Archive for category Education

Leaf Boats and Sediment Traps

Last week we had a big thunderstorm pass over the house during the evening, and my two boys (ages 10 and 6) put on their raincoats and went out into the front yard to see what was going on. They love to send leaf boats down the edge of the street when it rains. When I came out to check on them, they had piled up some landscaping gravel in the gutter to make a dam, causing a large puddle of murky rainwater to collect in the street near our driveway. The two of them were really excited about their civil engineering: “Look, Dad! We made a dam! But our lake keeps rising and flowing around the dam, so we need more gravel!” I grinned. This arms race continued until their dam started to leak through the gravel, kind of like the turbines at the bottom of Glen Canyon Dam. “What? You guys aren’t generating electricity?”

They noticed that the water coming into their little lake was murky with silt, while the water seeping out through the gravel was clear and clean. “Yep, you guys have built a sediment trap“, I explained. “The fast-flowing river water carries dirt with it, but in the calm lake water the dirt drops out to the bottom. That’s why it’s called a sediment trap, because the river sediment can’t get past the lake.” “Wow! We built a sediment trap!” they exulted. “Sediment trapping is a big problem for silty rivers like the Colorado and the Nile“, I elaborated. “The Glen Canyon Dam and the Aswan High Dam trap the river silt and prevent it from flowing downstream. That’s why the Grand Canyon and the Nile Delta are losing their sand.” [Yes, sometimes I talk in html.] The boys were thrilled to hear the world-wide implications of their little experiment.

After the rain we put the gravel back around the mailbox and washed our hands. And I thought to myself, What a great neighborhood / country / life I have! My kids can play safely in the yard, forget their video games, get dirty, have fun, and learn about fluid mechanics all at the same time!

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Middle School Field Trip – by Airplane?

Even Dads have to grow up.

My daughter in Middle School is taking a field trip to Washington, DC over Spring Break. They will tour our nation’s capital with American Christian Tours, a tour company that emphasizes our Christian heritage throughout history. She earned part of the money for the tour, and I am making her study up on the places she will visit. When she gets to Gettysburg Battlefield she will know who Pickett was, why and who he was charging, and what happened on that fateful day. When she tours the World War II memorial she will know who were the major powers and leaders on each side of the conflict. When she enters the American History Museum she will tell her friends to look for the half-naked statue of George Washington.

All this is normal.

The strange part for me is that she and the rest of the kids are boarding an airplane to fly to Washington, DC. An airplane! We live in Colorado, so Washington DC is too far to drive over the one-week break. It makes sense to fly. But an airplane??!!! For a Middle School field trip? Sheesh, next thing you know these kids will be taking a field trip to the International Space Station!

I grew up in New Jersey, and my class took field trips by bus to Philadelphia and New York City to see the sights. The historical sites were within easy reach. On the Circle Line ferry around Manhattan Island some elementary school kids from the city challenged us to fight: “Get your gang together. We’ll meet you in the boys’ room!” Remarkably, we were mature enough to laugh, politely decline, and ask them where they were from? They were fun kids once we got past the macho thing.

An airplane!

Perhaps Sean call tell us if airline travel has dropped in cost relative to the Consumer Price Index since the 1970s? In any case, this Dad has to let go and realize that times have changed and let my precious daughter fly to Washington DC for a wonderful and educational adventure with friends I know and teachers I trust to take good care of her. It should be a good trip! She’ll bring her cell phone with her. Oh yeah, you bet she will!

Academic and Choral Achievement

Here is an update since Kevin updated the blogging software. In May 2009 I graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a Master’s degree in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. Wow, five years is a long time! There were quite a few speeches during the graduation ceremony, but I didn’t mind a bit! It took a lot of work to get to that ceremony, and I just sat there in the sunshine with my Master’s robe and mortarboard cap and drank it all in. John Roberts (a CNN correspondent) gave an inspiring address about making your dreams come true. When you come up against a wall, this is your opportunity to show the world how much you want something. If you want your goal bad enough, you will go over, under, around, or through the wall to reach your goal! I feel that I have so much potential, and opportunity, and rich possibilities ahead of me. I don’t ever want to lose that feeling. My sister and family came to see the graduation. Maybe someday when my kids get frustrated with school and homework and term papers and exams they will remember the bagpipes and the funny academic gowns and their Daddy graduating and they will understand that it’s all worthwhile.

