Wednesday 11/2

The Art of the Drop In

Dan D. and I have found that a non-negligible portion of our daily activities is responding to students that drop-in to our workspace. It probably is not a deterrent to these drop-ins that we have a swing (yes a swing, a platform on two ropes hung from the ceiling) which some folks use as their main pretense for coming by. Of course, we often engage or are engaged in conversation by the swinger, and that conversation can sometimes wander in the direction of math or science. The question is: do these bull-sessions really make a difference. Sure they are relationship building, and they are some people we have met simply because one of our more regular drop-ins has brought a friend or two who didn’t believe them when they were told that there was a swing in room B4.

The tradeoff we see is that being buttonholed by one student in our room prevents us from circulating in the advisories where more students are and where there are potential for more and more productive STEAM (STEM + A) interactions. Some folks might even view it as a fairness issue, does spending time with one student more frequently help all students who aren’t as familiar with us or with what we have to offer. And, try as we might, Dan D. and I combined still do not get to advisories (where we are welcome to drop-in) as often as we or thy might like us to. My only thought here is that I need to be in advisory more, I need to circulate more, for that is the only way to build relationships and get into more productive and profound conversations. Let me resolve this coming week to putting circulate times into my schedule where I will get up and travel to advisories and engage. With that as a priority what I think might suffer (e-mail time, visit time with others in our own room time, etc.) versus what actually suffers might be totally different.

On Wednesday a few students stopped in who were expecting to do a biology seminar with Dan D. A student P. was first to come by and asked me “does radiation meant to treat leukemia, sometime cause leukemia?” This led to a great discussion and a review of some resources she had found on the topic. We concluded that radiation (unfocused and general) had four possible effects: kill cancer cells, harm dna of cancer cells, kill healthy cells, harm dna of healthy cells. From leukemia we had generalized to generic cancer cells, what they are, what makes a cell cancerous, how do cancer cells behave, what is the big deal about that behavior. The discussion of radiation necessitated some background on the electromagnetic spectrum, which so pervades our lives even beyond the narrow band that is visible light (i.e. radio, TV, cell phone, wireless internet). I probably even caused some undue alarm when I said that x-rays themselves were radiation and could be potentially harmful, but reminded P. that focused radiation was the key and lack of repeated or prolonged exposure over time probably meant little risk of cancer. More dangerous I said was probably overexposure to sun, as it has been shown to cause skin cancer, at which, O. and F., two other students who had joined us, felt obliged to chime in. We laughed a little at the lack of sun, generally in Western Washington and hypothesized that the rate of incidence of cancer in Eastern Washington, where there is generally more sun, would be higher than the rate of incidence of cancer in Western Washington. At which F. said but there are more people in W. WA than there are in E. WA. I acknowledged that the population difference was real, but that when you are talking about rate of incidence you are normalizing, i.e. taking out the effects of different sample sizes, your data and should still be able to measure if there is a trend or not.

The conversation eventually went to physics, metaphysics, religion, and a whole host of topics that were only tangentially related, at best, to the original question. However, the value of such conversations might be underestimated unless one considers that they were basically STEM related, and that they modeled real inquisitive discourse, with some questions and hypotheses being raised any of which might be a highly interesting or fruitful course of further study. Given that the school fosters student-driven inquiry, and interest-based study, was that 30-45 minutes of more or less value to P., O. and F. than a formal classroom and lecture? A good question.

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