Sunday, December 16, 2007

Grrr . . .

Commenting is messed up right now; shouldn't be moderated. This new template doesn't seem to like HaloScan. Of course, it could be an operator-based ID10T error.

Will try to fix sometime this week.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On extra credit

It’s at about this time during the semester that I regret having given any extra credit opportunities.


Most of my students are very grade-conscious and will willingly put effort toward an extra credit assignment in hopes of turning their B+ into an A-. Or their A into an A+.

But . . . right about now, it never fails that a few individuals seem to want me to just give them points so they can get the grade they want.

So why didn’t these same students take care of the issue earlier?

Access to PowerSchool gives students the ability to know their grade in any class at any time. It’s not as though students are ignorant of their standing in the course.

So why wait until the last two weeks of the semester to start asking for *more* extra credit opportunities?

An analysis of student grades shows that the daily work/quizzes are the lowest category in most students’ grades. The quizzes are based on the homework, so it seems that there are a couple of possibilities. One, the homework isn’t getting done. Two, the assignment isn’t understood.

If you’re not even attempting the homework, or giving up without seeking help from me, then there’s not much I can do to help you improve your grade.

When you don’t understand the topic, it’s imperative that you take responsibility and ask questions! If you’re not willing to raise your hand and ask, email me (cshepherdadams(at), or IM me at cshepherdadams .

There have been a number of opportunities already this semester for extra credit, mostly for attending FHSU-sponsored science presentations. There was the Chris Mooney presentation (Monday, October 15), a couple of astronomy programs (Thursday, October 4 & Tuesday, November 13), and the Christmas Science show at Sternberg Museum (Saturday, December 7). These options allowed you to get involved in science outside our classroom, to get another perspective of science and how it’s used in real life.

Likewise, each and every unit test you’ve had in this class has included problems or questions that were for “extra credit” – in other words, you weren’t penalized for not getting them right, and you were rewarded for correct responses.

Please note that these opportunities are available to each and every student. It's certainly not fair to ask your teacher to make a special option available just for you.

So, no, I won’t be making up extra worksheets for you to fill out, or puzzles for you to do, or assign book reports or any other such nonsense for “extra credit.”

If you take care of your grade throughout the semester, you’ll find that you don’t need any extra credit at the end.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Does this scene look familiar?

Back on January 26, 2007, Lt. Governor Mark Parkinson visited Hays High School, and one of our Freshman Honors Physics classes was fortunate enough to meet him live and in person. He spoke briefly of his high-school-age son, and of his hopes that you'll be prepared to face the challenges of this world.

During your lifetime, I hope you get the chance to travel and meet many amazing people. Hays is the best place I can think of to raise a family . . . so get out in the world, explore, then come back and help make our community even better!

Link to Mark Parkinson's Road Journal.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Checks Lab

You were each given a set of cancelled checks, and you pulled out a few at a time to try to figure out what was happening in the life of the person(s) writing the checks. As you looked at more checks, you revised your explanation.

Now, you're ready to post your explanation. Please do so in the comments here, and include the name of each person in your group.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Welcome Back!

Just a few short days . . .

Until the techs in the ICU CCU can get the right software loaded onto my laptop, this page will be your source of information for the class.

Seniors - Advanced Physics - M1:

Wed 8/22
  • Why take this class??
  • Safety issues & video
  • Begin "Nature of Science" iMovie project
Fri 8/24
  • Safety Test
  • Math diagnostic test
  • Finish "Nature of Science" iMovie project
Tu 8/28
  • Present "Nature of Science" project - BEGINNING of period
  • Start Chapter 1 in text
Honors Freshmen - G3, M4

Tu/W 8/22,23

Th/F 8/24,25
  • *Turn in your signed syllabus at the beginning of the period*
  • Accuracy v Precision demo
  • Lab: Graphing in Excel I, or How To Run Circles Around Your Teacher
  • Ban DHMO?

M/Tu 8/27,28
  • The Nature of Science & The Way Science Works
  • Checks Lab
  • Read pp. 4 - 19; Complete p.11, q.2-8; p. 19, q.1-7

Freshman Physics G4
TBA . . .

