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Nuggets of Amazement

What is teaching *really*?

posted Aug 15, 2014, 2:46 PM by Cynthia Harley   [ updated Aug 15, 2014, 3:15 PM ]

I was recently in a conversation with an academic colleague who had gotten a tenure track position. He stated that you should not begin to prepare your lecture until 8am the day before you give it. I asked why and he said that professors don't have time and know more than the students anyway, so it isnt a big deal if it isnt perfect. While I can spend more time than I would like to admit striving for the perfect lecture (which is never perfect), I told my colleague that what he was saying was a disservice to his students whom were PAYING for his hastily prepared course. Eventually, it was clear that neither of us would change the other's mind. It also became more clear to me that I am, in my heart, a teacher. 

However, no one is ever 100% wrong. Our preparing lectures so often means making powerpoints. It takes a LOT of time and we fret over every detail. But, here's the thing, students don't learn well from lengthy powerpoints. And in asking professors whom have gotten numerous accolades for teaching I kept hearing the same thing-- cut your content and go into detail, but not with powerpoint with active learning

Active learning can mean many things (most of them are harder to do than putting together any powerpoint lecture). The basic principle is having the students process and utilize the information that they are learning. This is through class demonstration, journaling, and my personal favorite-- getting the students to discuss the material. There are a multitude of ways to turn class into active discourse and I am still learning these for my fall course, so I am not going to write them. What I am going to do is to say that these ideas of 'lets learn TOGETHER' rather than 'I know everything and will babble on in the front of the room while you sleep' is one which students actually want to see in their classrooms. It also happens to keep your teaching more current...and best of all new fresh minds can inspire you-- I cannot even count how many fantastic experiments I have designed because a student inspired them. So perhaps, in a way, my colleague was correct one can spend less time on a lecture but that time should be spent figuring out how to engage students.

This article is FANTASTIC and says it better than anything I could write. Check it out.

Powerpointless

posted Mar 7, 2014, 12:22 PM by Cynthia Harley   [ updated Mar 7, 2014, 12:22 PM ]

This is a pretty brilliant presentation about what is wrong with powerpoint (and other such programs). I have to agree that powerpoint has gone beyond being a tool for illustration and is now more of a way to avoid interaction. That is not to say that it cannot be used well but it should be used with caution. 

Crazy ants protect themselves with a mix of musk and mace

posted Feb 13, 2014, 11:46 AM by Cynthia Harley   [ updated Feb 13, 2014, 11:46 AM ]

Ants called crazy ants protect themselves from their enemy (the fire ant) by coating themselves in a venom which protects them from fire ant stings. They can also shoot this venom at enemies. I am glad that they dont start bar fights!

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-rise-of-the-crazy-ants/

Northern Lights

posted Jan 9, 2014, 9:18 AM by Cynthia Harley   [ updated Jan 9, 2014, 9:18 AM ]

It appears that another fun weather-related phenomenon might be happening tonight-- the northern lights might be visible further south than usual! 


The aurora is released when gas particles from the sun's atmosphere collide with those in our atmosphere. Variations in color depend on which particles are colliding. A recent solar flare has released a tonne of these particles and is co-occurring with an intense geo-magnetic storm. These things do not happen so often together, so get out there and enjoy the show! 

Cold

posted Jan 7, 2014, 1:33 PM by Cynthia Harley   [ updated Jan 7, 2014, 1:36 PM ]

It is cold. Incredibly freakishly cold here in Minnesota. In fact, yesterday and today it is colder than it is in antarctica. Now, we are a hearty people and are used to experiencing winters that would cause most sane folks to move to Florida; however, even we are feeling that this is the coldest winter in 20 years. The current frosty temperatures are due to what is called an 'Polar Vortex'. No, this is not the name of a superhero (though it was featured in the movie 'The Day After Tomorrow'), but rather is when arctic air moves from the arctic to, in this case, the states. The picture to the left shows how the jet stream can change shape pushing this cold air further south. 
While this could be a strange weather phenomenon that is random, we have had a lot of crazy random weather phenomena across the US in the past few 
years. We have had record breaking cold, heat, storms, you name it. And at some point these things start to seem a little bit less than random. 

