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Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-05-2005, 12:24 AM   #1
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Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

I was listening to a radio show tonight -- the topic was Intelligent Design (you know, the latest flavor of Creationism). I love this topic for a couple of reasons, but the one I'd like to rant about in this thread is the unpopularity of science, math, rigor, and rationality today.

Those of us who are now retired were probably educated in the post-Sputnik era. Many of us were engineers or other types of technoweenies. How much of our destiny was shaped by watching the first Apollo launch, the moon landing, Mr Wizard, and the birth of the personal computer?

Can you identify what turned you on to science and math? And tell me how we can provide that same inspiration to our kids.

For me, it was my monthly "Things of Science" kit that came in the mail (I especially loved lighting Mg on fire!), Estes rockets, Edmunds Scientific, Heathkit, great books and articles by guys like Martin Gardner, and probably the most direct influences on my career choice were getting an HP-65 in high school and an Apple ][ for HS graduation. It wasn't so much that they were cool computers (they were), but that they were fairly transparent and hackable (unlike today's super-pipelined machines with layers and layers of bloated OS and apps).

Most of the things I grew up with are gone now. I don't think I'm being nostalgic here -- I'm just looking for analogous stuff for my own kid.
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-05-2005, 08:09 AM   #2
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

Hate math - always did/do - just a necessary pain in the butt tool.

Loved Chemistry - mixing chemicals, making weird stuff. Sputnik era JHS/HS - ended up in the Space Program - in chemicals. Just sort of went with 'the thing' of my generation.
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-05-2005, 08:30 AM   #3
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

I discovered science fiction at an early age. That, along with following the early days of the space program on TV led to my interest in technical things. My dad was an engineer and he spent hours explaining to me how mechanical things worked. Alas, I had little mechanical or mathematical apptitude (as I discovered in high school when I tried to take physics and calculus at the same time). 20 years later I got the opportunity to work for NASA as a financial manager. I found I could discuss the technical aspects of our programs with the engineers and scientists better than my peers. They were surprised to find a "bean counter" who was interested in and understood what they were doing. My four years as financial manager of the Hubble Space Telescope Flight Systems and Servicing project were the highlight of my career.

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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-05-2005, 08:41 AM   #4
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

Liked math - Seventh Grade Career Night in Lincoln Junior High School in 1955 - the speaker in our chemistry classroom was an Engineer from Sunstrand - I didn't know what an engineer really did but I knew THAT was what I wanted to be - Sputnick three years later, the space program, moon landings, etc and I was hooked - Another big input was all the films about WW II - I especially liked the TV series "The Big Picture" because it showed details of military operations and then explained the overall 'intentions' and 'assumptions' that lead to the decisions to go-for-it. *

I always liked math - learned mechanical engineering, learned electronics, learned digital circuits, learned computers, sensors, systems, spreadsheets and always tried to understand the big picture.

Fifty years later and I "are still an engineer" driving the DW crazy looking for the big picture...

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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-05-2005, 02:11 PM   #5
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

Quote:
Originally Posted by wabmester
Can you identify what turned you on to science and math?* * And tell me how we can provide that same inspiration to our kids.
Why, I'm a geek! I was reading Heinlein & Asimov before I was in middle school.

My dad used to sell Westinghouse steam plants for their nuclear reactors. I can remember...
... playing with fuel pellets in elementary school. (Dad assured me that they were expended. I'm almost sure of it.)
... touring the new East Pittsburgh office building, including a huge flickering digital real-time display of its power consumption.
... writing a sixth-grade paper on how nuclear reactors work.
... buying transistors from Radio Shack (back when they had entire walls of them with sales clerks who actually knew a CMOS from a MOSFET.

I haven't changed, and I'm sure my enthusiasm is making some kind of impression on our kid. She enjoys cool technology and I'm always showing her how to repair things that she might have in her own home someday. She's learning that knowing the vocabulary can save her money, and being able to troubleshoot/repair her own can save her even more.

