Sunday, September 13, 2020

Willy Wonka and the Thermodynamic Dilemma

“Hot ice cream warms you up no end in freezing weather. I also make hot ice cubes for putting in hot drinks. Hot ice cubes make hot drinks hotter.”  Willy Wonka, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 1964

As a mom of two young children, I spend many evenings with my cherubs cuddled on my lap with a good book. Of recent months, they love to read and reread the classic tale of a secret chocolate factory opened to five lucky golden ticket winners. The above statement by Willy Wonka was too good to exclude from this blog. Although absolutely ridiculous, it is along the same thinking as most of Wonka’s other inventions- a meal in a stick of chewing gum, an everlasting gobstopper that never gets any smaller, and teleporting objects and humans by chocolate bar. The book is full of nonsense.  This morsel of nonsense, however, can be used as a poignant lesson on thermodynamics for small children.

Ask a child- why does it logically not make sense to make hot ice cubes? This entire concept defies the laws of thermodynamics.  Heat is, by definition, the movement of molecules. 

When moving fast, molecules separate and form a gas (steam for water). There is no structure or way to measure the size or shape of a gas. Therefore, it could never be an (ice) cube. Hot steam (gas) by definition cannot take on the description of a shape; it is shapeless. By contrast, when something is freezing cold, the molecules stick together motionless (or close to motionless) and even form patterns, as is the case with ice. Frozen water forms a solid made up of very structured water molecules. The hydrogen bonding between molecules hold the molecules rigid and further apart than in their liquid form. For this reason, solid water is actually less dense than liquid water- which is unusual for a solid/liquid pair. When heated up or “hot” referencing the nonsensical “hot ice cubes” the molecules would be moving too fast to be held in such a rigid pattern.

And this is why we can explain to our young people, mesmerized by the fairyland of Roald Dahl, that hot ice cream could never exist. 

Sometimes pretend is so much more fun than reality isn’t it?

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Book Review for Technical Communication

Teaching and Learning with Technology
Judy Lever-Duffy and Jean McDonald. 2014. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. [ISBN 978-0-13-381426-2. 368 pages, including index. US$74.00 (looseleaf).]

As technology continues to change along with the evolving educational system it serves, textbooks such as Lever-Duffy’s and McDonald’s Teaching and Learning with Technology, becomes more relevant as required reading material for teachers in all subject areas. Overall, this twelve-chapter textbook describes the changing needs to be served by new technology, methods of evaluating and selecting technology in different situations, implementation and design of such technology, and the emerging technologies to meet the future educational needs.
The book opens with chapters on standards by which to measure technology preparedness in education as well as available certifications and licensure. The authors break down the types of classroom technologies by administrative, presentations, lesson preparation, and communications. The text also makes use of a text boxes with anecdotal and situational stories from real classroom experiences; “Tech Tutor” video excerpts from the publisher’s Web site for later watching, and a very detailed glossary for looking up unfamiliar terms introduced.
Chapters two through four cover integrating technology with learning styles, designing instruction around technology and applying technology for special needs. Chapter five discusses classroom computers from hardware and mouse technology to networking, printers, and data storage. For example, cloud computing has drastically changed available access of educational materials. By chapter six, the text focuses on specific types of classroom technology such as mobile devices, wireless services, video conferencing, and e-book readers.
Chapter seven outlines software tools for educators using a table to list applications for each database feature. These types of tables are present throughout the text and clearly lay out detailed information. The distance learning table in chapter ten is one exception to the usual clarity that is confusing as it attempts to show course completion and success rates. The large amount of information in the table would be easier to read and digest if it were larger.
The final chapter, and my favorite, was a glimpse of the Jetsons in textbook form. In this chapter, Lever-Duffy and McDonald describe in detail the projected technologies of the future. Most interesting to me was electronic paper, a digital solution to paper handouts. For the cost of around $100 per page of electronic paper, students can download class handouts onto a rollable, foldable device. This could, feasibly, even eliminate the need for a recycle bin in classrooms of the future!
Lever-Duffy and McDonald sum up the value of learning from this text with this: “Teaching in the 21st century will include new pedagogy that uses new technologies. Flipped classrooms and personal learning environments are just the beginning. Creative teachers will develop yet-to-be imagined models for instructional delivery and new ways to use current and emerging technologies. With this change for educators of the 21st century, familiarity and training in new technology are just the beginning of their journey as tech-savvy educators, 297.”

Julie Kinyoun
Julie Kinyoun is an on-call community college chemistry instructor in Southern California. As an avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that can help her and others become better teachers.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Magnesium gets its day in the sun!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

First one up the drive (Economist, July 12, 2014)

In reading about electronic cars in the new edition of The Economist, I was reminded about an important difference between capacitors and batteries. Since I only touched on this topic in coursework in college and grad school, my background in this area is rather weak. The following reinforced for me the difference in the amount of energy created by both:

"Unlike batteries, which store energy chemically in the material of their electrodes, a capacitor stores energy physically, on the electrode's surfaces. One electrode has a surplus of electrons and the other a deficit. If the electrodes are then connected through an external circuit a current flows until the surplus has neutralised the deficit and both have the same electrical potential. Electrodes surfaces are easy to get to, so a capacitor can be charged and discharged quickly, giving it a high power-density. But surfaces cannot hold as much energy as entire volumes, so capacitors have lower energy-densities than batteries."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Creative Intelligence: a book review

Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire
Bruce Nussbaum. 2013. New York, NY: Harper Business. [ISBN 978-0-06-208842-0. 352 pages, including index. US$28.99.]