Kevin, I don’t know if you wrote a thesis when you got your Master’s degree from Stanford University, or if the co-terminal program had some other option. I wrote a 110-page thesis describing my research and model results:

Title: Application of Storm Surge Modeling to Moses’ Crossing of the Red Sea; and to Manila Bay, the Philippines

Storm surge occurs in low-lying coastal areas when strong winds blow the sea surface up onto the land. The resulting inundation can pose a great danger to lives and property. This study uses an Ocean General Circulation Model and the results from a mesoscale atmospheric model to simulate storm surge and wind setdown. Two case studies are presented. A reconstruction of the crossing of the Red Sea by Moses and the Israelites, as described in Exodus 14, shows that the eastern Nile delta of Egypt matches the Biblical narrative and provides a hydrodynamic mechanism for water to remain on both sides of the dry passage. The vulnerability of Manila Bay and the surrounding areas to a Category 3 typhoon is evaluated and shows that the simulated surge heights depend heavily on the wind direction and the coastal topography.

The thesis document is published electronically by ProQuest, and anyone can download the PDF for a fee and read it. I classified the thesis under Biblical studies in addition to Physical oceanography and Atmospheric sciences. It would be cool to hear a little bell every time someone reads my thesis, but scientific publishing has not reached that stage yet.

I also made the national news for having sung in the Boulder Messiah Sing-Along for 17 consecutive years now. On November 3, 2009 the Associated Press published a news story on Messiah Sing-Along events, featuring the Boulder Messiah Chorale and Orchestra. Hallelujah for Handel’s ‘Messiah’ is by reporter Ann Levin. I am the Enthusiastic Choir Member in the story. If that link ever ceases to work, you can Google for: “Carl Drews” Messiah. Nobody has recognized me on the street yet (“Hey, you’re that Messiah choir dude!”), but it is nice to see that our sound is gone out into all lands, at least electronically.

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Done With Coursework

Wow! After 4 years of graduate school I have completed all my coursework for the Master’s Degree. This is amazing to think about! I took one course at a time, focusing on the journey rather than the destination. But here I am!

My thesis year is next. I plan to research my fingers to the bone and defend my thesis in Spring 2009. And then graduate! I enjoyed my classes, and now I’m looking forward to independent research on wind-driven storm surge. If I had started the Master’s program earlier maybe I could have helped those folks in Myanmar to avoid getting clobbered by Cyclone Nargis. But I’m sure there will be other chances to save lives . . .

The University of Colorado web site has this nifty Grade-O-Matic feature that calculates your grade point average whenever you complete another course, and the Grade-O-Tron meter says my GPA is 3.763. I guess I’m not gonna flunk out of grad school after all! I even managed to pull an A- in Fluid Dynamics. Any course with “dynamics” in the title is tough.

My Oceanography class was neat because we used real data and analyzed all the layers in the world’s oceans. Ocean water masses form in certain regions and retain those same properties even when they travel long distances. The Atlantic Ocean is most stratified. For example, here is a meridional cross section of the Atlantic Ocean at 30 degrees West:

That big purple blob descending from the upper left-hand side of the plot is Antarctic Intermediate Water (AAIW). The AAIW water mass stabilizes at about 1000 meters deep and spreads all the way up to 10N. AAIW is cold and fresh from ice melt; cold enough to slide below the warm tropical salty water, but fresh enough to stay above the saline North Atlantic Deep Water. Way cool!

I took a couple of classes on climate and the human affects on same. From what I learned, the vast majority of climate scientists believe the earth is getting warmer, and a smaller majority believe that humans are a major cause of this warming. One of my classes was taught by Roger Pielke Sr., who might be considered a climate-change skeptic (and he’s a real scientist, not like Rush Limbaugh). Dr. Pielke agrees that increased carbon dioxide is a warming perturbation, and that humans produced the CO2 increase. But he contends that land-use change (irrigation, urbanization, agriculture) is a bigger factor in anthropogenic global warming. When you water the desert and farm it, the decrease in albedo (brightness) absorbs more sunlight and warms the planet. Pielke showed some stunning examples of the changes humans have wrought on the land surface! Stunning in terms of the albedo change and the total percentage of the land surface we have have touched (40%). I carried out a simulation experiment on Aboriginal Australia with the Community Atmospheric Model (CAM) that supported Pielke’s contention that land-use changes can be comparable in magnitude to CO2-driven changes, but my study region was too small to apply this finding to the entire globe.

In Genesis 1:28 God tells mankind to subdue the earth and have dominion over all other living creatures. Genesis 1:28 strongly implies that humans can have a very real affect on the planet’s ecosystem, for better or worse. So from the Biblical perspective it’s reasonable to conclude that human activities can indeed alter the global climate. We aren’t big enough individually, but there are 6 billion of us, and we’ve been fiddling with the earth for quite a few years now.

