Saturday, February 21, 2015

Make the internet a better place...

Okay, I admit it. I'm on the internet a lot. Sometimes it's for work--uploading students' grades, searching for images to improve my powerpoints, updating Robyn James Trio records, etc. But it's usually for fun--reading about friends on Facebook, taking stupid quizzes, and reading BuzzFeed lists. I'm making a concerted effort to change my experience when using the internet.

Some of you have probably read about the person who stopped liking things on Facebook. There's also an article about a person who started liking things on Facebook. To each his/her own. Hopefully most of you know that many websites (including Facebook) track your web activity and then cater their ads to places you visit. Also, Facebook monitors everything you like and follow, and then suggests other pages based on that info. The person who stopped liking everything did so in order to see if his/her Facebook experience changed.

I don't remember that person's results, but I can tell you from personal experience that it gets better when you stop liking everything. Facebook can still tailor their ads to my shopping preferences, but it doesn't know what pages to suggest to me anymore. My feed used to be plastered with ads from some stupid boot store. Thankfully, those ads tell you which of your friends like the mentioned store. Once I stopped liking those friends' posts, the boot ads disappeared.

So the first goal of this post is to make sure my readers are informed. The second is to explain to my Facebook friends why I've been using a lot more emoji (Facebook calls them "stickers") lately. Instead of clicking "Like" on every post I find amusing, informative, or inspirational, I take the time to give a more detailed response by commenting. If I have something specific to say, I'll type that. But other times I just want to convey an emotion that the post elicited. So far I've found something to cover almost every reaction. Hopefully you now understand why there are so many monkeys, Snoopy faces, and other cartoonish characters all over your feed...

Also, it's just fun to make use of all the emoji out there. How can you not resist these?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

TN Science Bowl 2014

Wanna feel old? Volunteer to help out with a grade school competition. Wanna feel old and stupid? Volunteer to help out with a grade school competition in a subject you never mastered.

I always did well in science, but it was not my favorite subject. For four years now, I've volunteered to help out with the TN Science Bowl (#TSB to the cool kids). I got involved through Pellissippi (where I work); every semester they send out emails asking for volunteers. I decided to respond one year, and the rest is history.

For those of you who don't know what a competition like this entails, it's basically like this: Teams from different high schools around the state gather and go head to head, answering questions in the topics of biology, chemistry, physics, math, earth science, general science, and astronomy. The teams have a very short amount of time to answer the toss-ups--as an observer, it seems like you blink and the timekeeper says "time." If a team correctly answers the toss-up, they get to answer a bonus question and are given more time for that. Whichever team has the most points at the end of two rounds advances to the next round. Eventually there is only one team left. The top three teams win money, as well as the winner of the Civility Award (which I'll explain later).

There are different roles that a volunteer can fill:

  • Moderator
  • Science Judge
  • Rules Judge
  • Scorekeeper
  • Timekeeper
  • Runner
  • Crowd Control
  • Civility Award Judge
  • Registration
I've volunteered to be a Civility Award Judge all four years, though one year I was drafted to be Scorekeeper when one didn't show up. That was a stressful day, because I hadn't trained for the role of Scorekeeper! There were lots of rules to keep up with. A competing student actually had to correct me at one point because I had incorrectly awarded points to someone! #yikes

This is the first year since I started that I wasn't able to volunteer, so I thought I'd share some of the highlights of last year's Science Bowl, from a volunteer's point of view. All the Civility Award Judges met at 6:45 am (ugh) to register and go over the rules for evaluating the teams. Basically we observe the students interacting with each other and with all the adults, rate them on several aspects, and then tally our results to figure out the winner. Each judge is assigned several teams, and no team is observed twice. Most of these kids are very well-behaved, so it's really about looking for those who go above and beyond with their behavior/attitude.

In addition to adults who volunteered to be runners, there were also Boy Scouts who helped out. In the first room where I observed, this adorable Scout was serving as a runner. We both sat at a table in the back of the classroom, out of the way. Seriously, this kid was one of the sweetest kids I've ever met. Before the competition began, I chatted with him about what it's like to be a Boy Scout. Once the competition began, we sat there quietly playing with a puzzle that was given to all of the volunteers. It's called a Rubik's Snake or Twist and it's WAY too much fun. The Scout and I kept comparing shapes while the teams were hard at work answering questions. Here are a couple of my creations:

It's the letter "R." Can you see it? :)

I don't know what this one is. A train? A house?

I had a major #geek moment when one of the questions dealt with the second law of thermodynamics. For those of you who don't know, my favorite band's most recent album is entitled The 2nd Law. The overall theme of the album is energy use, entropy, and all that. I'm glad I was sitting at the back of the room so that no one could see me having a fangirl moment. #squee

The teams rang in using buzzers that were connected to a large box in front of the Science Judge. These buzzers were apparently very old because every year there's at least one malfunction. But last year, it was absolutely ridiculous. They wouldn't buzz when students pressed them, and then they buzzed when no one had touched them. It was funny at first but it got old pretty quickly. I wish someone would donate a new buzzer system! We blamed the malfunctions on the Ghost of Science Bowls Past...

Despite all the equipment errors and whatnot, it was a good day overall. There was even a kid dressed in a banana suit. I unfortunately didn't see him, but I'll bet it was hilarious! I'll bet he did it to psych out the other teams. Or just confuse them so they couldn't answer any questions?

Every year I ask myself, "Why do you get up before the sun to volunteer for something?" Then I watch all these talented kids compete and I remember. It's so rewarding to see them get excited about science. Oh, and the goodie bags and free doughnuts don't hurt either.

Got any favorite volunteer experiences to share?

Changing Priorities

I know it's been forever since I blogged and I'm sorry! I have a ton of dreams to share with you all. I just haven't had time to sit down and transfer them from the scrawled notes on my phone into readable blog narratives. So I'm not here to share a dream just yet. As my frequent readers know, I usually remember my dreams in great detail. And since it's currently 2:00 in the morning, I'm here to share a shorter message.

I don't make new year's resolutions. When I want to better myself I make the decision to do it right then, no matter what day of the year it is. Today (well, yesterday really) I decided not to waste my time when it comes to reading things on the internet. I send so many articles to my Kindle to read later (I do this so I don't have to stare at the computer screen for too long) that I'm way behind in my reading. To give you an idea: It's February and I'm still reading digests that I sent to myself in November.

The subject matter of the articles I save varies widely--anything from album reviews to social and political commentary to celebrity interviews to Wikipedia entries. I'm also not ashamed to admit that many of them are BuzzFeed lists. BuzzFeed is a great way to escape for a moment from grading papers and writing tests. But I get so caught up in reading "50 Things That Remind You Of Your Childhood" that I miss more important content like "How To Flip Your Classroom" or "How To Get Your Students To Practice."

So I've decided that if I see a BuzzFeed list or some kind of tell-all article about who Matt Bellamy is or isn't dating, I will read it at that moment or forget about it. I will no longer bookmark them or email them to myself. The articles with more important subject matter will be sent to my Kindle (via Instapaper, a great site).

My time is precious and my brain can only hold so much information, so why waste valuable space in my noggin (and hours of my long days) on reading about what stupid thing Kanye West did at the most recent award show?

What about you? Do you need to give up something in order to make space for things that really matter?