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Bill Nye of Science Guy fame joins this season's cast of Dancing with the Stars. (AP Photo/ABC, Ida Mae Astute)

Bill Nye brings STEAM to Dancing with the Stars

By Correspondent / 09.24.13

Bill Nye (The Science Guy) has made Dancing with the Stars STEAMy in a family-friendly way by combining Science Technology Engineering Art and Science on the dance floor to make geek gold.

Mr. Nye has always raised the level of teaching science to an art form. This week he took the dance floor dressed as Beethoven, dancing to Beethoven’s Fifth symphony with a powdered wig that he cleverly employed to make a poofy cloud of powder during a moment of frustration in the dance. The theme for his dances so far have been rooted in science. He’s learning the math of keeping time and engineering a new way to win this show by being a fan favorite, if not the best dancer.

“Following last week's 14 out of 30-point cha cha, Nye ... and partner Tyne Stecklein showed a little improvement on Monday night with a 17-point Paso Doble, but it wasn't enough to keep them from the bottom of the leader board, with judge Carrie Ann Inaba critiquing his footwork,” according to People Magazine.

Here’s the deal where parents like me are concerned, we don’t care how many points Nye made with the judges. What counts with us is how he scored with kids who believe that you have to choose between being “the smart kid” and being “the popular kid.”

I have spent the past six years working with inner city kids who think that their only path to acceptance and success in life is to perform on a stage or a ball field, not a classroom.

The girls think they have to twerk their way to the top, and the guys see themselves in a limo that they got thanks to either gangsta rap, NBA, or NFL.

I’m not saying that Nye’s Beethoven is really going to compete with Miley Cyrus nude on a wrecking ball, a blunt-smoking rapper, or a former NBA star who is hob-nobbing with Kim Jong Un, but it’s a start.

Nye is a fan favorite, and to prove it the front row of fans were MENSA members (minimum IQ for members is 132).

Although I would have preferred they not be mocked by host Tom Bergeron for their lab coats. “Which only proves that you can be brilliant and have no fashion sense,” Mr. Bergeron added after introducing a line of people with the combined intellectual horsepower to launch a space station of their own design.

The thing nobody is laughing at is the fact that Nye and Tyne Stecklein’s week 1 cha cha set to “Weird Science” had a record-breaking 3.2 million YouTube views, according to People.

At the beginning of the video Nye meets his partner for the first time and hands her flowers in a glass container. He asks her, “Is that a beaker or a flask?” She is flustered saying, “Oh, gosh! I don’t know.”

True to the science guy kids and parents adore, Nye said, “A flask. A flask has a neck.”

Judging from the comments posted on YouTube I don’t think those record-breaking views came from the demographic DWTS usually attracts, but those who grew up watching Nye perform weird scientific demonstrations that inspired them to learn more.

While Nye may not prove to be the winner of DWTS his performance already seems to be a successful experiment in mixing smart into the popularity formula.

A student works on homework assignments during study hall at the International Community School in Stone Mountain, Georgia. (Mary Knox Merrill / The Christian Science Monitor )

Homework: Is there any point?

By / 09.23.13

“Memorization, not rationalization.”

That's the credo at the core of Karl Taro Greenfeld's story in this month's Atlantic about doing his 13-year-old daughter's homework for a week. The motto is her guide for surviving the hours upon hours of work required of her after hours upon hours of school, and it reflects the truth at the core of the exercises she plows through: an emphasis on the sheer volume of rote labor.

He dramatizes the problem in one succinct, powerful paragraph:

One evening when Esmee was in sixth grade, I walked into her room at 1:30 a.m. to find her red-eyed, exhausted, and starting on her third hour of math. This was partially her fault, as she had let a couple of days’ worth of worksheets pile up, but it was also the nature of the work itself. One assignment had her calculating the area and perimeter of a series of shapes so complex that my wife, who trained as an architect in the Netherlands, spent half an hour on it before coming up with the right answers.

