Archive for the ‘science’ Category

The Learning Brain

2015 felt slow for reading books. I probably had time to read more, but between finishing my BEd, then teaching at a private school in the Fall, I didn’t have much time in the evenings.

I ended the year reading The Learning Brain, which is a review of neuroscience research behind how we learn.

It was an interesting read, with parts about how we learn to speak, write, and do math. There were also parts about how the brain develops throughout childhood, into adolescents, and up to adulthood, and how our capacity to learn changes. There were also parts about more specific neurological topics like ADHD, Autism, neuroplasticity, amoung others.

Though the content of the book was interesting in an academic sense, the book itself wasn’t all that entertaining to read. I had seen several reviews that it was accessible for any level. Though followable, there were a few parts that felt needlessly loaded with jargon (especially given its apparent broad target audience). If it wasn’t for my stroke experience and DH being in the brain-science world, I would not have been able to understand as much as I did.

One thing that I was disappointed with was there were very few concrete suggestions for pedagogical strategies to use to accommodate for the issues they were reviewing. In reading the summary of the book beforehand, I was expecting more of a connection in this regard.

Overall, the subject is interesting, and the writing was decent enough. Anyone wanting to know more about the neuroscience behind learning, it’s a good place to start.

I give this book a 3/5.

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Fun Science Friday

Since I do a lot of outreach, I thought it’d be fun to share some of the activities we do in classes. These can easily be done at home, and could be fun on a rainy day.
Make Your Own Impact Craters!
A fun, and very messy (so, FUN!) experiment to do is make impact craters! 
 Materials
– Some sort of wide, shallow bin (tin foil roasting pans or kitty litter pans work great)
– Flour
– Hot chocolate powder
– Sifter
– Various “impactors” (balls of various sizes, clay if you want to change shapes)
– Plastic sheets, garbage bags, or similar
– Paper towels
– Ruler and meter/yard stick if you want to be more scientific
Set-up
– Put down a large plastic sheet or a view garbage bags/newspapers/whatever (or do it outside!)
– Fill the bin about 1/3-1/2 full of flour
– Using the sifter, put a thin layer of hot chocolate on top
– Choose an impactor
Experiment
– What happens when the impactor hits? (A hole is made, obviously, but you should also see flour get ejected out of the crater – these are called ejecta rays)
– What happens to the crater if you change things in experiment? You can change things about the impactor (size, shape, mass), how you drop it (height, angle, speed), the material you drop it into (gravel, sand, jell-o, water, ice, etc.) – you can get very creative! Just see where it goes 🙂
Extension
If you want to be more scientific, you can go over dependent variables (things you measure as a result of the experiment: depth and width of the crater, length of the ejecta rays) and independent variables (things you change in the experiment: size/shape/mass of impactor, height of drop, type of material, etc.). You can then go over how to set up an experiment: chose ONE dependent variable to measure and ONE independent variable to change – all other independent variables need to stay constant (that way, you know what is causing the change). They can even come up with a hypothesis statement and take measurements.
If you want more information, just email me and I have additional resources that I can send!
Have fun!

Time For Activism

I’ve never been huge into being an activist. Sure, I’ve always had opinions on stuff, but I was never one to get too bothered by politics and the like. Not enough to do anything, anyway.
But something has changed in the last few years, and especially in the last few months. I don’t know if it has something to do with getting older, and I tend to care more about the world around me, or if everything is just getting worse out there. Whatever it is, I’ve changed my tune.
It started during my PhD when I began to talk to more and more women in the sciences, and started reading science blogs. I began to find a disturbing trend: this sexism thing people were talking about not only was rampant, but it was right in front of me. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it before – I would always shrug it off as “just a joke” or it didn’t even occur to me that it was sexist. I was one of those women who would chastise others for being “too sensitive” or think they must be making it up. But, reading other peoples stories, it opened my eyes, and I started to “get it”. Not only did I start noticing comments or behavior but, as I looked back on my life, I remembered other instances of sexism. It was far more common – and real – than I thought.
That’s what started it – I began to look at the world differently. I was able to see things from other vantage points. Even if something didn’t directly relate to me, I had empathy for the people it did affect. I stopped laughing at off-color jokes (before I would so I didn’t seem “rude” – really??), and I began to quietly call people out if they made inappropriate comments.
Now, when I find things I hold near and dear to my heart are attacked (such as help for teen-mothers being taken away, the complete lack of respect for basic science research by the Canadian government, or the fact that LGBT rights is even an issue in the US) I have this overwhelming desire to DO something. To speak up. To fight. 
Here’s my problem: I don’t know how to make time for it. I get overwhelmed with the number of injustices in the world that I want to help fix. Even if I just focus on one thing, I don’t know where to start. 
I know there are a lot of you out there who are passionate about your causes. How do you make the time? What kinds of things do you do? Where should I start? Is doing something small ever worth it?

Well, here’s a start: for those of you in Canada who are fed up with the Federal Government (recent budget cuts, Bill C-38, etc.), there will be an online protest on June 4th where websites all across Canada will be going dark. Get more information on the Black Out Speak Out website. My post on June 4th will be a banner from that site.

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Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

As a pessimist, that is my general mantra for life. I always hope things go well, but I’m usually prepared if they don’t – or at least I’ve thought about all the possible outcomes. 
For example, my current contract is up on March 31, 2013. My hope is that more funding will be found to extend my contract, but I am also prepared to start looking for a job a few months before it ends. I don’t care if I’m told “not to worry about it – something will work out”. I’m not one to sit around, waiting for “fate” to intervene. I’ll take things into my own hands, thank you very much.
Unfortunately, I did not think of all the possible outcomes in this situation: last week, the Government of Canada announced that thousands of public service jobs will be cut. This includes a 10% budget cut at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).* Their budget is about $300 million (paltry compared to NASA’s budget of about $20 billion – clearly not scaled by population), so cutting 10% is pretty huge. So, apparently the decision was made to completely abolish the CSA Space Awareness & Learning program – the program that funds 100% of my salary. 
We have one more year on our grant. We’re hoping that they’ll make good on all their current grants and contracts – but looking at our contract with the CSA, it clearly states that they are entitled to change/cancel grants if the federal budget changes. 
So, here’s where I start preparing for any number of possibilities, from best- to worst-case scenario:
1. The last year of our grant comes through, and we have a year to come up with other funding sources.
2. The last year of our grant doesn’t come through, but we find another source of funding. Depending on the source, this could be a short- or long-term solution, and could potentially mean a pay cut.
3. The last year of our grant doesn’t come through, and we can’t find another source of funding. I am out of a job. We have to pull Evan out of daycare. We can live on DH’s salary alone if we cut back slightly on our spending, but we would not be able to do anything else. I have to find another job.
What’s sad is that I’m not the only one going through this. Not only are thousands of government employees losing their jobs, but so will countless of other people who hold contracts or otherwise work closely with government agencies.
It’s also frustrating that, by cutting the CSA Space Awareness & Learning program (and other science programs and employees), the government is sending a clear signal to the country that they do not value science research or education. 
It’s a frustrating and scary time to live in.

*I know there are loads of other cuts being made, all of which are terrible, but in this post I’ll be focusing on the one that is an issue for myself – I’m self-centred that way.

Weather Vs. Climate

The Flowing Data blog has a great post up about the difference between weather and climate trends.

Keep it in mind the next time someone says global warming does not exist because it snowed one day in the middle of spring.

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