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Monthly Archives: October 2015

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This past week has been a significant improvement from my previous post – my placement is going well, there was a really successful day in STARS and I can finally see the conclusion it is starting to come to, and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate came out and Victorian London is awesome. The best part of my week came at my placement, where one of my students asked me to come to her FIRST Robotics meetings. She thought it’d be awesome to have me there and that I’d be able to help quite a bit. Even knowing that I have barely any spare time, my immediate reaction (and committed reaction) was absolutely yes.

I was absolutely honored by this gesture of a student and it proved to me that I’m really starting to connect with my students. This student is in the IB 2 class, is a senior hoping to go to Duke for economics (I’m hoping to convince her otherwise once I teach the astrophysics unit, but I digress). We talked a lot about colleges the other day, and following our conversation and chit chatting during the lab on spectroscopy, she asked me if I would come.

 

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Law theme, mallet of judge, wooden gavel

A close second best during my week came when one of the Regents students asked me to help her study for her precalculus test (it was a low key day in physics and she is very caught up on her work). I willingly obliged to the task, and not long after, she started asking me about college. I told her a lot about different things, especially when she asked about demographics. She feels that high school is very racially divided and that doesn’t sit well with her. I explained how much different college is, and that in most places, your race doesn’t matter at all and it’s the culture at the school and the rapport you build with other students that make a cohesive unit rather than the disjointed existence of cliques in high school. She then began telling me about what she wanted to study and where she wanted to go. Interestingly enough, she wants to study criminal justice at the University of New Haven, my original alma mater before transferring to the University of Rochester after my freshman year. We then spent about 15 minutes talking about all of the different aspects of the school, from dorms to classes to prestige surrounding the criminal justice and forensic science programs there to the food.

Forgive me while I step away from here. My elation with these specific events is clouding my ability to talk about much else.

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Let me tell you: I’ve had a rough 3 weeks.

It started when I broke/sprained my wrist after falling 3 weeks ago as of today. No big deal – left wrist, and I am very dominantly right handed with the exception of my backhand throw in Frisbee, but that’s a skill I haven’t used in years. Anyway, it was painful and difficult to work with, but not the end of the world. And then I got a respiratory infection, which was horrible initially but subsided rather quickly. And then my car had its first of starting troubles and I was an hour late to where I needed to be. I’d assumed it needed to be taken into the shop and be fixed, so I rented a car. Ha! Joke’s on me! Just needed to be jumped. A waste of $60 later (I did get most of the money back), and my car would render functional. Its starting issues would occur five more times before I finally found time to spend $600 to get it fixed. $600? What on Kepler’s green Earth could’ve been wrong with it? Ah, it also needed a tire replaced, as one of mine had been slashed at my student teaching placement. Terrifying, right? I’d say so. In between all of this, the lovely software update on my phone disabled the touch screen. Frustrating, but it gets even worse. Verizon was kind enough to send me the incorrect phone as the replacement, and finally sent the right one after my being without a functioning phone for 5 days. Additionally, they put my mother’s name on the package to my address – except my mother and I no longer have the same last name, so that’s incredibly complicated. So my multiple drives to Ogden Fedex were for naught because it was the wrong phone anyway. In the midst of my phone troubles, my Playstation 3 of almost 9 years got the “yellow light of death,” as they call it, an unfixable manufacturer issue caused by poor metal usage during construction. The average lifespan of a PS3 is about 3.5 years. This is the only thing in my rough three weeks that actually brought me to tears. To make matters worse, UPS has a hard time ringing a doorbell and the new one I ordered never got here. They told me they’d hold it for me, and I drove up there to find they did not. Now having reordered it and the price going up an additional $40, that brings us to today and maybe I’ll finally have a Playstation 3 on Tuesday and can finish Final Fantasy 13-2. Oh, and I’m getting over my combined sinus-respiratory infection that I’ve been battling since last Saturday. At least the five day 101 degree fever has subsided.

In the midst of all of this, however, I’ve gotta tell you about the bright spots. My slashed tire? I didn’t realize it until I was at Strong Memorial Hospital on my drive home from Wilson High School. I pulled into the loading dock of the hospital surrounded by the stench of burning rubber. When I got there, a man on a coffee break who works in facilities ran over to me and asked if I was okay and what happened. I explained the situation, we got my spare tire, and he started changing my tire for me. One of his friends joined him, and then another. In what seemed like no time whatsoever, my tire was changed. The man who had originally come up to me – I thanked him profusely and asked him if I could give him money or buy him lunch or have it delivered to wherever he works in the hospital. He said he’d feel bad taking anything tangible like that and that he was happy to help. As we said our goodbyes, he asked only for a hug from me as his form of payment. My heart absolutely melted, and I hugged him for as long as I could. I continually remember this man’s kindness in the midst of all the bad.

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I should also tell you about my afternoon at Wilson. Unbeknownst to me was the pep rally today. My CT said, “I’m going to grab you a lab coat and goggles for the pep rally. I’ll be right back.” I did not hesitate in the slightest and was super excited – we have a decibel reader and were tasked with scientifically measuring which class – freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior – was the loudest. My CT and I are now known and recognizable for anyone in the school who came to the pep rally as the two physicists/scientists walking around the gym and doing science. We got many questions and remarks on our way up: “Whoa, are you a scientist? That’s so cool! Have you ever built a volcano?” or “Science is my favorite subject! You guys look so cool!” My heart was aflutter the entire time.

