Thursday, February 11, 2016

The sound of gravitational waves

I am so excited!!!!  The report today in the New York Times of scientists hearing the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away, that proves Einstein's theory of gravitational waves, is just phenomenal!

It took one hundred years, including 40 years of scientific exploration and $1.1 billion investment by the National Science Foundation, to test and prove what Einstein predicted in 1915.

Using two 2.5 mile long "antennas" ending with mirrors hung with glass threads, the LIGO team of physicists detected changes smaller than one ten-thousandth of the diameter of a proton.  And they recorded it.  So you can hear it.  That. is. amazing.

The questioning, striving and passion to continue this work over time; the dedication to an idea and the curiosity and determination to follow through; the serendipity, cooperation, invention and creativity of a team of physicists working together - it is the perfect example of what we are teaching our students to do and be.  Our school's mission  - our equation for education - is to inspire curiosity and a passion to achieve and to cultivate purposeful action. This equation has lead to exciting and wonderful achievements by so many of our graduates.

I love this phenomenal example of the quest to answer questions about the nature of the universe.  I hope you will be as inspired by it as I am!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Playing with questions

As the world rapidly changes, parents and educators are in a constant process of examining what skills children need for their future success.  It feels ever more important that we get it right.

Last spring, we gathered a group of scientists and college professors to pick their brains about this topic.  The skill that they felt was most important - and they were adamant about this - was the ability to ask good questions. Without a questioning mind, they asked, how can people bring passion, energy, or innovation to their work?

I just read two great articles - one about how to best educate preschoolers and the other about teaching kids how to ask questions and I think they both are spot on.

The first article is about Erika Christakis and her new book, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups.  Erika's main thesis is that play is how children learn and we desperately need to make it the centerpiece of their school and home lives.  I am so gratified that the education we  have here at Parker is steeped in rich, complex play experiences.

The second article talks about Warren Berger's book, A More Beautiful Question.  He suggests that questioning is a highly valued skill in today's innovation based work world, and is essential for an informed citizenry.  "We want children's questions to be large and expanded instead of being diminished and eventually going away," Berger says.

I was interviewed by two Parker middle school kids yesterday and we got talking about the importance of questions, play and hands-on learning.  They had terrific questions for me, and expressed how much they valued exploring through hands-on experiences as a way to learn, especially in science class.

So, check out these articles, play around with the ideas, and send me any questions you have.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A true friend

Here is the story of a life-long learner and someone who gives back in so many ways.

Retired GE engineer, Len Berube became a friend of the school when one of our trustees invited him to the annual auction.  He has a wood-working hobby and donated some beautiful boxes to be auctioned off.  He was intrigued by Parker's approach to education, and came to visit the school.

Len loved the hands-on nature of the learning and asked if he could bring his lathe to show students how to make a "dibble" -  a tool for planting bulbs.  The 2-3's were enchanted and each made a dibble of their own in science class.

After a conversation with our science teacher, Len began to collaborate with her on a STEM idea, and the Engine Project was born.  Sixth and seventh grade students took apart several combustion engines and put them back together with tools Len donated, capturing their imaginations and activating their love of tinkering.

Len then contacted Plug Power, a leader in hydrogen fuel cell systems located in Latham, about an even bigger idea.  Their engineers jumped on board and after Len did an internship at the company, he facilitated a fuel cell project that lead to students' presentations on using renewable power for humanitarian purposes.

This morning Len gave all the students at Parker an extraordinary bench he made with them in mind.  It comprises nine kinds of exotic woods and contains a compass rose, four hearts, scientific symbols, and secret compartments for time capsules.  It is inscribed: to Parker Academic Explorers and will be treasured for years to come.

Lenny's creativity and generosity have brought the school many gifts, not the least of which is his passion.  He has opened doors, fostered community friends and partnerships, and given of his talents.  (He also brought cake.)

Thank you, friend!
I am admiring Len's workmanship!
The bench is made of Filipino mahogany, eucalyptus,
Brazilian cherry, South American  mahogany,
North American red and white cedar and white pine,
Peruvian walnut and African purple heart.