When was the first — or the last — time you walked into a library?

I took my most recent steps into a library this morning. My very first? Well, we are going back in time, not quite (but close enough) to the year of the first nationwide celebration of libraries.

Sixty years ago, the theme of the inaugural National Library Week urged Americans to “Wake Up and Read” rather than surrender to the trend of forsaking books in favor television or radio.

This week’s NLW celebration theme, “Libraries Lead,” confirmed the library’s resilience despite the blitz of alternative sources of information, including online and social media, over the past six decades.

A 2015 Pew survey reported that 94 percent of Americans over the age of 16 believe that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community and 95 percent believe that “the materials and resources available at public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed.”

Author Ray Bradbury – described in his New York Times’ obituary as “a master of science fiction whose imaginative and lyrical evocations of the future reflected both the optimism and the anxieties of his own postwar America” – credited the library as his primary source of higher education.

“I couldn’t go to college,” Bradbury said, “so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

Every working day, I have the privilege of entering a library. Madigan Library at Pennsylvania College of Technology is more than a hub of campus activity. It is a pillar of the local community that offers free community memberships to adult residents of the county who wish to use library resources.

Madigan Library, Pennsylvania College of Technology

My office is on the third floor of Madigan Library, which is also home to two of my favorite places on campus – The Gallery at Penn College and the Penn College Archives.

If I had known as a child that I would one day work inside a library, I would have forseen days spent wandering through the stacks, choosing a book here and a book there – one for the beauty of its cover, another based on interesting subject matter or a favorite author’s name.

Work — instead of shelves full of books vying for my attention — now demands much of my time. Yet I do, on occasion, take a look at the new book displays or walk through a gallery exhibition during a lunch break or take time to research historical documents in the archives.

Enjoying an artist’s talk at The Gallery at Penn College

I spent many days in the Penn College Archives during the years leading up to the College’s centennial celebration in 2014. Piecing together information (found in the Archives and revealed in interviews with former leaders, faculty and alumni), I authored several books on the institution’s history and served as executive producer of a Telly Award-winning documentary, Working Class: 100 Years of Hands-on Education, which inspired the Working Class public television documentary series.

It would have been impossible to tell the story of the college’s history without the support of Madigan Library and its librarians, especially Patricia A. Scott and Helen L. Yoas. Helen and Pat routinely amazed me with their knowledge, professionalism and sincere interest in helping me bring the institution’s story to life.

Patricia A. Scott
Helen L. Yoas

Because I know these librarians, I was not surprised to learn (in the Pew survey) that libraries remain relevant in a changing world due, in large part, to librarians. These resourceful individuals spend hours every day helping citizens navigate often-challenging processes that are crucial to meeting everyday needs – from completing homework assignments to securing critical information about housing and health care.

A Brookings Institution report explained, “In many communities, librarians are also ad hoc social workers and navigators. They help people figure out the complexities of life, from navigating the health system to helping those with housing needs.”

A Smithsonian magazine report also revealed, “The Pew survey found that libraries have become important community tech hubs in recent years, particularly for young, black, and low-income communities. The public institutions provide important access to computers, the internet, and public Wi-Fi networks, surveyors reported. Often, patrons use these resources to do research for school or work, and to check email, according to the data.”

Americans also believe libraries provide safe spaces as well as educational opportunities, according to the Smithsonian’s report: “Libraries are also viewed as critical venues during a time of crisis. In the face of natural disasters or community issues, like Hurricane Sandy in 2013, libraries often serve as refuges or outposts.”

Former First Lady and bestselling author Laura Bush – whose foundation is raising funds to help rebuild school library collections that were lost in last year’s natural disasters – believes, “Libraries allow children to ask questions about the world and find the answers. And the wonderful thing is that once a child learns to use a library, the doors to learning are always open.”

Children at Penn College’s Dunham Children’s Learning Center

The first time I walked through a portal to discover the magic world of books, I did not enter a building. I stepped onto a bookmobile sponsored by James V. Brown Library in Williamsport, PA, miles away from my rural family home.

