Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Play-Doh Cologne

Got a hot date tonight? Might I suggest the eau de play-doh from Demeter Fragrance? If that fails, you could always go with "Laundromat," "Poison Ivy," or the old standby, "Vinyl." Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Boilerman Triathlon

Last night I drove to Lafayette, IN and stayed with my good buddy and former teammate Jonathan, which was fantastic. Then, this morning, I competed in my first Olympic-distance (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run), the Boilerman Triathlon hosted by the Purdue tri club. Unfortunately, the organizers were not particularly organized, but the race ended up going very smoothly. I finished the race in 2:23:17 after roughly 25 minutes in the water, 70 minutes on the bike, and 35 minutes running Those are very rough estimates; I didn't hit the lap button on my watch during the race and the post-swim diziness didn't help orient me very well either (I'm getting ear plugs for the next one!). I had a lot of fun and was pleased with my race and, as expected, I toasted a lot of people on the run. It's funny that the more I do triathlon, the more addicted I get to it, but the more I realize how much I really love running.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

CNN.com - U.S. science education lags, study finds - Sep 21, 2006

This article points out a lot of what I think are obvious findings.
CNN.com - U.S. science education lags, study finds - Sep 21, 2006

Take for instance, this statement: "Part of the problem is that state and national learning standards for students in elementary and middle schools require children to memorize often-disconnected scientific facts, the report said." I was always struck by how in the chemistry TEKS (Texas' learning standards), the following TEK (10B) was given such high importance: " demonstrate and document the effects of a corrosion process and evaluate the importance of electroplating metals" when the word equilibrium--a huge idea in chemistry--doesn't even get a mention in the standards.

I'm not sure if the Reuters article is being sarcastic when they put this quote from this teacher right after talking about failing to prepare teachers:

"The report also criticized teacher training, saying undergraduate courses required for teachers were not substantial enough and schools need to support their teachers in learning more about their subject.

"Any grown-up who can read can teach middle school general sciences," said Mara Cohen, an eighth grade science teacher in New York who was certified to instruct chemistry but also teaches life and general sciences."

I would argue that it's really important that the science teachers in our schools have a solid understanding of science. Sure, if you can read and reason, you can teach curriculum straight from a textbook, but can you answer the crazy and exciting questions that are what excite children about science in the first place? I think that's incredibly valuable, and if we're going to bolster the number of science graduates that we produce in this country, we have to excite young minds about science. But don't take my word for it:

The following was an ACS commentary in Chemical & Engineering News (2006, 84, 28), in which the author makes reference to a University of Virgina Study (Science 2006, 312, 1143).

"The authors note: "An average mathematics achiever with a science-related career expectation has a higher probability of earning a baccalaureate degree in the physical sciences or engineering than a high mathematics achiever with a nonscience career expectation, 34% vs. 19%." Perhaps it's a little scary to know that career decisions can be that solidly in place in a child's mind by the eighth grade."

Of course, if you do have a solid background in science, what's the incentive in this country to be involved in primary or secondary education? After all, I'm making almost as much money to be a graduate student as I did teaching high school. If our country is serious about being competitive in science--or even just cares about generating a well-rounded, educated populus--we have to start paying competitive wages to teachers to attract the best.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

25th Birthday

A group of friends and I went out to the Mexican restaurant El Toro 2 in Champaign for my 25th birthday last week. For the last three years in college, we always went to Zapata's for my birthday and the past two years I've practically lived in Mexico, so it's become somewhat of a tradition for my birthday. My good pchem buddy (read: the person without whom I would not be surviving quantum mechanics and thermodynamics classes), Lindsay, made a delicious strawberry pound cake that we ate for my birthday, which you can see me slicing (read: chopping) in this picture. Speaking of birthdays, I got a sweet birthday present in the mail from State Farm, a check for over $100 for the discount in my premium that I get just for turning 25. I could have gotten cheaper car insurance earlier by getting married, but I opted to hold out for 25 instead :).Posted by Picasa

On my soapbox about schools and schedules

While I was teaching in Brownsville, I couldn't believe how poorly managed the student schedules were. On the first day of my second year of teaching, I had 3 students in one class while other people had over 30 and it took them weeks to do what they call "balancing" to move the students around. I thought that disorganization was really disruptive to the process of setting the tone of the classroom that would allow for a productive year of learning. Little did I know, though, how bad it could get.

At the beginning of this school year, one of my former students emailed me to ask if the physics class she was in was the same course that she had taken with me, which it was, so I explained to her who she needed to try to talk to in order to get her schedule changed to biology. Then I realized that not only should she be in biology, but I had put her on a short list of students that I recommended for Pre-AP biology, so I sent an email to a colleague who said she would try to help out.

Five weeks later
, the student emailed me again in a panic, telling me that she had not been able to get her schedule changed and that she was going to have to take biology over the summer. Keep in mind that she's spent over a month in a class that she already passed. The teacher I had emailed wrote to me "you might send her to me...I'll explain to her that at this point and time, she needs to get a parent involved. The students whose parents have come in are getting changes processed...Believe it or not, at week 5 of the six weeks, schedules are still being "fixed". Even teachers don't have the "right" schedules yet. One day you have a 6th period, next day it's gone...and no one informs you until you go to take attendance and realize that the 20 students sitting in your class have been reassigned to other teachers and they didn't let the kids know either (they weren't called in for their schedule change forms)...so you send for their reassignments and escort them to their "new" teacher, who has already marked them absent for not being there at the beginning of class!"

