Monday, August 31, 2015

A Science Guy’s Almanac #5: Inspiration to Teach Re: March 1993

A Science Guy’s Almanac #5: Inspiration to Teach Re: March 1993

August 31, 2015
Re: March 1993

I was fortunate to have been nominated for and selected as California’s Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Science Teaching in 1993. That was a very high and humbling honor. It included what was truly a “once in a lifetime experience—a week of being treated like a dignitary in Washington, D.C.
In 2010, one of the Math Awardees for that year, Sean Nank, did a lot of work and got a book of anecdotal chapters by Presidential Awardees across the years published. Chapter 45: Let “You” Show Through – by C. R. Downing – Pages 295-300 is my chapter. What follows—except for the photographs—is an excerpt from that chapter. Specifically, this post answers the following question:
3)  What inspires you to continue your endeavors in teaching and other goals you now have?

As I write this, I am nearing the end of my thirty-eighth year as a teacher. To my way of thinking, I have lived three “lives” as a teacher. For twenty-three years, I taught biology and integrated science at Monte Vista High School in Spring Valley, California.
My first Anatomy and Physiology Class. They called themselves The Chuckaroos. I am the Chief Chuckaroo and am in the bowler hat on the right of the photo.

Upon completion of my PhD in Education, I joined the Teacher Education Department at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) as full time faculty. Each semester at PLNU I was privileged to teach a special laboratory section of General Education Biology for the Elementary Teaching majors. Twice in my eight years at the University, I was accorded the honor of teaching the lecture section for that semester as well.

Pig Dissection at PLNU.
In 2004 I began teaching at Great Oak High School in Temecula, California. It is my plan to remain in this situation until I retire.
Returning to high school teaching after my time at PLNU was the result of 1) my desire to get back into our state teacher retirement system to reach one of the key length of service milestones; 2) to have the opportunity to work for a person I knew and was compatible with; 3) to open a brand new school; and 4) to teach integrated science again.
I have now achieved my first goal and have thirty years of service in California K-12 public education. The other three reasons have vaporized over time. The principal I went to my current school to work for is now Superintendent of our district. The school is no longer new, as is evidenced by our aged, slow, finicky computers and the fading paint on doors and window frames. Our original integrated science has degenerated from the well-designed thematic course it was seven years ago to a mundane collection of loosely connected science concepts across four disciplines.
So, why am I still teaching? If you ask my wife, she would say because it is what I do best—that is part of it for sure. The real reason I am teaching now, and will continue to teach for at least two more years is this: I am blessed to work with two of the best teachers I have ever known--Jen and Rachel. Each day they inspire me. Each has overcome personal tragedies in the year 2010-2011 that I cannot imagine overcoming. I was privileged to live that year with them—they are my heroes.
Rachel (Supergirl) and Jen (purple wig) join me (Buzz Lightyear) and Teresa (Operation Game)
In spite of the physical and emotional trauma in the lives of these two teachers, they continue to come to school each day, to engage students in meaningful and innovative ways. They also provide me with an overarching purpose—helping to equip the next generation of superior science teachers to lead and inspire.
Excerpted from:

I pray for nearly 50 teachers by name every Monday-Friday during the school year. They are relatives, colleagues from MVHS or GOHS, or were students in my Teacher Education classes. As Christa McAuliffe, speaking for all teachers, wrote,
I change the world… I teach.
I retired from full time teaching in June of 2012. I miss the kids and colleagues. The other stuff… not so much!

Next Almanac: A History of Injury

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Not Quite Random Thoughts on Revising What You’ve Written

Not Quite Random Thoughts on Revising What You’ve Written

I have been writing a long time; since 1st-grade, for sure, in 1956. I consider myself to be a good writer. Two publishers agree with that assessment enough to publish books I authored or co-authored. Both asked if my manuscripts had been professionally edited before I submitted them.

I was in a quandary. What answer were they looking for?
I answered truthfully, “no.”
They seemed to be impressed.
I took their response to mean I’d done all the editing I need to do.


I have recently pulled two of my CreateSpace books down while I re-edited. I found HUNDREDS of typos, etc… in each. I was embarrassed. And, I vowed it would not happen again.

Therefore, I have been much more conscientious with what I think is finally edited. Recently, I have included one of my good friends who enjoys “finding glitches” when she reads. She now reads all my manuscripts before I do my final edit.

Just last week, Laura Vavz, an outstanding blogger who did a review for The Observers, posted a blog: 5-Writing Apps I can’t live without. I read the article. I downloaded one of the Apps she recommended: Hemingway.

I tried it immediately. I will use it on all my manuscripts before submitting them.

This software does NOT edit for you. It does provide color-coded segments of your text with issues: passive voice, adverbs, difficult reading, very hard to read. It also provides a Grade Level approximation for your text.

The spelling checker works better in "Write" mode than in "Edit" mode. While that's a bit of a bummer, the benefits far outweigh the negatives in this APP.

The screen shot here is of the first half of a novella I'm working on. The file uploaded for this screen shot is 10,000 words long.

What this has done for me is to SLOW ME DOWN. I have evidence of manuscript issues that are clearly marked. Not changing them—or at least considering changing them—is very bad authorship on my part.