Years later, the summer before I entered high school, I visited the “real” Brown Library, a magnificent Victorian facility built in 1907. I went there to receive an award for winning an art contest sponsored by the library. My entry was a scrap art caricature of President Richard M. Nixon rendered from materials I found in my parents’ junk drawer. I bought my first camera with the prize money I received.

As a young girl, I walked through the library’s open doors to discover amazing people, places and things that changed my perceptions of the world.

I read The Story of My Life by Helen Keller and learned that opportunity exists in every challenge. I found my love of animals celebrated in books like Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague and the Atwater’s Mr. Popper’s Penguins. I found a role model in the Donna Parker series written by Marcia Whitman.

I even staged the first (and only) play I ever wrote in my elementary school library, with my sixth grade classmates performing a story I can no longer fully recall.

Over many years, I found a home in the library. We all know — thanks to the Wizard of Oz — there is no place like home. If you haven’t been there lately, in honor of National Library Week, go home to your library, reconnect with your favorite librarians, and find yourself again.

Night view of Madigan Library



The bunny rabbit – harbinger of spring and legendary giver of holiday treats – takes center stage in many homes this time of year.

Among the most popular of the long-eared, short-tailed mammals is Peter Rabbit. Made famous by Beatrix Potter more than a century ago, he starred in a computer-animated film released earlier this year.

While Peter Rabbit made her famous before World War I, Beatrix was more than a commercial success. She was a noted naturalist and early land conservationist.

Biographer Linda Lear stated, “… at a time when nature was viewed as a commodity to be exploited, Beatrix Potter had the vision and environmental understanding to try to preserve a unique landscape … Her imaginative stewardship of the land is as much a part of her creative legacy as her art and stories for children.”

Children of every generation discover their place in the world through early exploration of their homelands. They interpret life through the environment that surrounds them. What better reason can we have for protecting natural resources? Nature is our home.

In Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, Lear wrote: “The part of the Lake District that Beatrix Potter chose as her own was not only physically beautiful, it was a place in which she felt emotionally rooted as a descendant of hard-working north-country folk … There was a realism in the countryside that nurtured a deep connection.”

Those words help to explain my affinity for Beatrix. I too live in a pastoral environment that has sentimental value to me. My three-acre property is part of a 100-acre parcel my grandparents purchased 75 years ago.

Over the years, the landscape changed: a barn torn down, new structures built, old trees removed and news ones planted, a natural gas pipeline placed beyond the boundaries of my property. What remained constant were wild strawberries, violets and dandelion that return each spring and distant mountains that provide incredible views of fall foliage and year-round sunsets. In every season, I find reasons to explore and to love nature in my home place.

Spring is a perfect season to get outside and enjoy nature. It is also a great time to read and share the tales of Beatrix Potter. Inspired by my reading last year, I purchased a Peter Rabbit egg hunt kit – signs featuring Beatrix’s famous illustrations attached to wooden stakes – to guide my favorite little ones to their holiday treats.

While researching last year’s Telly Award-winning documentary Working Class: Build and Grow Green, I was surprised to learn that Beatrix’s popular tales also  influenced Rachel Carson, who is credited with changing public opinion about humans’ impact on the environment in the 1960s.

The effect of Peter Rabbit on the author of Silent Spring was described in Rachel Carson; Witness for Nature, also written by Linda Lear: “In fourth grade, Rachel wrote a story called “A Sleeping Rabbit.” Her cover illustration shows a plump white rabbit sitting with eyes closed in a chair beside a small round table on which are placed a candle and a book entitled Peter Rabbit. These stories and drawings reflect not only Rachel’s keen observation of bird and animal life but the kind of children’s literature she was reading and being read … Rachel’s favorites were the animal stories by Beatrix Potter, with their wonderfully detailed drawings, which she painstakingly imitated.”

Our children are keen observers and imitators. We can only imagine how the observations and connections to nature and the arts they experience today might lead them to make their own unique marks on the world in the years to come.

I encourage you to continue the legacy of Beatrix Potter and Rachel Carson this spring holiday season by sharing nature, animals, art and literature with your children. You will bring joy to their lives and to yours.






“Reflections” by Tori Romania

“You have to stand up for some things in this world.”

