Friday, July 25, 2003

A Good Day

My friend John is an educator. I call him that because the term 'teacher' seems inadequate in his case, although he's proud of that title too. I haven't known him all that long, but every time we talk he just amazes me with what he accomplishes.

Today I visited a school where he's set up a program called TEMS, for Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Science that runs over the summer for economically disadvantaged kids. Basically, these kids are exposed to as much career information as possible during the weeks of the program, including several field trips, a job-shadowing program, and many guest speakers. They also do lots of hands-on projects like robotics, environmental science, and marine studies.

There were (I think) four teachers and one 'administrator' for around 60 kids, so the personalized instruction is intense. The kids have to volunteer and be recommended by their teachers during the year, and come from several local schools around the district - free of charge. They're pretty proud of the program, and so is the school district, because the GPA's of these kids has increased significantly after taking part in it.

John invited me to help with the students doing a rocket launch. We (Rachael came along to help too) arrived bright and early (Rachael's prefix for that phrase is 'way too') and met all of the teachers. I could only stay until noon, because I had something to take care of at work that I couldn't let slide all weekend. Next thing I know, they'd completely rearranged the schedule around mine, and I'm being led into the cafeteria to talk to everyone about "A Career in Computers".

Huh? How'd that happen?

I quickly mentally dusted off an old presentation from my kids elementary school Career Day and talked for about 15 minutes, and then spent 15 minutes answering some very good questions. Afterwards, Rachael critiqued me by saying she'd seen worse. Wow, thanks sweetie.

Next came three rotating classroom sessions on rocketry. Same kids, just broken into thirds (the entire group, not individual children - ick). A quick few minutes talking about Newton and physics, Wallops Island and answering more questions. Mostly "how high can it go?"* and "can we launch a frog?"**.

We'd brought three rockets; one that deploys helicopter blades at apogee and rotors down, one biplane that ascends like a rocket and then glides back to earth, and a goofy little UFO type saucer. We picked these because they were least like what people think of when they hear the word 'rocket'.

Next came a short building session. Their rockets weren't ready to fly because the robotics projects took longer than expected. Rachael and I pitched in, helping the kids attach fins and showing them how to fold the parachutes and such. They're going to finish up their rockets next week and have their own day launching.

Finally, we went out and launched one of our three rockets in the school field. We had fun, everyone seemed suitably impressed, and then we did it all over again twice more with the other two groups of kids.

(Rachael's critique: I got better with each session. I assume that by the last one, I didn't suck.)

Some day, when I have totally and completely burned out in the computer field, I'd like to become a teacher. I've come to appreciate just how hard they work and how much more there is to it than just standing in front of a class and talking. No way do they get paid enough. Not even close.

Back to the day. Rachael and I said our goodbyes, grabbed some lunch, and headed to my workplace. I finished up the stuff in the "couldn't wait" pile and we headed home. I mowed the front yard while Rachael picked up in the back so we can have a fire tonight if we feel like it.

All in all, it was just a very cool day. And after everyone goes to bed tonight, I think I'll watch The Evil Dead.

* How high can it go? We brought low-flying models today because of the small field. Our highest flying rocket will reach a mile.

** Can we launch a frog? We don't, mainly because there's nothing we could learn from launching a frog in a rocket that we couldn't learn easier and better on the ground. I'm not a PETA-freak, but I don't believe in casual cruelty to animals either. And no, I don't consider killing them to eat them to be casual cruelty, I am definitely a carnivore.