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Archive for the ‘Philadelphia’ Category

One of my favorite things about Philadelphia is the smooth path lining the Schuylkill river– it’s accessible, gives you a break from the city streets and is well-maintained.  One of my least favorite things about Philadelphia is when people get lost in la-la land while using this path, completely unaware of anything outside their two square feet of pavement.  Undoubtedly (and in deference to my last post) this results in me having to ride cautiously, rather than rip through as the blur of cycling awesomeness I prefer.  Luckily it’s now May and for the next several months the Fairmount Park Commission gives Philadelphians like me the most fabulous treat– the car-free, pedestrian/cyclist/rollerblader heaven that is West River Drive on the weekend!

Take that, cars!

I had planned to ride out to Valley Forge today, I really need to get some more long hauls in…  But when I realized the Drive was closed I just stuck close to home.  I did four laps of the car-free section which I think ended up being around 25 miles.  It was so delightful riding in the sunshine, feeling the breeze at my back, and honking back at the many nesting geese.  These guys know the sound of a trail mix bag…

Don't take food from strangers, silly goose.

Fairmount Park is so gorgeous in the spring.  I definitely did one-lap-on, one-off for this ride so I had plenty of time to admire the scenery.  The newly green trees and pretty little flowers popping up make me grin like the adorable labradoodle loping along next to its owner (I hope my tongue wasn’t hanging out that much though).   All four lanes of West River Drive are closed to traffic, leaving plenty of room for families to ride together, rollerbladers to throw their arms around wildly and for joggers to run right down the middle of the road just because you can.  I love it all. 

Panoramic park

 

Stab that dragon!I think he forgot his suit of armor... and undies (hee!)

Chillaxin

This week I’m definitely back to my 100 mile challenge.  The weather looks like it’s really spring so I have no excuses!

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The city of Philadelphia has launched a new campaign, “Give Respect, Get Respect“, targeting drivers, pedestrians and cyclists using city streets.  I for one am all for it.  Since moving here nearly 5 years ago I have often thought the city’s nickname, City of Brotherly Love, must be some sort of hilarious in-joke I had yet to “get.”   Of course there are some Philadelphians who live up to the nickname but for the most part this city would not get put on Santa’s Nice List anytime soon.  And with no love, you certainly can’t expect respect.  Nothing displays the disunity of city and epithet better than the drama played out on its streets.  I’ve seen terrifying drivers, absolutely oblivious pedestrians and downright stupid bicyclists narrowly avoid catastrophe– I often wonder how many people don’t even have a single clue of how close they were to death while absent-mindedly checking their Blackberry.   Being a daily bicycle commuter in this mess has given me a new perspective on the word “respect”.

The plan will put extra police officers in Center City to write tickets for people jaywalking, texting while driving and riding bikes on the sidewalk.  I must add that this campaign was announced at the same time as plans for new north-south bike lanes in Center City were unveiled.  Of course the announcement was met with aggression from nincompoops like Stu Bykofsky, who probably has a clause in his contract with the Inquirer to be as narrow-minded as possible on issues related to transportation…  But I digress.  Public outrage at the City surrendering more of the streets to cyclists feels like a bad way to kick off a “love thy neighbor”-eque crusade.

Good motto

I hope one day this campaign can be a shining example for other cities– a way to show America that Philadelphia truly does deserve its nickname.  For this to work ALL road users need to start respecting each other by being attentive and polite (that means easing up on the g.d. horns, people).  Additionally, the plan should stress that bike lanes, sidewalks and traffic laws are there to keep us safe, not to suck the fun out of our lives.  I admit, it’s hard to refrain from flipping off the Hummer who doesn’t understand that my riding down the center of the lane is to prevent myself from becoming a pancake, not to tick off a random citizen (behind the wheel of a gas-guzzling monstrosity, oops another digression).  But I for one am willing to try harder.  Recognizing that we all play a part in keeping the streets safe is essential.  The campaign isn’t just about respecting other people, it’s about respecting your own safety too.  

Now, I can’t promise to stop yelling at people who ride the wrong way down the bike lane, or to quit forming simply atrocious strings of insults in my head against most cabs and Jersey drivers (sorry), but I CAN do my part by following the rules to the best of my ability and not letting my temper get the best of me.  Come on, Philadelphia… show the love!

Bike luv

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A little late but… St. Patrick’s day was super fun.  We both had the day off work, as did P&E, so we joined forces for a drunken, corned-beef-fueled celebration of our Irish heritage. 

Corned beef, veggies and Pete's soda bread YUMM!

Festive garlic & onion dip

Beautiful spring, beautiful people!

It was unseasonably warm and beautifully sunny in our backyard, perfect weather for Tully Tea.

Euchre was a lost cause after that drink

Mr. Meow enjoys a walkabout

 

Can I sit on this?

 

Nope.

