Friday, May 28, 2010

Meeting the Parents

So I had a brief meeting tonight, where the teachers and counselors for this summer program were introduced to a room full of parents paying upwards of $1200 for me to entertain their child for 6 weeks. Aside from it being hot and sticky (thanks, my lovely island paradise), I learned something interesting.

Apparently my course was named for me by the people in charge. The name they've chosen:

Kool Science for Curious Kids.

Why they chose to turn the "c" in cool into a "k" but not for curious is beyond me. But, I have 5 classes of about 18 students each, which is really exciting. And intimidating, of course, but I would never say that out loud. The god of Cruel Irony also deemed it necessary to give me a class of 5th graders, with 4 boys...and 16 girls. I think I'm going to try to do a lot of things with bugs....yes, because entomology is important to out future. And geckos (which are an amazing species. Their feet actually grip to surfaces by intermolecular forces, by the fine structure of their foot pads. A real treasure trove of biomimicry technology. There's two amazing TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talks, if you're interested. Talks can be found here and here)

I also have a student (whose name I cannot remember for the life of me) who has some medical condition that causes her to vomit at inconvenient times. Like when she eats. Which wouldn't be that much of a problem for normal science classes. But this is elementary school science, and I feel obliged to feed them to keep them entertained.

Finally, I got a preview of what the other counselors/teachers were doing with their classes. There's a dance/movement class, there's a creative writing/storytelling one. There's one that has something to do with patterns or something (yup, I smell a load of bulls**t, but hey, not my place to judge). There's also a class that has the kids design a futuristic colony, or something along those lines. I think I might audit that class, see if I can get the credit transferred to Yale.

But my greatest nemesis, the one I'm declaring my arch-enemy from this moment on, is the Recyclable Art class. This class is taking the environmental route, turning recyclable materials into art. As a responsible citizen of the earth, I too will be teaching my kids about recycling, sustainability, and all those other feel-good words.

But I will do it better. I will do it with Science*.

So prepare yourself, Recyclable Art** class, there shall be no peace between us. Sleep now, for come Wednesday, it's on. It's on like the joint principle of quantum mechanics put forth by Franck and Condon***.

*and Engineering. Pretty much whenever I say "science", I really mean, "science and engineering". Can't leave my engineering brethren out in the cold.
**I forget what the actual class is called. But you get the point.
***Don't be lazy, look it up.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I have been looking over the 30 something pages of rules for this summer program, and have decided to share some of the best:

The ones that let you know you're in Hawaii:
5. Running on lanais, walkways, or in the cafeteria is prohibited. (WALK on all concrete surfaces.)

17. Throwing rocks, kukui nuts, hard objects, branches, and dirt is prohibited.

Regarding Recess:
2. Playground Area: Area 2 (cafeteria playground)
-Mauka: equipment area/"hallway"
-Makai: grassy "field area / walkway fronting cafeteria / "hallway"

For non-locals, lanais are like verandas, except without the antebellum south undertones. Kukui nuts are, well,... nuts. They have an amazingly tough shell, and their oil has a pretty impressive energy density. They native Hawaiians used to make torches out of them. They would string them along a stick, and burn each nut successively like a fragmented candle. Very cool. It's also a very strong laxative, for those curious.[1]

Here in the islands, the cardinal directions (north, south, etc) are rarely used (though we obviously learn it in order to communicate with the rest of the world). Instead, the terms "mauka" (meaning towards the mountain, or "uka") and makai (meaning towards the ocean, or "kai") are used, since both are usually visible from any point on the island, and are useful to denote radial directions on the island. Leeward and Windward designations are used for angular directions. Photo courtesy of The Bishop Museum.

Here's ones that I just find ridiculous:
Dictating how children are allowed to play on the equipment:
2. Two traffic patterns exist.
a. Low Platform
i) Children enter from steps only.
ii) From platform, children may godown double slide, across oberhead Spider Climber, or over the Incline Loop Bridge to the high platform.

b. High Platform
i) Children enter from Spider Climber
ii) From platform, children may go down high slide or Double Rail Climber
iii) When climbing up or down, children to use both hands.

The rules also specify that each class may only have 2 balls at recess. Two? How are they supposed to play dodgeball?

