Children Are The Future


Some things never change.

I started working at the newspaper in Indianola, Miss., The Enterprise-Tocsin, 15 years ago this month.

And because I started working there in mid-August, among the first stories I got to do were the annual new-teacher profiles, which was convenient, because they were very easy stories to do. We gave the school districts a questionnaire to have each teacher fill out, and then typed up their responses.

Most of it was fairly straightforward — name, hometown, education background, previous teaching experience, etc.

But there was question that was designed to be more open-ended, to allow the teachers to show some of their individual personality.

Or so we thought.

What we didn’t realize was that the question had a correct answer.

The question was, “What is your philosophy of teaching?”

We had believed that each teacher would have their own personal philosophy. But it turns out, while there are the occasional renegades here and there, there apparently is one correct philosophy of teaching.

To illustrate this, allow me to share some selected passages from responses in a recent edition of The Enterprise-Tocsin — again, a full decade and a half after I first started typing up this response:

“My philosophy on teaching is that all people are life long learners and that all students have the capability to learn.” — Travis Dent

“I believe in every child and that every child has the ability to learn.” — Natasha Dew

“I believe that all children have the ability to learn regardless of their learning style and their rate of learning.” — Linda Jones-Scales

“My teaching philosophy is that every child can learn and they are our future leaders.” — Felicia Brooks

“My teaching philosophy is that every child can learn and with the right amount of motivation from a teacher and effort on their end, they can succeed in any classroom.” — Kevin Phillips

“I believe each student is a person who wants and deserves to learn.” — Kristina Meyer

“My teaching philosophy is the all students can learn, and that effective teachers can teach all students.” — Donna Marie Donald

“Every one can learn.” — Rebecca Kellner

“My philosophy of teaching is that all students can learn.” — Venetia Dunbar

“I believe every child is unique and different and can learn if we, as educators, take them down an adventurous and innovate path to learning.” — Valerie Stovall

I wish I’d kept the previous week’s edition, which had more teachers just stating directly, “I believe all students can learn” in so many words, but the theme is still very much apparent in that collection.

And I’ve always wondered why it’s that way. Why is there one correct answer? Is it something that just occurs to all teachers naturally, or is there like an Education Philosophy 101 course dedicated entirely to teaching that one bit of data? Regardless, it appears that when it comes to that bit of philosophy, all teachers can learn.

Why Do We Explore?



Sure, I’m biased, but this is rather cool, if I do say so myself.

A couple of weeks ago, posted a new storybook, Why Do We Explore, to the NASA Kids Club.

I’m biased because, if you play the thing, you’ll find that the narrator’s voice may sound familiar. Helping to write the words and recording the audio was one of the last things I did while working with NASA.

And, really, it’s a nice legacy. Leaving NASA was one of the harder decisions I’ve had to make. It was much more than a job for me; it was something I believed in. I love that I was able to leave that storybook behind as a key feature in the Kids Club. As a child, I was greatly inspired and excited by the early shuttle flights and other NASA missions, and now, even after I’m gone from the agency, I’ll still be helping to inspire and excite a new generation of kids to continue the grand adventure of exploration.

Human spaceflight is at a huge crossroads right now, and the next decade or so will be quite interesting. But the current uncertainty someday will pass, and today’s children will continue the voyage into the cosmos.

I’m honored to have had the opportunity to play a very very tiny role in that future.



Regrouping Subtraction

Math is hard.

That’s what I learned Tuesday night. It didn’t seem that hard. Basic subtraction. What’s 56 minus 7? Easy, right?

But what I was reminded of is that it’s easy only because I’ve been doing it for the better part of three decades until it’s second nature. I no longer think about why 56 minus 7 is 49; I no longer mentally work the problem, at least not slowly enough that I recognize what I’m doing. I see the problem, I know the answer.

If that weren’t the case, it turns out, it would be tougher. If, for example you were a second-grader learning these things for the first time. If the only way you could do it was to know why it works the way it does, if there was no second nature.

