I hope 2009 will bring you much beauty and joy.
Today is my birthday, number 38. As Greg has noted, I've now known him for half of my life. He gave me a good birthday - made me breakfast, took me to bookstores to buy birthday presents, walked along the ocean with me, took me out to dinner. Afterwards, I opened my wonderful gifts. (I waited til 8 pm this year; that might be a record!) Now I'm about to indulge in birthday cake (with chocolate-amaretto frosting. Mmm....) Thanks to Greg and to all of you for making this a great birthday!
Chicken noodle soup
Beef Noodle soup
Navy Bean and Ham Soup
Irish Lamb Stew...
There's been a lot of cooking going on around here by my very talented Soup Master Greg. It's been wonderful. Although I love cooking, it's been nice to have so many meals ready for me to eat during the rushed end of the semester. I'm glad to be the beneficiary. Tonight's chicken noodle soup was especially good; I'm getting over a cold and if ever there was a healing batch of soup, this was it. Mmm... thanks, dude!
I really don't like Las Vegas. The insulting amount of lights, the men on the streets clicking little "escort service" cards as you walk by, the smoke-filled casinos, the disconnect of walking from Egypt to Medieval Europe with country western music blaring in the background, the $4 sodas for those of us who don't walk around with yards of margaritas or two beers at 10am... it's all so repugnant. So why did we go there this weekend? Because I wanted to see Nine Inch Nails again and Greg was nice enough to accompany me. I knew the seats would be decent, but I didn't realize we were in the third row, just left of center. The third row. Unbelievable. I only got to see two shows on this tour (which was outstanding - Wired did a good article here), and as there are hints that the next round of shows may be the last, I'll be desperately trying to best third row seats next year.
I drove up to Sacramento on Friday and back today. That's 1000 miles total. The long drives were worth it to spend my mother's 70th birthday with her. My sister, brother, nieces, and I conspired and came up with 70 little gifts for Mom, and she didn't know I was coming for the weekend. We managed to pull off the surprise, and we all had a good time. I was thinking of how long it's been since I'd gone home for Mom's birthday, and I'm embarrassed by the large number I came up with. Now that I live closer to home, I need to get up there more often.
My youthful memories of the cold and damp winter of Sacramento are quite accurate. I'm glad to be home, where enjoyed Greg's homemade ham and navy bean soup, which was spectacular. I hope y'all had a good weekend!
The semester has been going fairly smoothly. I never got behind on grading. My prep work has been getting done in a timely fashion. In fact, I'm even a bit ahead; I might not have any work that absolutely needs to be done over Thanksgiving Break. Great, right?
No. It's been making me insane. I've been living with a low level of background terror that I've forgotten something important. I've taken on extra responsibility at work, so there is no way I should be on top of things at this point in the semester. What am I forgetting?
Then I figured it out: I only have one job. You see, ever since the last year of my Ph.D. program, I've been working two jobs - full-time at the community college and part-time at the university. Even when we moved to San Diego last year, I was still coordinating six TAs, 16 lab sections, and almost 400 students at the university from afar. That stopped this semester. For the first time since 1999, I only have one job, but I've been working at the same pace as usual.
I can sleep easier now, methinks.
As Greg has pointed out, we voted against Proposition 8, but we didn't do anything else. We both feel guilty about not donating, but frankly, in the current economic reality, we were constrained. We donated to Obama's campaign and nothing else. I still think it was the right thing to do, if we had to pick just one. I just wish we'd had more money to spread around. For the immediate future, though, efforts to repeal Prop 8 will be a priority for us.
If you're curious about who donated for or against Prop 8, the SFgate website has a good searchable database: http://www.sfgate.com/webdb/prop8/
Bring up various states, then bring up Utah. There's an interesting tale there. I also, naively, didn't realize that you could contribute donations to a proposition in a state other than the one in which you live. If foreigners are prohibited from donating to presidential races, why can someone from Arkansas donate to an issue affecting another state? (If you'll look at the Arkansas data, you'll know why, among other reasons, we don't go to Wal-mart!)
