Teaching What You Don’t Know

I was talking about technology on the internet the other day. It’s a half-hearted pastime. I’m not at the top of my game, but I like listening to other people talk. And the topic turned to how we teach minors **ahem** children about technology.

Specifically, the question is: how much does a teacher need to know to teach about a specific technology? You could see the battle lines being drawn. On the one hand, there were people who felt that the teacher should know everything. And on the other hand, there were people who were frustrated that in a world where kids are taught so little about technology in the first place, that anyone would squash a willing teacher’s enthusiasm.

Full disclaimer: I know nothing about teaching. I know nothing about children. And what I know about technology? Well, all my best work is still on my development server.

Still, I was probably the first kid in my district to have a computer in front of me starting in kindergarten.

And that means I had a lot of teachers who…

Well, they understood that computers were the wave of the future, and they understood that kids should be learning technology…

But they didn’t actually know anything about technology.

So, computers were plugged in and turned on, and time on those computers? Well… There were five computers in the school (less than one per class), so go ahead and do the math. You had your hands on a keyboard, you knew the clock was ticking.

And, exactly what does a hundred and eighty-four year old Civil War veteran** teach kids about computers?

Well, back in the day, we got holiday-themed, pre-boxed lessons.

You got a handout with about a million lines of code typed on it.

And if you typed that code into the computer exactly as it was written (assuming there were no typos in the original) a recognizable, holiday-themed shape (Hearts, shamrocks, Christmas trees, etc) would appear on your computer screen.

There were exactly two possible grades: Perfect, and do it again. And what did you get wrong? Well, the teacher could see there wasn’t a recognizable, symmetrical heart.

And that was about it. She couldn’t narrow down the place where you made your mistake, so you’d go over the code line by line, looking for an error. If you asked for help, she’d stand over you, and read off the code, character by character, while you went over what was on the screen.

I left grade school typing 60 words a minute with 99% accuracy.

And computers–coding–well, that was about the last thing on the face of the earth that I ever wanted to do again.

I’d never gotten to the logical part of it, and I’d certainly never gotten to the creative part of it. Somehow, it never really clicked that I could do other things. The perfectionism and the rigidity of it overwhelmed me.

So, my thoughts on how to teach something you know nothing about?

  1. Tell the Truth: I don’t know much about this, but I’m going to give it my best shot because I think it’s important because… Did you think I believed my teacher was a computer genius? No? Well, the insecure authoritarian approach doesn’t work all that well. It keeps everybody from asking questions.
  2. Acknowledge Students’ Personal Motivations: If there’s something you want to do, let me know, and I’ll try to point you in the right direction. Because the truth? Nothing’s more frustrating than spending hours and hours drawing a heart that you wouldn’t have spent twenty seconds drawing with a pencil.
  3. Be Open to Two-Way Communication: What do you think? How could we change this? At some point, I did learn to recognize variables, and see patterns in the thinking. I got better at spotting those typos than the teacher.
  4. Encourage Experimentation: Why do you think that happened? Is there anything else you could do with it? If it didn’t go quite right, what did you learn?
  5. Know Where to Find The Answer: Go to the library. Ask Joe Smith. Try it and see what happens. You don’t know every detail of your preferred topics, either, so why respond differently just because you know less? What’s the name of Charlemagne’s horse? Look it up.
  6. Tell the Truth Again: I’m not an expert. Keep going. You can do more. You can go as far as you want to. Be honest with yourself. You may have taught them everything you know, but that’s not everything there is.

I hated coding. I’d learned that it was stressful, and time-consuming, with ridiculously disappointing results. I avoided it like the plague til graduation. I got back into it later, under my own steam and desperation, but that’s a story for another day.

**Teacher’s actual age and previous occupation may have been exaggerated.

Antiques for Freaks

Okay, so I’m a little weird. I’m just going to let that soak in while all the normal people leave the room. In this particular circumstance, it would be polite–by the way–to pretend that the 64 ounce Big Slurp finally caught up with you, or for that matter, just to fake a coughing fit.