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The other questions . . .

Okay, admit it, you have non-science questions to ask of le jeune Francais (the young French).

Please submit two original questions in the comments below that you'd like to have answered by your jeune compagnons de Francais* from the Lycee Bernard Palissy d'Agen next Friday.
These questions need NOT be scientific, but they should be civil; culture, music, customs, daily life . . . they're fair game!

Part of the reason these students want to interact with you is to practice their English-speaking skills. On Tuesday morning, I'll get your questions to them so they have time to translate the question and formulate an answer in English for Friday.

As always, please submit using only your first name and last initial for safety's sake.

*This is supposed to mean, "young French counterparts."

Questions for the scientist

You've watched "An Inconvenient Truth."

A NASA consultant has visited with you about aerosols, clouds and their formation, and how NASA and the French space agency - CNES - have satellites in orbit to take measurements that climatologists need to make long-term climate predictions.

Next Friday, twenty of you will be in direct conversation with 20 students in France who are your age from the Lycee Palissy d'Agen. You'll be joined (virtually, from Virginia) by the scientist who designed the satellite mission who is one of the top atmospheric scientists in the world.

Here's your chance! Undoubtedly, there are parts of the movie or the NASA consultant's presentation that you didn't understand. So . . . each of you should submit two original science questions here - in the comments - for the scientists to answer next Friday.

Bonne chance! (Good luck!)
Ce tâche à faire pour la fin de lundi, 7 May. (This assignment is due by the end of the class day on Monday, May 7. Or at least that's what it's supposed to mean.)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Dodos in Hays - recap

The National Weather Service had issued a winter storm warning.

The film was a documentary, focusing on a topic many Kansans are just plain tired of hearing about.

(Above: The mastodon guards the entrance)

Still, 105 people from Hays and the surrounding area braved the threat of a blizzard to watch “Flock of Dodos” last night at Sternberg Museum, sponsored by FHSU’s Science and Mathematics Education Center. Refreshments were provided by Kansas Citizens for Science.

And although the promise of 8-12 inches of snow melted faster than a teenager can hit the snooze button, the film and the discussion afterward sparked dialogue that continued after the official “close” of the function.

The panelists, from left to right:

The evening’s moderator was Dr. Paul E. Adams, Professor of Physics and Anschutz Professor of Education at Ft. Hays State University. Paul began teaching astronomy at the age of 10 to budding astronauts in his neighborhood, and his passion for excellence in science education influences every facet of his work.

Andy Stanton has spent the past 10 years working in the advertising, public relations and marketing industries. His experience has taken him into the communication field involving the propane industry, Kansas K-12 educational public relations and Kansas tourism. Andy is an assistant professor of Communication Studies at Ft. Hays State University. Dr. Steven B. Case is the Associate Director and Research Assistant Professor at the Center for Research on Learning at the University of Kansas. Dr. Case was the co-chair of the Kansas Science Standards Writing Committee during the last adoption cycle.

Dr. Carl Miller holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Georgia and a JD from George Washington University Law School; he’s an assistant professor of philosophy at FHSU. His philosophical research is largely inter-disciplinary, with interests in issues relating to science, especially evolutionary biology, and the scientific method, such as the nature and origin of the mind, the relation between science and religion, and the use of science in the law and ethics. Carl is also keenly interested in the issue of Constitutional interpretation and judicial activism. Dr. Loretta Dorn is an associate professor in the Chemistry Department at Ft. Hays State University. Loretta earned her BS (with honors) from Carnegie-Mellon in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry, and her PhD at Brandeis focused on organic synthesis. Current research interests include a joint project relating the feeding behavior of lemurs to the nutritional value of the tamarind leaves upon which they feed.

Some questions posed to the panelists:

If evolutionists think we have evolved from apes, then where do they think apes come from? How do they think life initially began? Why is evolution theory sometimes called impossible? If we have evolved why are there different ethnicities? Will evolution or intelligent design ever be proven? Is modern evolution any different than Darwin’s evolution? Are they coming toward a conclusion for this controversy? Isn’t it illegal to teach intelligent design? Will evolution and intelligent design ever be taught together? Kathy Martin said “there aren’t enough transitional fossils.” Have evolution critics agreed on how many would be enough? How is evolution not a simple answer for a Godless society? The scientists at the poker game take the Lord’s name in vain and act like they despise religion. How can we believe these same people when they insist they know best what should be taught in school? What can we do to make sure Kansas doesn't undergo "Evolution War III" in 2008?

