SCIENCE IN THE RAIN ----------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org firstname.lastname@example.org 2011 March 25
Introducction ----------- Each year I am called on to be a judge for the New York City Science and Engineering Fair, hald at City College of New York. I missed two years along the way from other engagements, but I do try to do my service to the City when it calls. This year was no different. The fair office emailed me the invite, more like a reminder, abot the upcoming Fair. I assured it that i was rady for judging. This year the Fair was on Sunday 6 March. My colleafue Steve kaye and his own associate at school Mr Harvey had ten students in the Fair between them. Steve came to the NYSkies Seminar on the preceding Friday the 4th and we discussed plans for the fair while riding home. A massive complication this year was a shutdown of the Brighton line from Prospect Park station all the way to Downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan. Trains on this particular weekend will run only from Coney Island to Propsect Park. We studied the posters on the trains along the way home and debated on the best route to get from southern Brooklyn to City Colege. Our usual plan, meeting at the Kings Highway station of the Brighton line, mau not work!
The situation ----------- The Brighton line is a trunkline rapid transit service from Coney Island on the southern coast of Brooklyn, to middle Brooklyn, to Brooklyn Downtown, and then into Manhattan. In Downtown the line joins other trunklines to offer various connecting services according as the traffic needs. Prospect Park is a station in mid Brooklyn that for this weekend turned trains back to Coney Island, not letting them procede farther to Manhattan. The reason for this disruption was unspecified scheduled maintenance somewhere in Downtown. The stated alternative was to do shuttle buses at Prospect Park that take riders from the trains to a major station in Downtown. At that station riders board other trains to continue their trip to the City. This arrangement is made commonly for other shutdowns of certain lines from time to time. If the Brighton line is short-running, how will we herd the students to the Fair? We detested the bus alternative from experience else when. The transit agency sets out one or two buses, thinking that's enough to carry a ten-car train load of riders. The first hundred or so people rush to the street, fill the buses, and get moving. The rest must wait until the buses return for the next load. A most ridiculous way of alternative transport, but that's how it works. We plain didn't want to try this with a flock of high school kids in tow with their Fair exhibits as baggage.
Some explanation -------------- The Brighton line is an open-air corridor, in trench or berm, by ehich it is segregated from road traffic. At Prospect Park the Brighton line trains run via a tunnel to Downtown. The route farther than Downntown doesn't matter here. The diagram here shows what's what: ----------------------------------- DT + DT*MH + / DT/MH DT/MH + / | | CI -------o/ BG | PP FA | | PPB o-------o-------o-------o o FAF --+--> N PPF o FAE | | | |
CI = Coney Island via Brighton line PPB = Prospect Park on Brighton line, trasnfer to Franklin line PPF = Prospect Park on Franklin line, transfer to Brighton line BG = Botanic Garden, transfer to Eastern Parkway line PP = Park Place on Franklin line FA = Franklin Avenue, transfer to Fulton Street line FAE = Franklin Avenue on Eastern Parkway line FAF = Franklin Avneue on Fulton Street line DT = Downtown via shuttle bus DT/MH = to Downtown and Manhattan via Eastern Parkway and Fulton Street lines DT*MH = Downtown and manhattan via Brighton line (closed) --------------------------------------------------------- At Prospect Park a short 3ish kilometer spur runs northward into central Brooklyn. This is the Franklin [Avenue] line, a 'land ferry' to transfer riders between the trunklines that cross it. It carries 10,000 to 15,000 riders per day and runs 24 hours every day. The service posters did not mention at all the Franklin Avenue line. Was it. too, closed for the construction work? If ti wasn't, couldn't we ride it to the Fulton Street line, where trains run to City College? When Steve and I got off the subway in Brooklyn after the Seminar, we asked at the station agent. We were at a station well away from the Brighton line. The agent recited from the poster that we will have to do the buses. Maybe the Frankline line is kaput for Sunday?
