Now Available: My New Book, “Nurturing Curiosity and Success in Science, Math, and Learning”

Today has been a special day! After many months of the gestation process, copies of my new book finally arrived. “Gestation” is an appropriate term for use by any author when referring to the birth of a new book and its long-awaited delivery – not by the stork, but by UPS!

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From initial concept to a tangible book-in-the-hand is a long, hard journey – ask any author – but the satisfaction of finally holding and perusing the end result is worth it all.

After publishing my first book on motion physics for the layperson four years ago, I was in no way ready to consider beginning yet another book. However, for both authors and imaginative inventors, a good idea is hard to resist, and the theme of America’s students struggling in science and math relative to students in other countries proved too important and interesting to pass up. More important than national test scores and rankings are the frustrations felt by many parents, guardians, and teachers when their students are underperforming in school.

 Why Do So Many Students Struggle with
Learning – Especially in Science and Math?

NCS Bookmark Front Layout_FinalStudent standardized test scores in science and math are mediocre at best and falling for America’s students relative to many other countries – a rather shocking development. Once I began to seriously reflect upon why so many students are underperforming in school, the reasons quickly became clear to me.

Diagnosing the problem was the easier half of the drill; finding cures for the ailing performance of so many of our students proved more challenging, yet I am confident in my ultimate RX prescription for healing our students’ academic woes. The integrated guide and plan I offer as a remedy for parents, guardians, mentors…and teachers, too, is based on common-sense parenting/mentoring and learning principles – many of which have been lost to recent generations. Today’s ubiquitous technology, while often very helpful and even necessary, is also identified as a significant cause of our problems – but by no means the only one.

As I wrote the book and solicited comments, one that surfaced more than once went like this: “The parents and guardians who, together with their students, most need the guide and plan you offer in the book, are the least likely to buy it.” I sadly agree, to an extent, but remain confident that many struggling parents and guardians will take advantage of my ideas and suggestions.

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I envision a very viable market for the book with prospective parents and the parents of preschoolers who wish to be proactive in maximizing school success by providing an early, nurturing environment for their youngsters. Not everyone is initially equipped by nature with the insight required for effective parenting/mentoring. Good parenting is like so many other ventures in life: The best way to proceed is by working hard and by working smart. Highlighting that latter part will prove to be how my book offers the greatest value to parent/mentors.

For a closer look at the book and how to order it, click on “My New Book on Science / Math Education” on the blog header or click on the following link:

https://reasonandreflection.wordpress.com/about-my-new-book/

To go directly to the book’s dedicated website for still more information and to order, click on the following link:

http://reasonandreflection.com/book2/

For an excerpt from the book, also see my previous post: “Teaching Children Math…By Example,” in the archives for Sept. 27, 2014. Click the following link:

https://reasonandreflection.wordpress.com/2014/09/27/teaching-children-math-by-example/

 

Do We Need Yet Another Book on Education? I Believe We Do!

Today, I uploaded the manuscript files for my new book to the publisher. The gestation process of some two years has been long and hard – as anyone who has published a book can attest, but the pleasure of “putting thoughts to paper” keeps one going during the process. The book’s title reads: Nurturing Curiosity and Success in Science, Math, and Learning.

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Is there room for another book?

Is it, as the title suggests, a book on the education of our children with an emphasis on science and math? Yes, but its central theme has more to do with the tremendous influence of parent/mentors on the education and the “learning attitudes” of their young students and less to do with the mechanics of education which are so often discussed and debated in the media.

I believe that the well-documented, poor and declining performance of America’s students in science and mathematics is not the result of “educational deficiencies” in our schools. “Better” schools, “better” teaching, longer classroom hours, and more money are not the real solutions. We are looking for answers in all the wrong places!

The number-one problem in our schools:  Students who are sent to school unprepared and unwilling to take advantage of their opportunity – students who are not ready and willing to learn. And what is the key to preparing students for wholehearted engagement in that process called learning? Nurturing curiosity about the real world around them and instilling a mature student attitude which grounds them in the realities of life – these are the keys.

A mature student attitude? Sophisticates at age six? Not really. A “mature” student attitude, in this context, embodies an early appreciation that, as young students, they are privileged to be able to attend school and learn things that will not only fashion a career path, someday, but will ultimately impart the “joy” of living that knowledge and an informed mind can bestow.

Students should understand at an early age that the “duty” aspect of going to school has far less to do with “having to learn this stuff” and much more to do with their personal responsibility to themselves not to waste the wonderful opportunity which is afforded them.

