Tag Archives: science

What would happen if maths and language arts teachers swapped jobs?

bobrobertasmith

Art21 blog has given me an interesting idea in their latest post:

Last year the Guardian asked its sports and art writers to swap pieces for a day. Tennis correspondent Steve Bierley reviewed a Louise Bourgeois (Season 1) exhibition, which Bob and Roberta Smith fell in love with and subsequently made into a text-based painting.

Hmmm…

But how can we translate that into the school environment? I mean, the idea is something I’ve been playing with for a while – wouldn’t it be good if school didn’t separate learning into subjects?

Life isn’t like that, so why….?

In my job as teacher librarian I write a blog to encourage reading – I’ve mentioned it before – well, it’s not only about reading but all that goes with it. Thinking, discussing, idea-broadening, understanding – you know what I mean. Ideally, I’d love for the blog to create a reading (thinking, etc.) community, one that links people within the school through interests and discussion, but also links the school community with the wider community. I’ve also spoken about this before. Yes, I have so far included a couple of book recommendations/reviews by teachers who aren’t librarians. This is good, this gives the students the idea that people outside of the library read and enjoy reading. But …. they’re English teachers.

What I would really love is if sports teachers wrote about their reading. Yes, sports teachers. Maths teachers. Legal studies teachers.

So what kind of swap could I do? Do you think it would be easier for the maths/science teachers to talk books than the other way around? At first I thought yes. What’s left of my own maths/science knowledge, the little I gained in secondary school? I wouldn’t really like to go there. But then I remembered Sean Nash. He blends Science with the Arts. I was overwhelmed by his approach when I first discovered Sean’s blog, and I continue to be overwhelmed because it’s so inspiring, and I don’t see many educators do it.

Sean’s wife, Erin, shares his way of looking at a blended curriculum. Have a read of Erin’s profile on Sean’s biology ning where she says:

The best thing about the study of biology is:
The opportunity it provides for invoking curiosity and questioning in students and instructors alike. There are so many interesting topics in Biology that, ultimately, bring about questions that just aren’t currently answerable, and this provides so many awesome possibilities for critical thought and analysis. I could have taught English or Biology, and I was drawn to science because of that one big question, “WHY?”

 Isn’t this also the point of literature? The WHY and WHAT IF?  What if a character lived in a particular time/situation? How would that character live out his/her life? And WHAT IF this complication arose? WHY would he/she act in that way/make those choices? Personal choices, ethical choices, any choices.

I frequently reflect on what I’m trying to achieve in writing the fiction blog. Why is it important to stretch students’ – and for that matter, teachers’ – concept of what a reader is like, why we read, why books grab our attention, how books and films get our reactions and lead us into discussion or debate. It’s not a library thing, it’s not an English thing – and yet, it is literacy. The kind of literacy that is important for all of us across disciplines and beyond school. Sean Nash sums it up excellently when he talks about the connection between science and literacy in his comment to my post:

Science and literacy had certainly better go together. We are in a heap of trouble as a species as it is. We can’t afford to continue to create a scientifically-illiterate populace. Where science and literacy are separate, science is but mystery and mythology to even our brightest.

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Science and fiction – The Human Genre Project

The Human Genre Project

is a collection of new writing in very short forms — short stories, flash fictions, reflections, poems — inspired by genes and genomics.

Starting with just a few pieces at its launch in July 2009, the collection will grow and develop over time.

The Human Genre Project is an initiative of the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, part of the ESRC Genomics Network, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and based at The University of Edinburgh.

Wow. Creative writing inspired by science. I love the overlap in disciplines; it would be good to enable more of this at school, where subjects seem to live in separate worlds, as if life were cut up into mutually exclusive areas.

genome

The main page shows 24 different chromosomes: 22 autosomes, which are numbered, and two sex chromosomes, labelled as X and Y.

Here’s the unusual part – when you click on a chromosome, you get the title which takes you to the creative writing piece. This example links from chromosome #8:

The WRN gene on chromosome 8 is responsible for Werner syndrome, which causes premature ageing.

My hair goes grey and falls out, my teeth yellow and decay, brown spots bloom on my skin. I’m thirty-six years old. My world is a room, and a view of the sea beyond it.

I’ve been told that there’s something wrong with me. But I know my physics. I know that in this universe there has to be decay and disorder. I’m normal. I’m entropy.

