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

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

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.

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

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

    Grace and Peace