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June 2011 Archives

Hot on the heels of the paper on methods for improving learning in first-year physics (Deslauriers, Schelew & Wieman, 2011), comes one by Haak, HilleRisLambers, Pitre & Freeman (2011) that casts a critical eye on methods for teaching first-year biology classes.

Today's students come from more diverse backgrounds, and have far more diverse prior learning experiences, than when I was a student myself. Those differences can contribute to a gap in achievement in first-year biology - something that's exacerbated by academic assumptions about prior learning & which can contribute to poor student retention into subsequent study in the subject. 

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 As a bit of light relief from my current admin, I wandered over to Wordle to see how my blog 'visualises' itself at the moment.

if my dishwasher had wings.png


From which I gather that a hot dishwasher is beneficial, & evolution may one day fit it with wings...

Wordle. I like it :-)

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... and I don't know why the media continue to give attention to claims about its influence on earthquakes & weather. Or at least, why they do so without applying a modicum of critical thinking.

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Young-Earth creationist Ken Ham proudly teaches children to ask 'were you there?' of anyone making statements about evolution, the age of the Earth, or indeed of any scientific statements involving long periods of time.  This isn't a genuine question, as someone who's been coached by Ham & his ilk will feel that they already know the answer, so they're not asking out of a desire to learn more. On Pharyngula, PZ has written a beautiful post - in the form of a letter to one such child - on why it's so much more interesting, and rewarding, to ask 'how do you know?' instead.


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On the way to her exam this morning, the Daughter brought me a poster that she'd plucked from the noticeboard down the corridor [1}. We read it together, & much hilarity ensued.

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I don't know what worried me more about this article in The Registrar - the implication that my dishwasher & its fungal denizens might be out to get me (which I suppose could necessitate returning to Plan B: the Significant Other; after all, I do the cooking, so he can wash up!), or the rather piss-taking tone of the story. I mean, how else to take the headline: The Killer Mutant Fungus in Your Dishwasher: don't approach without a biohaz suit and a flamethrower ?

On the other hand, it did spur me into going to look for the original article :-) And now I know that the 'interesting' black stuff that sometimes springs up (not literally!) around the seals is probably a living organism & not necessarily due to the family's regrettable inability to rinse dishes before loading. (The authors of the article don't actually say whether their investigation was initiated after observing similar black mouldy bits, but I can't help wondering...)

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I'll be off to Taipei in 3 weeks' time (a little less, actually - eeek!) to attend the 22nd International Biology Olympiad. I'm going as an observer with the New Zealand IBO team, in order to get a first-hand look at how the competition is run, because -

- in 2014 we'll be hosting the 25th IBO competitions, right here at the University of Waikato! This is a brilliant opportunity to showcase the University, Hamilton City, the wider Waikato region & indeed New Zealand to the global education sector. Teams from around 60 countries will be here, and it's not just the students - they're accompanied by adult team leaders, academics, in many cases there's a media presence from the home country as well.

NZIBO UoW MoU edited.JPG

UoW Vice-Chancellor Prof Roy Crawford & NZIBO Chair Dr Angela Sharples sign the hosting agreement, while yours truly looks on.

New Zealand's sent a team to the IBO since 2005, and the teams have brought home medals every year - apparently we're the only country where students have won medals in their first year of being part of the competition. Winning a place in the team is fairly competitive and there's a lot of hard work involved, but anyone who comes through the training camp will be extremely well-prepared for tertiary studies in biology - they'll have worked their way through the whole of Campbell Biology, which is the first-year text for just about every NZ university :-) (Teachers - this year's entrance exam is on Wednesday 17th August, and it would be great if you could encourage your talented year 12 biology students to consider entering it.)

Having the event in New Zealand will be very special, although it may also add to the pressure to do well! Not least because, as well as being the 25th year of IBO, 2014 also marks the 50th anniversary of the University of Waikato and 150 years since Hamilton City was founded. We'll be working with organisations in Hamilton and beyond to make this an event to remember. (And if anyone wants to put their hand up to help out, I'd love to hear from you!)

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One of my students sent me the link to this video (obviously thinking I could do with a bit of light relief from marking!): Futurama's take on evolutionary arms races :-)

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My eye was caught by that title to a paper just out on the Ako Aotearoa website (click here for the summary document & here for the full report). The sub-title is The pathway from secondary to university education, a topic that is dear to my heart.

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I know I'm creeping into Marcus's territory here but the research I'm going to discuss today would apply to pretty much any tertiary classroom :-)

This story got a bit of press about a month ago, with the Herald carrying a story under the headline: It's not teacher, but method that matters. The news article went on to say that "students who had to engage interactively using the TV remote-like devices [aka 'clickers'] scored about twice as high on a test compared to those who heard the normal lecture." However, as I suspected (being familiar with Carl Wieman's work), there was a lot more to this intervention than using a bit of technology to 'vote' on quiz answers :-)

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Thus said a headline in today's on-line Herald. Presenting the report, Commissioner from the Environment, Jan Wright, commented that "without 1080, our ability to protect many of our native plants and animals would be lost."

So I thought this was a good time to re-post something I wrote earlier on the subject of 1080.

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From time to time I am happily diverted into watching funny videos. Many of them use that humour to communicate a serious message. Yesterday (egged on by friends Annette & David) I discovered the goodness that is Mitchell & Webb, and their take on homeopathy. More specifically, their take on how much good it might do in an emergency ward. That is, no good at all.

Which is disturbing, given that you can actually buy homeopathic first-aid kits. (And a fat lot of good the 'apis mellifica' offered in the ad I've linked to would do for someone seriously allergic to bee-stings...)

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Recent Comments

  • Alison Campbell: The people doing the asking - the ones I'm responding read more
  • Millie: Maybe ppl are saying things just to learn, and they read more
  • Richard: High dose resveratrol (5g was used in the study) actually read more
  • Alison Campbell: Or you could, you know, summarise your own reasons for read more
  • marc verhaegen: For recent info, google "aquatic ape theory made easy 2017". read more
  • Alison Campbell: I feel that may have connotations of 'night soil', which read more
  • herr doktor bimler: Would it sound better as "liquid soil"? read more
  • Alison Campbell: The results in the study you linked to look promising read more
  • Alison Campbell: Thanks, Ed. Totally agree - it's just a matter of read more
  • Ed Darrell: Plague? Antibiotics, plus we know the vector and how to read more