The Atlantic also features a sort of companion story by a teacher called "Should I Stop Assigning Homework?" It lays out the pluses of homework (allowing the completion of more ambitious projects such as reading whole novels, keeping up appearances vis-a-vis other teachers) and the downsides (no measurable improvement in learning, the act of taking away time from students that could otherwise be used to play or relax or otherwise enjoy their lives.)

Both of these stories are primarily anecdotal and opinion-driven, but they don't exist in a vacuum – there is a mountain of doubt about the effectiveness of cramming kids full of testable knowledge and turning school into a round-the-clock job (see also: the Chinese education system groping for a way to throttle back on the cram-school mentality in order to encourage independent thought and creativity.)

It's easy to read stories like this in a leading journal of liberal egg-headedness like the Atlantic and dismiss them out of hand – surely, more work must lead to smarter, more disciplined students and better scores in the long run. But scientific studies of homework don't back that up – for example, this 2011 study in the Economics of Education Review demonstrates that while math homework helped students learn, homework in science, English and history was shown to have "little to no impact" on test scores.

A 2005 study cited by Taro Greenfeld notes that "some of the countries that score higher than the U.S. on testing in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study – Japan and Denmark, for example – give less homework, while some of those scoring lower, including Thailand and Greece, assign more."

A "Finnish Miracle" of education - laid-back hours and attitudes, well-compensated teachers, a de-emphasis on competition, high degrees of independence for teachers and internationally enviable education outcomes - may be difficult to replicate in the United States, a far more polyglot nation with severe (and increasing) income gaps between the poor and rich. That said, there may be a way to strike the right balance between creativity and necessary drills, between rigorous education and social and home lives that encourage creativity and – dare it be written – joy.

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Lily Collins attends a movie premiere in Madrid, Aug. 22, 2013. If you’re curious about Lily Collins and head to the Internet to find out, beware, McAfee has ranked the actress as the most dangerous celeb to search for online. (AP Photo/Abraham Caro Marin, File)

Lily Collins deemed 'dangerous search term', cue lesson in malware

By Contributing blogger / 09.20.13

If you're over 35, you might not know who Lily Collins is (this should ring a bell: she's the daughter of musician Phil Collins, and is now famous in her own right as the star of the popular yet 12%-on-Rotten Tomatoes scoring "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones".) But if you're a teen, tween, or pop-culturally keen nine-year-old, you're likely to know who she is and be hunting down more knowledge about the star of the upcoming film adaptation of Cassandra Clare's young-adult series.

And that's probably a bad thing.

Collins heads up the Internet security firm McAfee's "dangerous cyber celebrity" list for 2013. Collins herself is presumably as safe and charming as any Hollywood personality, but her Web presence has become a Trojan horse for grifters running "malware" – programs designed to steal passwords, obtain personal information, and take control of users' computers. According to McAfee, searching for Collins pictures and downloads incurs a "14.5% chance of landing on a website that has tested positive for online threats, such as spyware, adware, spam, phishing, viruses and other malware."

Singer Avril Lavigne, actors Sandra Bullock and Zoe Saldana, and comedian Kathy Griffin round out the top five list, with searches for their photos and downloads having 12.7% to 10.5% chances of triggering online threats.                

Using that which is popular to traffic in evil is nothing new – like advertisers, purveyors of malware just go where the eyeballs and excitement are. Phishing and lottery scams similarly prey upon positive excitement to override our innate sense of caution that serves us so well ... at least under under boring, day-to-day circumstances.

For kids and parents who care to stay clear of malware, the rules are fairly straightforward:

1. Don't download videos from new, unknown websites.

2. Don't log in or provide other personal information to a new site.

3. In fact, don't download anything from anywhere but trusted, established sites – "free downloads" are the chief vector for malware.

4. "Exclusive" news or breaking news content is often the lure by which the young and otherwise unwary are drawn into the malware trap – keep in mind that there is little to nothing exclusive out there anymore with the rate at which information propagates online.

In short, the Internet – like life itself – has its dangerous aspects, but a little bit of caution and common sense go a long way.

