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October 2010 Archives

I spent yesterday up in Auckland, running a schol bio preparation day. (And thanks to Mike, Cindy, BEANZ & the Auckland Science Teachers Association) for setting it up.) I do enjoy these sessions (& hopefully the students do too!) as I like the interactions with students & they always ask nice, challenging questions.

Anyway, after we'd finished the main proceedings of the day, someone came up & asked if I'd heard of the 'killer Neandertal' hypothesis, & what did I think of it? Was it a good explanation for the evolution of modern humans? The quick answer was, no I hadn't, so couldn't really comment - but I'd go & have a look :)

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Prominent creationist Ray Comfort once (in)famously commented that the 'design elements' that make up a banana, including its so-convenient shape, are evidence for the existence of a Designer. A comment that has been pretty resoundingly debunked - unsurprisingly, since the banana-as-we-know-it is due in large part to the hand of man, selecting for those features of bananas that make them desirable as a food - lack of seeds (wild-type, uncultivated bananas have almost more seeds than flesh) & that wonderfully unzippable peel. Something that last year's Schol Bio examination asked students to think about. 

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I rather like the way music & science seem to come together quite often these days :)

That thought bubbled to the top after I ran a pre-exam tutorial for my first-year bio students. After a couple of hours we'd all pretty much run out of oomph, so I thought that a bit of light relief might be a fun way to unwind & finish off. So I shared the glucose song - very apt, given that we'd just been talking about how insulin controls glucose uptake at the cellular level. (Plus it's such a catchy song - I always have to resist the urge to dance along!)



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Because I used to be a secondary-school teacher (rather more than a few years ago now) & also because I interact a lot with school teachers, I'm following that sector's current pay negotiations with quite a bit of interest. One of the conditions that the teachers' unions have placed on the table is the issue of employer-funded influenza vaccinations.

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I had a great time down in Hawkes Bay over the weekend, running a Schol Bio workshop for teachers & students from the local schools. I really enjoy these sessions as I get to catch up with the teachers & to work with some very talented young people, who can be guaranteed to ask me curly questions & keep me on my toes. All good stuff  :) (And OK, I enjoy the chance to cruise a couple of vineyards as well! Plus it's always nice to get back to your roots - I was born in Napier & lived first in Tutira, then Wairoa, & finally Hastings before upping sticks & moving to the Manawatu.)

However, the downside of all this is that the Other Stuff simply doesn't go away while I'm otherwise engaged :( So right now I'm wading through marking of essays & tests. (The 'flounder' effect, anyone?) Which kind of makes it hard to find time to write anything substantial for you, my readers.

And because of this - a big 'thank you!' to Mike Stone, for pointing me at The critical thinking toolkit on the University of British Columbia's website. I can see that I will have to include some of this in the workshop I'm running up in Auckland in a couple of weeks.

Make sure that you scroll down to the great video at the end!

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A couple of days ago I was sent a copy of Inspired by Science (Bull et al. 2010) - a paper written 'to encourage debate on how better to engage students with science' which focuses particularly on what's going on in our schools. It also asks 'whether there is an increasing mismatch between science education of today and the demands of the 21st century.' Those of you who are regular readers will know that this is a particular interest of mine (& of several of my blogging buddies over at Sciblogs), & so of course I was very keen to read the paper :)

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The government's Tertiary Education Strategy makes it clear that New Zealand needs to continue to develop a well-educated workforce, and that one of the priorities within this is to support high quality research that helps to drive innovation. So it's fair to say that a fair proportion of that workforce needs to be employed in areas based on science, technology & education. To achieve that, we need to have a steady (& even increasing) throughput of students who successfully study those subjects at tertiary institutions. And to achieve that, we need to get school students thinking that a career in science/technology/engineering is definitely The Way to Go.

And therein lies the rub. Because there are so many other career options available to school students today, & so many other subject options to take at school. So how do we get students thinking about science, technology & engineering as part of their future? Maybe by producing video (or youtube) clips of cool young scientists talking about their jobs & how they got there? At Discovering Biology in a Digital World, Sandra Porter has another suggestion: music videos!

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Well, it's Sunday, & time for something different. Very different...

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.. but perhaps not for the squeamish, not over lunch anyway! Grant & I were e-chatting about some of the great science images we'd seen, & I thought of this one: via PZ comes some stunning imagery of a python digesting a rat. Here's my favourite from that gallery. (Come to think of it, one of the python actually ingesting the rat would have been rather cool!)

Your turn, Grant :)

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One of my regular readers wrote to me today, about an advert that she'd stumbled across recently. I asked if I could reproduce it here (changing some names) as it's a very good example of someone thinking critically about claims made for a particular product.

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Today I saw an image that reminded me of a recent newspaper article that discussed a proposal to introduce 'foreign' dung beetles into New Zealand. (I'm assuming it's a follow-up to an earlier news item from 2009.)

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This is a re-post of something I've written for the 'other blog' over at Talking Teaching. I'm hoping those of my readers who are biology teachers might find something useful in it, & that we might get a discussion going on this key topic of teaching evolution, given its prominence in the new Science curriculum.

I see we've had a few hits recently from searches for teaching evolution. This is a topic that's of particular interest to me, and while I'm definitely not an expert in the area of lifting student engagement with this often-contentious topic, I thought I might write a bit about some of the approaches we've tried here, plus some of the literature in this area. So pull up a chair, it could be a long-ish post :)

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