Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Obama's Inaguration

John Burroughs Middle School celebrated the Inaguration of our new American President, Barack Obama, in a festive mood during a 1st period assembly.
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Monday, January 19, 2009

Eulogy for a Clown Fish

The aquarium album

Her life was lived in the dimension of 48 inches by 18 inches by 15 inches, the confines of a 60 gallon aquarium. I purchased her in 1989 to grace my new salt water tank along with a rose anemone. In the intervening 19 years, she grew, and along with her, my rose anemone cloned itself into 28 separate beings. I learned a few years ago that these so called Clown Fish, (Premnas biaculeatus), could breed in captivity so I bought her a companion. She was too old by that time to reproduce but they were compatible.

Also known as the spine cheeked anemone fish, these fascinating animals are immune from the sting of the rose colored anemone and wiggle, writhe, and finally relax as they sleep inside their hosts. One day I saw the anemone seem to tear itself asunder and there were two complete animals. Astonished, I consulted every aquarium book I could muster and learned that they clone themselves into colonies that dominate rock shelves in the Indo-Pacific ocean. I have seen them on my scuba diving trips to Thailand and in the Red Sea. Their strategy may be to maximize the stinging power of the individuals on the outside of the colony and the reproducing power of the individuals in the center in order to expand their territory. Nevertheless, I started plucking excess anemones from the tank and selling them to the aquarium store.

She and the remaining anemones prospered and I imagined that she picked a different anemone from her harem each night to rest with. In the last year she had grown visibly older and several times seemed to be nearing the end. She died on Christmas Day, when I was on holiday in Thailand and my friend, Gail, who had offered to feed and care for the tank found her on the bottom. The cleaner shrimp who normally offers his service to remove parasites and clean the detritus, was feasting unselfconsciously on her remains. Gail removed her from the tank and saying a short eulogy gave her a proper send off.

Her character was very clown fish-ish like. They tend to be belligerent, territorial, and, as a result, you have to pick the other residents of the tank carefully in order to preserve the peace. I love the other denizens including the brittle star, hermit crabs, six line wrasse, sand sifter goby, yellow goby, cleaner shrimp, mussel, snails, the small clown fish, and of course the remaining eleven rose anemones. Life in the tank is not easy but she lived a far longer life than any clown fish I have ever heard about and I will miss her.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Teachable Moment

I suppose it was fortunate that I was teaching aeronautics to middle school kids when a teachable moment arrived with the quick thinking and heroic actions of a veteran pilot. New Yorkers have been in the midst of a funk about the collapse of the financial industry and the tales of scurrilous advisers who sank their portfolios, so it was good that they could rejoice in a momentary miracle. Captain Sullenberg's great skill and experience along with fate allowed him to ditch his airplane in the Hudson River. As it happened, two ferries, engines running and ready to go, plucked the 155 survivors off the wings of that sinking airplane, and the captain, checking the aisles one last time was the last to leave the ship.

We all need teachable moments. My students, needing a way to understand how valuable their skills could be in a time of crisis, saw how good judgment and experience could avert a terrible disaster. Flying a plane is challenging and you may only have a short time to react when your engines ingest multiple geese and all power is lost. Reason must triumph over fear if lives are to be saved.

Jonah Lehrer published an excellent article in the Los Angeles Times in which he talks about a pilot’s, "deliberate calm," a phrase he equates with metacognition. Teachers learn this concept in their training as showing students how to be self reflective. Mr. Lehrer suggests that, "the crucial variable is the ability to balance visceral emotions against a more rational and deliberate thought process."

Link to Jonah Lehrer Blog

We have to engage our students and put them in the moment when they have to make quick decisions based upon training and skill and show them how to triumph over fear. The simulators in my classroom are one good teaching tool but every teacher can take this moment and find a way to motivate students to call upon the, "better angels of our nature."

I'm planning a mission for my students where I put them at 3000 feet over Santa Monica Bay and turn off the engines in their Cessna 172 simulators. They will need to calculate their rate of vertical descent and come in for a glider landing at the nearest regional airport.

Aeronautics Class

We may never be tested like Captain Sullenberger but that doesn't mean we can't emulate his, "deliberate calm," and act like real pilots.