I try to sip tea but my clawed fingers let the cup fall to the floor. Liquid spills out from its shattered remains and soaks into the carpet.

What I don’t understand is why the rest of them never change. My twin brother could be my son. His teeth are white and even, his hair is as glossy as ever. His skin always has a rosy blush. He comes here regularly to tell me about life outside my room. Life with other people, other women. There seem to be many women. Or perhaps it’s just tales.

But as I sit listening to him and his stories, I realise how they do it. While I stay here, they’re all travelling around. Einstein had a theory about twins; one sits in his small room, watching the sea, and the other zooms to the stars. As he accelerates to the speed of light, time slows down for him, so when he gets back he’s younger than his stay-at-home brother.

I ask my brother, “Where did you park your rocket ship?” I look outside, “I can’t see it.”

The rocket ship looked like a bicycle, but apparently it worked very well, and my brother frequently made trips to the centre of our galaxy.

“I got rid of it,” he replies, “I replaced it with a quantum teleporter. They’re all the rage now.”

All I can see out of the window is a little red car. “That’s it,” he says. “The women like it.” And sure enough a woman gets out of the car and waves at us.

This was written by Pippa Goldschmidt inspired by chromosome 8.

The WRN gene on chromosome 8 is responsible for Werner syndrome, which causes premature ageing.

My hair goes grey and falls out, my teeth yellow and decay, brown spots bloom on my skin. I’m thirty-six years old. My world is a room, and a view of the sea beyond it.

I’ve been told that there’s something wrong with me. But I know my physics. I know that in this universe there has to be decay and disorder. I’m normal. I’m entropy.

I try to sip tea but my clawed fingers let the cup fall to the floor. Liquid spills out from its shattered remains and soaks into the carpet.

What I don’t understand is why the rest of them never change. My twin brother could be my son. His teeth are white and even, his hair is as glossy as ever. His skin always has a rosy blush. He comes here regularly to tell me about life outside my room. Life with other people, other women. There seem to be many women. Or perhaps it’s just tales.

But as I sit listening to him and his stories, I realise how they do it. While I stay here, they’re all travelling around. Einstein had a theory about twins; one sits in his small room, watching the sea, and the other zooms to the stars. As he accelerates to the speed of light, time slows down for him, so when he gets back he’s younger than his stay-at-home brother.

I ask my brother, “Where did you park your rocket ship?” I look outside, “I can’t see it.”

The rocket ship looked like a bicycle, but apparently it worked very well, and my brother frequently made trips to the centre of our galaxy.

“I got rid of it,” he replies, “I replaced it with a quantum teleporter. They’re all the rage now.”

All I can see out of the window is a little red car. “That’s it,” he says. “The women like it.” And sure enough a woman gets out of the car and waves at us.

Pippa Goldschmidt is Writer in Residence at the Genomics Forum. I’ve mentioned Pippa in an earlier post; her writing is often inspired by science.

Chromosome 11 leads to a piece called Photophobia,

an eye disorder in which the iris is partially or completely missing. A person with aniridia frequently has photophobia (sensitivity to light). The mutation is in the PAX6 gene on chromosome 11.

The telomeric tale of the mouse’s tail (chromosome X) is a shape poem.

chromosome

You can find the original painting/collage here and it looks like this:

mousetale

Still in progress, this is a fascinating project, demonstrating the possibilities in the union between science and art.

If you like this, have a look at what inspired it: Michael Swanwick’s Periodic Table of Science Fiction.

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Thinking and writing about biology

Sean Nash created a biology NING. One that even I want to join. Why is that so remarkable? Because I’m not a science person.

Sean Nash has created a NING called ‘Principles of biology: bringing life and living things into focus’. Yes, it’s about science. Yes, it contains lots of scientific facts, but it also approaches the teaching of science in a different way.

When I clicked the Forum tab at the top of the NING, I chose a discussion called ‘Synthesizing Respiration and Photosynthesis’. It doesn’t start with a long dry paragraph full of scientific facts. Instead it goes like this:

Take a good, solid read of this blog post. Read it again after thinking about it for at least five minutes. Then come back to this forum and scribble a bit creative commentary on how our study of photosynthesis and respiration allows you to really get at a deeper meaning of the post entitled: Grinding Grain by Dr. Doyle.

