I was pretty sick last week. No life-threatening sickness, just a common, but hard cold, the ones you get almost every year at beginning of flu season. It’s fine, you feel miserable for a few days and then go on with business as usual being essentially cured for the winter. But those few days truly are horrible.
In that sense you can’t do anything which requires lots of thought. The dumber the TV program, the better. There was no way I would be reading any of my usual science or geekery stuff, even a simple newsmagazine turned out to be much too difficult. However, I did not want to subject myself to the torture that is daytime german TV, either.
So I opted to start to marathon a series that has been on my list forever, but which I wanted to leave for a vacation or one of these sick periods (it was only last year, exactly when sick, too, that I discovered “Breaking Bad”). It was “Friday Night Lights“, a series about a high school football coach in Texas. While the football is an important part of the story, it is more about the interplay and the hardships in a small american town. It is sometimes a bit soapy (“will they or won’t they get together?”), preachy (“everybody deserves a second chance”) and boy does it try to get the tears out of you. But overall a fine series, of which I finished the first 2 seasons during those sick days.
What got me the most is how these high school kids were under so much pressure and all that before they got to college. Even getting to college was a hard thing, but kids already have lived through a lot by the time they are sitting in my “Intro to Astronomy” class. They were carrying around a lot of baggage.
It dawned on me how great it is that the kids (and yep, I feel like more of a mom now) that are sitting in my class actually chose to take a course that might be considered hard. I had to compete with a lot of personal factors to get them to sit in that lecture. And not only that, a lot of them actually like it.
In the October I held a lecture, the first real one of the semester dealing with Kepler’s laws and stuff like that. The homework was something really simple, they just had to go through the last few APODs (Astronomy Picture of the day) and send us the one they liked most and why. Fortunately, the day of the lecture was video of the Space Shuttle going through the streets of LA. I had chosen before the lecture to just let it play in the background while the people were filing in and I was preparing my notes. Suddenly, the people were pointing at the screen, whispering to each other and looking fascinated. I choose to take a short detour on my lecture and we talked about the Shuttle and the Space Program for 15 minutes. A lot of the students were very knowledgeable and it was more of a conversation. I could see the sparkle in their eyes, that they loved to talk about it. Good times!
And so I was smiling when a few days ago, I received an e-mail from two of my students from last semester. How they want to keep active in astronomy, whether they could use the 70cm telescope at the institute. When I asked them which days would be best, they responded that Friday nights would be best. These are 20-year-old kids, which are choosing to spend their Friday nights observing (for science purposes) on a crappy telescope rather than going to a pub or whatever kids do these days 😉
We carry a lot of baggage, we all have stuff going on at home, so I am always thankful when somebody shares my interests and is willing to spend time on it with me. I hope most of those students find that interest, it doesn’t have to be Astronomy, but I hope there is something that incites passion in them, that let’s them not succumb to bad stuff at home that might be drawing them down.