These words were spoken decades ago by Marjory Stoneman Douglas.  They now describe the actions of young people around the nation who will march this weekend to support a movement led by the survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

March for Lives will take place Saturday in Washington DC and in “sibling” cities around the nation. The event, according to its mission statement, is about safety, not politics:

“There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing.”

The March for Lives website offers details about the upcoming event, including a list of artists that will perform on stage in the nation’s capitol in support of the students’ efforts to end gun violence.

“You have to stand up for some things in this world.”

“Happiness in Humanity” by Natalie Ring

Every generation, when faced with turmoil and confusion, looks to its most creative artists, activists, teachers, and leaders to inspire understanding, hope, healing and change.

I have the opportunity, as executive producer of the Working Class public television documentary series, to connect with students and teachers that are making a difference in our communities. Among them are the participants in a recent art challenge, sponsored by Pennsylvania College of Technology and WVIA Public Media, producers of Working Class.

The Dream & Do Art Challenge invited student artists to depict the world as they imagine it. Original works of art submitted by students from one Pennsylvania high school seemed to me to be well suited for these trying times.

“Stronger Together” by Morgan Cole

I featured art by one Southern Columbia Area High School student (“Stronger Together” by Morgan Cole) in last week’s blog. In this blog, I am pleased to share all seven entries from Southern Columbia students.

Individually, each work offers a unique artist’s perspective, rendered with real talent. Collectively, the seven works lead me to believe that something special is happening in the art program at Southern Columbia Area High School.

When I offered high praise to Southern Columbia art teacher Casie Baker, she immediately turned the credit over to her student artists, calling them her “dream team.” I was inspired by Casie’s enthusiasm and by the talents of her students. We need dreamers and doers in our schools and our communities.

“Lighter than Life” by CeCe Cook

The visions and voices of today’s high school students will guide our world in the not-too-distant future. It is important that we encourage all students to express themselves responsibly and creatively. Student activists and artists especially deserve our support, as they have the power to inspire their entire generation.

We need dreamers and doers in our schools and our communities.

As our nation considers important issues related to school safety, mental health, and gun control,  high school students are setting a new standard for student activism. They are standing up –  for themselves, for their peers and for the world they are about to inherit.

“Gundam Trees” by Russ Gleeson

I learned, through a recent article in The Atlantic, that many of the qualities exhibited by Parkland’s student activists – “confidence, persuasive communication, creativity, stage presence” – were honed in their high school’s theatre program.

This information, in addition to the inspiration I received from Casey Baker’s art students, reminded me that art in our schools is more than a luxury; it is a necessity. It is something worth standing up for, I believe.

Educators and programs that focus on art, music, and theatre deserve our attention and our support.

Creative thinking, communication and innovation are required to meet the challenges of modern times. Students practice these skills in classes that promote the creative arts. We cannot afford to lose these essential elements of education.

Educators and programs that focus on art, music, and theatre deserve our attention and our support.

Every generation faces its own challenges in determining what the world will be.

“Bouquet of Beauty” by Susan Gembic

When I see beautiful art created by students and when I read words that convince me of their potential to imagine and create a better world, I am confident that we are in good hands with the next generation.

Southern Columbia student Toni Romania created “Reflections,” a drawing (seen at the opening of this blog) that contrasts a futuristic city in ruins with her reflected vision of potential growth and development.

Toni said, “The whole scene is a representation of viewing the world through my eyes … I believe that there is room for improvement in the world as it is, and if we focus on making these improvements, the world can continue to flourish. However, if the bad overpowers the good, the world as we know it will slowly start to fall apart.”

Students understand the serious challenges we face in the world today and they are ready to stand up for the things that matter.

Southern Columbia student Hannah Bradley used these words to describe her painting, “Elation,” which captured a moment of innocence in her childhood: “Everything then was pretty and warm and everything felt safe and pure. That is how I imagine everyone should feel in an ideal world.”

From Casie Baker’s “dream team” of artists at Southern Columbia to the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who have taken a lead role in a national conversation about gun control and school safety, students are using their visions and voices to show us what the world could be.

It’s up to us to look and to listen.

“Elation” by Hannah Bradley


Stronger Together by Morgan Cole

Today, the National School Walkout is drawing attention to student voices that began challenging public opinions immediately following last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Student voices matter. As we stop and listen to their ideas about the kind of world they want to live in, today’s students remind even the most world-weary adults that we too once believed in something better.