Many of these questions were submitted by the students. It was enlightening to me as a teacher to be reminded that these young men and women are capable of thinking more deeply than adults sometimes realize. These are students who would relish a course in comparative religion or a basic philosophy class.

Although Case and Miller had a spirited discussion on the issue of Charles Darwin’s faith – or lack thereof – the evening was refreshingly civil. The adults in attendance proved to be excellent role models for the students who were present: the panelists expressed dissenting opinions without rudeness or rancor, and answered fairly pointed questions calmly and patiently.

Props to the staffs of the FHSU Science & Mathematics Center and Sternberg Museum. Thanks also to Randy Olson for his support!

At right: Dave Pollock, president of Kansas Association of Teachers of Science, just chillin' at the close.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Making stuff up

Leonard Pitts has an interesting column today which begins:

"Hard to believe, but they're at it again. After 2002, when a National Cancer Institute statement reporting no link between abortion and breast cancer was changed by the Bush administration to say evidence of a link was inconclusive; after the administration cut language on global warming from a 2003 report by the Environmental Protection Agency; after a government scientist was forbidden in 2001 and 2002 from discussing health hazards posed by airborne bacteria emanating from animal waste at large factory farms; after 60 scientists, 20 of them Nobel laureates, signed a statement in 2004 accusing the White House of manipulating and distorting science for political aims.

After all that, Team Bush has once again been caught censoring science it dislikes."
Amazing, isn't it?

On the one hand, you have government officials with little or no scientific credibility censoring and distorting and outright lying about science.

On the other, there are some who insist that it's the scientists who just "make this stuff up."

Problem is . . . scientists can't just "make this stuff up" when they don't know what's going on. That's because there's always another scientist somewhere who'd just love to make a name for him/herself by showing just how wrong the "made up stuff" is.

That's why procedures and results are published and subjected to something called peer review. Peer review is just a fancy way of saying "experts in this field of study carefully analyzed this experiment." "Peer" means that if you write a paper about biochemistry, it will be critiqued by other biochemists, not mathematicians or theologians. Or clueless government officials.

However . . . those who push non-scientific ideas avoid peer review like the plague. Instead, they publish books and produce videos that bypass the scientific review process, and market them to gullible consumers who are attracted by the pretty pictures and explosive sound bites. They rely on politics and press releases instead of peer review and rigor. It's these charlatans pushing pseudoscience who are the ones "just making stuff up."

Just like the government officials who are clueless about the science.

As Pitts concludes,

"But here's what really burns my toast: These people [the officials who are cluelessly censoring science] think I'm stupid. And they think you're stupid, too. What else can we conclude of a government that treats us with such brazen disdain?

They think we're a bunch of doofuses, dimwits and dolts who will never notice that they've placed the interests of their cronies above our own.

For the record, I am not stupid and I resent being treated as if I am.

How about you?"

I know you're smart enough not to be duped by the un-scientists who are really "making up stuff."

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Cool Topic, but Dry

Or, "Why Teaching High School Science is So Much Fun."

We'd used dry ice in the morning for the Advanced Physics lab, as they measured the speed of sound through air and through the CO2 gas sublimed from the dry ice.

(Top photo by Koffi Toulaboe)

In the afternoon, the freshmen got to play investigate some properties of this substance that so easily changes from solid to gas. Students were surprised that the gas wasn't wet, like water vapor is. (Dry ice, remember?)

*This* is what makes teaching so exciting - seizing that moment. Those moments produce more learning and more excitement about science than even the prettiest PowerPoints.

Science, Out in the World

Moonrise over Homer, Alaska, August 2006

In the centuries before our electronic era, most folks had a much better understanding of how nature worked than most of us do now. Undistracted by the lure of light, we looked to the heavens to try to discern meaning in the world. We knew, without looking at Channel 8 or, what weather we'd probably be facing for the next couple of days, while animal fur and cicada songs gave longer-term forecasts.

