October 20 – Big Birthdays in American Education

Posted on October 20, 2014

Birth of the first public school

This is the Mather School at the "turn
of the century" - that is, the early 1900s.
On this date in 1635, the Mather School was opened in Massachusetts. It is the oldest public elementary school in the United States – actually, the oldest such in all of North America!

Back in the early 1600s, the people of Massachusetts hired a schoolmaster to each English, Latin, “other tongues,” and writing. Now Mather School includes instruction in reading, writing, math, music, art, physical education, science, library, nutrition, and computers.

Birth of an education reformer

Also on this date—but in 1859—the psychologist and philosopher John Dewey was born in Vermont. 

He ended up being one of the most important voices for progressive education, and his writings have been assigned to generations of teachers-in-training.

Public education, progressive education

There are two ideas behind public education:
  1. All of society benefits if its people are educated.
  2. Education shouldn't be just for the children of the rich and powerful – it should be for everybody.

I agree wholeheartedly with both of those ideas, but I still do not like what public education has grown to be: compulsory (which means that kids HAVE to go, by law, unless they go to a private school or legally homeschool), standards-based (rather than children-based), oriented on rewards and punishments (although both have been shown to discourage deep, long-lasting learning), and test-crazy (and when I say “crazy,” I mean really crazy!).

It's strange to say that all the countless educators who said they loved Dewey's ideas about education, and assigned education students to read his books, seemed to me to ignore his biggest and best ideas about education:

  • Education is interactive; students must not just passively “take in” curriculum, but must experience, interact with, and explore curriculum.

  • Education isn't just about learning facts; it's about learning how to live. Therefore, schools should be places of choice, of democracy, of blossoming self-reliance.

  • Education isn't primarily about acquiring a pre-determined set of skills and knowledge, but rather it's about learning about oneself, about one's talents and passions, and developing to one's full potential.

  • Rather than having teachers stand in the front of the classroom doling out bits of information, teachers should become facilitators and guides as students do active inquiry.

Public education and progressive education are both great ideas—it's time we combine the best of both ideas and entirely re-make education!

Also on this date:

Heroes' Day (Mashujaa Day) in Kenya

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October 19 – Constitution Day in Niue

Posted on October 19, 2014

How would you like to live on a tiny South Pacific island with just 14 villages, just 1,500 or so inhabitants—and yet be part of one of the most powerful commonwealths in the world?

How would you like to belong to the world's first Wi-Fi nation, with sea-to-sea internet coverage provided for free by the government? (This is easier to do in a very small country, of course!) How about being in a nation that has a policy of One Laptop Per Child?

How would you like to be a citizen of a government that is committed to developing renewable energy from solar panels installed at the high school, the hospital and the power company? And how would you like to be in a nation so small you only need one high school, hospital, and power company?

How would you like to live on a raised coral atoll that has been pushed up from below so that it has cliffs, some 60- to 100-foot tall?

If all of this sounds grand, check out Niue, a self-governing South-Pacific island nation that is in free association with New Zealand and, therefore, the United Kingdom!

To learn more about Niue, check out this earlier post

Also on this date:

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October 18 – Bridge Day

Posted on October 18, 2014

Do not (I repeat – DO NOT) jump off a bridge!

Unless you have been highly trained in B.A.S.E. jumping with parachutes. And you are an adult. And you have official sanction to make the jump.

Even then!

Even under all of those conditions, I still would not want to jump off a bridge. Especially not if it meant leaping more than 800 feet into the New River Gorge in West Virginia. But, for the past 35 years, quite a few people have taken the training and made the leap – on Bridge Day!

Of course, most people who trundle out to the New River Gorge Bridge on Bridge Day are just there to watch. This year, more than 80 THOUSAND people are expected! And they will watch more than 800 BASE jumpers and some rappellers going up and down the bridge.

Bridge Day has grown to be more than just extreme sports. There is a farmers' market and a festival with food and vendors. There are music performances and a chili & cornbread cook-off. There are stunt team and car shows. There are down-under tours, in which people can ride down to the bottom of the gorge to watch the jumpers.

Is BASE jumping safe?

Actually, this sort of parachute jumping is far more dangerous than normal skydiving, which involves jumping out of an airplane with a parachute. BASE jumpers are 43 times more likely to be injured or die than skydivers!