The recent Dream & Do Art Challenge, sponsored by Pennsylvania College of Technology and WVIA Public Media, producers of the Working Class public television documentary series, invited student artists to depict the world as they imagine it.

My most recent blog featured a student work titled Light the Way, which judges selected as the favorite entry from grades 7-12. Now, I would like to showcase the work of Southern Columbia High School student Morgan Cole.

This is how Morgan described the inspiration behind her piece, Stronger Together:

“The concept of complete togetherness and unity is an ideal held in high regard. We would be foolish, however, if we didn’t admit that it has also scared and intimidated the human race since its inception. 

Whether it be racism, sexism, homophobia, war, or even genocide, we as a people have taken extreme measures to avoid the unknown.  Yet, despite this, we strive towards the unknown every day in search of a solution to our most pressing problems. 

The human race is faced with a double-edged sword of our own creation.  We can choose to remain content with our own isolated perspectives.  Or, we can come together and make the daunting problems faced today the accomplishments of tomorrow. 

We can alleviate world hunger, provide clean drinking water to all, end deforestation and pollution, stop the extinction of wildlife caused by humans, end racism, shatter the glass ceiling, and achieve the unimaginable when we unite. 

It’s time that we understand that the root of our fear exists not in each other, but in what we might accomplish – when we overlook unimportant differences – together.”

This is a student voice – and an artistic vision – that is worthy of our attention.

The vision and the voices of today’s high school students will guide our world in the not-too-distant future. It is important that we encourage students to express themselves responsibly and creatively as activists and artists who inspire positive change.

The human race is faced with a double-edged sword of our own creation.  We can choose to remain content with our own isolated perspectives.  Or, we can come together and make the daunting problems faced today the accomplishments of tomorrow.

Every generation faces its own challenges in determining what the world will be for future generations. The compelling messages of today’s student artists and activists convince me they have the potential to imagine and create a better world.

Let’s join with them and support a new vision for a better world. We can become stronger, together.


“Light the Way” by Heather Rose Quadrino

When you find yourself in darkness, look for the light.

Courageous students who witnessed last week’s horrific mass shooting in Florida are refusing to let darkness overtake them. They are speaking out and demanding change. They, rightfully, are holding adults accountable for failing systems that leave them vulnerable and afraid.

Lame excuses will not honor the brave students, teachers, coaches, and custodians who have lost their lives in our nation’s schools. It is time to get serious about solving the problems that weigh most heavily on our society. Those same problems nurture the insecurities that lead to violence in our schools and on our streets.

Children are neglected while adults refuse to grow up and act responsibly. We need change and we need to accept personal responsibility for creating that change. We cannot let issues that divide us defeat us. We must find common ground through clear, honest dialogue that does not condemn, but instead seeks to build understanding and cooperation.

Every life must matter. Every voice must be honored. We are wasting time. We are wasting lives.

“… one person’s efforts can be the gateway to helping others in their community find their own way to a better world.”

When news of the most recent school shooting reached my desk, I was making the final selections for the Working Class “Dream & Do” art challenge, sponsored by Pennsylvania College of Technology and WVIA Public Media. The contest invited students, parents and teachers, to create works of art depicting the world as they imagined it.

A drawing titled “Light the Way” by Heather Rose Quadrino was selected as the judges’ favorite among entries from students in grades 7-12. Heather, an 11th grade student at Delaware Valley High School in Milford, PA, said her drawing “depicts how one person’s efforts can be the gateway to helping others in their community find their own way to a better world.”

Thank you Heather Rose, for your inspiring work, which reminds us to look for the light in a time of overwhelming darkness. Heather and the students speaking out against school violence in Florida are using their voices, talents and creative energies to bring light into the world. They need our encouragement and support. They need it now.

Classrooms are meant for creation, not for destruction. We have the power to make change. We need to use that power now.

“We are like children with nuclear fusion in our hands – never fully grasping our potential for good and for destruction,” wrote Erwin Raphael McManus in The Artisan Soul. “It’s easier to control people if we convince them that they are inherently uncreative – everyone simply conforms and cooperates. If we want to create a better world, we had better start to unleash the creative potential inside each person to create all that is good and beautiful and true.”

