I think this is more than just cute. It actually explains a lot of drinks I hear ordered around me at cafes that I would otherwise have gone through life without knowing anything about.
Monthly Archives: August 2012
A while ago I was mentioning my overindulgence in caffeine and the pure joy that comes from a well-made espresso or coffee. I was lamenting the fact that I couldn’t have these delights at home as I dreamt of expensive devices from Williams and Sonoma.
Some wise reader asked if I had tried brewing espresso myself at home using a Moka pot and I had to admit that I did own one, but had not used it more than once or twice because I had not been able to get a good result. Well, I thought I would try again. I dug out the pot from its home above the refrigerator and gave it a shot. First try – lots of leaking steam and boiling water, very little drink actually produced, but not bad.
I tried again today and had a little bit of the leaking problem again, but I got a lot more espresso out and the first cup was delicious! I’m going back for seconds, but I wanted to rave a little first. Thank you dear reader who suggested this – you may have made a big difference in my life with your comment.
I’ve been wondering…
On this blog, I’ve been posting how my biology class is going each day and summarizing what I attempted to teach. Thus far, I have not told my students that I have this blog. Do any of you who teach have your students read your blog? I’ve considered it, but if I did, it would mean that I should be extra careful about what I say. Of course I don’t ever mention specific students here – in fact, I try not to talk about them much at all. I’d prefer to just talk about my experience and what I want them to take home…. but, it is something to consider.
So, do any teachers out there blog?
Class today really did a number on me. I don’t feel old but I felt old and tired in class today. I just didn’t know where to go to dig up the energy to communicate clearly and get through the day. This really gets me down because I enjoy teaching so much and I don’t like to feel dragged down by it.
As I said in the last post, we started our discussion of the first chapter of “Your Inner Fish”. All in all, this part of the class went fine. It’s a good book for this level student – of course some people like it and some people don’t. It sounded like the majority of disapproving remarks were not about the material, but about the style of the author (I admit that he does get off on tangents, but I think they are all for good reason)
No, my problems came in discussing DNA and Proteins as simple biomolecules. Each of these molecules can be very large, but they are each made of very simple monomeric units that are simply repeated again and again. I tried to illustrate just this fact by showing them each as single units and then showing how they stick together and then asking students to identify some elements of this larger molecules. See the illustration at right to see a demonstration of the polymerization of two generic molecules. Below is an illustration of the same thing, but using Amino Acids rather than generic squares.
I don’t know exactly where I lost them, but I did. I’ll be sure that they understand this before the quiz on Tuesday. I feel like it is very important to get a sense for these molecules and how they work together at a basic level before we can move on and start talking about enzymes, their activity and regulation.
Tomorrow we start talking about Neil Shubin’s book, ‘Your Inner Fish.’ We’re going through this book at a pace of about a chapter a week from now until almost the end of the semester. I’ve already gotten a few essays from my students about their thoughts after reading chapter 1. (The assignment is to just write anything – a quick statement indicating what the chapter covered and then opinion, thoughts, reflections, anything.)
Most people wrote that they really enjoyed chapter one and that it opened their eyes to the world around them. Sometime’s I’m a little jealous that they get to see the world of science unfold before them. I remember that feeling when I first started studying science seriously and it was amazing. I still get it once in a while when I read someone’s work that opens a new door, but less often than the first year of intro biology and reading ‘The Selfish Gene’ for the first time. At that time I was struck with how amazing the world was. Everything made sense – not to say that I understood it, but that it became apparent to me for the first time that the world does make sense and that if you look carefully, then you could see it too.
I do have some students that feel that this class treads a bit too close to sacred ground for them though. I just read one student’s essays about chapters 1 and 2 and I can see that we will be having a lot of conversations through this semester. As always, I try to be cautious about what I might say. I don’t like to tread on anyone’s religious beliefs, but I am also paid to show what is known about biology – and one major tenet of that is evolution by natural selection. The trouble is not that I go out of my way to say anything at all about religion, it’s that people bring it into my classroom and I have to choose how to deal with it.
I know what some of my mentors would do, but it’s simply not my style.
I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes though.
I just started a ‘Programming Fundamentals’ course last week to see if it looked like it could add comething above and beyond my codecademy classes alone. So far I’m interested. We use a language / coding environment called Alice, which was developed to provide a simple way to start thinking about programming. Essentially, it’s a self-contained program that lets the user drag and drop coding fragments in a way that it creates a program step-by-step. I suppose it’s good – although for old guys like me, it’s very strange. I’d much prefer just using a language and typing the code out. However, I do recognize how the Alice approach might be more accessible to users that have grown up with sophisticated touch devices, etc.
Presently, I’m just working through chapter two, so I’m not too deeply into it yet, but I have found some fascinating things. For one: I’ve completely re-invented the wheel. Through a lot of trial and error I’ve come to a coding style that this text describes as modular, ‘top-down’ design. I also have been doing all of my debugging (what I called troubleshooting) starting with unit testing within a testing shell and then putting everything together in an integrated test.
So far, the major difference between my coding methods and the book’s is that I didn’t develop a whole lexicon for what I was doing. (Ironically, that’s exactly one of the things that I teach in biology – Mendel was successful with his experiments in part because he developed a language to describe his work).
Well, enough chatter. I actually have homework to finish up before I go to class in one hour.
We’ll be continuing with Chemistry in tomorrow’s class (I’d like to get through most, if not all of what I want to cover in that day). But why is chemistry even important in a biology class?
Like I said in my previous post:
Physics –> Chemistry –> Life
It’s important to understand that chemistry is the basis of biology because it is setting the parameters within which life can function. I don’t go much further than explaining the basics of how and why the periodic table is depicted the way it is, the Bohr model of the atom, the octet rule and the three basic bonds atoms enter into.
The Bohr model is fantastic for students. So, it doesn’t depict the actual atoms as they exist in nature… not much actually does. The closer we look at their behavior, the stranger they are. So the Bohr model is just that: a model.
What it does provide is a very nice way of explaining how protons, electrons and neutrons interact. It also plants a seed of electron energy, that we will revisit when we get to photosynthesis (photons strike pigment molecules and raise an electron to a higher energy state).
Ultimately, we lay just enough groundwork so that once we start talking about DNA and other biomolecules, these structures make some sense and students will know why the backbone of DNA sticks together, but the Hydrogen bonds between the strands are less stable and can be pulled apart and come back together in a reasonable way.
I’ll finish out the chapter on chemistry discussing these four basic biomolecules (nucleic acids, lipids, proteins and carbohydrates) as we drift into studying material that is more recognizably biology.
This week we also start our extra reading, ‘Your Inner Fish’ by Neil Shubin. I’ve been using this book for several semesters now and think it makes a good addition to the class. I’ll talk more about that later when we discuss chapter 1 on Thursday.
I signed up for a duathlon in my hometown here of Paola, KS some time ago and then promptly put it out of my head. That worked pretty well until this morning when I actually had to get up bight and early and get to the race that I had not been training for specifically.
Fortunately, I have to say that P90X has been doing a good job with me. Despite not doing the kind of training that I ought to be doing (actually running, biking and doing run/bike ‘bricks’), I felt great through 90% of the race and think I put in a decent effort.