Scientists find patterns. A scientist is merely someone who looks at things viewed countless previous times by others before him and then puts 2 + 2 together to realize something nobody else has realized before. The ultimate reward for doing this is to discover a Law of Nature and be memorialized as your peers attach your name to the new law. You and your descendents can then claim bragging rights on a corner of God’s grand scheme.
Personally, given my decidedly amateur status as a scientist, my best hope for discovering some new pattern is to copy the approach of dilettantes trying to enter into the Guinness Book of World Records: pick an overlooked category. I'm not proud. I’ll even consider a phenomenon from one of the soft sciences.
Right now my best observation is how people choose a place to pee. Given a series of urinals, people either go with the closest urinals or the very last urinal. A slight correlation is that in places supporting large simultaneous traffic, the 1st, 3rd, and 5th urinal will see the most use because people want a little space usually. The outcome of all this is that the penultimate urinal is the most overlooked one and will be chosen least. I have discovered this involuntarily while determining which urinal was the least filthy, least puddled, and least pube strewn. The great discoveries are all made by accident and so it is with this, my Law of the Penultimate Urinal.
[Because women seldom encounter urinals I admit this is yet another unfortunate example of how men have all of the best opportunities in the field of science.]
I spent the last three days going over archived lesson plans from 2001 [hey, I thought that teachers have the summer off…]. Among the stacks of horrible lesson plans [pity the students…] I found an old list of poems that students submitted for tenth grade chemistry in 2001. The assignment I gave was to write a haiku poem about chemistry, especially about equilibrium.
I measured the stuff
I found out what it looked like
Then I thought I died
increses products a lot
When left has less stuff
move the right stuff to the left
then it is equal
a dynamic state
these reactants and products
no more change. Constant
Chemistry is fun
play all day long
collide the essence
old bonds break and new bonds form
it's never ending
chemistry and I
we are not homogenous
just purify us
chemistry is hard
i will never ever pass
i think I need luck
this thing involves balancing
i never forget
constant dynamic forces
opposed and balanced
electrons jump and they fall
a rainbow is seen
By the nuclear plant
in the water supply lake
the ducks are "quarking"
Every time at lab
Test tubes, glass, and reactions
noone to help
Pressure, heat, or stuff
will stress our reaction
Merci, Le Chatelier!
Fire, big fire.
an orange flame in my face
smells of hair burning
Authors unknown. NEHS students wander by this site occasionally; if any chemistry haiku here is yours leave a comment (or a new haiku!).
Have you ever tried Googling just your fingers hitting the homerow of the keyboard randomly?
"laksjdf" - 2,090 hits
"laksjhdf" - 1 hit
";alskdfj" - 16,900 hits
Looks like people prefer to strike from the pinkies first and work their way in.
The teachers education department at The Ohio State University does a good job training new teachers. I have to say, though, that for all the cutting edge, Constructivist training I got there, they failed to give me some of the basics. I came out of there with all kinds of philosophy about how to create deep, meaningful learning, how to use real-world examples in class, how to help students construct meaning, but they failed to give me the stuff from 100 years ago, the really boring, by-the-book stuff.
So it is with great pleasure that I have discovered a 1971 educational classic, “What’s the Use of Lectures?” by Donald A Bligh.
Bligh gives lots of advice on how to make an old-fashioned lecture effective. Lectures are known as “chalk talk” or “stand and deliver” (with some derision) by more modern constructivist educational theorists like I had at Ohio State. Constructivists consider lecture to be hopelessly archaic but for teaching science they are really important.
What’s the Use of Lectures makes many recommendations. The first few I came to were:
1. Try “chaining” instead of a hierarchal outline.
2. At the end of the lecture give silent time for students to summarize, formulate questions. These summaries and questions, in the students’ own words become the beginning point for the next lecture
3. put students in “buzz groups” after the lecture to foster connection-forming and higher level thinking.
4. Try keeping one blackboard for your overarching outline of the lecture, a second blackboard for temporary sketches, drawings, etc. The first board is never erased during the period, the second board is frequently erased.
5. Refine eye contact. Don’t just give a glance, actually hold someone’s gaze for several moments while you talk.
6. Try doing some lectures with nothing written. For these you should warn the audience that the notetaking needs to come entirely from what they hear, otherwise they will be withholding notetaking until you write on the chalkboard.
7. Expect even the best students to daydream and microsleep.
These are just a taste of the book. Bligh gives many footnotes pointing to the original research that supports his lecture advice. For such a bread and butter, everyone-needs-it kind of subject, I’m surprised I never saw this how-to-lecture book before. It came out in 1971 in England but only in 2000 in the U.S.
