2/28/10

Update

Next week is the last week of the 2nd trimester. On March 9th, we being the final twelve weeks of the school year.

All of the students in my 1st and 2nd hour classes will move on to new classes; I'm sorry to see them go. They've been a great group and I'd like to have had them all year. I've had at least half of the students the entire school year, so I'll really miss those students. I've been very fortunate to have such a fantastic group of students. My two new classes will have some students from the 1st trimester, but most of the class will be new students.

My 5th and 6th hour classes also change. I will have all but four of the students in my 5th hour class next tri; over half of the students in my 6th hour class move on to new teachers. The good news for me is that some of the great students I had in 5th and 6th hours will be returning. My classes will be made up mostly of students I know.

We'll be studying microorganisms and the principles of heat, light, and sound. We're in good shape because we don't have to take the state core test until the middle of May. We won't have to move through the curriculum as fast as I thought we might.

There is no change in my 7th grade science class. We'll be finishing up genetics next week and begin studying how adaptations help organisms to survive in their habitat.

The last trimester of the year is going to be a fun and enjoyable twelve weeks!

Books Review

With the release of the Percy Jackson movie, I decided I wanted to read the books. (I haven't had a chance to see the movie.) I just finished the third book and want to share my opinions.

Book 1 - Percy Jackson and the Olympians - The Lightning Thief

Twelve year old Percy Jackson has a problem - he's been expelled from the previous five schools he's attended. He has a serious case of both ADHD and dyslexia. This has contributed to his unacceptable behaviors.

At his current school, two people take an interest. The first is his best friend Grover Underwood. The other is Mr. Brunner (who is in a wheel chair), his Greek teacher.

Nothing unusual happens until he goes on a field trip to a museum. Mrs. Dodds, a nosy teacher, watches him closely. When Percy's separated from the group, he meets Mrs. Dodds, who turns into a Fury intent on killing him. Mr. Brunner had given him a pen that turns into a sword when he removes the cap. With his sword, Riptide, he's able to defeat the Fury.

He learns that the gods still exist, he is a half-blood (part mortal & part god), and that monsters are trying to kill him. He is sent to Camp Half-Blood where other half-bloods attend school. He also has two surprises. Mr. Brunner uses a wheel chair to hide the bottom part of his body; he is the centaur, Chiron. His best friend, Grover, is a satyr.

Zeus' lightening rod is stolen and Percy is accused. Percy is the son of Poseidon, Zeus' rival. Percy is sent on a quest to find the rod, along with another half-blood, Annabeth and Grover.

Before he leaves, he consults the Oracle of Delphi and is told that "You shall go west, and face the god that has turned"; "You shall find what was stolen. and see it safely returned"; and "You shall be betrayed by one who calls you friend." What do these prophecies mean?

The quest brings much excitement; they meet characters from Greek mythology like Medusa and Ares. He confronts Hades in the underworld. And he is betrayed by a friend. The challenges they face on the quest seem to beyond their abilities to succeed.

Book 2 - Percy Jackson and the Olympians - The Sea of Monsters

A valued tree is dying. The daughter of Zeus, Thalia, was turned into this tree, located outside Camp Half-Blood, to save her life. Only the Golden Fleece can save the tree. A daughter of Ares, Clarisse, is chosen to go on a quest to get the Golden Fleece. Percy is told to stay behind.

While at camp, he learns a secret - a new friend of his he made at his old school - is his brother. This is hard for Percy to take.

One evening, Percy and his brother are on the beach and a stranger visits with him. This stranger sends him on the quest to help find the Golden Fleece. Percy and his brother travel through the seas on hippocampi; Tyson, his brother, becomes fast friends with his hippocampus.

They meet up with the friend who betrayed Percy and find out that he is plotting, along with the enemies of the gods, to raise Kronos and overthrow the gods.

Percy and his brother face challenges that appear to be impossible to overcome. Yet, the gods are sometimes, but not always with them.