There's a growing movement across the country to get back to these roots, and away from the more esoteric features of science.

Try it yourself. Tear yourself away from your laptop (yes, you!) and get out for a walk. It doesn't have to be in a pristine natural setting; just somewhere where you can see the sky and feel the ever-present winds of western Kansas.

Maybe you'll catch the unexpected!

Monday, March 5, 2007

Testing . . . testing . . . 1 . . 2 . . 3 . . .

Don't forget that you won't be able to visit your science or math teachers during this week's seminar/academy periods.

We're administering the state math assessment during that time. Trust me, I'd much rather be working with you; if you have questions, come in before/after school, or shoot me an email.

Next week, we'll be back to our normal academy/seminar schedule, with access as usual to the science & math teachers.

Freshmen, good luck on your test today/Tuesday!

Friday, March 2, 2007


The Dodos are coming! The Dodos are coming!

Reserve the evening of Thursday, April 12, for the award-winning documentary "Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus." Appropriately, the film will make its western Kansas debut at Sternberg Museum in Hays among the "fish within a fish" and mosasaur specimens.

Update: The film will begin at 7:00 pm.

The official synopsis:

Flock of Dodos is the first feature documentary (84 mins.) to present both sides of the Intelligent Design/Evolution clash that appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek in 2005. Filmmaker and former Evolutionary Ecologist Dr. Randy Olson tries to make sense of the issue by visiting his home state of Kansas. At first it seems the problem lies wiht intelligent design - a movement labeled recently as "breathtaking inanity" by a federal judge - but when a group of evolutionists convene for a night of poker and discussion they end up sounding themselves like . . . a flock of dodos.

According to Wikipedia,
Flock of Dodos humorously examines the debate between proponents of the concept of intelligent design and the scientific establishment that supports evolution. The evolutionary famous dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is a now-extinct bird that lived on the Island of Mauritius, which is approximately 500 miles east of Madagascar. When Portuguese sailors arrived on the island, the possible combination of over-hunting and introduction of new predators (i.e. pigs, macaques) seems to have led to its extinction by approximately 1700. Due to its lack of fear of humans and inability to fly, the dodo was easy prey, and thus became known for its apparent stupidity. It failed to change with an evolving environment, which ultimately led to the birds' demise.

The film attempts to determine who the real "dodos" are in a constantly evolving world: the scientists who are failing to promote evolution as a scientifically accepted fact, the intelligent design advocates, or the American public who get fooled by the salesmanship of the Discovery Institute. While Randy Olson ultimately sides with the scientists who accept evolution, he gives equal air time to both sides of the argument, including intelligent design proponent Michael Behe and several of his colleagues.

A panel discussion will be held after the film.

The showing will be sponsored by the FHSU Science and Math Center, FHSU's Sigma Xi chapter and other entities.

Get this on your calendar before your free time goes extinct!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Someday, it will affect you.

Cancer. The sibilance of the word itself conjures up a sneaky, conniving beast intent upon destroying your cells, your organs, your very life. The American Cancer Society predicts that 12,760 Kansans will be diagnosed with cancer during 2007. During your lifetime, you or somebody close to you will be diagnosed with some type of cancer.

The good news? Breathtaking developments in detection and treatment during the last 20 years have dramatically increased the survival rate for cancers. It's being detected earlier and treated more effectively because of research into how cancer grows and changes in the body.

Science writer Carl Zimmer has written extensively about cancer. Zimmer has the rare ability to write about complex scientific topics in a clear, easy-to-understand manner. Here are links to a few of his posts on the topic:

From that article:
Natural selection is not natural perfection. Living creatures have evolved some remarkably complex adaptations, but we are still very vulnerable to disease. Among the most tragic of those ills—and perhaps most enigmatic—is cancer. A cancerous tumor is exquisitely well adapted for survival in its own grotesque way. Its cells continue to divide long after ordinary cells would stop. They destroy surrounding tissues to make room for themselves, and they trick the body into supplying them with energy to grow even larger. But the tumors that afflict us are not foreign parasites that have acquired sophisticated strategies for attacking our bodies. They are made of our own cells, turned against us. Nor is cancer some bizarre rarity: a woman in the U.S. has a 39 percent chance of being diagnosed with some type of cancer in her lifetime. A man has a 45 percent chance.
Read, listen, learn. Be able to make informed decisions when the time comes.