Prospective students tour Georgetown University's campus in Washington, D.C., July 10, 2013. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP/File)

College applications: What are schools really selling?

By Correspondent / 09.20.13

Foreign policy brings us the expression “leading from behind” and the phrase might also describe the thing that is parenthood – especially during the kids’ college search. This month, the US Census Bureau released statistics indicating that college enrollment was 19.9 million in the fall of 2012, down by 467,000 from the previous year. Is some rethinking going on?

Twelfth grade is not easy for families. In fact, 10th  and 11th  aren’t all that easy either. The college search has become a three-year effort, previously known as high school, to find the right “fit.” Now fit could accurately describe something you look for in a pair of jeans. The college search is more a juggernaut.

They amass in a frenzy – college recruiters, high school administrators, ambitious parents, testers, consultants, banks, and government agencies enticing with a “come hither” those willing 17 year-olds whose overriding instinct is to fly the coop to anywhere at any cost. Come into the candy store. You know what you want, and if you’re good, we may even allow you to buy it. It’s OK. Spend $100,000. Spend $250,000. Let me show you the climbing walls, the dorm room sushi delivery, the meditation garden. You deserve it. It’s mom and dad’s money? No problem. Don’t have it? Put in on the great VISA backed by Uncle Sam. 

Can kids handle such responsibility? Can they even read a non-digital clock at that age?

The juggernaut assumes that dorm life is necessary for the “full college experience.” And never mind the quaint notion that you might save $50,000 or more by commuting to a college campus nearby. The full college experience perhaps somewhere involves a late-night heartfelt about British poets. But often it is a return to infancy, a process of getting your days and nights mixed up – going to bed at 4 a.m., rising somewhere around 3 in the afternoon for an early class. Every night is Saturday night. There’s usually a roommate with a live-in partner. You’ve got privacy guards that allow others to pay your bill but not see your grades.

This holy grail can be as far away from home as the juggernaut takes it, encouraging you to join the great, nationwide diaspora of young people convinced away from important relationships by programs, facilities, seminars, agendas, which may or may not have a direct impact on employability or happiness. But hey – this is about you. Reinvent yourself. Start over. This is your four years. Kind of like a long spa vacation.

One mother/daughter team returning to speak at her former high school’s college night described the heartbreak they went through when it came time for the girl to move to her “perfect fit,” which was 6 hours away. “Am I the only person in this room who thinks this mother is crazy?” I wondered. Isn’t life hard enough already? There were a dozen excellent colleges within a stone’s throw. Give up the very things that make life worth living because of a major she may not have heard of a year ago?

Sure, some kids may really need to make a break with home for reasons of money or curriculum. And sure, there may be the potential for personal growth. But growing up is bound to happen wherever you are, especially under real-life economic conditions. Perhaps a bit of this is about ego. My kid got wait listed at Super-Hyper-Selective U., so I win.

It’s impossible to describe to a 17 year-old what it’s like to have the world opened up for you by good educators, be they at the two-year college down the street or the Super U. But I wonder if, in a rush for the top, today’s “full college experience” might have become like the football program of an earlier time: Forget the concussion. Get in the game. Tough it out. You’ll be fine.

Cambria Bird, left, and Lauren Grayson, right, look over text messages on an iPhone, Oct. 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Anti-social texting study: New methods confirm old theory

By Guest blogger / 09.19.13

The methodology for study released this past week about teens and texting was new, but the findings don’t seem to break much new ground – unless the news media had picked up on what the researchers didn’t highlight. More on the reporting in a minute; first the study, published by researchers at University of Texas, Dallas, in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

Past studies of teens’ “texting behaviors” relied on self-reporting. This one actually looked at the texts. The researchers gave 172 9th-graders (almost half and half boys and girls) around the country Blackberries and text-messaging service for a school year “with the understanding that their texts would be monitored,” reports. “The participants were rated before and after the school year for rule breaking and aggressive behavior by parents, teachers and in self reports.” At the end of the school year, four days of text messages per student were reviewed “for discussion of antisocial activities.”