 

Proof that Pat tried to fix it

It was a good thing I had the next two days off work as well… I did manage to go on a bike ride to blessed Ikea on Saturday while Pat was working.  I didn’t get an ice cream (too cold) but tomato soup was tasty.  Also completed my second successful Century Week!  This week is looking pretty promising, especially since Valley Forge is on Friday’s agenda.  Today we rode to work in the sleet– not nice!  

love!

  

 

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I rode 100 miles this week!  Impressive… except that I’m going to have to compress that distance into ONE DAY by the end of September.  Yikes!  But considering I usually ride about 45-50 miles a week, this is a good step (pedal stroke?) forward.  Now that we get an extra hour of daylight I know this is something I can easily keep up with.  My work is 2 blocks from the Schuylkill Drive trail and one loop on that is 8 miles.  Do that 3 days a week, add in my daily commute and one long-haul on the weekends and there’s my 100 miles.  I’m getting a little tired just thinking about it…  Today my body is sore, especially my hips and back.  I found this nifty website that has a little animated dude showing you how to do stretches.  Neat!

Pat had to work all weekend so I rode out to Forbidden Drive by myself yesterday.  I took the telephoto lens and got a few good shots of geese and ducks:

Geese!

Lift, I need lift!

I like his red eye... a lil freaky though

After riding around for a while I decided to lock my bike up at Valley Green, a random restaurant on Forbidden Drive, and check out a staircase I had seen earlier.  It led down to a little dam that you could walk out on and, after seeing a couple of 6 year-olds tromp out there, I decided I’d take the risk for some interesting photos:

View from the dam

Stairs leading to the creek

 

More stairs, I love the color of the moss

Hello, green bug!

Monochromatic creek

It was nice to get some fresh, non-exhaust-laden air and to spend some quality time in nature.  My ride home from Forbidden Drive was slow, slow, slow.  Not only was I a little tired but the feng shui of my bike shorts/saddle was NOT working out… let’s hope that doesn’t happen on our one-day century!  My partner-in-crime has to work again this weekend (boo!!) so we’ll see where my solo long-haul takes me.  I have a feeling Plymouth Meeting is in the cards, how can I resist a pit-stop for an Ikea ice cream cone?  Answer: I can’t 🙂

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I recently had the great opportunity of teaching a “mini-course” for a group of 9th grade students from my museum’s magnet high school, Science Leadership Academy.   I had complete free choice over the course topic and lessons (well, it had to relate to science, of course…) and since we are currently hosting the exhibit “Leonardo da Vinci’s Workshop” I thought it would be fun to explore how Leonardo learned: though an apprenticeship.  Plus I got to use my art history background, a rarity in a SCIENCE museum! 🙂 

During the Renaissance (and well after) most jobs were learned by studying under a master– carefully observing, performing grunt work, taking on tiny jobs and, eventually, using those skills gained to apply for acceptance into a guild.  Artists like Leonardo had no need for formal schooling, (something he seemed to deeply regret) rather their entire apprenticeship was like a multi-year hands-on learning lab.  I wanted the students in my class to get a taste for the work an apprentice would do in a Renaissance artist’s workshop, to see that the master artist’s studio was actually more like a science lab/school/wood shop/barnyard than a quiet gallery and to learn how modern science helps us conserve the treasures from this time period.  All over the span of 5 class hours!

Eggs and vinegar for art class???

We started out by talking about some of the more… menial tasks an artist’s apprentice might do.  Things like stretching canvases, mixing paints, making brushes and collecting supplies.  We made plaster of paris “walls” to use as the base for a fresco.  The students used burlap to hold the plaster together– modern restoration work on frescos has found materials like straw and horsehair holding the plaster together. 

Grids make drawing EASY!

I taught the class how to use a grid to reduce or enlarge a magazine picture (math is your friend!) and we used National Geographic images to create a nature-inspired sketch for the fresco.  Next we transferred the image to the plaster using a real Renaissance technique.  Artists would first poke pinholes along all the lines on a to-scale draft or “cartoon” of their final painting.  They would post this cartoon on the fresco surface, often when the plaster was wet, (we created fresco secco, painting on dry plaster) then they dusted ground charcoal all over the pinholes.  The charcoal would leave a faint, erasable sketch right on the wall.  Guess what?  This technique is AWESOME and totally works!

Trade secrets!

After a discussion of what makes up paint (a pigment and a binder) I demonstrated how to make a simple tempera paint by mixing egg yolk with wetted pigment.  The kids got a kick out of separating the egg and a few brave souls even took on the difficult task of gently releasing the yolk from the little protein sack that binds it.  I found some great, historic pigments on Blick.com, I think that gave them a good idea of the palette limitations an artist would have to overcome.  Then we painted the frescos!

Hands-on learning

For the modern science aspect I showed them a few videos of art conservators using technology like x-rays, infrared cameras and microscopes to analyze centuries-old masterpieces.  We also explored a really phenomenal new google application http://www.googleartproject.com/  I put together an online gallery of images highlighting the topics we covered in class, link here.  On the last day I had all the students bring in their laptops (their school gives each student their own) and we perused the gallery together.  It was really rewarding to see the students pick out details in the paintings that related to our topic.  They were pretty good art historians, too!

