Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A Brandeis Science Pirate’s Life for Me

Ahoy mateys! Greetings from the Acton Discovery Museum.  With sponsorship by the Brandeis Materials Research and Engineering Center (MRSEC), Division of Sciences undergraduate and graduate students, post docs and faculty pirates took a journey down to the Discovery Museum and interacted with those visitors who dared board our ship on November 18th.

Our visitors ranged in age from pre-school to middle school, and all those who came to see us joined our cause and wore eye patches. These “new” pirates were given mini telescopes and museum maps to navigate how to get to the pirate stations across the high seas of the museum. Our visitors collaborated with their families to figure out which direction they were going in the museum using the compasses placed strategically (at visitor eye level) throughout the exhibits. When the new young science pirates found their way, some had to walk the plank with eyes open and closed, experiencing what it would like to be actually at sea. Afterwards, they learned how our ear physiology helps us keep our balance, especially when aboard a shaky vessel.

Others got to see how far they could throw objects and understand the projectile motion behind cannons on pirate ships and test object density with dry ice and balloons. Some young pirates tried to balance buried treasure coins in aluminum foil boats, and others tested their ability to make a variety of pirate-approved knots with rope. Of course, many our visitors discovered their favorite amino acid was ARGGGGG-inine. We can’t wait to return in the spring and teach more visitors at the upcoming “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Science” exhibit! For more information or to participate in our Discovery Museum events, please contact Melissa Kosinski-Collins (kosinski<at>brandeis.edu)

Amanda Winn ’13 is a Biology major, undergraduate teaching assistant in the General Biology lab, and occasional science pirate.

Bite Sci-zed Videos

Alex Dainis ’11 (Biology / Film, Television and Interactive Media) explains and entertains in her “Bite SCI-zed” youtube videos about science.

A text-based student community for reading and writing science

Science and technology moves forward at a very rapid pace. Those who don’t continue to read the literature become outmoded. What kinds of learning activity help students develop the necessary skills, and habit, for reading science?

In the dissertation work of Johann Larusson, my lab began to develop a co-blogging environment that already has been adopted in several different classes at Brandeis. Student co-blogging is a text-based online student community that supports students as they learn to read and write science.

In the co-blogging environment, each student has a blog. The blog is composed of multiple posts written by the blog owner. Students can read each other’s blog posts and comment on them. Student co-blogging has tremendous potential as a learning activity. It continues to be a research topic for my lab.

Co-blogging enables students to move beyond just rereading their notes and assigned readings as a way to learn material. Students have the opportunity to review, rethink, articulate, explaining in their own words what is significant about the material, making “common” sense of the causal relations among the different elements of the course content. The discussions that naturally emerge expose the students to alternate ways of “seeing” and “constructing” what is significant and why, allowing students to collaboratively work through arguments and trade-offs, weighing and comparing different explanations and justifications. To a greater or lesser degree each of these elements has developed in the courses I teach.

During the semester, there is an aggregation of content in the blogosphere. Topics and themes introduced at the beginning of the semester persist in the blogosphere and can be revisited and further developed as they again become relevant. The aggregated content of the blogosphere can be exploited for other learning activities like constructing arguments, summarizing the literature, writing papers, or preparing for exams.

Each post in the blogosphere is tagged by the student from a selection of pre-defined topics. These tags help students to navigate the blogosphere. Students also receive daily email newsletters that summarize the online co-blogging activity of the class in the previous 24 hours. Students can use links in the newsletter to directly navigate to posts or comments on the blog site that are of particular interest.

The co-blogging environment provides some visualizations for the teacher and students that represent student activity level, balance of participation, and other aspects of the blogosphere. The visualization shown below helps students and teachers locate discussions within the blogosphere.

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