“We are like children with nuclear fusion in our hands – never fully grasping our potential for good and for destruction.”

It is time that we take accountability for our failures and find creative solutions to problems that, for too long, we have ignored because we are afraid to challenge the status quo.

Please do your part to unleash the power of good in your corner of the world. You can help create change today. You can light the way.




Image courtesy of

How much cheering takes place in your classroom – or at your kitchen table – when it is time for the kids to do their math lessons? Not a lot? Maybe they should just watch the Winter Olympics instead!

Believe it or not, behind every Olympic medal there is an opportunity to challenge the misconception that math must be boring. If you know someone who loves games and hates math, you can help them discover something amazing: math matters in athletic competition.

Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are involved in scoring athletes’ performances. Geometry — measuring lines and angles – is important in mastering the challenges of games. Calculus comes into play when determining rates of speed using distance and time.

Kids that enjoy watching skiers, skaters, and other world-class athletes perform on the Olympic stage just might find a reason to learn their lessons if you can help them see the connections between math and the sports they love.

Image courtesy of

“Most students who are struggling with math see letters and numbers; they don’t see what they represent,” explains Edwin G. Owens, of the Pennsylvania College of Technology math faculty. Owens, who appears in the public television documentary Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters, encourages teachers and parents to “get a little creative” and look for unique ways to connect students with real-world math scenarios.

“Start with capturing their attention,” he suggests. “Many times, I think math instructors think that you can’t get to solving the problem until you’ve taught them all the skills. I think you have to capture their attention with the problem first, and then you can go backwards and teach the skills.”

Online resources can help you make those math problem-solving connections during the current winter games. The Olympic Museum provides a variety of teaching resources, including information and activity sheets designed to help students aged 9-15 learn more about measuring time and analyzing motion.

A “Mathletics” video provided by the National Science Foundation and NBC Learn reveals how “math – from simple arithmetic to calculus – is part of every jump, every spin, every move the athletes make on snow or ice.”

During this Winter Olympic season, try trading the usual fight over math homework for something more fun. Watch the games together with your frustrated students and share the math connections. You might convince them that math is more than misery; it is crucial for medal-winning athletes.

Jason Horton, a Penn College computer gaming and simulation student featured in Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters, says “I want to do something that’s fun for me, something that’s new and intriguing that will keep me engaged in the project.”

One of Jason’s teachers describes him as “one of those students that’s always seeking more information and always learning, and always doing more.” Wouldn’t you love to be able to say that about your students?

Try something new to keep your student engaged in learning mathematics. Try a little “Mathletics” during the 2018 Winter Games.

Image courtesy of


Winter Patience & Pleasure

Winter scene outside the writer’s back door.

By February 2, groundhog’s shadow or no groundhog’s shadow, many Pennsylvanians are ready to call for an end to winter. Oddly, I am not one of them. I think winter still has more to offer.

After a festive holiday season that marks the end of one year and the start of another, I enjoy slowing down the pace. Winter, with its early sunsets, chilling winds, and slippery roadways, gives me that opportunity.

There are school closings and fewer plans for extracurricular activities. Mornings and evenings at home – without the usual rush to get somewhere – offer the rare opportunity to blend a batter of banana walnut waffles or to drink an extra cup of herbal tea while listening to classical music on public radio (WVIA-FM).

Here in 2018, we are busy people most of the time. Winter gives us an opportunity to be something more.

I have come to realize that I only find such simple winter pleasures when I look for them. Following a fast-paced routine most of my days offers some reward. Stillness, however, gives me more, and stillness is a fringe benefit of winter.

When things slow down, I find that I am more than a body responsible for completing an assigned list of tasks every day. Winter reminds me that I am a part of nature and that much of nature is beyond my control. In winter, I can rail against the season’s cold heart or I can find comfort in its beauty.

Summer chairs sulk briefly in winter white.

An overnight snowfall last week reminded me that, so often, beauty is fleeting. Scenes I photographed in the early morning lost their magic long before midday. Nature has its way of revealing our mortal condition. Nothing lasts forever.

