Monday, February 20, 2006

Presenting at a conference

Last Saturday I had to present at a regional science teacher's conference. It was the first time presenting for me, and besides being extremely nervous and having one of the wife's cats throw up on part of my presentation, everything went Ok.

I decided I would do a presentation on how to make a hovercraft. Riding around on the hovercraft, and experiencing Newton's laws firsthand, is something the kids at my school ask to do all the time.

I built a new one, taking pictures of every step along the way and I created a Powerpoint presentation on how to do it. Many of the teachers present looked at me like I was crazy when I tried to get them to ride it, but a few were brave, I gave away all my CDs with my presentation on it, and I have to email it to a few more people.

I did have one weird moment. It reminded me of when I was a first year teacher and I looked around at my classroom and realized I was the adult in the room. Presenting for the first time is very much like that.

I've posted the presentation on one of the free file hosting sites. I don't know if this will actually work or not, but if you'd like to see it you can view it here

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Phases of the Moon

I found a link to the really neat Moon phase indicator on the right over at The Tech Savvy Educator's website. I followed the link he provided to Calculator Cat's Moon Phase Page, completed the free registration, and received html code to copy and paste into my template.

I don't know if I'll keep it or not, but it sure is cool.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

More insults, less facts

I've gotten into quite the pissing contest with several people over this post over at Joanne Jacobs. She posted about a story where a charter school principal, Terrance Moore, claims:

Almost always, certified teachers have earned straight A's in education courses and multiple C's, D's, F's and W's (withdrawn) in academic content courses

a claim neither he nor Joanne Jacobs can back up with facts but it probably makes for a nice sound bite.

The story goes on to brag about how this person's charter school is rated the #1 high school in Colorado, so I decided to take a look at the demographics of the school. I zipped on over to Great Schools and examined the student demographics.

Luckily for Terrance Moore he's head of a pretty whitebread school, where 83% of his students are white, versus 65% for the rest of the state. The Hispanic population at his school is only 6% versus 26% for the rest of the state and the black population is 3% versus 6% for the rest of the state. Lest you think its all about race he's also lucky to only have 8% of his students on free or reduced lunch, versus 32% for the rest of the state. You can view the student demographics here. He also has the good fortune to have 23 teachers available for 123 high school students.

Checking the student demographics for nearby schools, I found this information which I summarized at Joanne Jacobs:

Schools with higher percentages of whites than the state average and a lower percentage of low SES children do better on the state's testing based accountability system. Schools with lower percentages of whites, and higher percentages of low SES kids than the state average tend to score lower, with the exception of schools that lower their teacher to student ratios below 15 (a real research based solution, not being instituted because it won't make any business cronies of powerful politicians any money).

Conclusion? The high stakes test based accountability system in Colorado most accurately measures ethnicity and socio economic status

To see how foolish accountability ratings based solely on high stakes tests are, you can view this story from

Colorado's #1 rate elementary school, Jamestown Elementary School, had one student take the test. The #3 elementary school had 8 students take the test.

The state's worst rated high school? Arapahoe Ridge High School, doesn't technically exist. According to the article, "The rating listed for the school reflects the scores of three eighth-graders who attend a program overseen by juvenile court Judge T.J. Cole."

Poor Judge Cole, one more year of low test scores and he's going to be out of a principal's job.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Bush targets education in budget cuts

In the age of rising federal demands for public education, the Bush administration is cutting funding of many education programs. From an MSNBC story:

The budget blueprint sharply decreases funding for supporting the arts, vocational education, parent resource centers and drug-free schools . . .

Notice the total lack of a decrease in federal AYP demands. As cynical as I've become over the last two years I wonder if purposely cutting funds while increasing demands isn't part of the overall plan to destroy public education.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Another unqualified Bush crony in trouble

This time it is NASA Inspector General Robert W. Cobb, who according to his bio, had absolutely zero qualifications for his job, other than being a loyal lieutenant to Dubya.

