Sunday, October 31, 2010

Too Old for Halloween

Halloween iconImage via WikipediaWhen I was twelve, three of my friends and I were trying to make up our minds whether to go trick-or-treating for Halloween. We decided that we would go, but in our hearts we knew it was probably the last year we would.

We went all out on our costumes, although for the life of me, I can't remember what mine was. We started knocking on doors and eventually our bags were filling up.

After about half an hour, we knocked on a door. A man and woman, dressed in costume, answered the door. They invited us in and gave us our candy. Just as we were getting ready to leave, the woman asked if we were about done with our trick-or-treating for the evening. We said that we were planning to go to a few more places and why did she want to know. She told us that they needed a baby-sitter. She and her husband had wanted to go to a Halloween party, but didn't have anyone to watch their kids. She wanted to know if we would want the job.

Two of the girls didn't want to, they were intent on continuing their candy-gathering. I and my best friend decided that money out-weighed candy, so we said yes. The couple let us call our parents to make sure it was okay. Our parents said yes and the couple went to their party.

After a little while, my friend and I started talking about how strange this all was. We hadn't even seen any children. So we sneaked into the bedrooms to check and sure enough, there were two sleeping children all cuddled in their beds. They were too young to trick-or-treat, so I guess their parents had put them to bed early.

The night was uneventful. The children slept. My friend and I watched television. After a few hours the parents returned home, paid us, and we were on our way home. All in all, it was a good evening. We got some candy in our bags and even made a little money.

There has been a lot of discussion this week in the news about "how old is too old" to trick-or-treat. I don't think anyone has an answer to that. I think it's different for every person. For me, it was that night. When people start asking you to work for them, it's probably time to quit.

Now that I'm older, I don't like it when teenagers beg for candy. I would prefer they stick to Halloween parties. It just seems to be an activity better suited for little kids accompanied by their parents. In fact, as a high school teacher, I was always surprised by the number of students who came to school in costume. I was even more surprised by the number of teachers who dressed for the occasion.

So how old is too old for Halloween? I guess I just don't have a good answer for that.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Father of Fractals

Boundary of the dragon curve fractal (16th ite...Image via WikipediaBenoit Mandelbrot died on October 14, 2010 at age 85. I didn't read anything about it in the newspaper. I saw nothing on television news. I only found out by reading a blog on the Scientific American website. His wife said he died of pancreatic cancer. I should have thought the passing of such a great mind would have been more newsworthy, but it only seems to have appeared in numerous blogs. Perhaps his family preferred it that way.

Mandelbrot, known as the father of fractal geometry, was a mathematician who was able to combine mathematics, science, art, and nature. His formulas were genius; his fractals were used to describe mountains, coastlines, snow flakes, lightening, blood vessels, clusters of galaxies, and even cauliflower. Fractals have contributed to chaos theory, geology, medicine, cosmology, engineering, and were even featured in novels such as Jurassic Park.

If you would like to make a simple fractal (the kind found in Jurassic Park), simply take a strip of paper and fold it in half (the first iteration). Fold it in half again (the second iteration). Keep folding it in half. If you could keep doing this, you would eventually end up with the dragon fractal (the 16th iteration is pictured above). You can learn much more about this and other fractals at . The site includes notes for teachers, printable versions, and directions for making a variety of fractals.
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Monday, October 18, 2010

Intelligent Voice of Reason #1

Well, I haven't written anything for a while. I could make numerous excuses, but it won't change the fact that I haven't written anything for a while.

I've been watching a lot of television, politics, and education (Education Nation on the channels of NBC). I've been looking for some intelligent voices of reason. There are a few.

One of them is Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard. Earlier this month, he appeared on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and was asked why it is so important to teach evolution. Here is his intelligent response:
"There are some practical reasons. Some of the greatest technological advances of the next few decades are going to be in the biological sciences. And you can't do biology unless you understand evolution. There's going to be a race between us and the superbugs, the viruses that are going to attack us. Their big weapon is that they can evolve fast. If we don't have a generation of science students and scientists who understand evolution, we're not going to be able to understand our worst enemies. Also, great advances in diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease are often going to come from research on other animals because you obviously can't give cancer or give Parkinson's disease to a human. You can to a mouse. We have to understand what the relationship is between a mouse and a human in order to interpret that science.

But also, what could be more fundamental than knowing where we came from? The theory of evolution is one of the most magnificent intellectual accomplishments of our civilization. It's a tragedy to deny children of the evidence, the line of argumentation, that led to this magnificent achievement in this essential bit of knowledge to understanding who we are and where we came from."

When American children are scoring in the bottom third in science when compared to other nations, we know there is a great need for good science education. Of course, this is made more difficult by number of adults who deny accepted scientific theories including, but not limited to, evolution, climate change, and the age of the earth. It appears scientific knowledge is also lacking in the adult population.

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