Sunday, April 26, 2015

Stop Mocking Me

As I write this, the count down clock on my blog says there are 36 days until retirement. That doesn't seems possible. This year is going by so fast. I thought that it might, but the reality is setting in. In my distorted version of Latin, tempus fidgets. Oh, there was one "last" this week. Much of life in PV high school classes revolves around AP courses. We offer 23 or 24 of them. The national exams are in early May. In preparation for those we try to simulate exam conditions by giving students a mock AP exam. This year we tried something a little different. In prior years, these mock exams were spread over two weeks or more. It really disrupted the other classes for the entire two weeks. This year we packed almost all of them into one week. This week was a total mess, instructionally speaking, but it was just one week. I gave my last such test Friday to my computer science students. As a result I spent most of Saturday grading them. (Grading AP exams is not for the faint of heart.) The students have 8 school days to finish preparation for their exam on May 7. I realize that some students take four and five of these courses. The next few weeks will be very stressful for them.

One of the hallmarks or distinctives of my astronomy class is that, over the course of the year, I have the students learn the names and key facts about the constellations we can see from Sarasota. This is a lot of constellations, sixty-six to be exact. There are eighty-eight altogether, but some can only be seen from the southern hemisphere. The students learn these two or three each week. Every Friday we have a quiz that is cumulative and I am so pleased that they have managed to learn so much about these. Most of them have missed some items on the quizzes and lost points but for those who manage to go the entire year with perfect scores, I have two awards. They are exempt from the final constellation test and they receive a certificate awarding them the status of Magister Siderium, Master of the Stars. As of now thirteen of my ninety-six students are still in the running for this award, the most I have ever had.

To show how unusual my requirement of learning constellations is in astronomy courses, I must tell you a story. Last summer I had coffee with a former astronomy student, who went to college majoring in astrophysics. She entered a graduate program and, several years later, successfully defended her dissertation again in astrophysics. She told me that the department had the graduate students help with undergrad labs and public stargazes. She knew that she would always get to talk about constellations because she was the only doctoral student who knew them! I, personally, am a little sad when I realize that learning about the celestial sphere and the constellations is not on the radar of astronomy departments. I have had former students tell me, in a pleased tone of voice, how they were able to show their parents/girl/boy friend/children the constellations and stars they learned in my class. <Big smile>

And if anyone asks you what my favorite constellation is, it's Perseus the Hero, slayer of the Medusa as portrayed in movie Clash of the Titans, the 1982 version anyway. The story line was altered beyond recognition in the newer release.

Thanks for reading this post.

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