Nov
17
2010

World’s Biggest Demo

Cook Off!

All right, I confess.  I love cooking shows.  I can’t resist them.  As I enjoy cooking myself, I find it inspiring to watch well trained and creative food gurus work their magic.  How exactly do they hold the knife?  In their estimation, how much is a “handful”?  What pots, pans, and kitchen gadgets do they use?  When the directions say, “simmer until reduced”, what does it look like exactly?

When I was at the gym yesterday, I saw that Rachael Ray (the host of a regularly scheduled television cooking show, for those of you who don’t know) was featuring the World’s Biggest Cooking Demo on her show, I couldn’t help but get sucked in.  Sure it was a corny tactic, but I have to say, it was pretty darned clever.  The producer’s plan was for Rachael to prepare a chicken dish outdoors, live, in front of her entire New York City studio audience, with each audience member positioned at a mobile cooking station, following along with her. Hundreds of little cooking stations were set up, equipped with a hotplate, pans, implements, and all the ingredients required for the dish.  It was quite the scene – all of those audience-member-chefs, lined up, following along with Rachael.

But that’s not all – hundreds more cooks kept up with the proceedings in live Los Angeles studio audience and even more followed along with the demo in their homes, watching it on television, and Skyping in their questions.  Occasionally, Rachael would take a break from the demo (while the sauce was simmering) to take a Skype call from a viewer in Cleveland or Tampa.  The caller was projected on the big screen, beamed in from his or her kitchen, working away at the same recipe, asking for a clarification or offering a suggestion.

I thought the whole thing was brilliant.  Who doesn’t like to feel a part of something larger than themselves?  So, why not leverage that and turn it into an event?  While watching the proceedings, another thing came clear to me –  there was infinite variation and adaptation at work.  As the camera scanned the 100′s of cooks putting the chicken dish together, you could see the color and consistency variation in the sauce; some toasted their corn muffins, some didn’t; and the Skype callers had all sorts of ideas for varying the recipe, improvising on the procedure, and making it their own.  Subliminally, we all got the message that there was no one right way to do – the recipe was a guideline and experimentation off the basic plan was endless.

By now I’ll bet you can tell where I’m going with this….how about a National Lab-Off?  Imagine thousands of high school students all over the U.S. doing a photosynthesis lab together on one promoted day of the academic year.  One master teacher leading the event, providing a game plan from which everyone could improvise, experiment, and collaborate.  Live video feed piped into classrooms all over the country. A producer to manage the video feeds and Skype calls with questions.  A post-event blogging session to pool data, interpret results, and discuss conclusions?  What a way to generate enthusiasm for investigation while at the same time encouraging the use of participatory media tools!  Man, if Rachael Ray can do it with honey mustard chicken, surely it could be done with a biology lab?

Written by rheyden in: Labs | Tags: ,
Nov
08
2010

Participatory Media Workshop at #NABT10

On Friday, at the National Assocation of Biology Teachers meeting in Minneapolis, I gave a workshop on Participatory Media. The session was designed to introduce teachers to participatory media tools through the concept of student projects.  That is, what are students in biology courses across the country, doing with these new web 2.0 tools?  In my travels, I have the good fortune to meet some amazing teachers and see the work of some equally amazing students – I wanted to showcase them.  And, in the process, hoped that NABT participants might be inspired to give a few of them a try with their own students.

Together we walked through 10 different projects that 9th/10th grade or AP biology students had created using web tools like VoiceThread, Animoto, ToonDoo, Bookemon, Facebook, Google Earth, and creating podcasts. Then, because the group was small (but mighty!), we decided to try our hand at creating a podcast together. We broke into three small groups – one wrote the script, one picked some photos from a collection I’d put together on a jump drive, and one brainstormed ideas on how such a podcast might be best used.

Here’s the online slideshare from the session but maybe the best way to give you a feel for it is to share with you the podcast that the group created. In the space of about 10 minutes, here’s what a creative group of biology teachers and one PowerMac did together.  Fabulous.

nabt podcast

This is the audio version, the enhanced version (with photos) can be downloaded onto an ipod or droid.

Nov
07
2010

A Social Media Experiment at #NABT 2010

For those of you attending the NABT conference in Minneapolis this year, you might have noticed this card (above) in your bag of goodies from the registration booth.  The card urged anyone posting content related to the conference to add the identifying “hashtag #NABT10 to their postings. A hastag is a short character string, preceded by the # sign, that serves as a marker.  A tag. An indentifier, so that others can find your stuff in the fast sea of information known as the world wide web.

For those of you who were not able to attend the conference, this hashtag makes it easier for you to tap into the stream of content coming from the conference – photos, blog posts, tweets (from Twitter), Powerpoint slide decks – any of those items posted online that include the hashtag “#NABT10″ can be easily found.