So Monday, I called the school and gave a few people a talking to. Initially, they tried to explain to me that they were still trying to fix lots of student schedules because students would come in and want a schedule change and then they wouldn't need it or like it or want it and it would slow them down. This, though, was a student who really wants to succeed in school, but doesn't have a choice because the school can't get it together enough to put her in the right class. And I'm sure that there are many other students in the same situation, and as noted, if a parent makes a fuss, the situation gets fixed. I certainly made a fuss, and that particular student was in Pre-AP biology by Monday afternoon.

Thinking about the situation, I realized that if this kind of scheduling nightmare happened in a school in a high-income community, there would be so many parents in the school on the first week that heads would roll and resources would be redirected to fix the master schedule within days. In our low-income communities, there are a variety of reasons that parents aren't lined up outside the school: they don't have time, they don't understand what's happening at school or the rights of their children, poor access to information, they're not there at all, etc. Then the big question is, who is going to advocate for these students? The question is even bigger when it comes to advocating for excellence in the classroom, but how can we even begin to answer the question of what's happening in the classroom, when the students aren't even in it?

This whole situation has really reaffirmed for me that we, as a society, have to do so much more than we are right now to advocate for students. And it's much bigger than just calling schools about schedules; it's about breaking down all the barriers in our communities--big and small--that make it difficult for students to succeed. What is your role going to be?

I'll put a happy ending on this post. An email from my student:

hey mr scott how are you? me i'm doing fine i just wanted to thank you for the shedule change they already changed me to biology-preap.[student] told me to give you his e-mail address he said he hasen't opend it since a long time ago here it is [email address]. He also said hi and told me that if you could e-mail him. i hope your doing all right over there as a student and a teacher. I'm preatty happy because i'm not going to Lopez i'm giong to stay at pace I'm going to continue being a VIKING.whoohoooo!That's really great news for me. I hope you have really nice students over there. I Hope i could see you again here at Pace. Everybody wants to see you again.

Best wishes,

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Delicious Omelettes

I stayed the night in Chicago with my good buddy Bobby who made us delicious French-style omelettes with onion and asparagus (and I made some delicious fried potatoes). I took two pictures of Bobby with the omelettes, but I'm posting the one with worse lighting because it's wonderfully candid and fun. Posted by Picasa

Mary D!

I went to Chicago Friday for a really fun night. I went to the Teach For America Chicago area alumni BBQ and met lots of fun people, including a few people who had been corps members in the Rio Grande Valley! After the BBQ, I met up with my college friend Mary and some of her high school friends. I haven't seen Mary since graduation, so it was awesome getting to see her. Posted by Picasa

Reason #3 to love UIUC

The bus system. I don't actually ride the bus very often because I usually ride my bike to campus, but it's super-convenient if I want to take it and it's free for students! Any time of day, it's a 5 minute walk to the bus from my house or if I go during the right hours, the bus goes right by my house. Posted by Picasa

Race Calendar

This weekend, I'm doing my first olympic distance triathlon (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run), the Boilerman at Purdue University. While I was in Chicago this weekend, I went to Mission Bay Multisport and bought a tri top, a number belt, and an elastic lacing system while I ogled over the time trial bikes that it takes every ounce of my willpower not to break down and buy. I'll break down soon enough, but I'm trying to hold off until after the Boston Marathon in April. I'm staying with all-star Johnny Baker, my teammate from Davidson who's a grad student at Purdue.

Perhaps even more exciting than this weekend's race, I've picked out my tentative race calendar for the next year. In addition to smaller events like the Allerton Trail Run that I'll do next month, I'm going to try to do three major races in the next year. Using my qualifying time from Austin this past Feb., I'm planning to run the Boston Marathon in April. After 14 weeks of recovery/training, I want to do the Vineman 70.3. (I picked that Ironman 70.3 event because of it's timing smack in the middle of the two marathons I want to run. Plus, who wouldn't want to compete in a half-ironman in beautiful Sonoma County, CA?) Then 13 weeks later, I'll do the Chicago Marathon.

Assuming that I can stay healthy, those dates should give me time to recover between major events and put in solid training. I'm excited that I have some big goals over the next year to keep me motivated in my training.

Want to buy me a gift? How about the Cervelo P3C? :)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Reason #2 to love UIUC

Lots of free parking. Well, okay, only if you ride a bike to school. I got the last easily-lockable spot in my bike lot of choice earlier this week when I took this picture. There are at least 3 other--even bigger--bike lots within 100 meters of this one. Posted by Picasa

Reason #1 to love UIUC

The Quad. This is taken from just in front of the (back of the) Union. Directly to the left in this pictures is the Noyes Lab, where I'm currently spending the majority of my time. I have my classes there, the chem library is there, and the TA lounge where I hold office hours. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


I went to my brother's football game against Louisville this past weekend. The game was televised on ESPN. As you can see in this picture, I'm a sports celbrity. You can also see in this picture that UK got creamed by U of L. That's the real me on the lower left in front of my projector screen in the basement pointing at the TV me on the recoreded ESPN broadcast. In the words of the Counting Crows, "When I look at the television, I want to see me staring right back at me." You can also see my mother to my right and my brother's girlfriend, Amanda to her right. If you watch a little longer and they zoom out, you can see my dad too, but he didn't make the photo here because they're far enough zoomed out at that point that it's hard to make any of us! (Sorry, dad!) Posted by Picasa