their real message. And that’s what you need to do when teaching science.

You’ve got stack the deck with things that inspire natural curiosity. Hand them a bucket and ask them to tilt it completely sideways without a single drop of water coming out. (When you hand them the bucket, don’t touch the handle. Just hand it over from the bottom. Let them make that jump themselves.)

How do you know when you’re doing this right? You know you’ve made an impact when your kid’s entire body says, “WOW!”, complete with the eye bulge, slack-jaw, blank stare that accompany this universal state of brain-pretzel. So how do you do that?

Easy. Just do the opposite of what they currently expect from you. If you’re as neat as a pin, slosh a bit of water on the floor while slinging a bucketful around your head, asking them what they know about g-force and physics. If you’re shy about electricity, poke a paperclip and a penny into a juicy lemon and ask them to stick their tongue on both contacts, because you’re not sure what will happen.

Get and do things that are different enough to get their brain pumping and to put the fun back into it for you, too. If you’re planning to demonstrate the reaction of baking soda and vinegar (which produces carbon dioxide gas, the same stuff you exhale), first ask your kid, “Have you ever burped before?”

Key #2. Never give away the ending.

How often in textbooks or classrooms have you seen this one? Every detail in the project is outlined step-by-step, leaving no room for questions, speculation, or new ideas. No scientist in their right mind will design, set up, and execute a scientific experiment if they already know the ending!

This mistake often has the undertone of being in a rush. Learning takes time, and it needs to go through different stages to make a lasting impression. Just as a farmer can’t plant crops too late in the season, then try to rush them to grow, certain aspects of learning takes time.

For real learning that lasts, your child needs to focus on activities that allow the natural process of discovery, wonder, and exploration. During this process, questions formulate, ideas flow, and true learning takes place from the inside out. Short-cutting this process (by outlining exactly what to do and how to do it) will kill your child’s passion for science, which is defined as “the effort to discover and understand how the physical world works”.

When a kid asks, “Do you think this will work?” remember that it’s just a test. What they’re really asking is, “Can I try it?” To which you can confidently answer, “I don’t know. Try it!”

To continue our example of the baking-soda-and-vinegar reaction: After you’ve asked your child about burping, show them the chemical reaction and ask them about the bubbles they see rising out of the cup. (Solid, liquid, or gas?) Then casually ask, “What if we do this again, but this time put the lid on?”

…okay, so there were more than a few paragraphs. Just let me know if you think it’s any good…

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Cassini Mission Update

Have you been keeping up with the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn?  If not, here’s the direct link to it:

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