The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

2006-2007 School Year

I have just completed my first week of the 2006-2007 school year, and am rather tired. But it was a good week. It is wonderful to see my students again, and great to be in the classroom. Please pray:

  • That the ministry of Bucharest Christian Academy would have a broad and deep impact in the lives of the students, pointing them always to Jesus Christ.
  • For wisdom for me in lesson planning and in my interactions with students.

A little about our school:

BCA exists to provide a Christ-centered quality education primarily serving missionary and Christian expatriate families. BCA prepares students spiritually, academically, and socially, through a Biblical worldview, to face the challenges of living in today’s world. As a primary outcome of our mission, BCA students will be equipped to influence the world through Biblical thought, character, and action.

This year, we have 75 (K-12) students, and they are from: The United States, Canada, Brazil, Nigeria, Romania, Italy, China, South Korea, and Japan.

My classes this year are:

  • 7th/8th grade — Physical Science
  • 9th/10th grade — Biology
  • 11th grade — Chemistry
  • 12th grade — Physics

Grace and Peace

August 25, 2006 Posted by | Science Education | Leave a comment

Eight Planets

Pluto is out!

My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nachos!

Grace and Peace

August 24, 2006 Posted by | Astronomy | Leave a comment

Election Day

Today is election day at the general assembly of the International Astronomical Union. It looks like the 12+ planet proposal could be defeated. Right now, we don’t know if the day will end with an 8, 9, or 12-planet solar system.

I’m rooting for eight planets.

International Astronomical Union

Yahoo news story

I’m pleased to see that they have dropped the term “pluton.” From the Yahoo story:

Among the scientists who torpedoed “pluton” were geologists, who pointed out — somewhat embarrassingly to astronomers — that it’s already a prominent term in volcano science for deep igneous rock formations.

“What were they thinking? The reaction in the geologic community was rolling of eyes,” said Allen F. Glazner, a geologist at the University of North Carolina. “It would be like botanists trying to distinguish between trees and shrubs and coming up with the term ‘animal.'”

Grace and Peace

August 24, 2006 Posted by | Astronomy | Leave a comment

eNature — Online Field Guide

A good online field guide—with images and information about 5500 different species—is at eNature.com, which is produced by the National Wildlife Federation. With sections on birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, spiders, seashells, wildflowers, and more; eNature is a good site for those of us who don’t have a complete shelf of field guides (I have almost worn out some of my Roger Tory Peterson guides).

One shortcoming: There are no range maps, showing the distributions of the species. Despite this, eNature is a fun and useful resource for identification of North American organisms.

Grace and Peace

August 22, 2006 Posted by | Biology, Web Site of the Week | Leave a comment

Smoke Angel

For a description of the physics behind “smoke angels,” go to today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Grace and Peace

August 22, 2006 Posted by | Fun, Meteorology | Leave a comment

Personal Responsibility in a Hurricane

I don’t know if anyone who reads this blog lives in hurricane country, but the advice given at World Magazine Blog makes a whole lot of sense. Ed Wilson writes, “For at least 72 hours after a hurricane we, as individuals, are our own first responders,” and then he has recommendations for how to be prepared. Read the recommendations at www.worldmagblog.com.

I don’t deny that government has responsibilities in the event of disasters, but I’m sure the amount of suffering and death that we saw with Hurricane Katrina would have been considerably lower if people would have been thinking like this.

Grace and Peace

August 22, 2006 Posted by | Meteorology | Leave a comment

Ceres — Planet #5?

Today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day is about Ceres, which will become the fifth planet from the sun (between Mars and Jupiter) if the International Astronomical Union goes ahead with its proposed definition of “planet.” As you can see from the picture at APOD, we don’t know much about Ceres, but that will change when/if NASA’s Dawn mission orbits the asteroid/planet in 2015.

The reason Ceres would be a planet, according to the proposal, and that the next largest asteroid, Vesta, would not has to do with shape. Ceres, with a diameter of 466 km, is massive enought to be spherical. On the other hand, Vesta has a diameter of 265 km and is somewhat nonspherical, as can be seen on yesterday’s APOD, and is therefore at the borderline of what would be classified as a planet.

Grace and Peace

August 21, 2006 Posted by | Astronomy | Leave a comment

Planetary Mnemonics

My sister asked me recently about planetary mnemonics. The old memory tools used in elementary schools just won’t work any more:

My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas

Make Very Easy Mash Just Squash Up New Potatoes

My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets

It is a challenge knowing what to do now if there are twelve planets, especially being that #12 is still named 2003 UB313! My attempt went something like this:

My Very Excellent Mother Could Just Serve Us Nine Pizzas/Calzones on Planet 2003 UB313.

or if #12 were to be named Xena:

My Very Excellent Mother Could Just Serve Us Nine Pizzas/Calzones on Planet X.

