April 28, 2014

Some would go one cycle, and some would go seventy-five cycles


April 25, 2014

Reflections about teaching #3

#3 How do you make chemistry exciting to people that may not find it exciting?

Chemistry can be very boring, a series of disconnected facts stacked up, listed down and ready to be memorized to then be immediately forgotten. I'm certainly not in favor of turning chemistry into that kind of a class, though I'm thinking some of my less successful students might say chemistry is still far too much like that.

The chemistry that matters to most students - to most people, really - is the chemistry that explains their world, that connects to something they already knew or had seen. The student interested in fireworks might have an easier time understanding that the colors are produced by electrons gaining energy to move to higher energy levels then losing that energy as they return to ground state because they've seen the results of those transitions. The student who bakes might understand decomposition reactions better if he or she knows it's a decomposition reaction that powers some baking powders.

The secret to making chemistry exciting - or even understandable - is making the chemistry relateable. An atom, an energy level, an orbital, yttrium, double replacement reactions - none of them exist unless they connect to something in the student's life. Or, if they do exist, they'll exist as abstract ideas that will stick about as well as water to a superhydrophobic surface.

So, don't say 'catalysts speed up chemical reactions'...show a catalyst speeding up a reaction. Explain - or show - a catalytic convertor.

Connect to students...show applications...and blow something the heck up.

That's what makes chemistry exciting.

April 23, 2014

Chicago reviews: Edzo's & David Burke's Primehouse

Two places from this past weekend's visit to Chicago merit reviews: Edzo's (burgers) and David Burke's Primehouse (steaks).

First, though, a quick recap of what we did...with precious few photos.
  • Friday
    • Megabus departure from Music Hall at 8am - easy trip, front seats upstairs
    • Arrived in Chicago ~1:30pm, slightly but not significantly late
    • Walked ~15 min to Hotel Blake - got upgrade to corner room when I mentioned our anniversary, great view of Willis Tower
    • late lunch at Xoco (marvelous, as always)
    • walked around Millennium Park (under construction using geofoam, fascinating)
    • dinner at Sofi (pasta, helping The Girl stay meatless on Good Friday)
Sofi's dining room (not my pic) - we sat in the center there against the wall
The view from our hotel room at night

April 21, 2014

C'mon get happy!

Today's artists might, at some point, have had a reason to hide what they have in common. Thankfully, that commonality - their non-heterosexuality - is far more accepted today than it might've been back in the day.

April 19, 2014

Welcome back to the Windy City, ChemGuy

April 18, 2014

Reflections about teaching #2

#2 What is the hardest/easiest part of teaching?

The hardest part for me - and for a lot of teachers, I think - is the paperwork: grading papers, tracking data, filling out referrals, calling home, writing SLOs, sending feedback for IEPs, and every other form that's given to us by our central office or mandated by the state.

Keeping up with the paperwork is endless, daunting, worse with every passing year, and it makes for lots of long, long evenings and weeks when I spend the entire time trying to catch up. Every quiz, every lab report, every test has to be graded and returned quickly because there is invariably another assignment coming just a couple of days later that has to be graded, as well. It's daunting and never-ending.

The easiest is the joy of interacting with my students. The things that happen within the classroom, that I can't possibly predict - those are the easiest and most enjoyable parts of teaching for me. When I say 'get into groups and draw these reactions' or 'explain these reaction types to each other' and give my students a chance to talk to each other, to show me what they know, and to give a little of their personality - that's easy and enjoyable and fun.

Summer break isn't bad, either.

April 16, 2014

Awesome chemistry posters

Simon Page put together some posters for the 2011 'International Year of Chemistry'. Three of the prints are for sale on his online store, but they're prohibitively expensive (£55).

The rest of his posters are pretty gorgeous, too, with nice colors and geometric designs.

The other awesome chemistry posters I want to mention today are from Compound Interest and are way more informative than Page's. They aren't quite as pretty, but they're ones I would certainly post on the walls of my new classroom next year.

I want lots of them, and they're at least way cheaper ($12.81 per poster) though not quite as large (23" x 16").

Anybody wanna get me some gifts?

April 14, 2014

Live Ryan Adams

It's been a long while since we've gotten any new Ryan Adams music, and it looks like it might be a fair while longer until we get any more. So let's look back at what we do have and enjoy some of his great concerts from YouTube...

April 13, 2014

Update: Lego Simpsons - for sale now

The first images of the Lego Simpsons in the wild have been captured.

April 12, 2014

Finally, Kentucky showing some confidence...

April 11, 2014

Reflections about teaching: #7 (adjusted)

From Smamy's comment on my original post...
7) What attribute is most important for teachers to have? (knowledge, patience, style of teaching, desire to be with kids, etc). I think I know what your answer might be, but that is based on a conversation from college....that took place from about 10pm to 3am one evening/morning. Good times.
Man, that is not a conversation that I remember. Admittedly, college was a great time for deep conversations, for trying to solve the world's problems (usually sober for me, not always that way for everybody) by talking through them, for thinking forward to how different the world would be if only we had better control of it, for bucking the system verbally in hopes of bucking the systems for real at a later date.

