Sunday, November 27, 2011

Little Sue and the Rock

I am looking for feedback. I have a children's story that tries to get the concept of atoms and ultimately quarks across to children. I see kids in the age range of 4-8 or so as the target group.

If you have kids and want to read it, or if you have any comments of your own as to what you think about it, please let me know! If you have any experience with children's books, also let me know as I have a number of questions for you. I can see some interesting illustrations that could be produced for the story. Thanks.

Here goes:

Little Sue and the Rock
By Mark Vondracek, Ph.D.

It was after school, and Little Sue was walking down the street,
when she noticed a pretty little rock down by her feet.
She picked it up, looked at it, and wondered what was inside,
when all of a sudden she was going on an amazing ride.

Little Sue began to shrink,
and she did not know what to think.
Was she really getting smaller,
or was the rock just getting taller?

Whatever the case, she quickly began to see,
sparkling crystals appear, like when the sun shines on the sea.
And while these crystals were simply amazing,
little Sue knew this was only the surface of the rock she was grazing.

Ever smaller did little Sue grow,
before she was in a world she did not know.
Those beautiful crystals disappeared,
into a number of balls forming patterns, that much was clear.

The balls were bound together, which to little Sue was very cool,
when she realized she was seeing objects her teacher called molecules.
But she also wondered what was with those once little balls,
which seemed to be getting bigger as her size continued to get small.

Even though little Sue’s height was still decreasing,
she could not help but think this new world was pretty pleasing.
She kept approaching those balls, and it was becoming a little cloudy,
and the balls seemed to be shaking, and even seemed a little rowdy.

“Those balls must be atoms!” exclaimed little Sue to herself,
she knew this because she had read that science book on her shelf.
As she shrunk into one of the clouds it seemed a little fuzzy,
and as she struggled to see, smaller specks flew by and sounded a little buzzy.

Little Sue was checking out the electrons flying by,
moving very fast, so fast she could not even say “Hi.”
And before long little Sue shrunk into a place,
where the electrons were now gone and all she saw was empty space.

It seemed like forever that little Sue kept on shrinking,
seeing nothing around caused her to start thinking.
“Is there nothing else around here that will stop my fall?”
when suddenly in the distance she could see another little ball.

Atoms have a second part, little Sue seemed to remember,
with electrons whizzing and circling the outside, and a nucleus in the center.
Little Sue kept shrinking and suddenly was able to see,
a bunch of smaller balls in the nucleus, glued together so perfectly .

“Wow, these little balls are protons and neutrons! This is really cool!”
as little Sue was remembering that science lesson from school.
She was now seeing the smallest pieces of that rock she had been holding,
at least this is what she thought before she got a little scolding.

Little Sue heard voices complaining as she shrank a little more,
falling inside one of those protons that were at the atom’s core.
Even smaller balls were inside and finally had a chance to make their mark,
by introducing themselves to little Sue, saying, “Hello, we are the quarks!”

For little Sue this was unexpected and really quite the surprise,
as she began to look around and rub her wide-open eyes.
“Quarks,” she said, “were not mentioned in my science book.”
and she closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them for a second look.

The quarks explained to little Sue they aren’t very well known,
but they do exist and are real, with identities all their own.
“Our names are Up and Down,” they said to little Sue,
“but the protons and neutrons are more popular, so what can we do?”

Just then little Sue realized she was no longer shrinking,
for now she had reached the smallest piece of the rock, and she was left thinking –
I have seen the smallest piece of the rock….or have I not?
could there be something smaller than the quarks, as small as a dot?

For now, little Sue will need to wonder about that question,
but as she grows back up in size I leave her this suggestion.
For little Sue, as well as all her little school friends,
if you don’t know the answer to your questions do not leave that as the end.

Keep asking your questions, and don’t leave any of them to silence;
look around, try to find an answer – and before you know it, you will be doing science.
It doesn’t matter what it is, from the smallest atom to outer space,
because you will find questions that still need answers all over the place.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Gaming in Education

OK, something many of my students may have been waiting for. Here is a TED talk about how gaming makes kids smarter, and argues that gaming should be a major part of school. While I agree that there are certain skills that are captured in playing computer and video games, such as being able to process large amounts of information, analyze it and make quick decisions based on that information, and in many games this could be a collaborative activity, let's remind ourselves that this is a different skill set than, say, being able to have patience and focus on a complex problem that requires long periods of time to collect information, keep records and notes, stay organized with ideas as they come up in this thought process, perhaps, in the case of science, develop a physical experiment to test ideas, or build a device or object or model to further investigate aspects of this complex problem, find other information about it from numerous sources, and develop logical conclusions from all this work. Gaming does not really jive with such a skill set.

My point is this: this video, while making a good point, is not a silver bullet. I will always argue that there is no single solution to the optimal education of any individual. There are so many good ways to learn, and it is a useful exercise to experience multiple ways of learning a topic or subject. In real life, one is faced with countless possible problems at a moment's notice, and depending on the type of problem and the environment you are exposed to that problem, some solutions will fall back to what you learn in a 'classical' or traditional manner, while others will make use of a skill set developed best through video gaming systems. Others will require the use of physical tools such as hammers and nails and saws, which one will never learn through gaming. Do NOT fall into the trap that you need to do all of one thing over none of some other things...learn about both methods and have a broad set of intellectual approaches to take on any problem! Remember, if you can talk about an idea or concept in multiple ways with multiple examples, chances are you have mastered the information.