Tag Archives: education

CDC Urges Preparedness for Zombie Attack!

Screen Shot 2013-02-23 at 7.38.32 PM

Click Here For the CDC’s Zombie Preparedness Page

Coming Soon from DownHouse Software

DownHouse Software announces the coming release of the new eBook, “In Part: A Tale of Fractional Zombies.” This is the story of a zombie attack on an elementary school where children in the math class are learning fractions – Hey Zombies are Fractions!  – What a perfect opportunity to put their new skills to work in the real world.

zombie locker

In Part… A Tale of Fractional Zombies – coming soon


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Science and Communication

'Chemical Lectures', c 1810.It seems like there is a lot of talk about how to talk lately.

Scientists are an interesting bunch. We’re all taught to communicate in a very specific way: Be sparing in what you say, even more sparing in what you claim, assume your audience can recognize the difference between good data and bad and always give them your best, because they’ll call you on anything less, etc, etc.

Then there’s the public. Frankly, not many of us are any good at addressing that audience; it’s large, it’s diverse, not everyone knows how to read your graphs and wants you to shut up for a sec while they work it out themselves, etc, etc.

Yet, science has a lot to communicate with the public. And I think the public would like to address the scientific community once in a while too, but it’s not necessarily any easier to communicate in that direction either (most people don’t look through ncbi to find someone working on the topic they’re interested in learning more about and then finding the corresponding author for a quick email chat. )

There are some books out there, like Randy Olson’s, ‘Don’t be Such a Scientist’ that does a good job of helping scientists see how others like to be communicated with. Recently, at the AAAS meeting (that’s the American Association for the Advancement of Science) had a talk about how to communicate that touched on many of the same points Olson’s book covers. Perhaps most importantly is a group like Sense About Science that attempts to bring peer review to the mass media.I think this could be one of the simplest, and most powerful changes in how science is communicated. This was recently discussed in a Scientific American article outlining the objectives for the group.

Nevertheless, many scientists balk at discussing certain topics in public because it may lend a sense of legitimacy to views that are politically or religiously motivated, rather than scientifically.

What do you think should be done to open lines of communication between scientists and non-scientists – or on how media should be held accountable for providing source data on scientific claims?

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , ,

Educational Standards at Home and Abroad

David_-_The_Death_of_SocratesImproving Educational Standards, is an editorial in a recent Science magazine (1Feb 2013) that discussing the Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS). This document was designed by the governors of the 50 states to develop common standards built around inquiry-centered education in the sciences. Ideally, this is meant to present core material not as a group of facts to be memorized, but as tools that can be uncovered with a more Socratic method of study.

I love the idea of it and I wish it was the way I taught. I imagine it to be a lot more fun for everyone involved. But I do have reservations. I’ve been a student in classes that use this method very effectively (I’m thinking specifically of Dr. Koretzky who did a phenomenal job of teaching T cell biology in my first year graduate immunology class at UPenn. But, then again, he’s brilliant. Over the top brilliant. And he knows the literature cold, so he is able to recall and incorporate specific data that would result from student-suggested experiments.

But how many teachers can do this? Remember, these standards are going into effect for K-12 classrooms. I don’t mean to suggest that teachers aren’t smart or capable. But I do mean to say that Socratic method works well for some educators who are both capable and comfortable with that method of instruction.

I have also sat in lectures that were so focused, informative and entertaining that I would not have traded away, especially if these same instructors would not have been comfortable teaching in any other way.

On the other hand, there are the students. How many students will get engaged by this change in focus? Will it still be the same minority of students who already contribute to classroom discussion? My hope, of course, is that starting children early will cultivate a new crop of students that feel personally involved in their education.

Much has been made of the various approaches to education that different countries make, from allowing the pressure to succeed rest on students, as is done in South Korea, or by focusing on educator preparation, as is done in Finland.

NYTimes article provides some answers to the question of how the US rates against other countries in science and math education.

One way to answer this is to look to data like these that identify top-performing countries.  How do other countries, ones with best practices that should provide models of education, approach teaching methods?

This table is from the Trend in International Mathematics and Science Study , providing a ranking of 8th graders’ science literacy scores.