What to do? --------- Mr Kaye and Mr Harvey already instructed their kids to meet at Kings Hightway on the Brighton line at 8AM on March 6th. Some students were already away from school and could not be easily contacted for a change of plans. We felt it best to stay with Kings Highway and not try an other line from Brooklyn. My first impulse was to do the Brighton line SOUTHWARD to Coney Island and change to an other line that runs to City College. Steve thught that would add too much time to the trip, going against our intended direction for part of the way. He also noted the the other lines at Coney Island are all locals on weekends, so the whole trip wold be perhaps an hour longer than planned. Sunday was supposed to be a rainy day. In the early morning it was cloudy but not raining. I took a street bus to Kings Highway station, took breakfast at a fast-food counter, and waited for Steve in the forecourt of the station. This station, along with many others on the Brighton line, are under massive rebuild. The forecourt was boarded over with no agent's booth in it. I was early, about 7:45, because the bus did only a few stops on the way to the station. I walked to an other entrance to the station, since at least ONE entrance must have an agent on duty. Yes, the agent assued me, the Franklin line is running normally. It was not part of the Brighton service disruptions. This is very good news! Steve arrived at about 7:55 and advised that Mr Harvey, fearing the worse from the Brighton line disruption, got his students together at around 7AM. They were already on the way to the College. Steve had only two more kids to take care of. They came pretty much on time. We rode to Prosepct Park, where ushers steered everyone to the street to get on the buses. Many, including us, headed for the Franklin line. Its trian was waiting in the staiton. Whew! At least we were on a train, not a bus. We figured to go all the way to the last stop and change to the Fulton Street line. That will take us to City College.
More disruptions -------------- The station at Franklin Avenue is a weird one, to say the best for it. It was squeezed into tight clearances between buildings around it and has lousy signs for directions. After a false start, ending up on the outbound platform of the Fulton Street subway, we got ourselfs on the inbound side. It took two elevators and a skywalk to get there! The Fulton Street line is a busy one, even on weekends. A train came in within a couple minutes. Once on board we relaxed. No, we're not home-free yet. Our train was a local. Yes, it'll get us to City College, but thru a couple dozen stops. If we could get the express, we save a lot of stops, specially on Manhattan. The way this line works, locals and expresses have their own stops in Fulton Street until Downtown. From Downtown to the Lower Manhattan, the two services share tracks. They split again above Lower Manhattan. Unless you really needed the express it's just as well to stay on the local to reach Downtwon or close by parts of Manhattan. We were going the long distance to upper Manhattan. WE need the express. Since we were on the shared track section as we entered Mannattan, we waited for the servies to divide, then looked out for an express that may catch up to us. None did!
Out of the woods -------------- We finally saw an epxress at Columbus Circle and hopped into it. From then to CityCollege, we had a swift rocket-like run. Ywo stops, that's all it takes to get from Columbus Circle to City College! We walked up the sloping street, Convent Avenue, from the station to the College, about a half kilometer. Steve stopped at the former site of Alexander Hamilton's house to explain that it was moved into St Nicholas Park to give it a more realistic setting like in colonial times. Hamilton's statue is still on the old site for some reason. Steve recounted how he watched the move of the house. Because it was partly blocked b a newer building at one corner, the entire house was put on a skid, than a gantry was built over the street in front of it. This contraption bodily lifted the house and set it on a flatbed truck. The truck creeped around the corner and into the Park. A second gantry there lifted the house and set it on its new footing.
Getting started ------------- Because we did take longer than expected for the ride, we could not detour to see the Hamilton house this year. We hurried into Shepard Hall, where the Fair is staged. We mustered up the students and made sure the Fair ushers got them to their proper tables. Setting up th exhibit was quick, with help of tape, scissors, felttips that Steve had with him. He then took a few pictures of the displays and the sutdents. We hunted out Steve's other kids, took their pictures, and checked their displays. When all was ready, Steve and I headed to the judge's briefing and, oh, yes, breakfast. We didn't have a good meal yet this morning. The breakfast I had at Kings Highway was thoroly exploited by now and i needed a refill. In the hurry to clock in the students we missed the Lincoln statue to rub his nose for good luck. This is a head & shoulders figure set against one of the columns in Shepard Hall. It's easy to miss it. Some people are distracted by an other full-height statue in the middle of the floor. The briefing and breakfast were acorss the street in an other campus building. We signed in. The clerk asked for our disciplines. Mine is physical and earth scinece and engineering. Well, there were enought judges already for those projcts. There are lots of social and behavioral science entries that are short of judges. How about if I judge them? I recall going thru this a couple years ago, but that was probably due to a snafu with the Fair due to a blizzard. This time the Fair was up front about giving me projects way outside of my expertise. What the hell, I took the packet for behavioral and social sciences and headed for breakfast. Steve got his packet, too.
