Category Archives: Teaching

Trees Aren’t Brown

by James Morris

With the start of another school year, let’s take a look at diversity in all its forms.

I recently overheard a conversation between two friends of mine. One just took up painting, and the other has painted for many years. They were talking about how to paint trees, when the one with more experience said, “Take a look at trees – they aren’t brown.”

Continue reading

Snow Daze

by James Morris
Illustrations by Hannah King

Watch Factory after Winter Storm Juno, Waltham, MA, 1/27/15

Watch Factory after Winter Storm Juno, Waltham, MA, 1/27/15

What is snow?
We do not know.
But snow is lots of fun,
We know.
~P. D. Eastman

What is snow? That’s a simple question. Everyone knows what snow is. But when I asked my teenage son, he wasn’t sure. He of course knew it’s kind of like ice, but when I asked why it doesn’t look like frozen rain (sleet), he wasn’t sure. I then asked several other people, both kids and adults, and they were also unsure.

This is one of those everyday questions that is harder to answer than we think. Snow is something familiar and at the same time unfamiliar. Continue reading

A Prescription for Teaching

This month’s post is on the relationship between the practice of medicine and the practice of teaching. It was first published on WBUR’s Commonhealth blog.

I went to medical school, but now spend most of my time in the classroom. I often think about what I learned in medical school and how it translates – or doesn’t translate – to teaching.

Continue reading


by James Morris

For George Buckley, who first introduced me to the word Syzygy.

Now there’s a word you don’t hear everyday. Apart from its usefulness in Scrabble and perhaps crossword puzzles, you might wonder what else it’s good for, or even what it means.

It turns out that “syzygy” is used in many different fields. In astronomy, it describes three planets lined up in a row. This occurs, for example, during solar and lunar eclipses, when the sun, Earth, and moon are all aligned. In biology, it describes pairing of chromosomes that occurs, for example, in a specialized type of cell division called meiosis that produces gametes (eggs and sperm).

The term also describes two closely paired joints in the arm of a crinoid, which is a marine organism more commonly known as a sea lily. Evidently, “Syzygy” is also the name of a Japanese band and an episode of The X-files, according to Wikipedia. And it has other meanings in fields as diverse as poetry and mathematics.

I’ve been a biologist for over 20 years, and I’ve never heard the term before. Continue reading