Screenshot of Tweetchat, displaying the stream of tweets with the tag "NABT10"

Here’s an example.  If you go the web site Tweetchat (a Twitter application that makes it easy to search Twitter with a particular hashtag), you can pull up all of the Tweets posted with that hashtag.  Here’s a glimpse of those (the real list is much longer and must be scrolled through:

In there, you’ll find tweets that I posted during Sue Black and Nancy Monson’s excellent “Biology Best Bets” talk – their fourteenth such talk at NABT. Sue and Nancy give their audience the benefit of their combined 40+ years of teaching experience and share the most incredibly creative ideas for demonstrations, labs and activities.  So, even if you weren’t with us in the room, you could get a “feel” for their talk from my tweets.  Not only that, I shared the link to their handout (the url of which they gave us during the session).  It’s the next best thing to being there.

Here’s another example.  On Saturday morning, Richard Dawkins gave a featured speaker address – a Q/A session, attended by every biology teacher there.  The room was packed.  Scrolling through the list of tweets, you can see that both Stacy Baker and I were “live tweeting” the session, passing along quotes and summaries from the points that Dawkins was making.

And another.  Brad Williamson took photos of all of the 4-year divisions poster session posters on Friday evening and posted them in a Flickr slideshow.  Since he added the conference hashtag, that slide show is a breeze to find.

A little hashtag like this….just seven characters long….might sound like a small thing, but it’s a big step forward for the NABT organization.  A sign of good things to come as our community steps into the future in order to begin to realize the benefits that social media and online communities can offer to the NABT membership.

What’s next?  Livestreaming NABT talks over the internet?  Communities of new and experienced teachers, tapping into each other’s strengths in online work groups?  The AP Biology community contributing and conversing on this NABT Bio Blog? Professional development webinars?

Written by rheyden in: Conference Info | Tags: ,
Nov
06
2010

Richard Dawkins @ #NABT10

Richard Dawkins at the NABT

Richard Dawkins was the dinner speaker at this year’s National Association of Biology Teachers Conference. I didn’t attend the dinner (it was $85 – gulp) but I did attend his follow-up Q/A session the next day.

He started his talk with a few of vignette movies from his website, www.richarddawkins.net. These are short (2-3 minute) videos of Dawkins speaking – some of them are from his infamous Christmas Lectures and some are more travelogue vignettes (shot in the Galapagos, for instance). The video vignette on Boobies and Gannets was one of my favorites – describing the “two egg” insurance policy of these birds. Another was a video of a younger Dawkins doing a demonstration with a cannonball pendulum that he holds right up to his face – and then lets go, allowing it to swing in it arc, right back to him, stopping just short of smashing him in the face. A beautiful, living illustration of his faith in science. “Yes you can have faith”, Dawkins says, “but have faith with reason.”

He went on to entertain questions from the audience. Most of the questions were about teaching evolution. Here are a few of them…

Q: What do you say to a student who says of evolution, “I just don’t believe it”?
A: Well, I think you need to explore why they don’t believe it. If their answer is something along the lines of “organisms are just too complex to come from random chance”, then you know that they just have the wrong end of the stick and help them with their misconception. But if the reason is a religious one (as in “my parents or my rabbi tells me it’s wrong”) then you could point out that it’s just random chance that they were born to this family, and have these particular religious beliefs. Another idea that Dawkins said came from last night’s dinner companions is to teach the concepts of evolution without calling it evolution and just “smuggle it in”.

Q: I teach in an inner city LA high school that is 95% Latino Catholic. When I teach evolution, I advise them to keep their faith outside of the classroom. Why do so few people in the United States refuse to accept the principles of evolution, as compared to other countries on the globe. “I see this as an attack on science.”
A: Is it possibly not only an attack on science but an attack on intellectualism itself? There seems to be a political movement in this country that resents intellectual ideas and anyone that might be more intellectual than you? (at which point the entire room broke out in laughter).

Q: How do we address the problem that there is really only one race?
A: Good question. We are a very genetically uniform species. The variation among humans is very, very low. The other misconception here is the Victorian idea of an evolutionary ladder – progression – from ancestral apes to chimpanzees, to black people, to white people. When, really, all humans are exactly equally related to chimpanzees and all mammals are equally related to frogs. The categorization that we all have to deal with on many government forms is total nonsense. “Hispanic?! What does that mean? I encourage everyone to refuse to fill out that portion of the form.”

Q: Sometimes I get students who accept microevolution, but have problems with macroevolution. What do you suggest to combat that?
A: Yes, that’s something that they’ve been taught to say. And, of course, what you say is that macroevolution is what you get when you add up lots of instances of microevolution together. The misconception here is that they think it’s happens over night and have no concept of the vast amounts of time involved. There are various metaphors that you can use to address this – his favorite is to stretch out your arm to the side and, moving from you neck to the tip of your fingers, explain that…. The origin of life is at your neck. The dinosaurs are in the palm of your hand. The first mammal is at your fingernail. The whole of recorded human history falls in the dust of a single stroke of a nail file.

Written by rheyden in: Conference Info,NABT News | Tags:
Nov
06
2010

Four Year Section Poster Session #NABT10

Here’s a quick slide show of the Four Year Section Chair Poster session—always a fun event interacting with students and neat ideas.

Written by Brad Williamson in: Biology Teaching | Tags:
Nov
04
2010

Greetings from Minneapolis

It’s Thurs. morning. As I went down to register, I stopped by the OCIE (Outreach Coordinators and Informal Educator Section) poster session: “…highlighting a variet of programs and services beyond the traditional classroom…”

Here they are: