Category Archives: Education

Is Blood Ever Blue? Science Teachers Want to Know!

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According to one of the leading experts on the human circulatory system, blood flowing through veins is blue.

I’m not going to mention any names. All I’ll say is this: A person I know visited a major research center last year and saw a demonstration of organ removal and some other experimental stuff. A person also visiting asked the famous high-level researcher doing this work if blood was ever blue. What he said was not recorded in detail, but it was very much like this statement I found on the Internet:

… human blood is red as soon as it is oxygenated. Blue blood flows through veins back to the heart and lungs…..
[source: Some Guy on Yahoo Answers]

My friend was disturbed by this, as s/he had been teaching high school students for years that blood is not blue. Her understanding of the situation was that people thought blood was blue because standard anatomical drawings and models depict arteries as red and veins as blue, and because if you look at your veins they are blue. Obviously veins are not clear, but if you don’t think that out you might assume that you were seeing blue blood.

Continue reading Is Blood Ever Blue? Science Teachers Want to Know!


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Math Mystery Book That Is Bilingual

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You can solve mysteries with math, and you can do it in either English or Spanish, with One Minute Mysteries – Misterios de un Minuto: Short Mysteries You Solve With Math! – Β‘Misterios Cortos que Resuelves con MatemΓ‘ticas!, by Yoder and Yoder.

The original version of this book was all English, and was a best seller. This new version obviously gives you mucho mucho mas and math to boot.

The One Minute Mysteries series is well known and widely loved, and is recommended by the NSTA.

Have a notebook or a pile of blank paper and some writing instruments handy because you will need them to work out some of these problems.

This is for kids age 10-14, and is a well written, well constructed, well printed resource. I strongly recommend it if your family has young ones around that age, regardless of their math level. Also check out One Minute Mysteries: 65 Short Mysteries You Solve With Science! and One-Minute Mysteries and Brain Teasers: Good Clean Puzzles for Kids of All Ages.


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Back to School Science and Culture Stuff

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I usually write my annual back to school post earlier than this, but I was distracted by various events. There are three themes here.

1) You are a science teacher and I have some stuff for you.

2) You have a student in a school and you want to support the school’s science teacher.

3) You have a student-offspring or elsewise and are looking for a cool back to school gift.

First, for themes 1 and 2, a mixture of traditional back to school blog posts and some items that may be useful and happen to be on sale at the moment so now’s your chance.

My For Teachers Page has posts providing some science content in evolutionary biology (about Natural Selection and some other topics)

On the same page are essays on teaching philosophy, supporting life science teachers, and evolution and creationism in the classroom, including this famous video.

Books that teachers might find helpful. Consider sending your kids in to school with one of them, focusing on evoluton-creationism and climate change-denial:

Classic text on fighting creationism: Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction by Genie Scott

This book should be on the shelf or in the classroom for every teacher in science, or even social science. It is essentially the highly digestable (and illustration rich) version of the IPCC report on the scientific basis for climate change, written by one of that report’s famous authors: Dire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change

Teachers and parents of kids in school are in the trenches in the war on science. So you need to know what the war on science is and how to fight it. So, read Shawn Otto’s book The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It

The Manga books on science and math. See this review of Regression Analysis, where you’ll find a list of others. Most recent and hot off the presses is The Manga Guide to Microprocessors

A handful of recent science for various ages (Links are to my reviews):

The Outdoor Science Lab for Kids
Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed: An amazing new book

The Grand Canyon: Monument To An Ancient Earth. Great new book.

And finally, how to not get caught plagiarizing, and what does that pillow that says “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops” really mean? Not what you think!

And now for the fun part, the toys. Amazon is having a huge sale on refurbished devices that you may want to have. I assume they are getting ready for the holidays or something. Go to this link to see what they are

I myself got a Kindle Paperwhite E-reader a while back, and I love it. Then, for her birthday, I got one for Julia. I recommend starting out with the one with “special offers” which are basically ads that are not there when you are reading. The device is cheaper this way, and if the ads really annoy you, you can pay them off to upgrade to the no ad version.

I’m seriously thinking about getting Amanda one of these refurb-Kindle paperwhites. She likes the Kindle just enough for a refurbished one, maybe not enough for a new one…

At the very least, when you meet your teacher at the beginning of the school year, say to them what I say or something like it. “If you ever get hassled by anyone — parent, administration, other teachers — about teaching real science, let me know, I’ll be your best ally. Of course, if you are a science denier or a creationist so the situation is turned around, let me know, I’ll be your worst nightmare …” Then kind of pat them on the shoulder, flip your cape to one side, get on your motorcycle, and drive off.


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September 16th Is Buy A Teacher A Book Day

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OK, not really, I just made that up. But it should be! As all the kiddies are going back to school, especially yours if you’ve got ’em, and you are going to have your first meetings with the teachers (Parent Night, Conferences, etc.) over the next few days, this is a good time to bring your kid’s teacher(s) a nice book.

A book on the Evolution Creation Debate for your kid’s biology teacher, or school administrator. A nice science activity book, not necessarily to use in class, but for the elementary school teacher to get some ideas from.

Some ideas:

A local guide to birds or trees or something for a teacher that is known to take the kiddies out to the pond in the back of the school to collect stuff. Or a bird related book for the art teacher would be nice. That sort of thing.

One nice book, that I just reviewed, is Climate Change Discover How It Impacts Space Ship Earth. Related would be Mike Mann’s pictorial version of the latest IPCC Report’s science volume. Genie Scott’s book on Evolution vs. Creationism.

A kid’s book on global warming or one on evolution would be nice for the elementary school teachers.


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The Irony of Henry Adams: The most misunderstood quote evah!