It’s always easy to remember all the bad things that happen because their effects can be terribly adverse. But if we let all that get to us all the time, we’ll crawl into a dark pit of despair and anger, and it’ll be hard to use the starlight to find our way back.

 

 

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I know quite a bit of physics, right? Some would even say a lot more than that. I think that the concepts of conserving energy or two dimensional kinematics are easy. But wait a second: that’s because I’m math savvy and have beaten my head against the wall doing problems of this nature for years of my life.

 

My classical mechanics professor in college constantly used the word “trivial” to describe how simple it was to reach certain conclusions in the physics problems we would do. The only problem with this is that there was absolutely nothing trivial about what he was doing. There would be five chalkboards full of equations and information, but he’d say it was all trivial. Trivial is ultimately way too subjective. When I began STARS, I told myself that teaching sixth graders about gravity, momentum, and energy conservation would be simplistic, because they are easy topics. Except, there’s nothing trivial about any of these things. Gravity changes with any planet or celestial body you could theoretically travel to, conservation of energy doesn’t always hold, which is hard to think about in terms of thermodynamics, and conservation of momentum always does hold, but that’s hard to think about because of a lack of conservation of energy necessarily. When I let go of the fact that all of these topics are nontrivial, I had a breakthrough in STARS.

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On Wednesday in STARS, we destroyed toy cars in an effort to look at the different parts that make up cars and describe their function. This wasn’t necessarily physics, independent of the force we had to apply to break open the cars due to my negligence in not bringing a screwdriver (truth be told, they had more fun tearing them apart with their hands and scissors anyway). This was more a topic of car engineering, which is, of course, still science. I had to take a step away from the complicated nature of my home science and realize that I could bring a relevant application of it to twelve year olds rather than trying to throw equations at them and hope something sticks. At the end of the day, this is of course an after school club – who would want to come and necessarily learn more equations?

My ideas for car engineering are now relatively thought out and will certainly take up a majority of the time in STARS that we still have. We will also certainly still be making the Maglev train so that they can have the experience of learning more about magnetic power and transportation as well as understanding the different types of transportation that exist outside of the U.S.

Tossing my ideas out the window about trying to force physics to sixth and seventh graders has been the best idea I’ve had so far. I had so many more kids that wanted to join my group because they felt I was doing something with science that was much more hands on. My goal is for it to continue in this manner, and for them to really be able to take something away from what they were able to create based on the knowledge they obtain about different parts of vehicles.

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There’s STARS, there’s field placement, there’s classes, there’s tutoring, there’s work, there’s caring for myself and my puppy, there’s my Playstations, there’s an infinite pile of homework. My current to do list is about 15-20 items long, even though I felt I’d gotten quite a bit done over this week. The list actually got longer. How is that possible? My multiple lives, swarms of existences, as it seems right now, are somehow so separate, and yet, require such a significant amount of my attention. All of this attention doesn’t seem possible in a 24 hour day.

I was 9 when I learned how to juggle and 10 when I actually got quite good at it. There was a point in my life I trusted myself to juggle steak knives and liter soda bottles (I could never bring myself to try fire). But right now, this juggling act of being a Get Real! Science graduate student, frequently exceeds the skill of being able to juggle steak knives. A lot of it is based on trusting myself – I trust myself to get content across in my student teaching placement, because I’ve confirmed that I can do that many, many times already. I sometimes don’t trust myself, however, in leading a scientific expedition on gravity involving Nerf guns with sixth graders.

PSC1012_H2_044But that’s where taking risks comes in – I didn’t trust myself in being able to lead that sort of thing and it actually be contained, but I think the best part of it was the STARS’ commitment to the safety rules. I was explicit about stating that we do not fire the Nerf gun unless I say fire. We also do not fire it at anyone. For eleven year olds with inarguably one of the better childhood toys, they listened incredibly well. Due to a lack of students showing up to my group on Wednesday, we certainly didn’t get a lot of what I wanted to get done, but we did get a few measurements and then thought about uncertainty while trying to shoot markers off a desk from a range in the hallway.

Taking the risk, in retrospect, while difficult, wasn’t the hardest part. Support is necessary, and the groups of STARS need to be somewhat balanced. I had no more than 2 students at any given time, but other groups had gained six throughout the course of an hour. It didn’t make sense and it certainly inhibited many teaching moments for me. This idea of swarms of existences is not always a manifestation of what we bring upon ourselves, but how uncontrollable things pan out. Expecting the unexpected and having back up plans are crucial, but sometimes there is no available back up plan to only having one student to teach at any given time.

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I can control the way I throw a steak knife such that I catch it and it will not hurt me. I cannot control it breaking in midair and me jumping out of the way so as not to be hit by it. I can control the way I am able to present ideas in physics to students. I cannot control when a student refuses to no end to understand or enjoy the material. I can control my lesson plan and the activities I have to present to sixth graders. I cannot control when these students do not show up, nor when they are unequally dispersed. I have to roll with punches and control the things that I can such that the success of some of my existences can be achieved.