A few thoughts on the return of Chris Hadfield to Earth

It’s over, already?

This glorious stretch of time when everyone and everything “anyone ever knew” was being photographed, watched over, and sung to sleep by a Canadian hurtling around the planet a dozen times every day, has come to a close. But then, it seems a beginning, too.

Alan Levine marks the occasion by wondering:

How sadly strange and unique does it seem to find a public figure who inspires, yet is humble, has fun, and lights that spirit of optimism. It doe snot happen in politics, our sports figures and pop culture celebrities ring more as ego focused money chasers. Why are there so few who humbly inspire by example?

Countless times in the past few months, I’ve been moved to goosebumps, lumps in my throat, or the overwhelmed sensation that brings the unexplained tear to the eye by Twitpics, – you can see my house from here! - Soundcloud recordings, and of course, the Youtubes. And I don’t know if it’s necessarily that the idea of ‘space’ itself is so awe inspiring, or that this opportunity to behold the life and times of an astronaut has been transformative in some way that interviews and newscasts and Discovery Channel documentaries offered in the past weren’t.

Rather, an article shared by my Twitter friend Sava posits that our collective wonder at the glimpses Commander Hadfield offered us might be the result of our gathering familiarity with the near cosmos, and what this might portend for the future:

“Communications tools don’t get socially interesting,” Clay Shirky has argued, “until they get technologically boring.” The same may be said of space. As a destination — as a place, as a dream — space may be, ever so slightly, losing its former mantle of foreignness, its old patina of awe. Instead, the final frontier may now be experiencing the fate that befalls any frontier: It stops being a frontier. Its settlers come to think of it, more and more, as an extension of what they know … until it becomes, simply, all that they know. Until it becomes the most basic thing in the world: home.

Space is becoming ordinary. And that means it’s about to get really interesting.

Whatever the reason though, it has been a marvelous ride to share in, Commander Hadfield. You showed us our home planet and took us with you into space, showed us pieces of the future, and broadened the boundaries of our imaginations.

Thank you for all of that, and that which lies ahead.

BCIT Woodlot Visit

BCIT Forestry instructor Jonathan Smyth has been kind enough to spend a few days in the last few years teaching the TALONS about land and resource management in the Maple Ridge research forest. This year we are spending two days with either of the cohorts and Jonathan in the fresh onset of autumn rain in the coastal woods, conducting tree inventories and learning about the complex interplay of ecosystems and the various knowledge and practices that humans use to manage our relationship with them. Supporting science, socials and physical education curricula in the same activities, we are always grateful to be doing our learning outdoors, and to Jonathan and BCIT for having us out again.

Along with the photoset embedded above, I also captured a few audio samples of Friday’s exercise in taking a tree inventory:

TALONS Worldbuilding Project

“Overhauling how we teach science…”

blood sample overview

A colleague of mine sent me an email that I thought I would attempt to crowd-source some responses to in advance of our conversation sometime in the next week.

I would enjoy talking to you about how you think science classes could be taught differently, especially biology. I ask my students to refrain from asking questions that Google could answer, yet, I’m teaching content that they could Google for themselves. I’m not sure if I can re-vamp my system to keep them busy for a semester though. I think that Chem and Physics are pretty much dialed in because you need to go through the process of problem-solving with the students but in Biology, it’s so much memorization. What do you think?    

And, really: what do you think? How would you revamp / rebuild / and revolutionize a biology classroom? How have you moved away from the Google-able, and delved into higher levels of thinking beyond memorization?

We would greatly appreciate any love and input you might offer in the comments.



Today we run for Terry

Part II, Part III, Part IV

Today our school participated in the Terry Fox Run, and remembered the truest of Canadian heroes, who makes each of us see ourselves as individually capable of greatness, and collectively capable of achieving the impossible. In him, Canada imagines itself, a fact that was brought home to me a few years ago when I drove past the stretch of highway where Terry’s run ended, just east of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

As far as Terry gotI was 22 and driving across the country, the year I graduated from university, down south, and my sister and I had spent the summer working at a Boy Scouts of America summer camp in the Ozark Mountains. We had flown to Toronto and bought a car that we filled with WalMart camping gear and headed west, out through the Great Lakes and the immensity of Ontario on an odyssey across our homeland after stretches of time away (a few months for my sister; five years for myself). After living in Arkansas, and living in the woods on the edge of Damascus, Arkansas (pop. 307), we had come to feel ourselves as something of ambassadors for Canada, and encountered the North with fresh eyes that let us see the unfolding miles of highway, and rock, and sky with a deep appreciation that This is what we were. The country – as I’ve written at some length before – is spread out: the only thing we share resolutely no matter where in Canada we live is that – to varying degrees – we live far from everywhere else.

