Monday, May 16, 2011

Neil deGrasse Tyson (Science Rocks)

I went and heard astrophysicist extraordinaire, Neil deGrasse Tyson, speak at UW last week.  What an entertaining two hours.  Students from Cleveland High were in attendance and seemed very enthused to be there.   He didn't talk on one subject but meandered around various topics (including the demotion of Pluto - very funny).

Times columnist, Jerry Large, interviewed him and got some good quotes.   I had just been watching NBC news last night and the President was featured saying, "We have to make science cool."  Sigh.  Here's what Dr. Tyson has to say:


"Getting kids interested in science is not the challenge," he said. "Kids are born interested in science." The challenge is to get out of the way of their curiosity, let them develop their skills, use their creativity.
"There is no greater education than one that is self-driven," Tyson said. You go to the library, visit museums because you want to learn, and your quest for knowledge outside of school magnifies what happens when you are in school.

So what excites a kid is basically what is going to drive him or her to learn.  Helping students understand that almost any discipline is multidisciplinary will help students try to do well in all subjects.  

He pointed out that NASA is the most prominent (for better or worse) example of government funding for science and has been for decades.  He also pointed out that Kennedy wanted a space race, not to raise awareness but to beat Russia.  

I asked him a question that got an ooh and then applause.  I asked what he would do to help K-12 public education in this country.

He said he only had 3 great teachers in his life and challenged the audience to count in their heads their number of great teachers.  Most said 2-3 (but there was the smarty-pants up in the balcony who said 8 and that he grew up in Evanston, IL so there).  He said he wished he could clone those teachers.

A little disappointing but it was interesting that he didn't say there were too many bad teachers, just not enough good ones.  And that's the point.  Despite what ed reformers are trying to sell, there aren't that many bad teachers.  But there are a lot of discouraged, stagnant or underperforming teachers.  These are teachers who may be in schools that aren't supported with professional education.  These could be teachers who aren't pushed to do better and to have high expectations.  These are teachers who could be helped to be better teachers and aren't.

That might be something to focus on until we get cloning down (and which of you teachers is the volunteer for the first teacher clone?).

13 comments:

Wordsmith said...

"discouraged, stagnant and underperforming" - When I hear of a teacher who matches any of those adjectives, I would call him or her a bad teacher for my child.

BFDayMom said...

Blaming teachers is easy. Let's not forget the impact on a teacher's ability to move students when the classes are too big, the basic tools for classrooms aren't supplied and they are asked to be social workers as well as educators.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Wordsmith, that would be true. But would you say that the school/district bears some responsibility in contributing to the situation? And, if we have "bad" teachers (abusive, multiple absences, kind of bad) AND bad teachers (discouraged, stagnant and underperforming), that's a large group. So what to do?

TechyMom said...

If you have one or two employees who are "discouraged, stagnant and underperforming," then you have some bad employees and should probably let them go. If you have a lot of employees who are "discouraged, stagnant and underperforming," then you have a management problem. Your managers need to figure out what is discouraging those employees and preventing them from doing their best work, and fix those things.

The best way to find out? Ask the employees. What do teachers complain about? Lack of professional respect, large class sizes, unreasonable test-score expectations... and some site-specific things. Firing the teachers won't fix that. The next batch will have the same issues in a few years.

Salander said...

Take a look at the district web site under Career Advancement Growth and Support. Examine all those words and words and words that explain just what teachers are supposed to be doing and how they are supposed to be doing it all.There is a wealthy contingent of education administrators who have invested millions if not billions of tax payer dollars accross the country generating all this paper defining a successful teacher.

It is much simpler though. What makes me a good teacher or a bad teacher is having good students or bad students. I believe this is the case for the vast majority of teachers.

I am a good teacher when students come prepared to learn, have the foundational skills to learn, buy into learning and truly care about being a successful member of the classroom community. I am a good teacher when students have a sense of curiousity, when they work hard and practive good study skills and ethnics like doing their own work and turning in assignments on time.

I am a bad teacher when the majority of my students have low reading skills and can't interact with the material while administration pushes "rigor" for all no matter what the skills. I am a bad teacher when parents don't respond to my contact about their students' classroom or academic behavior. When parents say things like, "He is under stress, you should just him alone."
I am a bad teacher when students come to class and do not follow instructions, don't sit in their seats and choose not to listen while I talk.
Sometimes I am a really great teacher and sometimes I spend most of my energy trying to control snd compensate for bad habits and choices.
The teacher I am from class to class depends almost entirely on who is sitting in the desks.

Sahila said...

I heard DeGrasse Tyson on NPR and he was talking about stretching the boundaries of scientific exploration, about going to Mars, for example, instead of repeated space shuttle trips, which he likened to taking the car aroudn the block over and over again...

I wish that scientists (and governments) would spend their time, money and focus solving the myriad problems we have here on earth....

