The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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JellyBiologist Turns One!

Congratulations to Rebecca over at JellyBiologist on the first anniversary of her blog! Over the last year she has been dutifully posting all about the weird and wonderful world of jellyfish and other beautifully alien sea life. Her content is interesting and accessible — she is a true warrior for public scientific literacy.

You should definitely go over there and take a look at the picture of the Jelly Fish cake she has posted. Om nom. Oh yes, and read about marine biology.

Saddle Up

Today was our last Science Content Methods course, which was a little sad. Not too much though, since I know I will be continuing to work with my classmates as colleagues and friends for quite awhile yet. One thing that was really nice was the opening of our “time capsule” of sorts. Last summer, in the third week of the program (seems like a decade ago), we wrote ourselves letters to be opened at the end of the year.  Here’s mine:



Wherever you find yourself, there you are.

(Live truthfully in your given circumstances.)

Saddle up.


Students: Take Advantage of the BSO

IMG_20130115_193645If you’re a student in Boston and not taking advantage of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s College Card program, you are missing out on  one of the best deals in town.

Here’s the deal: you pay $25 once to buy a College Card for the season. Once registered, at the beginning of every performance week you can check via web or automatic email/txt what shows still have tickets remaining. You then stop by the Box Office and pick up whatever tickets remain on a first-come, first-served basis.

The experience has been incredible. My seats have ranged from the nosebleeds to the balconies, and just this week all the way up to the 7th row in the orchestra section where I could even see the facial expressions and gestures of the musicians (and thus exacerbating my nerdcrush on Assistant Concertmaster Elita Kang).

The programs are detailed and interesting, giving me an insight into not only the music, but the composers and the nations, political structures, times, and cultures in which they lived. This season has been heavy on Russian music in particular — in the strains of Shostakovitch, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninoff I’ve gotten a glimpse into the clash of cultural influences and political ideologies that have shaped Russian art from the Tsar through the Soviet era. In the classics by Haydn, Brahms, and Beethoven, I am reminded of the classical roots of western thought. And more personally unfamiliar composers like Sibelius have intrigued me with their struggle for individual and national identity (Finnish identity, in the case of Sibelius) — a struggle that makes me reflect on my own identity and history.

Especially given the stress of the BTR graduate program, as well as the heavy nature of the moral and social questions we are asked to face each day in the residency/practicum, the chance to lose myself in the beauty of music has been a wonderful (and I repeat, outrageously affordable) recharge for the mind and soul.

Fellow Bostonians: take advantage of this engine of beauty in our city.


I seldom end up where I intended to go, but think I have ended up where I intended to be

This felt apropos right now.

Still awaiting IKEA delivery of my desk (among other things, holy $1200 shopping spree), so the desktop still doesn’t have a home, meaning that there are still no photos processed from the Monterey Aquarium and the XC rail trip. However! Brief updates on the new life so far.

City life is certainly an adjustment. Walking everywhere and taking public transit is a change, but its actually nice because the transit here is pretty awesome. So far I’ve bummed a ride to IKEA and Target for the room/apartment accoutrements (like furniture, etc) but other than that everything has been walking distance… organic market, bars, restaurants, hardware store, bank, coffee, bike shop, parks, running trails, water… etc. Very nice. And my roomies are pretty awesome. So, on the whole so far really, really loving this move.

Found a great food market at which food is a little on the high end, but all organic, locally grown, and delicious. The produce and basics were reasonable, but the meat prices were crazy there, so I may have to bike the mile down to the Whole Foods to try that out (once I get my bike tuned). In general though, probably not a bad idea to reduce meat consumption anyway for health.

Downsides so far: It’s hot and HUMID and there’s no A/C… but the fans make it tolerable. Also: I am once again hoarding quarters for laundry, which seems pricey to me ($2/load for washer + $2/load for dryer). 

The photos here were taking during a 15-min total duration walk I took when I decided to post about the area. Jamaica Plain is a friendly little neighborhood in Boston, near Jamaica Pond. It’s very pretty.

Ok, BTR Orientation tomorrow! Got to get my pre-reading done, and probably iron some clothes.

On the crowd dynamics of tragical-comical-historicals.

Theatre by nature is a nebulous beast. It is a living thing, changing and morphing every night. The same actors, the same audience, the same script, but a different night — with different energy, different perspectives, different moods that vary in us humans minute by minute — it can be a totally different show each night.

It’s been a fantastic second weekend of an eight-show run of WITTENBERG, by David Davalos, which I had an exceptionally good time producing and directing.  I expected from the outset a variety of responses to this simultaneously witty, serious, absurd, literary, deeply spiritual, and borderline-blasphemous production… however, the last two shows in particular have been remarkable studies in contrast.

Saturday night: packed house (only one seat left), vigorous energy from the actors, rollicking laughter from the crowd (even at the profoundly nerdy parts), and the general euphoria that pervades everything when you are ON FIRE and know it. The kind of show that everyone remembers was exhilarating but it seems very hard to reconstruct in detail.

This evening: fairly sparse crowd (competing with the California Poppy Festival), excellently acted show, fine sense of rhythm…. but the audience was just DEAD. I mean, set aside the brainy allusions and witty wordplay, even the poop jokes and sex puppets fell on light smirks at best. (Though for the record, if one woman storms out at intermission indignant that I would produce such filth on a Sunday, while another is thanking me for renewing her faith, I think I’ve done my job.) 