What is remarkable? The topic is introduced by a blog post. A blog is a discursive thing. The blog is called Science teacher: breaking out of the classroom into the world. That already tells you something. The blog begins with a poem about grinding grain by Antipator of Thessalonica, 85 B.C., and it’s descriptive in a way that makes you feel the process physically.

I love the fact that the instructions that go with the reading of the blog post recommend a second reading after a few minutes of thought. Thinking is part of the instructions! And what follows is not a summary, not a copy and paste of facts, but instructions to

scribble a bit creative commentary on how our study of photosynthesis and respiration allows you to really get at a deeper meaning of the post entitled: Grinding Grain by Dr. Doyle.

That’s ‘how’ and ‘deeper meaning’ in the same sentence. Now, brace yourselves, but here’s what follows as instruction:

A description in less than 100 words that is sufficiently creative that at least two classmates leave thoughtful, vote-like comments to… would be worth a measly few (yet potentially powerful) extra credit points to add to your pile.

What’s amazing here?

Description, not summary.

Creative. Enough said.

Requiring response of others. Interaction, whereby your description is required to initiate response in another person. Writing about your response, effecting a response in someone else.

Can this be science?

And here’s the clincher:

What do you get from this? What does it make you think of? Does it allow you to see, or understand anything in a deeper way?

Thinking, evaluating, deeper understanding.

Here is one of the students’ responses:

The knowledge we gained through learning about cellar respiration and photosynthesis really helped to understand what he was saying. As he described what it felt like to turn the wheel, “First my right arm, then my left. I can feel my biceps swell. My legs work, too, shifting my weight back and forth with each pass of the milling wheel. My breathing picks up.” I can now easily understand why he begins to breath more readily, and when he begins to describe photosynthesis, and the creation of the wheat I can really follow what he says instead of being more lost than anything else (paragraph 7). The best place I could see that the knowledge was very relevant was when he begins to show how photosynthesis works in one direction, and that cellular respiration sort of reverses the process ((paragraph 7)

I love the reflection on the learning process at the end of the lesson. There are so many things I love about this way of teaching.

Who said that science was separate from literacy?

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Go underwater with Google Earth 5.0

Google Earth 5.0 has 2 new features. The first allows you to go back in time. You can go back in time to compare historical imagery of buildings, and you can compare historical photos of environmental features. observing changes to the landscape of our planet. The former will be of interest to history teachers, and the latter  to science teachers who will be able to use Google Earth to show students how climate change is affecting the Earth’s surface. What better way of learning than seeing for yourself.

This new application opens up exciting possibilities. When you click on the clock icon in the Google Earth 5.0 toolbar, the historical imagery time slider will appear and allow you to change your view to older imagery.

The Google Earth site includes a video which gives one of the examples of historic imagery, showing the  transformation of sports arenas in Philadelphia.


The Google Earth blog explains its exploration underwater:

But starting today we have a much more detailed bathymetric map (the ocean floor), so you can actually drop below the surface and explore the nooks and crannies of the seafloor in 3D. While you’re there you can explore thousands of data points including videos and images of ocean life, details on the best surf spots, logs of real ocean expeditions, and much more.

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Learning through discovery at the Melbourne Museum

The Discovery Centre within Museum Victoria makes research interesting and hands-on. A young person can wander in and spend a few hours without realising that it’s been a learning experience. Let’s say you came in and browsed some of the 2,000 plus natural or cultural objects available – not just on display in cabinets and drawers, but also available to touch and examine – then you’d be able to delve into a little research in a number of ways; you could:

have a close look at these objects under magnifiers or video microscopes;
use the reference library of books, journals, education kits, DVDs or videos;
browse through the extensive collection of online resources on public computers;
and you could always ask a staff member for help.

When I visited the Discovery Centre as a student of teacher librarianship, the staff were eager to help, but not eager to supply a quick and easy answer – they encouraged students to find information and answers for themselves, pointing out resources available and suggesting ways of searching. The research process becomes a challenging discovery task, well supported by the excellent variety of materials and resources. It’s great to find research modelled in such an enjoyable way.

The Discovery Centre’s website is user-friendly, and offers an ‘Ask the experts’ section. If you have something you want identified, or you need help with a research project, you can email the museum’s information experts, either with a general request, or an identification request. Every week, there is a ‘question of the week’ published on the website.

I think this is a valuable resource for primary and middle years students. It’s great to take research out of the classroom, and into such a dynamic and resource-rich environment.

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