8 December Science 8 Working on Ebooks about Scale and Proportion in the Solar System

Today is available to work on your ebook. I would love to see what progress you are making–please show me.

This is an interesting website: 

Below is a little story about astronomy and how one student reacted.

I was a graduate student in science education at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)  from 1978-1983 and again from 1994-1995 when I finished my Ph.D. During my first two years I was a graduate teaching assistant in a very large astronomy course designed for non-science majors. The course was essentially a year-long history of physical science and astronomy from the ancient Greeks through modern Physics and Cosmology (Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, Big Bang, etc.). The professors who gave lectures for the course were Dr. Sidney Rosen (he was a science educator and author) <https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8620.Sidney_Rosen> and Dr. Larry Smarr (a major figure in the development of the internet)  <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Smarr> <https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/the-measured-man/309018/>.

My master’s thesis was completed in 1981:

An examination of the conceptual structures three nonscience majors use in their encounters with mathematics and science

The study was based on interviews with 3 university students who wanted help with the course. In exchange for the tutoring, these students let me interview them and record our conversations.

As we were working on the solar system scale model in Science 8 these past few meetings, I remembered one of the students I had interviewed back in Illinois. He had identified himself as someone who had difficulty with mathematics and science. He was intelligent and articulate and agreed to serve as a subject in my series of case studies. Notice the emotional memories he has from childhood and adolescence when thinking about astronomy. What do you think of his recollection?

(I = interviewer; E = Edward, a pseudonym.)

The interview picks up where Edward is talking about his interpretation from one of the course lectures earlier in the week. He had mentioned a particular response to the idea of infinity and randomness.

I:  Tell me what you said you used to think about when you were younger. Was it infinity, randomness?

E: I had a time with that; I really did. I used to think about things when I was younger, between eight and ten I guess, and it lasted a couple of years. It would hit me any time. That’s the thing. I could be anywhere and I’d start thinking about it, and I’d get really upset. It would be this kind of thing. I’d be thinking about dying, everybody dying. First of all, when I was younger, I’d always think I was the one that wasn’t going to die. Then I realized how everybody does die and I’d think about everything being infinite. When I was younger, I was very interested in astronomy and I had a telescope. I used to go out and log the stars every night with my father. I used to look at it. Everything was so vast and infinite and I was just this little pea. When I was pretty young, I used to think about things like that, and then it would start getting me really scared, and I’m going to die and decay and end up as nothing, and I’m never going to think again. It used to frighten me to death; it used to frighten me terribly, sleepless nights and everything.

I: Did you have a word for infinity?

E: I used to think about time and the universe; I knew those words. I couldn’t figure out about time, when it began and when it will end. If everything’s infinite, then there’s no way. I used to try to placate myself by saying I’ll be buried under a tree, and I’ll become a tree, fertilizer for a tree. I don’t know; I used to—I never wanted just not to be. It used to frighten me terribly; I had terrible bouts with it. After talking with people through the years I realize I’m not the only one who’s ever had these things, but I had it bad. A lot of it came from my mother who’s a very religious woman. She used to be always talking about God and telling me everything’s going to be O.K., but I never used to believe that ever, really. I used to go to church all the time, but I never really believed it. The fact is that it was always a topic of discussion because whenever you talk about God, you talk about people’s beliefs to make them feel better about dying. It used to come up in church. It used to scare me; it used to scare me terribly. I finally got over it.

I: Do you remember why you mentioned this after class the other day?

E: We were talking about entropy and infinity. I know somewhere deep down there there’s still that creepy feeling about things like that. I think that had something to do with my shunning the study of astronomy. When I was younger, my friend Donald and I were really interested and we even had a little astronomy club. We would go out at night, and I think that kind of pushed me away because when I used to look at everything, everything was so big and I was just a nothing compared to everything else. It really used to frighten me and I used to cry to my mother like little kids do.

I: It seems a strong feeling in you now. Does it or how does it manifest itself in your life now: Beyond the recollections, are you actively influenced by it now?

E: I think it influences me in a negative sense in that when I recall what it used to do to me when I should be concentrating on the concepts. In a class like this where all the concepts like this are constantly being brought to where you have to think consciously about them, maybe I say, “I don’t want to think about this because it used to scare me so much.” Like I can think about atomic structure all day long, but when we were talking about relativity and things like that and the end of the universe . . . that’s why I had so much trouble even when we were reading the Bertrand Russell book (The ABC of Relativity), which is a basic kind of book. I was scared in that book; I know I was. I didn’t think about it that I was scared, but maybe it was a subconscious thing.

I: What form does infinity have in your thoughts?

E: There’s this whole series I go through in my head. Time is forever and forever is just—feels like empty space, black and endless. I get this feeling of endlessness and emptiness. I see blackness; it’s ink black. I don’t think you can imagine nothing, but it’s about as close to nothing as you can get. It’s that whole very frightening concept of infinity. I used to go through the whole digression of how time must go on when I die and I’m just a little nothing. (Pp. 57-59)

About rfrazier

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