Either way gets you out without hurting my feelings.

So, that’s it. All the normal people have now been given the opportunity to leave.

Now, here’s the other thing I visited at the antiques store the other day.

I was kinda hoping the price had gone down, but no. Still out of my range.

However, the information about him had changed. He is now a hundred years younger (And I trust that judgement every bit as much as I trusted the other guess.) And he is still missing a calvarium.

The 1/2 ribcage is now much more clearly marked as separately priced. (It is still arranged so that you can’t see exactly where and how it was cut.) Also sold separately, female pelvis.

And the rest of the case is completely filled with horror-movie kitsch.


What a way to spend eternity.

I Went For a Walk In the Woods

I went for a walk in the woods (Fontenelle Forest, to be precise) and a quick visit to the connected raptor rescue, where they rehabilitate birds of prey. (Just birds of prey. Not ducks. Not woodpeckers. Birds of Prey) They also house a number of birds which would not be able to survive in the wild for various reasons. The short-term residents are kept separately, since they’re not supposed to be socialized to love humans, but the long-term birds are out for the public (provided that they aren’t fostering orphan birds, of course).

Now, to be clear… this is one of those places where an annual membership would be much cheaper for regular visits (uhm, actually if two adults in your family go more than twice in a year) and also there are some benefits (such as after hours access) that would be well worth having, if I lived closer.

A hawk. Unreleaseable due to partial amputation of her wing.

Unmatched pair of owls.




More trees.


There are even indoor trees! This one is more naturalistic than some bookstore trees I’ve been acquainted with.

The raptor area and some of the trails are wheelchair accessible, as is the main building. (boardwalk-style trails, if that makes a difference to anyone.)

The Eclipse: A Starred Review

Before the eclipse, the group I was going to see it with and I were debating the weather–and alternate plans–and exactly how far into the line of totality places were. The weather was… not bad, for a random Monday, but pretty sketchy for watching an eclipse. So, staying was a gamble, and so was going. I looked at the radar, and wound up staying. I was the only one who did, but the radar, combined with the fact that the alternate location wasn’t as close to the center line made me wary of leaving. It seems that if you have an eclipse under patchy clouds, the longest duration is probably your best chance of seeing at least some of it.

And I wasn’t sure. There was a part of me that was heartbroken watching them pull away without me… certain that they were right and I was wrong, and it was too late to fix the mistake.

So, an hour before the eclipse, I looked up at a cloudy sky and set alarms for the beginning of transit, and also for the beginning of totality.

I was pretty sure it was going to be raining, but I figured I could still go out in the rain and enjoy the darkness.

It didn’t rain where I was, and while the clouds never cleared up completely, they were whispy enough not to be a problem in viewing the eclipse. I spent a couple of hours lying on the grass in my yard with binoculars (actually, special Sunoculars, with a sun-filter built in) watching the eclipse.

Sunoculars are another world, entirely. I got them–at a cost of mumble, mumble–because I’m pretty near-sighted and cardboard things do not always work well with my prescription. If you point them at a lamp in the house, you will not be able to tell if the lens caps are on or off by looking. They turned out to be a really nice, really clear view, and you could also see the sun-lit clouds, and the shadows of some of the leaves above me, but I was skeptical until I actually saw it. I do recommend them. The magnification was good, too.

From where I was, you could hear the loud speakers on the high-school football field, but not the crowd, itself. I think they drug in the usual sports-oriented announcer, and that he was frustrated with the lack of screaming fans. His timing was also dangerously off, as he’s telling people when to put their eclipse glasses back on. (That might be something you have to know in advance.)

I got a couple of pictures, and the best of them is the featured image for this post. I’ll either take a better camera next time, or pass on the photos, entirely. They don’t do it justice.

I didn’t see any stars, probably due to clouds, but I did feel the temperature drop.

And then, totality passed, and I watched until the clouds gathered, and blotted out the sun, right around 70 or 80%.