This year the kid is required to enter the science fair. We ordered about 30 feet of litmus paper from a chemistry-supply company and she's going to see how people's pH changes with their activity, the time of day, whatever. I think her pet bunny is gonna see some pH testing too. It's a great way to start a conversation about chemistry, medicine, biology, and so on.

I think she also appreciates the Kumon math she's been doing for the last seven years. Her eighth-grade algebra teacher has told her (after three weeks in his class) that he's ready to give her credit and let her take some other kind of course. So today we have to coordinate between the middle school & the high school to make sure she can move out of algebra, get credit for it, move into something else, and so on. The key here is that she's learning that she knows more math than the other kids and it's really paying off.

I'm sure kids will continue to appreciate the technology in their car, their cell phone, their laptop, their iPod, and many other fine consumer products... and at some point they'll get sucked into figuring out how to make them better.

As for today's SF literature... start with Harry Potter. True, it's fantasy more than hard-core SF, but she won't have any trouble moving up to the rest of the genre.
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-05-2005, 02:31 PM   #6
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords
My dad used to sell Westinghouse steam plants for their nuclear reactors. I can remember...
... playing with fuel pellets in elementary school. (Dad assured me that they were expended. I'm almost sure of it.)
Now there is the most imaginitive explanation for frontal lobe hair loss I've ever heard...

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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-05-2005, 07:45 PM   #7
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

Like Nords, Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. Also Willy Ley. And Astounding Science Fiction (collected it from used book stores to way before the war).

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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-05-2005, 07:51 PM   #8
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

Quote:
Originally Posted by ex-Jarhead
I think "genes" will take care of the direction your youngster goes.*
Well, genetics will either hurt or help depending on the phenotype, but I can't do much about that. * My concern is that we no longer have a culture that fosters intellectual curiosity or the access to the raw materials of learning. * When I was a kid, we were always competing against Russia in science, space, engineering, weapons, and even chess. * When I was a kid, ham radio and heathkit would give you a hands-on education in electronics, antenna design, etc. * You could build your own computer as a way to learn digital logic and machine-level programming.

Today, the closest I can come to that experience for my kid is Lego Mindstorms (which is pretty cool, BTW). * I guess my main concern is that the level of technological integration is so high now that we've lost the ability to take stuff apart to figure out how it works, there are very few companies who address that gap (probably because they can't find a market to sell to), and we have a government run by religious wackos people who obviously don't value science.
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-05-2005, 11:27 PM   #9
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

I was a voracious reader at a young age. Science fiction and fantasy
were to me like red meat to a starving dog. I liked physics in
high school and toyed with the idea of going nuclear but was scared
off by the prospect of taking P-chem the 2nd year of college and
became an EE instead.

One of the things that hardened my desire to go into science was
being ridiculed by a high school teacher when I told him about an
article I had read in a si-fi mag that predicted the advent of communications satellites revolving in a stationary orbit around the
earth.

This was in 1952 kids ..... the rest is history.

Cheers,

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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-06-2005, 05:21 AM   #10
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

Can you identify what turned you on to science and math?

My Mother. She did weird things like splitting a coke exactly into equal portions and placing the portions in differently configured glasses (tall and thin verses short and fat). Then she challenged us to choose a glass. She brought home things like a microscope from work and let us play. She also did things that were, in retrospect, not advisable like giving us mercury to play with. During the space days, she showed us how to make a moon using a balloon and Plaster of Paris. I got to dig out the major named craters and make the little flags that labeled them. Just stuff like that. She worked 6 days a week. She had a high school education and we were lower middle class. Her sister was similar. I don't know what planet spawned them.

Now, as to what kept me on track. Being an ugly kid. Kidding aside. I responded to the positive feedback of teachers, and, back then, even peers gave you respect. I think it is harder today.
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-06-2005, 07:04 AM   #11
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

In the fifties - had a beatnik cousin send me a book he wrote - Tom Corbet - Space Cadet or something like that.

