Attendance is Mandatory

I have taught this class. It was called “Introduction to Biology for Non-Majors”.

Incidentally, I got pretty good student evaluations and none of my South Carolinian students argued with me about evolution.

The African Science Truck Experience

The African Science Truck Experience (TASTE) is an amazing charity I first found our about when founder Amy Buchanan-Hughes spoke at a science unconference I co-organised a few years ago.

TASTE is a project to provide school kids in Uganda with appropriate science lab tools that they need to study science in middle and high school. It’s difficult and expensive to set up science labs in individual schools in Uganda, but TASTE solves the problem with wheels: They have a mobile lab (the “science truck”) which can travel from school to school. Kids use the equipment when the truck is in town, and then it leaves after their labs are done, onto the next location!


In 2013, they reached 1400 students this way, and now TASTE are planning their next trip to Uganda. They are raising money throughout 2015 to be able to return in 2016 with the mobile lab and teacher training.

They’ve just started their fundraising, which involves a weekly focus on a specific item that they need sponsors for. This week’s item is…. a box of cockroaches, to help students learn anatomical drawing, which is a part of their curriculum.


You can follow TASTE on Facebook and Twitter to keep track of the weekly items, or their fundraising page to donate. (Note that the donation amounts listed are in British pounds. £10 is approximately $15 US)

Images from TASTE site and Facebook page.

MOOCs verus a science education

Are massively open online courses (MOOCs) going to revolutionize high education? Over at Pacific Standard, I argue that they won’t – at least not science education, and I suspect that’s true of most other areas as well.

The punch line:

Far from overturning the staid and overpriced traditional lecture model of education, MOOCs reinforce that model and conflict with recent research on how to teach technical subjects like science.

Continue reading “MOOCs verus a science education”

Science “Fair?”

As a science-y spouse of a secondary school biology teacher, I’ve judged my share of science fairs. I have routinely struggled with the judging criteria. In one case, my wife rewrote the judging rubric being used to focus on how well the student implemented the scientific method, not superficial elements. I often struggled with being asked to give points for “importance” or “novel research”. These are high school/middle school science fairs. You want curiosity. And screw “novel”. Reproducibility and retesting are part of science too. I would leave glowing notes complimenting students even though the judging criteria wouldn’t let me give them top scores because, for example, parts of their board presentation were hand written.

The previous paragraph was an incoherent ramble. For a very coherent discussion of Science Fair issues, especially reinforcing privilege and excluding disadvantaged students, you need to read Erin Salter’s “Science fairs: rewarding talent or privilege?” at PLoS’s Sci-Ed blog.

The nominal purpose of science fairs is to promote student-led inquiry and give kids hands-on experience with the scientific method. Much of our science education centers on the “product” of science – established laws, facts, and theories…Student-led projects (like those done for the science fair) are one way to incorporate open-ended inquiry into education.

However, the rewards system of the science fair is flawed. There is no equity of access to lab facilities and equipment or access to scientific mentors, meaning some students are disadvantaged from the start…the students who win these science fairs will often be the ones with the best access. – Erin Salter


Great scientists don’t need math

So says E.O. Wilson in the Wall Street Journal.

But don’t just read the headline – be sure to catch the nuance in Wilson’s piece. He’s saying don’t let fear of math drive you from science, because you don’t need straight A’s through four semesters of calculus to be a good scientist.

I don’t quite agree with Wilson when he says you can always find a mathematician as a collaborator to handle the math you need. A mathematically illiterate biologist working with a biologically illiterate mathematician is usually not a fruitful combination. But good scientists pick up the necessary mental toolkit as it’s needed, including mathematical and statistical knowledge (as long as they’re willing to put some serious effort into gaining that knowledge, as opposed to, say, figuring out how to mindlessly apply t-tests).

Sean Eddy calls this approach “ante-disciplinary science”: Continue reading “Great scientists don’t need math”

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