Crawling Back

I’m trying to get back into the habit of blogging.

I know I can do it. I just have to keep at it.

In a way, this experience is somewhat humorous to me. I find it funny that I am having to make myself take what spare minutes I can scavenge out of the day and write. There was a point in my life when composing a few lines for a blog was easy. In fact, at one point (about seven years ago), I was something of a blogging maniac. Of course, back then, I was in a magical place, a Camelot of sorts, where all manner of magical content seemed to appear before me and I had time to write.

These days, I have so many commitments vying for my attention that I feel guilty about stepping away to blog. Even so, I am going to do it. I know that reflecting upon what I am discovering and learning matters. Writing like this is akin to coming back to exercise after an absence from physical activity. Initially, there’s little pleasure in the process but over time that will change.

In addition to blogging again, I am also using of Twitter. As I am reading and re-reading Classroom Instruction That Works : Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd Edition) by Ceri B. Dean, Elizabeth Ross Hubbell, and Howard Pitler, I am delving deeper into the research cited by the authors and tweeting what I find to be most enlightening. I am hoping that anyone who follows my tweets will benefit as well. Having to condense my thoughts down to 140 character summaries is maddening and, strangely enough, addictive.

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Gabe-Profile

In a time of standardized tests and misguided attempts to cover lessons rather than help students understand and apply concepts in real life situations, we’re losing–if not outright outright ignoring–opportunities to inspire pupils to fall in love with science. Intersection‘s sciencebloggers Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum both suggest that we desperately need to get busy finding nascent scientists. Their book Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future is a sobering wake-up call.

We can do better. We must do better. We need new scientists and it’s up to us to find them.

How would you describe a potential scientist? Could you spot one in your classroom? Are you doing all you can to nurture these rare individuals? Why are they so rare to begin? Can anyone be a scientist? If educators are going attempt to answer these questions and help budding researchers bloom, they’d be wise to follow the work of Sloan-Kettering Institute Chairman Emeritus, Richard Rifkind.

Once a scientist, Rifkind is now a filmmaker who wants viewers to “stand in the shoes of a scientist at work in a lab, glimpse the world of research as it really is, and understand what it takes to fill an ample pipeline of future scientists.” He’s passionate about finding and cultivating a new generation of scientists. Toward that end, Rifkind has produced a moving documentary called Naturally Obsessed:  The Making of a Scientist. In addtion to producing the film he has also sharing rich resources for exploring ideas presented in the film via the Naturally Obsessed Blog.

Are you curious enough to investigate?

Related resources:

Moving at a Snail’s Pace

mystery-snailToday, as I was coming  into my office, I spotted an interesting critter in my path. It was a snail. Now I’ve seen snails before but I couldn’t recall seeing one similar to this organism. Hmmm, I thought, in the days before the internet, what would a person have done in order to identify a new or odd specimen? After all, people who lived and worked in the world before the internet became so ubiquitous were still able to discover new information and exchange ideas. Granted, the process wasn’t a rapid as it is today. Before the advent of the World Wide Web, people interested in identifying strange creatures could have:

  • reflected upon their own personal experiences with comparable living things,
  • made a note of the experience in a journal or diary,
  • made a sketch or snapped a photograph using an (old-school, film-based) camera, eventually gotten the image developed, and distributed the image among others, asking, “What the heck is this thing?
  • asked other, well-informed people, “Hey, have you ever seen one of these things? Do you know what this thing is?
  • consulted an encyclopedia,
  • gone to a local library and consulted books or periodicals related to the to topic (remember the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature? ) ,
  • interviewed a teacher from an elementary, middle, high school, or university who specialized in biology,
  • consulted a Cooperative Extension office,
  • contacted the United States Department of Agriculture,
  • contacted a state-based environmental agency,
  • visited a natural science museum,
  • talked to a ranger in a nearby park,
  • written to or contacted a society of individuals who study, investigate, or otherwise document accounts of such creatures (for example, in my case, the International Gastropod Society)

Clearly, there were a great deal of options open to curious people. All they had to do was

  • document what was encountered (i.e., draw a picture, take a photograph, make an entry in a log or journal),
  • travel to a place of knowledge and make use of reference materials/resources, and
  • contact someone in the know.

These days, curious people can find answers to all kinds of questions with unbelievable rapidity. They can do all of the things listed above and do them in record time. Technology allows practically anyone and every one who is willing to expend a minimum amount of energy the means to accessing an answer. Case in point: my unidentified snail. Here’s how I’ve used technology to seek information regarding the strange snail that literally crossed my path. To get some answers, I:

The point is technology has helped me do in minutes what might have previously taken me hours, days, or possibly weeks to accomplish. Do students know how to use technology to answer their questions? Do they have administrators and teachers who allow them or encourage them to do so?

UPDATE: I’ve gotten a few responses to my post over at AskMeFi. One of the generous posters suggested that the organism in question mght be some variety of Olivella. Following up on that suggestion, I plugged the query olivella snail georgia into Google and spotted The Freshwater Snails of Florida: A Manual for Identification. After reading the work (it rocks!) I sent an email to its author, Dr. Fred G. Thompson, the very knowledgable Curator of Non-marine Malacology (the branch of invertebrate zoology which deals with the study of mollusks) at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

UPDATE 2Dr. Fred G. Thompson responded! He wants to know if my mystery snail has an operculum ( Latin for “little lid”). It’s a structure that, if present, serves to close the opening of the shell when the snail is withdrawn into the shell. I haven’t seen one on my mystery snail.

Searching for Researchers: AuthorMapper

If you’re looking for a way to track down experts/information about a specific topic (for example, reading comprehension) consider exploring the power of AuthorMapper. It’s an online tool that tracks down research and supplies the location of authors on geographic maps. Doing so allows users to:

  • manifest, discern, and investigate patterns in scientific research (i.e., why there’s a concentration of reading comprehension researchers in a given geographic location)
  • reveal new and/or historic trends in literature related to a given topic
  • locate other experts and encourage collaboration

AuthorMapper