And there is another reason why I'm choosing Arkansas. I've mentioned before that the people of Arkansas passed an initiative (Act No. 1) which bans people who are co-habitating outside of a valid marriage from fostering or adopting children. This law isn't getting nearly enough attention, so I will note Dan Savage's column in the NYT today. This law has the potential to be much more dangerous than Prop 8, because it sets a precedent that disallows unmarried couples (gay or straight) from having children. Greg and I couldn't adopt there... what if I needed to take in my great-nephew in the case something happened to my niece? We'd be prohibited. But more ominous, what if you've already adopted or fostered a child? Is this the first step in taking children away from gay couples? A horrible, horrible precedent and one that should be discussed, feared, and reviled. As I've always thought, there is nothing more anti-family than the "pro-family" movement, nothing more without values than the "values voters".
I spent sometime today talking to a student of mine who took a few weeks off school to canvas for Obama in Nevada. (And yes, I'd have been fine with it if he were campaigning for McCain.) He spoke to me of experiencing racism... having seen swastikas and the n-word painted on their campaign office, seeing Confederate flags flown in their faces, watching white volunteers being treated differently than African-american volunteers. As a young white male, this was an important lesson for him to learn: the playing field is not level, racism still exists, thrives even in parts of the country. He'll never forget this. He'll also never forget the times where he felt he made a difference, the voter here and there whose vote swung or at least teetered because of his words. He also spoke of being down with how the canvasing was going, but being inspired by an Obama visit. Michelle Obama, to be clear. He said she was absolutely inspiring. So we'll take the lesson here: bigotry still exists, but hope will prevail.
And this illustration makes me tear up every time I look at it. Via Greg:
I am so upset that bigotry was made constitutional in California. My much beloved Kirsten has expressed the argument against this hateful proposition so eloquently that I'll let her words stand for my own. Just let me get this on the record: if you voted in favor of this proposition or any other banning gay marriage, it is my sincerest wish that you are forever prevented from being with the one you love. Since you think it's fair for you to cast judgment and place limits upon someone else's relationship, I get to do so, too, right? Also, to the people of Arkansas who passed an initiative making unmarried couples unable to adopt children, you have convinced me to never go to your state for any reason if this law goes into effect.
Tuesdays are my long workdays. They start at 8am and end at 10pm. Greg and I arrived at our polling place about 15 minutes before it opened, so we could vote before I had to go to work. Because of the hectic nature of my Tuesdays, I couldn't keep up very easily with the election coverage and as I went into my night-time astronomy lecture the results of the election were just starting to come in. My students were nervous and excited, hoping for change and for tolerance. Around 8 pm, I could see all of my students get distracted as their phones started buzzing with the news that the presidential election had been called. I even picked up my phone and had students say hello to Kirsten who was at an election party. I let class out soon afterward. The students went out into the night overall pleased with the new president-elect and they wanted to see the results of the ballot propositions. As I could tell from discussions I heard today, the students have been on the same roller coaster ride as I've been on, as so many of my friends have been on. How can an election make us so happy and so sad at the same time?
One more comment about the election: the youngsters were really interested this time around. This is the third presidential election while I've been a full-time college instructor and I had never seen this level of interest or inspiration. For example, one of my students has been absent for the past two and a half weeks. Why? He's been in Nevada, on the ground for the Obama campaign. He'd been just spending weekends there, but wanted to give his all to get his candidate elected. And last night we saw the results of his youthful enthusiasm. Even in the bitter news of the propositions, the light of youth shines in the demographic breakdown of the vote. The change we sought last night is not complete, but rather has only just begun.
In blatant compensation for my election- and semester-related anxieties, I found myself doing a month's worth of grocery shopping this morning. I always feel secure with a well-stocked pantry. I was overwhelmed with the need to cook. With Greg's help, I managed to turn last weekend's apple pickings into apple pie filling. Now four individual serving pies are sending a lovely homey aroma through the apartment. I also made chicken and spinach enchiladas for dinner, with enough leftovers for tomorrow night. I feel soothed. My goal is to keep the positive vibe up over the next few days.
Hope y'all had a good weekend!
