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This public media "authentic fiction" sought to crowdsource perspectives about education today. The Zed Omega teens, played by actors, "dropped out loud" from high school -- catalyzing open discussion about the structures and purpose of traditional education and its alternatives. The arc of each Zed Omega character was unscripted: they responded to ideas that people presented. The collaborative thought experiment and "interactive documentary" was live on social media during fall semester 2012. (-Learn more-) (-Credits-) (-Facebook-) (-Twitter-)
Press: WIRED / ARGN - Current - NCME1 - NCME2 - Center for the Future of Museums - StoryForward - AIR -Games for Change - MPR - Sparknotes
At ElegantPi’s aka Brandie’s recommendation, I started reading The Rocket Boys, by Homer H. Hickam, Jr. I’m savoring every word (nope not done yet)—so far it’s superb on so many levels. It’s a powerful memoir about teens living in Sputnik-era 1958. While their fathers toil in the subterranean coal mine in West Virginia, they cast their own aspirations toward starry space. There’s a lot there on themes including following one’s passion, education, self-education, learning by doing and the role of mentors, supporters, parents, and educators.
The quote I included in their group snapshot above is this Rocket Boys conversation:
“Perhaps there’s a break-even point for all propellants.”
“We need more tests,” I said, “to be certain.”
Quentin’s face lit up. At last I had agreed with him. “My boy, although I have had my doubts, there are moments, such as this one, when I believe you are quite capable of learning. How about the science fair this year?”
“We’re not ready,” I said. “We still need a book [on rocket science; they’ve been learning mostly by trial-and-error and recording their experiments] so we’ll know what we’re talking about.”
Quentin shrugged. “If we keep going the way we are, we can write our own book.”
p.s. My behind-the-scenes work on the Zed Omega site and other conversations here like The Rocket Boys have inspired me to start my own blog to explore how, even though I don’t have my own kids—plenty of nephews and nieces galore, though!—and I’m not formally a teacher, I’d like explore what it might mean to be an encouraging mentor to high school and college-aged youth. I’ll let you know when it’s ready…. - Zephyr
From a photo series inspired by Ed Zed Omega, by Brandie. – Alan
…but I still double-check the sources.
(Photo: Inspection Institute Aeronautical Science Group, NASA)
On the Ed Zed Omega site, this article popped up. It’s about why kids “hate” school, and why certain subjects are useless to teach. I agree with the article, for the most part. Strauss isn’t saying that the subjects…
Hi, Clare – and all of you Zed Omegas! I’m writing to answer Clare’s question about how she might find the motivation to be more interested in science and math subjects.
I’ve written before about how science is often presented to students, and how I think that’s the wrong way to go about helping young students understand what science is and why it is important. We tend to think of science as “difficult” or “dry” or “only for the left-brained” or “uncreative”. The truth is, science is none of those things! Science is not elite, and it is not exclusive. It is the discovery of the world around us, a way of asking and answering questions about our universe. Science requires a questioning, open mind, a creative mind that is able to take a question and discover a way to answer that question. What is gravity? Why do we see colors the way we do? How does a radio work, or our cell phones? Is there (was there) life on Mars? How can light be both a wave and a particle?
Science starts with a question. Over the centuries, we’ve developed rules and a toolbox for helping us answer those questions in a methodical, recordable, repeatable way. We call it the “scientific method”, which you’ve probably learned about in school. But that’s just the method, the toolbox. The wonder is in all of the things that we’re asking questions about.
So when you think about science, forget about formulas and equations and instead pay attention to the way your feet push you forward when you walk - that’s friction making it possible for you to walk or run, and it can be described in a system of force equations. When you throw or kick a ball, the reason it moves the way it does and then falls back and rolls to a stop (or hits someone in the face) is because of the force of your kick and the force of gravity. That, too, can be described in just a few simple formulas. But before we had those equations on hand, someone had to dig in and watch a ball being thrown or an apple fall out of a tree or think about what lets us walk forward and ask… why? how? Science derives from our curiosity about the world around us.
In my opinion, the very best way to cultivate an interest in science is to experience it first-hand. With that in mind, I’d like to recommend an activity for you, if you’re up for it. It’s super-fun and very educational! The Minnesota Astronomical Society has star parties at the Onan Observatory in Baylor Regional Park. (You may know about this already, actually, but I’m going to write it down just in case.) They’ve got one on the calendar for October 6th from 7-10pm, if you’re available on that date and can get out there. Maybe the Zed Omegas could go as a group, if you’re all interested.
Astronomy has, I believe, a greater sense of accessibility as a science, because we’ve all stepped outside at one time or another to look up into the starry sky. It was my first love, so that’s why I’m eager to recommend it to you. Lately, I’ve been so happy that the weather is cooling so that I can go outside with my telescope again! The science of astronomy involves observing phenomena in space and then fitting the observations into what we know about physics. The professional study of astronomy does involve a lot of math and a lot of physics, but you don’t need math or physics to look through the lens of a telescope and see the craters of the moon in stark, crisp detail, or the rings of Saturn, or Jupiter and its storm bands and its Galilean moons, or the diamond sparkle of a distant star cluster.
