Category Archives: Education Today

Cold Equations

When I was a kid, I read a short story called “The Cold Equations,” by Tom Godwin.  It scared me to death.  It was wonderful, but it scared me to death.  That there could be a situation wherein the milk of human kindness had no power, that there could be a situation wherein someone, of her own free will, could happily and blindly enter into something with the best of intentions, and die for it, gave me nightmares for years.  The cold fact that there are, indeed, cold facts, still gives me the shakes.

Tom Godwin - The Cold Equations

Now, equations are made up of factors, and once certain factors are selected, the combination thereof is an absolute, unless the factors are changed.  However, UNLESS the factors are changed, the answer can’t be any different than the natural result of those particular factors.

If any other number wants to elbow in, it must be rejected, if the 3 and the 2 are to stay, and if the answer MUST be 6.
If any other number wants to elbow in, it must be rejected, if the 3 and the 2 are to stay, and if the         answer MUST be 6.  There is no room for a 4 in this equation, unless we change the whole intent of the equation.

When the weather is such that it creates snow, or tornadoes, or rain, etc, those things are the natural result of a combination of factors which have no choice but to produce that particular outcome.

It’s an equation.  It’s a cold equation.    When the factors are there, the product, or outcome, is assured.

When the equation contains these factors, a tornado is inevitable.
When the equation contains these factors, a tornado is inevitable.

When the equation is set. . . when the factors are selected. . . . when the product is assured. . . . no amount of bargaining or begging can change the natural outcome of this equation, whether it concerns math class, or the weather, or a spaceship on which everything was measured and weighed and ANY additional ANYTHING will result in the loss of many lives.  Even if the additional something is a sweet, innocent teenage girl who just wanted to see her brother.  Even then.

As humans, we don’t like cold equations.  I don’t like them.  You probably don’t like them, either.  They’re too, well, cold.  Humans have compassion.  We love.  We make adjustments and we adapt circumstances to meet other circumstances.

Every once in a while, “Values Clarification” makes a comeback, is tried, and is rejected again.  Compassionate people don’t like to think that any of us would ever toss someone in a lifeboat overboard, even if doing so would insure the safety and survival of everybody else in the lifeboat.  I know I would not want to make that decision.

lifeboat, values clarification

 

There are aspects of life, however, that make use of cold equations.  Math.   Science.  I’ve read that many people think they dislike math and science when it’s really the idea of a cold equation that they dislike.

With math, there’s not much we can do with a cold equation.  2+2 is going to equal 4, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

In science, sometimes we can.  Oh, there are cold equations in science, but we can almost always do some experimenting.  Sure, if you drop Mentos in a bottle of Diet Coke, the result is pretty much assured, but what if we drop more, or fewer, or diet, or flavored Mentos?  What if we use Fanta soda?  The variety of factors, while sticking to the gist of the equation, can yield all kinds of products.

Tom Godwin’s short story is about an equation that allowed no deviation.  It’s truly a cold equation.  The young girl begs for her life, and insists that she didn’t do anything to die for.

But child, you did.

Of her own free will, she inserted herself into an already factored equation, and the addition did not fit.  Any altering of the equation would bring death to several others.  There could only be one solution.

The Cold Equations, Tom Godwin, MarilynCold equations.

Most situations allow for variation, but not a cold equation.  Not everything can be altered.  Sometimes, we have to alter ourselves, FORCE ourselves to do things we really would rather not do.  Those who insist that life be altered to suit them are living in a fool’s paradise.  All the insistence in the world will not stop a tornado in its path, or make a tidal wave change its mind and turn back.   The factors in such equations can only equal a set product.

equations

Human beings have the power to set the factors and change them if we desire, in order to produce the product we desire.  Not always, but sometimes.  We have to deal with some cold equations, but most human experiences do allow for deviation.

Now, click on the link in that first paragraph and go read the short story, “The Cold Equations.”  Don’t read it right before bedtime.  Tom Godwin, your story is absolutely superb.  I was horrified, and terrified, and lost in admiration.

 

Plagiarism, Compassion, and the Dinner Table

Plagiarism.  Compassion for plagiarism?  It was his third strike for the same offense.  Last Wednesday morning, after class,  I had to play “Plagiaristic Confrontation” again, and it was no fun. It’s never fun. All throughout my career, I’ve listened to teachers brag and purr about ‘bringing a student down,’ and I’ve sat there shaking my head in amazement, wondering what kind of people were in charge of classrooms these days. “Bringing a student down” was never a goal of mine; I am frankly horrified that anyone would do so happily, and that anyone could gloat about it afterwards. I always thought that one of my functions was to help students UP, not bring them down and brag about it to others who sat there applauding.

plagiarism

Maybe I’m just an old softy (although there are those who would argue that point!!) but I just can not even imagine being happy about a student who was in trouble. Even when that trouble was the student’s own choice and fault, I’m still sorry, not gleeful. I might think things like, “Well, too bad, but life is full of choices and choices bring consequences, etc. etc.” but I couldn’t clap my hands and laugh because someone who is supposed to be the adult in charge gets off on bringing someone who is SUPPOSED to need help, down.

