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Monday, March 29, 2010

Prepping DiscoveryPrepping Discovery for STS-131

Amanda Diller's gorgeous NASA Image of the Day, Preparing Discovery for Flight, shows the space shuttle Discovery ready to receive a payload canister holding the Leonardo supply module at Launch Pad 39A. Scheduled to launch on April 5, Discovery "will deliver a multi-purpose logistics module filled with science racks to be transferred to laboratories on the International Space Station."

Remaining Shuttle Missions:

LAUSD to Cut School Year

Jason Song writes in L.A. school unions agree to cut days from academic calendar that an agreement has been reached by various employee groups and the LAUSD "to shorten this school year by five days and next year by seven." Faced with a reported $640-million deficit, the move by the nation's second largest school district would save around $140 million, preserve current class sizes in grade and middle schools, and potentially save around 2,100 jobs. The agreement still needs to be ratified by members of the teachers' and administrators' unions.

DC Contract Settlement Close?

The Washington Post's Bill Turque reports in D.C. teachers contract may be close, union chief says that the president of the Washington Teachers' Union has told members that he hopes to have details of a proposed contract ready for their review after they return from spring break on April 6. The potential contract has been said to include voluntary performance pay and wider latitude on teacher dismissals.

On Science@NASA

Science@NASAAn Avalanche of Asteroids tells of NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and its search for dark objects in space. WISE finds objects such as brown dwarf stars, vast dust clouds, and Earth-approaching asteroids "by sensing their heat in the form of infrared light most other telescopes can't pick up."

Postings on Science@NASA are written in vocabulary appropriate for middle through high school students. They also have audio files and other language versions available as well as being available as podcasts on iTunesicon.

Other recent Science@NASA postings:

The Multiplying Mystery of Moonwater

Looking Ahead

April begins, of course, with April Fool's Day on Thursday and winds down with Zipper Day and Arbor Day according to The Teacher's Corner April Calendar. In what may be a scheduling blessing, many spring breaks occur this week, saving a bit of April Fool's wear and tear for classroom teachers. In between all of that, we have Good Friday, Easter, Earth Day, and National Jelly Bean Day. Pick your teachable moments appropriately!

Let me not-so-humbly recommend our Educators' News feature, Resource Sites for Teachers, to help locate appropriate content for special occasions.


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Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fool's Pages

Google spoofAPOD spoofYou may have already run across at least one of these April Fool's spoof pages. Google users were greeted today with a new logo, Topeka, on the Google main search site and a link to a fictitious story about Google changing their name to Topeka. Google has been known to pull such pranks before, such as their excellent 2007 posting about "interviewing candidates for engineering positions at our lunar hosting and research center"

The Astronomy Picture of the Day continued its practice of April Fool's postings today with a shot from forty years ago of an astronaut on the moon's surface looking at a water cooler, in reference to the recent discoveries of water on the moon. While the APOD posting references a Wikipedia posting about the April Fool's spaghetti tree hoax of 1957, they have a pretty good history of humorous April 1 postings.

If you feel the need to search out the educational relevance of April Fool's Day, Wikipedia has a nice page for that purpose, complete with some all-star April Fool's Day pranks.

If You Teach in Florida...

Turkey of the WeekTeachers in Florida couldn't be blamed for consulting their realtor and updating their resumes. A bill making its way through the Florida legislature "affectionately called a 'hammer' on the teaching profession by its sponsor" according to Valerie Strauss's Teachers fighting back in Florida, would require:

  • School systems to evaluate and pay teachers primarily on the basis of student test scores. (Testing experts say this is unfair and unworkable.)
  • School systems to ignore a teacher’s experience, advanced degrees or professional credentials in any evaluation or pay.
  • School systems to put newly hired teachers on probation for five years and then give them annual contracts for the rest of their careers.
  • The creation of more standardized tests for students, to cover subjects not already assessed.

Both Diane Ravitch's Outrage in Florida and an earlier Strauss posting, Florida's terrible teachers bill a test for Duncan, tell more about a trend that may be coming to your state soon. It's already on our doorstep here in Indiana. So while Indiana's Governor Mitch Daniels could be a perennial Turkey of the Week, I think the collective "genius" of the Florida legislature is even a bit more deserving of our derisive new Educators' News Turkey of the Week award.

Check Out the Western Sky at Sunset this Weekend

Stellarium projectionScience@NASA's Dr. Tony Phillips alerts us in his Sunset Planet Alert that "The solar system's innermost planets are about to put on a beautiful show." Venus and Mercury will be just a few degrees apart just after sunset this weekend, making for "an eye-catching pair in the deep-blue twilight of sunset."

Last weekend, I'd noticed a "bright star" at sunset in the western sky and had run inside and fired up the open source Stellarium application to identify it as Venus. It was absolutely gorgeous, and from its brightness, I'd already guessed it to be a planet without Stellarium's assistance.

If you're unfamiliar with Stellarium, it's a free, open source planetarium software application that allows users to create a night sky on their computer for pretty much any time or place on earth. My copy of the app is set, of course, to west, central Indiana (actually with geographic coordinates to the middle of my back yard, courtesy of Google Earth). I just bumped the app's date and time up a few days and hours to see where to look this weekend for the event. Stellarium is available in versions for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. And it's sure hard to beat "free!"

Sites for Teachers

An email from the Library of Congress led me to their updated Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. It has recently been redesigned to include " full-page galleries, savable searches, and easy-to-bookmark pages."

eSchool News's SEN Teacher promotes free resources for special needs students led me to the SEN Teacher site that specializes in free "teaching & learning resources for students with special needs and learning disabilities."

