It is voting time again

17 08 2010

That’s right, I am crawling back to blog about important happenings this week in Australia.

It’s National Science Week.

It seems I’ve missed out on alerting you to vote for your favourite Aussie scientist for the Eureka prize (I would have been supporting Evans and Smith for proving the intellectual and communicative exploits of chickens).

But it is not too late to start voting for your favourite new Aussie species discovered this past year. Given that this year’s theme is biodiversity it’s a pretty appropriate poll.

Place your vote here.

Nominees are:

  • Opera House Barnacle (Calantica darwinii)
  • Kimberly Froglet (Crinia fimbriata)
  • Sea Spider (Paranymphon bifilarium)
  • Steve Irwin’s Tree Snail (Crikey stevirwini – I kid not!)
  • Spinifex Ant (Camponotus triodiae)
  • Pink Handfish (Brachiopsilus dianthus)
  • Cape York Amber Fly (fossilized) (Chaetogonopteron bethnorrisae)
  • Bacchus Marsh Wattle (Acacia rostriformis)
  • The Bandalup Buttercup (Hibbertia abyssa)
  • Truffle-like Mushroom (Cribbea turbinispora)

More new species and biodiversity stuff at the bushblitz website including a free teacher booklet (just in case your school somehow missed out, or your from another country).


Jim’s Story: Engine bodies and body engines

15 05 2010

This is taken from my Science Education textbook, The Art of Teaching Science. Is this a science lesson gone wrong? or a science lesson gone right?

Snapshot 10.1

Jim (not his real name) was explaining homeostasis to his Year 12 biology class. Homeostasis is the process where bodily inputs and outputs are balanced to maintain a constant internal environment. To model body temperature regulation, Jim used a car engine’s cooling system to show how heat input and output are balanced. Read the rest of this entry »

Creativity unleashed

22 11 2009

I mentioned in my last school post (the one about set ups), that I’d used a modified version of The Future Is Wild‘s animal design activity.

While TFiW is more focused on evolution and decent with modification, my class was currently focusing on a more ecological unit – what roles do different organisms have in an ecosystem, how do they interact and how do we classify them.

Previous lessons had gone through self-made classification schemes, traditional classification schemes (e.g. The Classical Greek), and scientific classification schemes. The two scientific classification schemes were taught in my classes. Read the rest of this entry »

Advice to Teachers of Science

5 06 2009

From the New South Wales Government.


In developing the NSW Science curriculum, the Board of Studies undertook extensive consultation with experts in the field to ensure that content, including that relating to evolution, would be consistent with accepted scientific knowledge and understanding.

The Board wishes to remind teachers that Creationism and Intelligent Design are not part of the Board’s Science syllabuses. If taught as part of any school-based program, it must be clear to students that Creationism and Intelligent Design:

  1. are not scientific, nor evidence-based
  2. will not be included in any task that forms part of the assessment of student achievement for the award of the School Certificate or Higher School Certificate
  3. will not be tested in any School Certificate or Higher School Certificate examination and will not be relevant to any response to School Certificate or Higher School Certificate questions.

Effective: Immediately

[Colouring added]

Note: Intelligent Design has not been banned from schools. But teachers must make it clear that they are not scientific or evidence based – and that will be irrelevant to any assessment or examination.

Given the ID crowd’s penchant for mandatory disclaimers, maybe they won’t be upset about this (and then I wake up).

Any comments on this mandate?

No teacher left behind

1 03 2009

If your teacher doesn’t know any better, how can we expect you?

How your body works is no longer a mystery. Babies are not tiny miracles. And “Better Living Through Chemistry” does not mean what they think it does…

While not quite so abrupt as that, this press release from the University of Colorado makes a point – increasing scientific literacy is the primary method by which we can protect future generations from becoming victims of pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo jargon overload. This will not happen without similarily increasing the scientific literacy of teachers in topics such as basic biology, biochemistry and genetics.

Inside the tomato

16 02 2009

I can vaguely make out this is meant to be Tomato sapiens, it has a mouth, heart, lungs, gizzards, and I don’t know much of the other kanji, but I think there is at least one kidney.

How ethical is you vegetarianism now, huh!?


Hattip Alan and Danny Choo.

Answer to Danny’s question: In a tomato’s sweet delicious heartbeat.

Armchair biologists

30 12 2008

Can armchair biology work?

Armchair science is where science began. Before organised and well funded institutes were about, a lot of scientists were self funded home-based ventures.

Science at home has suffered a few setbacks. They took the fun stuff out of chemistry kits. And even if you do find a decent kit, you might be arrested for making drugs and/or explosives under terrorism laws.

So chemistry as a hobby is expensive, hazardous and possibly illegal.

What about biology?

There is a little discussion at the sci-borg collective about recent news that people are attempting molecular biology (cloning, design-your-own organisms) at home.

Pure Pedantry thinks it won’t end the world. Which is fair to say. But Discovering Biology in a Digital World points out some of the real dangers. Namely, cloning usually involves potential pathogenic organisms and antibiotic resistance – not the best things to be playing around in your kitchen.

While it’s cool that people are enthusiastic about science and wanting to engage in future technologies, it’s good to remember there was a reason further than mere regulation and technophobia over why chemistry kits got dumbed down. Some science stuff isn’t safe to be messing about with at home. Particularly in your kitchen where you prepare your food.

Science that deals with microbes, carcinogens and cold storage really needs a dedicated space. That’s why I like the idea of Community Centers with lab-rooms and storage for hire, along with amateur training courses. This sort of activity should definitely be encouraged.

The best thing about future technology though is that these days biology can be done on a computer over the internet. Bioinformatics at home is a very safe, low labour activity that really only needs a computer and an internet connection.

While I too am skeptical of amatuers making “new vaccines”. I do think some more “simple” breakthroughs are possible –  bio-based tools such as biofuels, indicators and environmental solutions – remember that Canadian kid who developed bacteria that break down plastic bag polymers.