Back to the question at hand...

What's the most important attribute for a teacher to have?

I would like to say that it's a deep thematic knowledge of the teacher's subject because that might be my best attribute as a teacher, but subject knowledge isn't remotely the most important attribute.

There are so many attributes that are necessary to be a great teacher...
  • empathy - the ability to understand and relate and put yourself into the shoes of your students' situations, struggles, and needs
  • flexibility - willingness to let the best laid plans go when teachable moments appear and also to be able to take the entirely, thoroughly unexpected changes in stride and still manage to deliver quality instruction
  • consistency - When students know what to expect, that there is no doubt - which doesn't always mean strictness, by the way - in what is expected of them, they can more easily succeed.
  • clarity - This one's close to consistency in that the goals of giving instruction - both teaching instruction and simple in-class, do-what-I-say instruction - is to make sure you are understood. Students can be at their best when they aren't struggling to understand what's being said to them.
  • vision - Some people are part-to-whole folks. They can plan individual days and somehow put them together into a unit, a plan, a cohesive whole. I'm not like that. I need to see the big picture - where are we going - so that I can plan down day by day and hopefully get us there.
As to which of those I would chose, I think I'll go with empathy. Everything else can come from that. If a teacher can understand what his or her students need, what their challenges are and what needs to be done to overcome them - not to be soft, not to be sympathetic because students (read: people) don't need things given to them, don't need to simply be pointed at the easiest path and set upon it - then that teacher can lead toward success.

I'm curious, Smamy, what answer did I give back from 515 Jennison a couple of decades ago?

April 9, 2014

A moderately expensive joke

In what I'm guessing is a reference to a joke in Portal, water bottles with the following warning are being sold: "WARNING: May cause diaphoresis, micturition, and acute tissue hydration."

See, it's funny.

Sadly the bottles being sold by the Portal folks look kind of lame and have a giant Portal logo on one side...
 ...and it doesn't expressly say that it has that warning on the backside. Other sites, however, do show photos of the backside of the bottle...

At $9.99 plus S&H, that's not a bad price for a decent little gag, but I really don't like the Portal logo.

For a scant $31.05, however, I can get the same warning on a bottle of my chosen color thanks to Zazzle and can change the bottle size for an extra buck - or change the text color and other stuff, too.

Is a red bottle without the logo worth paying the extra $20 for?

I'm thinking that it might be.

April 7, 2014

The Adventures of Business Cat

There aren't a whole lot of strips of Adventures of Business Cat posted yet, but the ten or so strips that have been posted are thoroughly entertaining.

April 5, 2014

I'm not going to talk about Cedric, so if that's why you're here...

April 4, 2014

Reflections about teaching: #1

(note for Smamy - I already had question #1 typed up and haven't had a chance to answer your questions yet. They'll start coming next week. I promise.)

#1 - What do you think your greatest asset is as a teacher?

This one's a little tough because I wasn't raised to toot my own horn but rather to even downplay any compliments given to me. I do think I'm a pretty good teacher - not perfect, certainly, not all the way down the long tail of the bell curve but at least a bit to the high side of average.

When I was first assigned to student teach with Pru Phillips at Crawfordsville High School (Go Athenians!), Pru sat me down and gave me an assignment. I was to list all of the important topics in chemistry - the big topics, chapter-level topics - and put them in an order that made sense to me.I took a few days to come up with a good list of topics and another day to figure out what order made sense to me. Pru looked at my list, asked a few questions about why this topic came before that one, how those topics were connected to each other. She then pulled out the order of chapters in her curriculum. With only a couple of minor reversals, my list and her list were identical. I think that helped convince Pru that I at least knew my material, something I would like to think her husband and one of my chemistry professors, Dr David Phillips, had also told her.

I am a chemistry major, having taken ten courses in chemistry at Wabash after two years of chemistry in high school, and I think I understand the subject very well. There are certainly details that I don't know quite as well as I might, but I understand how the topics fit together, why certain ones must be taught before certain other ones, how specific ideas must be learned so that others can be understood better later. I know which examples problems to pick so that they show the current topic but so that they also lead into the next topic.

There are probably things more important to a teacher, but in a subject like chemistry - where the knowledge can exist as a whole bunch of entirely disparate facts, I think it's important that the leader in the classroom is able to see where the ship is heading. 

April 2, 2014

Update: AV Club Undercover - 2013

I know I've posted about the A.V. Club's Undercover series before, but for the life of me I can't find that post.

In case this is new...

The Onion's A.V. Club invited twenty-five bands into their offices over the course of each summer and presents each band with a list of twenty-five songs to cover. The catch is that once a song is covered, it's out of the rotation and can't be chosen again.

It tends to produce some interesting covers, not all of which work well.

From the 2013 batch, I'll take - as the best - these four...