Teachers are also supposed to maintain visual contact with the kids as they go to the bathroom (which is around the corner from the classroom). And yet, we are not allowed to leave the classroom. My solution? Either hold it, or give the kid a bucket in the corner.

Finally, the one that kills me, is that children under Gr. 3 are not allowed to blow up balloons. Those students that are allowed to blow up balloons, must do so facing me, so that I can monitor their blowing.

And the one that will cause me most problems:
12. Do not bring or consume items that are high in sugar and MSG such as candy, gum, soda, etc.

I know there's a national obesity epidemic, and I know it's centered highly around children, but how am I supposed to teach science without candy? Sugar alone is a wonderful way to teach about differences in crystalline structure. Additionally, did you know that Karo corn syrup has the same index of refraction as Pyrex? Meaning you can make things disappear!

Also, Diet Coke and Mentos? How can I deny them the coolest science project of the last decade? Nor can I make ice cream with demonstrate phase changes, and super cooling effects from salt and water.

On less scholarly note, children really like candy, and it can motivate them to be quiet. Not that I would ever resort to such cheap tricks, but helps.

[1] Elevitch, C.R., and H.I. Manner. 2006. Aleurites moluccana (kukui), ver. 2.1. In: Elevitch, C.R. (ed.). Species Profiles for Pacific Island Agroforestry. Permanent Agriculture Resources (PAR), Hōlualoa, Hawai‘i. .

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rough Lesson Plans

Below are the topics to be covered in the six weeks of the course. More detailed lesson plans to follow.

Week 1:
Monday - Aerodynamics and the Scientific Method
Tuesday - Hot Air Balloons and Propulsion Methods
Wednesday - Air Pressure
Thursday - Bottle Rockets (construction)
Friday - Bottle Rockets (launch day)

Week 2:

Monday - Model of the Atom
Tuesday - Density, Polarity, and other Chemical Properties
Wednesday - Phase Changes
Thursday - Weird Substances and Cool Chemistry I
Friday - Weird Substances and Cool Chemistry II

Week 3:
Monday - Forensics
Tuesday - Construction, Material Sciences, and Engineering
Wednesday - Solar System and Astronomy
Thursday - Egg Drop (construction)
Friday - Egg Drop (deployment)

Week 4:
Monday - Magnetism
Tuesday - Electricity and Circuits
Wednesday - Optics and/or Sound and Harmonics
Thursday - Cell Modelling
Friday - DNA

Week 5:

Monday - Evolution and Adaptation Games I
Tuesday - Evolution and Adaptation Games II
Wednesday - Bones
Thursday - Fingerprints
Friday - Plants, Botany and the Nitrogen Cycle

Week 6:
Monday - Environmental Science
Tuesday - Carbon Cycle and Climate Change
Wednesday - Volcanoes!
Thursday - Diet Coke and Mentos
Friday - Ice Cream and Food Science

Any suggestions as to course content (particularly for the Weird Substances and Cool Chemistry section, as well as Evolution and Adaptation Games) would be most appreciated.

The topics of the preceding week aim to establish a basis for the larger Thursday/Friday projects, such as Bottle Rockets, and Egg Drop.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mission Statement

Science is amazing, and is one of the few links we have to an bright and prosperous future. But such a future is not carved out over night, nor is it a future ensured by the work of the present generation. No, such a world will be crafted by the progeny to follow, some of who are beginning their first forays into formal education.

It is at this point that we must provide children with the boundless opportunities afforded by such a diverse, complex, and intriguing world. We must expose them to science and engineering as wondrous tools for problem solving, collaboration, and satisfying pure curiosity.

As students progress through their education, they often become bogged down in the mire of the intricacies of mathematical calculations, nomenclature, and the nitty gritty of science, and become discouraged. But if a true and fundamental love of the sense of discovery, of innovation and insight is planted early on, even the toughest teacher, class or exam won't be able to uproot their will to persevere.

This Blog will serve as a repository of lesson plans and teaching materials related to the Summer Concepts 2010 course for Elementary School children (K-5), plus related science materials of general interest. The course will cover an array of scientific disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, environmental science, mechanical engineering, among others.