“Basically,” said lead author Samuel Ehrenreich, they were trying to answer the question, “does talking about bad behavior predict bad behavior?” And what they found was that – although less than 2 percent of all the texts the researchers examined were anti-social – the anti-social texts “predicted increases” in “rule-breaking behavior” and “aggressive behavior.”

This hardly seems like news. The author himself likens texting to talking. So if one were to examine the tiny proportion of spoken communication that’s anti-social, would one be surprised if it predicted anti-social behavior? What’s interesting, here, is that the researchers seem to attribute influence not just to the content of the communication they examined but to the medium as well.

Ehrenreich referred to texting’s “unique characteristics that make it all the more powerful,” providing “a new opportunity for peer influence,” according to This at best muddies the conclusion. Is it based on the evidence gathered – the influence of peers expressed in the content – or speculation about the influence of the technology itself?

Fortunately, “the study’s collection of messages also found that texting could be a positive force for adolescents,” LiveScience reports, referring to the overwhelming majority of texts (98+ percent) that contained “positive, meaningful communication,” as Ehrenreich described it.

But that wasn’t news, that the authors were able to use only about 2 percent of all the collected texts to map them to reports of anti-social offline behavior. It didn’t show up in coverage at, where the headline read: “Beware The Texting: Text Messages Make It Easier For Kids to Misbehave.” Other headlines about the study were “Teens’ Texts Predict Bad Behavior” and “Delinquent Behavior May Arise from Anti-Social Texting.” At least the latter qualified “texting” with “anti-social.”

Texting among adults is mainstream, the Pew Internet Project reported three years ago, so why focus research about texting and anti-social behavior particularly on young people? And if researchers must, then what does this study add to the public discussion about youth and social media when research has already found that a young person’s psychosocial makeup and home and school environments are better predictors of online (and most probably on-phone) risk than any technology he or she uses? [That was in the comprehensive lit review done by the Internet Safety Technical Task Force at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society in 2008.] Maybe we needed the phone part confirmed? Anyway, because of all the hyperbole in media coverage of youth and technology and to be fair to youth, research that focuses on young people’s deviant behavior in media as well as the coverage of it need a critical eye.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.

Comic Con attendees play Zombie Burbz in WowWee's AppGear truck across the street from the San Diego Convention Center during the first day of Comic-Con, July 12, 2012. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for WowWee/AP Images)

Play gets short shrift in school; new media picks up slack

By Guest blogger / 09.19.13

A lightbulb went on when I read “Learning for a World of Constant Change” by authors John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas. I think I understand now why there’s so much cognitive dissonance at the intersection of new media and learning, not to mention “online safety.” It has a lot to do with how media has changed, and parents and educators are still trying to catch up.

Media is no longer just something through which content is communicated, like a book, periodical, blackboard, TV set, etc. It’s not even just a tool for making things (like stories, videos, blogs, photos, etc.). It’s also an environment – but not just an environment around the acquiring of knowledge or for creating or expressing ourselves. It’s an environment for collaborating with others. And then not just collaborating but participating in something much larger than, say, a classroom project – participating in society. Media is a social context – an environment for participating in and changing the world.

Born playful, not digital

This is the media our kids and students work and play with. Then they go to school. [They're not born digitally literate – not at all – but they are born playful. They are born to learn through play, including social play. Though digital media is perfect for that, they're not digital natives, they're playful natives.]

Media has always been part of learning, but not the kind that’s just as bottom-up as top-down and one-to-many. To put it mildly, media as a set of creative tools and a social context that can be classroom-size or planet-spanning, depending on how you use it, is daunting to those of us schooled in the Industrial Age model of using mass media for mass production education. It’s easy to understand the cognitive dissonance being felt by teachers and most of the rest of their peers, including parents, schooled to teach approved, carefully crafted and packaged knowledge. Adding to it is students’ own cognitive dissonance around both the old kind of content and its mode of delivery (knowledge transfer). Because they can acquire knowledge on their own anytime, anywhere and because – now that media’s social – it’s contextual and participatory, they’re less and less comfortable with the knowledge-transfer mode of learning.