The end of the book has an unexpected twist that lays the foundation for the next book.


Book 3 - Percy Jackson and the Olympians - The Titans Curse

Grover is in trouble and needs help from Percy and Annabeth. At the school, they find there are a brother and sister who are half-bloods. They discover a manticore is looking for them so he can kill them. The brother and sister, as well as Percy and Grover, are saved by the goddess Artemis and her hunters. Annabeth flies off a cliff and is lost. Artemis learns of trouble and leaves, sending her hunters to Camp Half-Blood.

Artemis vanishes and cannot be found. At night, Percy is having dreams that seem very real. This leads Chiron and Mr. D (the head of Camp Half-Blood; the god Dionysus, who has been exiled to Earth for one hundred years) to decide to send five on a quest to find Artemis. The head of the hunters, Zoe Nightshade selects two hunters and two Camp Half-Blood residents to go; Percy is left behind. One member has to be left behind, and the group leaves with four.

Percy follows them, and eventually becomes a part of the group. They learn they have to travel to San Francisco, a dangerous place for half-bloods. To get there, they cross country. They meet and receive help from Apollo. Ares and Aphrodite make an appearance. They travel through the junkyard of the gods and eventually arrive in San Francisco.

They travel to the place where the followers of Kronos are getting ready to begin the war. Percy finds Annabeth and challenges Atlas.

Annabeth learns things about her father she didn't know. One member of the group will die at her father's hand. Percy will carry the weight of the world on his shoulders for a brief time. And, in the end, Percy makes a new enemy.

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I love mythology, so I really enjoyed the books. I look upon these books as a form of "alternate historical fiction." What might the world be like if there were truly gods alive today? Rick Riordan, the author of the Percy Jackson series (five books) does a great job creating that world. The stories flow and I found myself, at least momentarily, feeling like I was reading historical fiction.

The first three books are great reads. I strongly recommend these to anyone who enjoys mythology and alternate histories.

2/22/10

Radio Telescope Session

We had a successful radio telescope session this afternoon. We collected data on a strong radio galaxy, 3C123. This galaxy is 8,000,000,000 light years away. When the information we collected left the 3C123, the Solar System was still almost 4,000,000,000 away from forming!

Was also collected data on 3C120, an active galaxy "only" 450,000,000 light years away. Here's an animation of what 3C120 might look like.

video

According to the Boston University 3C120 website (source of the video), "the movie illustrates what we think is going on outside the black hole of 3C 120 ... The supermassive black hole (with a mass of about 30 millions times that of the sun, which corresponds to an event horizon that is about 3 times smaller than the size of the Earth's orbit around the sun) is just a very tiny black dot at the center."

WOW!

2/19/10

Update

I thought I'd give you an update about what will be happening the last two weeks of the trimester.

My Science B classes (1st & 2nd Hour) are reviewing for the State Core Test. They will be testing February 26 & 27. I haven't decided what we'll do the last week. I usually like to try new activities I've found, asking students what they think.

My Science A classes (5th & 6th Hour) are wrapping up the astronomy unit. Next week we'll study the reason for the seasons and the next week they'll learn about the size of the universe.

New Science B classes will begin on Tuesday, March 9th, the beginning of the 3rd trimester (1st, 2nd, 5th, & 6th hours).

My 7th grade class is finishing up work on their genetics workbook. Tuesday or Wednesday, they will begin genetics activities. They will learn what happens when certain gene combinations occur and draw pictures of their "offspring."

2/15/10

X-15

The X-15 rocket plane always interested me. I thought it was so cool to have a plane that could fly into space.

I was looking for some other pictures at the NASA Images website and I came across some movies of the X-15. The first video clip is the X-15 being dropped and launched. The second video clip shows it landing.

I hope you enjoy watching these two classic videos from early space exploration.




