All Now Mysterious...

Friday, April 15, 2016

Why I Teach Science

“How does this thing work? Why does that stuff change? How does that do what it just did?”
-Introduction, Sid the Science Kid
I have a 6 year old daughter and a 2½ year old son. It is a daily adventure watching them discover the world around them. They are so curious about their little universe, so passionate about exploring their surroundings, and so thrilled when they learn something new or figure something out for themselves. They have such joy in discovery.

Science should be like that for everybody.

I have spent the past seven years teaching chemistry at Olympus High School in Salt Lake City.  I have had the opportunity to work with many, many great students.  I have known that most of them would not pursue a career in the sciences.  But I have tried to help them each to cultivate an appreciation for the wonder of our world and the joy that comes from curiosity and discovery.  These are traits that transcend the discipline of science; I believe they are a natural part of a well-balanced life.

I love science because I love learning and discovering new things about the world we live in.  I teach science because I love seeing my students have that same experience.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Free Eats!

Here’s one good reason that everyone should learn how to cook: Freedom.

If you can’t cook, you are dependent upon someone else for one of the necessities of life.  Every time you need or want to eat, you are going to have to pay someone—fiscally or otherwise—to provide food for you.  And you may not even get quite what you want. You’ll get someone else’s interpretation of what they think you want.

But if you can cook, the power is yours. You can make yourself whatever you want, whenever you want.  You are not reliant on anyone else’s time or resources or availability.  You are responsible, and accountable only to yourself, for your own nutrition.  You are independent.

Declare your independence by learning to cook.

Saturday, January 02, 2016


Everybody wants the most they can possibly get
For the least they can possibly do....
-Todd Snider, "Easy Money"

When I was a chemistry student at the University of Utah, we got an earful about academic honesty. This wasn't a coincidence; the Chemistry department had been at the epicenter of Cold Fusion, arguably the biggest scientific scam/gaffe of the 20th century.  A lot of people lost their jobs and the university and the department took huge hits in credibility over the incident. Those who remembered the incident wanted to make sure we knew better than to try to pass off questionable, manufactured, or inflated results ourselves.  They wanted to make sure we knew how the scientific process was really supposed to work.

As a teacher, I focus on academic honesty as well. I have a lengthy description of the policy, and the consequences of violating it, in my classroom disclosure statement that students and parents get at the beginning of the year. But the policy and its consequences are actually pretty simple: The expectation is that you will do your own work, and if you don't do your own work, then you don't get credit for it.

It's kind of a game, really, the interplay between students and teachers.  Students try to earn the highest possible grade with the least possible work, while teachers try to catch students when, not if, they cheat.  It's all part of the dance.

This year I have a student in one of my classes; I will call him X.  After I had handed back and gone over each of the two exams in first quarter, X came up and asked for clarification on his grade, claiming that I had not given him full credit for correct answers on some questions. The first time, I didn't think much of it.  I make mistakes sometimes. The second time, however, I began to be suspicious.  You see, when I grade exams, I mark them in a certain way based on what information is or is not provided.  That way, I know if, and to some extent, how a student has answered a problem.  And X was claiming to have included, and not received credit for, information that my grading system told me hadn't been there originally.

There is, I am told, a saying in the military: One time is luck, two times is coincidence, but three times is enemy action. So for the third exam, I decided to see what was really going on. I made a photocopy of X's test before I graded it.

Sure enough, after passing back the test and going over it in class, he came up and wanted to know why he hadn't received full credit on some questions.  I told him I'd look at it and took back the test.

When I compared the test he gave me back with the photocopy I had made earlier, I discovered two different answers that had been changed in an attempt to gain more points.

According to my classroom policy as outlined in the disclosure, the consequence of academic dishonesty is a grade of zero on the test, lab, or assignment in question. X failed the test anyway; he had scored 27/50 and was trying to get me to raise it to 31/50. But because of his cheating, his grade is now 0/50. And under my published classroom policy, he cannot make up or retake the test--because he was caught cheating.

The last thing I did before leaving school for the two week winter break was to change his test grade to zero and send a letter to his parents explaining why the grade had been changed.

X is in the first class I have on Monday morning.  It will be interesting to see what the fallout is going to be.

New Years Soup

Happy New Year, Everyone! I hope 2016 brings you all peace, joy, and happiness.

For our New Year's Eve family get-together, I made soup. I found the recipe via Facebook at a website called 12 Tomatoes. Here's a link:

Slow Cooker Loaded Baked Potato Soup

I did make one change to the recipe, Instead of using cream cheese, I substituted sour cream to make it a little less rich. Also, I only used about 1/3 cup of bacon, because that's what we had. All in all, it worked out nicely.

Anyway, here is the recipe as I made it. I highly recommend it!