An email from WGBH's Teachers' Domain announced a new site, Engineer Your Life, that has free resources "you can use to spark girls' interest in engineering."

Odds 'n' Ends

The Top Ten Fifteen
  1. Building a Raised Garden Bed (March 30, 2009)
  2. Growing Geraniums from Seed (a continuing Senior Gardening feature)
  3. Gloxinias (a continuing Senior Gardening feature)
  4. Teacher Tools: AppleWorks (November 15, 1999)
  5. Illustrated Power Mac 7500 Teardown (July 23, 2001)
  6. Portuguese Kale Soup (August, 2008)
  7. Co:Writer 4000 (January 2, 2003)
  8. Teacher Tools: A Roll-Your-Own Spelling Program (December 13, 1999)
  9. The Freewares of 2009 (December 11, 2009)
  10. Max IIfx (May 11, 1999)
  11. Resource Sites for Teachers (April 1, 2009)
  12. Out of this World Desktop Pictures (July 15, 2002)
  13. A Day Off & A New Camera: Part II, (December 12, 2008)
  14. A Dry Sump for My Raised Bed (October 8, 2008)
  15. Why I Prefer Macs in the Classroom (August 1, 2001)

March simply wasn't a lot of fun for me. I put out two new columns, one that I'd worked on for over a year. Neither drew as many hits as my recipe for Grandma's Yeast Rolls! And since the yeast rolls didn't make my monthly Top Ten, or even the extended Top Fifteen for March, I was a bit bummed out.

Ravitch: Death and Life of... iconApparently, Diane Ravitch: The Death and Life of the Great American School System wasn't all that great a review of Diane Ravitch's new book. That's too bad, as everyone with a stake in American education should read her book. With all the craziness going on in education "reform" these days, it's a refreshing and easy read about the current misdirection of much of the Obama/Duncan education reform effort as well as many states' similar initiatives.

They're Not Listening is a column I began just after the 2008 Presidential election. Even though Annie and I were strong Obama supporters throughout the election cycle, I had some misgivings then about his ideas for education reform. Since that time, my misgivings have grown into outright opposition to things such as merit pay, teacher evaluations tied to student test scores, more testing, and the continuation of the punitive measures of NCLB.

And while a couple of column flops isn't all that important in the bigger picture of education reform, I worry that folks in the classroom may not be aware of just how bad things may get if the Obama Blueprint for Reform, Florida's new teacher law, and similar stuff such as we have going on here in Indiana now become law.

An email from a frequent reader this morning got me going again on Educators' News today. Without Tom Rademaker's encouraging message, "Missing your posts Steve....A man with a life, imagine that," I might have just taken the rest of the week off. After the fun and games that produced last Friday's Turkey of the Week award, I just pulled out a couple of old Tom Clancy novels, worked in the garden, and vegged out for a week.

On a more positive note, I really did get a lot of garden related chores done this week and made several postings on Senior Gardening. While it's been sunny and warm this week, the ground is still too wet and cold to plant much of anything outside. I did get one tree planted and moved our brassica, lettuce, and geranium starts outside under our cold frame. I also did a lot of indoor planting (tomatoes, melons, etc.). And we're still enjoying one of our gloxinias grown from seed that has put up a dazzling display of blooms (after some creative pinching a few weeks ago).

Red gloxinia

Friday, April 2, 2010

School Planetariums

Michael Alison Chandler's Study of space becoming a victim of school budget cuts begins with the story of a proposed planetarium closing in Virginia and expands to look at the state of school planetariums across the country. Chandler writes, "Today, school boards across the country are debating whether the costs of maintaining or updating the aging domes are worth it for a generation of students shaped more by the Information Age than the Space Age."

Butler BulldogsFor many of us, a childhood field trip to a local planetarium may have been our first introduction to the basics of the night sky and the gee whiz effect of astronomy. My introduction came in fourth grade at Butler University's Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium. While working on my masters degree, I returned to both the planetarium and observatory there when I took a freshman level astronomy course as a break from my masters program. Both experiences had a positive effect on my teaching career.

Hawaii School Year Still Unsettled

The Associated Press reports in Hawaii Teachers Vote to Put Kids Back in Class that the statewide teachers' union overwhelmingly approved a new supplemental labor contract this week "to resume a full 180-day school year after teacher furloughs cut 17 days from this school year and next to help balance the state budget." Governor Linda Lingle "told KITV4 News the state cannot afford it and she will not sign off on it."

Teacher Surveys

Stephen Sawchuk's Teacher Surveys Aimed at Swaying Policymakers on Education Week looks at several recent national teacher surveys and their potential effect on the Obama Administration's school reform plans. He writes, "At its heart, the matter concerns the complicated question of whether classroom teachers’ views are taken into consideration in policymaking."

A subhead in the article asks, "Is Anybody Listening?" Sadly, I found my answer and reported it in They're Not Listening last month.

Odds 'n' Ends

Apple's new tablet device, the iPad, goes on sale tomorrow "in all 221 US Apple® retail stores and most Best Buy stores" according to an Apple press release. A quick check of the Apple Store revealed that Wi-Fi models ordered there today are scheduled to ship "By April 12th," with the Wi-Fi + 3G model not available until "Late April." As reported here a few weeks ago, there are no education discounts for education individuals purchasing the new device. Schools may purchase 10-packs of iPads with a $20/unit discount, but no discount for less than ten or individually packaged iPads.

Have a great weekend!

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