The call came in at midnight. Medical emergencies often seem to be middle of the night events in life. She’d been transported from the residence hall to the emergency room. Chest pain. Difficulty breathing. Abdominal pain. Lower back pain. Severe pain. Both sides. I knew this was a fourth trip in as many days. Tests were coming back negative or inconclusive. While her condition deteriorated. As if a child of mine were in distress, I was headed out the door.
This time the hospital admitted her and, with one particular test providing a cause, put her on the appropriate medical treatment.
Word was passed along to her instructors that she had been hospitalized and was undergoing treatment. Two faculty members asked about her condition, asked to be kept informed as to how they could help. One of the two asked also whether the student was taking visitors – the faculty member wanted to stop by. Their immediate reaction was for the care and safety of the student. Beyond concern for her immediate condition, they also expressed a desire to help her succeed in their courses when she returns.
The third faculty member said only, “She missed a quiz and test already, she is likely to fail my course.” The faculty member did not ask about her as a person, expressed no concern over the distress the young woman was in. Just stated that she was headed for failure in their class. Cold. That was the only word that came to mind. Cold. No words of comfort. No assurance that the faculty member stood by ready to help the young woman once she had recovered. No commitment to her success as a student. Heck, no sign that the faculty member considered her a human being suffering from pain. No empathy at all.
I suggested as much, that right now her family and those of us who know her are a tad more concerned that she get well and recover than whether or not she took some particular quiz.
A commitment to student success can be an empty slogan. A trite over used cliche. Or one can ignore the chaff that now attends the term student success and, as teachers have done for millennia, show a supportive approach to the individual student as a person. Each student is a bundle of hopes and dreams, some parents’ loved and adored child, someone who, when they are in distress far from home, could use some empathy and care from those entrusted with their education.
I once had the privilege of attending a talk given by Paulo Freire, who was a Brazilian educator and philosopher. Prior to hearing him talk I had tackled some of his writings, but I found difficulty understanding the philosophical underpinnings of his writing. At the talk Paulo was asked, “In a word, what is education?” Paulo paused and then said, “Love. Education is love.” That I could understand.
Forces driving the financing of education, especially higher education, increasingly want to see that the education delivered prepares the student for the world of the workplace. Measures such as the number of graduates who succeed in obtaining employment in their field of study are used to gauge the success of a program. How often has someone said, “Education is the key to success” with the implicit meaning that the value of an education is what one does with that education beyond graduation.
In a higher education system increasingly driven by the value of education as a path to employment, what is the value of that education to one who will never become employed? One who is tragically lost to us. Rousseau in Emile first introduced me to the idea that an education should be of value to a child even if that child does not reach adulthood. And value for children is in having fun, enjoying life. An education should be fun. Enjoyable. An experience that is sufficiently wonderful that even if the child were to know that they will not live out the fullness of the years, the child would want to be in school. In elementary school. In high school. In college.
An education should be of value to a child in the here and now, an enriching and exciting experience, an adventure filled with wondrous wonders. Perhaps everyday will not be exciting, but net the experience should be positive.
Higher education at present is especially enamored of student learning outcomes and measuring learning. Learning is measured, assessed, analyzed, reported, and used to attempt to improve learning the next term. Few instructors rate whether their class is fun, exciting, interesting, something that the student would recommend to other students.
This is not a call to instructors to become entertainers, but rather a call to make the subject matter the instructor loves as interesting and exciting for the students as the subject is to themselves. And if an instructor does not love the subject they are teaching, then that instructor should not teach that subject, perhaps consider leaving education altogether.
An education should have value for the child, the student, in the here and now, in the present.
A quarter century ago I often kept a book around, sometimes lugging the book around and catching a page or two on a city bus or commuter train. Moving to Micronesia meant that I could not wander into a book store, rummage the shelves, and find a book of interest. Occasionally the library would acquire a book of interest to me, or more rarely I would request that a particular text be acquired, but these were rare events.
My taste in books is both eclectic and not best seller. Books on statistics, physics, and running tend to hold my interest – genres that even the largest bookstores would carry in limited selection only. By the turn of the century Amazon had come into existence and provided a potential option. The books I preferred, however, were often hardback, expensive, and shipping to these islands always carries a probability of loss. Not to mention that once here, books decay in the heat and humidity. There is no building up of a personal library in the equatorial tropics.
Back in September 2014 I upgraded from a Nokia Asha feature cell phone to an LG Android smart cell phone. A trip in October caused me to add a Kindle app and a book to read on the long flight, with little thought to use beyond the one journey.
