Rededication of Purpose

It’s been over a year since I posted last!  Three weeks ago I completed the hardest year of teaching since my first year. Taking on leadership roles in my school in addition to teaching nearly 200 different students seriously took its toll on me and my ability to innovate.

Not this year, I say with eternal optimism.  Warm weather and no students to teach has led me to rededication of purpose.  I have never looked forward to teaching as much as this coming year.  I have great students and cool and exciting classes. These classes include the following:

Computer Science Principles,
Engineering Design and Development, and
Introduction to Data Science

I will post about the updates and crafting of these classes in posts to come!

“Big Data” to fight crime

Data science is the new cool science on the block.  I have a much better time selling math concepts to students that seem useful and that actually are used in their daily lives.  Dallas is using data to save lives!

What to read this weekend: April 29th Edition

Article of the week: As a teacher that focuses on a “growth mindset,” this article by KJ Dell’Antonia in the NY Times – Well Blog seems right up my alley.

Raising a Child With Grit Can Mean Letting Her Quit

April 29, 2016 – STEMM Articles

Science –  I should really do this more!  Meditation Keeps Your Brain Young

Technology – Yahoo’s Security Chief On Encryption Debate: What Is The Greater Good?

Engineering – This looks fun! This Website Is a Rube Goldberg Machine Made of HTML Components

Mathematics – Economics counts as math, right?  Chobani’s Shared Capitalism Bonanza and Why Chobani Gave Employees A Financial Stake In Company’s Future

Medicine – These dozing ‘dragons’ could change how we think about sleep

That is all!  Have a good weekend.

Stop telling kids you’re bad at math

Stop telling kids you’re bad at math!  Especially, if you are teacher.  The primary reason that I made the jump to teaching is that I couldn’t stand when people said that they weren’t “math people.”  How is that acceptable?  People don’t go around saying I’m not really a “reading person.”  It should not be socially acceptable to be bad at math.

I think Valerie Strauss would agree with me in her Washington Post article,
Stop telling kids you’re bad at math. You are spreading math anxiety ‘like a virus.’  Things are even worse when you say these things to young girls.

Girls are especially affected when a teacher publicly announces math hatred before she picks up the chalk. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that female — but not male — mathematical achievement was diminished in response to a female teacher’s mathematical anxiety. The effect was correlated: the higher a teacher’s anxiety, the lower the scores.

Grand gestures work in science but not always with society

Big speeches and big ideas may motivate liberal Democrats and have propelled Bernie Sanders to be a legitimate presidential candidate. However, pragmatists and incrementalists are actually the ones who get bills passed.  The presence of an opposition party usually requires compromise.  This has not always been the case with technology in the 20th century.

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced before a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. A number of political factors affected Kennedy’s decision and the timing of it. In general, Kennedy felt great pressure to have the United States “catch up to and overtake” the Soviet Union in the “space race.” Four years after the Sputnik shock of 1957, the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first human in space on April 12, 1961, greatly embarrassing the U.S. While Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, he only flew on a short suborbital flight instead of orbiting the Earth, as Gagarin had done. In addition, the Bay of Pigs fiasco in mid-April put unquantifiable pressure on Kennedy. He wanted to announce a program that the U.S. had a strong chance at achieving before the Soviet Union. After consulting with Vice President Johnson, NASA Administrator James Webb, and other officials, he concluded that landing an American on the Moon would be a very challenging technological feat, but an area of space exploration in which the U.S. actually had a potential lead. Thus the cold war is the primary contextual lens through which many historians now view Kennedy’s speech.

Science succeeds when society cannot.  There are no opposition parties in science.  Regardless of competition and profit, scientific discovery has always been defined by sharing and collaboration.  Maybe, that’s why collaboration is such an important 21st century skill, because mankind has succeeded when collaboration takes place.

STEMM – What to read this weekend April 22, 2016

My goal is that every Friday I will list at least one article in the sections of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) that you should read each weekend.

As always, if you want to read more about these topics, follow me on twitter @Rojo_VHS or click on the twitter feed tab of this website.

April 22, 2016 – STEMM Articles

Science – Marlins, Pirates players are worried about the Zika virus for upcoming Puerto Rico games by NBC Sports

Zika Virus

Technology – The FBI Paid More Than $1.3 Million to Unlock the San Bernardino iPhone. Is That a Good Deal? by Slate’s Future Tense Blog

Engineering – SpaceX Rocket Makes Spectacular Landing on Drone Ship by NatGeo’s Phenomena Blog

SpaceX Rocket

Mathematics – The U.S. Hispanic Population Is ‘Disproportionately’ Young by Atlantic’s CityLab

Medicine – How to Survive a Fast, Venomous, Flesh-Destroying Snake by NatGeo’s Phenomena Blog

Honorable Mentions

The Federal Government Finally Forgives Billion of Dollars in Debt for Disabled Students by Pacific Standard

Doctors Used an ER Patient’s FitBit Data to Figure Out How to Treat Him by Slate’s Future Tense Blog

Plastics – Not a clear issue

So initially, I thought this post was just going to be about a cool new water bottle I saw in the Atlantic’s City Lab.  Having a bottle with a different form factor from the normal round bottles would potentially make it easier to carry around. But this reminded me again of the complicated issues concerning plastic water bottles and plastics in general.