I am a finisher. While that trait has served me well in life, it’s not the best trait for an author. Editor is the trait I’m now striving for. Followed of course, by finisher.

Next blog: Story Telling VS. Writing A Story

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Absolutely the Last Ramblings Through Social Media – For now!

Absolutely the Last Ramblings Through Social Media – For now!

Since my first blog on social media, Social Media on a Tuesday in June  (June 2 of this year), I have learned many things. In no particular order here are several nuggets mined from the SocMed Fields.

You can increase your Twitter Followers without buying them. You will receive dozens of follows form individuals and businesses who promise 5,000-50,000 followers through their service. Most say they are the cheapest option. I don’t even click on their icon’s in my notifications any more. Floating your mouse of the icons in notifications enlarges them enough to see what they are. On June 2, I had about 400 followers. This afternoon, August 10, 2015, I have 1,620. I didn’t pay for a single one.

Increasing your Twitter Followers without buying them requires an investment of time. I have no idea how many hours I’ve invested in building my twitter follower base. But, if you find folks in your genre, follow them, and keep track of those who follow you back, it’s not hard. However, it does take time.

Twitter Lists make your life easier. When I started I had no lists. When I blogged about lists had seven (6/20). I now have ten, and I will sub-sort several of those into more precise genre—e.g., #MysteryAuthors à Mystery, Crime, etc.—when I have a bit more time. If I find an author I want to follow, I first look at how many people he/she follows. If a person has 12K Followers, but only Follows 329, I’ll probably pass on that author.

On the first contact I make, I place that Twitter name in the Potential Followers list. I also include them in one of the other # lists. When I get a follow back from an individual, I remove them from Potential Followers, but leave them in the # list. I then Tweet them thanking them for the follow and informing them of the # list I’ve placed them in. If they appear to be no more than what might stay a follower, I add them to my private Just Followers list.

Use the Public setting for lists you want others to see. I have only a couple of private lists. I never tell any follower they are in one of those lists. I always tell followers when they are in a public list.

If you don’t use lists, I encourage you to start. I’ve found my twitter-life less stressful since I’ve been consistently listing. Here’s a link to a good article on how to make lists.

I plan on continuing posts about social media each month—there is MUCH more for me to learn and report about this platform. Stay tuned…

Next blog: Not Quite Random Thoughts on Revising What You’ve Written

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Monday, August 3, 2015

A Science Guy's Almanac #3: Encyclopedias Re: 8/3/1958

A Science Guy's Almanac #3: Encyclopedias

August 3, 2015
Re: August 3, 1958

Today’s reference date is not exact. This blog is based on my experiences over several years. I chose Aug 3, because that’s today’s date. Why I selected 1958 is part of the focus of this blog.

In my last Almanac post, I referred to the USSR’s Sputnik launch as the catalyst for changing science education in the USA. I actually understated the impact of that event.

Prior to this date, my family had two sets of “encyclopedias.” One had a kind of reddish binding and looked very academic—I have no recollection of EVER using that set for reference. The other set was from a grocery store as a give away for certain dollar amounts of food purchased. It was colorful. 
The pictures from that set ended up in just about every report we did in elementary school. However, neither of those sets of encyclopedias was enough to help us catch and pass the Communists.

So, in 1958, we bought The World Book Encyclopedia from a traveling salesman. My mom still has this set—complete with useless maps containing countries that no longer exist—and about fifteen “yearbooks” to keep us updated on crucial events.

My sister and I—and my parents’ grandchildren—used those World Books all the way through school.

In addition to encyclopedia set, my parents had what were probably books of the month on a wide range of topics. Some classic fiction pieces like Babar the Elephant and lots of Dr. Seuss were there.
But what I remember most are the books on dinosaurs, famous archeological expeditions, and the solar system. These are the volumes that fueled my love of science.

I used to sit and read about Howard Carter and King Tut’s tomb—and become Carter as he moved through the various passages and rooms.

Back when the Brontosaur was an accepted name and all dinosaurs were “cold-blooded and very stupid,” I imagined their size and was astounded. When the San Diego Wild Animal Park (now Safari Park) presented at temporary exhibit of dinosaurs in the 1980’s, my astonishment increased by a factor of ten.

The park had set up the exhibit on a spiraling trail up a small hill. They had done an excellent job of landscaping so you really couldn’t see any of the animatronic dinos until you were almost on them. However, the absolutely most spectacular reveal was at the top if the hill.

The closer you got to the top of the spiral trail, the louder the roars of some dinosaur became. As you made the final turn of the trail as it opened into a clearing, you were staring up—and I mean UP— into the massive open mouth of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The head of the beast was as big as a car. The teeth looked like railroad spikes. The roar was enough to knock you backwards.

As I drove my family home that evening, I thought back on the book about dinosaurs. The next day I pulled it from the shelf where my mom still keeps the volumes that having degraded over time. I sat on the davenport and turned the pages.

The black and white drawings on the thick paper sheets that filled the covers of that book were no match for the animatronic creatures I’d seen the day before. But, it didn’t matter.

For about twenty minutes, I was Howard Carter, John Glenn, and a prehistoric reptile all wrapped into one.

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