The Science Learnification (Almost) Weekly – June 19, 2011

This is a collection of things that tickled my science education fancy in the past couple of weeks or so.

Reflections on Standards-Based Grading

Lots of end-of-year reflections from SBG implementers

  • SBG with voice revisions – Andy Rundquist only accepts (re)assessments where he can hear the student’s voice. When they hand in a problem solution, it basically has to be a screencast or pencast (livescribe pen) submission. The post is his reflections on what worked, what didn’t and what to do next time.
  • Standards-Based Feedback and SBG Reflections – Bret Benesh has two SBG-posts one after the other. I was especially fond of the one on Standards-Based Feedback where he proposes that students would not receive standards-based grades throughout the term but would instead produce a portfolio of their work which best showed their mastery for each standard. This one got my mind racing and my fingers typing.
  • A Small Tweak and a Feedback Inequality – Dan Anderson posts about providing feedback-only on the first assessment in nerd form: Feedback > Feedback + Grade > Grade. This is his take on the same issue which lead Bret Benesh to thinking about Standards-Based Feedback, when there is a grade and feedback provided, the students focus all their attention on the grade. He also has a neat system of calculating the final score for an assessments.
  • Reflections on SBG – Roger Wistar (computer science teacher) discusses his SBG journey and the good and bad of his experience so far.


Flipped classrooms and screencasting

Peer Instruction

  • Why should I use peer instruction in my class? – Peter uses  a study on student (non)learning from video by the Kansas State Physics Education Research Group to help answer this question. The short answer is “Because they give the students and you to ability to assess the current level of understanding of the concepts. Current, right now, before it’s too late and the house of cards you’re so carefully building come crashing down.”

The tale of sciencegeekgirl’s career

Getting them to do stuff they are interested in

John Burk gets busy

The Science Learnification (Almost) Weekly – May 30, 2011

This is a collection of things that tickled my science education fancy in the past couple of weeks or so

Facilitating student discussion

  • Facilitating Discussion with Peer Instruction: This was buried somewhere in my to post pile (the post is almost a month old). The always thoughtful Brian Frank discusses a couple of things that most of us end up doing that are counter-productive when trying to facilitate student discussion. Buried in the comments he adds a nice list of non-counter-productive things the facilitator can say in response to a student’s point to help continue the discussion.

Dear Mythbusters, please make your data and unused videos available for public analysis

  • An open letter to Mythbusters on how to transform science education: John Burk shares his thoughts with the Mythbusters on the good they are doing for science education and the public perception of science (and scientists) and then goes one step further and asks them to share their raw experimental data and video for all their experiments and trials, failed and successful. Worth noting is that Adam Savage is very active in the skeptical movement, a group of folks that consider science education to be a very high priority.

End of year reflections

Well it is that time of the year when classes are wrapping up and folks are reflecting on the year. Here are a couple of such posts.

  • Time for New Teaching Clothes: SBG Reflections: Terie Engelbrecht had a handful of reflection posts over the past couple of weeks. In this post she does a nice job of reminding us that for any sort of unfamiliar-to-students instructional strategy that we need to communicate to the students WHY we have chosen to use this strategy. And this communication needs to happen early (as in first day) and be re-communicated often (since the first day is a murky blur to most of them). On a personal side note I spend most of my first day of class communicating to my students that the instructional strategies I use were chosen to (the best of my abilities and knowledge) best help them learn because I care about their learning. Earlier this month I had a parent tell me that after the first day of class her daughter came home very excited about my class because of my message about my caring about her learning. I couldn’t have smiled bigger.
  • Thoughts on the culture of an inverted classroom: Robert Talbert discusses what is essentially a buy-in issue, with his end-of-term feedback showing 3/4 of his students seeing the value of his flipped/inverted classroom approach. This number is pretty consistent with my own experience, where I am judging the buy-in by the fraction of students that complete their pre-lecture assignments. He makes a nice point at the end that students used to an inverted classroom would probably be much more appalled with a regular lecture course than vice-versa.
  • “Even our brightest students…” Part II: Michael Rees writes about his own (student) perspective on Standards-Based Grading. We need more of these student perspective on education blogs, they are fantastic.

An experiment in not using points in the classroom

  • Pointslessness: An Experiment in Teenage Psychology: Shawn Cornally ran a bioethics class where their work for almost the entire year did not count toward their grade and they discussed readings and movies which were “interesting” (not sure what was used to qualify these things as interesting, but when looking through the list I’m pretty sure I would find most of those things interesting). Without the marks attached the students engaged in the discussions for the sake of engaging in the discussions and those students that usually try to glean what is going on from only the classroom discussions (instead of doing the readings themselves) would often go and do the readings after the discussions.