2/14/10

Of Owls and Planets

My 7th grade science class recently had the opportunity to dissect owl pellets. A student brought in some owl pellets for the class's use. I thought it was a great experience for my students. On the other hand, some of my students were less than enthused! (Wait 'til they get to dissect later in biology!) It just amazes me what can be learned about the ecosystem of an area by looking at what an owl eats. Here are some pictures from that activity.



We finally had our second successful session on DSS-12. We collected temperature data about Jupiter. This data is being used as JPL scientists plan the Juno mission to Jupiter. All went well. Here are pictures of students at work.

The student on the left is keeping track of what we are doing, what time, etc. The student on the right is controlling the radio telescope.

Student are observing and calling out data points that will allow us to analyze the information we collected.
Here's the screen students are watching. The numbers with which they are most concerned are found in the small box white box (above the graph) on the lower right corner.

As data points are called out, this student is recording the information in the proper blocks. When completed, we use this sheet to analyze our data.

Charles Krauthammer on Obama and NASA

Columnist Charles Krauthammer has an excellent column about Obama and NASA. I encourage you to take a moment and read it.

2/7/10

To Boldly Study Where Thousands Have Studied Before

(Before reading this post, I want you to understand that not only did I vote for President Obama, I donated money to his campaign. I was a supporter. Obviously, I am no longer a supporter.)

Last week, our President announced his "vision" (I use the term loosely) for space. He wants to cancel the Constellation program that would send the US to the Moon and Mars. He wants to turn things over to private industry. He wants NASA to spend more time studying global climate change. He also wants more studies before we build a new heavy lift booster.

When the shuttle program ends later this year, we will no longer have the capability to launch our astronauts to the ISS. Hey, but don't worry! The Russians will launch our astronauts for the discount price of $46,000,000 per astronaut. Hold on, this just in. The Russians have just increased the price to $51,000,000 per astronaut. Supply and demand, you understand.

NASA currently has nearly two dozen satellites either currently studying global climate change or scheduled to be launched. Why do we need more? The truth is, we don't. NASA is doing and will continue to do an outstanding job studying Earth's climate. As we've seen over the last year, reality places no part in the planning of this Administration.

What about the privatization of space? I remember watching with excitement, in 2004, SpaceShipOne successfully winning the X-Prize. Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie piloted SpaceShipOne and became the first astronauts launched into space on a privately owned and built spacecraft.

This was just the first step. It wouldn't be long until SpaceShipTwo would be launching private citizens into space. Over five years later, it still hasn't happened. Scaled Composites has rolled out SpaceShipTwo, but launches will not occur until 2011, at the earliest. This means that it will have taken nearly seven years, at best, to launch a private spacecraft into space. And, this will be a suborbital flight.

SpaceX has a very aggressive launch schedule on their website. The first launch was scheduled for 2009 with four launches scheduled for 2010. Unfortunately, nothing has happened. According to SpaceX, the first flight is now April or May, assuming no further problems arise.

My comments are in no way meant to be critical of these companies. It is a complicated business launching rockets. These problems are to be expected. Eventually, they will succeed in putting satellites into orbit. But, that's a long way from having the capability to put a manned mission in orbit.

I'm quite surprised to see that the Administration suddenly has faith in business. Their rhetoric, attempts to regulate and control, and desire to tax, belie their sudden conversion and faith in the business community. The reality is that it will be over a decade, if not longer, before these businesses will be able to launch men into low Earth orbit. We'll just continue relying on the Russians.

(I really wonder how NASA Administrator Charles Bolden felt last week when he held a press conference supporting the NASA budget. He presented seven businessmen like the Mercury astronauts were introduced, with all sort of hype, whistles and bells. He also said the reversing direction "Ain't going to happen." [I wouldn't be so sure. There are many powerful Senators and Representatives who are telling Boldin and Obama - "Ain't going to happen."] He appears to believe that giving private corporations $6,000,000,000 will make all the problems these companies are having go way. He continued to echo the Administration and considered this reassuring NASA employees. All this from a former astronaut. What an embarrassment!)