I think the election has been robbing me of my urge to write blog entries. Not that I don't have opinions, because I certainly do, but rather the tenor of the election on both national and local scales has enraged and saddened me to an unprecedented extent. I have managed to do some positive things. I made a few donations. I told my Tuesday night lecture that voting takes priority over class; most of these students are full-time workers so the evening might be their best time to vote. I reminded my students that, as long as they are in line before the polls close, they have the right to vote so they shouldn't leave. I also reminded them that they don't have to vote for every office and proposition, that leaving some decisions blank would not disqualify their ballot. Many students did not know that, by the way. Another instructor found herself explaining the electoral college to her class, because several students thought that the winner was chosen by popular vote. It makes me wonder what other basics the populace does not understand and perhaps that is why this election feeds on ignorance.
The past two weekends have been rather social. Last weekend, Carl came to visit. He'd never spent much time in California, so I enjoyed introducing him to cheap Mexican seafood and izakaya food. We also designed a history of physics course while eating sandwiches on the beach. Hope you had a good time, dude!
This weekend, Greg was a guest at Conjecture, and I tagged along. Greg does a great job on panels, although I might be a wee bit biased. The people were friendly, and we had a nice lunch with Zak, Sharon, and Dave. All-in-all, it's been a fun two weekends.
Alas, Monday, you come too soon.
During class, one of my astronomy students asked me about the LHC. As I was responding to the question, I noticed another student in the back corner grinning maniacally and bashing his hands together, mouthing "boom boom". I approve.
I'm fascinated by images showing a road to the Milky Way:
Driving to work today, I saw a lone man waving a flag against the background of skyscrapers. It was quite moving. It's hard to believe seven years have passed.
It seems that a good method for soothing my rage is sharing dinner at Tito's Tacos with Greg, followed by a glorious Nine Inch Nails concert. I hadn't been to a NIN concert since 2006 and had forgotten how soul-cleansing it is. My back is no longer tense, my pulse is no longer pounding. I am floppy and content. Hmm, there is a NIN concert in Vegas in December, right before finals. I think I owe it to my students to go, don't you?
Between vitriolic speeches and driving in southern California traffic, I'm finding myself to be a little more ragey than usual. I can feel my blood pressure increasing on a daily basis. I'm more easily irked, too. Besides continuously imbibing hot chocolate, what can I do to soothe my rage? Help me!
I'm going to see Nine Inch Nails tomorrow. That should make me happy!
Nothing really coherent to write about today, just a few tidbits for your amusement:
I always enjoy starting the semester with the good ol’ “The Sun wasn’t really IN that constellation on the day you were born so why do you keep looking it up in the newspaper”-discussion. Even a previously quiet class, like my daytime astro lecture, comes to life. Whew.
Jennifer Ouellette at Cocktail Party Physics does a thorough job reviewing the science policies of both major presidential candidates. I recommend y’all read it.
I have been remiss in my pretty astronomy image duties, so here are a few.
Gravity works - Tiny moon Prometheus and Saturn’s F ring, from Cassini:
The USS Midway and the San Diego skyline
I can see these shipyards from work
The bridge to Coronado
Back to port
I didn't have very good energy on Monday. I was dragging, the students were lethargic... just not a good combo. Last night, after my three-hour astro lecture, a student came up to me and told me that I had amazing amounts of energy. He thanked me and told me how important it was for the evening students to have enthusiastic instructors. With his words, this semester is looking up. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy my evening classes?
Today was the first day of the Fall semester. Enrollments are high. I even have wait-listed students for my night-time class. My physics lab today was standing room only. It's going to be a busy semester. It's also a semester in which I'm teaching a class (intro astronomy) that I took as a student 20 years ago. Whoa! It's fun to mention that to the students, because a lot has changed in those intervening years. Still makes me feel old, though!
The Planetary Society has posted documents from the two major presidential candidates outlining their space policy. To see, goto http://www.planetary.org/news/2008/0818_US_Presidential_Candidates_Release.html
Tomorrow I head back to work after a very nice summer vacation. Classes start the following week. The summer always goes by quicker than I anticipate. You'd think I'd be used to it by now! Although, technically, this is a shorter summer break than I'm used to, as my new college instead lengthens winter break and, thus, the spring semester runs later. Still, I can't believe it's already time for the school year to start!
I'd feel guilty about whining over the end of my copious vacation time, except that I made up my to-do list for the upcoming week and there are 66 items on it (so far). Yup, I work hard enough during the school year to earn my time off.