Here’s some I found with a search on the web:

My Very Educated Mother Can’t Justify Someone Using New Planetary Conventions… oh no, they haven’t named the last one yet!!!

My very eccentric mother’s cook just served us nine pastry coated xylophones.

My View Embraces Moving Classifications, Just Stop Uncovering New Planets Called 2003 UB313.

My Very Eccentric Mother Called Janet Sang Utter Nonsense Playing Charlie’s Xylophone

Do you have any suggestions?

Grace and Peace

August 21, 2006 Posted by | Astronomy, Fun | Leave a comment

Oceanic Noise Pollution

Living in a large, crowded city, I’m used to a constant background noise of traffic, voices, car alarms, and street dogs. Apparently, the ocean is becoming a much noisier place as well, as the rapid increase in global trade has led to more, larger, and faster ships on the high seas. Unlike sound waves in the atmosphere, the sound waves produced by these ships can travel long distances in the water. How this affects marine organisms, especially those that use sound for communication, is unknown.

Just one of the many ways human activities could affect the living world.

The story can be found at Science Blog.

Grace and Peace

August 21, 2006 Posted by | Environment | Leave a comment

That’s nice, honey

A good article on Michael Brown, the discoverer of “Xena,” (or 2003 UB313) and why he favors a solar system with only eight planets: Astronomer upset at new planet proposal. His wife’s response when he phoned home to let her know he may have discovered a planet: “That’s nice, honey. Can you pick up some milk on your way home?”

Grace and Peace

August 21, 2006 Posted by | Astronomy | Leave a comment

Teen Sex Beliefs and Practices

Glenn at Be Bold, Be Gentle points to an article on teen sexual activity:

“The Des Moines Register featured an article yesterday about teens and sex beliefs. Scary statistics and comments! Dads, we have work to do! Men, our communities need us to stand tall and speak truth and pray for transformed lives.”

Our responsibility as parents and teachers is great in this area!

Grace and Peace

August 21, 2006 Posted by | Ethics | Leave a comment

Secrets of the Expert Mind (part 3)

Do the concepts of expertise and excellence lead to a narrow focus on one thing, to the exclusion of all else? Does the kind of focus that it takes to become a top computer programmer necessarily mean that person will be the stereotypical “computer nerd?” I think not. Take the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. He had his passions—not only paleontology and evolution but baseball as well, and could write intelligently about a wide range of subjects. His ability to draw from so many different areas is one thing that made him a very readable author (The Panda’s Thumb, Wonderful Life, many others).

I would say that for someone to be a leader or expert in one’s field, it is necessary to be broad as well as deep. I don’t just read about science and science education; I read books and articles about theology, geography, history, politics, culture, philosophy. The key is to find the right balance—and I do not claim to have found that balance yet—and to look for ties between the area of one’s expertise and the wider world. This breadth enables the expert to more effectively relate the significance of his or her work to others who have different areas of interest.

August 18, 2006 Posted by | Science Education, Scientific American | Leave a comment

Secrets of the Expert Mind (part 2)

Yesterday’s entry was a bit long; here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

According to the August 2006 Scientific American article “The Expert Mind,” motivation and effortful study are more important than natural ability for becoming and expert in one’s field. It takes ten years of intense work to truly become an expert in an area, but most people stop working at it far short of expertise.

Grace and Peace

August 18, 2006 Posted by | Science Education, Scientific American | Leave a comment

Secrets of the Expert Mind

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. —Colossians 3:23 (ESV)

I don’t ordinarily read books or articles on psychology—a “soft” science—but for some reason the cover article in the August issue of Scientific American caught my eye. The article, by Philip E. Ross, is entitled “The Expert Mind,” and the summary in the table of contents reads: “The mental processes of chess grandmasters are unlike those of novices, a fact that illuminates the development of expertise in other fields.”

The article focuses on chess masters, but with the intention of drawing out applications for expertise in diverse activities. The questions the author asks near the beginning of the article are:

  • But how do experts in these various subjects acquire their extraordinary skills?
  • How much can be credited to innate talent and how much to intensive training?

