Posts Tagged blogging

most excellent epiphytes Alison Campbell Mar 28

No Comments

A couple of years ago I spent a lovely afternoon in the huge domed glasshouses of Singapore's "Gardens on the Bay". The 'cloud forest' was my favourite – both for the concept & for the wonderful range of epiphytes on show there.

Singapore cloud forest mountain.jpg

So you'll understand that I enjoyed reading about it again on this blog, written for the New Zealand Epiphyte Network. Anyone with even a passing interest in New Zealand's native plants should drop by the site. And maybe sign up to be part of their citizen science project while you're there?

Go on, you know you want to :)

drawing fractals Alison Campbell Aug 27

No Comments

I’ve just stumbled across this rather lovely video on mathematical doodling. Learn to draw fractals, maths snowflakes & more. Even dragons! What’s not to like? YouTube Preview Image

a cheer for saccharomyces cerevisiae Alison Campbell Mar 17

No Comments

Here’s another of those catchy science-based ditties – & definitely one I’ll be adding to my collection for showing in class :) (I would have embedded it, but MT is not doing what it should today…later edit: thank goodness for IT wizards!)


And a happy St Patrick’s day!

artistry Alison Campbell Feb 13

No Comments

We are in full enrolment mode at the moment – for some reason a lot of students have left re-enrolling &/or seeking advice until the Very Last Moment – so I have little time for serious blogging. (It’s always the same at this time of year, only this year more of the same.) But I still have an eye for lovely biological images. So how’s this for a combination of artistry and science?

They’re from the Science is Awesome FB page:

They’re the work of Italian artist Guido Daniele, who uses hands as his canvas. One hand can take up to ten hours.

Ah, well, back to the grindstone.Your turn, Grant :)

what might a ‘science for citizens’ curriculum look like? Alison Campbell Feb 02


That’s the question blog-buddy Michael Edmonds asked some of us last night, & it got me thinking.

Sir Peter Gluckman raised the idea of a ‘science for citizens’ curriculum back in early 2011, in his report Looking ahead: science education for the 21st century. Included in that report was a brief list of some skills, knowledge, & abilities that all children need to have (characterised as ‘citizen-focused objectives’):

  • a practical knowledge at some level of how things work;
  • some knowledge of how the scientific process operates and have some level of scientific literacy
  • enough knowledge of scientific thinking as part of their development of general intellectual skills so that they are able to distinguish reliable information from less reliable information.

As I said at the time, the tricky thing is to work out how to deliver this, & the sort of learning experiences we might use in the classroom (& out of it!)

The ability to distinguish ‘reliable’ from ‘less reliable’ information is essential, given that we are now in a time when that information is only a few mouse clicks away. Students need to be learning how to do this right from the start of their time in our education system. And the tools to do it are pretty much part of the scientific process, so learning about one complements gaining knowledge in the other.

If we’re going to offer two ‘streams’ of science education, as proposed by Sir Peter, when should that start? Or should we simply take the ‘science for citizens’ from the start, hopefully keeping as many students as possible ‘turned on’ to science for as long as possible, & then split off an ‘academic’ stream – for potential scientists & engineers – later in the piece?

And what would this mean for students who might come late in the day to realising that science/engineering is where they want to be? Split into the streams too early, & we risk closing the door to those young people. We need to lock in the flexibility to allow students to change course mid-stream, as it were.

(We need to provide them with good advice, too. Wearing one of my other hats for the moment, just now I’m seeing quite a few young men & women who want to study engineering but who are weak in physics, or maths. Or who dropped maths in year 12. And in at least some cases, they seem to have gained the impression that ‘you can just pick that up at uni.’ I can generally work out a pathway for them, but it means they’ll take longer to complete their program; time that would have been saved by better choices earlier on.)

What about content? I mean, we can’t deliver process skills in a vacuum? Personally I’d go for more human biology in the curriculum. Children tend to be fascinated by how their bodies work, & such knowledge is important when making decisions that affect health, for example. And I’d like to think that a good grounding there would help people to recognise when they’re being offered sound advice as compared to some of the significant volume of health pseudoscience that’s out there these days.

And I’d also go for developing awareness of our place in the global ecosystem. Yes, there’s a lot to learn about our local environments & how to care for them, but our 21st-century science-literate citizens understanding of our large-scale impacts is also necessary if their world is to remotely resemble ours.

What would you like to see in this curriculum?


more quirky science songs Alison Campbell Feb 01

No Comments

Lately I’ve been amazed and entertained by some of the quirky science music videos out there (some are parodies, some not). Here are two of the latest to catch my eye.

This one – this one we’re sooo going to show in the first-year cellular & molecular paper :)

And this works for me too (though I’m not a physicist ‘n all).

a lovely friday photo Alison Campbell Jan 18

1 Comment

I am a sucker for lovely photos of the unexpected. And here’s a real beauty: water droplets caught in the splash :)


Macro-photography images of water in motion, photography by Heinz Maier.
Via Analytical Chemistry Techniques.


kissing cousins with kennewick man? Alison Campbell Oct 24

No Comments

While away on holiday (gloat!) I got the opportunity for uninterrupted listening to podcasts :) One of these was a July episode of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, which included a discussion of the (in)famous Kennewick Man remains. These 9,000-years-old bones have been the focus of considerable controversy in the US, where they were claimed by Native American tribe as being an ancestor’s bones & so not available for scientific study. However, this belief was overruled in 2004 by a US Court of Appeals Judge, allowing scientists to continue studying the surprisingly complete skeleton.