Had started reading Si Fi in the the 6th grade or so. Heinlen and Asimov were regular reads. Foundation and Earth - is still gathering dust on the book shelf.

As a kid - the local library had a fair collection of Science Fiction.
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-06-2005, 09:20 AM   #12
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

I have also worried that our culture doesn't value critical thinking, and being an intellectual is almost as bad as being a liberal.

I have especially noticed a distrust of science. This isn't helped by government which edits to its own ends scientific studies that do not support government's position on an issue. It is not helped when researchers are employed by drug companies that only want the "science" that favors their position. No wonder science is looking more like politics than science.

I didn't go the engineer route but I too loved science fiction. I remember reading Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov and many more sci fi writers as a child. The potential future seemed so amazing to me.

Oh--I also remember the wonders of the first chemistry set--making stinks. My father had a telescope and would get us up in the middle of the night to see new things he spotted in the sky. We made kites that would fly so high we couldn't see them anymore. We learned mushrooms and edible wild plants. We learned to love to learn.
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-06-2005, 10:00 AM   #13
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

What is it with science fiction and the ER mindset? I was also a childhood fan of Asimov, Heinlein, et al. Is there really a correlation between the two or is it only the fact that we grew up in what was probably the golden age of SF?

Slightly off topic, a guy I graduated from HS with (small class of only 72) aspired to be a SF writer. He did co-author a couple of SF books, but made a slightly larger splash as a writer of western novels (go figure). His biggest SF claim to fame was as the artist for the November 1977 cover of "Heavy Metal" magazine (hint: not a music industry rag). I've had infrequent contact with him over the years but he fully admits to being a 14-year old boy trapped in an aging body. I can relate.

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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-06-2005, 10:52 AM   #14
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

Quote:
Originally Posted by charlie
One of the things that hardened my desire to go into science was being ridiculed by a high school teacher when I told him about an article I had read in a si-fi mag that predicted the advent of communications satellites revolving in a stationary orbit around the
earth.

This was in 1952 kids ..... the rest is history.
Believe it or not, the math/theory was first published by Arthur C. Clarke. He's always been a designer a generation ahead of the materials science...

Quote:
Originally Posted by REWahoo!
What is it with science fiction and the ER mindset?* I was also a childhood fan of Asimov, Heinlein, et al.* Is there really a correlation between the two or is it only the fact that we grew up in what was probably the golden age of SF?
I think highly quantitative, technical, & critical geeks thinkers are drawn to these subjects.

Heinlein wrote an entire chapter of "Time Enough For Love" on the world's laziest man who became a naval officer just to get out of his hometown farm, pursue his technical & social interests, and be able to retire as early as possible. It's highly autobiographical and it really spoke to me!

I don't know about the "Golden Age". Back then it was new, exciting, & different, sure, but they wrote plenty of stinkers. I think the last 20 years have been pretty good too and the most difficult trick is just sorting them out...
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-06-2005, 11:29 AM   #15
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords
Believe it or not, the math/theory was first published by Arthur C. Clarke.
Just remember you heard it here when I suggest investing in United Technologies/Otis Elevator

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords
I think highly quantitative, technical, & critical geeks thinkers are drawn to these subjects.
My friend the SF author isn't hightly quantitative or especially technical. But he is definitely a critical geek thinker....

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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-06-2005, 12:02 PM   #16
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

I missed the lecture/seminar on the tethered satillite given by the other division way back when - I believe the limitation in those days was the cable material - a length/strength/weight issue. 50 miles

Still like Si Fi - mostly on tv these days.
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-06-2005, 12:13 PM   #17
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

O.K., this is getting bizarre. Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov were also my favorite authors, especially Asimov-Foundation series, I Robot, Pebble in the Sky, etc. etc. Mom is a Chemist, Step Dad Physics. Between this thread and Dan Tien's polls, I think we can draw a pretty good picture of the archetype ER person...
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-06-2005, 07:50 PM   #18
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

Quote:
Originally Posted by wabmester
Can you identify what turned you on to science and math? And tell me how we can provide that same inspiration to our kids.
For me and my wife, geeky Dads (mine was at Bell Labs in the hey-day and her's built fiberglass components) and things like the space program. We're both engineers.

