"Intellectual distinction is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for election to a Rhodes Scholarship. Selection committees are charged to seek excellence in qualities of mind and in qualities of person which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead. The Rhodes Scholarships, in short, are investments in individuals rather than in project proposals..."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Save the Relics!"


     My post secondary training is in lasers and fiber optics.  I entered the field under the advisement of my Chemistry teacher, Mr. Rhode. He suggested it based on my apparent comprehension of Science.  I wasn't great at Science.  I got A's, but that's because I loved Math and much of what it took to make it in Science in high school was the ability to apply Math to Science.
     I got out of the laser business in 1991.  I moved from working in a photonics research lab to becoming a Unix System Administrator.  While that might sound like a step down, it was the career that led me into training and curriculum development.  Even better, I actually got to talk to people.

     Fast forward 14 years and I got into the laser business again, but this time I was offering a laser class for middle school students of my homeschool group.  The first class was right before I had my fourth baby.  I had seven kids attend and it was a lot of fun. I've overhauled the curriculum each time I've offered it.  Then, this spring  I found teachengineering.org and saw they had a curriculum. I did make one change to the curriculum, which was to change the premise of the story.  The original curriculum was protecting a mummified troll and the students were required to build a security system to prevent its theft.  We just changed it to protecting relics on display at the Cathedral. Other than that, it was perfect for my needs, so I chucked what I had written and offered this new class to my two middle-schoolers and one other high school bound young man from our homeschool group.

     Yesterday was the "project day" they had earned after enduring demonstrations and lectures about lasers and light from me (based on the teachengineering.org curriculum.)  Their job was to design and build a laser security system in a three dimensional space in order to protect a "relic."

     I dumped  a laser, twelve mirrors (nine of which were on adjustable bases), clamps, rubber bands, painters tape and duct tape (which holds the universe together) and cardboard on the floor next to the enclosure frame they were to use and told them to have at it.  Oh, and then there was the photo-sensor.

     Just a tip if you decide to use the curriculum...I ordered the photo-sensor recommended on the teachengineering.org website.  Be forewarned that there is "Some Assembly Required" or more like TOTAL Assembly Required.  I have to admit it was a little bit of fun assembling and soldering all 50+ parts on the circuit board.  And, I'm proud to say it worked without any "rework."  I was a little worried since it had been at least 22 years since I've picked up a soldering iron.  I guess all of my time spent in Mr. Worden's electronics lab paid off, finally.

     They did a great job and they tried some interesting things like trying to expand the beam to make it easier to get into the tiny photo-sensor.  They had a lot of fun illuminating the beam with cornstarch to see the laser grid produced by using 8 mirror surfaces.  Even better was when they realized they'd gone just a little overboard with the cornstarch, getting the mirrors so dirty that not enough light was reflecting into the sensor, thus setting off their audible photo-sensor alarm security system!

    It's days like these that I am thankful I get to teach my kids at home.  To see the thought process, the cooperation of all, leadership of some, comedy of errors that occurred at times and the sense of pride and success when they accomplished their task is amazing.  And they had a really good time.  That, my friends, is what makes this job worthwhile!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away...

I started to write a post about my Star Wars-themed writing program in January.  However, I'm finally just posting it now.  This project has been in the works for six months and I just finished my second weekly class (of six) with a group of ten middle-school aged young men.  We'll finish the pilot of this class mid-July.

Those who have read my other posts here and at my other blog know we're a geeky lot at my house.  I have my stepfather and husband to thank for that.  I grew up watching Star Trek re-runs.  My stepfather hauled us all to Star Wars when it came to our local theater in a tiny town in central Wisconsin.  My husband and I have spent "quality time" watching all generations of Star Trek since our dating days.  We even stream episodes of Next Generation from our early married years and fondly recall snuggling on the couch together.

And it was my husband who introduced me to Joseph Campbell.  When we first met, we talked and talked about what we liked.  Before we even started dating, we met for lunch during a work day (no, it was not a date) and he handed me the book The Power of Myth.   I loved it.  And we talked more about Star Wars and how Campbell greatly influenced George Lucas.  And, Campbell held a place at our wedding.  A poem from The Power of Myth was on the back of our wedding program.

As we had kids and have homeschooled them, the Star Wars and Star Trek sagas have played out in our lives in different ways. For example, we have no less than sixteen reference guides to the Star Wars world, not including the Star Wars Lego guide books.  We have Star Wars Risk.  We, of course, own the movies, but at our house it is a rite of passage when you turn eight years old that you get to watch Episode 4.  The month after you turn eight, you get to watch Episode 5 (Dad's favorite) and then a month later, Episode 6.  This goes on for two more months.  We've determined that Episode 3 is just too dark for kids.  My husband considers the new Star Trek movie one of the best he's seen and the kids have seen snippets of that, too.  We inherited about thirty Star Trek novels from my stepfather.  Like I said, we're geeks.

So, I'm running a writing class for boys.  Here are the rules. They write six pages of story a week.  No grammar or spelling grades.  It's volume.  Have you ever heard boys play "Star Wars?"  This process is all about getting what they play together out of their head and down onto paper.  No interrupting to ask, "Are you sure you spelled that correctly?" or "Are you sure that's the right tense?"  This is about letting the creative process work and to let these boys see they ARE capable of quality writing, and volumes of it.  They are creating their own stories and producing up to ten pages per story a week.  These are boys who don't like to write.  And the stories are good!  The other boys are cheering, laughing, groaning and faking pain while listening to their comrade's stories.  While they are listening, they are getting ideas about what to do with their stories. 

The boys' stories use Joseph Campbell's model for myth in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, also know as the "monomyth".  If you haven't read the book, I suggest you do because in it you will find the archetypes and model of every good story ever told.  Once you have read it, you will be able to find the holes in bad stories and realize what it was in the stories you loved that worked for you.  The book is often the text for college mythology classes, but I have found it to be a valuable resource for those who want to write a good story.  And the class follows many of the exercises of the"progymnasmata" protocol, but don't tell the boys that.