Screen Shot 2013-02-16 at 12.08.25 PM

South Korea

The Center for International Benchmarking overview of the South Korean instructional system provides some predictable explanations for their educational exceptionalism.

Once they reach age fifteen, South Korean students attend school on average 1020 hours a year. This is higher than the OECD average of 902 hours a year, and does not account for additional time spent in extra classes, with private tutors and in hagwons. Some estimates put the average total amount of time spent in school or studying as high as fourteen hours a day, five days a week, though other measures are more tempered; an OECD study indicates that overall, Korean students study, on average, an additional three hours a day compared to their counterparts in any of the other OECD countries. They also sleep an hour less compared to students in the US, the UK, Sweden, Finland and Germany and exercise 22 minutes less.

-Center for International Benchmarking

Of course, this pressure to succeed has a price. South Korea has the highest suicide rate among economically developed countries, with a correspondingly high number of adolescent deaths.


A defining characteristic of Finland’s educational success is its devotion to cultivating and supporting high level teachers. All teachers in Finland have master’s degrees.

Most observers have come to believe that, if there is a key to the success of the Finnish system, it is the quality of their teachers and the trust that the Finnish people have vested in them.  Some would argue that this, in some sense, makes the Finnish case irrelevant to the decisions to be made by other countries, because they lack the culture in which such a high value is placed on teachers and teaching.  But, when one examines the specific policies that the Finns have adopted with respect to the recruitment, selection, training, supervision and support of teachers, and the way in which the intense focus on teacher quality is matched to the Finnish approach to accountability, curriculum, instruction and school management, then one begins to see that teacher quality in Finland is not the result of an unmatchable culture, but rather of a specific highly integrated system of policies and structures that other nations can emulate to produce a culture that is no less supportive of teachers and no less likely to result in superior student performance.

-Center for International Benchmarking

Recently, The Economist declared that the Scandinavian countries may be models of economic success as well. This is of note because many would expect that, yes, strong governmental support, like that found in socialist countries can lead to strong civil servant preparation, but at what cost to the population? Don’t these policies lead to overwhelming governmental debt?

In fact, it is just the opposite. Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway all carry significantly less Gross Government Debt as a percentage of GDP:


Overall, I believe that there are many paths to success. Many countries have developed their own strategies that fall in line with their other cultural beliefs, opinions about education and dependence on student’s successes for a sense of value. So, while I applaud these new standards and wish for their success, I remain skeptical that anything short of a holistic national change in the way that we view and value education in this country will make real, lasting change.

But I do have my fingers crossed.20090916_fingers_crossed

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 16, 2013 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Get Down

Get Down with Education and download a free copy of The Thirteenth Labor of Heracles free this weekend in the US iTunes store.  (by the way, if readers in any other country would like a free download, I’d be happy to extend our thanksgiving ‘sale’ to you.)

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 23, 2012 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

First on Land

I found this video on the Ted-ed Site. Since my class is currently reading Your Inner Fish, the story about how the first animals that are direct ancestors of mammals came out of the water, I thought this video on the very first animals to come out of the sea was very appropriate.

Have a look at the video and check out the questions afterwards… you never know, one might show up as extra credit on a quiz…

I hope you enjoy.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 14, 2012 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Give it a Kickstart

Today marks day one of my kickstarter fundraising. DownHouse Software is raising money to hire an artist to illustrate the second book in the mythic science series, tentatively titled The Curse of Sisyphus. This story explores the physics of motion and gravity using the story of King Sisyphus’ legendary punishment by the god Zeus. Additionally, funds will be used to improve the interface and gamify the DownHouse Software Website in a way that promotes exploration of DHS titles and provides a space to practice and expand the knowledge gained by reading the books.

To support this project or to just check it out in greater detail visit my kickstarter site:

Thanks for your support – whether it just amounts to reading my blog or to supporting DHS.

1 Comment

Posted by on November 6, 2012 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Another link with Cell Cycle Information

Here’s another link to resources discussing cell cycle (provided by my student Joe):

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , ,

100% off sale !?

How can that be?

