Monday, July 20, 2015

First Steps....Time to Keep Walking

First steps. We never forget them. Our children's first steps were heralded with huge smiles, cheers, claps and the clicks of a camera. We recorded the event, knowing this was the beginning of a new world for our offspring. There would be falls and scraped knees, and bumps on the head; the price of independence, curiosity, discovery. Our little beings were on a risky mission that we knew was so necessary. Yet, didn't we secretly want them within arms length so we could collect them back into our safe grasp? But that is not what first steps are for. It is not an experimental wonder for celebration and then a stoppage of walking. Nope. Once our little ones got the hang of it, we were done. Those wobbly steps of our toddlers would soon turn into adults running from us as they hurry to make that flight. My ninth grandchild is about to walk independently---even as I post this, the deed may be done! While I want her to score high on that 'Denver Developmental Rating Chart' I want to keep her a baby a little while longer. Identical thoughts when her mother--and siblings were eleven months old.

But my world has launched into another love of 'first steps'. And if you know me at all, you will shake your head, roll your eyes, and say, "Apollo 11." Yep. Today was the day, oh so many years ago, when America took its first steps on the moon. I have never stopped loving the stories, history, and science connected with this event. Secretly, I long to walk upon the moon's surface and gaze back on Earth. I peer up at the full moon and am almost a bit homesick for a place I've never been. Is that even possible? While I marvel at the International Space Station, and will forever feel such a kinship to the space shuttle program---and do think we should continue fly-bys and efforts to visit Mars....the moon owns my heart.

I teach Lunar Science with finesse, facts, and an infallible hunger to excite young minds to realize what the moon has to offer. On those early Apollo missions, so many 'spin-offs' (inventions for space travel that ended up as ordinary tools in today's world) can be seen in our ER/trauma rooms, tools, prosthetics, sports equipment and on and it goes. And this doesn't even scratch the surface of what NASA did for the realm of electronics, computer technology, fiber optics, etc. But the reason we need to seriously consider lunar exploration is because the moon's regolith is abundantly rich in Helium 3 gas. This would be a clean, stable, fuel source for our planet. A very small amount of Helium 3 gas can support a vast amount of our fuel needs. Solar winds deposit this gas into the soil of our own natural satellite. We are past collecting moon rocks for museums; it is time we attain a very real fuel source from our closest neighbor. Oh, by the way. A lunar base/outpost makes perfect sense if we are serious about mining asteroids, exploring planets, and becoming knowledgable beings in our lovely, spiral Milky Way galaxy.

There is much to celebrate regarding those "small steps for man; giant leaps for mankind." Our lunar pioneers gave us so much more than just science. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins captured the American spirit by being brave, problem solvers dedicated to an assignment that had no guarantees. Oh yeah. A word about the unselfish act of Michael Collins....the Apollo 11 astronaut no one remembers. He was the one in the command module, orbiting while the other two left footprints on the moon. Almost NO ONE ever remembers the names of the guys who orbited in the command modules. This is a lesson in unselfishness that I always share with kids. I tell them it is like this: two kids/astronauts get to go to Disney World/moon, while the other kid/astronaut gets to drive around the parking lot/orbit in space. NASA trained the best and assigned the jobs--no whining allowed. One part of the equation that is omitted in space exploration is the 'me me-pick me-look at my space selfie' moronic thinking. It is teamwork, cooperation, and following instructions, and years of perseverance. Already I can think of folks that couldn't hack it.

I am sure most of you have clicked off this post by now. I get it. I hooked you with a line about babies walking and took you to the moon. Well, this is how I roll. I salute the space-faring American astronauts who did what no one had done before: visited our planet's moon and came home to tell about it. One of my female students had the most awesome quote on her binder:
          "Don't tell me the sky's the limit when I know there are footprints on the moon."

The next week the class and I built an imaginary lunar base/outpost in class---as I have done for so many years of teaching. It is my best lesson in which I combine scientific principles with imagination. The kids are so excited with their research and final product there are no words here to describe it.

They are simply, "over the moon."

We owe them to return. And I am sure that those Apollo astronauts will be cheering us on.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

'To Kill a Mockingbird' Once a Classic Always a Classic

So, Harper Lee has taken the world by storm, once again. Way to go! On July 11th, 1960, she set the literary world on its ear by creating a story rich in character, theme, and social overtones which resulted in the book being banned in many libraries. That is fame in itself, if you ask me! Write a book that teens will read and make them think. Wow...dangerous stuff back in the day.

Now we are ready for 'Go Set a Watchman' to be released. The title is straight out of scripture. It tells the watchman, that if he does not sound a warning to whom he is called to protect, he will be held accountable for judgment and punishment by God as much as those who did not heed the warning. Well, there were all kinds of warnings and sirens in 'Mockingbird'.

But here is what I know. I have loved Atticus Finch since the day I finished the book. I adored Scout and her perspective on life and how the story just flowed like a lazy southern river. It had every component that made it a classic. When defining a classic to my students, the number one quality is that it withstands the test of time. The world can go from number two pencils to calculated fly-bys past Pluto, and good literature, art, music, will connect those worlds for us in a way we will not forget.

Or, let's look at it another way. In 'Mockingbird' Scout/Jean Louise is telling the story as a seven year old. One of the most critical aspects of writing is creating an authentic 'voice' for each character. Author Harper Lee nails it with every person we meet. Scout reveals a love and reverence for her father, Atticus. Think about it. As seven year olds, didn't we all consider our parents to be perfect? Didn't they reveal the world to us, complete with filters and careful lies? Scout processes her world from her precocious and southern point of view. It is, well, classic! And then the story came to the cinema, cementing poignant dialogue and events in our minds, and becoming a classic in another genre.

Now, Scout, is a grown woman, having abandoned her beloved nickname for her given moniker, Jean Louise Finch. And with that metamorphosis comes the realization that her father, Atticus Finch, is not perfect. Well, wasn't that a lesson we all learned as adults? That our view of our mothers and fathers became a bit skewed when we held them up to the light? I think that is one of the biggest 'coming of age' story lines out there. I get it. Why?

Because I was once Scout (little Debbie Martin). I lived for summer adventure-filled days, and with Frankie, the neighbor boy, we would have knocked on Boo Radley's door and tormented that mystery man day after day. I loved my father deeply, but had to learn quickly that the man I idolized fell fast and hard---with many folks watching. And then it happened. I grew up to be Jean Louise (Debbie Martin Coffing-Hall) and learned that I was as imperfect as the next guy and am still living in a world harboring a hate that divides people, cultures, and countries. I have always tried to savor my days as 'Scout' and the love of an imperfect father. Oh....that neighbor boy, Frankie? We see one another and laugh at every crazy prank and person we encountered in our youth. In our minds, we remain Scout and Jem.

So now you have it. I will read the new/old book by Harper Lee. I am anxious to meet Scout again as a grown-up. Yeah, it is time to see how we did. I have been warned not to read it as it will ruin my ideal of Atticus. Naw....nothing will do that. 'Mockingbird' and I have been companions for so many years. I have carried my love for this literary work into naming my pets: Scout, Atticus, Harper, and Boo. Besides that, I have had plenty of practice in loving imperfect people.

After all, I am one of them.

Bring it on, Harper, I'm ready. Scout was always brave. And forgiving.

Let's see if I can be as well.