YouTube Video

In my most humble opinion I strongly suspect climate change. Thats right campers-- not all of us warm up when the climate changes. Instead events like this can become more severe due to alterations in the circulation of the jet stream. However, climate change occurs over such a long 
time that it is incredibly hard to prove that our crazy weather isnt just an anomaly or part of the long term cycle of things. Sadly, it is going to take a few more years to be sure that this phenomena is related to climate change, but can we really wait that long?



Below is a scientific explanation of this jet stream theory by Dr. Jennifer Francis from Rutgers.

YouTube Video

Spiders are tricky

posted Dec 20, 2013, 1:38 PM by Cynthia Harley   [ updated Dec 20, 2013, 1:38 PM ]

I have been becoming ever more enamored with spiders of late. Perhaps it has something to do with the 163 wolf spider babies that we have in the lab.... In my chatting about spiders, I have found out about two really strange spider stories both uncovered by Phil Torres.
 
1. The decoy spider-- the decoy spider collects little bits of debris and dead bugs from its environment. It then uses those bits of paraphernalia to construct an 8 legged spider-looking decoy in the center of its web (see the photo below by Phil Torres). This decoy protects the spiders from bird predators which will attack the decoy at the center of the web rather than the real spider which is hiding off to the side. To further confuse would-be predators these spiders will shake their web to make it appear as though the decoy is moving. http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/12/spider-building-spider/ 

2. The spider version of a crop circle. Troy Alexander and others kept finding these funky structures within the amazon. The structure was obviously made of silk, but what created it and why it was created remained a mystery. This story compelled Phil Torres to determine what made this structure. He went to the amazon and quickly found many of these structures (see photo below). The phenomenon was real, but what was it and what made it? Eventually the tower in the center of one of the structures hatched revealing a small orange spider, then another hatched, and then another. It appears that these structures are a spider egg case, but rather than carrying a bunch of babies (as most, if not all other spiders do) this egg case has a single spider in it. http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/12/web-tower-mystery-solved The group continues to work on determining why the structure is constructed the way it is and what is with the little silk fence around it. No these are not crop circles, but rather it would seem, the spider version of Rapunzel. 


Grand canyon temperature inversion

posted Dec 5, 2013, 9:48 AM by Cynthia Harley   [ updated Dec 5, 2013, 9:51 AM ]

Embed gadget


Last week a temperature inversion occurred at the grand canyon. During this unique weather phenomenon low clouds are created by cool air rising from the bottom of the canyon to meet the warm air above. These inversions happen once or twice a year, but rarely on a day which is clear enough to get this kind of footage. 

For more info and pictures:

The slow seahorse wins the race

posted Nov 27, 2013, 9:03 AM by Cynthia Harley   [ updated Nov 27, 2013, 9:03 AM ]

Seahorses are almost zen like with their slow elegant movements. However, they are able to catch rather fast moving prey. This is no easy feat as their little copepod prey are acutely sensitive to water movements. Thus, it is nothing short of amazing that the seahorse has a 90% success rate with these attacks. How is the seahorse so successful? Scientists used particle image velocimetry, a technique which allows them to visualize water turbulence, to determine that seahorse heads are so aerodynamic that the allow for stealthy approaches to prey. 

Accessibility

posted Nov 20, 2013, 6:18 AM by Cynthia Harley   [ updated Nov 20, 2013, 6:18 AM ]

One thing that I love about going to conferences is stumbling upon cool stuff randomly. I was at a satellite event supporting one of my undergrads and ran into some women presenting one of the coolest ideas that I have ever seen. These ladies were interested in making science accessible to  blind students. The project started when one of them had to explain what cell division looked like to her blind lab partner (the other project presenter). The two teamed up and formed a nonprofit called Tactileyes which makes materials for teaching science to blind children. Blind children have long been excluded from taking science classes, because science is thought to be too visual. This excludes a whole group from STEM fields! Tactileyes has set out to make 3-d teaching materials which illustrate various aspects of science. Not only do their materials help blind children to learn science, but they have found that sighted children learn and retain the information better than without the use of tactile information. Cool! 

Is this thing still on....

posted Nov 7, 2013, 5:02 AM by Cynthia Harley   [ updated Nov 7, 2013, 5:03 AM ]

I have been remiss in my blogging of late. Part of the reason for this is that I am preparing for the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego. To better understand the process I have attached a video. Enjoy!

YouTube Video


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