From the Washington Post, via MSNBC, Cobb is under investigation for failing to investigate violations of safety concerns and retaliation against whistle-blowers.

Hmm, ignoring the people who actually do the work, and retaliating against people who speak out. It's a familiar pattern, isn't it?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Blogging from the Space Exploration Educators Conference

I have pictures and a few comments as promised. I'm already having a great time. As I mentioned NASA treats teachers as royalty. I also found a very nice hobby shop within site of the SpaceCenter. In addition, there's just about nearly every kind of restaurant within a short driving distance. Unfortunately, I found at that a short driving distance in Houston traffic can take up to 10 minutes, even if you're only going a couple of city blocks. I believe you can click on each picture to view it full size.

These retired NASA T38s adorn the entrance to the Space Center. There is a park behind them, but I took this picture from the street. To the right of this picture is the Johnson Space Center.

The entrance. It doesn't look like much from the outside but the bulk of the building is cleverly hidden among the trees.

Inside the SpaceCenter is a play area with space related activities for kids. I found this young lady puffing up her hair in the high air pressure demonstrator. High air pressure toys are a favorite of mine.

A full-size mock up marks entrance to one of the theaters. The theater reviews the missions to the moons, and then you take a tour through various Apollo related memorabilia, including one of the Apollo capsules and an actual moon rock you can touch! For teachers, NASA has a program whereby teachers can check out actual moon rock samples. I have never done this because 1)I haven't taken the certification cours required to check them out and 2)my school lacks the required high security safe to store them in.

This is a Geobat. Atlanta city schools have chosen the Geobat design to teach students about aerodynamics and design. The inventor of the Geobat, Jack M. Jones, was in attendance and he is a fellow R/C Modeler. He will be featured in an upcoming show on the Discovery Channel but I don't have all the information. We built Geobat gliders, out of the same materials my friend and I build our electric planes from, and then tested them in some really high winds.

This is a Geobat glider in flight. Mine required 4 large washers in the front, as did most people's, to achieve the proper center of gravity. Jack expressed his disappointment that a fellow R/C Modeler had not been able to plan for proper CG location without the addition of extra weight, but hey, I HATE sanding.

Finally, a model I made of Saturn using a 3" styrofoam ball, an AOL CD, and waaaay too much glitter glue. It's primary purpose is to serve as a model of Saturn. It's secondary purpose seems to be that of "babe magnet", at least to Science educators. I had more women stop and talk to me about it than have talked to me in the last 3 years. I don't know if it was the handsome man holding it, or the spectacular use of the aforemention glitter glue. Or it could have been simply, as one Science teacher babe put it, "Oooo, shiny!"

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Another Science teacher conference

For the 2nd time in the last 3 years, I've lucked into taking someone's spot at the 12th Annual Space Exploration
Educators Conference
(techinically it was the 10th annual a couple of years ago).

Two years ago one of our 4th grade teachers was going to attend but unfortunately for him his wife was due to have their 4th child at the same time. Oh, she tried to push it out a week early, but thanks in large part to my constant urging to "Squeeze those legs together, keep it in", she didn't deliver until two days before the conference, so I went in her husband's place.

This time we have a 3rd grade teacher who can't attend and I am going in her place. Two years ago I met other Science teachers from around the country, some of whom had even paid their own way and taken personal leave to attend. There was a rumor that some teachers from China were in attendance. It was at this conference that I learned how to make a hovercraft, a skill I will be presenting at a Regional Science convention in a few weeks (with of course a few modifications).

The great thing about this conference is NASA treats the teachers as if they were royalty. SpaceCenter Houston is shut down for the 3 days of the conference and you are treated to a night of dinner and dancing, including an all astronaut band, on Friday night.

Hopefully, I'll have a better hotel experience than the last conference I went to. I'm hoping for a real internet connection in my room and a bar with some good vodka, not the rotgut the Texas Museum crowd forced me to drink at the last conference. Hopefully I'll have some pictures too.