How did BASE jumping get its name?

There are four sorts of things BASE jumpers can jump off of: Buildings, Antennae, Spans (bridges), and Earth (cliffs). The term was coined by a film making team led by Carl Boenish, probably in 1978 when their film of BASE jumps started the extreme sport.

How can we celebrate Bridge Day if we live far from West Virginia? And if we, you know, don't want to participate in one of the most dangerous and extreme of all extreme sports?

I personally prefer learning about bridges to jumping off bridges. If you feel the same way, check out this earlier post

Also on this date:

Persons Day in Canada   

Teen Read Week (October 12 – 18)

This year's theme: Turn Dreams into Reality

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October 17 – Happy Birthday, Paul Bert

Posted on October 17, 2014

What is “aviation medicine,” and why is today's birthday boy, Paul Bert, the “father” of it?

Paul Bert, born in France on this date in 1833, studied engineering, then law, then physiology. He graduated from university as a doctor of medicine and (later) as a doctor of science, and he became a professor and researcher.

(He also became a politician who worked to liberate “national education from religious sects, while rendering it accessible to every citizen.” In other words, he wanted a good, secular education to be available to all.) 

In Bert's scientific research, he studied many things, but he is especially known for his studies of the effects of air pressure—including high and low air pressure—on animals and plants.

Did you know that oxygen can be a poison if there is too much of it in our body tissues? Divers who breathe oxygen at higher-than-normal partial pressures have to worry about oxygen toxicity, and people who breathe oxygen from tanks for other reasons have to take care as well. Apparently, the new “oxygen bars” available to people for recreational use are dangerous to those with heart and lung disease – so check that out carefully if you are ever tempted to go to one!

Of course, low amounts of oxygen can be an even bigger problem, even quicker—and Bert studied the effects of low air pressure on balloonists and on animals in a hypobaric chamber he invented. With this experimental apparatus he could simulate the conditions of really high altitudes—up to 36,000 feet! He realized that balloonists who travel at high altitudes should take supplemental oxygen.

All of Bert's data was pressed into service by others once people started flying planes in the early 1900s, and aviation medicine became a big area of research at the beginning of World War II. At that point, the scientists who were STILL using Bert's observations realized that he deserved the credit for being the founder of the new branch of medicine.

Aviation medicine is more than just a study of low air pressure—although that is really important, and obviously air travel requires that pilots perform well! Aviation medicine looks at all the stresses of flight: extreme temperatures, radiation, noise, vibrations, forces of acceleration, as well as low air pressure and oxygen deprivation.

Also on this date:

Mulligan Day

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October 16 – Spirit Day

Posted on October 16, 2014

Today millions of people are wearing purple to stand against bullying and to show their support for LGBT youth. LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender; the Spirit Day organizers know that, no matter what people's gender, and no matter who they love, people deserve kind and fair treatment—not bullying! Be on the lookout for schools, companies, organizations, and public figures pushing purple today!

Why purple?

The rainbow flag has been a symbol of LGBT rights and pride since artist Gilbert Baker designed the first one in 1978. There are generally six colors: red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for art, and violet (or purple) for the human spirit. That's why, on Spirit Day, people wear purple.

What can we do?

Some people wonder what people can do to stop bullying – you know, aside from wearing purple for a day! The Stop Bullying – dot – gov website has some ideas.

Also on this date:

Birthdays of biochemists Henry C. Sherman and Cyril Ponnamperuma

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October 15 – National Cake Decorating Day

 Posted on October 15, 2014

Several websites proclaim that October 10 is National Cake Decorating Day, but others say that this very important holiday (ahem!) is today.

Whatever! All I know is – did someone say CAKE???

(Also, today is my brother's birthday, and October 10 is his wife's birthday, so for me the 10/10 and 10/15 have always been linked together, and also linked to cake!)

There are tons of great ideas about cake decorating on the internet. I instantly found this article with tons of wonderful links, plus this and this other video about easy cake decorating for kids.

With Halloween coming soon, I thought I would check out the Halloween-themed cakes – and, oh, man, did I find some amazingly cute cakes

Here is a simple way to make a spider web design. 

Here are some easy Halloween dessert and cake decorating ideas. 

Have fun with cake and frosting, fondant and candies, sprinkles and icing!

Also on this date:

"I Love Lucy” Day

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