Although the LG is a small screen relative to the size of a book or a monitor, I was pleasantly surprised at the readability. In 1999 Bill Hill wrote at length about the “magic of reading,” bringing together research on ludic reading, Optimized Serial Pattern Recognition (OSPREY), and generating the immersive flow that accompanies reading at length for pleasure. The paper delved into fonts and screen resolution.
In 1980 computer monitor resolutions were too low to support fonts, let alone sustained reading for pleasure. In 1984 the Macintosh introduced screens with resolutions that could support fonts. By the 1990s increasing monitor resolutions suggested that screens would eventually equal the resolution of print products. I recall being in conversations about whether screens could or would replace the printed book. As an over-generalization, older readers felt that screens would never generate the flow and magic of books.
The rise of social media after the turn of the century caused an ever increasing number of people to spend significant time reading via a monitor. By 2015 reading done from a screen around campus clearly dominated reading from a book.
The Kindle book on the LG was a one off experiment for the purpose of a long flight, I did not expect that I would find readability and flow on the small LG screen. Once I discovered that I could enjoy a book on my cell phone, I continued to read after I returned.
The books were not free, but each cost less than a single night of stone sakau. Reading only happens in the interstitial moments between other daily tasks, thus a single book can last me a month. That makes reading a less expensive habit than weekend sakau, a definition of affordability for me.
Reading on the cell returns the ability to spontaneously grab a page or two of reading here or there. While waiting for a meeting to start, or in a bank line, or while sitting in the car waiting for the shoppers to finish shopping. No need to lug around a book, I have a small library tethered to my hip. I carry my books even when I am running, they do not slow me down.
I was looking at the shelf today and thinking that thought that so many educators have thought before me: doesn’t this change everything? Is this not a change on the scale of the Gutenberg press making possible school text books?
I do not know where technology may take education, I only know that after a quarter century I am reading regularly again. Technology has again changed my habits and my personal quality of life, in this case enriching life on a small rock in the Pacific ocean.
Fresh off the airplane she did not seem to remember me nor the times we spent together a year and a half ago. Upon reaching the house she saw the RipStik and immediately took to trying to ride it. After a couple failed attempts, she was back up and riding.
Whatever the mechanism for this long term motor memory, it is rather amazing given that much of the rest of her world of 18 months earlier is for the most part forgotten.
Thursday morning, day four of the workshop, opened with a focus on captivating students’ attention. No attention, no learning. Rather than say this up front, however, the concept was made concrete by putting a teacher, supported by two other teachers, on a RipStik caster board.
With a teacher standing on the board, the difference between dynamic and static stability was explained. Having a teacher being held up on the unstable, stationary board, focused the attention of at least the teacher on the board, if not the class.
With the definition illustrated, the concept was extended to climate change. If the global climate is essentially statically stable, then small perturbations in that system should engender nothing more than small, fairly stable changes in the global climate. If the global climate system is only dynamically stable, then small changes may have unexpected effects including potentially large changes as described in runaway climate change scenarios.
Following this presentation, the instructor used the RipStik to introduce waves. The RipStik leaves behind a distinctive wave on the paper. The wave form provides an opportunity to introduce terminology such as crest, trough, wavelength, and amplitude. The RipStik also makes concrete frequency as being the number of “wiggles” per second.
Rapid wiggling generates a high frequency (big), short wavelength (small). Slow wiggling generates a low freqency (small), long wavelength (big). Thus the caster board well demonstrates the inverse relationship between wavelength and frequency that is seen in many systems.
Best of all, for the caster board the wave speed (frequency times wavelength) is exactly the linear board speed.
The board ridden on paper on concrete provides a way to bring wave phenomenon down into earlier grades below the high school level. The boards do cost money, and one has to either ride the board or have a rider, yet there are a fair number of young riders even here on Pohnpei and thus it might be an option for a teacher. Simply have the student ride their board across the paper.
Inside the classroom transverse waves on a length of chain and longitudinal waves in a Slinky spring were demonstrated.
Following the Thursday morning break, the 10:00 session started with geometric math standard 2.31 recognize common shapes. But in a twist on standard 2.8.1, all shapes were constructed using only a length of string as a compass and a meter stick from the forest. The meter sticks had been built on Monday. Constructions based on these limitations are well covered by Zef Damen.
In the background above the pentagon/pentagram construction can be glimpsed, on the far right is part of the Pythagorean proof.
