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What to do when ice is everywhere? Start thinking about summer

January 10, 2011

Here in Atlanta, we’ve got thick sheet of ice covering the city, and a second snow day. Deprived of contact with my students, I decided to send them this email.

Hi All,
I hope that you had a wonderful day enjoying the snow and ice all around—it’s a great opportunity for physics experiments with very little friction, and inclined planes. 🙂

I also wanted to encourage you to think about taking a small amount of time during your break to think intentionally about a few things. First, this would be a great time to increase your understanding of a topic you’re unsure of in physics, or another class. A half hour of work tomorrow can make a big difference in getting you off to a great start in the second semester.

Second, and more importantly, I wanted to encourage you to start thinking intentionally about what you will do this summer. Summer is a wonderful time to relax and recharge, but if you’re starting to take in some of the ideas about being a romantic scholar and relaxed superstar, you might also begin to see it as a chance to explore ideas and topics you are interested in, or start a project to change the world.

Here are some ideas to think about:

1. You don’t need a lot of money to do something awesome this summer. Thanks to the internet and itunes U, you can take classes from universities around the nation (check out Physics for Future Presidents, at Berkeley) , you can develop a reading list to explore everything from the history of of science to the physics of flight in more detail. Here are free online materials for an online course at MIT on the mind-blowing book Godel, Escher, Bach.

2. You don’t really have to take a class. There are lots of great programs that offer classes, including our own summer school, but I would urge you to think about not just extending school, but instead making summer your opportunity to be your own teacher, and explore what you want. Why not research the history of your neighborhood?

3. You can do a ton with technology. There are all sorts of projects you could do with vpython to explore science, or you could build a website, start a blog, start a photo journal of your neighborhood, or start work on your own movie.

4. Getting a job can be one of the most meaningful things you can do, both for your own growth and for college admissions. You’ll learn a ton from working in a job, how to work with others, the value of hard work, and the joy that comes from helping others.

5. You don’t really need to accelerate your life. You might be tempted to take a class in math so that you can get to Mt. Calculus all the faster. I’d encourage you instead to think about exploring math more deeply, instead of more quickly. The Art of Problem Solving has some incredible resources for exploring math in more depth.

That’s it. I’d be happy to talk to you about what you might do this summer further, even if you aren’t interested in something science related. Just send me an email.

Best wishes,

I would love to get my students to start to think of summer as a time to take the things they’ve learned in school and apply them to take flight on their own project. I’m not sure how much of an effect this email will have, but it’s a start.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2011 10:49 am

    Wow! What an idea for a snow-day communication. I look forward to hearing and reading updates.

  2. Agnesm permalink
    January 11, 2011 10:55 am

    Excellent idea!
    I will write to my students encouraging them to immerse themselves in a different culture, at home or abroad 🙂

    • January 11, 2011 12:23 pm

      This is great. I once served as college counselor for a student who worked to create a brochure describing the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning in spanish for the hispanic community in her town. It was a great project that bridged her interests in public health, chemistry, and spanish.

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