I might cry, but I wouldn’t laugh.

compassion, kindness

Wednesday, in the hallway after class, talking to that student, reminding him about all the previous reminders, explaining the consequences of his choice to him, watching him wilt and lean against the wall and then cover his face with his hands and weep, did something to me that day. It made me want to write a post about younger students, and how we as the adults who are in charge need to do everything in our power to help them attain the skills they so desperately need in order to care for themselves and others as they grow up; we need to help our children appreciate culture so they might understand music and art and allow them to enrich and soothe their souls and give them something positive to do with leisure time; we need to help our children learn and understand everything we can possibly expose them to in the short amount of time they are entrusted to us; we need to show them how to figure things out all by themselves, and to appreciate those things that have no explanation at all, and to help them see that these are often the coolest things of all. We need to teach them compassion by demonstrating compassion; even more importantly, we need to teach them about empathy.

Empathy goes further than mere sympathy.  Sympathy feels for someone; empathy feels WITH someone.
Empathy goes further than mere sympathy. Sympathy feels for someone; empathy feels WITH someone.

THIS is the job of the parent-school team. Not drilling for ISTEP, not months of reviewing so a school will look good on paper and get more money, not sitting for seven hours in a classroom  for thirty minutes of enchantment and a list of vocabulary words, not going over the same stuff again and again and again because two kids still can’t do it, not hanging posters that say “Zero Tolerance” all over a school that publicly advertises its refusal to give second chances. . . . .

Here at Spangler Science, we want our students to learn.  We want them to learn science.  We want them to love to learn science.  We want them to love to learn science and apply it to the world.  We want our students to be so excited about science that they overflow with enthusiasm at the dinner table.  Science helps students understand that just because an attempt doesn’t work the first time they try it, that doesn’t mean it won’t work the next time.  And the next.  Persistence.  This applies to all of life, and getting their hands dirty with trying is a wonderful memory booster.

We make science fun!
We make science fun!

Good schools are not all about more money. You can throw money into a pigpen all day, and the pigs won’t care. Good schools are all about education. Education has been defined as “A change in behavior.” I want to qualify that statement by saying that to me, education is a POSITIVE change in behavior. And if we have to do a little tweaking to get the students’ attention, then so be it. And if we have to do a little strong -arming to get some parents to cooperate, well, so be that, too. Let the tweaking and strong-arming begin.

William Glasser

We must help our children learn, that they might become educated, that perhaps the behavior of the entire world might change..

If we do these things, then our children will never have to stand out in the hall with me, faces crumpled in horror, leaning against the wall and weeping because of the consequences of their own actions.

And I won’t have to go home and do the same.

Drinking Problems

Steve Spangler, the Master Teacher himself, has admitted that most plants have a drinking problem, so I thought I’d see for myself if that was true.

I started out with four clear vases.  I didn’t have any two that were alike, but that just makes my experiment more interesting.

No two alike!
                      No two alike!

Since I would be dealing with fresh flowers, my next step was logical: I filled each vase with some full-blown Water Jelly Marbles.  I also got out the food coloring.

I never use fresh flowers without jelly marbles.  And sometimes, food coloring.
I never use fresh flowers without jelly marbles. And sometimes, food                                                                     coloring.

Next I filled each vase with water, and then put a few drops of food coloring in each vase.  This resulted in some interested formations.

It's beautiful, isn't it.
It’s beautiful, isn’t it.

Then, I got my sharpest kitchen knife and cut a diagonal piece off the end of each flower stem.  Steve likes to give each flower a split end and let it share two vases, but I thought I would try it another way and see what happened.    Each of my flowers got its own vase.

Aren't they pretty?  You should try this!
Aren’t they pretty? You should try                                this!

The big vase got two flowers, but the three smaller vases each got one flower.  Would the size of the vase influence which flower “changed” first?  We’ll see.

Each of my four vases got a different color: yellow, blue, red, and purple.  I wondered which color would show up first. . . .

I put all of this together on Sunday afternoon.  Today is Tuesday.  Look at which color showed up first!

The little vase with the blue water won!
The little vase with the blue water                                          won!

What exactly happened here?  It’s interesting!  (All science is interesting.)  We can compare the way flowers suck water up their stem to the tips of their petals with YOU, sucking soda up your straw into your mouth.  To quote Steve Spangler:

“Okay, now it’s time to get technical. There are two things that combine to move water through plants — transpiration and cohesion. Water evaporating from the leaves, buds, and petals (transpiration) pulls water up the stem of the plant. This works in the same way as sucking on a straw. Water that evaporates from the leaves “pulls” other water behind it up to fill the space left by the evaporating water, but instead of your mouth providing the suction (as with a straw) the movement is due to evaporating water. This can happen because water sticks to itself (called water cohesion) and because the tubes in the plant stem are very small (in a part of the plant called the xylem). This process is called capillary action.”

