Tag Archives: Education

“The engine that lights up the stars”

At last! A new music video from John Boswell of Symphony of Science, and it’s one of his catchier tunes:

More Symphony of Science videos here.

The clips of Michio Kaku are taken from his video for The Floating University, which offers free online lectures by leading scholars and thinkers on a wide range of subjects — from astrophysics to political philosophy, from finance to population studies, from linguistics to the psychology of sex. It’s a wonderful online resource and I highly recommend checking it out.

Here’s Kaku’s full lecture:

More Floating University videos on YouTube (via BigThink) here.

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Why don’t American physics teachers teach awesome physics?

Good question:

More excellent bite-size science videos over at Minute Physics.

(h/t io9)

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“Still holding on to that torch for life”

A song for New York, from Lucy Kaplansky:

It’s been eleven years, and songs like this — and the memories of that day — still bring tears to my eyes. I don’t think I’ll ever be over it.

My daughter is eleven now. She was just four months old on 9/11 and has no memory of that day, only the stories her parents have told her — it’s history for her, just another thing that happened in the world before she became aware of the world. Maybe that’s the way it should be. I wouldn’t wish this quiet grief to haunt her for the rest of her days. Let her acknowledge that day and move on with her life, in sunlight and in joy.

They’re teaching her in middle school to accept — “not just tolerate” — all cultures. I temper it a bit, telling her that all people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. Where cultures have wrong ideas — honor killings, female genital mutilation, the belief in the supremacy of one religion or another — people must speak out against them.

But perhaps the middle school teachers are right to emphasize respect and acceptance first: if respect is the foundation, perhaps it will help kids grow up to remember that whoever they disagree with is a human being too. In the end, after all the many important issues to disagree about, there’s nothing more important than that.

More thoughts on 9/11 here.

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Humanism and secularism, defined

So what’s humanism? I had a go at this question way back when I started this blog, but this video by the British Humanist Association offers a much clearer introduction:

And from the always-lucid British YouTube user QualiaSoup, here’s a very clear presentation on secularism and its views on church/state separation, gay marriage, and education — as relevant (or perhaps even more so) in the US as it is in the UK:

(via Tim Minchin)

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“We are a thinking species”: Carl Sagan on creationism, skepticism, and why science is the birthright of everyone

In 1981, Carl Sagan — astronomer and science educator par excellence — was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association, and delivered his acceptance speech at the association’s annual conference in San Diego. The AHA has now made the audio of the entire speech available online, and if you have 45 minutes, it’s absolutely worth your time. (If not, I’ve transcribed some excerpts below.)

The speech is wonderful for the same reasons that Sagan’s remarks and writings are always wonderful: his gift for eloquent, inspiring — and often humorous — prose; his powerful argument for the fundamental importance of science in our lives; his ability to communicate a clear-eyed and rational view of the cosmos that is yet open to poetry, astonishment, and wonder. But this particular speech is also notable for a couple of specific things. First, Sagan refers early and often to the accomplishments of the woman who introduced him to the audience: the astrophysicist Margaret Burbidge, who, like many female scientists, deserves much more public recognition for her scientific contributions. And second, Sagan takes particular aim at the threat of creationism — 1981 being the year of McLean v. Arkansas and the movement to have “creation science” taught in American public schools, a movement that sadly still has traction today.

I find it fascinating that Sagan’s decades-old speech still feels fresh and relevant today: not just his argument against the creationists, but also his stirringly democratic notion of science as every person’s birthright, and his description of “cosmic evolution” and the deeply intimate connection between humans and the universe — concepts that Neil deGrasse Tyson, considered by many to be Sagan’s heir, has been communicating to great effect.

Some lengthy excerpts below.

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“Sometimes a dream almost whispers”

Steven Spielberg praises teachers, talks about how he fell into filmmaking, and offers inspirational advice:

When you have a dream, it often doesn’t come at you screaming in your face, “This is who you are, this is who you must be for the rest of your life.” Sometimes a dream almost whispers. And I’ve always said to my kids: the hardest thing to listen to — your instincts, your human personal intuition — always whispers; it never shouts. Very hard to hear. So you have to, every day of your lives, be ready to hear what whispers in your ear. It very rarely shouts. And if you can listen to the whisper, and if it tickles your heart, and it’s something you think you want to do for the rest of your life, then that is going to be what you do for the rest of your life, and we will benefit from everything you do.