Monday, February 19, 2007

This is Your Brain on Chocolate

Some Types of Cocoa Can Improve Brain Function!

According to research presented yesterday (1/18/2007) for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS),
"A number of scientific studies suggest that some types of cocoa contain substances that could enhance blood flow in the brain and improve brain function."

The rest of the story:
"The session was titled "The Neurobiology of Chocolate: A Mind- Altering Experience?" It was sponsored by Mars Incorporated. The company has been sponsoring research on the nutritional and medical potential of cocoa's naturally occurring flavanols for the last 15 years."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

About the State Science Standards . . .

The issue has been all over the news: ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, The Daily Show . . .

Science is all about asking questions, using an orderly method to find ways to explain our world in terms of matter and energy. I'd no sooner try to keep you from asking questions than I would give up chocolate.

My fellow science teachers and I have been accused of brainwashing and inspiring fear in our students, and of promoting dogma and atheism.

By now you - my students - know me pretty well. I'll let you make up your own minds on that one.

Please don't take my - or anyone else's - opinion on the science standards issue as carved in stone. Here is a link to a document (warning: pdf) that highlights the changes that were made Tuesday.

Analyze the evidence. Form your own conclusion.

And remember, if you have concerns that you aren't comfortable sharing with me, please let your parents, or your guidance counselor, or an administrator know quickly. Although no learning occurs without some discomfort, I don't ever want you to feel ridiculed. Or brainwashed. Or fearful.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Order of the Science Scouts . . .

Members are:
- fond of IPCC reports (especially the pictures).
- into badges.
- grieving for the slow and miserable death of the Hubble Space Telescope.
- not in the business of total world domination.
- committed to the constant and diligent presentation of science stories, be it to editors, producers, directors, educators, relatives and/or friends of various ilk, in an effort to lessen the gaps in this thing we call public scientific literacy.

Here are the badges I can rightfully claim. How about you?

The "talking science" badge.
Required for all members. Assumes the recipient conducts himself/herself in such a manner as to talk science whenever he/she gets the chance. Not easily fazed by looks of disinterest from friends or the act of "zoning out" by well intentioned loved ones.
Erm, what is it I do for a living again . . . . ?

The "MacGyver" badge.
In which the recipient has demonstrated that his/her science communciation prowess was handy in simplifying a potentially challenging scenario. For example, was able to escape from unjustified prison term, with the clever use of a paper clip and WD-40. You know, that kind of thing.
You don't want the gory details, but it involved one of the offspring, a fancy restaurant with no high chairs, and a diaper.

The "I blog about science" badge.
In which the recipient maintains a blog where at least a quarter of the material is about science. Suffice to say, this does not include scientology.
Welll . . . this might be a stretch.

The "arts and crafts" badge.
Because you can't have a bunch of badges without an arts and crafts badge. This one assumes the recipient has all manner of "craftiness" with a sciencegeek twist.
Why was it that the Brownie troop really really liked the crafts, but the Cub Scouts abhorred them? Could it have been the pink fuzzy stuff? Anyway, my undergrad chemistry profs can confirm that my lab results often included unexpectedly vibrant colors. Cyan, anyone?

The "I'm pretty confident around an open flame" badge.
Recipients have demonstrated proficiency around open flames in laboratory settings.
If "proficiency" means "haven't caught my own hair on fire yet," it's all good.

The "inappropriate nocturnal use of lab equipment in the name of alternative science experimentation / communication" badge.
In which the recipient has "borrowed" scientific supplies for the sake of stealth scientific communication.
AKA "Fun with Lasers and People Who Made Bad Decisions Earlier This Evening." ;)

The "destroyer of quackery" badge.
In which the recipient never ever backs down from an argument that pits sound science over quackery.
'Nuff said. Heh heh heh.