I looked for evidence relevant to carbon dioxide forcing. Can human-raised levels of CO2 really warm the planet? Is there any historical analog to the current situation? The timing of CO2 vs. temperature changes in the Antarctic ice cores is a little hard to determine precisely, because CO2 has a nasty habit of diffusing deeper into the snow before compaction. A good scientific publication is: “Timing of Atmospheric CO2 and Antarctic Temperature Changes Across Termination III”, by Nicolas Caillon et. al.; 14 MARCH 2003 VOL 299 SCIENCE, page 1728. They postulate the following sequence:

1. Time 0 years: Antarctica gets warmer due to orbital forcing (the trigger).
2. Time 800 years: Change in ocean circulation leads to global rise in carbon dioxide.
3. Time 5,000 years: Northern Hemisphere completes its de-glaciation, caused by CO2 amplification of the original orbital forcing.

Caillon states that “the CO2 increase clearly precedes the Northern Hemisphere deglaciation (Fig 3).” One might think that we have 5,000 years to wait before the Northern Hemisphere completely de-glaciates, but don’t get cocky! – Termination III is not a perfect analog to today’s situation. The point is that increased CO2 really can, and has, forced higher global temperatures.

On a final note: Science in action is really good to see! Conclusions really are reviewed, examined, and questioned by other smart people. We scientists are human, but we are committed to finding out the truth. Sometimes the scientific process includes disagreements along the way. I’m excited about my entry into the process!


Cost to School Doesn’t Equal Value to Society

I could ramble on at great length and venom on this subject, but as time is short I’ll let Captain Capitalism handle Why Social Sciences are Pushed More Than the Hard Sciences in College:

The school I was at needed equipment and gear to teach the kids. This would have required a new building and new equipment. However, somebody got the ingenious idea that they would rent some nearby cheap office space and require the students to get “general ed requirements.” Then in shifts the kids would come in and take their general education requirements while the other students used whatever lab equipment they needed. They more or less doubled enrollment without having to spend twice on the gear.

We go on to find out why there are so (too) many lawyers and why certain fields like, oh, feminist studies, to use the actual example from the post, have become so popular with universities and why there are too few scientists and engineers graduating from same. Although I will say, in agreement with Michelle Obama here, K-12 education in America has some significant problems, and lack of rigor in those years is a huge reason there are way too few American born scientists and engineers.

What We have Here Is A Failure To Teach Math

Life is busy busy busy these days. Just not with blogging.

But don’t worry, Tim’s got a great post about how American schools are failing to teach math – and I have to agree from the experience of my own two lovable fruit whose elementary school math program was english in drag and suffered from the whole ‘here’s a buch of ways of doing math if you ever, someday but not in this math class, actually do math instead of just talk it to death” approach.


If I Kill Diablo, Can I Skip 4th Grade?

So it’s official now: the Federation of American Scientists has come out in favor of using video games for education. Who am I to argue with that?

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars christened them “serious games” four years ago, mobilizing a loose-knit collection of game developers, educational foundations, grassroots organizations, human rights advocates, medical professionals, first responders, homeland security consultants, and assorted others around a common cause. Together–the experts provide the facts, the game developers the technological know-how–they’ve created a nascent industry. Their goal: To convince nonbelievers that games teach just as well as books, film, or any other medium.”Games let us create representations of how things work in a medium that’s built to do exactly that,” says Ian Bogost, an assistant professor of digital media at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the author of Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism. “If you want to explain how a nuclear power plant works in a textbook, you have to demonstrate it with a logical written argument. But with games, the player can literally interact with the model of how a system works.”

They felt it was imporant enough to hold a Games Summit. No word on their vote for game of the year.


The Science of Diversity

Does a diverse student body matter to a school? Has there been any study on its effectiveness at changing attitudes among students? OK, a study at long last a study has looked at this question and determined, that yes, “Children’s racial attitudes may be related to ethnic composition of their school”:

“These findings inform our knowledge about the role that contact with members of different ethnic and racial groups plays in children’s intergroup attitudes,” said Dr. Killen. “This contact, under the right conditions, can foster positive attitudes towards ‘outgroup’ members.”

At last, school diversity has a leg to stand on. With only 138 subjects I’m not saying the study is definitive, but at least this question is starting to be addressed.


Larry Summers

The firing of Larry Summers as President of Harvard is just one more symptom of the death of Universities as institutions of learning and inquiry. A sad, sad day. Larry, you should have stood your ground when you raised the question about gender difference.

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A Day You Won’t Soon Forget

I’ve thought one of the problems with public schools is that the legal relationship between the student and teacher is the same one as between the citizen and the police, and that discipline suffers accordingly. Well. I still think that’s true, but it seems that a principal in Charleston went off the deep end with a misguided drug search, and the police went right along with him with a mishandled drug search. Here the problem is that the police violated the rights of citizens; not the teachers violating the rights of students. And it will be completely counterproductive for future anti-drug efforts since they’ll be discredited by this bone-headed raid. You have to hope that, to quote Zell Miller out of context, “heads will roll!”