We saw administrations who had to get their hands on the design of the shuttle and what happened to it. It has never lived up to its promise.

If you've ever been to the Air and Space Museum, you can walk through a mock-up of Skylab. That mock-up was the second Skylab built by NASA. Nixon and Carter saw to it that it would never fly. Early in the Skylab program, NASA meet with the Russians about a joint mission - Russians to Skylab, Americans to Salyut. Things could not be worked out in time to do it on one of the three Skylab missions. That was okay, the Russians said. We'll do it when you launch the next Skylab. NASA told them time, and time again that it would not be launched. They didn't believe NASA. They were sure American wouldn't be stupid enough to build a second space station and not launch it. They were wrong.


We saw over half-a-dozen major redesigns to the ISS. It went from being able to house a crew of up to seven. There has never been more than three astronauts. It takes 2 1/2 astronauts just to maintain the ISS. So we're paying for a space station, paying to send astronauts to a space station, to they can maintain it. Very little science, industry, medicine, etc. is being done. What a waste.

After 1969, NASA lost among the best and brightest first generation aerospace engineers. The corporate knowledge (if you will) that was lost was irreplaceable. We are now seeing the loss of the best and brightest among the second generation. We're making the same mistakes we made forty years ago, and will pay the same price we paid forty years ago.

Once the shuttle program ends, America will no longer have a booster powerful enough to lift a heavy payload into space. In 2011, the Juno spacecraft will be launched on a mission to Jupiter. We can't launch directly. We have to fly-by Earth at least once for Juno to travel fast enough to reach Jupiter in five years. The MESSENGER Mercury mission was launched August 2004. It had to fly-by Earth and Venus once, and Mercury three times to slow MESSENGER to the point that it can enter and orbit around Mercury March 2011, seven years after launch.

I guess we should be comforted that, once again, we're going to begin a study to come up with a new heavy-lift booster (hence the title of this post - one I modified from an article I read). Obama has never meet a study he didn't like. Let's waste time and money. We already have three options. If Constellation is not the best approach, then look at the other two. Don't remake the wheel so you can remake the wheel so you can remake the wheel...

I find it incomprehensible that, at a time of high unemployment, that Obama would do things to increase that unemployment. He should keep in mind what our illustrious VP said during the 2008 campaign. The people are concerned about a "three letter word - J-O-B-S!" Biden proclaimed. ATK Launch Systems has lost a thousand jobs in the last year. More will be lost over the next two years. Obama tells us he understands the problems of the unemployed, then pursues policies that increase unemployment. But, inconsistency is the only constant from this Administration.

I read a most stupid comment I read talked about those who felt we shouldn't spend money on space, but that we should be spending money on creating jobs. Where do these people think NASA's money goes? It goes to creating Biden's "three letter word - J-O-B-S." Tell those laid off from ATK that the money should go to creating jobs. Tell those who haven't been able to find jobs in the poor economy that the money should go to jobs. Money should go to creating jobs. Schiller was right when he said "Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain."

There is something about human nature that makes us want to climb over the next hill to see what's on the other side. It's like we have, hidden in our genes, the desire to explore and learn more. President Kennedy understood this when he said:

"Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

"... Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, 'Because it is there.'

"Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked"

(Read the whole speech here. You can also hear the speech from a link on the page.)

Not too long ago, we had elected officials who had a vision for tomorrow. We had elected officials who were willing to make long term commitments without concern about party or the next election. We've lost that vision in America today.

It's time for us to stand up and say we aren't going to put up with this anymore. We want to keep American great. We don't want our President to say that American is exceptional, but that Greeks think they are exceptional, British think they are exceptional. (Yeah. If everyone is exceptional, no one is.) We need to keep America the great and unique country we have been, even though we have leaders who seem to have forgotten how.

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