While on the road this past Sunday, I marked my fourth anniversary of joining Weight Watchers. I had a lot of success the first two years, but this last year has seen my weight creep up some more. And once again, it's my fault, not the program. Moving to the land of the cheap lobster burrito didn't help! In all seriousness, though, I need to get back on track. I'm not exercising enough and I'm not making good food choices. My genes work against me (I'm the "skinny" one in the family), so I'll have to work harder.
So, for inspiration, I will once again post before and after pics:
Worldcon always goes by quickly, even more so this year, because we skipped the first few days. It's been a lot of fun, though. I saw a few people I know from my time at UCLA, and Greg's fellow writers are fun and kind people to hang out with.
I went to a panel that was a celebration of the life of Arthur C. Clarke. Two of the panelists were Stephen Baxter and Frederik Pohl. I enjoyed hearing their tales about the first science fiction writer I ever read.
I also attended a reading that was worth the trip to Worldcon all by itself - Lois McMaster Bujold read the first two chapters of a new Miles Vorkosigan novel!!!! Listening to those words and experiencing that character again felt like curling up in a blanket on a cold day - welcoming, comforting... perfect.
Now to convince Greg to go to Montreal next August!
Full disclosure - I'm allowing this entry to satisfy my 15 minutes/day of writing requirement. Hey, I'm on vacation!
Let’s see, what have I been doing the past few days?
Tomorrow? On to World Con!
One year ago today, Greg and I left our apartment in Tempe and took up residence in our new place in San Diego. It's hard to believe it's already been a year, but memories of living in the desert are growing dim. I love the proximity to ocean, friends, family, and northern California that the move gave us. Here's to another good year ahead!
Today also marks my completion of Laurie Halse Anderson's "Write Fifteen Minutes A Day" challenge. Even while road-tripping, I managed to find those fifteen minutes in which to write. I'm really grateful to her for the challenge, which seemed much more manageable and maintainable than something like nanowrimo. Now the trick is to keep up the new habit, even when school starts. During the challenge, I mostly followed her given prompts for what to write for the day. Anybody want to volunteer some fiction prompts for me in the comments? Your contribution would be much appreciated by this aspiring writer.
Thanks to houseguests A and K leaving us their badges when they departed last night, we went to Comic-Con! Just us and about 125,000 of our ilk. We were only there for a few hours, but that allowed us to quickly peruse the dealers room, see Peter Mayhew look very bored, and ogle the Owl ship from Watchmen. We also ran into B & A and their really cute kids and met up for dinner with them later.
Promotion for The Mummy, set up outside the convention center:
About 1/8th of the dealers room:
Ah, Comic-Con... can't wait til next year:
The New York Times published a horrifying article this week: Botox for Bridesmaids. Apparently it isn't enough now to get manicures together, but brides now expect perfection of their bridesmaids. In one situation mentioned, the bride wanted her bridesmaids to get matching cleavage enhancements. Hell, you'd be hard-pressed just to get me in a dress... heels are not even negotiable! I don't understand the world.
I understand the universe much better, but that's because I was well trained. You may have seen a news story this week about understanding the trigger for aurora. The scientist in charge of the THEMIS mission, Vassilis Angelopoulos, was a graduate student at UCLA when I was an undergrad there. In fact, I was his student worker for my last two years at UCLA. He taught me how to analyze data, enhanced my programming skills, and inspired me with his dedication and his kindness. What scientific skills I may have were first learned at his side, and I'll always be grateful to him and never surprised to see him do well.
Here's a list of possible names for the new Oklahoma City NBA team - Barons, Bison, Energy, Marshalls, Thunder and Wind. Wow, I'm trying to think of worse options, and I am not coming up with any. Could we please send the team back to Seattle now?!?!?!
And now, two nominees for best blog ever: Cake Wrecks and (huge spoiler alert!) Bear's Battlestar Blog. Cake Wrecks takes a horrifying look at professionally-made cake disasters, and I was in tears after laughing at some of the images. Bear's Battlestar Blog is the creation of Bear McCreary, the composer for Battlestar Galactica. Don't read entries for the episodes you haven't seen! I'm just warning you! Otherwise, if you're as much of an admirer of the musical score for BSG as I am, you'll appreciate the composer's insight on making the music work for the episodes and into the creative process. Some musical cues are provided, too!