This is food? ----------- I fon't know what happened with the food service. It looked like the dishes were cooked last night and then put out in the morning. I felt something was wrong when the server plopped French toast on my plate and it clunked. it was as stiff as toast! The other items were also lousy. I went to the breads and pastries. Oy! There were no items to pocket to munch on later. The pastries were good and all that, but gooey and sticky. A napkin wrapped around them would stick and tear. The bagels needed a knife to cut and some spread to go with them. I left breakfast with empty hands and almost empty stomach. . We were called to attention to sit at tables under our disciplines. There were plenty of social and behavoral science tables. i sat at the first one I came to and met four other judges. Only one was anyhow versed in this area. She was a teacher. The others of us were more of the hard science type. We banterd while Fair agents passed out papers. The narrator explained the score sheet with its fill-the-circle spots all over it. We each had eight projects to judge and each project will be judged three times by different judges. The distribution of projects was spread across many tables so we did not have duplicates among us five. I noticed something missing. We were supposed to affix a judge's sticker on each score sheet from a set included in our packet. I didn't have these stickers. After the briefing i went back to the sign-in table and got a set of stickers. These I put in the designated spot on the score sheet to save time on the exhibit floor.
Rain on your science ------------------ It was supposed to rain by most weather forecasts but on the way to City College the sky was merely covered with cloud. Steve and I left our coats in Shepard Hall under the table of one student's exhibit. This is our normal practice to relieve us of shlepping around with the coat on our backs or in our arms. Going to the briefing after getting the kids set up was fine without a coat. A bit chilly but the briefing and breakfeast were just a skip across the street. When we left the judge's briefing to walk back to Shepard Hall, it was RAINING! Real heavy rain. We got wet. We trotted back to Shepard Hall but we were wet. I had a few hapkins from breakfast in my pcoket to dry off with. I skated off water after the napkins gave out. Lunch was in the same building as the briefing and breakfast. To go for lunch I took my coat with me. That defended me against the rain, which was as strong as ever. Same for returning to Shepard Hall. The worse was yet to come. When we shoved off to go home, we were a group that didn't want to hustle along. The students sauntered, as if to purposely get drenched! Steve and I tried to nudge them faster on the half-K hike to the subway, Rain pelted down on us, soaking thru my coat. On the train we dried off in air. When we transfered to the Franklin line we got doused again on the outdoor platform. And, for me, I got my final wetting while waiting for my bus after leaving the subway at my home station.
Judging! ------ This year the judging was in the morning to early afternonon. Then there was a lunch break for every one. The mid afternoon was left for the public viewing. After 4PM the studnets could take down their displays and go home. We five judges from the briefing went around individually to our projects. I discuss a few of them below. When I handed in the score sheets I fixed to keep the descriptions for the projects as a souvenir. The clerk caught me and asked to hand over the descriptions papers. I'm left with what i can remember about the projects. The social and behavioral sciences seemed pretty easy to suss out. The students had a hunch about some relation of a one aspect of life to an other and then did a survy of fellow students about that hunch. They tabulated the survey and made conclusions from them. The displays were mostly statements of the hunch (called hypothesis in science), survey method, treatment and analysis of the survey, and conclusions. While the hypotheses were OK, all of the students suffered a common deficiency. All explained they had too few replies to their survey to make fair conclusions. Since by general shcool rules all inquiries are voluntary and the targets do not have to respond, some projects went to the Fair with a handful of returns to work with.