32 oz. frozen hash browns
32 fl. oz. (1 qt.) chicken broth
1 can (10 oz.) condensed cream of chicken soup
8 oz. sour cream
1 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/3 cup crumbled bacon

Add all ingredients to a large slow cooker; mix well.  Cook on high for 3-4 hours.  Serve with salt and pepper, rosemary, chives, etc. to taste.  Serves 8-12.


Friday, December 04, 2015

Siri, Siri, Siri....

I was just issued a new iPad Air at work, and the assistant IT guy (a former student) came by to help me set it up.  He introduced me to Siri.  This has led to a few amusing Q&As.

Me: Who's on first?
Siri: That's right. Who is on first.

Me: What is the meaning of life?
Siri: I don't believe there's a consensus on that question.

Me: What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
Siri: The last person who asked me that ended up in a crevasse.

Who says programmers don't have a sense of humor?

Friday, November 20, 2015

And Now, A Few Words from Professor C

A friend of mine on the Hero Games Discussion Boards is a professor of physics and astronomy.  He posted these two thoughts today:

Last lab of the quarter today,
Last lab of the quarter today,
Last lab of the quarter today,
Last lab of the quarter today!

Pardon me while I dance a little jig of grief. 

. . . and . . .

Hey, if I could make earth-shattering kabooms easily, I wouldn't waste them on students. I'd be using them on administrators. 

Yeah, he's clearly an educator, and has been for a long time.

To Receive or To Reject?

Like many of you, I’ve been following, at least a little bit, the ongoing Syrian refugee situation.  Refugees fleeing the so-called Islamic State will be arriving in the United States soon.  It’s been more controversial than I’d imagined.

I’ve heard and read the news reports. I’ve seen the internet memes.  I’ve read the claims that ISIL will use the refugee situation to sneak terrorists into the United States, although I’ve seen little in the way of hard evidence to support these claims.  I’ve read of state governors, in Texas and elsewhere, proclaiming that Syrian refugees will not be allowed into their states—although, Xth Amendment notwithstanding, I’m not convinced they have the Constitutional authority to make such decisions.  And, of course, I’ve seen all kinds of social media posts and polls asking the big question: Should Syrian refugees be allowed to enter the United States?

So, for those (if any) who care, here is my opinion: I am in favor of allowing Syrian refugees to settle in the United States.

Because I would want someone to do that for me and my family if the situations were reversed.

I can’t imagine what these people are going through—driven from their homes by threat of violence, forced to leave behind everything they’ve known and make a new start in a strange country.  There is nothing in my experience that even comes close to that.  I can’t relate.

But I have family who can.  Because I count among my ancestors some of the Mormon pioneers.

They were refugees, too.  Outsiders?  Foreigners?  Subversives?  Evil?  The Mormons were called all of these things, and worse.  They were expelled from their homes and their society, and traveled hundreds of miles to make a new start somewhere else.  A few welcomed them, but most treated them with suspicion and mistrust.  Persecution eventually began, and culminated with the expulsion of the Mormons under threat of violence—by their own government, in at least one case.  So they would leave, and the whole process would start all over again.

My wife, and therefore my children, are descendants of Brigham Young.  He was there when the Mormons were driven out of Ohio, driven out of Missouri, and driven out of Illinois into the Iowa Territory.  He led them, over the course of two years, across what is now Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming into what was then another country (Mexico) and into the valley of the Great Salt Lake.  He helped them settle there, in a desert valley that was available because nobody else wanted it.

I read the accounts of that migration and settlement, and I marvel.  I can’t take it all in.  I can’t conceive of how these pioneers endured all the hardships, all the persecution, all the threats to life and limb, and didn’t just give up.  I can’t understand the extent of their suffering.

It seems to me a shame and a waste for my ancestors to have suffered so much for me not to learn something from their experiences.

So yes, I can, at least by proxy, empathize with the plight of the refugees fleeing ISIL.  And I’m okay with them having a home here.

Monday, August 24, 2015

And Good Morning To You As Well

So, I got flipped off this morning for sitting across the aisle from a guy on the bus. I guess my seat choice constituted an invasion of his personal space.

My backpack fell on the floor between us as I was getting situated. He pushed it back toward me with the toe of his boot. I thanked him, at which point he showed me what I can only assume was his favorite finger and muttered something inaudibly. He scooted over two seats so that I was no longer directly across from him, and fifteen seconds later he got up and stood at the front of the bus for the remainder of his trip.

People are perplexing, and that's for sure and for certain.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Too Tired to Think of a Clever Title

I'm not sure what's so compelling about 4:45 in the morning, but Sophia seems to think it's the ideal time to wake up. She's done it three different times in the past week.

I got her a drink, changed her, and got her back in bed. Then I lay down next to her to keep her cozy until she fell back asleep. It took about an hour and a half.

In that time, Sam woke up. I got him a drink and changed him, and put him back in bed. It's even money whether he'll actually go back to sleep.

Daddy's tired.