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I just received a mass emailing from Julia’s high school, in the name of the principal. Routine business. At the end of the missive was this quote:

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

What does this quote mean to you? If you don’t know its context, you may be in for a surprise.

You see this quote all the time on K-12 educational material as a header, footer, slogan, logo, inspirational message, and so on. It obviously means something good about teachers. Maybe something good about education. The quote is by Henry Adams and comes from his book “The Education of Henry Adams” which sounds an awful lot like a title for a porn movie. Since this is a book, first circulated in 1907, about education it must be the case that this quote refers to the positive power of educators back then, and presumably, now. Right? Certainly that is the meaning that is usually attributed to it.

A Google search of

“A teacher affects eternity”

… yields 56,000 hits, many of which are examples of the term’s use as an inspirational maxim in one or another dialog about education. So clearly people are in tune with the positive message of Henry Adam’s sentence.

A Google search of

“A teacher affects eternity” -adams

… (thus leaving off a direct reference to Henry with the minus sign in front of ‘adams’) yields about 26 thousand hits and I’ll wager almost every one represents the use of the quote as a positive maxim in the dialog about education. One teacher uses the phrase as the title for a web site on teaching.

Via Google I find the phrase tweeted on Twitter, and checking directly with Twitter, we find forty recent instances over the last 10 days (older tweets are not available). In fact, it does not matter when you check Twitter. If you search for this phrase, there will be about forty instances over the most recent ten hours or so. Four times an hour someone tweets “A teacher affects eternity” and sometimes gives the rest of the quote, sometimes mentions it’s Henry Adams’. But they always seem to mean it to be a nice thing to say about teachers and about how important they are.

You can buy note cards or posters with the phrase, and since I live in a teacher’s house, I can attest that people tend to embroider the phrase or a version of it on pillows and print it in shadow boxes and on little signs held by teddy bears. Which they give to the teacher as a way of saying that they like teachers.

The book* The Education of Henry Adams is a complex work that I will not try to characterize, but at least in part I take it as a literary act of cynicism. Adams speaks of himself in third person and by the time we get to the quote in question he is discussing Henry’s first nine months as an Assistant Professor in History at Harvard.

For the next nine months the Assistant Professor had no time to waste on comforts or amusements. He exhausted all his strength in trying to keep one day ahead of his duties. Often the stint ran on, till night and sleep ran short. He could not stop to think whether he were doing the work rightly. He could not get it done to please him, rightly or wrongly, for he never could satisfy himself what to do.

Henry thinks of himself as inadequate, not up to the job, apparently.

But part of the problem was with Harvard itself, and its inattention to quality education.

The fault he had found with Harvard College as an undergraduate must have been more or less just, for the college was making a great effort to meet these self-criticisms, and had elected President Eliot in 1869 to carry out its reforms. Professor Gurney was one of the leading reformers, and had tried his hand on his own department of History. The two full Professors of History — Torrey and Gurney, charming men both — could not cover the ground. Between Gurney’s classical courses and Torrey’s modern ones, lay a gap of a thousand years, which Adams was expected to fill. The students had already elected courses numbered 1, 2, and 3, without knowing what was to be taught or who was to teach. If their new professor had asked what idea was in their minds, they must have replied that nothing at all was in their minds, since their professor had nothing in his, and down to the moment he took his chair and looked his scholars in the face, he had given, as far as he could remember, an hour, more or less, to the Middle Ages.

In other words, the History Department at Harvard was a mess, a chain of rusty links of which Henry himself was the weakest. Henry Adams does not think the teachers at Harvard were doing what needed to be done, the system of education was not doing what was required, and the students were probably being damaged more than assisted by participating in this system. And this worried him.

Not that his ignorance troubled him! He knew enough to be ignorant. His course had led him through oceans of ignorance; he had tumbled from one ocean into another till he had learned to swim; but even to him education was a serious thing. A parent gives life, but as parent, gives no more. A murderer takes life, but his deed stops there.

In other words, all those important people in your life: Your mom, a person who kills you, and so on, have only limited effects on you as a person. But, according to Henry Adams,

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

OMG. That sounds like bad news. The system of education sucks, the professors suck, the students are getting the shaft, and this will affect the students for their whole lives, and through them society in general, and the course of history itself. Bad teaching, Henry Adams is telling us, ruinz everything for everybody!

But this is not what people think is happening, is it?

A teacher is expected to teach truth, and may perhaps flatter himself that he does so, if he stops with the alphabet or the multiplication table, as a mother teaches truth by making her child eat with a spoon; but morals are quite another truth and philosophy is more complex still. A teacher must either treat history as a catalogue, a record, a romance, or as an evolution; and whether he affirms or denies evolution, he falls into all the burning faggots of the pit. He makes of his scholars either priests or atheists, plutocrats or socialists, judges or anarchists, almost in spite of himself. In essence incoherent and immoral, history had either to be taught as such — or falsified.

From here Adams goes on to an interesting discussion that misunderstands (modern) evolution, and very rightly laments the thorn that the Middle Ages is in the side of western civilization. And in that discussion he reiterates that while all this is interesting stuff, it is not what is taught to the students. Because the teachers, really, don’t have a clue as to how to interpret the material they are responsible to cover or how to convey it to their pupils.

Here is Henry Adam’s famous quote translated into modern parlance:

Be careful. The system of education is inadequate, and a half baked attempt to educate is dangerous. A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell how badly fucked up everything will be when he is done with it.

I had always seen the quote as what most people seem to see to as: The nice phrase you embroider on the pillow and give to your favorite teacher. My friend Josh Borowicz, who happens to be an historian and a Henry Adams scholar, pointed this interesting irony out to me, several months ago. I vowed at that time to blog about it. And now I have.

You can read the full text of The Education of Henry Adams here.


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