We saw The Dark Knight today, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I also loved the Watchmen trailer. It looks perfect, but the potential for suckage with such a complicated story is high. It's been a good summer for comic book movies, though. Maybe the trend will continue.
We had a great trip to Northern California. San Francisco, Fort Bragg, the Wine Country... it was hard to leave! Here are a few pics to show you why!
Spent a few days in San Francisco and one night in Fort Bragg. Spending a couple of days in the Napa Valley before returning home. A few comments:
If any of my pictures turned out, I'll post them when I get home. Hope y'all have been having a good week!
To the neighbor who hurriedly turned off his music after his shuffle playlist started blasting the theme from Chariots of Fire: You shouldn't have fumbled about playing snippets of two rock songs while regretting your Vangelis choices. We all have guilty pleasures when it comes to music. Heck, I have some Vangelis myself - the theme to Cosmos! ;)
Spent a lovely Fourth of July with family and friends. Much yummy food was eaten, fireworks exploded without scorching people or property, good conversations abounded.
If you're like me and you're still worried about the fires near Big Sur, this site is useful: http://surfire2008.wordpress.com/
I'm at that point of the summer where I feel worthless as a human being because I'm not accomplishing much, but don't want to work because I'm still on summer vacation. I have two trips to look forward to before going back to work, but I have a feeling that my physics and astronomy schedules for Fall 2008 will be completed by the end of the week. Y'all know I like my job, but I think having a month or two when I'm not working sixty hours per week is a good thing.
I have been accomplishing something, though. One of my favorite authors, Laurie Halse Anderson, has started the "Write 15 Minutes a Day Challenge". She's given prompts for those who do not have a work-in-progress, and I've been participating each day. It's been fun, and it's reminded me that I like to write and perhaps can take time from writing exams, class notes, etc... to do some other forms of writing. (There is, of course, the "does blogging count?"-debate, but we won't go there!)
Almost time for NFL training camps to start. Twitch, twitch...
And because I haven't harassed you with space pictures recently, here's Saturn, from Cassini:
I've been watching the news about the Basin fire in Big Sur with great sadness. I love that area. The region is the most beautiful place I've ever visited, and I sometimes think that my love of nature comes from childhood trips to the sea, particularly this region. When I left Sacramento earlier this month, I took the coastal route back down to San Diego and took a few photos. I hope you enjoy and send positive thoughts to the firefighters, not only in Big Sur, but in all of California, battling a fire season that has started too early and unprecedentedly aggressively.
Last month, much beloved Kirsten forwarded an article from The Atlantic Monthly to me to get my opinion, and it has been a recent topic of discussion on Female Science Professor's blog. The title of the article is "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower" and supposedly is about the "destructive myth" that college is for everyone. It is written by an anonymous part-time instructor (Professor X) at a "college of last resort." First of all, I agree with the notion that not everybody needs a college education. I think a good debate about society's attitude towards higher education is in order. I think a discussion of how institutions of higher education continue to take money from students who need remediation without providing them such is warranted. However, that isn't really what this article is about, and it horrifies me that people may read this article and agree with the author. I'm going to highlight some of the comments from the article and address them with my experiences.
By colleges of "last resort", the author means a small private college and a community college that he teaches at. He describes the student population: "Mine are the students whose applications show indifferent grades and have blank spaces where the extracurricular activities would go." Because we all know that university students are NEVER like that. Let's see... in my community college experience, I've had students who volunteer at clinics and emergency rooms, work as tutors, are members of national honors societies, etc... And I'm particularly proud of those with "indifferent grades" who come in and live up to the expectations I place upon them.
Another quote from the article:
"Ms. L. had done everything that American culture asked of her. She had gone back to school to better herself, and she expected to be rewarded for it, not slapped down. She had failed not, as some students do, by being absent too often or by blowing off assignments. She simply was not qualified for college."
Why isn't she qualified? Especially for Professor X's discipline of English, which Ms. L. would have been required to take in high school, it seems to me that Ms. L. was let down by her K-12 education. Is that necessarily all her fault? Perhaps she didn't put in appropriate effort in high school, true, or perhaps she was just funneled along like so many of the students I see with math deficiencies.