Effective communication of physics education research

  • Get the word out: Effective communication of physics education research: Stephanie Chasteen posts and discusses her fantastic talk from the Foundation and Frontiers of Physics Education Research – Puget Sound conference (FFPER and FFPER-PS are by far my favorite conferences btw). The talk discussed the generally poor job that physics education researchers do of communicating with the outside world and discussed some strategies to become more effective in this communication.

A few more posts of interest

  • It is just fine to give a quiz based on the homework that’s due today: Agreed! I do it too, but I use online homework that provides instant feedback so they show up in class having already received some feedback on their understanding.
  • Why Schools Should Embrace the Maker Movement: I’m hoping to develop an upper-year electronics course based on Arduino, and requiring only intro computer science and physics as prerequisites. Go Makers!
  • Probing potential PhDs: One of a grad student’s responsibilities is typically to be a teaching assistant and some folks at Stony Brook are taking this into account when interviewing potential new grad students by asking them to explain, at an undergraduate level, the answer to conceptual challenge problems. I think I want this collection of challenge problems for my own use.

Summary of talk: 6 Things Scientists Can Learn From Science Journalists

“Never Say Diagonal of the Covariance Matrix: 6 Things Scientists Can Learn From Science Journalists” is a an excellent one-hour thirty-five minute talk given by Maggie Koerth-Baker (science editor for Boing Boing). As I mentioned in my most recent Weekly I took some notes that I am happy to share because not everybody will make the time to sit down and watch this talk.

Please note that these are the notes that I took as I watched (and paused) the talk and they are meant to summarize her talk as best as I could. Things in quotes were copied down verbatim and everything else is some delightful combination of what she said and what I thought she meant. If I missed any important points or misrepresented any of her points, please let me know, I am more than happy to fix my mistakes.

The main points where a reference to “you” refers to the scientist being interviewed by a journalist or otherwise trying to communicate with the public about science:

1. “Show, don’t tell.”

  • Turn it into a story.
  • Anecdotes aren’t data, but they do make data memorable.
  • Give the journalist good analogies because your analogies are going to be far more accurate than ones that the journalist would make up.
  • Use show don’t tell with the general public to counteract the pseudoscientists who are already doing this to connect memory and emotion.

2. “Don’t just talk…ask.”

  • Three questions scientists should always ask journalists:
    • “Can I see the story before you print it?”
    • “Can you send me questions ahead of time?”
    • This is actually three questions meant to probe how technical you should be and tips you off to mistakes that the journalist might make. These questions are (3a) “What got you interested in my work?”, (3b) “What have you read so far”, and (3c) “Who else have you spoken with?”
  • You should also talk to the general public and ask them questions. Good places to do this are to blog about science, and to have more interactions between scientists and the general public at public presentations (instead of scientists on one side of the room and lay people on the other side after the talk).

3. Lay people know more (and less) than you think.

  • Scientists will learn that lay people know more than you think and are each an expert in their own thing, which sometimes can end up complimenting your research.
  • Scientists will also learn that lay people know less than you think with what you consider “elementary concepts” never having been covered in typical schooling. She stresses the importance of communicating ideas like what exactly does peer review mean or the scientific definition of a theory every time you are communicating with the public about science instead of just when discussing publicly controversial contexts such as climate change and vaccination. Otherwise the public will “think that those basic scientific ideas are just about ass-covering,” (very well-put in my opinion).

4. Not everything is news.

  • Not every discovery or every paper needs to end up in the newspaper because what is important to you and what is important to the general public are not necessarily the same. People want to know about really important discoveries, but don’t need to know every tiny thing that happens.
  • What can you do to write about your research if you don’t have something that is “news”?  You can make it “evergreen”, which means make it timeless and not tied to any specific event and you need to “find an angle”, which is connecting a simple fact to a bigger picture .
  • No matter what your field, there are topics of interest to the general public.
  • Fantastic line: “Science is bigger than single discoveries and if we can make people understand that they are going to trust scientists a lot more and are going to be a lot more interested in science.”

5. Nobody is critical enough of their own work.

  • Hey, this is why peer review exists. She gives an example of being overenthusiastic about your own work in a press release. She also talks about how poorly understood the time-frame is for a discovery to make it from basic science to the public sector (and often they never make it to the public sector).
  • She suggests to attend public talks given by people outside your field and to apply the questions that you might ask and the skepticism that you might have to your own research to help filter what you communicate to the public.
  • “Don’t just pontificate, curate” – don’t just talk about your own work, talk about how the cool work of others (including those not at your institution) is related to your work. This will help build your credibility and help people better understand how your work fits into the bigger picture.
  • You can contribute to making science journalism better by being the first one to critique yourself when talking to a journalist: anticipate the response of other scientists and respond to those potential critiques. She reminds us that in the current economic climate that many journalists writing about science are not science journalists and have no scientific background at all and they don’t have the background to know that they should be looking for other scientists in that field to question or comment on that paper

6. Mistakes are lasting, but pedantry kills.

  • It’s ok to dumb it down
    • “Sacrificing storytelling and understandability for extreme accuracy is often just as bad as sacrificing accuracy for the sake of storytelling.”
    • “If you are not writing about your science to the general public at a 6th grade reading level, you are probably doing something wrong and not enough people are understanding what you are talking about.”
  • It helps us to use more understandable analogies. Sacrifice some of the nuances to make it more understandable. If you are being too pedantic, you are going to miss out on opportunities to get people excited and get them to want to find out more.