(h/t AICN)

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What do teachers make? They make a goddamn difference.

A classic performance by the fiery spoken-word poet, teacher, and teachers’ advocate Taylor Mali:

A more recent version, coinciding with the publication of Mali’s book, What Teachers Make:

I love this poem for what it says about teachers’ passion, commitment, and the undervalued importance of their sacred trust to help shape the next generation. But it also seems to present a one-sided version of education: the strict, no-nonsense, sit-down-and-shut-up teacher who needs to whip reluctant and undisciplined students into shape. That’s not a model that will work for everyone; why is there no mention of kindness, encouragement, and the importance of letting students ask questions rather than slapping them down? How do you get kids to love and look forward to learning, rather than view it as medicine that they have to swallow? A wise comment on YouTube (a true rarity!) points out:

I love the message of the video — that teaching is about more than just a salary, but without context, some of the pedagogy in the video is straight up flawed. Encourage group work/ collaborative learning (when appropriate). If students are constantly looking for a way out of the classroom, it’s a good indicator that you need to make your lessons more engaging. Teachers should never strike fear in parents. Parents can be valuable resources. Finally, NEVER tell students they can’t ask questions.

Yes. Mali says he makes students wonder, but I wish he’d elaborate on that. Kids are born curious and wondering; how do we avoid squashing that, and just get out of the way?

Nevertheless, point taken: Teachers have a difficult and tremendously important job, and should be valued and supported in this country more than they are. I’d add that not only shouldn’t they be judged by how much money they make, but they also can’t be judged by flawed rating systems such as New York City’s — a ludicrous calculation involving “value-added scores” that lets good teachers slip through the cracks. William Johnson, supposedly a “bad teacher,” explains:

[T]he reality [is] that teachers care a great deal about our work. At the school where I work today, my “bad” teaching has mostly been very successful. Even so, I leave work most days replaying lessons in my mind, wishing I’d done something differently. This isn’t because my lessons are bad, but because I want to get better at my job. […]

The truth is, teachers don’t need elected officials to motivate us. If our students are not learning, they let us know. They put their heads down or they pass notes. They raise their hands and ask for clarification. Sometimes, they just stare at us like zombies. Few things are more excruciating for a teacher than leading a class that’s not learning. Good administrators use the evaluation processes to support teachers and help them avoid those painful classroom moments — not to weed out the teachers who don’t produce good test scores or adhere to their pedagogical beliefs.

And an excellent point about the student-teacher relationship:

That said, given all the support in the world, even the best teacher can’t force his students to learn. Students aren’t simply passive vessels, waiting to absorb information from their teachers and regurgitate it through high-stakes assessments. They make choices about what they will and won’t learn. I know I did. When I was a teenager, I often stayed up way too late, talking with friends, listening to music or playing video games. Did this affect my performance on tests? Undoubtedly. Were my teachers responsible for these choices? No.

Schoolteacher Laura Klein chimes in:

[W]ith teaching, it’s always hard to know just how much of the results are the result of good teaching. Perhaps it is good parenting, or the work of previous teachers. Sometimes it is just the result of a child maturing and coming into her own.

Still, when a child succeeds in your class for the first time in her academic career, it is one of the rare occasions when you can feel as if you had something to do with it. And you are probably right. There’s a good chance that the relationship that you have with that student has played an important role in her success. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. […]

Kids who succeed because of us are not kids who have the tools to succeed in the long run.

“Don’t do it for me; care about yourself,” my co-teacher often says to our students […]

A good relationship can change a child’s year, but it doesn’t usually change her life. For that, we have to change the way that students relate to themselves.

What to make of all this? Perhaps that Taylor Mali is right — that teachers make a goddamn difference — but also that students aren’t automatons, waiting for the right programmer. They’re human individuals, needing encouragement and direction, but ultimately choosing their paths for themselves, as we all do.

Another excellent spoken-word piece by Mali here.

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