The square root of two is not, however, expressable in the Al Mat marbular system, much to the consternation of the Pythagoreans. Thousands of years later Cantor would show that the infinity of irrational numbers is a higher order infinity than that of integers.
By the end of the session the class had moved up from 2.3.1 recognize common shapes and 2.4.1 identify and classify shapes up past 2.8.1 construcitons, 2.8.4 Pythagorean theorem, 1.8.3 square roots, and on into a presentation on the proof of the irrationality of the square root of two.
After the lunch break the class spent a half an hour in the computer laboratory were a fourier sound applet was demonstrated. The applet showed the connection between wavelength and frequency for sound waves, along with a graphical representation of a sound wave.
Then the teacher moved downstairs to engage in a laboratory using floral litmus solutions to detect acids and bases. This was based directly on physical science laboratory thirteen.
The session served science standards Sci 1.hs.1 and the Sc hs benchmark chemistry bullet item number eighteen, the study of acids, bases and salts.
The laboratory also demonstrated the use of minimal glassware and locally available materials including common household chemicals in a chemistry experiment.
In the final session of the day which began at 3:00 in the afternoon, the teachers returned to the computer laboratory where science outcomes 3.4.2, 3.5.2, El Niño, La Niña, tropical storm formation, and climatic patterns were presented using presentations put together by Chip Guard of the National Weather Service on Guam. The instructor owes a deep debt of thanks to Chip Guard and the NWS for sharing those presentations.
A most unladylike intruder by the name of Lola paid a call upon the Trust Territory in mid-November 1957.
Lola was a typhoon of major proportions. Sweeping along like a bulldozing
broom, she smashed down valuable breadfruit and coconut trees, submerged crops, wrecked homes and generally produced havoc as she rolled on from the Marshalls through Ponape, Truk, Guam, and up to
The typhoon which caused more over-all damage than any previously recorded within the territory, brought no loss of life and no major bodily injuries as far as is known, although many times tragedy knocked hard and close. In the face of danger, numerous spontaneous acts of valor came to the fore.
Lola entered Ponape District on November 12, leaving havoc, destruction and debris as she whirled on her way. Not for fifty years had Ponape had a typhoon. It was generally considered to be out of the typhoon path. But reports from atolls and islands throughout the area repeated the story of coconut and breadfruit trees destroyed, and of food shortage imminent after the windfall of nuts on the ground would have been made into copra or consumed for food, and the breadfruit eaten.
Kolonia, the Ponape District center, was in the direct path of the storm, as were the islands immediately around it. Knowing that the typhoon was coming, the people of Kolonia took shelter in the hospital building and warehouse, District Administration office, Intermediate School, agriculture station, and in churches and other buildings of the religious missions. For
some 250 or more storm refugees in these shelters, C-rations (individual canned foods), rice and sugar were issued by the Administration, also small quantities of kerosene to provide fuel for the ranges on which people prepared hot food and beverages.
The damage to buildings and utilities at Kolonia was considerable. Destroyed were the temporary warehouses and carpenter shed on the site of the new Pacific Islands Central School, and ruined was all of the
bagged cement therein, a total loss representing some five thousand dollars.
Ponape’s power and telephone systems were heavily hit by falling trees; roads were eroded, and bridges and culverts damaged, with a loss of approximately thirty-three thousand dollars in government property alone.
In addition to buildings damaged and public works systems affected, four vessels went aground in the bay – all privately owned. These were the LUCKY, the CULVER, the MARU, and the ASCOY. All except the first were expected to be refloated. The LUCKY, which was directly hit and forced high onto the reef, was not thought to be salvable.
Cacao pod production in Ponape was reduced by at least fifty per cent by the typhoon, according to estimates, and copra production here also is diminishing as a result of the high winds which blew immature nuts to the ground, or weakened them so that they began falling off before
The week of 19 December marked the start of the Teacher Corps winter workshop with a focus on mathematics and sciences.
The workshop opened at 08:00 with a focus on the FSM national standards and benchmarks in science calling for the use of simple measuring tools (Sci 1.3.3, 1.6.4). Meter sticks were constructed from locally available wood (Hibiscus tiliaceus, Campnosperma brevipetiolata) in order to measure lengths.
Rulers were used for measures less than one meter.
Mass was measured by suspending the meter sticks from the 50 centimeter mark, suspending a known locally available mass from one arm, and suspending an unknown mass from the other arm. For a known mass the class used bars of hand soap which were labeled as having a mass of 113 grams.