As for the rest of my group? Well, it was raining in alternate location, and they had to settle for an indoor picnic and a few hours of togetherness.

Take that, extroverts.

On Eclipses, Weather, and Gullibility

I’m already awake and waiting for the eclipse to begin.

The weather check is a little sketchy. Uhm… Periodic clouds, whatever that means.

There is a contingency plan, in which we drive out along the line of the eclipse until there are not periodic clouds. We are seeing an eclipse today, even if we have to use a tractor beam to drag the moon back into position.

The thing I wasn’t prepared for with this is just how many people do not care. I’m pretty much bouncing off the walls, but I’ve run into a whole lot of So What? And even a couple of people who would prefer not to see it. (Apparently, it’s creepy.)

And I’m also running into a few adults–reasonably intelligent, normal-type adults–who have no idea of either: 1.) What an eclipse is or 2.) The relative positions of the planets in the solar system.

Well, you see… there is a rumor going around that because of the alignment of Jupiter and some other planet (suggestions vary) There will be 19 days of darkness later on this year.

I would hate to accuse my boss of starting this rumor, but he does seem to be the one who benefits the most. (Doesn’t matter if you miss this, ’cause you can’t possibly miss that.)

I have tried to explain that this is not possible… that for Jupiter (even with planet X) to block out the sun, Jupiter would have to be between the Earth and the sun. This does not seem to take.

Because planets move.

There is some–we won’t call it skepticism–debate on the subject, but no actual cry of “Bullshit!”

, And aside from that, there seems to be a lot of resignation about not being able to see the eclipse. I have heard the phrase “oh well” more times than I can count, and some days, I feel like I’m completely surrounded by Eeyores.

As I may have mentioned, before… Science is important, and in the event that something is open during the eclipse, that means that individuals and families are being denied access to the event of a lifetime so that you can buy a tostada. Do NOT buy a tostada. Do not buy anything. Do not spend money to promote the idea that denying people access to science is profitable (either short-term or long-term.)

Boycott anything which is open.

That Horse Trailer Full of T-Shirts

On my way home from work, yesterday, I passed a man selling eclipse T-shirts. He must have had a lot of them, judging from the horse trailer he’d dragged them in in, and I’ve seen him around town before. I stopped to talk, mostly because I was passing within ten feet of him anyway,  and he was looking straight at me. He pointed to the other guy, and said that he had designed the t-shirts and had a bunch made up.

So, yes, that’s more or less how it goes. They made eclipse T-shirts, and then plonked themselves down on the corner of Livestock Equipment and Big Box Store (Also Selling T-shirts) and hoped for the best.

Now, I’m really not sure where you’d go to sell t-shirts in my town, and maybe business will pick up, once the eclipse crowd gets here… any minute now…. any… minute…

But I do think you should have a pretty good idea before you buy a horse trailer full of shirts.

These are… well, they’re shirts. They’re blue, and say “Eclipse 2017” or some such, and have the Homestead National Monument printed on the back. (It’s a hideous picture of a hideous building.)

picture of homestead monument

Told You So. (Courtesy of the Parks Service.)

But there has been a lot of speculation surrounding the Eclipse, and that ranges from people letting out rooms in their house, to people trying to sell eclipse glasses on Amazon (From Utah!)… to people buying a horse trailer full of T-shirts.

And I don’t know how you sell a horse trailer full of T-shirts.

I don’t know how you sell eclipse glasses long-distance, after Amazon bans you for not having enough customer feedback for the number of sales on your new account. I don’t even know how you sell them, when it turns out that the local fast food places are giving them away with meals.

And the bed & breakfast thing? Well, I might just wait til closer, to see if you can get a look at the people in real life. It’s damn hard to get a drunken astronomer out of your waterbed. Especially after he gets out the snorkel.

There has to be more of a plan than just “I’m going over there and I’m going to sell (product).”

As of right now, I have seen more vendors than tourists.