For our 14 yr old daughter its much different. We're in a engineering college town with lots of foriegn students (tons of kids with a math-science bias) so that sure helps. She decided on her own to join TSA (Technology Student Assoc) with her friends last year and did well at it. Get's far better grades than I ever got at that age. At the same time she is running around all summer with the same friends in these skimpy outfits and hormones raging. Guess you can't always have your cake and eat it too.
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-07-2005, 11:45 AM   #19
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

Unclemick,

I remember Tom Corbet! Bought a couple of books in used book stores, one in Vancouver, BC, I remember the experience to this day.

The author was a West Pointer. When I was stationed at The Point (as an EM at HQ company, not as a cadet), I found a study room in the library reserved for the guy (can't remember his name today). Similar to the reverence that the US Naval Academy has for Bob Heinlein (but considerably lower key; probably because not as successful).

Ed

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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education
Old 08-07-2005, 12:41 PM   #20
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Re: Motivation, Inspiration, and Education

More on-topic. Had to think about this a little. It has been a while.

Bored, I had trouble with learning multiplication tables by wrote. Mom showed me algebra and all of a sudden math got a LOT more interesting. I remember that event very clearly. Mom was a nurse and dad was a forest ranger with a diverse background.

Learned to read early as the folks had a lot of books and encouraged it. I was introverted and read everything!

Later found Mathematical Recreations column (Martin Gardner?) in Scientific American and the column about do-it-yourself science in the same rag. Went nuts over that. Became interested in chemistry, crystals, rocket fuels. A family friend gave me a chemistry set for Christmas. I went nuts again. (Started a steady interest in stuff that goes boom. Should have lost an eye or fingers over the years, but didn't. Later worked with a guy that blew his fingers off as a kid. There but for the grace of God....)

Discovered libraries in grade school and went nuts. Our town (Portland, OR) had superb libraries. Found the stacks and read SciAm on microfilm back to God-knows-when. Found books on mathematical recreations and similar.

Discovered used book stores (Portland had some wonderful old shops back then; I started at the Farmers' Market on Saturday morning). Collected old SciAm and National Geographics.

Became fascinated by the history of technology, the industrial revolution, mining, chemistry from agriculture or "chemurgy" (GW Carver, etc.), history in general plus art, especially sculpture, metal sculpture and mobiles (Sandy Calder, the inventor of mobiles, was originally trained as a draftsman--or mechanical engineer; accounts differ). Still crazy about metal sculpture and mobiles. Looking to buy an acetylene torch in retirement. Would today, but I am never home.

Had no use for fiction other than SF at that time.

Oh, yeah. Read Uncle Scrooge comic books. Got half my vocabulary from them at the time. (Wonder where they all went?)

In grade school at the time of the space race and eventually Sputnik, schools were emphasizing math and science. Our schools were especially good. (However, I have been astounded at the improvement in math and science and history books that my kids have had compared to mine, but the motivation seems to be flagging. Nothing like the Cold War to stimulate interest. Man, I would love to have had those books when I was their age!)

Overall, primary credit goes to my parents for being inspirational, motivational and supportive and giving us a guided exposure to the natural world. (They showed great patience with my rock collection that grew when we travelled by car across the US and when I bought a pin ball machine on vacation on the other side of the country and turned it into a simple computer, nailing the relays to boards. They let me haul that back home, too. Man, the springs on that old Ford staion wagon were bottomed out!) Second, I had a stimulating environment outside the home growing up.

OK, that is more than anyone wanted to hear, but it was fun for me to go back and relive it.

El Gitano
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