Thursday, July 29, 2010

Five Easy Lessons by Randall D Knight

I'm reading a book recommended by the physics faculty at MiraCosta called "Five Easy Lessons." The ironic thing about the title is the term easy. Easy lessons? Not even close. There is nothing easy about learning or teaching physics.

This book provides many strategies and tools for student success in physics. The most poignant point is that most people learn physics by active learning instead of the traditional lecture/note-taking format.

I feel good because I implemented some of the ideas of this text last semester unknowingly and received good feedback from my students. I think someone suggested I try demos with partner discussions. I developed this into entire class periods of discussion about various slides and diagrams I put up on PowerPoint. Students broke into pairs to discuss a large question that I would propose via PowerPoint. We would convene again to discuss it as a class.
The difficult part is that I have many more things I could incorporate to increase my students' learning even more than I did last semester. There are computer tutorials, classroom automated feedback systems, flashcards and other methods of providing near-instantaneous feedback to the students. A project for the future!
The key is to provide as much feedback as possible as quickly as possible.
Not so easy, huh?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

This morning on my walk

I took my morning walk today and listened to The Old Testament, a series of lectures by Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt University. After listening to her two lectures on the northern and southern kingdoms I think I may know the chronology of historical events a bit better. If you have ever tried to read the Old Testament you know how confusing it gets in the section of the major and minor prophets. (Now I know the difference between the two and can identify them.)

What does this have to do with science in the media? Nothing really except to point out that context is important. Just as I cannot read the Old Testament straight from the text (because the language and story line just doesn't make sense to me), many of us cannot learn straight chemistry from a textbook. I can understand the sequence of events in the Old Testament if I listen to a summary of highlights from Amy-Jill Levine. And- this information helps me understand the history of the middle east, current Jewish culture and the pervading religion, Christianity, in our own society.

Many people who cannot learn chemistry or physics from a textbook (because it is dull, boring or just too confusing) might learn it better by reading newspaper articles about the applications of chemistry. Or- they might learn it by doing peer experiments and discussing the results.

Just because science in the classroom wasn't your cup of tea does not mean it is not relevant or interesting in real life.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A new resource for science teachers!

As a science educator, science writer and general science enthusiast I am always looking for new material that will help me explain science. The science writing community, primarily made up of journalists interested in science has been tremendously helpful in this pursuit. Today, I was reading my hardcopy of the Wall Street Journal when I happened upon a book review that rolled off the page the way coins roll out of a slot machine during a jackpot win. I won jackpot today! I have a new resource for my physics classes in the fall.

The review was about a book called "The Wave Watching Companion." The author, Gavin Pretor-Pinney explains the science of waves through analogies, real-world examples and stories. He covers electromagnetic radiation (light waves), sound waves, brain waves, mechanical waves, and ocean waves (to name a few). The book is obviously scientific in nature: it subdivides waves into their scientifically distinct types (tranverse, longitudinal and torsional). Based on the description in the review, it is geared toward the common person. He relates waves to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, When Harry Met Sally (the scene at the ballpark when they do the stadium wave), and the way earthworms move.

I'll be curious to see how well-developed these analogies are in the book. In some cases, these books are geared at a level much higher than the general layperson. However, done effectively, the use of such analogies can make these concepts very accessible and fun for the science newbie to understand.

I was so excited about the book that I went straight to and ordered myself a copy for $12.99. Stay tune for my own review of the book. Will it meet the learning needs of my science students? We will just have to see......

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Michelle Obama's plan for obesity

I'm generally a free-market kind of gal. However, I actually think Michelle Obama is right on the money with her plan to kill obesity in America. As a nation we've proved we cannot stay fit and healthy. For this reason, we need big brother watching over us- monitoring our children's fat intake and making sure people get the exercise they need.

We all do a bit better when we know we're being watched. Maybe the government can help the watch over our children's health future.

New Financial Regulations to Hurt Farmers?

There is an article in the Wall Street Journal today that tugged at my heart. Yes, now I am living a city life in southern California. However, believe it or not, my relatives were farmers on the plains.

So- when Nebraska farmers made the front page of the Wall Street Journal I perked up and read the entire article. This article helped me understand the risks that farmers take every year when they sell their crops for money. I didn't realize the similarities of the process to stocks/investing on Wall Street. Hedging, derivatives, locking in a profit at the expense of missing a windfall of money......It looks really complicated.

I just hope that Obama and his crew are working in the best interest of these delicate souls. Their new financial bill has some changes for the way this business is conducted. They should know that the well-being of an already disappearing way of life is at stake.

I'm rooting for the small-town farmers out there all the way. You've chosen a hard life- but with some definite rewards that southern Californians miss.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Psychological Effects of Eating

Bravo for researchers! I'm happy to see research delve into the greatest threat to our American life- obesity.

An article in the Wall Street Journal today called "Stomach vs Brain: Discovering Why Some People Can Resist Dessert While Others Can't" describes work being done by neuroscientists on the chemical reactions going on in the body while people eat. Specifically, they compare the chemistry of obese people while eating to the chemistry of normal-weight people. And. there is a striking difference between the two.

While you might expect a different reaction in the body chemistry of these different groups while they are actually eating, surprisingly, their bodys' chemical reactions are different if you even show them pictures of dessert foods.

One thing is for sure: Obesity is a medical condition that affects the way your brain and your entire body chemistry functions. Once you become obese you are now vulnerable to a whole new set of chemical reactions in your body that can be the beginning of the end. Moral of the story? Eat right, exercise and take care of your body.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

spurring innovation in research and development

What drives scientists to come up with new ideas? What inspires people to create, think and produce? Apparently it is NOT the structure of big pharma created in the last ten years by the merger of large companies to create mega companies. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal today the creation of these large companies has actually stifled the investigation of new products..
"Glaxo Tries Biotech Model To Spur Drug Innovations" explains how drug companies are trying to drive innovation by subdividing their research staff into smaller units. They monitor these small units by productivity with the threat of layoffs if people do not perform. It is also their hope to create financial incentives like the start-up biotechs have done in order to create immediate profit/reward for new ideas.

My question about this is whether we can really measure success of innovation by how many ideas are investigated? I would hesitate to measure success by number of products introduced. It is true that the more products you introduce the more likely you are to find one that is successful but it is also true that you can create a more effective drug by more detailed study, research, synthesis and analysis.

I applaud Glaxo for such an effort- identifying what the incentives are for performance is an effective strategy- if what they want is a higher number of drugs in the pipeline.