Category Archives: Teaching

Mundane Monday: Pendulum

s-l300The last class I taught was about pendulums, those mundane things that swing back and forth. My favorite illustration of how a pendulum works is the old-fashioned metronome. I still own one like this, somewhere. The lower on the stick you position the weight, the faster the tempo it marks. The one in the picture would be ticking so fast it would be hard to keep up.

This phenomenon illustrates the fundamental principle behind pendulums: that the period of a pendulum (that is, the time it takes for it to swing back and forth) depends on its length, not on the weight or on the angle at which it is released (for small angles). When you move the weight up and down the stick of the metronome, you change the length of the pendulum, and thereby change its period and the tempo it is providing. Nowadays, with metronome apps changing the tempo at the push of a virtual button on your phone, this concept is going to be harder for young musicians to intuit.

Our students made their own pendulums and varied each of the three parameters (length, weight, and angle) to figure out which made a difference in the period of the pendulum. There were brightly-colored chains, with weights hanging on them, attached to protractors and hooks all around the classroom.

ClassroomPendulum

One type of pendulum that many students were already familiar with was a kind that you often see in science museums, called a Foucault’s Pendulum. This pendulum, hung on a fixed pivot that does not rotate, was first used to observe and measure the rotation of the earth. This video provides a good explanation of how that is done:

 

Only a week later, I found myself at Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles, and they have a Foucault’s Pendulum in the lobby there. This picture was taken looking down on the pendulum bob as it swings. The bob itself is lighted, as is the circle around it that enables observers to see the change in the pendulum’s position throughout the day as the Earth rotates.

 

For the Mundane Monday Challenge #131.

Astronomers
The Astronomers at Griffith Park Observatory
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Gravity Wells

I haven’t blogged for a while because I’ve been busy with work, family and other writing projects. I’m trying to write a 5,000 word short story for a contest. (It is hard for me to write “short,” even though I have 4,000 more words to work with than for the last short story I wrote for a contest.)

But now that my school year has started and I am settling into a routine, I want to get back to more regular blogging again. I also want to include more science posts in this blog, so with today’s post I want to combine two concepts and make a Mundane Monday post about gravity. In fact, what could be more mundane than gravity? All of us earth-dwellers experience it every day. We can’t get away from it–literally! Continue reading Gravity Wells

Choose Love for #WATWB

I’ve been traveling for the past few weeks, and just got back yesterday. In a quirk of the International Dateline, our plane landed before it took off, making July 2, 2017 possibly the longest day I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Now that the post-trip laundry is mostly finished I’m posting, belatedly, for the We Are the World Blogfest (#WATWB).It is supposed to take place on the last Friday of every month. This event seeks to promote positive news, stories that show compassion and the resilience of the human spirit. This month’s wonderful co-hosts are:  Lynn HallbrooksMichelle WallaceSylvia SteinSylvia McGrath, and Belinda Witzenhausen.

We are the World Logo

The story I chose for this month is the following: Mom of Sandy Hook victim says she forgives shooter, wants others to choose love by Allison Slater Tate in Today‘s parenting section.

Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse died in the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, started the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement in 2016 in his honor. It is a program for schools that aims to change the classroom climate and make it a more caring and nurturing one, giving kids the tools and emotional resilience to “be grateful when life isn’t easy, to forgive when the person who hurt you is not sorry, and to step outside your own pain to help someone else.”

I would find forgiveness difficult if not impossible in Ms. Lewis’ situation. I wish such programs had been more available when I was in school.

Trophy

It’s that time of year again, for graduations and award ceremonies. These are generally happy occasions, but I personally find the experience a bit mixed. You see, I am not an award winner, not the one up on stage giving a speech. I am introverted, and, truth be told, not that accomplished.

More than that, though, I can’t go to an awards ceremony without hearing about the awardee’s positive attitude, the smile on the face, the spring in the step, the can-do spirit. The awardee is invariably “more” than their grades, or their work achievements, or their sports skills, and that something extra is what “really” earned them the award. It is not, we are told, the specific accomplishment that award has engraved on it or sculpted into it—not even they are handed a tiny golden man with an even tinier ball stuck to his foot.

This is all well and good–I mean, I wouldn’t want to go back to the bad old days when the only award given out went to the worst insufferable know-it-all in the class. I like that there are more awardees these days, recognizing a diversity of contributors and achievements.

But I still can’t help wondering about the other kids, the other non-award-winners. The ones who, despite a modicum of achievement, can’t summon a positive attitude; the ones whose support systems are fraying, whose grip on mental or physical health may be precarious, or who just aren’t that into it, but who still put in the effort, come to school every day, and do the work. It’s damn hard to excel at something you dislike. But these kids do it.

I think most well-meaning adults would argue that attitude is a “choice” and if you’re not feeling it, you should just fake it until you make it. After all, it’s true that you don’t have to feel like doing something in order to get it done. And from an adult’s point of view, it’s certainly a lot easier to like and bestow favors upon a smiling kid than one who is angry, frustrated or withdrawn.

But faking it emotionally comes at a cost. Student stress, anxiety, and depression have reached alarming levels, even among those who appear to be comfortable, safe, and financially solvent. Students talk about the burden of “effortless perfection” that they feel is expected of them, especially at so-called top schools.

There are no easy answers to this dilemma. Students make these expectations of each other, and of themselves too. But I think that adults contribute to the problem when we make recognition all about the smile. I’d like to see, maybe just once during a 90-minute ceremony, a kid getting an award for completing something difficult and unpleasant, for dragging themselves out of bed and facing the inner demons for the 90th time that year, and not having fun doing it.

Trophy

Communicating Science Through Art

WATWIC-Bright-TuqBlkThis is my first post for the “We are the World” Blogfest. (It’s a day late, just like yesterday’s Thursday Doors post on Friday. Time doesn’t always move in a linear fashion in my world.) To participate in this blogfest, join us on the last Friday of each month. As the co-hosts say, “no story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.”

Continue reading Communicating Science Through Art

Chromosomal Ride

I realized when I was doing the Blogging 201 class last month that my blog’s tag line, “The Brain–is wider than the Sky,” is not well explained.

Aside from the fact that the tagline is taken from an Emily Dickinson poem and is therefore supposed to be–ahem–literary, my original idea for using that tag line was to write as a neuroscientist, a person who studies the brain.

I earned a PhD in Neuroscience in 1993 from Stanford University. Since then I have taken a circuitous ride through different jobs in science, including a postdoc at Caltech, a stint in the biotechnology industry, another role in academic project management, and am currently employed in science education and outreach. I teach with an educational non-profit called Science from Scientists, which was founded in the Boston area where I used to live, but has recently opened an office in the SF Bay area.

KarenTeaching
Giving a presentation to a group of 7th grade students.

I discovered an interest in teaching when I had children and taught them in Sunday School and in Girl Scouts.  I feel like hands-on science education is more play than work. It brings me back to why I wanted to become a scientist in the first place.

Up until now, though, that interest hasn’t been reflected very much in my blog. So I’m going to try to remedy that with an occasional series of posts on scientific or science education topics that I’ve taught recently, or just topics that interest me. Continue reading Chromosomal Ride