Lab Girl

If you are anything like me, you have more books on your summer reading list than you could ever hope to read in a few short months. Well, I have another one for you to add, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

Penguin Random House

Jahren is a botanist/geologist/biochemist and all around fabulous scientist. Her book is part memoir, part science story. Both are fascinating.

In our Get Real! Science classes we’ve been talking about challenging the stereotype of the typical scientist. Jahren’s memoir chapters do this by telling her story. She talks about the journey she has taken to find her identity as a scientist and the struggles she has faced as to be recognized as a legitimate scientist because of her gender. She talks about the passion that drives her and the mania that at times has consumed her. She talks about finding friendship and love. She is not a scientist despite her role as a wife and a mother, or as someone who happens to have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She is all of those those things together.

We have also been talking about different ways of communicating science in order to make it more accessible. Jahren shares rich descriptions of the lives of plants, and their stories mirror her own. These chapters are not told in the sterile, remote language often found in science literature. Instead they help us to share in the wonder and curiosity that drives Jahren to keep exploring. They inspire us to do the same.

Telling Stories

This week, the Loyal to Soil team, along with the rest of our Get Real! Science cohort, met with students in Sodus, NY to talk about our experiences as scientists exploring their community. We wanted to find out if they had any ideas for some next steps we could take on our quest to find out why some fruit is good while other fruit is great, even on the same farm, and to invite them to join us over the summer to do the investigating. They completely blew me away with the connections they made to our science and asked some really amazing questions. I can’t wait to get back to work!

Here is the video we made to share our science:

 

 

Looking Up

This past weekend, I had a chance to visit the Mees Observatory in Bristol, NY, about 40 miles south of Rochester. Despite living in Rochester for most of my life, I only learned about its existence last year. The observatory is run by the University of Rochester Department of Physics and Astronomy, and in conjunction with the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science (ASRAS), they offer free tours to the public on Friday and Saturday nights during the summer. Registration is required, and the tours fill up fast, so I was super excited when I managed to find an open spot.

Our evening started with a presentation about the night sky. Jupiter was in a location for prime viewing, so we learned about it’s features and moons. Then, one of our tour guides, Pouya Tanouri, told us a little bit about his research. While many people (me!) are interested in the things that we can see in space like the planets and stars, Pouya is interested in what we can’t see, like dark matter.

The Mees Observatory

Do you see those clouds? The sky had be perfectly clear and sunny on our drive down to Bristol. By the time it was dark enough to see the stars, there weren’t any to see! The clouds had moved in. We were so disappointed. The giant telescope was neat, but what we were really there for was what we could see through the telescope.

Just as we were about to give up and go home, the sky cleared. We could see so many stars. Even without the telescope the view of the sky was amazing.

The first object we looked at was Jupiter, as promised. It was huge! Because Jupiter was low in the sky, the atmosphere made things a little hazy. The stripes were clearly visible, and a couple of times while I was watching, the big red storm came into focus.

Messier 13 Credits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); Acknowledgment: C. Bailyn (Yale University), W. Lewin (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), A. Sarajedini (University of Florida), and W. van Altena (Yale University)

My favorite object was a star cluster, Messier 13. The picture above is a composite of images from the Hubble Telescope. What we saw wasn’t quite like that, but it was still impressive. According to NASA, there are over 100,000 stars within this cluster. What looked like a single dot of light to the naked eye resolved into a sea of lights of varying intensity through the telescope.

Besides the tour at the Mees Observatory, the ASRAS offers free telescope viewings from the top of the RMSC planetarium on Saturday nights when the weather is cooperative. No reservation required for those, but they do recommend that you call ahead to make sure it’s still on.

I love that people are doing science all around us, and so often, they are eager to share. This stuff is too exciting to keep to yourself! Do you know of any other great science experiences Rochester has to offer?

Team Soil

This week, we had the chance to get back to our roots (pun intended), get our hands dirty (literally) and do some science! After the somewhat overwhelming start to our time here in the Get Real! Science program, it was a great way to remember our reason for being here in the first place.