Like all full-length articles in the magazine, there is an overview box that lists the main points of the article:

  • Because skill at chess can be easily measured and subjected to laboratory experiments, the game has become an important test bed for theories in cognitive science.
  • Researchers have found evidence that chess grandmasters rely on a vast store of knowledge of game positions. Some scientists have theorized that grandmasters organize the information in chunks, which can be quickly retrieved from long-term memory and manipulated in working memory.
  • To accumulate this body of structured knowledge, grandmasters typically engage in years of effortful study, continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond their competence. The top performers in music, mathematics and sports appear to gain their expertise in the same way, motivated by competition and the joy of victory.
    • In light of the ten-year rule, where do you want to be a decade from now? Pick a vocation in your life that is worth attaining “expert” status in: evangelism, church planting, parenting, advocacy for the poor, teaching, chess, speaking, accounting, Cambrian marine biostratigraphy, computer programming. If this is what God has called you to, where do you want to be? Do you want it to still be “good enough to get by” or “excellence in the service of the King?”
    • What will it take to get there? What will “effortful study” look like for you? What are the obstacles and hindrances to this? What hindrances can be removed from your life, and which just need to be worked around?
    • How can you encourage those around you (family, students, coworkers…) to aim for a higher standard?
  • Here are some quotes from the article:

    The 10-year rule states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field.

    Motivation is a more important factor than innate ability.

    What matters is not experience per se but “effortful study,” which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one’s competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time.

    Experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind’s box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields.

    Belief in the importance of innate talent, strongest perhaps among the experts themselves and their trainers, is strangely lacking in hard evidence to substantiate it.

    The preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born. What is more, the demonstrated ability to turn a child quickly into an expert—in chess, music and a host of other subjects—sets a clear challenge before the schools. Can educators find ways to encourage students to engage in the kind of effortful study that will improve their reading and math skills?

    Instead of perpetually pondering the questions, “Why can’t Johnny read?” perhaps educators should ask, “Why should there be anything in the world he can’t learn to do?”

    I’m sure this won’t be the final word in the nature vs. nurture debate, but it did stimulate thought about how I work and what I’m aiming for in my students’ lives. We all have calls and vocations; my primary call—outside of the calls as a Christian and a parent—is in science education. Many tell me: “You’re a really good science teacher, Kevin. The kids love your classes, and they learn so much.” The risk is that it would be easy to allow myself to plateau. Ross describes this in the article:

    Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance—for instance, keeping up with one’s golf buddies or passing a driver’s exam—most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement.

    Some questions for thought:

    Caution: life is not all about being the best in the world at something. It is about following Christ our savior, and letting him do a work in us.

    The article can be found at www.sciam.com.

    Grace and Peace

August 17, 2006 Posted by | Science Education, Scientific American | Leave a comment

Twelve Planets

Since the discovery of Pluto by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, scientists and textbooks have told us that there are nine planets in the solar system. A debate has been going on for the past decade over the planetary status of Pluto, fueled by the discovery of other Pluto-sized objects in the outer solar system. Many of these objects, called Kuiper belt objects, have been discovered in recent years. One of these, 2003 UB313, is believed to be even larger in diameter than Pluto.

Some astronomers have argued that there should be only eight planets in the solar system: the four terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) and four gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), and that all other objects that orbit the sun ought to be classified as something else. Their arguments for demoting Pluto are as follows:

  • Pluto is very small, with only 0.2% of the mass of Earth, and only 3.8% of the mass of the next smallest planet, Mercury.
  • Pluto is smaller than seven moons that orbit other planets (Earth’s moon, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Titon, Triton).
  • Pluto’s orbit is considerably more eccentric than the orbits of the eight other planets.

Perhaps the best argument for the planetary status of Pluto, according to these scientists, is that “Miss Parker told be so in second grade.”

If Pluto were demoted, it would not be the first time that a “planet” had been discovered only to be later demoted. In 1801, Giuseppe Piazza discovered an object between Mars and Jupiter, and named it Ceres. Ceres remained on planet lists for fifty years, until astromomers with better telescopes discovered that it was only the largest of a large number of objects in what we now know as the asteroid belt.

The International Union of Astronomers (IAU) is the organization that decides what is a planet, and what is not, and for the past several years they have been saying that they were not going to demote Pluto. The group is presently meeting in Prague, and are expected to come out with a definition for “planet.” Their proposed definition, which is likely to pass, has two parts:

  • In order to be a planet, an object must be have enough mass to pull itself into a spherical shape. Smaller bodies, such as most asteroids, tend to be irregular, potato-shaped objects.
  • The object must orbit the sun. This would exclude bodies such as the Earth’s moon.

Debate at the IAU assembly continues, with a vote expected on August 24th. If the proposal passes, the solar system will have twelve planets:

  1. Mercury
  2. Venus
  3. Earth
  4. Mars
  5. Ceres
  6. Jupiter
  7. Saturn
  8. Uranus
  9. Neptune
  10. Pluto
  11. Charon
  12. 2003 UB313

Pluto and Charon orbit each other, with a center of gravity in between them, so both will be considered planets. The Earth’s moon is not a planet, because the center of gravity of the Earth-Moon system is deep inside the Earth.

