My course change is all official, and it proceeds apace. With some sadness, I formally resigned from One Spark Academy and from ArtCenter. Last Monday, I walked onto the campus of The Buckley School to begin my tenure as a full-time physics teacher. Most of the past two weeks were devoted to training and orientation. That time was remarkably useful, and I was very pleasantly surprised that the pattern of quality people continued. A full one hundred percent of the humans that I have met at Buckley have been capable and good-hearted people.
In the coming months, my focus will be on physics, with a side of imagination. Some of the imagination will go towards physics curriculum. Some of the imagination will go here, with games and education and Mindful Mammoth projects. Exactly how much imagination will be around for Mindful Mammoth works, I don’t yet know. Probably just a bit, as health remains a priority. We shall see.
Long ago, in my grad school days at UCSB, I worked as a TA, running lab sections of introductory physics. I remember bringing a National Geographic to my first lab meeting, thinking that the undergrads in my sections would independently work through the lab manual, and I could get some recreational reading done. Nope. My students had a constant stream of totally appropriate questions and concerns, and I was kept busy with talking and troubleshooting. This was my first lesson in teaching – that good teaching takes quite a lot of time and effort.
My new 9th grade physics class has a textbook, two paperback books of potential questions and exercises, and a lab manual. On the surface, it is a situation not unlike those olden grad school days. We have lots of printed resources, ready to go! The difference is that I know better. All these paper things are good and useful – and we’ll use them – but they’re a little bland, lacking both whimsy and human interaction. Therefore, I’m making plans to go beyond the books and hopefully do a little better than the average physics classroom.
As a first step, the fall lab assignments will be centered around marble rollercoasters. There will be a few non-rollercoaster activities, but rollercoasters will be the central thread. Hopefully, it will be a way to mix creativity, theory, experiment, and the physics of motion. Build a rollercoaster! Can you make a loopdeloop? How fast does the marble go! How does the speed change on different parts of the track? With this, we get explorations into speed, acceleration, mass, force, and energy. But wait, there’s more! Create a jump-ramp and launch the marble! And we get projectile motion.
The rollercoaster theme is a break with the textbook, but I think a good one. I pitched it to my chairperson, got a green light, and we have rollercoaster kits on the way! Cool beans.
On Go Extinct!
While I have the technical skills to build this thing, and arguably have the time (summer + evenings + weekends), I don’t currently have the heart. It’s a curious contrast. With burnout and new job and a need for better balance in my life, I've sadly concluded that the Go Extinct! app is beyond my ability at this time. Therefore, it is on indefinite hold. Likely permanent.
This is a sadness in many ways, as Go Extinct! is a great game, and digital edition could have had positive impact. It is also a sadness because this change means I'm backing out of a commitment to a friend.
Unfortunately, it felt like a necessary change.
Be more mindfully realistic. That is the lesson to take away from this. Funny how I can say that very thing to my game design students, year after year, and still struggle to actually do the thing myself.
For years, my reading pile has been growing. And on the top of that pile, for years, has been Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms. I’ve read the first quarter several times, was always distracted by work or family or shiny things, and never finished. Recently, I’ve picked it up again. For the first time ever, I’ve passed the half-way point.
Mindstorms is a remarkable book. It’s an eloquent monograph on my design and teaching philosophy, written back when I was two, and had no idea of teaching or philosophy, or even of fingers and toes. In the book, Papert shares words and pictures and code and ideas and experimental evidence far beyond my own knowledge and ability. It’s extraordinary.
Back in the 70’s, Papert was doing real work on transformative ideas in math and computer science education, and that work is outlined in Mindstorms. Today, a full fifty years later, we have tech bros slinging buckets of money, and marketing moogles blaring wondrous words, all painting vivid pictures of the value of coding for everyone – but not really doing much good. It’s just the same superficial stuff that’s been done for years, at larger scale. Funny how, fifty years later, in the heart of the information age, we still haven’t learned the lessons of a good education, lessons Papert tried to teach us back in the 70’s. The guy is an honest-to-goodness visionary and genius.
I admit there may be some confirmation bias involved in my review.
In the next few months, my focus will be physics, then health, then friends. If there is extra time, I’ll catch up on my reading. And if there is extra extra time, I may noodle at a new edition of Fire and Flora. We shall see. I’ll keep the updates coming!
In this time, I’ll also work to remember gratitude. It has been a hard decade, made hard by thoughtless leaders and thoughtless followers in a time of growing contempt. Yet I’ve lived this time, and that living was made possible only by the kindness of friends, mentors, family, and y’all. Thank you. I am grateful.
I’ll do my best to keep fighting the good fight,