And Terry chose to run across it. To dip his leg in the Atlantic and set out running toward Victoria. To go town to town, and ask people to raise money and awareness for cancer research.

The immensity of the task – 26.2 miles: a marathon, every day – and the enormity of his hope have spread his message and example far beyond the life he eventually surrendered after leaving the highway east of Thunder Bay. He didn’t  abandon his run, or even lose his battle against his own mortality, or the country’s highways. Being shuttled into an ambulance on a stretcher, finally, Terry apologizes.

“I’m sorry I won’t be able to continue my run,” he tells us.

But he leaves the fight in our hands, and asks that we commit ourselves to an act in his memory once a year, to not let the Marathon of Hope ever be complete until the impossible can be realized, and we can finally say that we have cured cancer.

That day is coming, and we will all have had a hand in it.

Who else lets us believe this? Who else proves it with their very existence?

And so today we run for Terry, a guy who trained for his marathon on streets near our school. We run to remember that we, too, are capable of greatness.

Douglas Coupland says it better:

We like to speak to the dead because, in a way, they’re perfect. We here on earth can only grow weaker and worse for wear, but the dead remain pure – not only pure but they do not judge those who still live.  
We tell the deceased things we don’t dare tell anybody else, because they know the worst that can happen. And if they died young, they never had a chance to lose the fine and wonderful parts of themselves.  

Maybe you’re young, and maybe you’re old. If you’re old, you know that as life goes on, we do lose a part of ourselves along the way. And maybe the parts we leave are the ones we once considered our best. But the thing about Terry is that he never lost the finest parts of himself, and because he left us the way he did, he’s always there. To many people, Terry never stopped running. Day or night he’s still near us, passing by the outskirts of the cities we live in: he’s out there in the Rockies and out there amidst the fields, out there on the Canadian highways, with his strange hop-click-thunk step, forever fine and keeping the best parts of ourselves alive, too.


Music and a math problem

In watching the attached video, you can hear the lunch bell ring at the end of period two about a minute (or so) into the song.

Kyle, who we can assume left Ms. Jung’s foods classroom as the bell was ringing, makes it to his place behind the drum kit sometime later (arrival time will be indicated in the player bar at the bottom).

I’m not a math teacher, but can see the problem solving involved at interpreting every level of this scenario:

  • How far is it from Ms. Jung’s class to mine?
  • How quickly do students fill the hallways following the lunch bell?
  • How fast is Kyle travelling, if he knows there are drums waiting to be played somewhere in the school?
  • As a hallway becomes more crowded (and at what rate does this happen?), how does the flow of traffic affect a traveller (and does their direction of travel matter)?

There are plenty of other metrics and statistics that can be applied to this fragment of recorded data that we have in the Youtube video that makes me wonder what would happen if our school’s various math classes were assigned to calculate Kyle’s average speed, and set out to discover the other resultant facts about the world we inhabit intimately every day.

There would need to be field researchers to look into the variables associated with gathering crowds, theorists to devise formulae, groups to brainstorm the various ways to interpret the available truths in the documented evidence, and innumerable other ways that reveal the hidden numerical, statistical machinery that lies behind things, and in this manner so to reveal the essence of mathematics.

In a matter of weeks, the fundamental elements that drive high school math could go about involving a hundred students, and more than a few teachers in statistically, probabilistically, and mathematically recreating Kyle’s mad dash between the foods and choir classrooms.

This too closely reminds me of when I briefly introduced the theory of plate tectonics to a group of Humanities 9 students setting out to discover the geography of North America. I told them that what is now British Columbia, and much of the Western continental shelf had originally been a part of Asia, and had drifted across the Pacific before colliding with Alberta, Idaho, Colorado, and creating the impact residue we know as the Rocky Mountains. After I had let this idea sink in, I happened to be standing behind two fourteen year old boys who marvelled at one another:

Can you imagine if you were standing there, when that first happened?!

It can be said that neither of the two young gentlemen in question were particularly successful in my course – and were likely not prized math scholars either. But they were excited about this: the idea of finding out what happened when our continent was formed. This characterization pleased a friend of mine, who is working toward his PhD in Geology, and spends the majority of his working year applying mathematics to the history of our continent.

“Basically,” he said, when I told him about the boys being keen to get back to that initial moment of impact. “That’s what I do.”

And what Reid does is math.

It all kind of makes me wish that our school’s didn’t have bells, or walls dividing subjects.

To be clear, I’m no math teacher – and even took Math 12 twice, earning 80% each time. But even with as much as I know about Pythagorean theorems and sin waves, I don’t find myself wondering about how far away a hot air balloon is all that much from day to day (in fact, chances are that if I had a friend in that hot air balloon, our phones could tell us our distances in elevation, the vertical ground between us, one another, Paris, France… the list goes on).

But I want to know about this.

Do you?

What can you tell me about Kyle’s run for the drums?