The farther out along the arm the masses can be suspended, the more accurate the mass measurement. As per physical science laboratory one, the volume of the unknown mass was determined by carving the soap into a rectangular slab and then using length times width times height to obtain the volume.
This yielded a density of less than one gram per cubic centimeter for Ivory® soap, more than one gram per cubic centimeter for the other soaps in the laboratory. This leads to a prediction on whether a given brand of soap will float, a prediction which can be tested.
The Ivory has to be measured as carefully as possible as the density is just under one gram per cubic centimeter.
Density is a physical property, which is a focus of FSM science standards 2.3.1, 2.5,2, and 2.6.3. Note that the first digit refers to the standard, the second digit refers to the grade, and the last digit is the outcome. The standards are:
Number, completeness, and computation
Geometry, measurement, and transformation
Patterns and algebra
Statistics and probability
At 10:00 the focus shifted from science to the precursors of mathematics. The teachers were introduced to the basics of set theory in order to prepare them for Al’Mat and Al’Jabr the next day.
Set theory and the presentations that would follow provide examples math standard 1.3.4, representing whole numbers using physical models and diagrams, and the extension of those models into arithmetic and algebra.
After a lunch break the teachers were tasked with counting the pillars and posts on campus – at least all of the pillars and posts for the buildings and walkways connected by covered walkways.
The four groups of teachers returned with the numbers 250, 267, 286, and 364. The object was to demonstrate the inherent “fuzziness” of even a simple measurement. The teachers all averred that there is a correct number of pillars, but they were unable to agree on the actual value.
The exercise also brought to the fore the need to specify definitions prior to gathering data.
The lack of a single value led naturally to a discussion of the role of range, mode, median, and mean as ways of characterizing a data set. While the college posts and pillars are a handy, countable item, the teachers will have to select other locally available numerous items to count if they choose to replicate this activity. The activity was based loosely on an activity I did with the Upward Bound students in the summer of 2007.
The statistics unit address math standards 4.4.1 collect data, 4.5.2 organize data using tables, charts, 4.6.1 range, mode, median mean, and 4.8.1 choosing the best measure of middle.
The planned end of day hike was rained-out and evening was settling in, hence the workshop dismissed for the day.
Tuesday morning the teachers measured the speed of sound using nothing more than their homemade meter sticks, counting the seconds orally, and two blocks of wood. The exercise was a modification of physical science laboratory nine.
Above the teachers are laying their meter sticks end-to-end to measure the distance for the echo flight.
Bear in mind that the meter sticks were constructed by first using a commercial meter stick to determine a distance on the teacher’s own body that is one meter. This was then their standard for building their own meter sticks. If nothing else, one has one’s body as a starting place to make new meter sticks in the future.
The total distance from the building to the road was 80 meters. The sound echoes produced traveled double that distance, 160 meters. While one teacher counted “one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand,…” up to ten seconds, a second teacher clapped two boards in synch with the echoes. A third teacher counted the claps.
On one of the trials the teachers counted 23 claps of the wooden boards – 23 echo flights – in ten seconds. That means a flight time of 0.43 seconds per echo. Dividing 160 meters by the flight time yields an estimated speed of sound of 368 meters per second.
At the air temperature on Pohnpei, sound travels at 350 meters per second, give or take two meters per second. This means that using only sticks from the forest, oral time counts, and two boards, the teachers obtained a result accurate to within 5%.
The speed of sound unit served science 1.3.3, 1.6.4, 2.6.3, and a blend of 2.8.3 describe sound coupled with 2.8.4 kinds of motion.
With the weather looking good, the teachers slipped in a hike down the road to look at ferns including Davallia pectinata (syn Humata banksii). The fern is presently identified as being either limwediliniak or kelmahu. The fern is not one the students had ever noticed before – at a glance one might think the fern is Dicranopteris linearis (mwedil en mal), but the “pectoral” fins on the D. pectinata are distinctive. In addition, D. linearis is terrestrial, D. pectinata is epiphytic. Other plants were also covered on this walk, with support material available in the ethnobotany text. This unit serves science outcome 4.3.4, identifying common plants around the school.
Just after 10:00 on Tuesday the class moved on into Al Mat, the mathematics of marbles. This unit sought to make concrete concepts such as identity, closure, commutivity, and distribution. This section served math standards 1.3.3 understanding arithmetic operations, 1.3.4 and 1.4.3 represent whole numbers using physical models and diagrams, as well as 3.6.2 represent patterns pictorially. The unit included a brief introduction to Al Jabr, although this topic would be further developed on Wednesday.