Parents’ tough dilemma

“We’re educating at what might well be the most change-filled, disruptive moment in education history,” writes dad, educator, and author Will Richardson. And yet – although many of us, including those who can’t afford private alternative schools, are cobbling together blends of traditional and Internet school, home study, and other alternatives – we have to send our kids to these places that tie up so much of their time “learning” information that’s less and less relevant to their futures (see this comment to Will’s post by Michele Bernhard).

So as a fellow parent of a high school student, I know exactly how Will feels about sending his kids off to school this year:

“I’m less and less confident that the emphasis of their time in school will be dedicated to inquiry, to exploring their passions, to helping them create real, meaningful work that lives in the world and just maybe changes it for the better. As much as their teachers might want that, the reality is as a system, we’ve hunkered down against any real innovation, cut budget and vision regarding technology, and decided to pursue the more traditional paths for “excellence” as in number of AP tests taken, high state test scores, SAT scores…whatever it takes to get us a high ranking in a state magazine’s annual list. It’s depressing.”

The solution: More play

What’s the solution? More play. We need to take a cue from our children, who are experts at learning through play, tinkering, messing around in everyday life and in and with digital social media, including games. According to the Pew Internet Project more than 97% of 12-to-17-year-olds play digital games (it was 97% in 2008) and, according to market researcher Ambient Insight, game-based learning will be a 2.3 billion market worldwide by 2017. We need more play – ideally, for better prep for living and working in a networked world, in digital environments – in school.

How can play be the solution? Play is what helps us (everybody, not only children) navigate both rapid change and complexity, according to John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas. And why in digital media? “New media opens up the possibility of … deep knowing by providing the agency to participate, create and build,” they write. They talk about three kinds of learning practices that new media allows for: knowing, making, and playing. They correspond with three ways of being human, the write: homo sapiens (“[hu]man as knower”), homo faber (“[hu]man as maker”) and homo ludens (“[hu]man as player”) – that last one being “perhaps the most important, yet overlooked, element of understanding our relationship to new media.” Seely Brown and Thomas cite 20th-century Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga, who wrote the now more relevant than ever book Homo Ludens in the 1930s, as showing that “play is not something we do; it is who we are.” It’s certainly who our children are.

Play navigates rapid change, complexity

Play is all about learning as you go. Play in a fast-changing environment is like whitewater kayaking, a metaphor John Seely Brown uses – only social too, almost like a whitewater relay race! It develops personal and social agency and literacy on the fly, while individually and together processing and acting on the new information coming in every second. “Where traditional notions of learning position the learner as a passive agent of reception … play makes the agency of the player central to the learning process,” Seely Brown and Douglas write. “The value of play is never found in a static endpoint, but instead in the sense that the player is always in a state of becoming.” Think kayaker in Class 5 whitewater – a master of “becoming” – but then add the collaborative work of raids and other problem-solving activities in massively multiplayer online games.

So – in spite of adult concerns about digital distractions and too much “screen time” when there’s a ton of homework to be done – our children may intuitively know something we don’t know (or are beginning to see): that play, social interaction, and participation in digital spaces are preparing them for their futures at least as well as all those classes, homework assignments, and (even digital) textbooks at school. Maybe this is why Will Richardson, I and so many other parents have reservations about sending our kids off to school this year.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.

Actresses Halle Berry (l.) and Jennifer Garner are seen an a hearing of the Assembly Judiciary Committee to support of a bill that would limit the ability of paparazzi to photograph children of celebrities and public figures, at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Aug. 13. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Jennifer Garner needs a PTA, Hollywood-style

By Correspondent / 09.19.13

If Jennifer Garner really wants lawmakers to listen to her plea to stop paparazzi from relentlessly terrorizing celebrity children she needs to go beyond snapping a single photo, she needs to go GoPro on them by enlisting all the Hollywood parents in a film-making effort.

