Scientists create a new state of matter

Scientists have recently managed to create a new state of matter where photons have mass. Normally photons don’t interact with each other. You can shine two lasers through each other and the light goes on its merry way.

First, the scientists created a cloud of very cold rubidium atoms, just a few degrees above absolute zero. Then they sent individual photons into the cloud. When they sent in two photons, they left the cloud together, kind of like a photon molecule.

This could help create quantum computers.

Weird stuff. We’re used to the solid, liquid, and gas states. Many people know that plasma is a fourth state of matter. Bose-Einstein Condensate is a fifth that only exists close to absolute zero. Now they have photons with mass interacting with each other.


Last year Mike and I needed to show student growth; that is, how much students learned. We started with giving students a pre test that was the same as the post test. The students really didn’t like this, and just didn’t put any form of effort into it. This was for information that they would soon be learning, so just how useful was it to take a test beforehand that didn’t affect their grade, anyway. I understand. So Mike and I decided to change things and give a benchmark test at the start of every marking period. This test would include 80 questions on the entire curriculum. Students should do better as the year goes on.

The students weren’t as opposed to these, possibly because they didn’t have to take them as often. There were some students who already knew a fair amount of the curriculum, and at the end of the year the average grade was pretty good. It did show solid growth through the year.

This year I’m doing the same kind of benchmark tests. I’ll be tying them into Student Growth Objectives, probably with an objective of a certain average overall grade by a certain date.

Back to School Night

I just had my second back to school night for school yesterday. This year I had two because I had to be at the first one for my four 6th grade classes, and then yesterday for my two 7th grade classes.

It’s good to see that the parents are interested in meeting their kid’s teachers.

The first time I did back to school night 8 years ago was very stressful. I didn’t realize it was coming up until the day before. I was already stressed teaching with some challenging kids, and suddenly I had to stay in the evening and meet their parents. As I recall it went pretty well, and no ulcers were involved.

At this point I have it down to a pretty fast patter and some students mentioned that I was their parent’s favorite teacher. ūüôā

Scientists are Romanticists


I just found this quote in an unlikely place. Thought I’d put it here.

A lot of people think that scientists are realists, stacking calculation on calculation to come up with a single truth. But actually, we’re just the opposite. Our job is to look for answers that break down the ideas everyone takes for granted.

It’s a loose way of thinking, one that questions common sense. If anything, it has to be the romanticists that become scientists. A lot of people will tell you, if you like books, you should study humanities.

But if you like to dream, another option is to study science.

— Hayashi Fumino, Angelic Days

I do think that scientists look for things that break down what we take for granted. By trying to find out how our universe works, we’ve found many things that are counter-intuitive, such as: heliocentrism, quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle, evolution, and much more.

And once you’ve gotten your head wrapped around the new paradigm, you can understand things better. Frequently the new paradigm makes more sense, once you start thinking in its terms.

Sometimes scientists will do an experiment that sounds stupid to do, because we already expected the outcome. But¬†sometimes the result is different from what we’re used to. As Isaac Asimov said:

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’

Book Administration

Book Administration? How could books need administration? Are you becoming a librarian?

Well, no. We use online textbooks, and the students need access to them. Someone has to create the accounts, etc. After my first year with online books, I needed to get rid of the old students and enter in new ones. I suddenly needed an administrator to do this for me. I knew that getting someone else to do it was the slow way, so I managed to get my principal to sign off on my becoming the administrator.

This required putting all the students in a spreadsheet. Everything had to be just so or the online system would reject it. It took a bit of fiddling, but I got it all in.

That was back in 2008.

Enter 2013. Other classes have started to use online textbooks, and I’ve been the one to get all the students in. This year I put in the 5th grade for the first time. But, now the elementary schools are using online textbooks. I can’t create their student IDs because it’s a different school. I only have permission to add Valley View students. So I’m now trying to get approval to be the district administrator (OK, it’s a small district of only 2 schools). Hopefully this can happen quickly.