2003 UB313 needs a name. The discoverer nicknamed the object “Xena,” as in “princess warrior” from TV. We ran out of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses a long time ago. Other names have been submitted to the IAU; perhaps they will give it a name when they announce their decision on the 24th.

The IAU proposal apparently divides the planets into two groups: the “classical” planets, and “plutons,” or Pluto-like planets. Ceres would belong to neither group. I don’t like the name “pluton,” as it has a geological definition as well: an intrusive (formed underground, as opposed to volcanic, which is formed on the surface) igneous body, such as a batholith, stock, dike, or sill.

Also, if the new definition prevails, the list of planets will grow as more objects are discovered in the far reaches of the solar system.

Grace and Peace

August 16, 2006 Posted by | Astronomy | Leave a comment

A Plea For Green

Tod Bolsinger makes a case for Christian interest and involvement in environmental issues on his It Takes a Church blog. The entry is called A Plea for Green.

Some quotes:

Whether one takes Al Gore’s or Michael Crichton’s side in the global warming debate is less the issue than whether there is a long term responsibility to continue to do best by an Earth that is certainly changing and in need of responsible stewardship. And good stewardship of the Earth is, whether it is profitable or popular or not, the first responsibility given to humans by our Creator. A responsibility that, it is often pointed out, Christians have been slow to embrace with much enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, bad exegesis and selective attention have often reduced God’s mandate of Genesis 1 to only “be fruitful and multiply” or has been used as rationale for “using” (exploiting?) the Earth for human good alone, something that needs to be learned, taught and corrected by those of us who know the Bible better than science.

At the very least we can all embrace the practices put forth by the NAE paper: “practicing effective recycling, conserving resources, and experiencing the joy of contact with nature.” But it will be as leaders in our Christian communities that we can make the biggest difference.

I got this link from The Evangelical Ecologist.

Grace and Peace

August 16, 2006 Posted by | Environment | Leave a comment

Manipulated and Responding Variables

Throughout my years of high school, college, and graduate school, I had a hard time with the terms “independent variable” and “dependent variable.” Even now, I have to stop and think: the independent variable is the one I change because I have some independence, and the dependent variable will vary depending on what I do in the experiment.

In preparation for the upcoming school year, I have been looking through my new Biology textbook (Prentice Hall Biology, by Miller and Levine) and am very pleased that they have replaced those terms with manipulated variable and responding variable. I haven’t seen these terms in other texts, but I find them much more intuitive than independent and dependent variables, and hope these newer terms will quickly replace the older, less intuitive terms.

Grace and Peace

August 16, 2006 Posted by | Science Education | 1 Comment

The Language of God

Francis Collins was the director for the Human Genome Project, which sequenced all of the base pairs for human DNA. He recently spoke as the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the American Scientific Affiliation, and that speech can be found as a video or mp3 audio file at www.asa3.org. The speech is entitled The Language of God: A Scientist Looks at the Human Genome Project.

The lecture includes:

  • Collins’ clear testimony of faith in Christ
  • An overview of the Human Genome Project
  • A comparison of the human genome to that of other organisms
  • The relationship between science and Christianity. Collins presents theistic evolution as the best answer. You might not agree, but he is worth listening to.

Collins is a brilliant and articulate man. This was an extremely interesting lecture, well worth its 60 minute length.

Grace and Peace

August 16, 2006 Posted by | Biology, Christianity, Origins | Leave a comment

Back in Bucharest

After seven months on home assignment (or furlough) in the United States, we are back in Bucharest, Romania, where we serve with the Evangelical Free Church of America International Mission at Bucharest Christian Academy. We had a number of answered prayers as we traveled, and are excited to be back “home.”

I am also very thankful to be on cable internet, as for the most part we had had only dial-up service for the past two months.

Thank you to all who prayed, gave, and loved us back to Romania.

Grace and Peace

August 14, 2006 Posted by | Christianity, Romania | Leave a comment

In Christ Alone

For the past seven months, we have been worshiping in English, rather than in Romanian, and have heard a number of songs we hadn’t heard before. One new song that stood way out above the rest was “In Christ Alone” by the Newsboys. I love this song—it is focused on Christ and the cross, and expresses our need for Christ from beginning to end (as opposed to many modern “worship” songs that focus on what we do for God rather than what he does for us through Christ and the cross).

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
‘Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost it’s grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Brought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Grace and Peace

August 14, 2006 Posted by | Christianity | Leave a comment