Saturday, January 4, 2014

Plate tectonics: 6th-grade curriculum notes

This figure is from a website distributing free science curricula. Coming up with a creative name for an already existing “plate” might be and creative, but it’s not science, and it’s nowhere close to what scientific creativity is like.

I will switcheroo the assignment, also for free.
Here is one way to present plate tectonics to 6th graders, with an emphasis on flexing the scientific creative muscle.
Map 1: Oceans & Continents, showing topography (height)

First look at map 1 (above).  Here is a map of the Earth’s surface showing the topography (height) of the continents and the ocean floor. Find approximately where you live on this map. Is there anything about what you see in the map that leads you to think that the Earth’s surface might consists of rigid crust (plates) that slide around on the surface?  Imagine that the Earth’s surface is divided into about ~12 major rigid plates that slide around on the surface. Based on what you see in the map, try to outline an entire plate.  
Map 2: Earthquake locations for Earthquakes 1963-2008

Now look at map 2: This is a similar map of the surface of the Earth, but the map shows only black or red dots where an earthquake happened between 1963 and 2008. Try to find where you live on this map. Why do you think earthquakes occur mostly along localized zones, and not evenly distributed across the world? Do the localized zones coincide with the boundary between oceans and continental crust? Does the plate outline that you drew on the top map coincide with what you see on the bottom map? Do you think seismologists might have been the scientists who discovered plate tectonics?*

*Hah! That last bit is not for the 6th grade curriculum. That’s just me taking another opportunity to make fun of seismologists!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Coaching not mentoring

At mine and others' academic institutions there is much discussion of mentoring to help junior faculty, but what we really need are a good coaches. A coach is a professional whose job is to help a person to be the best that they can be. Attaining excellence is not a one-person job. On the one hand it takes the entire university community. On the other hand a good coach can help.

I propose a coaching program.  Here’s one way for it to work:
Each year, in a competitive process, a handful of senior faculty are chosen to be coaches for that academic year. (approximately ~1 coach for every ~5 new assistant professors). The coaches take on ~5 or so “clients” to meet with once a week throughout the year. Junior faculty members (and others too can apply, space permitting) are automatically matched with a coach. The coach might be in a different department, but a similar division (i.e. physical sciences). All of the coaches meet quarterly for training, to share successes and failures, and to consider progress of the program in future years. Coaches receive a quarter of teaching release.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year’s Gratitudes

Only the usual new year resolution for me: to continue living life as fully and richly as I am able, not necessarily trying to avoid the usual fuck-ups but with more of a sense of security of self.

But new year’s gratitudes—those I have in abundance.

I am grateful for the entire flock of 14 yr old boys in the house last night, playing all the musical instruments, zooming around on skateboards in the garage, and devouring almost everything in the fridge and pantry.

I am grateful for my nuclear family—my happy childhood, my multiple parents and their adventures, and my own nuclear family: my husband and our son and our happiness and adventures. I am grateful for my sister’s family and my miraculous nephew.

I am grateful for the many miraculous people in my life from the inner circles of those I love to the outer circles of those I don’t know personally: my girlfriends, the kids my son went to daycare with and their parents, the department grad students, the colleagues who can make me smile and think at the same time, R. Spektor who created the soundtrack to last year’s derivations; L. Rennison whose silly kid-books made me laugh all last winter, the ones who grow, pick, & roast my coffee, and the new butcher in Santa Monica.
I am grateful for the ability to continue striving to be the best scientist I can be.

I am grateful for the mile between my home and the Pacific Ocean. Perfect for my daily walk to watch the people watching the sunset. As we watch the sun sink down, I meditate on the Earth tumbling forward in space and I am grateful for Earth’s rotation.