Friday, March 6, 2015

3 Incompatible topics

...Today 3 short totally unrelated pieces which have all been on my mind...  Photos this week have nothing to do with the content...   I seem to have a fixation on weather ever since our drought began...
Dust in the air leads to magnificent winter sunsets in our back yard
1.  On a cloudy spring morning in the late 19th century my Grandmother Julie said goodbye to her sisters in the town of Boratyn, a Czech enclave in modern day Ukraine.  Young Antonin and Julie left with their 3 small children for  Hamburg Germany to board the emigrant ship ‘Suevia’ to travel to America.  Over the years the sisters communicated sporadically by letters; all of which  have been judiciously kept in a bundle.  This past year, through the miracle of the internet, my ‘cousin’ in the north of the Czech Republic, at the base of the Krkonoše Mountains,  found me and we have been exchanging messages. 
The underside of a cumulonimbus cloud - so dense that little sunlight passes though
This summer Judy and I are going to reunite for the first time in over a hundred years the two branches of the family.  The grandmother of my newly discovered "cousin", Helena, and my grandmother Julie were sisters.  I will have an opportunity to visit the small villages where my grandparents and past generation lived.    My gene pool!! I am so excited!!  Stay tuned as this adventure unfolds…  Still no word of the long lost Zlatnik side.

A cumulonimbus cloud with frontal illumination
2.  The education of a new generation of Science and Math teachers continues to play a big role in my life.  Here are some of the issues that I see my young student teachers struggling with : First two definitions:
Student teacher: works with a master teacher to plan and teach one period a day. (Mills College)
Interns -first year teacher hired to teach 5 periods a day also involved in a university program and take course work as they teach. Teach for America - LMU

Oh gee! Lightning followed by a pregnant silence and then the loud boom of thunder
a. Is the classroom goal to ‘cover the material’ (go for the facts), or to seek in depth ‘concept learning’, should learning be a solitary activity or is it best to design problem solving teams that combine student knowledge and skills? We teach our STs and Interns to use a variety of learning strategies, how do you choose the best balance of learning experiences for each kind of class and experience?  Do you teach superficially to cover everything in the state framework or make choices about what concepts to emphasize. There are many voices in different schools and in society telling us different things about these issues - who do you listen to?

Aurora Borealis - more an astronomical phenomenon than a meteorological one
b. The students that come to our classrooms are not uniform.  Each of them brings his or her realities from home and the environment in which they live.  Each kid's readiness to learn varies widely and is determined by personal experiences, how and where they live – suburbia -  inner city - rural, family harmony or strife, and peer pressure.  Does their culture put a greater emphasis on athletic performance than academic performance?  It can be tough and troubling to be a teen ager in our world today!  Some kids come in a funk of black depression, anger, grief, anxiety … and we expect them all to set their emotions  aside and to be open to learning about the stages of mitosis.  How do we deal with the different learning needs of our kids - meeting the needs of the brightest and the best and still help everyone to succeed at the level to which they are able? 

Think of the fog rising from a bathtub - "water is warmer than the air above" - here too the land is warmer than the cool air
c.  Kids often feel ambivalent about their own future – “How can I possibly hope to go to college with rising costs?” “Will I even live to the age of  20 in the street scene in which I find myself?” “I just want to get by - maybe I'll 'drop out".” “I think I might be pregnant – what am I going to do?”, "Ever since my mom left I have to take care of my brothers and sisters - I dont feel like there is much time for me." "Ever since I got out to juvy hall everybody treats me different."

d.  Lack of support for education – this is a big one – California per capita spending on education is near the bottom when compared with other states.  In our current society there has a growing anti science, anti intellectual attitude – being smart is not considered cool in many circles.  In much of America we glorify uneducated macho ‘red necks’ as cool and intellectuals as bumbling incompetents…  that is not the formula for building a strong America.

Lenticular clouds indicative of strong sheering winds - typical in the high mountains
e. In the name of making the teaching job livable, I have seen some young teachers put aside  the  grading of homework, I see some teachers giving the same grade to everyone in a work-group despite their contributions, I see some teachers basing grades not on knowledge and skill attainment, but on participation, I see teachers who confuse "turning in the paper" with "understanding the concept". When teachers try to 'get by' with minimum work we short change the students.  For me the bottom line is that each student must be held accountable for their understanding of concepts and their ability to use the big ideas in new and creative ways. Kids need assessment both as a motivation to do the learning and as feedback on their progress.  I think of the grades I give as a kind of guarantee for  future teachers and employers to verify the level of knowledge and attainment of my students.  An A is Biology should mean something.

"On a winters evening -"
f.  My prophetic word for today – Education should become the #1 national security concern in America today… Look closely; and China, India, Europe are challenging or have already surpassed the US levels of educational attainment.  Our economy and jobs of the future will be determined by our knowledge, and critical thinking skills.  Much of the knowledge that people will have and use in 20 years has not even been developed today – so we have to teach students how to become life long learners.  Research will happen in other lands if we don't have well trained students and policies to encourage it here.  If we Americans choose to be anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-evolution and anti-global warming – the rest of the world will most certainly pass us up.

Loose soil+Strong wind= Dust storm... they didn't disappear in the 1930s
g.  I see everyone blaming everyone else for inadequacy in the education system - it's a contentious subject! - Everyone is pointing fingers: parents are to blame - teachers are to blame - the school policies are to blame - lack of funding is to blame - the changing nature of society is to blame - technology is to blame - the government interference is to blame... I suspect all of these play a role.  I  think of Chinese kids required to be in academic classes for 8-9 hours a day in school and  then go home and work on homework, I think of Indian parents who sit with their young children to see that they stay focused on the homework until it is done and sign them up for remedial classes if necessary,  I think of German kids with specially designed critical thinking problem solving situations...  and I want us in America to remain competitive.

Rao - blessed rain!  Come again another day...
3. And as a final segment -  I will turn to something closer to home... I love my garden this time of year – each day when I go out in the morning I see changes wrought by the season.  The fig tree is forming big fat buds, the kale plants are responding to the long day length by forming flower stalks, potato plants are emerging in the garden, strawberry plants are blooming big time, and apricots are starting to think about blossoms.  The plants that I coppiced down close to the ground are sending up rich new growth without any of the dry ugly stems that were there before.  The soil is already starting to dry – we have received 15.67 inches of rain since last July – in itself that isn’t too bad, so local reservoirs will have some water. – But there is very little snow pack – which means almost no water from the mountains for the cities and farms of California; which will affect food prices and force farmers to plant fewer fields and to sell livestock for lack of food.