It’s what it’s called when something is offered for free. 

For a short time (now until Oct 21), The Thirteenth Labor of Heracles eBook is available for free on the iTunes Store. Download    Read    Learn    Enjoy.

And then don’t forget to leave a little nice feedback in your review. 


Leave a comment

Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Inner Life of the Cell Link

Here’s a link to the ‘Inner Life of the Cell’ animation. Unlike the original version that I knew several years ago – and unlike the one I played in class today, this one had a monologue to guide the student on what is going on. A lot of the description is too technical for intro students, but the generalities are what I think is important.

I would love to get a version of this video to embed into my general bio handbook, but I’ve got to research the copyright permissions on that first.

biology, school, education, cell, animation, molecule, diapedesis, motor, actin, microtubule, vesicle, transport, membrane, protein

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This week in General Bio

This week we are studying the cell.

We have already discussed the importance of the cell in defining life (The Cell Theory) and talked about why this is a meaningful definition of life. I also spent a little time discussing viruses and how they defy this definition, but are often included or excluded depending upon the view or purpose of the investigator / student. (i.e. Viruses fail to be alive if the Cell Theory is used as the definition, but they are often considered alive by microbiologists for the purpose of classification, discussion of evolution, etc).

We began by recalling when in history people first realized that there was a microscopic world existing at all. This led into a talk about classification and how life falls into two major groups of cells, Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic. There are a number of key differences between these types of  cells, but I focus on just a few: 

1. Prokaryotic cells tend to be smaller

2. Prokaryotic cells have closed circles of DNA, Eukaryotic cells have linear chromosomes

3. Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic ribosomes are different from one another

4. Prokaryotic cells lack membrane-bound organelles (most notably, the nucleus)

We discussed other features, but I think these are the hallmark differences. Prokaryotic cells span two domains of life, the bacteria (which I tend to focus on) and the archae (which are more ancient and often extremophiles). Eukaryotic cells fall into four kingdoms: animalia, plantae, fungi and protista. With a quick discussion about some differences between these groups, I shelved all but animals and said that this was the group we would focus on for the remainder of the semester (with some exceptions such as photosynthesis).

What makes these four kingdoms similar is their Eukaryotic cell type. As I stated above, one feature of Eukaryotic cells is their membrane-bound organelles. These organelles are how the cell divies up its many tasks into separate functions and gets each of them done by some specific structure. In addition to discussing true organelles, we also discussed other structures and their functions (Ribosomes, plasma membranes, cytoplasm, cytoskeleton)

We finished up Tuesday’s class after just introducing all of the players. Today we will be putting some of them together to show how they function as parts of a larger organization. The three things I have in mind to walk through are: 

1. Energy Pathway – how solar energy gets converted into chemical energy, how that energy is stored (not getting into this part much) and then how that energy is brought back out and converted into a more usable form (ATP) that is put to work to make cells do things.

2. The Central Dogma – fleshed out this time with names of some of the processes. Initially focusing on how information is transformed into something that can actually do work (proteins). Then discussing how these proteins are made in a little more detail (cytoplasmic vs secretory proteins). This lets us talk about the ER, Golgi, Ribosomes and even ends with exocytosis.

3. Phagocytosis – I’m an immunologist, so I think about how macrophages attack cells and other foreign particles all the time. This is a good way to reverse the process of exocytosis and talk about endocytosis. Following endocytosis, we can then bring lysosomes and peroxisomes into play and discuss how they function to break down these ‘non-self’ items so that they become harmless (I’ll end by quickly tying this into the immune system’s antigen display mechanism – but without any detail).

That may be enough for them today. Depending upon questions, things can either go much quicker or drag out for the balance of the class. I expect that we will finish this material with enough time to at least get started with the next chapter – membranes. I like this chapter anyway and I think it’s the chapter that puts the students into the ‘mind’ of the cell the best. If you focus on a membrane and how it handles transport and diffusion, you are zoomed in so close, that suddenly, the cell feels large and familiar.

Lastly, I am really hoping to find an great animation of cellular processes that made the email loop of Penn a couple years ago. Cross your fingers – I have no idea where I might get a copy.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,