Visual Communication of Science Concepts-Felice Frankel

One of the many challenges educators face daily is how to communicate ideas to learners with a wide range of background knowledge, learning style, interest/motivation and aptitude.

How many of us have told fascinating stories, presented compelling information, or sketched out ideas on the board-only to have a certain segment of the class stare at us blankly?

I think this is especially true in an area like science, where the real world connections are a bit harder for students, especially younger secondary students to make.

So, for an appreciation of the true challenge and artistry necessary to make compelling visual representations of scientific concepts, you may want to read the MIT News article about Felice Frankel’s work. 

Felice is an award winning, MIT research scientist and photographer has spent decades perfecting this craft and has created free tutorials in MIT’s Open Courseware.

I think any secondary science teacher would enjoy reading about her process and may enjoy using principles from the course to enhance their own pedagogy. It’s also a reminder for all of us non-science teachers to think about how we are communicating our lessons and to examine whether we might benefit from a creative re-examination-possibly utilizing some of Felice Frankel’s work as inspiration. I also think students may benefit from reading about her career as it is a blend of the artistic and the analytical and utilizes the best of each to help individuals develop a deeper understanding of their world.

Questions for Discussion

  1. How often do you use visual representations to enhance your lessons?
  2. Why does Felice Frankel encourage researchers to develop “metaphors” to help explain their work?
  3. Is there a concept that you think your students would benefit from seeing a visual image?
  4. What are some creative methods you have used to help “illustrate” a concept?
  5. What is Felice Frankel’s background-how might this have impacted her work?

 

Nature, Science, Poetry-The Work of Keith Taylor

Nature, Science, Poetry-The Work of Keith Taylor

Michigan based poet Keith Taylor has been an astute and sympathetic observer of nature and the human condition for decades.

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Winter Retreats

His dedication to teaching, writing, reading, and commenting on life and nature through his work has had a profound impact on me, for sure, but I believe for all of us dedicated to the mission of understanding this world in which we live.

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I came across this wonderful post from naturechange.org featuring a brief interview with Keith Taylor by Anne-Marie Oomen, also a writer. Keith talks about his work at the University of Michigan Biological Station in Pellston, Michigan, and reads a bit of his work.

Why exactly does poetry enrich us so? Yet, why do so many find it inaccessible, alien, unwelcoming? Boring? Why do we so easily accept the fragmentation of society and of our own selves? Fostering a dialogue with those outside our areas of interest, our areas of study, our cultural moorings-why has this become so difficult, or was it always this difficult?

Keith’s work, especially, the work highlighted here at the U-M Biological Station in which he spends summers, writing as well as teaching a literature course to science students and researchers, is an effort to bridge the chasm of confusion and apathy, intolerance and exhaustion. Quite simply, to become a bit more integrated and wholly human.

Nature allows us to slow down, to pause, to contemplate, to heal- at its best poetry does that as well.

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It allows us to access that deeper part of our psyches that contains wisdom, perhaps an attribute all too often not appreciated in our age of hyper-connectivity and instantaneous, yet superficial gratification.

Science, at its best too requires a deep concentration, a sense of observation and curiosity about the natural order of things, used to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.

For those of you seeking a bit of the healing power of nature, poetry, and how poetry and science can engage in a nuanced and beneficial dialogue, please check out this wonderful post and video.

For more information about Keith Taylor, please check out his website. 

For more poetry, consider the work of Robert Fanning, click here please.

Questions for Discussion

  1. How has poetry, or a specific poem impacted you?
  2. What does Keith Taylor say about the interaction of poetry, nature and science?
  3. What does he mention about the presence of wolves in Michigan’s lower peninsula?
  4. How does Keith Taylor integrate the work of mammalogist, Dr. Phil Myers into his work?
  5. What do you think of the specificity of images in Taylor’s brief, powerful poem, “Not the Northwest Passage?”
  6. What does Keith Taylor say about optimism, especially related to E.O. Wilson’s work?
  7. Have a poem to share?

Creativity in Art and Science from UCLA

Every day in the classroom, it feels like the challenge to inspire and motivate our students to think critically and creatively is just getting harder.

Using the “little gray cells” as Hercule Poirot does is more difficult than ever with the numerous distractions confronting our students.

I was pleased to come across this charming video shared by Reggie Kumar from UCLA.

It features scientific researchers talking about the mysterious source of inspiration being akin to how an artist might create. Not simply starting from a preconceived notion, but using imagination and visualization to understand a problem or process. I also really loved how the researchers spoke of the essential need to have solid fundamental skills to make great art and science. So often, we see students have the tendency to jump right to the “cool” stuff without having a firm grasp of the foundational knowledge or skills.

With compelling graphics and a great “chill” soundtrack, this video might provoke a few good conversations. It’ll at least provide a bit of inspiration for you to get back in there tomorrow and do the good work of inspiring the generation of “dreamers, makers, learners and doers!”

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Water Changes

3-d Printing Outreach at University of New Hampshire.

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For an inspiring read on bridging the gap between the University and the K-12 system, one of the missions of this blog, please check out Kristen Bulger’s article on University of New Hampshire professor, Yaning Li. Li is assistant professor of mechanical engineering who specializes in auxetic spiral composites.

According to Bulger, these materials, “can flex and stretch easily, making them useful in biomedical applications as well as in cushioning for helmets, where they excel in absorbing energy.”

Li, utilizes a 3-d printer which allows her to not only test the material and create with it, but to interact with k-12 students and educators who will clearly benefit from the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning.

Thanks for the article and for the award-winning professor’s efforts at educational outreach, helping to make academic research accessible to the next generation of “dreamers, learners, and makers!”

Questions for Discussion

  1. How would you describe auxetic spiral composites?
  2. What are their physical characteristics when stretched and compressed?
  3. What are some possible uses for this material, according to the article?
  4. What other uses can you imagine for this material?
  5. What background knowledge is necessary to understand the properties of this material?
  6. Does your school have a 3-d printer- how is it used with students?
  7. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, do?”

Research Partnerships at New Mexico State University

Congratulations to New Mexico State University for their inclusion of high school students in an immersive research experience. 

Readers of this blog know that one of my missions is to support and encourage these wonderful collaborative experiences to help inspire our students. For too long there has been a huge chasm between the different levels of the educational system which I feel has done a tremendous disservice to our students.

In this climate of punitive high stakes testing in which end of semester common assessments can determine a teacher’s employment future, it is no wonder they avoid labs and research-who has the time? In this climate of diminished funding for public higher education, where professors futures are determined by their research output and ability to secure grant funding, who has time to work with students, let alone high schoolers?

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Yet, we all know collaboration, communication, innovation, critical thinking, and research literacy are necessary to truly fulfill the promise and potential of our public educational system, a system that to truly serve the common good should be a seamless Pre-k-16 system. A system in which content knowledge and skill application are interwoven.

At New Mexico State 5 high school students were immersed in the College of Engineering and learned design, project management, programming, 3-d printing, as well as other essential research skills. One of the most important skills I would suggest was to deal with the frustration and mistakes imbued in any creative process.

Thanks to writer Tiffany Acosta for her article and New Mexico State University for jumping in the messy world of innovation and inspiring us all!

Questions for Discussion

  1. What were some of the highlights for the high school students?
  2. What were some of the benefit from the “near-peer” NMSU Engineering students?
  3. How could they consider expanding this or “scaling” this project?
  4. How could this model be implemented in other disciplines?
  5. How can high school and university level staff more effectively collaborate?
  6. What else does this inspire you “dream, learn, do?”