I have to confess, despite thirteen years of theatre, I still haven’t figured out why the reaction of whole crowds to some plays just works like that. I have a few theories:

  1. Especially in subtle comedies, where the humor is beneath the surface (or the humor lies in the fact that the characters are being dead serious about something perfectly ridiculous), sometimes people aren’t sure if its OK to laugh? In large crowds, you’re more likely to have that one person who just can’t contain it — the one who lets everyone else know by his or her unabashed giggling that it’s ok to… well, unclench.
  2. With the exception of a few Old Souls out there, maybe we’re so used to media being cleanly packaged for us these days: THIS is a teen comedy, THAT is a high-brow thriller, and OVER THERE is a sappy tearjerker. When ideas come in layers, perhaps we are simply unprepared to respond to a play that juxtaposes a plea for individual spiritual renewal with tongue-in-cheek commentary on Friedrich Nietzsche with mockery of famous Shakespearean actors (in iambic pentameter no less) with Martin Luther’s ecstatic relief after a long bout of constipation is explosively ended? 
  3. Or… Maybe I and my friends are just too nerdy. I realize that its unreasonable to expect that the general population will find a parody of Kant and a dig at Kenneth Branagh hilarious. But it’s not all that level of nerdy, far from it. I mean really, two hours of DEAD SILENCE right after a night in which I was certain half the room was about to PEE THEIR PANTS? 

Perhaps some combination of the above and other things I haven’t thought of. Hmm…

In any case, I’m very pleased with the production and how the run has been on the whole. The actors have been exceptionally captivating to watch in their approach to their characterization and interplay with each other. The technical design is beautiful and clever, and I really have to give the design team props for that. This has been a fantastic production to call my last in the valley.

If you’re local, two more chances to catch it. And if you come and don’t know which way you should react… just pick one and go with it. This is theatre. We laugh, we cry, we scream, we love, which are all choices just like the choices and actor makes on stage moment to moment. But above all we offer a window into the human condition, a window that cannot open unless you open yourself to it. 

In other words, maybe what I’m trying to say is that if you’re ever unsure, in theatre or in general, embrace it… and take a leap of faith.

BTR Acceptance… Running GTalk Commentary

me: i have the BTR acceptance form up
sort of just staring at it
Sent at 12:50 PM on Wednesday

Amy: hah, well you have a few days that you can just stare at it

me: no, i dont need to stare at it
there is no further information i need
in my heart i already know
its just getting my brain to press the button
Sent at 1:20 PM on Wednesday

me: so….
i just turned my brain off and pressed yes
Sent at 1:35 PM on Wednesday

Amy: B-)

me: so i turned my brain back on and its just going ohshitohshitohshit
Sent at 1:38 PM on Wednesday

me: AMY
Sent at 1:44 PM on Wednesday

Amy: 😀
you just made a brave choice to improve the world
it will be difficult, painful, terrifying, wonderful and deeply gratifying
Sent at 1:52 PM on Wednesday

me: /gulp
Sent at 1:55 PM on Wednesday

me: i must be insane
ohhhhhh shit
Sent at 2:07 PM on Wednesday

Quote  Comment

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

-Shakespeare, Julius Caesar IV.3

And… Steve Jobs for the Tipping Point

The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Why Not? Apply Anyway.

So… that’s basically what I’m thinking. Criticisms of TFA as an organization aside, from the research I’ve done, it does seem to be the most direct path from working professional to teaching in a high-need area. Going the “traditional” route means going back to school and doing a degree in education. And further, going the alternative route to certification by directly hiring on with a school district seems to be a non-starter… as cold as it sounds, it seems like programs with the political clout of TFA are the only way to get into districts that are laying off on the whole.

There are similar programs, such as Math for America or The New Teacher Project, but I’m not sure either of these is a better choice. For one thing, I would want to teach science, not math necessarily (and anyway my grades in pure math, while good, would probably not compete in a program focused exclusively on the subject).  MFA also requires at least a year of going back to school and a five-year commitment. TNTP appears to be the exact same organization as TFA, except with a different name and a focus on particular cities over a national program. (Probably not-so-incidentally, TNTP was founded by notable TFA alumna Michelle Rhee.)

Hey school districts: If you are so hurting for experienced STEM professionals to consider teaching as a career, but don’t like the incursion of external non-profits, then how about a nice “STEM PROFESSIONALS: CLICK HERE FOR OUR FAST-TRACK ENTRY PROGRAM!” button that would help this along?

So, I started a TFA application. I’m going for it. Haven’t decided yet if I truly want to do it, but there is no harm in going through the application process just to see what will happen. Initial online application due October 26th, several follow-up steps come after depending on how far you get, and I would know my admission status and where/what I would be teaching by January 17. I would then have until January 30 to decide whether or not to accept.

IF I accept, I see this going one of three ways:

  1. I love it. Well great, now I have a teaching credential and experience in the classroom, I could take my credential and go to another school or stay put and keep fighting the good fight where I end up. This would be the intended outcome of accepting: long-term teaching career.
  2. I hate it, or at least don’t love it, and want to return to engineering or a technical field. Well great, 2 years of teaching isn’t going to erase my Bachelors and Masters in Aerospace Engineering, 5-year research stint at a NASA center, and 8 publications.
  3. I hate it, or I at least don’t love it, and want to do something else entirely different. Well, the above technical qualifications, former civil service, leadership experience, teaching credential and experience. and a Masters in Education (possible in most TFA deployments)… sounds like I could go many places with that. Education policy? Research/science policy? Run for public office? Work for a think tank? Lead somewhere else in civic engagement?

I mean, why not, really? Life is short… I’ve got one shot to experience the world and make a lasting positive impact on it. Is spending the next 40 years in engineering the best use of what I have to give?