Unfortunately, that study has had to focus on anatomy: an attempt to obtain and amplify DNA from the bones concluded that

No DNA suitable for PCR amplification could be extracted from the Kennewick samples studied. Thus, no conclusion regarding its ethnic ancestry or cultural affiliation based on DNA can be made.

While some sequences were found, these matched DNA from individuals involved in the analysis & so were most likely modern contamination. This means that data from – among other things – analyses of cranial and facial morphology have been used to try to determine the likely origins of Kennewick Man. As the fearless investigative team at Riddled, Inc. report, these analyses have been used to justify some rather shaky conclusions, including a rather tenuous link to New Zealand. One cannot better the Riddled team’s take on this one :)


why kids should grade teachers Alison Campbell Oct 13

No Comments

Next week my first-year biology students will be doing an appraisal of this semester’s paper, & of those academic staff involved in teaching it. They’re asked about the perceived difficulty of the paper, the amount of work they’re expected to do for it, whether they’ve been intellectually stimulated, the amount of feedback they receive on their work, how approachable staff are, & much else besides. (The feedback one was always my worst scoring attribute – until I asked the students what they thought ‘feedback’ met. It turned out that they felt this described one-to-one verbal communication. We had a discussion about all the other ways in which staff can give feedback – & the scores went up.) The results are always extremely useful, as not only to we find out what’s working, but we also discover what’s not (or at least, what the students perceive as not working) & so may need further attention.

Anyway, my friend Annette has just drawn my attention to a lengthy post in The Atlantic, by Amanda Ridley. It made fascinating reading.

In towns around the country this past school year, a quarter-million students took a special survey designed to capture what they thought of their teachers and their classroom culture. Unlike the vast majority of surveys in human history, this one had been carefully field-tested. That research had shown something remarkable: if you asked kids the right questions, they could identify, with uncanny accuracy, their most – and least – effective teachers.

Ridley, reporting for the Atlantic, was able to follow a 4-month pilot project that was run in 6 schools in the District of Colombia. She notes that about half the states in the US use student test data to evaluate how teachers are doing.

Now, this approach is fraught with difficulty. It doesn’t tell you why children aren’t learning something, for example (or why they do, which is just as interesting). And it puts huge pressure on teachers to ‘teach to the test’ (although Ridley says that in fact “most [American] teachers still do not teach the subjects or grade levels covered by mandatory standardized tests”). It ignores the fact that student learning success can be influenced by a wide range of factors, some of which are outside the schools’ control. (And it makes me wonder how I’d have done, back when I was teaching a high school ‘home room’ class in Palmerston North. Those students made a fair bit of progress, and we all learned a lot, but they would likely not have done too well on a standardised test of academic learning, applied across the board in the way that National Standards are now.)

So, the survey. It grew out of a project on effective teaching funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which found that the top 5 questions – in terms of correlation with student learning – were

  1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.
  2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.
  3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.
  4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.
  5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

and the version used with high school students in the survey Ridley writes about contained 127 questions. That sounds an awful lot, to me, but apparently most kids soldiered on & answered them all. Nor did they simply choose the same answer for each & every question, or try to skew the results:

Students who don’t read the questions might give the same response to every item. But when Ferguson [one of the researchers] recently examined 199,000 surveys, he found that less than one-half of 1 percent of students did so in the first 10 questions. Kids, he believes, find the questions interesting, so they tend to pay attention. And the ‘right’ answer is not always apparent, so even kids who want to skew the results would not necessarily know how to do it.

OK – kids (asked the right questions) can indicate is a good, effective teacher. What use is made of these results, in the US? The researchers say that they shouldn’t be given too much weighting, in assessing teachers – 20-30% – & only after multiple runs through the instrument, though at present few schools actually use them that way. This is important – no appraisal system should rely on just one tool.

That’s only part of it, of course, because the results are sent through to teachers themselves, just as I get appraisal results back each semester. So the potential’s there for the survey results to provide the basis of considerable reflective learning, given the desire to do so, & time to do it in. Yet only 1/3 of teachers involved in this project even looked at them.

This is a problem in the NZ tertiary system too, & I know it’s something that staff in our own Teaching Development Unit grapple with. Is it the way the results are presented? Would it be useful to be given a summary with key findings highlighted? Do we need a guide in how to interpret them? Do people avoid possibly being upset by the personal comments that can creep into responses (something that can be avoided/minimised by explaining in advance the value of constructive criticism – and by being seen to pay attention to what students have to say)?

Overall, this is an interesting study & one whose results may well inform our own continuing debate on how best to identify excellent teaching practice. What we need to avoid is wholesale duplication and implementation in our own school system without first considering what such surveys can & can’t tell us, and how they may be incorporated as one part of a reliable, transparent system of professional development and goal-setting. And that, of course, is going to require discussion with and support from all parties concerned – not implementation from above.

sweet memories Alison Campbell Oct 04

No Comments

I’ve just found a new blog that is a must-follow: Becky Crew’s Running Ponies.

Run, don’t walk, over there – and read wondrous posts such as her discussion of a study that found chocolate** appears to enhance snails’ ability to form lasting memories. I wonder what will happen to chocolate sales at the uni shop, when I share this one with my students…

Also, boogie-woogie aphids!

** actually, a chemical found in chocolate; the poor snails missed out on the whole mouthfeel side of the experience :)

Network-wide options by YD - Freelance Wordpress Developer