Winter will lead us, eventually into spring. Summer heat will slow us down once again. The ebb and flow of activity is part of nature. I remind myself of this when I start to feel guilty for sitting down and doing nothing much at all this winter.

Nothing much can be everything. I prove this when I take a walk and enjoy the breathtaking scenery surrounding my home. I confirm it again, when I pick up a lengthy novel (this month, it is Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina) knowing I have time to sit quietly and read.

Here in 2018, we are busy people most of the time. Winter gives us an opportunity to be something more.

“The colder it gets the more you’ve got to love it.”

Environmentalist and author Rick Bass, who appears in Working Class: Build & Grow Green, gives this advice in his book Winter (Notes from Montana):

“Love the winter. Don’t betray it. Be loyal. When the spring gets here, love it too – and then the summer. But be loyal to the winter all the way through – all the way, and with sincerity – or you’ll find yourself high and dry longing for a spring that’s a long way off, and winter will have abandoned you, and in her place you’ll have cabin fever, the worst. The colder it gets the more you’ve got to love it.”

Forget about the groundhog’s shadow, forget about cabin fever, slow down and love this winter.

Perky sheltie Jacob Solomon Barkley reminds this blog writer how to make the most of winter.


“One obvious way to try to weaken a cause is to discredit the person who champions it.”

You might assume this statement addresses the current wave of personal attacks imbedded in our political discourse. It was, in fact, a declaration made by Rachel Carson to the National Women’s Press Club 55 years ago today (Dec. 5, 1962).

Rachel Carson image from PBS American Experience preview

Carson was a scientist and bestselling author whose book Silent Spring convinced the public and the federal government that overuse of pesticides harmed the environment and affected human health. Heralded today as a champion for the environment, Carson was, in 1962, the target of a massive campaign to discredit her work.

One obvious way to try to weaken a cause is to discredit the person who champions it.

While researching and producing the Working Class: Build & Grow Green documentary, I discovered a biography, Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature, written by Linda Lear, which detailed the life of a courageous woman who spoke ecological truth to power more than half a century ago.

Carson was not an activist. She was not one to demand attention for her cause. She was a quiet woman whose passion for the natural world led her to spend years investigating the dangers of chemicals introduced into the environment without sufficient precautions.

Her meticulous work, published in Silent Spring, held sufficient evidence that, despite assurances to the public, the overuse of pesticides caused damage to the environment and to human beings.

Cover of book Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature by Linda Lear

In Witness for Nature, Lear’s biographer described Carson’s appearance before the National Women’s Press Club in 1962: “With national television cameras rolling, Carson charged that basic scientific truths were being compromised ‘to serve the gods of profit and production.’”

Carson asked her audience, “Is industry becoming a screen through which facts must be filtered, so that the hard, uncomfortable truths are kept back and only the harmless morsels allowed to filter through?”

The filtering of news and information – in order to collect only that which comforts and confirms our own (sometimes-misguided) beliefs – can be dangerous. Before we pronounce judgment on ideas and individuals, it is important that we collect facts and keep our minds open to whatever outcome our investigation reveals.

In her Dec. 5, 1962 speech, Carson quoted a newspaper article (Globe Times, Bethlehem, Oct. 12, 1952) that detailed reaction to Silent Spring from farm bureau officials in two Pennsylvania counties. The article noted, “No one in either county farm office who was talked to today had read the book, but all disapproved of it heartily.”

No one had read the book, but everyone disapproved of it – heartily.

Rachel Carson image from AlterNet

An old adage warns not to “judge a book by its cover.” Carson’s critics mistakenly chose to judge the author without taking the time to read her book.

Today smug, critical attacks of character often pollute our environment. It is important that we, as mature adults, set an example of calm, capable discourse. By taking time to gather credible information about topics that interest us and respectfully sharing opinions based on facts rather than finger pointing, we encourage curiosity and good character among the young people who are watching.

Today smug, critical attacks of character often pollute our environment.

There is a better way to champion our causes than to belittle and berate other people. We gain strength for our convictions when we listen respectfully to others’ ideas and keep our minds open to investigations that reveal new facts and expand our awareness.