As the book points out, parent/mentors have a clear responsibility to regularly transport their young beyond the limited horizon of day-to-day growing-up in this distracted world of social-connectedness. My book illustrates how to reveal, to youngsters, the fascinating world which exists beyond our sometimes mind-numbing, daily existence. It is all about the awareness of young minds to the possibilities which exist for them and their need to embrace life and study habits which will turn those possibilities into realities.

Curiosity is such a key characteristic, such an important factor – curiosity about the mysteries of being human, about the world around us, about the universe and beyond. Albert Einstein implied the importance of curiosity in not only science, but life and living as well, with his insistence that, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Curiosity is the incubator of the self-motivation that makes learning satisfying and rewarding – as opposed to a chore.

And I believe that my youngest granddaughter was truly curious one Sunday morning as her family was preparing to leave for church. True to her ebullient, one-of-a-kind personality, she, out of the blue, blurted out, “How does a fart go through your clothes?” Her parents had no time before church to offer a simple scientific explanation – would that they could! When my daughter told me about this little episode, I enjoyed a good laugh, but subsequently realized that my granddaughter’s question was a legitimate scientific inquiry – something to be encouraged!

And just how do parent/mentors…and teachers, go about nurturing curiosity and success in science, math, and learning? Providing a common-sense guide and plan for parent/mentors, and teachers was my mission in writing this book. Drawing upon the experience of raising two daughters along with the picture-window view on the world of classroom teaching afforded by the three schoolteachers in my life, I offer my best perspective to parent/mentors …and teachers on how to proceed. Ultimately, a “learning attitude” begins at home. Teachers have a full plate with the task of effectively presenting the material to students; they certainly do not have the time or the opportunity to motivate an entire classroom of students to take full advantage of what the schools offer.

I hope and sincerely believe that frustrated parent/mentors (teachers, too) whose children are under-performing in school will benefit from at least one more book on education and nurturing student success.

It should be available by the end of September.

 

What’s Gone Wrong at Our Schools? It’s Not What You Might Think!

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So much has been written in recent years about “problems in education” – especially in California given its very low ranking among the fifty states. Statistics cite student achievement in the United States at the national level as inferior to that of many other countries, particularly in science and math. The trends behind the statistics are relatively recent, spanning perhaps only three or four decades.

 The causes for such flagging performance are endlessly debated in print and on the internet, and the two most-often cited “reasons” are: Poor schools and poor teachers.

 I beg to differ. From my perspective, the central and most important issue at play is not the schools or the teachers; here is the real problem:

 The home-preparedness of many students and their eagerness to learn is sorely wanting; the necessary remedy is best summarized as “positive student attitude.” Too many children are sent to school ill-prepared to be “receptive” learners in a classroom environment. Short attention spans are both symptom and cause.

 Who is to blame for that?  Today, the answer is: “The parents or the guardians” of the children. The rarely-spoken truth is that student nurturing begins not at school, but at home – even before kindergarten – and support from home must continue throughout the student’s early education. To the many adults who find themselves guardians of someone else’s biological children, I say, “You are to be commended for assuming the responsibility of raising these children and taking on the added burden of nurturing their education.” Clearly, the sizeable increase of incomplete or broken homes with single parents or grandparents at the helm has had its impact on the schools, but the message applies equally to intact families which are not instilling a respect for learning and knowledge in the children at a very early age. This is so important to fostering a positive “student attitude” in the classroom, which, in turn, drives teaching effectiveness!

 I watched an excellent PBS news story last night on the Chicago school system where 50% of new teachers leave within three to five years – many burned-out and devastated by their experience. Chicago has some unique challenges, but similar situations exist elsewhere. The message, here, is not tailored to Chicago or any other specific locale. I believe the problem of ill-prepared students (from home) is, today, endemic to all areas of the country. There are many layers to the education-problem onion, but what is resoundingly clear is that teaching is no longer the attractive career it once was for recent college graduates. The growing scarcity of seasoned-veteran, effective teachers throughout the nation’s schools has not been the cause of our educational dilemma so much as it is a result of problems in today’s classroom which discourage the best and brightest from entering the field. There are, indeed, some faults in the educational establishment, but in continually rehashing these, we persist in ignoring the issue of “student attitude” and its importance in the success of our schools. Perhaps worst of all, we miss the explicit messages sent about the priorities and attitudes of today’s go-go society and their effect on our students.

How Do We Solve the Problem?

