Albert Einstein. “The process of scientific discovery is, in effect, a continual flight from wonder. “

An interesting quote.  Sure, discovery removes the shroud of the magical unknown and gives us the tools to understand and tame these processes. For me, though, reading about discoveries inspires me to wonder even more.  Wondering is exciting.  It’s what humans were made to do.  The dance of discovery between the mind and nature casts light on things that had been dark.  But with new illumination, comes new shadows.

Here are some recent discoveries that have given me a “wonder-rush.”

Scientists Scan Data From Saturn’s Moon (AP). AP – Saturn’s largest moon contains all the ingredients for life, but senior scientists studying data from a European probe ruled out the possibility Titan’s abundant methane stems from living organisms.

Those who follow this weblog know I’ve been eagerly anticipating this one. I can’t stop looking at the pictures and imagining what it’s like there. Yes, I’m quite clear on the fact that it’s deadly to life as we know it, but I’ve been imagining things like that ever since I read a book in grade school, Mission to Mercury (at least I think that was the title, I can’t find it on Amazon to make sure). With lakebed coastlines, flowing liquid methane rivers, soft “soil”, rains, winds, storms…yes, I know we have much less toxic versions of those things here. Why am I entranced by a sunset over the lake when I’ve seen hundreds of them before?   Continue reading Discovery

Keeping an open mind

The courts are hearing another complaint brought by parents.

Judge to Rule on Georgia Evolution Disclaimers (Reuters). Reuters – A public school board in Georgia violated the U.S. Constitution when it placed stickers that challenge the theory of evolution on biology textbooks two years ago, a lawyer for a group of parents said on Friday. [Yahoo! News: Science]

If you’re curious about what the stickers that “promote religious dogma” say, this is the text of the stickers: “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”

Evolution is the epitome of a scientific theory.  Why would anyone be up in arms about that?  Has evolution become the “new religion?”

On a completely unrelated note, don’t forget to watch the Leonids next week. This year should be a good one for this annual meteor shower!

The Leonid Meteor Shower 2004: Modest Peak Expected Nov. 16-19 ( – Next week brings us the return of the famous Leonid Meteor Shower, a meteor display that over the past several years has brought great anticipation and excitement to sky watchers around the world. [Yahoo! News: Science]

Cassini and Huygens

Spacecraft Cassini Enters Saturn’s Orbit (AP). AP – The international Cassini spacecraft threaded a gap between two of Saturn’s dazzling rings late Wednesday and entered orbit around the giant planet, completing one of the mission’s most critical maneuvers more than 900 million miles from Earth. [Yahoo! News – Reader Ratings]

Over the next four years I’m looking forward to many exciting discoveries from the Cassini probe.  Cassini has already made observations that indicate to scientists that Saturn’s moon Phoebe is an ancient object formed at the beginning of the solar system like the Kuiper Belt objects, but, unlike them, Phoebe was captured by Saturn’s gravity rather than being swept out past the orbit of Pluto. Latest findings also reveal that the rotation of Saturn may be highly variable. Of course, I’ve always wondered how scientists could pin down the rotation period of a tiny ball of liquid hydrogen nested deep within a gigantic ball of gas.

Saturn’s moon Titan will get some special attention as Cassini will release the Huygens lander to take data from the surface. Scientists believe that the conditions on Titan represent those of the Earth of four and a half billion years ago.saturn

The bad behavior trap

As a teacher, it can be easy to find yourself in “corrective mode” in your classroom, getting after students when they are misbehaving or not attending.  The very best teachers I know are the ones who add “catching students being good” to the mix.

Children will seek out attention, and it’s often easier to get it by being bad.  To many children, attention is attention.  The students who really struggle in the school setting (the ones who teachers can make the most profound difference to) are most likely to go the easy route and get attention from bad behaviors because it is that much harder for them to get the positive attention.

Teachers who reinforce students when they observe appropriate behavior show students there is another way, and make it attainable for the children to get attention from positive behaviors – a habit which can stick with them for a long time.

Positive Rewards. When trying to change the inappropriate behaviors of children, it pays to ‘catch them behaving appropriately’. Inappropriate behaviors are a method of ‘getting attention’ so give the attention for the appropriate behavior and use this list of incentives to keep… [About Special Education]

Sugar-water addiction

Okay, there are a lot of issues here:  generating funds for schools, nationwide obesity, teaching children nutrition, and more…

Taking Candy From Pupils? School Vending Bill Says Yes. The State Assembly has passed a bill that would severely limit what could be sold in school vending machines. By Marc Santora. [New York Times: Education]

Here’s my own experience with this.  In the school I started my teaching career at, there were vending machines that sold one of the more popular sugar-water “faux juice” drinks (5% juice).  These machines generated a lot of money for the school.  I was not the only teacher to note that many of middle school students who enjoyed those beverages at lunch were “bonkers” with attention problems and other behaviors that made it harder for them to learn in the afternoon.  It was a stark, “Jekyll and Hyde” difference for many of them, too.

Of course, to a sub-par administrator, behavior problems are easily dealt with by assigning a detention, ISS, or some other disciplinary action, but the cash those machines bring in is coveted.  Can this be thought of as exploiting pre-teens for their own good?

For openers….

How often is a novice chess player honored by having his analysis of an ongoing game published? As often as he likes … if he has a weblog….

The following are the opening moves of a game I’ve just started with an old college buddy who lives a long way away. We’re playing over email, allowing “infinite” time to play each move, and we’re allowed to consult computer chess programs to avoid blunders and generate some ideas. The game is not meant to be a masterpiece of strategy and tactics. The regular email moves are a conduit for us to pass along news and happenings to each other. It is a way for us to keep in touch.

Still, for anyone who might be interested, I submit the following analysis. By the way, should you come up with a great idea, that’s what the “comments” section is for. You should do the same for Bill. Oh yeah, that’s right. Bill doesn’t have a weblog. Too bad….

Todd Bill
1. e4 Nf6

Alekhine’s Defence. Not an opening I’m very comfortable with. Let’s see how it develops.

2. e5 Nd5
3. d4 d6
4. c4 Nb6
5. Nf3

Continue reading For openers….

Common sense

I’m putting the finishing touches on my grades now!  Tomorrow is the last contracted day of the 2003-04 school year, and I’m bringing things to a dignified close.  Dignified.

Then I read this story.  I am speechless.  I find it embarassing that people in my profession would show school children a beheading (and even more confounding, one teacher showed it during a pizza party).  This kind of act shows no regard for young minds and demonstrates a complete lack of mature judgement on the teachers’ part.

A message to any educators who decide to criticize heros and positive role models and instead emblazen graphic images of the very worst atrocities humanity is capable of into children’s minds.  Think about what you are doing!  Use your common sense!

You are dismissed.

What is a planet?

Old news, but I’ve been following the debate. In astronomy circles, the discussion about what can and can not be called a planet has flared up again with the discovery of Sedna last fall. Pluto, discovered in 1930, has always been an oddity. When it was discovered, it was thought to be about the size of Mercury and followed Bode’s Law, so it deserved “planet status.”

It wasn’t until about 70 years later that some other solid objects like Pluto were discovered beyond the orbit of Neptune. Quaoar, with an orbit that is much like that of the other planets, and most recently Sedna are not as big as Pluto (which itself is much smaller than was thought at its discovery), but they are thought to have more in common with Pluto than Pluto does with the other planets in our solar system.   Continue reading What is a planet?