Photos of the day

So, I vaguely remember some total lunar eclipses in my past that were at 4am or so… not happening.  Was excited for last night’s to be at a time I’m normally up (starting before midnight) and on a crystal clear night in central NC (of course, crystal clear winter nights are cold nights– temperatures in the 20’s and wind chills in the teens).

I was also looking forward to the photographic challenge.  I still don’t why it is so hard to get a decent photo of the moon without a powerful zoom, but I’ve always failed at that, even with a tripod.  I do have a 40x zoom in my Canon SX 730 HS, but it is otherwise not the best camera.  Anyway, it did prove easy to get some pretty great shots of the moon early in the eclipse, but once things went total, it was really hard to make it all work.  No matter what I did, it just would not autofocus properly on the shadowed moon.  I finally figured out how to manually focus, but it’s not quite 100% sharp.  It was also kind of cool to see the shutter length go from relatively fast at the beginning of the eclipse (1/400) to needing 1 second of exposure to capture the total eclipse.  And the less light, the harder it was to get the camera to get a good shot, regardless of the tripod.

Speaking of the tripod…  My standard tripod is not well-designed for pointing almost straight up.  The moon was high in the sky, as in sore neck high.  What ended up working was putting my car in the middle of the cul-de-sac and putting my mini tripod on it which allowed me to have a tripod that pointed up and actually have a view from underneath.  Of course, figuring that all out with my bare hands in the 14 degree wind chill was not great.

Anyway, totally worth it.  And, more than you want to know, but hey, those pretty moon shots aren’t going to take themselves.

Here’s my favorite shots:


Just how wrong should you be?

About 15%.  Seriously.  Terrific post (and hat-tip to the lovely Kim for pointing it out to me) here from Scientific American on the importance of being wrong for learning.  If you are always right, you almost assuredly aren’t challenging yourself enough.  And, if you are wrong too often, well…

An article from a team led by University of Arizona cognitive scientist Robert Wilson provides an answer: 15 percent. The researchers argue that a test is optimally difficult if the test-taker gets 85 percent of the questions right, with 15 percent incorrect. Any more than that, the test was too easy. Any less, the test was too hard. They call it “The Eighty-Five Percent Rule for Optimal Learning.”…

The implications of the 85 percent rule in the classroom are straightforward. If you’re a teacher, your tests should be difficult enough that the average score is 85 percent. If you’re a student, the optimal level of challenge is about a B or a B+ average. An A might look nice on your transcript, but you could have stood to learn more from a class that was harder. Outside the classroom, the implications of the 85 percent rule are similar. If you are learning a new language, say on Duolingo, then you should be getting about 15 percent of the answers wrong. Otherwise, you’re not being challenged at the right level to consistently improve in picking up your new language.

Hooray for me.  Apparently I’m doing right by my students because, not quite intentionally, my test averages are usually somewhere in the low 80’s (okay, probably 82-83, more often than 85, but that’s pretty close).  And, of course, more broadly, being wrong is how we learn:

But never being wrong isn’t an especially good thing. To the contrary, being wrong is important because it is the first step on the way to being right. If you’re never wrong, you never learn anything you didn’t already know. So whether you’re taking a test from the Laser Guy or reconsidering your slate of metaphysical tenets, getting a few answers wrong is like salting a meal: a little bit makes the whole thing better, just don’t take it too far.

Just in the past year, I added “be wrong” to my first-day-of-class admonitions for my students (along with the likes of “look alive,” and “ask questions”).  I don’t know if it helps, but based on open-ended class feedback I always get frustrated by stories of students who are afraid to speak up in class for fear of being wrong.  I tell them I’d rather they speak a wrong answer than sit quietly with a right one, but I”m not sure they believe me :-).


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