And then later: "I knew that Ms. L.’s paper would fail. I knew it that first night in the library. But I couldn’t tell her that she wasn’t ready for an introductory English class. I wouldn’t be saving her from the humiliation of defeat by a class she simply couldn’t handle. I’d be a sexist, ageist, intellectual snob."
So basically Professor X doesn't want to do his job. He could have referred her to a remedial English class, one that doesn't count towards a degree, but would have prepared Ms. L. to then take his introductory English class. I've had this discussion, and it isn't pretty. I've had to tell students, "No, I'm not teaching the class too hard. YOU don't have the math skills necessary for this course. Come back when you have made up your deficiencies." It's an awful confrontation, but I've had a few cases where I've seen these students later, after they have obtained the necessary remediation, and they've thanked me for it.
But for me, this is the statement that demonstrates that this article is NOT about whether college is for all.
"Our presence together in these evening classes is evidence that we all have screwed up."
I think I've made my feelings clear about my evening classes. Being in my night-time classes does not mean any of my students have screwed up. And, I haven't screwed up either. I have often weighted my schedule towards teaching in the evening, even while full-time and tenured. I'm sorry that Professor X is so miserable, but I'm even sorrier that he takes it out on his students. How can he possibly give the students the education that they are asking him for, when he is full of self-loathing and despises them?
I just want to make sure that my students know this: we are in nobody's basement. And, if you feel low, I will do my best to bring you higher and will never resent making the effort.
I had my first teaching anxiety dream for the Fall semester last night. The anxiety always boils down to lack of preparation, so I guess it's time to buy a new teaching planner and get ready for fall. I do wish my subconscious would have waited til July, though!
Hee hee hee! I'm so happy! Go away, Kobe!
Congrats to KG for his championship, to Ray Allen hitting all those threes, and to Paul Pierce, who really won me over during this series.
I'd also like to point out that the owner of the Phoenix Suns traded away the rights to Rajon Rondo, and I've never been more upset about that.
Kobe lost, yay!!!!
Summer gold coastal range to the west, lingering snow dusting the Sierra to the east, old shady trees, large meandering rivers.... Sacramento.
I accompanied my mother to my father's grave on what would have been their 52nd wedding anniversary. He passed away almost nine years ago. She said, "I didn't think I would live more than a year after he was gone." I told her that I was happy she was still around. She said that she was, too.
I had an interesting discussion with my newly-diabetic brother about his, um, qualms about injections. I'm glad he's doing well so far.
My almost-three-year old grand-nephew is acquiring a good vocabulary, but still doesn't string together many long sentences. He did, however, look at my car and then said to my mom, "Her car is dirty." Yup, I inspire educational leaps in my own special way!
1 toddler grand-nephew
baked beans w/ham
baked beans w/o meat
au gratin potatoes
rosemary potato bread
This is why I shouldn't go home more than once a year.
Woke up this morning at a decent hour, around 9 am. Not too bad for vacation. We went to a bookstore, where we spotted SarahP's book in the wild! The Magic Thief was released today. I've read it, loved it, and heartily recommend it for kids and adults alike. Have food nearby while you read it, trust me.
Then we had a nice lunch, eating grilled mahi tacos at a bar by the beach. To walk off the tasty tacos, we ventured out onto Sunset Cliffs. There's a storm front offshore, so the waves were big and billowy.
Greg was enjoying himself.
We ran some errands. I spent the afternoon drinking hot chocolate and doing sudoku. I exchanged a few emails with a student from this past semester who is thinking of becoming an astronomer. (Bwah ha ha!) Later I decided that I needed a few more things for dinner, so I walked to the grocery store. Here's the view on my walk back home:
Can you tell I like living near the water? And I really like vacation.
It's been bothering me for a few years that the Mars Phoenix mission is based in Tucson. It's already hard enough to get people to keep UofA and ASU straight in their heads. However, this image from MRO of Phoenix descending can make me forgive just about anything.
I woke up at 9:33 am. I ate four chocolate chip cookies for breakfast. This is Day One of summer vacation.