The teachers broke for lunch. Lunch was followed by a fifty minute high-speed introduction to botanic diversitry, charging from mosses through seedless vascular plants, up through gymnosperms and on into angiosperms. The teachers were also introduced to the college herbarium and the information contained therein. This and the following field trip served science outcome 4.5.2, distinguishing plants with and without seeds.
This was followed by a field trip that hit three broad areas in a single two hour session. The teachers toured the Pwunso botanic garden and were shown economically important plants such as clove trees, cinnamon trees, coffee, black pepper, nutmeg, allspice, mahogany, kauri pine, cook island pine (timber tree), and teak.
Note that the cinnamon trees might easily be mistaken for madeu, the trees are, however, Cinnamomum verum, not Cinnamomum carolinense.
The teachers were also specifically introduced to the gymnosperms present at Pwunso including Cook island pines, a large cycad, and the kauri pines.
The third leg of the field trip was a presentation by Emihner Johnson of the Island Food Community of Pohnpei on the CHEEF (Culture, health, environmental, economic, food security) benefits of local food.
Wednesday morning the teachers engaged in a laboratory designed to serve mathematics outcomes 3.7.3 locate points on the coordinate plane and 3.8.2 graph linear functions in two variables using a table of coordiante pairs. This exercise was based on physical science laboratory two.
While the physical science laboratory utilizes a ramp to produce reproducible speeds, the activity Wednesday morning was done on the front porch of the A building using a bowled four square ball. Like the physical science laboratory, the data was plotted loosely on poster pad, but with a twist.
In the first phase time was counted orally (x axis variable), but distance was denoted using only the names of the teachers. The teachers stood at the “second” mark as per physical science laboratory two, but the y-axis was initially just their names spaced roughly as they had been spaced on the front porch.
The teachers were then introduced to “marbles in equals marbles out” and “speed in equals speed out” based on physical science laboratory four. The teachers at first proposed that “force” or “energy” accounted for the behavior of the marbles, but when pressed none could use their term in an explanatory fashion.
Too often “magic words” are used to “explain” phenomenon without understanding what the magic words mean. Magic words also often paper over the deeper mystery of a system, such as how the marbles keep count. The teachers, fascinated by the marbles, spent rest of the first morning session chasing ideas about why the marbles were behaving as they did.
At 10:00 the grounds crew began cutting grass with weed wackers (string trimmers) on the south side of the building while the electrical crew began drilling concrete on the north side of the building. This provided a perfect excuse to go peripatetic, and the teachers wandered off to the front of the library for an Aristotelian peripatetic school presentation on Al Jabr, Categorical Propositions, the Square of Opposition, and Syllogisms.
Materials for Al Jabr were spread on a towel on the sidewalk. Logic was presented purely orally, in keeping with the theme. As a help to the Peripatetic pupils, handouts were also provided.
The session was too brief to properly cover such a broad range of topics. Also covered was being adaptive in one’s teaching. When the classroom became unusable, the class moved. Education can happen without a classroom, without supplies, without blackboards and chalk.
The Federated States of Micronesia and the education systems therein face an uncertain financial future at best, severe budget cuts year-on-year going forward to 2023 and beyond. Should the nation suddenly stumble into unexpected wealth, then teachers will likely have dream classrooms. At present, however, the financial outlook for the schools is bleak. Teachers will have to learn to make do with whatever they can scrounge up, cobble together, and create. One of the aims of the workshop is to begin to provide exactly those tools to the next generation of teachers.
As in the days of Aristotle walking and lecturing in the agora, the listeners became distracted by the aroma of lunch and the class broke for their midday meal. Thanks are due to the teacher corps coordinator for arranging lunch, this provides an opportunity for the workshop to socialize together over a meal, including the instructor who also chose to eat in the cafeteria.
This unit started off serving science outcome 1.3.1 make observations, with the observation initially being the colors of the solar spectrum as seen in a CD spectroscope. In the CD spectroscope image below the lines of helium can be seen.
While helium discharge tubes are obviously not going to be available, the teachers were then instructed to point their spectroscopes at the fluorescent lights. The fluorescent lights also produced a discrete set of spectral lines. These lines were connected back to electron orbitals – a physical property of atoms – and to the development of quantum mechanics.
In the last session on Wednesday the class went on anther hike to look at more local plants including lycopodium and a variety of healing and food plants. This session continues the work on serving science outcome 4.3.4, identifying common plants around the school.