Science education --------------- As in past years the strong swing of entries continued toward new Americans. They dominate not only this Fair but almost all contests of scholarly achievement across the country. I saw gaggles of Asian, exSoviet Europeans, Latinos, Indians, Arabs, Blacks. 'Normal Americans' were the new minority! In the news a few weeks before the Fair was a school in Virginia who scored high in the Intel semifinalist contest. A local newspaper reporter listed the winners, all with overseas names. He then went into a tirade about 'those' people infesting America and 'stealing' our prizes! The hard truth is simple: On the whole normal Americans just don't apply themselfs any way as much as in bygond decades. The new arrivals know the meaning and value of education, having seen what a lack of it does in their home countries. They also find it orders easier to acquire education in the United States simply because it is more open and available than back home. In some countries education beyond writing your name is reserved for the privileged classes. During the banter with other judges, most being teachers, it seems that an additional factor is creeping in. At least in the City, and from what I'm told, generally thruout the United States, there is a monotonic decline in science education. Schools just can't afford the labs, supplies, equipment, teachers, services to maintain a proper science curriculum. This withering away of the sciences leads to withdrawal of information about science competitions and opportunities. The number of applicants dwindles, which is why there were so few contestants at the Science and Engineering fair this year. The kids, such as they were studying science, didn't hear word about the Fair or thought it was some special event beyond them to apply for. I deal with many kinds of teacher in my astronomy and hear similar arguments for the performing arts, music, theater, history, languages, maths, even sports. Each discipline feels it is shortchanged against the others. 'Look at the school chorus how it has new uniforms and media coverage! My maths marathon played to three parents in the audience and the janitor turned off the heat!' 'Our lacrosse team loses games because our rackets got holes in them! But, oh, yeah, the spelling circle gets passes for college liguistic lectures all the time!' 'My history class has textbooks with Ronald Reagan as the current president and something about Star Wars being more than a movie! Yet the Latin American culture class gets a grant for a summer in Cancun!'
Exhibits ------ The rules this year were more relaxed for the displays. In many instances the title on the boards did not match that in the judge's description sheet. I got around by picking out keyowrds and then asking if the exhibit was number such-&-such. The graphics were far more varied, from exquisitely neat and tasteful computer typography to ratty crayon and stencil and immature penmanship. Yet, at least for my projects, all of the basic items were in place: statement, hypothesis, data, methods, references, results, conclusions, further work, and so on. These items were not specificly set out in the briefing. I went with the criteria on the score sheets. Props were allowed. Some exhibits had laptops, tools, apparatus, notebooks to show the judges. A few laptops were tied to electric thru wall power outlets. A project could be a solo effort or done by a team of up to three students. In the latter case, among my projects, the students did a skit, passing dialog amng them in turn. Some of the exhibits I judged were:
TEENAGER ATTITUDE ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY. The student played videos of scenes depicting gay people. She took them from various movies on Internet. The viewers, her targets, then asnwered several questions on a survey form. She found that most targets simply went with the atitude portrayed in the clips rather than personal feeling.
TEXTING AND MANUAL DEXTERITY. The student watched as her targets sent sample text messages to see which hand manipulated the device. Then she put the targets thru a series of manual tasks, like picking up coins or circling dots, with each hand in turn. She found no good correlation of parity and texting. She believed most texting is done by the thumb, which is about equally agile on each hand.
USE OF SMARTPHONES BY TEENAGERS. The student queried targets for the kind and number of calls they placed thru the handheld phones. She had several categories, including school-realted work. This included searching in Internet, fetching files and pictures for homework, referring to maps. She found that almost all use is between friends, some with family and household. The lowest purpose was for school.
SIBLING REACTION TO PUNISHMENT. The student surveyed students with siblings in the household and asked about their feeling when they are punished. 'Punishment' could be any adverse action against the sibling for misbehavior, from withholding television to whipping. She found to few qualifying students for a good sample. She did learn that they loved watching their sibling get punished.
CONCEPT OF ACHIEVING GOALS. The student surveyed others in various high school grades for what their life goals are. Virtually all just wanted to make it thru graduation. Some were toying with joining the army soonest they are eligible or working in a family business. Juniors and seniors were also looking toward college or business life.
