Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dude Where's My Lab???

Tonight I will be at this laboratory!

I have thought that this post might be called "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" or "The Dirty Truth of How I Learned Mathematics". Whatever the name, I am on vacation, and have enjoyed building this blog so far with you dear reader, so will offer up the food for thought that follows.

After reflection, work and school are similar in many regards. Perhaps no parallel is greater than the misperception is that work is exclusively where one works and school is the best place for people to learn.
Consider the work one does at home. Even more worthy of consideration is the gym - how many people pay money to work in the gym!! Lifting weights, running long distance in place, and, more recently, doing something called "causing muscle confusion" which is the basis for much of the cross-fittness crazed seen today, are all self-imposed, sweat-generating forms of working! It might be that it is not work that we seek to avoid at all. Rather, we seek to choose the work that we want to do. If our career happens to be something we enjoy, it may often not feel like "work" at all!

School and learning is much the same. We expect to engage in a school experience and learn. Sometimes we pay significant amounts of money for the experience. Often, these classes are not what we would normally choose to learn, given our preferences. I learned math well.In my elementary school years I had several excellent nuns who knew how to inspire through the right mixture of inspiration and fear! Really though, I learned arithmatic because of my love for sports.I learned my sevens-tables because I was an American football fan and that was commonly the score for a touchdown and an extra point. I learned decimals so that I could follow many of my boyhood heroes as they played baseball, and I had to know how to figure out a batting average, or winning percentage.

I was reminded of this nights ago when we were watching the waning of the Perseids. I sat with my son and nephew and as we gazed up, the questions began to pour out. From my younger nephew questions like: "Do any of these ever hit the ground?" and the ever popular "Why?" and its sister question "Why not?". From my 14 year-old son, the quesitons were different but the spirit the same: "What was the name of the comet that caused these?" and the all important "Dad, what do we do if attacked by a bear here?"

The point: curiosity, organically-generated questioning and high quality learning are by no means isolated to school, and the science lab! Why is this worthy of a blog post? So many students and parents are encouraged to take "summer-vacation", and to take breaks from school, and yet these become breaks from learning. In so many corners it's as if a line from one of my favorite sonrs, the Humpty Dance by Digital Underground (surprised?!) is shouted "Let's get stupid!". This is a mostly American and European phenomenon. In countries where education is more highly valued one views learning as an act as necessary to life as breathing. Countries like China, India and Japan are characterized by people who understand that work, learning, fun and fulfillment are lifelong, continuous activities.

So, the lab is mobile, and in fact is wherever you want it to be. In this time where you are closer to being anywhere, anytime, the opportunites to experiment and collect data, to draw conclusions and analyze facts are plentiful! For my part, I will go to see a Pittsburgh Pirates game tonight where I will no doubt study Andrew McCutchen's slowly decaying batting average and the exciting prospect of my favorite baseball team finishing with an above-.500 record for the first time in 20 years. Then Steeler training camp tomorrow to obsess over measurables like how long it takes a wide reciever to run the 40 yeard dash moreso than need be. Your turn! Tell me about your favorite leisure-time or vacation geeking out to numbers or studying science. Do you collect sea shells? Have you ever calculated trip time or miles per gallon for a car? Let me hear about it and I promise I will get back to work soon, even though my work is a lot like fun much of the time!

Bonus: Does anyone know the inside conncetion between the rest of my vacation plans and the title for this blog post?

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