July 24, 2017

I choose to teach!

apple web size copyOur culture is the exponentially growing collection of knowledge and invention that we pass from one generation to the next.  Science and mathematics are especially rich components of our culture with millenia of contributions from many cultures and all regions of the globe.  Unlike other forms of inheritance which must be subdivided and are often distributed with inequity, this inheritance is the birthright of every person, and every person may consume as large a share as he or she would wish. Our world is one of science, mathematics and technology; literacy in these areas is essential for any individual who is to be engaged with and empowered in our world.  The curriculum is a subset of this inheritance which is distilled down and shared with students in the environment we call school.

The America that we know today was built by those who left their homelands because they were not first-born sons  and therefore had very limited birthrights.  Others came from situations where even first-born sons had few if any prospects.  With an education in America a person has prospects to not only survive but to thrive and to provide for children.  But if we measure the value of an education solely in terms of economic benefit, then we ignore the greater part of its value.Owl Box

In times past you might have been a  carpenter because  your father was a carpenter whether or not you were well suited for that occupation.  You might have been a mother and a housekeeper because it was expected,  but even learning to read was not a possibility.  Perhaps you would have been a field hand because that was the only option available.  Carpentry, parenthood  and farm work  are all important roles, and they bring joy to those who choose them.  However, with education you may choose to be a nurse, or a doctor or a software engineer because  the work suits you well.  And along the way you may sculpt your own identity;  you need not accept the identity that others force upon you.

Students do not always appreciate the awesome value of this cultural inheritance, so  a primary function of the teacher is to help the student understand the meaning of the curriculum with respect to the life of the student.  Once the student is engaged the teacher serves as  a guide.  Success is  achieved when the student is  able to function as the most important person in his or her own education.  A successful education system produces graduates who are life-long learners that are able to learn and grow with or without formal schooling.   I teach as a matter of social justice. I teach to empower students. I teach so that students may understand their world, be part of it, contribute to it and reap its rewards.  I teach because the rewards of working with students greatly outweigh the economic remuneration that comes with teaching.

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Laboratory Safety with Flinn Scientific

It doesn’t matter how much time you have spent in a chemistry lab, when you are the one who is responsible for the lab and the students who use it, you have much to consider.   As a refresher I took a Laboratory Safety Class  from Flinn Scientific earning a Certificate of Completion (see below) for my efforts.

I was very impressed.  The presentations were very professional and incredibly thorough, and many of the narrative-styled presentations were even enjoyable.  I would recommend this course to all high-school teachers who spend time in the laboratory, and a middle-school version is also available.  Flinn Scientific did get a bigger share of my laboratory budget as a result of providing this free service, but most of the changes I made did not directly benefit Flinn at all.  See my posts on Custom Chemical Storage Shelving and on an Emergency Chemical Spill Center.

Lab Safety Certificate

Book Review: Learning to Love Math by Judy Willis, MD

Love Math

I just bought the book Leaning to Love Math by Judy Willis MD.  The reason I bought it is because I so thoroughly appreciate some of her videos such as What Makes the Adolescent and Teen Brain So Different and What Should Educators Do About These Differences? available on the ASCD Professional Development website.  In that video she describes adolescents as dopamine junkies always in need of a dopamine fix.  As an educator you can understand the physiology of the adolescent brain and work constructively with nature, or you can adopt an alternative ideology which promotes and perpetuates counter-productive power struggles.  The former option promotes learning while the latter obstructs it.

I have barely cracked the cover of Leaning to Love Math, but I am very confident that it will be excellent.  I promise to update this post when I have more to say!

Compute Integrals by Taking Derivatives!

When I first learned this technique in undergraduate Quantum Mechanics at the University of Minnesota — Minneapolis I was truly blown away.  Richard Feynman references this technique in his memoirs.  I am pretty sure it was in Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!  When I have taught this technique to my physics students at SUNY Geneseo nd The College at Brockport, well they have shown impressive enthusiasm for the technique as well.  It is a very cool technique, and it applies not only to Gamma and related functions that appear in Quantum Mechanics.  It is also very useful for computing otherwise nasty integrals in four-dimensional space-time that appear in loop-level Feynman integrals in Quantum Field Theory.  Whether or not there is an immediate application, it is an extremely cool technique to explore!  Read more in the full article.

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