Water bottles are the new black.  People don’t carry around sodas and unhealthy drinks, people are always carrying around water bottles, because apparently healthy hydration is cool now, right?  However, the downside or unintended consequences of healthy and hydrated living is an excess of plastic water bottles.  As the proud owner of many metal and reusable plastic water bottles I try to avoid this problem.


Recycling is very important and has saved millions tons of plastics from going to the landfills but recycling is and will never be 100% efficient.  Lots of organizations such as the Ban the Bottle Campaign and others are trying to limit our carbon footprint in the creation of plastic products.  There are some quite sombering facts related to water bottle use in the United States.

Making bottles to meet America’s demand for bottled water uses more than 17 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year1. And that’s not even including the oil used for transportation.

The energy we waste using bottled water would be enough to power 190,000 homes2.

Last year, the average American used 167 disposable water bottles, but only recycled 38.3

Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. However, the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic is only 23 percent, which means 38 billion water bottles – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year3.

The benefits of plastics are undeniable and have been highly touted by the plastic industry.  It is too easy to vilify the water companies for these problems, when some of the problems are not their fault.  It’s not their fault, that people don’t recycle their water bottles.  It’s not their fault that people just don’t filter their water.  No one is going to expect them to advertise Brita water filters so that they don’t sell more of their product.


The Digital haves and have-nots

Growing up in the 1990s, I still remember receiving (and actually using) the AOL CDs to get hours of internet.  This was a time when dial-up internet was still new, and the sounds of modems and “you’ve got mail” were the norm.

AHE3H8 A collection of AOL cd roms

A collection of AOL cd roms – via

My family was not an early adopter of technology.  I did not have a computer until 1996 and I still remember using a typewriter to turn in a report in 8th grade.  Little did I know that 20 years later, having the internet would be an integral part of everyday life and of teaching and learning.

As a math and computer science teacher, I still make instructional decisions about projects and assignments based on whether my students have access to “basic” technology.  By my rough count, I would say that at least 1/5 of my students do not have reliable high speed internet at home.  While it seems that there have been a lot of great organizations that have put computers in the hands of students, there must be an effort to help with the internet that makes them useful.  Rick Paulus from Pacific Standard talks about this in his article, How Non-Profits Help Close the Digital Divide:

“I would argue there are not enough cooks,” he says. “It’s so much work to do: There are 64 million people who are not connected to the Internet. We need more groups in more places doing this work. We can definitely always use more voices. Come one, come all.”

During a political cycle where many politicians have spoken about the divide between the rich and poor, there needs to be a serious debate about how to equip all students for 21st century jobs and skills by providing affordable high-speed internet to everyone.

Unintended Consequences – Good Ideas don’t always pan out

My favorite examples of unintended consequences is called the “Cobra Effect.”

So the “cobra effect” refers to a scheme in colonial India where the British governor, or whoever, the person in charge in Delhi, wanted to rid Delhi of cobras. Apparently in his opinion there were too many cobras in Delhi. So he had the bounty placed on cobras. And he expected this would solve the problem. But the population in Delhi, at least some of it, responded by farming cobras. And all of a sudden the administration was getting too many cobra skins. And they decided the scheme wasn’t as smart as initially it appeared and they rescinded the scheme. But by then the cobra farmers had this little population of cobras to deal with. And what do you do if there’s no market? You just release them. And so this significantly, by a few orders of magnitude, worsened the cobra menace in Delhi.

I strongly believe that technology will help us get out our messes with the environment.  Nature’s great blog just recently profiled 10 Unexpected Impacts of Climate Change.  My biggest fear is that we unleash the next “cobra effect” by looking for the fast and easy solution.

Fighting climate change does not happen overnight.  It requires big societal changes that happen little by little.  Great change happens incrementally.  The environmental movement started with recycling.  Then it led to the hybrid cars.  What happens next is up to you.

We really aren’t all unfeeling robots…

Tom Jacobs in his Pacific Standard article, How We Really See Scientists, gives us an insight into how Americans see scientists.

We think of scientists as trustworthy on the whole, but also robotic and emotionless in nature. In addition, some of us — especially social conservatives — view them as prone to ignoring important ethical norms.

I am both disappointed and not shocked at the same time.  From more recent examples like Chuck Lorre’s Sheldon from Big Bang Theory to Carl Sagan’s Ellie Arroway from Contact, scientists are not portrayed as normal people and are seen as lacking the balance of a developed emotional IQ.

Jacobs continues this by describing how scientists could also be seen as amoral.

The results revealed that scientists are perceived as more likely than members of other groups to commit certain, but not all, moral transgressions. Specifically, they were viewed as more likely to engage in serial murder, incest, and necrobestiality, but not more likely to cheat or abuse others.

As an educator and parent, I think it is important that we address incorrect stereotypes and help support an image of science and scientists that helps create a society that supports and values scientists rather than fearing and mocking them.  As a former scientist, (do you really ever stop being a scientist?) I found that a strong foundation in logical reasoning has actually enhanced my abilities to lead.  Or since I’m a disciple of the emotionless and amoral tribe of science, can I be trusted?