COLOR-INDUCED STATE OF MIND. The student let her targets examine the same picture printed on paper of various colors. She asked how they felt during the viewing. The results were inconclusinve due to loose procedure and unrealized interaction of colors among the pictures. She did learn that for printing pictures, white paper is best for clarity and legibility.
Navigating on the floor --------------------- Shepard Hall's central theater, Great Hall, was griddd out with rows and tiers of tables on which the sutdent set up his display. Each spot was about 3/4 meter wide and had a floor coordinate sticker on it. The displays were grouped by discipline according to a color-coded map. Ushers steered the students to their spot. I could find my projects by matching the table sticker to the coords printed on the project descriptions. The table cloths this year were all white, not colored. In some previous years the cloths were colored to match the colors for each discipline on the floor map. To get to the salmon section on the map O looked for the salmon cloth on the tables. What seemed like aa simple task ended up being a sure way to get lost. The coordinate sticker was on the table in front of the display. It was large and easy to read from a distance. It was also easy to be obstructed by people at the exhibit, props and papers, students sitting on the table, coats and bags. I ended up just asking wher is exhibit such-&-such.I had eight projects to inspect, at my pace of 20 minutes each. That's 2h 40m for the judhing, which filled the time right up until lunch. The briefing did not stipulate a duration for each inspection. I from prior years found that 20 minutes is quite enough. That includes marking the score sheet. My pace was smooth and direct. After each inspection the judge initialed a judge's card atached to the display to let the student keep track of the number of judgings he went thru. This was missed in the briefing! After doing the first project I started to walk to the next. The student called me back to show me the card i had to initial. There after I found the card on my own for the rest of my projects. Ny 1PM I was finished and also hungry. I handed in my sheets in a side room in Shepard Hall and collected a snazzy service certificate, a glass 'chemical beaker' coffee cup, and lunch coupon. Lunch was served in the regular student cafeteria. The food there was actually better than what the Fair put out for breakfast! I took a lunch combo equivalent to a cheesburger plate, Yes, it was school food, but adequate.
Ambience ------ This year there were obviously fewer exhibits than last year, perhaps only 500. There was ample space between the tables to walk around without undue interference. The ambient noise was much less, letting me hear more clearly the student's spiel. From the cloudy sky outside the daylight was even over the floor. No harsh shadows and dark corners this time. I never the less found my pocket torch handy to light smaller print on the dispaly or read a graph. The torch is a tool I had at prior Fairs but so far I never saw other judges use one. There was no crazy disconbobulations from students taking down their exhibits after judging. The exhibits had to stay in place with students tending them after lunch for the public viewing. That cleared up one major hassle from prior years. The room was calm thruout the whole jusging period. After lunch Steve and I met back in Shepard Hall for the public viewing. we went around to see other displays and meet with his other sutdents and Mr Harvey. We missed him earlier from our own busyness with judging. Steve and Mr Harvey took more pictures of the displays and group shots of the students. Now the din and congestion came in! Teachers, parents, friends poured into Great Hall, milled around, shouted, waved, clogged aisles for picture-taking, dunped coats and bags on the floor, munched on food from the lunch break or the visitors. Now it didn't matter. Our work was finished. We had to stick around until the viewing was over and the kids could go home. The crash of dismantled display boards was thunderous soonest the students were released! Within ten minutes Great Hall had only bare tables!
Let's go home ----------- The trip home was the reverse of the morning ride. Four trains! The express from City College to Brooklyn, the local to Franklin avenue station on the Fulton Street line, the Franklin Avenue line, and the Brighton line. Mr Harvey had his set of students on an other route to Brooklyn. On the way home we wondered why the Brighton service notices did not mention the Franklin line as an alternative route. It connects to the other two mainlines, both going to Downtwon and Manhattan. Moreover, their stations are within a block or two of Brighton's closed stations and serve the same general parts of the City. . We were blasted with rain on the Franklin line's open-air platform. We mused how miserable other riders must be who followed the service notices. They really got drenchd on street waiting for the shuttle buses! I got off at my home station and left Steve and the kids to continue to Kings Highway. I got my last soak-thru from the rain while waiting for a bus to get to my house. Oh, man!, did I take a good hot shower and go to bed that night!