The Center for Disease Control has published its guidelines on schools reopening. It is important to note that these guidelines only apply where community transmission is controlled. This is currently not the state of affairs where I live and work. Our nation's president does not like the guidelines because they make obvious the fact that the vast majority of school districts are not prepared for reopening. So he is asking the guidleines be changed... Thankfully, the scientists in the CDC are standing their ground and refusing to change the guidelines. If Science starts using personal preferences to inform its results, then it stops being Science to the extent that the personal preferences were used.
We are fast approaching the reopening of schools here! I will be headed back to teaching and my children will be heading back as students. Our school district has decided on a plan to give students a choice whether they get distance learning virtually or they head back to the physical school building for face to face instruction. They are not giving teachers a choice about heading back to schools, though. Even teachers that are going to teach virtually will be going in to the school building to do their teaching during normal hours. This has a lot of teachers and people in the community understandably scared. That fear is exacerbated by the fact that we happen to be in one of the worst states in the country from infection rates of Covid, thanks to the ineptitude of our governor and his political allies following the advice of our country's president.
However, it is good to get as much data as possible from reliable sources during something like this, which stokes fears and rumors among a populace that has a large contingent of people who are scientifically illiterate and given to giving credence to all manner of conspiracy theories and pseudoscience.
So here is an article by the journal Science, America's top peer-reviewed science journal, discussing the issue of school reopenings and what we can actually say scientifically about them.
Two scientists, Tom Westby and Christopher J. Conselice, have published in the Astrophysical Journal that they have calculated the mathematical odds that their are other intelligent alien civilizations out there in the Milky Way. They made the assumption that such life would need a planet very similar to Earth in order to provide the necessary ingredients for life to evolve. This means the proper distance from a star, the proper size, the proper chemical composition, the right type of star, and the proper planet age. They assume that if these factors are reached then it is likely that life would evolve on that planet. So taking these characteristics together the scientists figured out that there are probably about 36 such planets like that in our Milky Way galaxy based on what we have been finding with our exoplanet hunting endeavors in the last several years. Based on the idea of 36 planets, they then calculated that the nearest of those planets would probably be around 17,000 light years away, assumming roughly uniform random locations of these planets throughout the galaxy. This is way too far away for us to have any hope of contacting them under our current understanding of physics.
The Astrophysical Journal: The Astrobiological Copernican Weak and Strong Limits for Intelligent Life
Here is an interesting article written in Discover about research showing that hobbies have positive psychological effects on people. People doing their hobbies tend to enter a state of mindfulness while doing them. This provides a temporary escape from stressful thoughts and allows the hobbyist get some mental rest. When a hobbyist finishes her hobby activity she tends to feel rested at the conclusion. This is definitely the case for me when I finish reading, or painiting, or playing tabletop games.
Discover Magazine: The Psychological Benefits of Picking up a Hobby
Fantasy Flight Games is going to be ending their production of role playing games soon. They will release the products that have already been announced and then that will be it. In my opinion, FFG produced RPGs that were well made, in terms of systems, but then were poorly implemented in terms of what RPG players in the market expect. A big problem with the FFG games was the lack of pre-made adventures. Each game seemed to only get a few of those. Paizo and WOTC, on the other hand, pump out adventures in both book and one-shot organized play form at an astonishing rate. Most GMs, myself included, don't have time to handcraft home brew games. Thus, it is helpful to take pre-made adventures and use them as a skeleton for your games. In my case, I'm GM several different on-going campagins. It seems to be the same with the other GMs I know. When you are in that situation, prep time is at a premium. The other thing FFG dropped the ball on with their games was the organized play areana. Organized Play is essential to keeping RPGs attracting new players. The ability for newcomers to the genre to simply show up at a store and sit down in a game and start playing is essential. Stores provide a safe environment for people to make new friends and learn new games. That is what stores offer that online retailers do not. My children and I love the main friendly local game store we hang out at, and we are known at all the other local games stores as well, which we visit for special events. If you have a good local game store, it functions as that place "where everybody knows your name" for geeks in the area. RPGs tap into that community through organized play. FFG does a good job at organized play for it's board games and miniatures games. So it never made sense why they didn't do the same with their RPGs. But that will soon be part of gaming history. Personally, I recommend picking up FFG's line of Star Wars RPGs while they are avaiable. It is an incredible system that is a lot of fun to play.
Here's a wonderful short video that the BBC just put out explaining introversion. The fact is that our current American society is unknowingly hostile toward introverts quite often. This is also the case in our schools where somehow we've gotten it into our collective heads that we should be forcing students to constantly talk to each other. To be sure the extroverted students in school love this. And since they make up the majority of the general population (and are by their very nature the most outspoken when compared to introverts) it's easy to see why the situation has devolved into its current state. Constantly being forced to talk is a huge stressor to introverts, however. My own children tell me they can't stand the "Turn and talk to your shoulder partner" activity constantly being done in classrooms now. I hate it when it's done to me in staff development trainings as well. And as usual in education, there is absolutely no actual research backing this latest fad up. This wonderful little video lets introverts know that not only is there absolutely nothing wrong with them, but that introversion is a needed trait within society.
And then to follow it up, here is a TED talk by Susan Cain, the author of the phenomenal book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Her book should be required reading for all educators. We must respect all sides of the spectrum of interpersonal communication in education if we are going to meet the needs of all students.
"There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind."
"Love is at the root of everything, love or the lack of it."
The movie "Won't you be my neighbor?" was a stunning documentary released last year. This year saw the dramatized version of Mr. Rodgers's life with Tom Hanks, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," which was another exceptional movie. Last year the biography “The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers" came out, which I am just starting to read. Many people are enthralled with Mr. Rodgers right now it appears. And perhaps it is easy to see why. In America right now, the reality of our schisms are constantly being thrust in our faces. We are learning the hard way that people just aren't very talented, on the whole, at dealing with the religious and philosophical differences between them. And so, many people are pining for a Mr. Rodgers in their lives right now. Someone who holds at bay their own inner turmoil, in order to kindly and compassionately deal with theirs, is what so many crave. A physical, non-mystical, loving parent or caretaker for those who never had one, or a strong friend (neighbor) with an unerringly kind heart for the rest... Too often when we research the lives of past people who have been held up as heroes we find that they had more than just feet made out of clay. This is one of the most fun aspects of history for many middle and high school students. They love to learn that Washington, Edison, or Newton had serious issues and weren't all that nice. This attitude is pervasive within society as a whole right now. We are so quick to pounce and tear at the first signs of a crack in the image of anyone believed to be good. But that's why Mr. Rodgers has become such a topic of conversation now. For once there appears to be someone who just can't be dragged down. The rumors about him turn out to be false. He really did simply put others, not just children, before himself, day after day after day. And by sacrificing himself in that way he gave so many something they are desparate for right now: an actual hero. A soft-spoken, truly kind hero.
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