We ask our children not to shout over one another in their attempts to gain our attention. It is time we set a proper example by standing for truth and for civility in a climate poisoned by discourtesy, dishonor and disrespect.

I thank Rachel Carson and her biographer Linda Lear for reminding me that speaking truth – to power and the public – does not require shouting. It simply requires a tenacious commitment to the truth about the things that matter most to us.



I never learned to love math. I don’t think I am alone.

As elementary and secondary students, we are required to earn passing grades in math in order to move up the educational ladder. But we don’t have to like it and, too often, we don’t.

Study session at Pennsylvania College of Technology

It might not seem, at first, like a big deal. Some people like learning math and some people do not. However, success in the modern workplace often requires an understanding of how technology works. That understanding begins with mathematics.

Most of us lack even a basic understanding of how things that we depend upon every day really work.

How often do we look at our computers, cellphones or other devices and wonder how in the world they do what they do? It is not only our communication and entertainment devices; it is our appliances, automobiles and other products. Most of us lack even a basic understanding of how things that we depend upon every day really work.

Penn College electronics and computer engineering students

… industry will “fall a startling 2.0 million workers short of its needs” … over the next decade.

This lack of knowledge leaves too many men and women out of the running for jobs in growing industries, which need highly skilled workers. A Forbes article published earlier this year concluded that industry will “fall a startling 2.0 million workers short of its needs” to employ 3.4 skilled manufacturing workers over the next decade.

Two million job openings could go a long way toward improving our nation’s economy. How many lives could improve, how many families could be more secure, if we were capable of motivating students to take on the challenge of really understanding the mathematical foundation of modern technologies?

Learning automated manufacturing at Penn College

“You have to think abstractly and math really helps you to develop that mindset …”

Earlier this year, I interviewed Edward J. Almasy, a member of the faculty at Pennsylvania College of Technology, who described the importance of math in operating the electronic devices that rule modern industry.

“There’s millions of calculations going on every second. You can’t physically see that. You can’t see gears turning … levers being pulled. You have to think abstractly and math really helps you to develop that mindset … Having a mathematical mind will help you to understand how things work.”

 “Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters” – the latest episode in our award-winning documentary series – explores the link between math, computers and technology. It also encourages teachers and parents to help students understand how studying math will prepare them for the challenges of a modern world.

Penn College mathematics faculty often must find unique ways to turn students on to a subject they feared (and perhaps tried, as I did, to ignore) in high school.

“A teacher can make math more interesting.”

Lauren A. Rhodes

“When students come into my classroom, I would say the majority – at least more than half – are just terrified,” said Lauren A. Rhodes, who tries to calm the students’ fears and convince them, “You can do this!”

Her colleague Edwin G. Owens sees this as a motivational challenge for teachers: “Most students who are struggling with math see letters and numbers, they don’t see what they represent. A teacher can make math more interesting.”

Edwin G. Owens

In tackling the subject of “Why Math Matters,” the Working Class documentary features mountain climbers, a superhero and the legendary video game pioneer who founded Atari, Nolan Bushnell.

In a future blog, I will share more details about my interview with Bushnell, who was named by Newsweek as one of “50 Men Who Changed America.” The entrepreneur who revolutionized the industry in the 1970s, today works with a company that develops adaptive games for learning, Brainrush.

Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters made its broadcast premiere on public television this fall on WVIA Public Media. WVIA serves as co-producer of the series.

Teachers and homeschooling parents who want to learn more about how to use Working Class and other public media resources in their lesson plans are invited to participate in a free workshop on Nov. 30, 2017, at WVIA Public Media Studio. Contact me via e-mail to get more information or register for the workshop.

The shirt speaks for its owner, Mike Cherry, climbing coach and creator of The Addventures of Plusman comics, featured in Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters.


A Construction for the Heptagon (Neusis II)

Math was the beast of my high school homework. It loomed large and dangerous. I feared it and, too often, I hid from it. So, imagine my surprise when an enthusiastic math teacher led me to understand what I had missed.