In a constantly changing world of science, business and technology, there is much speculation over what drives innovation, intelligence, and entrepreneurship. Is there a way to assess someone’s ability to create a successful business, as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg did? Nussbaum argues throughout his book Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire, that although the abilities of Jobs and Zuckerberg are hard to measure objectively, there are concrete skills associated with their success. These skills are not gems of a genius; we can practice them in our daily life. Nussbaum argues that they are the heart of entrepreneurialism and that creativity is the backbone of a new emerging theory of Indie Capitalism—an economy based on the idea that creativity drives capitalism. Overall, he argues that although we think geniuses are born with innate abilities, many of their eureka moments were the result of years of hard work.
Nussbaum, himself an expert in design and innovation, had a career quest to tie together a common trait of successful companies like Facebook and Apple. Was it the number of patents awarded or the amount of money spent on research that resulted in such powerful and transformative companies? He determined “creativity” to be their common component.
He identified five competencies of creativity:
·         Knowledge Mining: Steve Jobs’ integration of calligraphy into the Apple computer is based on his having audited a class on calligraphy for fun during college.
·         Framing: Crowdfunding on the Internet changed fiscal sponsorship from a practice of the wealthy to a community endeavor open to anyone with Internet access. Many small donations now compete with the National Endowment for the Arts in the amount of money raised.
·         Playing:  SimCity (video game) teaches people city planning by turning it into a game.
·         Making: Web sites for marketing products online have allowed “homegrown” to become mainstream and accessible to everybody.
·         Pivoting: The creation of Instagram illustrates the most basic pivoting. Burbn was a location check-in app that was not successful. The photo app within the program, however, received a lot of traffic. The founders ditched their original business and eventually sold Instagram to Facebook for billions.
            All are fluid skills that we can practice, hone, and perfect. Many of Nussbaum’s arguments advocate a liberal arts education where specialization dos not occur. He argues that it is the person’s passion for a topic that unleashes creativity. Although idealistic, Nussbaum’s arguments are unrealistic. A liberal arts education, while considered a well-rounded survey of subjects, cannot be tied to an increase in salary or any kind of promotability within the business world.
            Overall, Nussbaum believes we are moving toward a more creative economy. Indie Capitalism is the new wave. In August 2012, Apple became the most valuable company in history based on its capability to create and rewrite the ecology of computers. Nussbaum argues that the skills of creativity will birth more Apples in society and drive our economy to new heights of excellence.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Nebraska farming, 4H and technology updates

As the daughter of a Nebraska farmer turned city slicker, I watched 4H from afar during my childhood in suburban Seattle. Several of my cousins were involved in the sewing and cooking arm of the organization (yes, the girls- sexist I know) while most of my cousins (male and female) participated in raising livestock, plants, and showing their photography, among other activities. It always reminded me of a girl/boy scout organization or even Indian Princesses- organized crafts and outdoor activities designed to boost character, build the community and promote family unity.

An article in the latest Economist taught me that 4H has historical roots, ties with federal funding and an agenda tied in with the university culture in America. All of this has greatly influenced the way farming has evolved to promote genetically modified (GM) crops, farming as a capitalistic industry and a setup to supply the world's growing food demands. This is very different from the European model of preserving the traditional forces in the market and promoting farm practices which may be more humanitarian but not necessarily capitalistic.

On the surface, you would never know that 4H was founded, in part, to promote the hard sciences. The acronym stands for head, heart, hands and health (all four beginning with "H").  Current science projects with the organization involve egg incubators in classrooms (for urban kids) designed to teach them that their eggs do not originate at McDonald's. The money for these projects comes from government and public universities from gifts of federal land- this was set up during the Civil War and was designed to integrate technology into society. I'm guessing specifically farm culture since this is where the organization seems most active.

The historical origins of 4H are deeply rooted in the drive for new technology and farming practices to be integrated into the rural culture. In the late 1800s, the midwest plains were populated by pioneers - originally of all types of European descent- land was parceled out and homesteaders started their farms. All the while the goal of this distribution was to convert the farming techniques of these newcomers to new and (I'm assuming ) more efficient practices. (This makes sense when you think of the disposition of the average pioneer- already out of their comfort zone by coming to a completely different place) Congress sent representatives out to introduce new ways of planting hybrid corn or canning tomatoes, for example. When resistance from adults prevented new technology from being adopted, the 4H movement began. People were more likely to adopt, for example, hybrid corn, when they observed their children's 4H hybrid corn growing taller and healthier than their own.

All of this history has influenced the overall differences in how Americans view agriculture as opposed to how Europeans view it. In America, agriculture is a commodity- a capitalistic business designed to reap the highest profit possible. This is not the case in Europe where more traditional methods are used, often at the expense of turning the maximum profit or even keeping up with demand.

I had no idea my cousins' childhood pastime had such historical roots and educational goals.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Improved Test Scores: Why and How

Standard Learning Objective Quiz Results for Introductory Chemistry

Fall 2012 Results

2/19 students got 8/8

5/19 students got 7/8

3/19 students got 6/8

6/19 students got 5/8

2/19 students got 4/8

1/19 students got 3/8

Spring 2013 Results (after implementation of online homework system)

4/21 students got 8/8 

5/21 students got 7/8

4/21 students got 6/8

5/21 students got 5/8

3/21 students got 4/8

These scores are, I believe, proof that an effective online homework system can make an overall difference in student comprehension. Especially in a discipline like chemistry, it is so easy to complete a homework assignment and not understand what overall concepts were reinforced by that assignment. An online homework system can give students the chance to complete an assignment, receive tutorial help with the assignment and real-time feedback on the accuracy of their answers. Then later they can go back and redo the problem for review (practice for the final exam).

As you can see from my small sample size, more students in my class scored 6,7,8 (out of 8) after the implementation of an online learning homework system.