Monday, April 24, 2017

March for Science: Dean's Whys and Wherefores

When murmurs of The March for Science began circulating, I raised my antennae. When the date was announced, I booked a hotel room in DC and burned a bushel of frequent flyer miles to reserve round trip flights on Southwest.

I harbored a strongly-held personal opinion that I needed to be part of it. In the early days of planning, it wasn't obvious that there would be satellite marches. The groundswell of support made satellites a reasonable speculation. Still though, I wanted to be at ground zero.

As the days and weeks passed, others have been eloquent about why this march needed to be held. Why a fist needed to be raised. Why voices needed to be heard.

There were also the predictable backlashes to this backlash. Every call to action--real or virtual--is guaranteed to produce axe-grinding finger-waggers. "You need to not do that thing you intend to do; instead, you need to take up arms for my cause. If my cause wins, the world will be free of all problems—this one included!" This is the internet-generation's version of "Follow me; I'll make your crops grow!" I cast those aside and pressed on.

Another flavor of marginalization that often arises among the complacent comes in the form of the innocently dismissive question, "What do you hope to accomplish?" No matter how insightful the answer, the follow-up will be to suggest that you could accomplish those goals without a high-profile march/protest. Valid responses to the question vary, and bear a modicum of uncertainty. The question is intended to put participants on the defensive. The hoped-for change will not materialize immediately at the conclusion of the march, so the march was pointless.

As a seasoned debater, I never take such obvious bait. Instead, I prefer to turn the question around. I know—with absolute certainty—exactly what would be accomplished by not marching. Acceptance of an Administration that has made an enemy of science. Sweeping budget cuts for research. Denial of settled science. Ceding leadership in science and technology to China and India. Tacit approval for going full bore in the destruction of the environment in the US and around the world.

Science is undeniably the single best method that humans have developed to determine the truth of the reality in which they live. It's success is unmatched by any other method ever devised.

Right now, science is under attack. And it's losing. The American voters spoke in November, and the minority elected the anti-Science narcissist actively favored by Vladimir Putin. The Vice-President and the Secretary of Education are Creationists. The President thinks Climate Change is a tactical political concoction of the Chinese. The chief of the EPA has long been an enemy of environmental protection.

So we march to support the principles of science. Principles that helped make the United States a great nation.

A nation makes an enemy of science at its own peril. Some nations have done so. They are not nations many American is eager to migrate to.

My friend, Neil deGrasse Tyson, says it much better than I do.



In my next post, "The Day Of," I'll tell the story of my Earth Day 2017 in Washington, DC: The March for Science.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Finding the speed of light with Peeps

I heard a piece on this on NPR. Very cute. Some do this with chocolate, and other materials can be used. But in the event you have leftover Peeps hardening around the house...

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Brag, teachers, brag!

"I got a promotion!"
     "I got the big sale!"
          "My team won the tournament!"
               "I won my case!"
                    "My thesis was accepted!"
                         "No one failed this semester!"

You can just hear Big Bird singing "One of these things is not like the others...." Generally, teachers have trouble bragging. I think some of it comes from the fact that our victories are not commonly talked about. Our daily successes are measured not in dollar signs, stocks or trophies (usually) but in the personal growth of our many students.

This is not to make the argument that teachers should "make more," although yes, they should. This popular spoken slam poetry "What Teachers Make," by Taylor Mali sets that argument to rest:


If we do brag they fall on the deaf ears of those that just don't understand. Our daily victories are very hard to quantify; often we "succeed" when a student just feels/ seems/ does "better." Depending on your grade level you may be building up students' confidence with verbal positive reinforcement, stamps, smiley faces or high fives. As teachers become more experienced, they can learn which students need more encouragement, which students need a bit more discipline and which need more slack.

Another person we should be encouraging is ourselves. It takes years for new teachers to be proud of themselves regularly. Even experienced teachers that do amazing things for their students everyday don't often share their accomplishments with others. My friends and family have learned not to ask "How is work going?" or be faced with a long tangent into pedagogy: "Well, the no homework experiment is going well but I didn't set up the last unit well and they fell behind in problem solving..." While we may share our students' progress or even their successes, we don't often share our role in their accomplishments. We self-deprecate our good work by mentioning the few mistakes that we make. We focus on the one lesson this week that flopped instead of the four that went well.

Sure, some students can learn without us. And some try not to learn just to spite us. But for most of our students each year, we do make a difference. That is something not only be proud of but to share with others.

I wouldn't share your assessment averages every time, but we all have those "proud teacher" moments when you're reminded "This, this right here is why I teach." Those are the moments to share.

I like this Edutopia post "Why Educators Need To Promote Themselves" by Annie O'Brian that outlines the problem as discussed in">Peggy Klaus' book, "Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It." There are also psychology takes on when and when not to brag and  general lists of how to brag without sounding like a jerk if you want to work on the skill. While excessive bragging is seen as conceited, selfish, annoying, [insert bad quality here], etc. sharing your successes honestly is beneficial.

And if you not for you, do it for your country. That may sound grandiose but in a changing political climate believed by many to be anti-science and anti-public education hearing about the good that comes out of our classrooms is very important. Somehow, teachers are seen both as selfless civil servants and corrupt union opportunists at the same time. Sharing the successes for you and your students publicly can help remind everyone that you do good work.

While they are few and far between for our profession, there are awards for teachers. Thinking beyond your district's Teacher Of The Year or your universities Faculty Of The Year awards, look to local or national teaching groups. The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) has a whole list of awards and honors that can be bestowed on its members. So does the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the California Association of Science Teachers (CSTA) and the American Physical Society (APS). Want to go bigger? Dean Baird was awarded a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science teaching in 2012; read about his journey here. Our own Northern California/ Nevada section of AAPT (NCNAAPT) will be presenting the first teaching award in our section this spring. Nominate yourself or a colleague here.

Somewhere in all that alphabet soup there is an award for you! If you're still feeling shy about self-promotion, perhaps begin by nominating a colleague. As teachers we should be encouraging the good works of other teachers as much as our own.

You may not be comfortable shouting it from the heavens [yet] but start making it a habit to share just what a good teacher you are!