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Archive for May, 2009

video courtesy of The Daily Camera newspaper, Boulder, CO.

Boulder High School (or perhaps it’s the Boulder Valley School District) has laid off a social studies teacher, Chris Barnes, because of budget cuts. Such are the inevitable and in this case cruel losses of a severe recession. Apparently he’s not just any teacher. This is a video of his students protesting his layoff. They really like the guy. It’s not everyday that you see this. Even if he were to stay they probably wouldn’t have another class with him. So the fact that these students would take time out to do this means a lot.

I had a similar experience many years ago. I attended Casey Jr. High School (now Casey Middle School) in Boulder in the early 1980s. I had a government (civics) teacher who was great. He taught us the traditional stuff (out of the textbook) about how our government works, but he also had us carry out exercises of a couple different major governmental functions as a group, so we could enter those worlds ourselves and see how it really works, not just the ideal of how it should work. He got kids who most teachers would’ve given up on as trouble makers to participate in these exercises, and they became genuinely interested and engaged. I saw a side of these kids I didn’t know existed, and he proved the point that every child is interested in learning. Those were valuable experiences.

He taught us discernment skills in political rhetoric. We watched and read current, real political material and we evaluated what they said–how much was content, and how much was just air. Were they just giving us one side of the issue? What’s the other side? Do they make a good argument?

He encouraged us to watch C-SPAN, to see government in action, and to see political figures unfiltered; and a couple specific news programs, which covered news at length, not in little bites.

He decided to leave Casey after our course, of his own accord. He had taken up another job in the private sector. Somehow the rumor got around that he had been forced out because the assistant principal didn’t like him, or something. Soon after some of the students in his class, plus some kids who just didn’t like the assistant principal, went outside with signs and protested the assistant principal and the fact that our civics teacher was leaving. Some were passionate. Some were disciplined by the school for disruptive behavior. I never thought I’d see the day when students would protest in favor of a school teacher! It kind of brings to mind a movie I saw years ago called “Dead Poets Society” (video).

I still remember that teacher’s government class to this day (though as you can tell I can’t remember his name). I see him as someone who made me a fully engaged citizen of the United States. Seeing the video from Boulder High brought back memories, and it’s good to see that there are still public school teachers out there who are good enough that students are willing to protest for them.

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I don’t have a dog in this fight, since I graduated high school more than 20 years ago, and I don’t have kids in school. I am a citizen who’s concerned about educational issues though. So I thought I’d weigh in.

I saw a story yesterday that 80 BVSD teachers in Broomfield, CO. had called in and said they were not showing up for work for the day. Students were planning on attending review sessions with their teachers for finals next week. Oh well. The school district hurriedly found substitute teachers to replace the ones who didn’t show up (apparently there was no advance notice of this event). Kids either sat in class with no activities, or “watched movies” as a few put it.

What was behind the walkout was a contractual dispute with the school district. From what I can surmise from the comments that followed the article (follow the above link), contract negotiations were in progress. The understanding of the teachers was that the district was going to be fully funded with no cuts, but the district kept coming back with lower offers for the teachers (in terms of raises), and possibly beefy offers for administrators (I’m not clear on that part). The fact that administrators were making more than the teachers wasn’t surprising to me. I knew this was the case 16 years ago. As far as I’m concerned this is the way it’s been and the way it always will be in public schools. Some commenters said that in a few cases teachers make more than administrators (if the teacher has upped their pay with higher credentials, and the principal is new, for example).

Anyway the teachers reacted, and in my opinion the students suffered for it. Finals are an important and stressful time for students as things are. For teachers to do this at this time just adds to the stress, not to mention some confusion. They don’t need this right now.

From the way teachers were describing the situation, they’ve been feeling financially stressed, and to boot they were feeling shafted. Well in my estimation they shafted their students and caused them stress yesterday. How about we leave the students out of the dispute, okay? They don’t deserve this. It’s apparent to me these teachers were not thinking about how their actions would affect students. There’s a time and a place for this sort of thing, and now is not it.

Edit 5/20/09: More “sick outs” have been happening this week, now in Boulder, to protest contract negotiations. Here’s an editorial in the Denver Post about it which echoes my sentiments.

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Steve Eves launched a 1/10th scale model of the Saturn V rocket on April 25 in a field in Maryland. It was 36 feet tall and weighed 1,600 lbs. It flew to an altitude of about 4,000 ft. and returned safely. Here’s video I found that shows a bit of Steve’s story, and the launch.

This was awsome to see, even just on video! Steve succeeded in setting the world record. This flight will be recorded in the Guinness Book.

Seeing this reminded me of when I once launched a 6 ft. tall Estes rocket called “Mean Machine” with some friends more than 20 years ago, out in a field that’s a block away from where I live now. I remember it used a D-size solid rocket engine and when it launched it was loud, sounding like a jet engine. It flew up so high we could barely see it. It looked like a small dot in the huge sky. I had launched many smaller, less powerful model rockets before this. They flew up between 50 and 200 ft. I had never seen one go up this high (the instructions from Estes always said “check for low flying aircraft before launch”, and of course power lines)! For a bit I wondered if I’d ever see it again, or if a wind current had caught it and blown it away. It came back down…without its parachute about 20 yards away from where it was launched. The 24″ parachute with a light plastic nose cone attached seemed to take forever to come down. It landed right near where I live now. The “launch lug”, I believe it was called, The shock cord mount, which attached the parachute to the fuselage, had separated from the rocket body. I had built the rocket 2 or 3 years before I launched it. The glue that held it on had gotten old and brittle. My interest in model rockets was waning. It had been overtaken by my interest in computers. It was the last rocket I launched.

Back when I was really into model rockets (elementary and jr. high school) I imagined building and launching ones like the one Steve built; how neat that would be. It’s really gratifying to see someone do it.

Edit 5/28/09: I found this video today of a Space Shuttle model rocket and I could not pass up including it here. The boosters detach in mid-flight, and at apogee the Shuttle detaches and ignites it’s own engine for a few seconds. The Shuttle looks like it’s radio controlled from its flight pattern, and it comes in for a smooth landing! WOW! I imagine this is homemade. I doubt it came as a kit. I have no idea who made it though. The description on the video at YouTube didn’t say.

Edit 3/20/14: I found yet another neat Shuttle model. Footage is from 1994. They even modeled the launch tower! According to another video I saw of this model, the boosters and main engine ignite separately, just like the real Shuttle did, though when it goes off all I can see is the main engine’s exhaust.

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