The commencement ceremony was last night. Last year, I had a discussion with a friend about community college students. From his experience with friends who have attended community colleges, his perception of the typical student was, um, slackers who didn't really have a focus in life. Whereas that does represent some community college students (and more than a few university students, I might add), I thought it would be interesting to share some of the statistics of those graduating this semester at my institution. There is a bias here, as many students never file for graduation but rather just transfer, but the statistics are not atypical for the general population of students.
Youngest graduate = 17 years old
Oldest graduate = 61 years old
Percentage of associates degrees awarded to females = 60%
Age group with the most students graduating = 35+,
Average age of graduates = 29
Number of students who stand when asked who is the first in their family to be awarded a college degree = over 50%
Number of photos taken by a fellow faculty member of a young student who had no family members present because they do not believe that females need an education = as many as could fill up the memory card to document this amazing accomplishment
Plus one hug from a very happy student for this very content professor
Last night was the final meeting of my once-per-week, three-hour long night-time astronomy class. As an attempt at something different, I gave their final quiz last week and told them to show up this week to talk about the fate of the universe with cookies provided. They were also told that there'd be no grade attached to this week's meeting, I just thought that teaching cosmology would be fun in sort of a laid-back format, letting their questions really drive the discussion. This, of course, would depend on participation, so my plan would fail horribly if people didn't show up.
All of the students showed up. Every single one.
Do you know how much fun it is to teach a class of interested students? This group had been great all semester (averaging almost 10 % above the scores of my day-time classes), so I had confidence that I'd get a good turnout, but all of them? I was really impressed, but not necessarily surprised. I've always enjoyed teaching evening classes at community colleges. The demographic leans towards older, full-time employed people. They may be tired when they show up to class, but they attend because they really want to be there. That's a good thing, because when I teach at night, it's usually the end of a long day; this semester's Tuesdays went from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm. If the students weren't as dedicated, it'd be difficult for me to keep up the level of energy required to teach a three-hour lecture. So thank you and good luck in the future to my evening students!
Next week is the last week of school. Yay! I love my students, but I'm as eager for the semester to be over as they are. This past week was difficult, and I'm glad it's the weekend. Of course, there's a pile of grading weighing upon my conscience, but I'll deal with that tomorrow.
I had some interesting conversations with students the past few weeks. One student has been in my physics classes both semesters. He's really smart, but also... well, he describes himself as lazy. He is content with doing the minimum needed to earn a passing grade, but he could achieve so much more. And he knows it. But last week he started talking about sustainable architecture and went on and on and on. That's it... that's what makes him tick, and I wish I'd found that out during the first week of the fall semester.
One of my astronomy students mentioned that he wanted to be a teacher. Specifically, a special needs K-12 teacher for deaf students from Spanish language homes, a niche that is probably woefully unfilled hereabouts. He has some friends who are deaf, and he has been disturbed by the quality of education they receive in traditional special ed classes.
Another astronomy student started off the semester a little rough. You can tell that his educational background is not the best, yet I never doubt his desire to learn. And he's been bitten by the astronomy bug - ha! But what I found most interesting is why astronomy has started to appeal to him. He feels like he is at a crossroads in his life, open to new possibilities and new ideas, whether that be in regards to career or faith. He says he feels like he's searching for truth and that the astronomy class has become part of the journey.
I wish I had time to find out the things that make each student twitch, you know?
Before an astronomy class today, one of my students told me that I seemed smarter than his other instructors and that he thought I should be doing research instead of teaching at a community college. He asked why I was an instructor. I told him the truth, because I enjoy teaching, specifically at the community college. He seemed confused by the notion of someone actually liking to teach, which saddens me with regards to his K-12 education.
When my officemate unlocked the door to our darkened office early this morning, a man darted out of it. Nothing appears to be missing, but from the way my keyboard had been moved, he was probably sleeping in my chair with his head on my desk. I wonder who that was? Whoever he is, he must have a key and our alarm code.
Today is the 18th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. When I mentioned that to my astronomy classes, a few of the students commented on the fact that they're eighteen years old, too. Most of my students don't remember a world before Hubble. I do. It was a quieter universe, beautiful and placid. We now know that is not the universe we live in, and I'm forever grateful to have seen the heavens through Hubble's eyes.