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-Instill genuine curiosity, a love of learning, and a respect for knowledge in children before they arrive at kindergarten – and continue the nurturing and support from home throughout their early school years.

 -Realize that the technology behind the internet and the pocket-electronic marvels we all carry represents a double-edged sword that cuts two ways: Use it judiciously, and it can further your noblest aims; use it frivolously, and it will waste precious time on purely temporary diversions. Regulate your children’s use of these devices! Accumulating easy-to-grab “factoids” from the internet is no substitute for genuine curiosity about our world and the in-depth critical thinking skills necessary to service that curiosity… and open yet new doors for investigation. 

-The best advice of all to parents: Bring back the dinner table, where the entire family assembles at a regular time and place, ready for food and stimulating verbal conversation, cell phones and television OFF. The family dinner table is the crucible for instilling curiosity and a positive “student attitude” in our children. 

Sunday’s 60 Minutes television program highlighted author/historian David McCullough – a wonderful look at a fine writer and a man of common-sense. In the interview, he bemoaned the historical illiteracy of today’s students, recalling one mid-western college student who came up to him after his talk stating that she never realized that the original thirteen colonies were all on the east coast!

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McCullough ultimately blamed “the parents” for such shortcomings on the part of today’s students. He, like me, views the family dinner table as the starting point and ultimate tool for the education of our children. Bring back “the dinner table,” he beseeched. Alas, such notions have disappeared entirely from so many households, in today’s go-go society.

 My Second Book, Forthcoming – On This Subject

 I am nearing completion of the manuscript for my next book which will be based on the subject matter contained in this post. In its pages, much more detail on the material will be forthcoming. It will further amplify the contention, briefly stated here, that the foundation for the successful education of our children is wise and active parenting/mentoring. Without it, the schools will never be as effective as we would like them to be.

Refresh Your Life Perspective! Old Yearbooks, Cemeteries, and the “Dead Poets Society”

Every now and then, life makes me depressed and irritable – sound familiar? Some days, a cascade of little things goes wrong and irritations intrude, all of which tend to put me in a funk. Sometimes, I lose the big picture and swerve into a funky rut from which it is hard to steer my way out.

I have found two effective cures for this condition, more potent and long-lasting than calling upon mere temporary diversions. These never fail to restore my proper life perspective: Cemeteries and old yearbooks. Oh, and one more: A scene from the movie , “Dead Poets Society.” Let me explain.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I treated ourselves to a two-night stay in Pacific Grove, near Monterey, California. Our accommodations, which were within easy walking distance of the old Point Pinos lighthouse, were not elegant – but very comfortable and satisfactory. Linda had a bit of a problem with a cemetery located just across the road and within sight of our patio window – a bit creepy at nightfall, thought she!

 The next day we walked through that cemetery on the way to the lighthouse, and, like so many other times in the past, I experienced that initially unsettling, yet ultimately peaceful reaction that I always feel in a cemetery – namely, the reminder that we all have limited time on this fine earth and that all of our personal trials and tribulations amount to little in the overall scheme of this vast universe. These periodic reminders are, to me, a refreshing tonic; for my wife, not so much – cemeteries are still a bit unsettling to her. Even so, we both lingered as we always do in a cemetery, and perused the names and dates on the tombstones. “What kind of person was Emma, the ‘dearly beloved wife’ wrenched so early in life from her family?” we ask ourselves. The older and more remote and neglected the cemetery setting, the more vivid are our musings about the permanent residents all around us. I recall other such occasions. One of the most memorable for us was an old, lonely hillside cemetery at Jacksonville, Oregon which we visited as a family many years ago. Off the beaten path, it was quiet and serene, there. 

The most moving tombstones there were the tall, old-style pointed slabs dating to the mid -1800’s which bore poetic recollections of dear children and young spouses cut down in the prime of their brief lives. We took pictures and copied some of the beautiful inscriptions, relics of a time-past when the use of language was a far more common art-form than is the case today. These had great impact on us and the girls, their ultimate message being: Life is short; do something noble in your allotted time; do not waste your time and energy on hatred and bigotry, for we are all made of the same, fragile stuff.

One other very memorable graveyard experience took place some seventeen years ago on the English moors around the Bronte parsonage, the house where Charlotte Bronte and her siblings lived with their father, the parish rector. We arrived on a sullen, chilly, and leaden afternoon to tour the house and grounds, all of which were fascinating. Being a parsonage with an adjacent church, the grounds near the house were thick with old gravesites – not tidy little granite slabs flush with the ground, but large old markers and very tall, pointed vertical slabs of dark stone standing like an army of sentinels over the closely spaced burial plots.