The "I've touched human internal organs with my own hands" badge.
In which the recipient is "hopefully" doing something that is somehow related to human health.
Hey, it was a cadaver lab. And I will never, ever, ever eat liver again.

The "has frozen stuff just to see what happens" badge
(LEVEL I)In which the recipient has frozen something in the freezer for the sake of scientific curiosity.
Hailstones. 'Course, as a kid I didn't know about the defrost cycle, and those beautifully layered treasures turned into flat blobs.

(LEVEL II) In which the recipient has frozen something in dry ice for the sake of scientific curiosity.
My fingertips.

(LEVEL III) In which the recipient has frozen something in liquid nitrogen for the sake of scientific curiosity.
Ahhh . . . . the good stuff! Roses, grapes, bologna (for a 'cold cut' sandwich, of course), rubber tubing . . . pretty much any inanimate object that would fit.

The "I work with way too much radioactivity, and yet still no discernable superpowers yet" badge.
...Although not for lack of trying...
. . . it's not a good idea to play a practical joke on anybody with practical science knowledge. Trust me on this one, okay?

The "I will crush you with my math prowess" badge.
Seriously, scary stuff.
Meh. Test scores. Math was my weakest. Didn't let it slow me down. If I can handle this science stuff, anybody can. Seriously.

The "experienced with electrical shock" badge
(LEVEL I) In which the recipient has had experience with the electrical shocking of an organism. Humans are organisms.
(LEVEL II) In which the recipient has had experience with the electrical shocking of a human. I am a human.
In which the recipient has had experience with the electrical shocking of himself/herself.
I forgot about the ol' 'keep one hand behind your back while you're working' rule. In my defense, this happened during an era when most of my friends were learning how to make chocolate chip cookies without burning them. I was learning how to burn IC chips.

DISCLAIMER: Freshman, I have three times your life experience . . . learn from my mistakes, 'kay?

Loosely adapted from here.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Scientist Friday 2/2

There are 40 scientists to recognize this week.

That's because they're the 40 finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search, kind of a science fair on steroids. These seniors competed for over half a million dollars in scholarships - with the top prize a scholarship of $100,000. Those who made it into the top 40 received at least a $5000 scholarship and an Intel (of course!) laptop.

As usual, the state of New York dominated the awards, producing 12 of the 40 finalists. The winners are also disproportionately from special, state- or large-city-wide science/math magnet schools.

These high school students have been working with university faculty to investigate everything from methods of predicting sunspot movement to measuring passive love to leadership change, violence, and the cycle of relative power.

You know, we could do this too! There are students at HHS who have the potential to compete at this level. But it wouldn't necessarily be easy.

Here's what we'd need:

  • First, more support for gifted programs & enrichment at the secondary level.
  • Second, a strong partnership with university faculty. Most FHSU science faculty I've met - and had the privilege to work with - would *love* to mentor a high school student at this level.
  • Third - and probably most important - we'd need a feeder system, where students who are interested in science are nurtured and encouraged from the early years to take more science classes, go to summer science camps, and participate in academic competitions.

It would be nice, of course, if we could promise that the winners would receive signing bonuses, endorsements from calculator companies, and cute/handsome cheerleaders shouting "Hold that thought! Hold that thought!
But we all know that the nerd factor is a tough one to shake . . . that's a topic for another day.

Meet the winners here. And go here for a lighter look at real geniuses and science fairs.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ethical Dilemma, Part 1

  1. Suppose you are a passenger in a car driven by a friend. As you are about to set out on a lengthy trip, you notice that the driver is not wearing a seat belt. Should you say something to the driver about this? If so, what should you say?
  2. Suppose you do remind the driver about the seat belt, but the driver replies,
    I just don't feel safe wearing a seat belt. I've heard about some accidents in which people were killed because they couldn't get out of their belts. Besides, I don't really see the point. If the car goes forward, I go with it; if it stops, I stop. What can a seat belt do about that? Nothing. Isn't this a free country? We should be able to choose--and I've made my choice.
    What, if anything, should you say now?
Please respond to these questions in the comments here, using your first name and last initial as your screen name, not your full name please! You'll be graded on the originality of your response, its clarity, and how you use science to support your response.