So much of science is also beauty.  Fresh flowers in the home add beauty and fragrance, and using them to do a little science adds to the enjoyment, especially when there are children in the home.

This is a science experiment that the whole family can enjoy.  It’s simple and pretty and inexpensive, and the science fair judges would be very impressed.

Now I can hardly wait to check on my flowers tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.  If one day can show results, what will three days show?  I’ll update this post for you so you can all see what I’ll be seeing in my dining room.

 

Will Wheaton Anti-Bullying Message is Right On

This video is a few years old, but we thought it needed to be shared. Again. Wil Wheaton was in Denver at Comic Con and was asked if he was bullied as a child and what he did to deal. The question came from a young girl in the audience. His anti-bullying message was spot on.

Wil Wheaton at Denver Comic Con 2013 From CGPhotogcom

When a person makes fun of you or when a person is cruel to you, it has nothing to do with you. It’s about them feeling bad about themselves. It’s about them feeling sad,” Wheaton explains.

Every parent and every child should watch this video. When we all understand where bullying comes from and how to defeat it, maybe then it will disappear from our culture.

There’s 50,000 people here this weekend who went through the exact same thing and we are all doing really well.

“Don’t you ever let a person make you feel bad because you love something that they decided was only for nerds,” he ended with. “Your loving things for you.”

 

Science and Cupcakes

I wonder sometimes if people realize the incredible wonder of everyday science. . . . .  things we do every day, things we see, things we touch, things we eat. . . . you know, like cupcakes.

Cupcakes are science.  Without science there would be no cupcakes.  Imagine a world without cupcakes.  It would be bleak.  We need science so we can have cupcakes.

Without science, there would be no cupcakes.
Without science, there would be no cupcakes.

Cupcakes are not a single entity, you know.  Cupcakes are a combination of several things, and it is the combination that creates cupcakes.  It’s chemistry.  Kitchen science is chemistry.  It’s other kinds of sciences as well, but it’s mostly chemistry.

In a lab, we add different things together to create reactions, and to create new things which would not exist were it not for the COMBINATION of various other things.

Before you begin this experiment, you need to anticipate the receptacle that will induce the chemical reaction needed.  For this experiment, you need to preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  And then you need to begin mixing the single ingredients together to create a new whole.

With cupcakes, we need flour.  Three cups of flour.

Three cups of white flour are needed for this experiment.
Three cups of white flour are needed for this experiment.

Put the flour in a  medium-size bowl.  Kitchen science – chemistry – requires specific kinds of containers; test tubes are too small, so you’ll need a couple of bowls.  You’ll also need a cupcake pan and some paper liners.

In that medium bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder and salt.  They’re chemicals, too.

Salt is, chemically, a combination of sodium and chloride.  Baking powder is a combination of saleratus and cream of tartar.
Salt is, chemically, a combination of sodium and chloride. Baking powder is a combination of saleratus and cream of tartar.

Ma Ingalls, in The Long Winter, was glad to finally, after months of near starvation, get some supplies that enabled her to cook good meals once again.  Now that I have cream of tartar and plenty of saleratus, I shall make a cake.”   Which is what we’re doing right now, only we’re putting the batter in cupcake pans, and we don’t have to make our own baking powder, which is what Ma was doing with the saleratus and cream of tartar.

In a separate, larger bowl, cream the butter. Gradually add the sugar, creaming until light and fluffy.  (Creaming, in kitchen science, means softening and blending things with the curved side of a large spoon.  You can also do this with a mixer, but that’s not as much fun.) Add the eggs to this bowl.  Blend thoroughly.

eggs, butter, sugar

Add the milk and vanilla to the mixture in the large bowl.  We use vanilla extract in baking, but let’s not forget where that vanilla extract comes from.

See that orchid?  That's where vanilla comes from. It smells wonderful, doesn't it; almost like a. . . . flower.
See that orchid? That’s where vanilla comes from. It smells wonderful, doesn’t it; almost like a. . . . flower.

Blend the vanilla and milk with the mixture in the large bowl; be sure you mix the ingredients thoroughly.  Proper mixing is important in chemistry.

Now start adding the dry ingredients to the mixture in the big bowl.  Add them a little at a time, blending well between additions.  When all the dry ingredients are added, start beating the batter with a large spoon or a mixer.    For good cake/cupcakes, the chemistry of the ingredients must be blended thoroughly and smoothly.

Pour the batter into your cupcake pans, put the pans into the oven, and bake for 15-20 minutes.  The heat will create a reaction that will turn all those ingredients you mixed together into. . . . cake.  After 15 minutes, check for doneness; there are several ways to check.  When the cupcakes look done and spring back when you tap them with your finger, or when an inserted toothpick comes out clean, the cupcakes are done.  Remove them from the oven and let them cool.

Cupcakes.  All those ingredients turned into cupcakes.  Kitchen science.
Cupcakes. All those ingredients turned into cupcakes. Kitchen science.

Put some icing on them if you like icing.  Icing is kitchen science, too, but for now, we’ll let you wonder about that one as you devour your cupcakes.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody talk about leftover cupcakes.