I spent all Saturday with hundreds of science-loving middle school girls at Utah’s Expanding Your Horizons. The girls had dozens of workshops to choose from. I taught one on light.
The event is put on to “motivate young women in science and mathematics”, but from the conversations I had with these girls, most of them are already there. Beyond motivated. One quiet 6th grader pulled me aside and asked, “what’s your take on the recent finding that a neutrino traveled faster than the speed of light? How will it impact science if Einstein’s theories are wrong?”
. . .
During the final assembly, I sat by a 7th grader who cupped her hands over her heart and exclaimed:
–“This has been the best day of my whole year!”
—me, smiling: “You’ve had a good time today, huh?”
—7th grade girl: “OH yeah! I couldn’t come last year because my parents couldn’t afford it. But this year I saved up my allowance money so I could come.”
—me: “Wow. You paid your own way to come here? How much did it cost?”
—7th grade girl: “$16”
—me: “How much money do you get for allowance?”
—7th grade girl: “1 dollar a week.”
—me: “That’s impressive. You saved your allowance money for 16 weeks to be able to come spend a full Saturday doing science?”
—7th grade girl: “Well, one week I got 2 dollars.”
I still regret that I didn’t reach into my wallet and hand her the $20 bill I had sitting there, to help her come again next year.
Fall is here in full force (nod to the full moon on the same day as the fall equinox)! While I anxiously await jumping into my first leaf-pile of the year, I thought I’d just give a little recap of some summer highlights.
- Summer began as any well-respecting Wisconsinite might wish: with snow!
- It did a number on my tomato plants, but my harvest is still plentiful. Here’s a look into my bag after a recent harvest from my community garden, and a photo I treasure of my cantaloupe babies. They are definitely adolescents now, but are still in need of the vine.
- Early this summer I was privileged to be present when my sister was called and set-apart as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She will spend the next year-and-a-half living on a small northern island in the Philippians, serving the people and teaching them about how the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring added happiness and peace to their lives. Here’s a picture from the last time I saw her, as well as one she just sent home:
- While the summer was still green and lush, I spend as many evening after work as possible roaming through the mountains:
- Here’s a shot from one hike with my friend Kelsey- just days before she took off on a mission to Florida:
- In June, my work flew me out to San Francisco to do some training at the nation’s oldest science museum, the Exploratorium. The PIE (Playful Inventive Exploration) training was hands-down some of the most inspiring education I’ve ever received. More to come shortly on how we’ve been using that training to inspire more innovation and creativity from the middle-schoolers I work with. Here is a picture of me outside the museum, inside the workshop space, and beside some lovely sea lions down on pier 39:
- I flew on an overnight flight from CA to WI to spend a week in the great outdoors with my dear family. Here we all are under uncle Bob’s tarp. The thunderstorms helped us to get extra cozy!
- I spent Independence Day with my brothers, sister-in-law, and nieces at the Bees Stadium. Nothing like thousands of people cuddled on blankets, watching small explosions in the sky:
- I also spent some time exploring natural hotsprings:
- Discovered a new species of maple:
- (kidding about the maple….well maybe. Have you ever heard of a variegated maple?)
- Joined a group of daring souls on a search for the infamous kokanee:
- Saw some sunsets that literally brought me to my knees:
- Traveled through Utah wilderness with dear WI friends and family:
I’ve been on the road for the last few weeks, sharing the love of science with middle schoolers. I contributed another entry to The Leonardo’s blog, sharing some of the ingenuity I’ve seen from these kids. Click on the link or the picture below to read about how one group of 8th graders used my de-constructed monkey in the creation of a chain reaction.
I feel pretty lucky that my work takes me to the far reaches of the state. Our most recent stops for The Leo on Wheels were Escalante and Tropic. Both high schools (spanning 7th to 12th grade) had maybe 100 students, with only one science teacher for the entire school. The combination of small town charm and heart-stopping wilderness made me really reconsider possibilities for future places to live. Let me show you some highlights:
Our truck and trailer bathing in the morning light, parked between the school where we worked and the gas station that fed us. (Most cafes and restaurants were closed for the season).
This is what the landscape looked like for miles of driving. Nothing but geologic history on all sides. I have never had a harder time keeping my eyes on the road while driving.
We learned that the air is so clear here during the winter (when inversions are trapping pollution in the big cities) that it’s possible to see up to 200 miles in distance…or an area the size of New Hampshire!
AND (!!) We were invited to watch the Escalante High’s theater production… a captivating murder mystery.
We also visited Bryce Canyon. I had no idea that place was so magical. Looking at this erosion art felt like a combination of wandering through the ruins of an ancient civilization and cloud-gazing. Here is the castle where I would set up my homestead:
And behind this bush is the cathedral where I would go to worship, and probably yodel too:
And deep in this cavern is where I would store my seeds over the winter:
And here is the daddy-long-leg tree that will teach us to make music with the earth.
And this is where our wise ancestors wait to tell us stories:
And here is the guest house where you can stay if you come visit me:
And when we awaken in the morning, we will use pine-needle brushes to paint with the sun:
Wouldn’t that be lovely?
This past week I took our traveling science museum to Orderville, a town of almost 600 people nestled alongside the Muddy River. We were out of range of cell phone service, but we were just a short drive from some of the most spectacular land in the nation: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Escalante National Monument, Cedar Breaks, Grand Canyon, Glen Canyon… in fact, some 96% of the county is public land. I also learned that after Brigham Young established this city in the 1870’s Orderville become one of the most successful and long-lasting examples of the United Order in Utah. It was a completely self-sustaining, egalitarian community.
It’s still quite the lovely place. The custodians (who cordially helped us unload and re-load our science carts from our ice-covered cargo trailer) knew every kid in the high school by first and last name. AND, get this: the town is participating in a DONKEY BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT in 2 weeks. They will ride around on their donkeys right inside the high school gymnasium! That might just merit another drive to the bottom of the state.
I just wanted to share some pictures from some hikes my coworker and I took after our school visits were over. They include snow-covered Zion, Moqui Cave, and Coral Pink Sand Dunes. I was most struck by the latter. I had no idea there where pink sand dunes right outside of Zion National Park. It was amazing to traverse the fine-grained sand, knowing that millions of years ago the surrounding cliffs of pink Navajo Sandstone were once just as free-flowing. I love how the wind writes its history in the cross-bedding. This land carries the tag line: “Greatest Earth on Snow” – my footprint here showed that it is absolutely true.
You may recall that I found myself an awesome bike a few months ago. Well I finally got it fixed up, just in time for my work trip to St. George. My maiden voyage on the bike happened to be just about as picturesque as you could imagine. I biked up and down the bike path that winds through Zion National Park. The trail crossed many times over the winding Virgin River, the body of water that carved out the massive red rocks on either side of me. I decided it was time to finally name my bike, and that it would only be right if her name tied back to this first glorious ride of ours. After considering many beautiful options, I settled on a name that has stuck. Ready for it?
Perfect right? La Verkin is the name of the town at the mouth of Zion Canyon. Legend has it that the name is a mutation of “La Virgin” (the Spanish translation of the river’s name). This name’s ridiculousness has always made me laugh. And now I love greeting LaVerkin by name every morning and night. You can check out the town’s website here.
I am official dedicating this blog post to the women of the town of La Verkin photographed below.
To commemorate the naming, both LaVerkin and I took a dip in the Virgin River:
Click on the lizard below to link to other photos I took while hiking and biking around in St. George last week. I was particularly struck by Mother Nature’s brilliant color schemes.