Ten Cool Things We Learned This Summer

Summer’s a great time for learning. Even the time spent reading the newspaper and talking about front page stories, something that doesn’t happen with regularity during the hustle bustle mornings of the school year, provide rich fodder.

But how do we ensure that summer learning connects back to the classroom and is not left, figuratively speaking, on that New England lake dock or in the corner of a museum that was visited? There should be some formal debrief in each classroom, in a manner that is manageable for the teacher, that lets students share what they learned over the summer, makes it available to peers, and allows students to explore further topics or ideas that sparked an interest. Imagine if each student was given the time to create some kind of online repository – an easy way to share and expand.

Here’s a quick list of ten things that we learned and discussed this summer. What are your ten?

  1. We can’t get Libya off our minds. Even last week, on the walk to school, my son asked, “So who will be the new leader of Libya? One of the rebels?” The front page photographs of the Libyan conflict were dramatic, the stories filled with the back and forth of battle. We talked about dictators, the events in the Middle East and their relationship to the Libyan rebellion, the tribal loyalties in countries like Libya, and the complexities of achieving any sort of democracy out of conflict. No doubt this story will continue to interest our household.
  2. We caught tiny crabs at Atlantic beaches and discussed how some animals – crabs, lobsters, sea turtles, frogs, etc. – have many, many young, although only a few survive. We contrasted this reproductive approach with those animals that have few young – humans, whales, dolphins, cheetahs, etc. – and discussed the energy that these animals devote to parenting those few young.
  3. OK, something that I learned or relearned: How much I love science fiction. When I was in middle school, I devoured Dune, Ringworld, Fantastic Voyage, and the like and had great fun during the last week of summer reading two science fiction novels, Hominids and Seeker. No wonder I enjoyed teaching Ender’s Game to my ninth graders several years ago; I need to go back to that novel and its progeny.
  4. I wanna know more about the inner workings of our Prius, about its ability to toggle seamlessly back and forth between the gas and electric engines. My son and I did a little math on a recent drive and figured out that we used about a cup of gas to go three miles in it this summer.
  5. Weather Underground was a great way to track Hurricane Irene, and we discussed how hurricanes in the northern hemisphere turn counterclockwise due to the Coriolis effect caused by the Earth’s rotation – and that those in the southern hemisphere turn clockwise. We also learned that, typically, tornadoes that form from a hurricane do so in the storm’s right-front quadrant, where the wind shear is the greatest.
  6. Dinner table conversation one vacation evening – yeah, not the most pleasant: The Latin root “cide” has spawned many, many words: fratricide, suicide, matricide, regicide, sororicide, tyrannicide, herbicide, pesticide, infanticide, genocide, etc. Then there is serpenticide (killing of a snake), urbicide (destruction of a city), and giganticide (killing of a giant).
  7. Of the US military academies, the Naval Academy sits on the smallest acreage, just 340 acres, and can only expand by building into the Annapolis harbor, as it has done in the past. In comparison, the Air Force Academy is on about 18,000 acres, the US Military Academy about 16,000 acres. We wanna know more about when the Academy expanded into the harbor – the amount of fill, for example, that was used to turn water into land and the process that that kind of construction takes.
  8. Twin brothers Duane and Dwight Lewis operate the swing bridge that connects Boothbay Harbor, Maine with Southport Island. Dwight has been at his job for 46 years, his brother for 44. This article tells you all about them and their work, and here are two videos of the swing bridge in action, one from the water, another from the roadway. The bridge itself is a remarkable engineering feat, as it swings effortlessly open. Dwight told me that during the day in the summer they now open the bridge on the hour and half-hour; previously it had been whenever an oversize boat showed up, which was “every ten minutes or so,” said Dwight, “and that was gonna burn the bridge’s motor out.” I also think it is remarkable that these two brothers has been on the job for so long. Imagine the changes that they have seen in that part of New England – from an increase in tourism to changes related to fishing and lobstering.
  9. The water of Maine’s Kennebec River, just up from Bath, is an iron color, sort of like Dr. Pepper. The river is the mainstem – a great word – of the Kennebec Estuary, a partly enclosed body of water with one or more rivers that flow into it and that connects to the sea. A transition zone between river and ocean, an estuary is subject to tides, and the mixing of sea- and fresh water fosters heaps o’ nutrients – that Dr. Pepper color no doubt evidence of them.
  10. We learned of the tradition of second line in parades in New Orleans; those in the first line have the permit for the parade – are more official – and those in the second line are there to enjoy the music. They are the ones that carry parasols and dance and have a good old time. Give it a try with this video from the Oakland-based California Honeydrops – enjoy:

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