It’s very fun to me how good it has been for me getting to know Heather’s boys and becoming closer to them. They, quite literally, make the world a different place. They remind me constantly that even though it seems like we’re in the same places, doing the same things, they live in a world that is entirely different than mine. And it makes me realize how much my own world is really just what I make of it.

They live in a world in which much less is taken for granted. If something happens today, that doesn’t mean it will happen tomorrow. And you can’t just assume that something will happen a certain way the first time. They haven’t seen that, they haven’t experienced it, they haven’t built those expectations. They also haven’t seen things thousands of times until the wonder has worn off. They live in a world that’s much fresher, much more exciting, at times much scarier, but much more colorful. They also, ironically, in some ways, live in a world that’s much more matter of fact. Things that adults wouldn’t know how to make sense of they take in without breaking stride. When you don’t have expectations, a dozen surprising things might happen to you in a day, so what’s one more? Something that’s a big deal to an adult might be no more or less unusual to them than the fact that you don’t go to school on Veterans Day. “What? Why not? What does that mean? But why are we off school for that?”

It’s good to be reminded of the wonder of Veterans Day. It’s good to be reminded that things that seem like big deals to me really aren’t. It’s good to be reminded not to take things for granted. It’s good to be forced to stop expecting to see the things I always have, and start looking at what’s really there.

On the other hand, it’s not necessarily as much fun having to relearn math.

It’s simple. Like I said, I don’t have to think about 56 minus 7. I just know it. Even the basic explanation is easy; if I have 56 of something, and take away 7, I have 49 left. But that’s too time-consuming, to count down every time. And it’s not what the teacher wanted. She wanted regrouping tens. You don’t have enough ones in the ones column to subtract the larger number, so you take some from the tens column. Again, simple. But only because it makes perfect sense. It involves making sure there’s an understanding of the relationship between the ones column and the tens column. It involves making sure there’s an understanding of what happens when you “regroup” from one to the other. It involves making sure there’s an understanding of how many ones you have if you regroup some ones from the tens. It involves making sure there’s an understanding of how many tens you have if you regroup some tens into ones. And it involves making sure there’s an understanding of how you put all of that back together to get the final answer. Like I said, math is hard.

We used scratch paper. We got out the pennies and dimes. We worked the problems; talked about what we were doing. I think he got it. Mostly. Enough to get through the night’s problems. I suspect he’ll need a refresher before it’s all over. But that’s OK. He doesn’t have to master it in one night. There’s time. Step by step.

But, you know, I suspect I learned as much about subtraction that night as he did.

Talking Up Space

I’ve been a bit quieter than usual here lately, and part of the reason is that for the last couple of weeks, a decent number of my spare brain cycles have been going to support an exciting project we’ve been involved in at work.

I’ve written before about the fact that my coworker Heather got approval to write an official NASA blog about her work as an education writer. The blog recently reached the end of its first pilot phase, and is currently undertaking a rather cool project — a live downlink with the International Space Station.

After the space shuttle Discovery launches on its final flight next month, Heather will talk to a member of the crew while the shuttle is docked with the space station for about 20 minutes. Live downlinks are a rare opportunity, so it’s more than a little neat that she’s getting to do this.

Since this is a project for the blog, we’re bringing an education focus to the event, and we’re doing that by working to involve students in the interview. To accompany the blog, we’ve established Twitter and Facebook accounts that we’re using to get student opinions. Due to government restrictions we didn’t have time to get waivers for, we’re doing that primarily in the form of letting students vote on which areas they’re most interested in hearing asked about. Even so, it’s a very rare opportunity for the student public in general to be involved in an event like this.

It’s a really neat project, and Heather’s doing some great stuff with it (and I’m having a lot of helping).  I encourage you to go check it out and follow and like and vote and subscribe and retweet and share, etc.