“What I love most about math is its beauty,” explained Lauren Rhodes, assistant professor at Pennsylvania College of Technology. “I think of mathematics as color and light and sound and form … Math is art and art is math and music is art and music is math. They are all related. The underpinnings are mathematical …”

Lauren Rhodes

While interviewing Lauren for the Working Class documentary series, I found myself wishing I had learned math from a teacher like her. If I seen math as more than numbers and symbols and if I’d been willing to explore the connections between math and things I was naturally curious about, I might have tamed the beast that I feared.

I’ve been surprised to realize how many creative artists and innovators actually love math. Not only are they not afraid of math, they love it!

Crockett Johnson, author of Harold and the Purple Crayon (a children’s book classic featured in Working Class: Dream & Do), pursued a later-in-life love affair with mathematics.

Original book cover, Wikipedia

According to Dr. Philip Nel, who created The Crockett Johnson Homepage, math first was a hobby for the artist and then it became the inspiration behind a significant body of work.

He explained: “During what might be called his third career, Johnson painted about 100 large, vivid canvases of geometric shapes, often using a computer to plan the shapes for his abstract, mathematical ideas.”

Crockett Johnson’s math inspired work helps to dispel the myth that math and art do not mix.

Created during the last 10 years of Johnson’s life (1965-1975), 80 of the mathematical works now are part of a National Museum of American History collection.

Crockett Johnson and his painting Squared Circle. Photo credit: Jackie Curtis.

The Mathematical Association of American calls the collection a “mathematical treasure” created by an artist who had “no formal training in mathematics.” Examples of the work also are included in a Smithsonian “Where Art Meets Math” spotlight.

Crockett Johnson’s math inspired work helps to dispel the myth that math and art do not mix. It is a myth Lauren Rhodes routinely faces.

“I have heard parents, teachers, other students, people talking about themselves, saying, ‘Oh, that’s okay, you’re just not a math person. Some people just aren’t. You’ll probably never be able to do mathematics.’ I want to scream, ‘No! No!’ It may be harder in some ways to learn some pieces of mathematics for some people, but we need to find a way for math literacy.”

“It may be harder in some ways to learn some pieces of mathematics for some people, but we need to find a way for math literacy.”

Lauren believes passionate educators can inspire students through practical learning experiences that pave the way for greater math literacy.

“I think probably the best thing a teacher can do ever is love their subject,” she said. “I know as teachers we all lose that passion occasionally. You’ve got to get it back … You have to sell your subject. You have to love it. Then, I think secondly you have to bring the magic with you.

“You have to be able to show students, even if they don’t understand … show them what different colors look like in mathematics. Show them what different sounds look like with the waves. Show them geometric structures that are unusual and yet structurally sound … Even if mathematically they can’t do it yet, they have to know why … Why are we doing this? Where is this algebra that seems to go on forever, where is it going to take me?”

“Show them geometric structures that are unusual and yet structurally sound.”

Artistic welder Matthew Gordon was influenced by his mother’s (Lauren Rhodes) love of art and math.

Mathematics can take students to incredible places – and serve as a foundation for rewarding careers – if they are willing to put the work into their study of the subject.

The latest episode in our documentary film series, Working Class: Game On! Math Matters explores the challenges and rewards associated with the study of math. It emphasizes the connection between math and technology.

“I think technology has helped mathematics to blossom,” Lauren Rhodes said. “I think the unfortunate side effect of inundation with technology is that we do expect to learn immediately – that if we can’t ‘Google’ it, then it’s not worth knowing. To me that’s very frightening because I know how much work it takes to really learn something for yourself … It takes time and effort and energy … We need resilience and fortitude, not just immediate answers. We need to have a meeting of technology and humanity.”

“We need to have a meeting of technology and humanity.”

A Student Bodies welded art sculpture on the campus of Pennsylvania College of Technology.

The Working Class series attempts to arrange such a meeting, inviting the audience to see the connection between what we learn in school and how we live our lives and  choose our work.

This week, Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters premieres on WVIA Public Media. Featuring Lauren Rhodes along with other educators and legendary video game pioneer Nolan Bushnell, the film explores a variety of careers — from gaming and simulation to electronics engineering — that are based on the beauty and practicality of math.

Math is not a beast. Students need support and inspiration from teachers and mentors willing to dispel dangerous myths about who can and who cannot excel in math. Each and every math student deserves to find a path that leads to math literacy.