To commemorate today's anniversary, here are some colliding galaxies, from Hubble:
I had to yell TWICE at a group of students in one of my classes today. I resent having to apply discipline in a college classroom, and getting angry always leaves me unsettled and in a crappy mood. Needless to say, I did not have a good day.
However, when I got home, Greg made a yummy dinner, I baked chocolate chip cookies, and I received an email containing an apology from one of the troublesome students. Not such a bad day after all.
My astronomy students turned in their first papers last week. The assignment is an article summary, in which they read a newspaper/magazine/internet piece on an astronomy topic and summarize it in one page. Nothing high stress, but rather my way of getting them to read science in the news. As part of grading, I mark spelling and grammatical errors. I did have a student object to this once, because I'm not an English teacher. Egads! I do think it is my duty to have them write as part of the astronomy curriculum. My physics students also have to write a short paper. I think it's important that students are held responsible for their writing skills, even outside the English classroom. After all, the goal of most composition classes is to prepare the students for their other courses, right?
I receive notices about students who take advantage of campus tutoring to proofread their papers for spelling and grammatical errors. One of these students turned in a paper full of errors. To whom do I give the benefit of the doubt - to the student, who perhaps did not receive the help she needed? Or to the tutor, who perhaps helped, but my student didn't follow through? Sigh. More hot chocolate is required.
On Friday, I attended a six hour-long meeting focusing on student learning outcomes. It made me ponder some recent examples I have of the outcomes that different people expect for student learning. All of these examples are from colleagues, near and far:
I think I'll go drink hot cocoa now.
On several occasions this week, I found myself dealing with students discomfited by the universe. The Sun dying out was particularly perplexing for them.
"What will happen to us? What will we do?"
My reply was, "If we're still around in five billion years, we'll need an exit strategy." Truly, the students looked like I just killed their pets. The Greenhouse Effect also bothers them, but not in the "I should curtail my carbon emissions"-way.
"What will happen to the Earth if the runaway greenhouse effect happens?
"Um, nothing? The atmosphere will change, some living things will die as others flourish, and the rocky ball we live on will continue to orbit the Sun just fine. Oh, and the atmosphere has changed before."
I showed a few of my favorite images: the Peekskill meteorite and the Chicago meteorite. Obviously, very few people were affected by these events, and thus they are considered to be of no consequence. My students did not consider these impacts to be trivial, and strangely, most had not heard of the possibility that an impact contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs. One student has now deemed my class "creepy."
Since I was a small child, I've spent much of my mental life in outer space, so I guess I've become used to being part of the universe, a vast and awesome place. Just a part - not in control, not special, not important. And just amazed that from this tiny little land-locked corner of the universe, we can look out and learn so much.
Today I am not going to do any work, not even open up my work email accounts. Yup, it's my Spring Break, and I think I deserve one totally free day! The week has been both full and fun so far:
And that's just Friday thru Tuesday! Much beach-walking has since occurred.
Other random bits:
Happy Saturday, everyone!
Nine Inch Nails just released a 36-track instrumental album called Ghosts I-IV on the website this afternoon. Ahhhh!!!! Ahhh!!!!! The servers are overwhelmed, so I haven't been able to complete my order yet, but the streaming audio still works. Ahhhh!!! Ahhh!!!!
Maybe I'll cancel class tomorrow - it's two hours of new music!!!! Ahhh!!!!!
A meme that's been making the rounds: "123" meme:
1) grab the book that is physically closest to you at this very moment
2) turn to page 123
3) give the sixth, seventh, and eighth sentences that appear on that page
He cleared his throat. "I am here, as I'm sure you know, because of Albus Dumbledore's will." Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked at one another.
Gee, that's obvious.
If you're interested in sports or the separation of billionaires and state, take the time to read The Sports Guy's mailbag of emails from Seattle Supersonics fans. If you're not aware of what's going on, the most recent owners of the Sonics have been holding the city hostage over a new stadium that they never really wanted, their true desire being to move the team to Oklahoma City. Not that OKC doesn't deserve a team (the city was a great host to the displaced New Orleans Hornets), but should that be at the expense of a city that has supported their team fiscally and emotionally for 41 years? Sports fans, this could happen to your team. And I think it's a horrible statement on the values of a society that allows billionaires to have their fortunes subsidized by public funds as we find ourselves falling into recession.