Adapted from Ethics in the Science Classroom, Part II.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What kind of reader are you?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Literate Good Citizen

You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Dedicated Reader

Book Snob

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

Fad Reader


What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Darn. I was hoping for the "Book Snob" classification. Oh well.

One of my grad school professors pointed out that our society isn't illiterate; most of us know how to read. Rather, we're aliterate - we just choose not to read.

One reason you have to be here in school - aka "widespread public education" - is that our country needs informed voters who know how to gather information and use it to make decisions.

For most of the history of our country, reading was the only way to learn what was happening in the rest of the country or in the world. So, readin' and writin' and 'rithmetic - the 3R's - made up the core of what pioneer kids learned out here in the late 1800's.

With the advent of radio in the early 1900's, though, one didn't need to know how to read to satisfy that curiosity about the outside world. When network/cable/satellite TV became common, we could see actual pictures of what the radio announcers could only describe.

Now, we have the internet, and it's more important than ever that you learn to read early in school. That's because the rest of your schooling should teach you how to weigh what you read/see/hear, how to tell the difference between reliable sources and biased ones, and to reach logical decisions based on solid information.

Kinda like science; what evidence is important? what experiment can be carried out to test a given hypothesis? how do we know whether a given conclusion is supported or refuted by the data?

Learning to read, to decode those squiggly lines and symbols, is just the first step.

Take the quiz, see how you do!

hattip - Thoughts from Kansas

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Scientist Friday

The ineffable Isaac Newton had a lot more going on than just formulating a few laws of motion. He was able to show that an apple falls to the earth for the same reason that the moon orbits the earth.

"Whoopee," you might think. But picture it . . . Newton had the sheer audacity to propose that heavenly objects and earthly objects follow the same rules.

In the late 1600's, this was unheard of. It was one thing for Galileo to have shown that the sun wasn't perfect, with its ever-changing spots. But to call into question the seemingly inherent separation of the mundane and the celestial? Breathtaking.

Newton expressed his laws of motion in mathematical terms. This made it possible to use measurements of what's happening now to predict what will happen in the future.

This predictability, this testability, this reliance on natural laws to explain the workings of the universe was at the heart of the scientific revolution. Three hundred years later, astronauts relied on Newton's physics to guide their journeys to the moon and back.

He also laid bare the essence of sunlight, as shown above.

Thanks to Newton, we've seen the Dark Side of the Moon.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It wasn't a win . . . it was annihilation!


Our varsity team took *first place* at the FHSU Science Bowl today! Kudos to team captain Ben and teammates Andrew, Mallory, Brendon, and Henrik for an overwhelming victory in the 12-team varsity field.

Overwhelming, as in all of the opponents together scored less than 100 points against the Hays High team. (Consider that 200 points can be scored during each round.)

The competition was organized by the Society of Physics Students at FHSU, and they did a phenomenally professional job of running the event.

Our JV team was composed of four females (Megan, Ellie, Amanda, and Anna) and four males (Jared, Jordan, Ben, and Tanner), all freshmen. Although they didn't place today, they're all winners in my eyes for volunteering to go up against older, more experienced JV teams.

Freshmen, don't be overwhelmed by our varsity team's performance. Each of them was once a freshman, too; you will continue to grow, and learn, and you'll be just as impressive when you are seniors.

I'm proud of you all for bucking the trend, and not being afraid to show that you are intelligent, hard-working young adults. Anti-intellectualism runs rampant in our society today, and these kinds of competitions are a great reminder that being smart isn't something you should be punished for.

More pics here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

All about you

Scholarship deadlines are quickly approaching, and many scholarship applications require a reference from your senior math or science teacher.

Of course, I like writing these letters! The only problem is . . . time and aging.

Time, because I need a one-week lead time to write a worthwhile letter for you. My challenge is to capture the essence of you-as-a-citizen, or you-as-a-scholar, using words and phrases that haven't been read hundreds of times before by the scholarship committees. Your reference letter should contain specific examples of the qualities the committee thinks are important, and should be concise yet coherent.