Robin, Gavin, and I decided to investigate the connection between soil quality and produce quality. Our line of inquiry was inspired by a 6th grader from the Town of Sodus, NY who wondered why apples from the grocery store were so much less tasty than apples from the local farms. Perhaps it’s something about the soil in Sodus.

Now, apples are more of a fall crop, and we weren’t going to be going collecting soil from the farms producing grocery store produce, but the idea was still something we wanted to explore. As often happens with these kinds of wonderings, our questions wandered and evolved until we came to something we could test. Spring means strawberries, and some strawberries are definitely better than others. We decided to take soil samples from two different strawberry patches and then see if the nutrient levels in those samples correlated to the quality of the berries.

I’d be lying if I said we weren’t at least a little bit motivated by the produce quality testing part. Unfortunately we are still a little early for strawberries, so the taste testing didn’t pan out. We had to settle for counting unripe berries and flowers instead. Science can be cruel.

We carried on anyway, and the folks at Burnap Farms were kind enough to let us trample all over their fields to collect our soil and berry data.

Team Soil with Kendra (left), Ed, and Jan (right) of Burnap Farms.

One thing that struck me throughout this process is how easily Robin, Gavin and I were able to work together. We very quickly reached the point where we felt like old friends. In our readings this week, we explored the ways that science is cultural, and I have to believe that has something to do with our bond. Though we come from different backgrounds, we share a culture. We know how to talk about science, and we know how to behave when doing science.

When I’ve thought in the past about how to make science more inclusive, I have primarily considered the ways that we can recognize how our students are already doing science, even if it doesn’t fit the typical picture of what science is. I still think that is incredibly important, but through our readings and insightful discussions during class this week, I’ve come to see that it isn’t enough. We also need to acquaint our students, all of our students, with this shared culture. This is not to say that their personal way of knowing is wrong; there is more than one way to approach science after all. However, we do need to ensure that our students have the tools to bridge those different ways of knowing, both within our classrooms and in their future endeavors.

Why blog?

I love science, and I think you should, too.

Alright, so maybe you don’t have to love it, but I hope you can at least appreciate science for its beauty and power. Science is not hard; it is not reserved for stuffy, old men in dark, creepy laboratories. Science is about being curious and exploring and discovering. Science is about finding something that you think is cool, learning everything you can about it, and being so excited, you can’t help but share it with everyone who will listen.

This is where blogging comes in. In the book, Science Blogging, Christie Wilcox (2016) makes the case that blogging is an ideal medium to share science in an enthusiastic and engaging way. The informal nature of blog posts allows for the use of accessible language complimented by pictures and video. Blogs have the ability to reach people from a wide range of backgrounds and locations. These factors allow blogs to bring science to people who might not otherwise engage with it.

I am not a stranger to blogging. As blogging evolved over the last 10 or 15 years, I have used this tool in a variety of ways. Through personal blogs, I have been able to keep family and friends updated, especially on the lives of my children.  Blogging about hobbies allowed me to connect with wonderful communities of interesting and knowledgeable people. Putting myself out there in a public or semi-public space and knowing that what I am writing will be read by someone else keeps me accountable for both the frequency of posts and the content that I create. Blogging has often been a motivation to push myself beyond what I might otherwise find comfortable. I hope that this blog about my journey to becoming a science educator helps in the same ways.

My goals for this blog are:

To Find My Voice

I have been interested in using story telling as a way to teach science for a long time. I think that, for many people, stories can capture attention and provide connections to science in a way that a basic telling of facts cannot. Every skill requires practice and work, and storytelling is no exception. I look forward to telling stories here.

To Collaborate

Like any new student, I am extremely excited about this journey that I have just begun. I am enthusiastic about changing the way that science is taught and have so many grand ideas for doing so. I am thrilled to have a platform to share those ideas with other science teachers. I also recognize that there is wisdom to be gained from those with experience. There will be obstacles to my ideas that I have not considered. I hope that this space can be a place for sharing ideas and experiences for the benefit of all science teachers.

References

Wilcox, C. (2016). Science Blogging: The Essential Guide. Yale University Press.

What is science?

Science is exploring the world.