Preparing Society’s Future Conscience

It's a really big job.
It’s a really big job.

If I said to you that this person’s work ensured that 10 years in the future your community would continue to be a safe place to live and work—that crime rates would continue to be low. You would probably say that person’s job was important.

If I said to you that this person’s work meant that we could continue to enjoy litter-free sidewalks, the beauty of fresh streams to fish in, woodlands in which to camp, hike and hunt, the majestic flight of the bald eagle, clean water to drink and fresh air to breathe, you would probably applaud that person’s work.

If I said to you that this person’s work meant that technological advances to improve the lives of the vulnerable, injured and sick would be possible, that your community could be the birthplace of inventors, scientists, engineers and lawmakers, you would be excited to meet that person and call her “neighbor”.

If I said to you that this person has the job of preparing the conscience of the human race to meet the challenges of the future, you would probably say “Wow, that person has a big job. We better get the best person we can in the position, and support her as much as possible.”

That person is the teacher in your child’s classroom Continue reading “Preparing Society’s Future Conscience”

Sybil Ludington’s Ride

Ludington statue 800
On the last day of March, one of my college friends wrote an article about “famous” women whose stories many of us don’t know. I was happy that I did recognize most of the women she wrote about in her article, but there was one, Sybil Ludington, that I had not heard of before. She has quite a story and I want to share it with you this week. I do so with no apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, because, frankly this is the poem he should have written (in my not-so-humble opinion).

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of a hero more amazing than Paul Revere
A 16-year old girl, Sybil, and her horse named Star
Rode through a the night sounding alarms near and far

Two thousand British had arrived on shore
Twenty transports and six warships ready for war
Inland they marched to Danbury
Looking for the supplies of the Continental Army

In barns and storerooms they found food, cots, and clothes
Wine and rum too, which they used to warm their toes
Houses of British loyal were marked with chalk
Unmarked buildings were burned like dried corn stalks Continue reading “Sybil Ludington’s Ride”

Literal Power

Technology is a only a tool; but becoming literate, that is what gives us the power to wield the technology with forethought and wisdom.

Old Advice for a New AgeThere are few things in life that can truly give a person power. Learning to speak multiple languages is one of those things. Becoming comfortable with mathematics is another, and learning to read is another. And one more: being able to read. There is incredible power in being able to read. In this era of technology, screen media, and audio and visual stimuli, we often overlook the power of simple literacy.

However, ask the parents of the four-year-old who can suddenly read the signs on the vendor carts at the State Fair—how hard is it to redirect the little blossoming literary critic to the parents’ agenda now that she can read “ice cream”? Just that little bit of knowledge has given that child new power and her parents new headaches. Continue reading “Literal Power”

Back to School

When he was in his late 70's Daddy bought this car and completely rebuilt it.
When he was in his late 70’s Daddy bought this car and completely rebuilt it.

Around here the arrival of cool mornings, warm afternoons and cool evenings brings with it, not only the migration of birds and the chirping of crickets, but also the beginning of a new school year. As someone who thrived in academia, I love this time of year.

Not all people love school as much as I did (still do—any excuse to take a class), even really smart people. My dad was one of those really smart people who did not fare well in school.

From a very early age Dad was taking things apart and discovering how they worked, from two-cycle engines on model airplanes to the bicycles in Grandpa Arduengo’s bicycle shop to his first car. But his performance in school was a different matter. He writes:

“As a youngster I spent a lot of time day dreaming. I guess I still do. In school I would always take a desk in the back of the room next to the window. (I got moved a lot.) I did not like school. Sometimes I had subjects that I liked, such as ancient history. I knew I was smart, but I had a hard time memorizing things, especially spelling and multiplication tables. I remembered things when they interested me, but not when they didn’t.  My dislike of grammar school and junior high left me ill prepared for highschool, and I was 20 before I finally graduated.”