Her summary: know your audience, know your message and make sure to match those up so that people understand what you are saying.

Other notes

  • Early on she mentions book “The Matchbox that ate the a Forty-Ton Truck” which is a Physics for lay people book by Marcus Chown. I had not previously heard of this book, but am always on the lookout for this type of book.

The Science Learnification Weekly (Feb 27, 2011)

This is a collection of things that tickled my science education fancy in the past week or so.


This idea was the brainchild of Frank Noschese (Action-Reaction Pseudoteaching page) and John Burk (Quantum Progress Pseudoteaching FAQ) and was inspired by Dan Meyer’s pseudocontext posts. Early in the week a whole bunch of posts dropped at the same time discussing the idea of pseudoteaching:

Pseudoteaching is something you realize you’re doing after you’ve attempted a lesson which from the outset looks like it should result in student learning, but upon further reflection, you realize that the very lesson itself was flawed and involved minimal learning.

For me pseudoteaching (#pseudoed on Twitter) seems to show up most often when an activity, demo, derivation or mini-lesson goes down and afterward I realize that there’s no way that the students gained any insight into the topic at hand from what just went down in class. I think a lot of typical physics demos (I can’t really comment on other disciplines) fall in this category, with the monkey and the hunter demo being an example of something I have tried to show a few times and afterward am always left wondering what on Earth I was expecting them to learn from that demo. Pretty much any “conceptual” question I have ever seen related to the concept behind that demo ends up being a recall question pure and simple that in no way tests their understanding of the independence of horizontal and vertical motions. I ramble a bit more about this in the form of comments here.

What can scientists learn from science journalism (and vice-versa)

This was two different pieces of internet consumables brought to my attention on twitter.

“Never Say Diagonal of the Covariance Matrix: 6 Things Scientists Can Learn From Science Journalists” is a one-hour thirty-five minute talk given by Maggie Koerth-Baker (science editor for Boing Boing). I’m about half-way through the talk and it is great so far. Since it is an hour long, I don’t expect that everybody will fit watching it into their schedule so I will post a summary based on the notes that I’m taking. I posted my notes as a summary of the talk. The #scichat daily linked to this post discussing the talk, and which lists the six main points.

“The scientist-journalist divide: what can we learn from each other?” is a post by Anne Jefferson which contrasts the first lines of features discussing climate change as written by a scientist and by a journalist. Some good food for thought on writing better science blog posts in here.

Flipped/Inverted classrooms in higher ed

I stumbled across a few inverted classroom implementations (ranging from barely inverted to very inverted) this past week. I’m in the middle of writing my own blog post about how I use pre-lecture reading assignments in my introductory Physics courses and how I’ve managed to get to a point where a decent fraction of the students complete these reading assignments. To the links…

“Flipped SBG with voice so far”: Andy Rundquist talks about his experience as a first-time Standards-Based Grading implementer. More to the theme of this little section, he talks about how he uses screencasting to put mini-lectures online for the students to consume before coming to class. He has multiple posts on how he uses screencasting this way.

“How the inverted classroom saves students time”: Robert Talbert’s post title is self-explanatory.

“Learn before Lecture: A Strategy That Improves Learning Outcomes in a Large Introductory Biology Class,” M. Moravec et al., CBE Life Sci Educ 9(4): 473-481 2010. This journal article was brought to my attention by my old reading group (and seems to be available for free). I will probably write a short post on this paper, but I will sum it up here. They off-loaded four to five slides worth of content from three separate lectures over the term to the students to consume before coming to class. This gave them a bit more time in class to get students to grapple with higher-level concepts related to this material, which resulted in an average improvement of 21% on six exam questions compared to six similar questions covering the same material on previous years’ exams. They were already using active-learning exercises, such as clicker questions, small group problem solving and interactive demos, in all their lectures so as far as I can tell the only real change here is that they got the students to spend more time on task by getting them to work through the low-level stuff before coming to class. This additional time on task makes it not at all surprising that they saw improved learning outcomes in those topics. In the end I feel like I am missing the take-home message from this paper.

Video abstracts being published by the Institute of Physics

John Burk starts a conversation about how video abstracts for IOP-published papers could be used in the classroom.