At the star party, people will very likely bring their own telescopes out in addition to the telescopes provided by the observatory. The way our star parties work at the JSC Astronomy Society, everyone picks a different planet or star or nebula at which to point their telescopes, and guests can go ‘round from telescope to telescope and talk about what they’re seeing. There will be lots of amateur astronomers there to explain things and of whom you can ask questions. And don’t let the label of “amateur” fool you – that only means they don’t get paid to do science! Some of our most valuable discoveries have been made by amateur astronomers who have as much science knowledge as the professionals (many of them self-taught!)
Here is the website for more information about the star parties.
The second-best way to cultivate an interest in science is to read about it. I have a list of books that I think you honestly would enjoy. They’re not “science-y” – they’re all about people who happen to also be scientists. I also have a list of blogs for you to check out. We are so fortunate to have science communicators who are passionate not only about their work in science but also in sharing that experience with those of us who are outside of their field of expertise. I’m not saying “read all of these books!” - just read some of them, or one of them, or passages from each of them.
Maria Mitchell: A life in journals and letters – This book is free to download from Project Gutenberg. I love it for the many snippets of Mitchell’s letters and for the description of her education, which I think you will find interesting. She was educated both at school and at home and learned astronomy from practicing it with her father. She became the first professor of astronomy at Vassar College and was a fierce advocate for the education of women. The book is compiled by Phebe Mitchell Kendall in 1896, so the commentary writing style is somewhat old-fashioned. However, Maria Mitchell’s words on her life, her science, and her teaching are invaluable. I’m actually re-reading this right now. If you decide to pick it up, I’d be happy to talk with you about it.
Marie Curie: A Life by Susan Quinn and Madame Curie: A Biography by Eve Curie – In terms of education, nothing is more interesting than the account of Marie Curie’s early life. Both her mother and father were teachers, and she studied in a formal school until the age of 14. Because she was a woman, she was forbidden to study at a university, so she and her sister enrolled themselves in the “Flying University” in Warsaw, which was an illegal, underground system of higher education that defied the laws of the Russian occupiers of Poland at that time. Eventually, she went on to study at the Sorbonne in Paris, and you’re probably familiar with the rest – she discovered two elements, radium and polonium, and made some of the first observations on radioactivity.
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard Feynman – science intermingles with accounts of the wacky hijinks of Dr. Richard Feynman, who worked as a physicist at Los Alamos and went on to teach at Cal-Tech. He talks about picking the locks on the Los Alamos filing cabinets and leaving little notes, just to illustrate how insecure those top-secret documents were. He talks about science and a science life interchangeably, and it is never boring. Except for the last part of What Do You Care What Other People Think? where he’s talking about his time with the Challenger review board. That part is boring, even to me. Skip it. Everything else? Read with joyous abandon.
Comet by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan – this is an exploration of the nature of comets and their place in our history. It’s not just about the science behind comets but also the human relationship to comets in art and literature and myth. It’s a beautiful book, almost perfect.
Cosmos by Carl Sagan
Contact by Carl Sagan
(I won’t say much about these two books except that both are brilliant, and Contact is fiction.)
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking – a beautiful and accessible explanation of the questions facing us today in physics and cosmology. Hawking’s narrative explores the historical roots of the concepts and questions that scientists are still exploring. It’s just… fascinating. The illustrated version is the best to read, I think. But then, I love pictures instead of walls of text.
Bad Astronomy – Phil Plait got started writing about science by critiquing bad science in science fiction movies. He now writes about the wonders of astronomy and physics, with a smattering of social commentary, rationalism, and other sciences.
Star Stryder – Pamela Gay writes about astrophysics and life in science
Cocktail Party Physics (original site) – “Cocktail Party Physics is a science-and-culture blog that aims to create a salon-like virtual space highlighting the latest news and ideas in science — with a twist. This is not your high school science class. If I can make it fun, funky, unconventional, and blur the lines between traditional disciplines — both within the sciences themselves, and science and the arts, literature, pop culture, history, and every other aspect of our culture — so much the better. We need fewer barriers and more bridges in this world.” Linked above is the archives of the old site, which I loved. The newCocktail Party Physics is now hosted on the Scientific American website and is still awesome.
That’s it for now. I didn’t get around to talking about math, but I’ll save that for later, since math is… it’s trickier to explain how to find an interest. It’s beautiful and amazing, but it’s not as experiential as science can be. I need to think about how to word what I want to say about it.
Have a great weekend!