I know its exciting and glamourous to be doing the space thing, but as long as one person on this planet is starving, we have no right to spend money on Boys Own Adventures....

Patrick said...

Sahilia, the amount spent on space travel is tiny compared to everything else the government spends money on. How much is inspiration worth? How much is scientific discovery worth?

Maldistribution of wealth is what creates hunger, and closing NASA wouldn't do a single thing to solve that problem.

Lori said...

I disagree strongly with Sahila that we cannot afford space travel. Indeed, I believe we cannot afford not to do it.

On of my favorite TED talks (and anyone who has favorite TED talks, I suppose, is automatically a geek) is this one by physicist Brian Cox about the need for curiosity-based science and exploration.

Why We Need the Explorers

He describes the enormous return on investment that we have gotten from space exploration, as well as scientific advancements that wouldn't have happened without pioneers in applied physics. And in addition to aesthetics and inducing awe, photos taken during space exploration helped spur the environmental movement and made many aware and interested in protecting our planet and those who inhabit it. He concludes by reading an excerpt from one of the most poignant, beautiful, and awe-inspiring talks I've ever encountered: Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot. I can't think of anything else I've ever heard or read that helped point out the folly of war or make more clear our need to celebrate our shared humanity more than Sagan's words about our planet:

Pale Blue Dot

We have billions of people on this planet, all with different hopes, dreams, aspirations, and talents. Some will be drawn to the challenge of space exploration, and who knows what advances will come from their endeavors.

We certainly wouldn't make progress as a species if everyone were forced to focus on only one social issue at a time, such as world hunger. It's not a matter or either/or, and denying funding for science simply because we don't see it's immediate, near-term practical applications is short-sighted. Indeed, it's inspirational for our children to see our society invest in curiosity-based research and may just give a few of them the courage to pursue such endeavors themselves.

Lori said...

My messages aren't showing up, so trying again, this time without the links.

I disagree strongly with Sahila that we cannot afford space travel. Indeed, I believe we cannot afford not to do it.

On of my favorite TED talks is this one by physicist Brian Cox about the need for curiosity-based science and exploration.

http://www.ted.com/talks/brian_cox_why_we_need_the_explorers.html

He describes the enormous return on investment that we have gotten from space exploration, as well as scientific advancements that wouldn't have happened without pioneers in applied physics. And in addition to aesthetics and inducing awe, photos taken during space exploration helped spur the environmental movement and made many aware and interested in protecting our planet and those who inhabit it.

He concludes by reading an excerpt from one of the most poignant, beautiful, and awe-inspiring talks I've ever encountered: Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot. I can't think of anything else I've ever heard or read that helped point out the folly of war or make more clear our need to celebrate our shared humanity more than Sagan's words about our planet:

http://www.bigskyastroclub.org/pale_blue_dot.htm

We have billions of people on this planet, all with different hopes, dreams, aspirations, and talents. Some will be drawn to the challenge of space exploration, and who knows what advances will come from their endeavors.

We certainly wouldn't make progress as a species if everyone were forced to focus on solving a social problem outside their area of expertise, such as world hunger. It's not a matter or either/or; there are enough problems in this world and beyond for all of us to work on based on our strengths and passions, and denying funding for science simply because we don't see it's near-term practical applications is short-sighted. Indeed, it's inspirational for our children to see our society invest in curiosity-based research and may just give a few of them the courage to pursue such endeavors themselves. Isn't that one of the goals of education, helping children find their passion and pursue their dreams? It certainly is one of my goals for my child.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Patrick, Dr. Tyson said largely the same thing as you just did. I think for him the idea that our most public face of science is getting whittled away is worrisome. This country talks a good talk about teaching science and math and yet NSF and NASA don't get as much money as you might expect given that hand-wringing.

dan dempsey said...

Evanston .... hummm ... 8 great teachers eh?
Follow the Money.....

Illinois did not have a state wide salary schedule ...
New Trier High School in Winnetka Illinois and Evanston (Home of Northwestern University) pay their teachers incredibly well.

These are northern suburbs of Chicago
Evanston is about 10 miles from Downtown
and Winnetka is about 20 miles from Downtown.

Chris S. said...

Hmm, no one's biting on the cloning-the-teacher bit. Myself, I'd clone David E. so his clone could continue to teach while he quits and runs for school board.

WV knows we're talking about cloning and doesn't approve... "SPERM" ...I KID YOU NOT!

Dorothy Neville said...

We couldn't get tickets but watched from home. As to the space issue, I suppose on NPR he didn't mention Apophis and how we better get ourselves better space technology or the West coast of the Americas will likely be history in 2036. Perhaps he did not share the size of our budget for Space exploration. Both topics were covered in the evening talk. It would be hard to have listened to that talk and conclude we should not spend any money on space.