According to the NY Times on Sunday, most people’s level of happiness seems built in and is set at a young age but most people cherish a belief that they will be happier in the future. The former fact trumps the latter hope.
A Swiss aphorism holds that you’ll be happy if you have:
1) Something to do
2) Something to hope for
3) Someone to love.
I read this saying in an interview* with a 70 year old woman who noted (happily) that she has
1) a bushel of tomatoes waiting to be canned
2) a trip home to Switzerland next spring
3) her husband and a cat
A false promise of happiness may lie in self help books. Author Steve Salerno**,
criticizes the books for "...the very American notion of constantly taking your happiness pulse in real time..." I agree. Page by page the authors sound reasonable, kind, generous but stepping back, the greater premise of the bood, the very way the books frame life questions is myopic, leading in turn to unreasonable expectations of our partners, our jobs and ourselves and an enormous lack of patience or sense of any frame of reference bigger than our own needs at this exact moment.*** I suffer from this myself. In both work and personal relationships I wish I had more patience for bad situations. Chinese people have this. Religious fundamentalists have this.
*View From 70; Women’s Recollections and Reflections by Ina Loewenberg [a series of portraits, then and now, of the entire Hunter College H.S., Class of ’49 ]
**Sham : How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless by Steve Salerno
***That was a 62 word sentence.
Arundhati Roy speaking in Brazil, 2003:
"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music,
our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness."
The Japanese tea ceremony is famous in the West among Asiophiles but it is an anachronism, imported to that island nation in roughly the 13th Century and now 700 years out of style in the Forbidden City. The famous Japanese Tea Ceremony is embarrasingly passe on the continent, China having moved beyond that fashion about the time that Chaucer was writing the Summoner's Tale. Tea culture in China evolved in later dynasties to embrace what is called Gong Fu style. Perhaps you would like some Gong Fu style tea right now!
How to do tea Gong Fu style: place enough leaves in the pot to cover the bottom. The water should be less than boiling, maybe 96 degrees C. Historically there were a lot of arguments on best water temperature and who was best at judging it. A man could be known for being a good judge of hot water the way Miles Davis might be a good judge of just how long to hold a note.
Anyway, back to your kitchen counter: cover the leaves with the hot water and immediately pour the water off again, discarding it. Add hot water again, steep for about a minute, pour it into cups and enjoy. A succession of one minute steepings can be enjoyed in this way, each tasting different as various proportions of more soluble and less soluble substances are extracted from the leaf into the water. Some people will repeat this cycle until they have drunk six or seven batches of tea, all from the same leaves. By that point the leaves must be discarded and the process begun again.
By the way, don't do this with black tea. Chinese people think black tea is ridiculous. It's like the wine character in 'Sideways' being asked to drink Merlot.
Some equipment is needed for your Gong Fu tea extravaganza. Both the cups and the pot are very small (shot glass size) to allow for much repetition, much physical interaction between the server and the served, and much careful inspection of the successive, changing aliquots of the lovely tea. Did I mention the porcelain cap? Your cup will normally have a small porcelin lid. You're supposed to remove this and smell it like it's a wine cork and you're a wine snob. The cap ( or sometimes a spoon) is smelled once, waved in the air, and then re-smelled. The smell will be different before and after waving the smelling cup/spoon.
Of course the Gong Fu style is not mandatory; some tea is consumed more casually than this. Office workers In Taiwan often have just a mug on their desk. The mug will be large (400 mL), attractively decorated (no Garfield characters), and have a ceramic strainer nested inside to hold the loose tea leaves. Also common around offices is the brutal, communal, stainless steel kettle, big enough to boil corn in that all ten workers will pour from throughout the day. That’s just to get caffeine. No sublime beauty is expected from the tea-jumbotron. The tea in those seems to frequently be flavored, perhaps Jasmine. There’s nothing subtle or nice about the flavor of a big pot of tea that’s sitting there for an hour or more.
Happily, those with the time and inclination stick with the Gong Fu style, no matter what class the person is from. Even poor people in a culture can do something with style if it is important to them, right down to purchasing the somewhat elaborate collection of utensils for tea drinking. Just as a ghetto person in America can own a really big TV or stereo, a simple peasant in Taiwan can own a pretty fancy tea set up. Gangs of unsavory taxi drivers will gather near a garage to complain about their day, clustered around an elegant tea service set featuring a knurled knotty slotted teak tray, an iron water kettle, and nice cups. Or further out in the country, clans of yam farmers sit outside in their cut off shorts and cracked blue vinyl sandals, chatting in the dust at the side of the road, tossing back endless rounds of the world’s finest tea.
It’s great to see something sophisticated and old permeating a society, top to bottom.