A long-winded rant saying that "Jane is the best student I've ever had" won't receive serious consideration. On the other hand, "Jane was the only student in our high school's history to simultaneously score 100% in all of her classes, receive perfect scores on the ACT and SAT, and win the state lutefisk-baking championship" carries much more weight.

Aging . . . okay, y'all know how forgetful I am. Just keep after me about getting the task done; really, I don't mind nagging reminders!

Be safe out there, and take care of yourself.


Our regular webpage is back up and running. Please visit it for scheduling updates.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Freshman Reminder #483.5

Here's what you need to have done before you get to class today:
The rest of the conceptual problems that weren't completed in class.
The math problems, #1-9.

That's it! See you soon.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What we need more of

This image of a freshly-fallen snowflake was captured with Environmental Scanning Electron Microscopy.

As snowflakes form, air is trapped within the lattices of the crystal. If the snow doesn't melt, and instead accumulates and packs down, the structure of the snowflakes changes in all kinds of interesting ways.

By drilling into Arctic & Antarctic glaciers and examining the ice cores brought up, researchers can look at snow that has built up over tens of thousands of years. The air that was trapped can be analyzed to help figure out what the climate was like at the time the snow fell.

Here, we don't have to worry about that much snow. In fact, we're grateful for whatever precipitation we get - except for ice.

Attention Seniors

As discussed last class period, you're not ready for a test on Friday 1/19 - Monday 1/22.

Plan on struttin' your (academic) stuff Tuesday 1/23 - Wednesday 1/24.

If you want a study session, let me know. It would have to occur Sunday evening, as my Monday is booked solid.

Remember . . . don't reach for those equations like they're a life raft. Visualize the situation. Make a sketch that shows all of the forces on the object. Break the non-perpendicular/non-parallel forces into components. Then, and only then, should you reach for an equation.

More on this in class.

Academy for Friday, January 19, 2007

Good morning!

Today's activity starts here and is fairly intense. But you'll learn a couple of tricks in Excel, and discover some cool features of hominids along the way.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

In class today - Senior version 1/17,18

Thanks to either software gremlins or hardware ID-ten-T errors, you'll need to get your class information here until further notice.


  1. Review the homework from last time. (my solutions here)
  2. A quick homework quiz.
  3. A review of Newton's 2nd Law in preparation for the test next class period - Friday 1/19 for G4, Monday 1/22 for M1.
Be ready for some good old-fashioned tough brain work today!

In class today - Freshman version

Well, wonderful.

The program I use to keep up our usual webpage is not cooperating today. Here's the scoop for G3 & M4 for Wednesday/Thursday, January 17/18:

  • First, a brief review of your homework assignment. You have access to the key and should have checked your work already to see how well you're doing.
  • Second, a 3-question homework quiz over that assignment. The key will be available to you after you turn in your attempt.
  • Third, an acceleration reprise. We'll go through the concepts first, then the math.
Your homework is to complete the pages at the links above. You'll be quizzed over that homework next class period.

By the way . . . if your laptop crashed and is now in a Better PlaceTM, please have me - or somebody else in class - print off some hard copies of those documents for you.

For HHS Science Academy students

Please go here to download the file "Data for Students" that you'll need for Friday's academy.

The file is also available at our Moodle site; as a last resort, have your academy teacher email the file to you.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Freshmen Rock!

Hey, freshmen -

Today in class, you're to finish up your lab [warning: PDF] and turn it in as described at the bottom of page 4:

  1. This page [page 4] with all questions answered, hard copy either printed off or by hand on your own paper.
  2. Your Excel file, emailed to me: (a) Subject = falling; (b) Filename = username
When your Excel file is received in the proper mailbox, you should receive an acknowledgment message.

After that . . . feel the need for some speed!

Keep in mind that (distance) = (rate) x (time). Use your magnificent algebra I skills to solve this equation for rate (speed) and time.

The tricky part of this assignment [another PDF] is that the units aren't consistent. For instance, you might be give a speed in miles per hour, and asked to calculate distance in feet or time in minutes. Look at your notes from the first couple of weeks of school for help, too.

Check your work here, and don't forget those sig figs.