Daddy didn’t learn by sitting in a desk and listening. He learned by doing and figuring things out, as with his first car: Continue reading “Back to School”

A Mammoth Find

 

DSC01928We are back from nine days traveling in the “wild west”. During this vacation my daughter was able to become a junior paleontologist at a mammoth dig, a junior ranger at Mount Rushmore, go “spelunking” at Wind Cave and learn about the geologic origins of the Black Hills of South Dakota, hear the legends and stories of the Native Americans through their dance and music, and hear the legends and stories of the pioneers of the western U.S. through their stories and dramas.

Our first stop was the amazing Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota. This site was discovered during the early phases of construction of a housing development in 1974 by one of the bulldozer operators who was clearing the land. Fortunately, he was an amateur paleontologist, and when his bulldozer turned up a mammoth tooth, he stopped everything and reported the finding. The developer and the surrounding community realized what they had and preserved the site for research and education. They bring in visiting scientists from around the world to work at the site, and from the work of these scientists we have learned much about the animal life that flourished in the area we now know as South Dakota 26,000 years ago. Continue reading “A Mammoth Find”

The Art of Asking Questions

Playing with plasma and spectral glasses. Physics is fun!
Playing with plasma and spectral glasses. Physics is fun!

My daughter and I attended Jim Lenz’s Science Show at the public library. Mr. Lenz grabbed the children’s attention, allowed them to participate, laugh, shout out answers and get excited about what they were seeing.

And he asked them if they knew what science was.

None of them had a nice, short definition for science, and he defined science for them as “the art of asking questions.” As a scientist, I have been chewing on that definition for a little while. It’s a good definition, because that is what scientists do: we ask questions. But not just any questions. When a scientist wonders about something, the questions eventually get asked in a way that a prediction can be made (a hypothesis), and the hypothesis can be tested in a controlled manner. Asking the right question is, indeed, an art.

But even more important than asking the right question, is having a mind that is open and observant to the world around it. Many people have said that the greatest scientific discoveries are not marked by the exclamation “Eureka!” but rather by the puzzled expression, “Hmm, that’s funny…I wonder why…”

And that is, I think, the crux of science: the WHY. Scientists, like children, see something that just doesn’t quite make sense to them, and they ask “why?” Continue reading “The Art of Asking Questions”

For the Girl with Rocks in Her Head

Finds for two rock hounds.
Finds for two rock hounds.
When I was a little girl, my big brother gave me a beautiful book about rocks, minerals and gemstones. He inscribed the inside of the book: “For the girl with rocks in her head.”

At that time I had a large rock collection. When I was growing up, we lived along a dirt road. The road cut on each side was deep, and almost anywhere you looked along the road you could find outcroppings of quartz or rose quartz. I was constantly bringing home new rocks—beautiful ones, shiny ones, rocks that had neat shapes. I even had my own rock tumbler, which leaked out all over the living room carpet and generated an interesting response from my mom to my “scientific” pursuits.

Apparently the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

Our daughter has been captivated by a particular issue of National Geographic Kids magazine that featured gemstones. This has led to her adding a rock collection to her collection of precious pinecones. We have read the gemstone article in that magazine repeatedly.

For one of our day trips during Spring Break, we decided to explore Cave of the Mounds National Landmark. We took the tour through the cave and received many cave kisses along the way (water drips on our head from above)—we saw fossils, interesting cave formations, and underground rivers and ponds. Then we bought a bag of sand and stones and rinsed it in the sluice to see what gems we could recover. We found amethyst, pyrite, quartz, rose quartz and many other delights. After that we learned how to use a ratchet and cracked open a geode to reveal the crystals inside. We hiked the trails and saw some of the first flowers of spring, talked to one of the gardeners, and in general had an amazing time exploring and discovering all about the world around us.

I was reminded of a trip with my parents to a cave in Tennessee that had an underground lake—I have a vague recollection of lights on the lake and a boat trip on the underground lake.

The staff at Cave of the Mounds was terrific, spending time with the guests, doing a great job answering questions and helping people explore and learn. We have an amazing treasure in our backyard, and I highly recommend visiting.

Even on Easter my daughter was collecting pinecones and looking at rocks while on her Easter egg hunt—I think it’s wonderful that the natural world holds this kind of pull over candy for her.

I’m so glad that she has rocks in her head.

© 2014 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.