Garner made headlines for snapping back with her own phone camera at an aggressive paparazzi who was filming her and husband Ben Affleck while out at a farm market with their children Violet, Seraphina, and Samuel.

Garner and Oscar winner Halle Berry addressed the California State Assembly Judiciary Committee on Public Safety in August in an effort to criminalize the taking of unauthorized photos of children.

"I am an actress, but I am a mom first," Garner told the committee, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Being stalked has been hard for me, but it's beyond what a child should have to endure. The price paid for pictures of celebrity children is now absurdly high. They have a bounty on their heads every day. Literally every day there are as many as 15 cars of photographers waiting outside our home. Large, aggressive men swarm us, causing a mob scene, yelling, jockeying for position, crowding around the kids.”

Garner is at an extreme disadvantage in this situation because she lives in the fame bubble and may not have the benefit of neighborhood moms' PTA problem-solving style to help her out. Here in Norfolk, Virginia when one of us has a problem threatening our child it’s everybody’s problem. Facebook lights up and emails fly, phones ring.

Ben Affleck will soon have the bat signal to alert him to crime, but Garner needs all the Hollywood parents to light this one up.

Garner needs more than Halle Barry. She and Barry need a PTA (Paparazzi Teaching Association). Time to teach them you don’t mess with moms because, while you may just be looking at one, there is an invisible army of us ready to provide backup.

As a PTA member in good standing in my own community I am deputizing myself to help celebrity moms get organized.

For starters, if there’s one thing I have learned over nearly 20 years of parenting it’s that you can’t do half measures when facing down a bully, let alone a gang of them. Also you can’t go Sean Penn on them and just beat them up when they taunt you, and going to an authority figure (lawmaker) often only makes the problem worse.

No. You need to stand up to them, look them in the eye and tell them, “I am not afraid of you. I do not want a fight with you, but if you don’t stop tormenting me, I am going to respond in kind.”

Key words, “in kind.”

One photo snapped is weightless. However if every celebrity parent put a GoPro camera on their child’s head, baby stroller, and snuggly for a day to capture a child’s-eye-view of the bullies an editor could mine the footage for a body of Cannes-worthy visual evidence that would both sway lawmakers and show the paparazzi one big mirror.

As any dieter knows, sometimes all it takes is seeing ourselves in the mirror or on film, to get us to embark on a self-improvement campaign.

Photographers are living a detached life behind their lenses, sleeping in their cars like trolls, unwashed, ungroomed, safe with a barrier of polished glass and plastic between them and the nature of their actions.

Let the lawmakers and editors see these harridans from the point of view of a child or baby.

Telling people in a hearing room that your kids are just like theirs doesn’t work well because unless the people listening are beautiful, wealthy, famous, and generally adored, a part of them isn’t listening.

However, a child is a child no matter who their parents may be. Nothing is as compelling as hearing their voices and seeing through their eyes the faces of these big meanies.

The first time the paparazzi see the cameras on the celebrity kids they will think Christmas has come early. They will be worse than ever and in being so will give you all the footage you will ever need in one big take.

I think these may be the funniest home movies anyone ever takes, and your kids can laugh at what was once a pack of scary clowns outside their door.

Google doodle: Today's Google doodle honors Jean Bernard Léon Foucault's pendulum. (Google)

Google doodle celebrates Léon Foucault's pendulum

By Correspondent / 09.18.13

Today the interactive Google doodle celebrates Jean Bernard Léon Foucault, a French physicist who in 1851 created the pendulum to prove the Earth’s rotation on its axis, but parents might prefer to thank him for being the big bang that probably led to the Spirograph and creative ways to get kids into STEAM education.

Sure, Foucault’s pendulum, as it came to be known, provided the first widely accepted proof of rotation using Earth-based, rather than astronomical, observations. However, like a hypnotist’s pocket watch the pendulum rapidly entranced artists and eventually our children in a hybrid world of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math we call STEAM.