My fresco in progress

I didn’t ask the students if I could put their work on the internet so I won’t post it here.  But I was really impressed with the work the class was able to do in such a short period of time.  Most of the students didn’t have an art background, but all of them definitely had an interest in learning more.  The thoughtfulness behind a lot of their questions really surprised me, and they were not pleased when I had to respond with “great question, but I don’t know that specific answer!” on a few zingers.  I have never taught 9th graders before so I think I learned even more than the students!  

Working at this museum and others has really shown me that apprenticeships did not end with the Renaissance.  Although I have formal training in my field I gain practical experience daily.  Being a good teacher is more than just knowing theory; as my first museum mentor told me, “the best way to learn how to teach?  Teach!”   Every time I get thrown in a new teaching situation like this I feel like I am the apprentice– learning through doing, reflecting on my mistakes, following the lead of my mentors and striving daily to reach “master” status.

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If you know me at all then you know I’m definitely not watching the Super Bowl tonight.  Instead I made some soup… and ate it in a bowl.  So I think that counts for something!  I tried a new Rachael Ray recipe from her latest magazine– a veggie soup with dumplings.  I’ve never made dumplings in soup before and was a little nervous but it turned out pretty good.  I’m also wondering what the point of a bay leaf is?  I bought a little container of them but only needed one for the soup.  Now what to do with the other 10 fresh bay leaves?

Rainy weekend

This nasty weather has meant a longer wait to get back on my bike.  The bike lanes are still crappy and our street is a sheet of ice pretty much everywhere except the trolley track.  Siiiiiiiigh.  We’ve been walking to and from work a lot lately.  It’s a pretty nice walk and if I time it right I get to watch the sunrise and sunset.  This morning I was ogling a particularly nice, orangey sunrise and slipped on a little black ice.  I will need to keep that in mind for when I’m an old lady and my bones aren’t as resilient– if you want to admire the pretty sky stop walking.  Check.

I led a family workshop at work today about Leonardo da Vinci (our new travelling exhibit).  I asked the class what they could tell me about symmetry.  A very eager young boy in the back quickly raised his hand and proudly announced, “That’s where the dead people are buried!”  Too funny!

Photo by Pat

My next project: Death by Chocolate Cheesecake for my hubby’s Valentine’s Day present.  I’m doing research now so I can find the most decadent, sinfully rich and chocolate-y chocolate combination possible.  We both agree that an actual death by too much delicious chocolate is by far one of the best ways to go.  Hopefully this dessert doesn’t reach that extreme, but I am definitely saving up my calories!

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Games=Learning?

Yesterday the vice president of our education/exhibits shared some statistics with us:

The 2010 PSSA (state proficiency exam) shows that only 16.3 percent of 11th graders scored a “proficient” in science testing.  That means 83.7 percent of these students are NOT reaching the “proficient” standard.  83.7!  Looking at younger grades, 8th grade students scored a 25.9 percent proficiency and 4th graders pulled a 53.3 percent proficiency.  A quick google search of “PSSA scores, news” reveals a few databases and some success stories of schools who pulled their numbers up.  The District touts improvements in math and reading (as they should) but is completely mum on the science scores.  There are few (if any) articles that admonish the fact that 83.7 percent of this city’s young adults are scientifically illiterate.  Hmm.

These statistics lead to a discussion of our role as informal educators in a science museum.  Our mission, to inspire a passion for science and technology learning, is supported by our programming efforts.  Our VP explained that the mission is our “what” and programming is our “how” but what we’re missing is the “why”.  Why do we, the museum and educators, provide programming? 

Revealing the "fingerprint" of a star

We all mostly agreed that the museum is an alternative to formal education, to news outlets and the internet.  It’s a place where people can supplement their knowledge, test ideas and experience science phenomena first-hand.  We provide programming because being scientifically literate is essential.  Science helps explain the world around us.  It makes us think and question.

Biology- it's the science of us

One of the group members said something that really stuck with me– that most informal educators are in museums because they feel there is something wrong with the formal education system and they can’t reconcile that with their desire to teach.  For me this is not the case.  I work in a museum because I love museums.  But I love school, too!  As I learn more about formal education in our country I find myself becoming more and more interested in becoming part of the “cure.”  Sure, I love creating fun programs, interacting with guests of all ages and teaching others how to teach.  But what if my talents are better suited to the “front lines” of education?  It’s something to think about.

Dance, molecules, dance!

In the meantime I know my team and I can continue to try our best to get visitors excited about not just science but learning in general.  Afterall, if people aren’t excited to learn and to develop their mind why should they care about the subject– science, math, social studies, etc.  For me the “why” is because we need a society of enthusiastic learners who delight in critical thinking.  Brains on, everyone!

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