Monday, August 25, 2008

Escaping Light Pollution

Our city-bound math and/or geography students might well register skepticism as to the relevance of studying Celestia or Stellarium, both open source projects, as what's the likelihood of ever seeing the stars? In a big city, you don't see them, nor is the school system offering to bus you to anywhere that you might.

Portland Public is a little different in having a week-long Outdoor School for elementary school kids, although there's no assurance these few nights away from the city will include a stellar vista, given how clouded over this region gets, at all times of the year.

Escaping the city limits remains more a family responsibility i.e. the classroom-bound teacher assumes students will get to see real stars at some point, and not just on the concave inner surface of the OMSI planetarium.

Heading out the Gorge during summer break, checking out Multnomah Falls, the fish hatcheries and dams, Sam Hill's Maryhill and Stonehenge, Crown Point, remain popular ventures, but then one needs to stay out late enough to see the Milky Way, perhaps from a stern-wheeler in the Columbia.

The elite academies I'm envisioning would provide plenty of stargazing opportunities, because situated sufficiently far from Greater Portland to make that feasible. I call them "elite" because of the opportunities they offer, thanks to their innovative design, committed staff, and students motivated to share generously with peers.

Portland's open source philosophy both informs and sustains our curriculum on many levels, such that surrounding communities benefit, and participate in keeping a given school localized and steeped in regional lore, much of it tracing back to times before Lewis & Clark or the Oregon Trail, into the dim reaches of geological time. Affiliations with tribal councils and interpretive museums will suggest plenty of work-study and skill building scenarios, sometimes involving canoes.

The Dalles area is a candidate location, as are high desert locations closer to Bend. Making a resort ranch work economically, by turning it into a part time school or training center (or "boot camp" if you will), is not just my idea. Those horses need some interesting work, trails to follow and such (means crews, people wanting to tend horses).

Those public charters and/or private academies wishing to federate might share data in common. My latest set of schemas for serving up Polyhedra include a Vectors table with points of interest A-Z. Rhombic dodecahedra anyone?

Learning the SQL needed to create, populate, and selectively withdraw from such data banks would be a mostly indoors activity, although consulting said info through web services would routinely occur in the field, sometimes through special hand-held devices, connected by wifi back to the basement rack space.

Spatial geometry and vectors lead us to field work in many disciplines, including civilian rocketry, as we map our terrain, take inventory of flora and fauna, monitor atmospheric conditions and so on. Students gain a first person appreciation for the real physical forces involved, don't just squeak by with white board abstractions.