Monday, March 12, 2007

Quick SciFi/Fantasy Booklist.

The following list of the 50 most significant SF and Fantasy books comes from here.

Books in bold are ones that I have read.

The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953-2002

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
  3. Dune, Frank Herbert
  4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
  5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
  6. Neuromancer, William Gibson
  7. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
  8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
  9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
  10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
  12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
  14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
  15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
  16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
  17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
  18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
  19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
  20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
  21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
  22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
  24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
  25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
  26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
  27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
  28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
  29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
  30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
  31. Little, Big, John Crowley
  32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
  33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
  34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
  35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
  36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
  37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
  38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
  39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
  40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
  41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
  42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
  43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
  44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
  45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
  46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
  47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
  48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
  49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
  50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer
I haven't even completed half! However, this list is missing A Song of Fire and Ice series so I'm not sure I agree with the entire list!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Subtitle: too many cooks spoil the broth

We are preparing for the entire scheduling process for next school year (it's an enormously complex undertaking). Almost every school finds themselves behind the eight-ball in late August and vows to start earlier next year. Our high school secretary, Tech-assistant, and myself planned a meeting this morning to get the ball rolling. We invited several others who we felt had a great deal of experience/knowledge to contribute to the planning. Our guidance counselor, middle and high school principals, and the Tech-head all showed up. Our plan had been to lay out a timeframe, and gather some basic information to start the process.

Last year, we used our new computer system to schedule the entire district. It was a massive learning experience. And when I say we, I mean the high school secretary, tech-assist and I did it all. I volunteered about 50 hours during June to learn the computer system and begin the build process. None of the other invested parties bothered to learn anything about how it worked. Head-tech implemented a system change over in July before the new master schedule was built which instantly disabled many of the built in computer tools. Principals 'forgot' to inform us about minor things like teacher changes, class requirements, new electives, other pieces that added up to about another 70 hours of work. Counselor was too computer phobic to tackle the entire process (he has since come around and is much better).

Even with these hurdles, which are completely typical of any school, our trio managed to make some initial mistakes that only became apparent much later. There was a great deal of sweating by all involved with less than two days to go in August but we pulled it off.

Having learned massive amounts of useful skills and some key things to avoid, the trio went into this morning's meeting with huge expectations. What we got were the usual suspects once again not understanding the process and what we could actually do. They spent the entire meeting rehashing old arguments that are irrelevant or beyond our control. Instead of gather the information we needed from the individuals who are supposed to have it, we spent the meeting defending our ability to complete the task. We were the ones who pulled it off last year while learning the system and yet the sentiment seemed to be that it wouldn't work this year. The really frustrating thing was that the doubters didn't seem to realize that we weren't discussing an optional task. It has to be done and it has to be done with the computer system! Why not contribute what we need now and save the rhetoric for later?

Color me bemused with a tint of frustration.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

End of Semester Reflection

Finished the typical marathon of grading that goes along with the end of a semester. 210 pages of chemistry homework, 21 chemistry exams, 75 biology exams, 6 physics exams, 20 8-page research papers, 20 in-class essays and 1 1/2 red pens later, I'm done. Only took 20 hours, off the clock of course.

A couple of thoughts

1 - allowing biology students to right their own semester final is time consuming but gives much better student results

2 - chemistry students still haven't learned the difference between writing down a correct answer in homework and learning material

3 - small class sizes (8 or less) is so much more enjoyable for the teacher and I assume for the students

4 - need to seriously revamp the research paper assignment in anatomy class
a - I really appreciate the proofreading and writing skills drilled into me by my high school English teachers!
b - the internet has destroyed (not enhanced) students' research skills
c - it is nearly impossible to assess a student's understanding of science if they are unable to compose a complete and coherent sentence (I feel like a grammar instructor more than a science teacher)

5 - I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! I get to start my Ecology class after break. It includes cladistics and phylogeny, Blue Planet, E.O. Wilson and most importantly bird identification!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Entitled Generation

Had a student make a request from me that I find funny and annoying at the same time. Since my school is on a block schedule, I have only had 38 total class days with my biology classes this semester. This is even counting lost days to assemblies and standardized testing. School attendance policy is six absences (not counting school activities) before you lose credit. If a student goes over, they have to appeal for the credit through an outside review board. This justifiably eliminates the responsibility of teachers determining whether an absence is reasonable enough to deserve credit. All we have to do is mark the student present or absent, no whining, no excuses.

One of my veteran students (repeating the class) has a total of ten absences. That means she missed over 25% of the entire semester. That is equivalent to an entire month gone. Now she wants a letter from me to the review board to support her appeal. Her grades are passing (barely) and this time around she has turned in all of her work. Somehow that makes it OK in her mind to miss as much class as she wants. I'm supposed to be on her side when it was my class she was skipping? I don't think so! I'm girding my loins for the eventual tantrum she'll throw tomorrow when I break the news. It won't be the first; and, if she doesn't get the credit, it won't be the last!