“they are really interesting and full of good advice!’ – Clare
Happy Saturday, Zed Omegas! I’m spending the day working on photos and listening to my kindle read to me. Today, it’s reading Homer Hickam’s autobiography, “Rocket Boys”, which was made into a movie called “October Sky”. (I like the book better, but the movie is wonderful.)
To get to the point - I was listening and thinking of you guys, because the book is almost entirely about school, self-directed learning, and Hickam’s and his friends’ interaction with their school system and their community. Hickam’s story is that he grew up in Coalwood, West Virginia. The Coalwood kids attended a small high school in another town, where teachers were highly motivated to see the students succeed and the students were expected to live up to high standards.
In 1957, after seeing Sputnik fly over their town, Hickam and his friends became interested in amateur rocketry. There was almost nothing on the subject in the libraries that they had access to, but they gathered information wherever they could. There were no kits available - they had to make everything from scratch. They learned stuff from the machinists at the mine (Hickam’s father was the mine manager) and started getting ahead in their math and science classes in order to build better rockets. They learned as much about chemistry making rocket fuel as they did in chemistry lab. Basically, through their desire to learn to build rockets, they learned physics, chemistry, aerospace design, drafting and schematic drawing, how to weld, etc. They had the help and instruction of adults in their community, but a lot of this knowledge they had to learn for themselves. The boys pooled their skill and knowledge sets and worked as a team to build better and better rockets.
Hickam campaigned for a calculus class at his high school so that he could learn the math he needed to design better nozzles for the rockets. He was successful, but ironically had the lowest math grades out of the eleven students who signed up for the class. Only ten seats were made available, so Hickam had to teach himself calculus after all. He was using differential equations to design nozzles by the time he was through, thanks to his own self-study in the subject and the tutoring he got from the other rocket boys who were in the calculus class.
The boys went on to win their regional science fair with their rocket designs, and it was a big deal for their community because no one from Coalwood had ever won the regional science fair.
If you get a chance to read the book or watch the movie, I highly recommend it. Both book and movie give me a lot of ideas about how education was, how it’s changed, how we could change it back. The Rocket Boys succeeded because their teachers took interest in them and because they were supported by their community in their self-directed learning efforts. (Mostly. They did almost blow up the coal mine once, which did not endear them to anyone…!!) Hickam went on to work for NASA as an aerospace engineer.
Anyway - that’s my thought for the day, brought to you by stuff on my kindle.
(Clare, I promise that next time I write to you guys, I’ll find stuff that is more liberal arts and less mathy-sciencey!! :) )
Hello, Zed Omegas! I was reading an article about edX last night, which is MIT+Harvard’s foray into the world of massive open online courses (MOOCs). This is post-secondary education stuff, which isn’t really your focus, but something in the middle of the article sparked my interest and made me think, hey, this is something worth talking about, maybe. What interested me - and what I feel is most applicable to your explorations in education - is in edX’s president’s answer to the third question. I’ll quote part of the answer here:
“When we began the course, we were really concerned about the large number of students enrolled. We had 154,000 students sign up and our staff was about six or seven people, which is the kind of staff that we have for a 100-person on-campus class. We didn’t know how we were going to deal with all the questions and so on that students usually have, but through our online discussion boards, we saw the students answering each other’s questions. There were no repeat questions because once someone asked a question everybody could see the response. In that way, we were able to serve 154,000 students with a very small staff. I think that was clearly our biggest learning experience and the biggest surprise we had.”
The students teaching students thing really interests me, and I wonder if that is something that learners outside the traditional schooling formula can leverage. Maybe there are places where they already are? I don’t know. Online forums where unschoolers/homeschoolers/non-traditional learners (or even traditional learners - why not?) can share their learning experience and information, and learn from each other, answer each other’s questions, etc.
I do know that I’ve seen this kind of knowledge sharing in citizen science projects like Citizen Sky, where everyone who signed up to observe and share data also shared learning. If someone didn’t know how to configure a piece of equipment, they could log on to the site, ask a question, and SOMEONE would have the right answer. (And if someone posted a wrong answer, someone else would come right along and correct it pretty quickly.) In this way, everyone’s skills improved in using observing techniques and equipment.
I thought, this idea of the massive classroom and student learning networks seems so relevant to learning and education, and I had to wonder, is this (or something like it) being utilized in traditional schools (and if not, why not?), and is it something that could be useful to you and other non-traditional learners?
What do you guys think?
(Clare’s positive response to Brandie’s earlier post)
Thank you thank you thank you for those resources you submitted!
I’ve become more and more interested in self-directed study and unschooling and (although I’m still unsure) I’m starting to lean towards that as my possible path to education.
I don’t really know anyone in real life (besides Nora Rose) who has home schooled or unschooled so to have someone like you to submit these resources is really really helpful!
Also thanks for your comment at the end about the MIT OCW and iTunes U having liberal arts/fine arts courses as well. (I was thinking it was a bit science/math heavy too!)