National Aerospace Training and Research Center

There’s a really cool place in Pennsylvania where you can get training on flight simulators. I’ve been to Space Camp back in the early 90s, and it was really great. This is much closer to New Jersey. You can go in a centrifuge (up to 6Gs if you take a physical). It’s called the NASTAR (National Aerospace Training and Research) Center. Training is free to all teachers.

The NASTAR Center
We combine state-of-the-art flight simulation with physiology-based courseware to optimize human performance in extreme environments.

Here’s a press release:


ETC’s The NASTAR Center Becomes¬†NASA¬†Space Place Community Partner

Southampton, PA, USA. May 28, 2013 – The NASTAR¬ģ Center, the premier commercial
space training and research center in the world, has been designated as a “NASA
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Space Place Community Partner”. ¬†The NASTAR
Center and the NASA Space Place partnership help support mutual initiatives to
encourage, facilitate, and promote space-based education. The Space Place was
started in February 1998 as an education and public outreach project of¬†NASA’s
New Millennium Program. The Space Place program includes a kid-friendly web
site ( and bulletin board displays at Community Partner
sites around the country. Its target audience is elementary-school-age kids.
As a Space Place Community Partner, the NASTAR Center has added a Space Place
display to its  Educator Resource Center (ERC).

“This is one more avenue where teachers and students who visit the NASTAR
Center can learn about current¬†NASA¬†projects,” said Gregory Kennedy, the NASTAR
Center Director of Education. ¬†“NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,
California, has provided educational materials that will help us excite young
people about the space program,” he added.

The NASTAR Center is an Affiliate Member of the NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant
Consortium and offers science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
educational programs for students and teachers. ¬†To learn more about NASTAR’s
Education Programs, go to

Density and the Titanic

Had a good talk with my 6th grade period about density; I really didn’t expect to talk for the whole period about it, but it went really well. We talked about why you (hopefully) float in water. Then defined density and measured the density of a rock. This helped the kids understand why they sink.

But the fun part was towards the end. I brought up buoyancy, and one student made the connection to the Titanic. That as it filled with water its density changed. Eventually its density tipped over to greater than 1.0 and it sunk. That was a great connection. Then I talked about boats that are supposed to sink: submarines. How they can change their density by using the ballast tanks. The kids were pretty interested the whole time.

New students, new grade

Students arrive tomorrow, and while its been a good summer, it will also be good to see the kids again. For the first time I won’t be teaching 8th grade. Instead I’ll be teaching 6th grade, along with half of the 7th. I’m used to half the 7th, but I haven’t taught 6th yet, so it’s a new curriculum for me. Instead of genetics, evolution, and chemistry, I’ll be teaching ecology and the cell. It should be fun. There are some 8th graders that I’ll miss not teaching, but I’ll still see them around. I’m not sure if I’ll be involved with the graduating committee this year; it made more sense when I taught the 8th graders. We’ll see in June.

Bulletin boards to Whiteboards

My new classroom has one good-sized whiteboard flanked by 2 bulletin boards. The previous teacher used the ends of the whiteboard to write down Objectives, Homework, etc. This took up a lot of the usable space, and I want to be able to use the whole whiteboard during lessons. So I have a plan to turn them into whiteboards. Then I can use one for the 6th grade, and the other for the 7th.

I bought plexiglass and cut it into appropriate sizes. This didn’t work as well as I had hoped, and there are some chips gone from when I was breaking off the extra. *sigh* Then I spray painted them white and mounted them to the existing bulletin board with the white side in, and the smooth side out. I should be able to use them just fine.

Should. You know how that works. It looks like colored dry erase markers erase just fine. But black doesn’t want to erase. Water didn’t work. Isopropyl alcohol didn’t work. Fortunately Acetone did.

So I’ve ordered some white dry erase contact paper from Amazon. It’ll arrive after classes start, but that’s OK. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

[[update 9/24/2013]]

The contact paper arrived and has been working pretty well. It was tricky to install, and there are wrinkles where I didn’t manage to get it just right. There is a bit that doesn’t want to stick on and starts peeling up, but overall it’s holding well. Oh, and all the dry erase colors erase just fine.