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As we began our tour of the gravesites, the skies turned darker, and the wind came up across the moor, whistling through the graveyard. “My God,” I thought to myself. “This is like a staged movie or a descriptive scene from a Jane Austin or Bronte novel; it couldn’t be more dramatic!” The graves were old and intriguing; they sent that same message: Don’t take yourself and your troubles too seriously; you and they shall pass, ere long. The message is at once both unnerving and one of peaceful resignation and realization. The net effect for me is a restored life perspective and a renewed determination to make good use of my time.

Old Yearbooks?

I have always been fascinated by old photographs (see my post of March 12, 2013: “Photographs: The Power of Time and Place”) and, especially, old school yearbooks. In my earlier years, my yearbook fascination puzzled me, seeming somewhat off-beat, but I ultimately figured out why they especially intrigue me. School yearbooks are about youngsters and young adults. Their content hints of promise, the future, and the possibilities inherent in the young, serious and somber faces which peer back at you from the page when you stop to look closely. 

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1925 Quad Football 

I have a 1925 Stanford University Quad whose pictured students are now long-gone. It is fascinating to look at them, to read where they were from and what they studied, and to contemplate what kind of life they led and what legacy they left. I managed to do some internet research on the young woman whose ownership signature and senior picture grace this book’s pages. I discovered that her father was an important turn-of-the-century architect in Sacramento, California, responsible for a number of important structures, there.

More Life Perspective: My Favorite Movie Scene of All!

Dead Poets Society

Although not in my top six favorite movies (see last week’s post, June 16, 2013), “Dead Poets Society” contains my favorite film scene of all time; it relates beautifully to today’s post. The staging of the scene is brilliant as is its message, and Robin Williams’ acting is superb as Mr. Keating, the new-hire, maverick English teacher at Welton, an old, very toney, and rigid prep school with a direct pipeline to the Ivy League.

The opening scenes during the credits constitute fine film-making, but the fun begins on the first day of class as we briefly follow a group of male “preppies” through their initial classes in chemistry, trigonometry, and Latin. Now, they file in and take their seats in Mr. Keating’s English classroom. As they patiently wait for their instructor to appear, the front door to the classroom opens; Mr. Keating walks slowly down the center aisle, whistling quietly to himself, and then disappears back into the hallway through a rear door. The students look around, puzzled; some tittering is heard. Suddenly, Keating pokes his head back through the door and shouts, “Well, come on!” while motioning the class to follow him.

They are now standing in the building foyer, just steps removed from Keating’s classroom. He herds them closely together, facing the built-in glass display cases along the wall which house athletic trophies and numerous team and student photographs dating back to the early 1900’s. He hands one of the lads a hymnal and identifies a verse for him to read out loud – page 542.

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a-flying, and this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.”

“Why did the writer say that?” Keating asks. A voice in the back offers, “Because he’s in a hurry?” “No, thank you for playing anyway! It’s because we are food for worms, lads,” Keating replies. “The Latin equivalent of all that is, ‘Carpe Diem’. What does that mean?” “Seize the day,” responds a capable Latin scholar in the front. Now, Keating asks them all to step forward as a group, closer to the display wall in order to carefully peruse those faces from the distant past, there on display – faces that almost nobody ever stops to notice in passing.

“Look at them, boys – they are just like you, hormones racing around and all.” Keating assures his charges that, by listening closely, “You can hear them whispering their legacy to you….hear it?” Expressions are intent and ears are cocked toward the frozen images on display – only the steady ticking of the clock on the wall can be heard. After a long pause, a soft, barely decipherable and throaty whisper floats among the assemblage as Keating inauspiciously moves to the rear of the group: “Caaarpe….caaarpe ….carpe diem! Seize the day boys!”

 Keating reminds the group that these lads “speaking” to them in this manner are now “fertilizing daffodils.” Did they live up to their potential, their high hopes and expectations which were not much different from those of this, the current class at Welton?  Did they seize the day – each and every day that they were given? 

As the boys exit the hall together on the way to their next class, one exclaims, “That was weird!” Cameron, the by-the-book student with the red flat-top seriously wonders aloud, “Think he’ll test us on that?”

Life will test them all on that; they were indeed fortunate to land in Mr. Keating’s class and receive such a valuable lesson so early in their young lives.