Update: A pleasant surprise, when informed that I wouldn't write the letter, my student did not over react. She simply said "OK" and moved on, no pleading and no demands for explanation. Maybe she really is maturing. Now, I kind of hope that her appeal is approved.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Preach On Sister Cornelius!

Ms. Cornelius has hit the nail on the head over at A Shrewdness of Apes. Check out her response to a student's asking how he/she could improve their grade. I can't link to the individual post, so look for "How to Improve Your Grade" posted on November 14. I couldn't have said it better myself. The only thing I would add is my own personal irritation when a parent asks this question. Often there is an unsaid implication that I am somehow responsible for getting their kids grade up. Most parents understand that it is the student's responsibility and we can have a productive conversation. However, sometimes a parent's attitude is simply that the you the teacher are clueless and your class is too hard! Knowing what will be expected of the student in the future, I can safely say that my class is not too hard! If anything, it's too lax! If the student doubts this, have them talk with the exchange students who take the class in a foreign language.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

. . . and the roll comes up hard eight! A winner!

Yesterday's 'reveal' of the pineapple was a big success. You can just see the astonishment written across normally stoic faces. They have that wide-eyed sense of wonder like when they were younger. They briefly forget to be 'cool' teenagers and simply start thinking. When that third test tube is upturned and the 'gelatin' is revealed to be simply liquid, my fun really begins. Out come the questions! Out come possible explanations (hypothesizing). Now my opportunity to really teach. I get to point students in the direction of various evidences that clearly refute their initial explanations.

"What does the canned pineapple list as ingredients?"
"If your idea is right, then explain why the control tube is not liquid."
"Did we treat the two pineapple samples differently?"
"What is citric acid and what fruit do you think naturally contains it?"
"What source are you using to support that explanation?"

Students are forced to go deeper, think harder, and search for support instead of simply stating their opinion as a fact. Some days, I really love my job!

As fun as yesterday was, today was a pretty good ride, too. However instead of a well planned demonstration, I had to teach impromptu. This article from the Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences, begged for my attention. I read it during my prep and realized it would work well in my anatomy class. My students have been working on their individualized research projects. The current assignment is to find a primary source article about their specific chosen tetrapod. Over the next two weeks, we're going to spend some time in class and at home working through the papers, learning how to read real science. I slapped the Homo sapiens / archaic Homo hanky-panky genetic evidence up on the smartboard and bam! Instant attention.

My whole prepared introduction to the digestive system was tossed and we delved headlong into genetics, populations, microcephaly, biological species concept, evolution, natural selection and finally ring species. Follow that up with the remaining 30 minutes of one of the best Life of Mammals episodes and you have one great day. I show so many David Attenborough documentaries and my kids love them so much that I think they would be willing to form their own chapter of his fan club! Of course to them, David is simply "that funny sounding old guy" but hey, I thought similiar of Jacques Cousteau at one time.

On the downside, I still have a mountain of grading to slog through. Teacher-nirvana is wonderful; however, it remains fleeting.

Friday, November 03, 2006

On a roll . . .

I love days that go like today went. Sometimes everything falls into place. Teacher preparation, student attention, curriculum content and the stars align to make a great day. Teaching basic biochemistry to sophomores, we started with a short news article about the oceanic wandering of white sharks. I save and print interesting news articles that are used as short reading and writing exercises everyday. The article even ended up tying back into today's lecture.

My presentation of notes was great (even if I do say so myself). My timing was on. The students were attentive and contributed. There were all kinds of cross links with previous knowledge, both pointed out by me and discovered by the students themselves. The use of the Atlas of Macromolecules was a great attention focuser and interest grabber. I only found the resource a few days ago and it is really changing many of my future lesson plans and presentations. We covered (introduced) nucleic acids and proteins. I got to spend time discussing collagen. The kids recognized as the stuff Angelie Jolie injects into her lips. We discussed how prevalent collagen is in all animals, including humans. Then I started down the path of what we do with the collagen of animals we slaughter for food. This led to the fact that Jell-O is rendered and dehydrated animal skins, bones, and gristle. You should have heard the ooooohs and yucks. This gave me an opportunity to emphasize the importance of avoiding cultural bias when discussing other peoples. They can't make fun of or make faces about other people's food if they don't even know what their own food is made of!

The last third of class was the first part of a class demonstration/experiment involving what else? Jell-O. It's the classic pineapple experiment. Students were totally into it. Reasoning out the need for a control and proper clean up procedures. They kind of suspect something weird is going to happen. Why else would a high school teacher care so much about pineapple in Jell0?

I can't wait for the reveal moment next week. It is always one of my favorite days of the year (right up there with Schroedinger's Cat day in Chemistry).

I was so pumped with the day's progress that I stuck around after school and demolished a huge chunk of the grading mountain. The volleyball tournaments had knocked me behind the curve. Now I get to sit back and watch Battlestar Galactica. It's been a good day.