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New Challenge: Science Discussion Topics

Still working on my online class for "Science & Survival" (soon to be renamed "Scientific Thinking").

A new thing I'm doing with the course is making one-third of it an examination of the basic ideas behind each of the major physical sciences. Because I'm using Natalie Angier's The Canon as a course book, those fields will be: Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geology, and Astronomy (we'll count Biology as a physical science, since it's covered in the book). Each science gets its own week, in which the students will read about the modern theories in each field (e.g. Evolution for Biology, Plate tectonics for Geology, stellar evolution and BBC for astronomy, etc).

What I'm having trouble with is coming up with discussion topics for these weeks. Online threaded discussion topics that is. I don't think a good discussion topic should be a homework problem, but I want it to be deeper than just "Tell us your opinion about physicists." I mean, I can see where a discussion can be developed in biology or astronomy, but chemistry?


Give Me Your Fermi Problems

In week four of my spring Science & Survival course, my students will be learning about Fermi problems and they will be expected to complete a few themselves. I have some, but I would like about thirty-five of them, so that I can assign a specific problem to a specific student.

Here's my challenge to you: reply with a good Fermi problem, one that is appropriate for a first-year college student (assume knowledge of powers of ten), but that is challenging enough that the answer just doesn't pop up right away on a Google search.

Any Fermi problem solution that a student gives to me cannot just be a naked number. It has to show a series of logical assumptions and steps.

Here are a few examples of Fermi problems:

"How many balloons does it take to fill a classroom?"

"How much will Americans spend on ordering pizzas in 2009?"

"How much will a moderate smoker spend on cigarettes in a year?"

Letter to the Obama Transition Team

This letter was sent to the Barack Obama transition team, via http://www.change.gov/page/s/contact


November 8, 2008

To transition team of President-Elect Barack Obama,

I am joyous over the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, and I am proud to have cast my vote for him. I am a science researcher by training, and a science educator by vocation. I am glad that you are allowing the general public to write to you concerning the new administration's transition.

I am writing this letter to oppose the appointment of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, or any other cabinet position. I am responding to rumors on science blogs and television political shows that Kennedy is being considered for one of these positions. There is good justification for my opposition. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has, on many occasions, revealed a frightening ignorance and disdain for modern scientific research. He is a vocal opponent to the use of childhood vaccines, and has even entertained notions that a conspiracy exists among scientists, medical researchers, and pharmaceutical companies to maintain the use of childhood vaccines. His views on the subject are at best considered fringe, and at worst a public health danger because of the influence Kennedy has on his supporters. Appointing Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to any high level position where science is concerned would go against the promise Barack Obama has made to eliminate the politicization of science.

The rest of the letterCollapse )

Dr. Horrible...with Closed Captioning!

Holy Crap!

Dr. Horrible has been reposted to Hulu with closed captioning! That's just too many levels of awesome.

This is it, folks. Finally, we have a decent bill introduced in Congress to update the accessibility of new and digital media.

The Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2008 was introduced about a month ago, and it aims to get media providers off their collective asses when it comes to internet videos, digital devices and other new fangled things and make them accessible to the deaf and blind.

This includes requiring the movie and tv studios that put their programming on the internet to provide captioning, and to provide captioning for their content that is on the net but older, but previously had captioning for television, etc. This is also goes for video descriptions for the blind. And the providers will have to do with within 18 months of the bill's pasage. Also: ever been at a strange tv and tried in vain to turn on the captions? (well, I have) The bill would require remotes to have a "closed captioning" button and tv's to have the captioning option in the top of the menu, rather than buried in the obscure settings.

So, what you do is write your representative and tell them to support this bill and vote for it. Also write your senators and ask that they introduce this bill in the Senate.

I'm too tired right now, but tomorrow I'll post the text of what I'm writing.

Teaching Astronomy: A New Blog

Some damn fool (me) has decided to start a blog that focuses on astronomy education research:

Teaching Astronomy Blog

I looked around and could not find another blog that discussed astronomy and physics education in way that I would like to see it. Most astronomy blogs (even ones that claim to be about education) are mainly current events and pictures. So I thought I might take a stab at it.

The blog will also give me the chance to cull together the resources that I have been collecting, and the resources/activities that I have been developing. I'm hoping that the blog can get enough visibility that people will use it.

I already have constructed what I think is a pretty good links sidebar, with a lot of good web resources.

Check out the new blog and tell your teacher friends to visit it :-)

For you LJ'ers, I made a syndication of the blog: teachingastro

Oh, and I'm not abandoning LJ. I just found Blogger to be more friendly for designing a public blog.

Fundraiser for GDC

Amber's NPO, Global Deaf Connection, is having a fundraiser next Thursday (May 24th). If you live in Minneapolis/St. Paul, consider going to Ten Thousand Villages and buying something between the hours of 5PM and 8PM. 20% of everything sold will be donated to GDC. Ten Thousand Villages is a cool little store with fair trade knick knacks from all over.

Information on GDC: Global Deaf Connection

Store Info: Ten Thousand Villages. Only in-store sales will count, and only from 5-8PM next Thursday!

Astro Education

For those interested in Astronomy (and science in general) Education, here's an article that I find myself reading and rereading. It's a few years old, but shouldn't fail to stir even my non-astronomer friends:

Astronomy Education in the United States - by Andrew Fraknoi

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December 2008


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