“Foucault suspended a 67 meter, 28 kilogram pendulum from the dome of the Pantheon in Paris. The plane of its motion, with respect to the earth, rotated slowly clockwise. This motion is most easily explained if the earth turns,” according to the website for University of New South Wales, School of Physics, Sydney, Australia.

“Foucault was the original hipster of STEAM. He was doing science art before it was cool,” said Beau Turner, founder of MakerSpace757, one of many maker spaces around the country where inventors and innovators have access to a variety of tools and technology and can work in a hive mind environment, here in Norfolk, VA.

Okay, he might not have realized he was doing it, but Foucault was where the pendulum got into the swing of things. After the initial experiment many museums installed replicas of his design as art exhibits, infusing the science into the minds of artists worldwide and fueling their imaginations to wonder what the invisible patterns of the pendulum would look like if we could get them down on paper or sand or even in some cases in light.

I was at MakerSpace last night with my son for a bi-weekly Lego League team meeting and told Mr. Turner about the Foucault doodle.  Makers are inventors, an eclectic group of technologists, math geeks, scientists, engineers, and dreamers of all ages.

Maker spaces are kind of like gym memberships for your brain. “Makers believe that if you can imagine it, you can make it. Everyone is a maker, and our world is what we make it,” Turner explained.

Families can join their local independently operated Maker space, a DIY environment filled with the physical tools they need to make their dreams into realities.

Foucault would have taken one look at the place and moved in lock, stock, and pendulum.

So while my son built his robot parts with the team, I sat down at a computer to research and “made” this blog.

A YouTube search for Foucault yielded a “sand pendulum” art video that helped me make the connection between Foucault’s Pendulum, Spirographs, and STEAM. The rest came from the Encyclopedia Britannica and various toy websites including Hasbro which now makes Spirograph.

STEAM powered art from Foucault to Spirograph goes something like this:

S: Science of astronomy was the catalyst so it deserves to be the first letter. Foucault decided to prove that the earth was spinning even though we can’t feel it doing so.

T: Technology is nothing more than, as Merriam-Webster puts it, “the use of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve problems.” The problem was that nobody believed the earth was spinning so Faucault invented a graceful and clever device to prove it was.

Foucault’s device would be modified over and over again evolving into the 1890s device called a harmonograph, a mechanical apparatus that usespendulums to create a geometric Spirography image, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica online.

E, A and M: British engineer Denys Fisher developed the Spirograph, a geometric art toy that draws mathematical curves known as hypotrochoids and epitrochoids. He reportedly based the toy on the invention by Bruno Abakanowicz who invented the integraph drawing device sometime between 1881 and 1900, all according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Fisher’s toy was first sold they year I was born in 1965. Today my nine-year-old’s favorite Kindle app is Geometric Pro which is like a living, touch-sensitive Spirograph for Dr. Who.

The Earth keeps spinning, new toys and gadgets are invented, but what really stands the test of time is our fascination with the art engaging our children in learning. Part of that we can trace back through the spiral of years to a man named Jean Bernard Léon Foucault.

Jessa Duggar, 20, and Ben Seewald, 18, begin dating after meeting at church. (Duggar Family via Facebook)

Jessa Duggar courtship: Big Brother has nothing on Big Parent surveillance

By Correspondent / 09.18.13

Ben Seewald, 18 had to endure a parental security screening of Biblical proportions in order to date reality star Jessa Duggar, 20, the third daughter of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, which delivers the tired old message that parents’ arms are long enough to box with God over matters of the heart.

The Duggar’s strong Christian beliefs have led them and America, by virtue of their reality star status on their TLC reality series “19 Kids & Counting,” to turn dating into an NSA-worthy invasive undertaking.

For starters it’s hard to get past the fact that Jessa is age 20 which is generally a point at which young women have been thinking for themselves for quite a while and hopefully are able to make these kinds of choices by drawing on what her parents have instilled in her.

I would be interested to know if girls who want to date their sons go through the exact same process. I have known parents who screen female prospects just as carefully, like the old queen in The Princess and the Pea.

Also, the Duggar parents are taking a page from the NSA playbook by monitoring all electronic and phone conversations between the couple.

“It has been interesting to watch their interactions because they share very similar beliefs,” Mom Michelle added.

As the mother of four boys, ages nine, 14, 18, and 19, I have had plenty of girls I didn’t care for “go after” one of my sons. I didn’t like it and spoke with the boys, but if it happened once they were 18, I let them decide what to do.

At some point, we must let go and trust both our parenting track record and our own child.

When my husband and I met I was slightly older than Jessa and it was my husband’s parents who didn’t approve of me. They thought his former girlfriend was “the one” for them. Happily, she wasn’t the one for my husband.

I was raised a strict Roman Catholic and didn’t date until I was 17. Then I met my husband and all bets were off. We moved in together and married all inside of three months.

Everyone was aghast on both sides of the family, but my in-laws were inconsolable. They initially refused to come to our wedding. They thought I must be pregnant. I wasn’t.

When they did at last make it to the wedding, they came in black and left before the reception.

My father-in-law refused to kiss the bride and left us with the ominous words, “Hell can be fun for three months!”

Binge drinking has long been associated with college students, but a new study finds that high schoolers are also engaging in binge drinking. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

Teen drinking: Overall it's down, but binge drinking is getting more extreme

By Contributing blogger / 09.18.13

In the midst of the never-ending, drama-driven news cycle, it can be difficult to keep priorities straight. Terrorism soaks up tons of ink, but kills very few Americans on an annual basis; traffic accidents claim far more victims but are viewed as a normal part of modern life.

So too has teenage binge drinking receded from popular consideration – evading the 21-year drinking age has long been something of a national youth sport, and getting a fake ID remains a rite of passage on college campuses from coast to coast.

A new University of Michigan Ann Arbor-Penn State study published this week in JAMA Pediatrics puts a fine point on the problem and its consequences. A sample of 16,000 high school seniors across the contiguous United States from 2005 to 2011 found that 20 percent reported binge drinking (five or more drinks at a sitting) within the past two weeks of being surveyed. Ten percent reported extreme binge-drinking of 10 or more drinks; and 5 percent reported consuming a (literally) staggering 15 or more drinks in a sitting.

The context for these stats: approximately 5,000 alcohol-related deaths a year of people 21 and younger, and an estimated $62 billion annual cost related to problems stemming from underage drinking.

The study (which excluded high school dropouts) found some trends among those who drink: Midwesterners and Northeasterners drank the most, boys drank more than girls, religious students drank less than others, and rural students drank more – rural boys, far more.

The study seems destined to kick off debate from coast to coast, and it has already been picked up far and wide. Stories highlighted a scary rising trend: Bloomberg wrote about binge drinking "turning extreme," USA Today framed it as "1 in 10 high school seniors are extreme binge drinking," and Reuters wrote about extreme binge drinking being "common," which ironically might send an unhealthy message because the study found that binge drinking was more pronounced among students who believe their friends are likely to drink. But these reports all seem to focus on the slight increase in extreme binge drinking and miss the study's findings, which suggest a slight drop in overall numbers of kids drinking from 2005 to 2011.

Largely missing from the discussion at this point are practical solutions, which may be because solutions inevitably divide public opinion; ideas range from a complete zero-tolerance ban on alcohol enforced with vigilant supervision and strict penalties to liberalized drinking laws that would recreate Europe's more tolerant (and, some would argue, more supervised) drinking culture for young adults.

One place to start might be sitting down with your teen and watching a few alcohol-focused episodes of the recently-canceled show "Intervention," which is a profoundly deglamorized and often painful look at the ravages of addiction and extreme alcohol consumption. The connection between the seemingly joyous side of alcohol (the word "partying" may be at the heart of it) and actual impact on one's body and mind can be surprisingly elusive if you're not looking for it.

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