Ramblings of an Amateur Tri-Junky
Tuesday 17th January, 2013: Brains in Bergen
Today I am posting from sunny Bergen in Norway! I am here doing some research to look at the expression of certain proteins in the brains of zebrafish – I received a grant from FSBI to extend on some work I completed for my Ph.D. The project involved housing young zebrafish in treatment tanks that varied with respect to physical features or ‘enrichment’ – i.e. some tanks contained plastic plants, novel objects and shelters whereas others contained none of these things. Some treatments also experienced a mild stressor in the form of chasing with a net daily to mimic handling. What we wanted to understand was how enrichment and mild stress interacted to produce changes in the brain and behavior of these fish.
The work in Norway involved dissecting out the brains from frozen zebrafish samples that were preserved in RNA-Later Ice (which is blue in color – hence why the brain looks blue in the picture below!). Once I dissected out the whole brain (which is smaller than the size of a pea) I then cut the telencephalon away from the rest of the brain (the telencephalon is the part of the brain involved in spatial learning and modulating the stress response) and this tissue was then processed to extract mRNA levels of NeuroD protein (involved in the differentiation of neurons), which would give an indication of how much the brain was growing.
Bergen is surrounded by 7 mountains, so aside from working in the lab (and finishing up my dissertation…) I did get out over the weekend for a hike up Floyen – take a look at the amazing scenery in Bergen below! I have been lucky with the weather so far – fingers crossed the blue skies stick around till I leave.
Monday 10th December , 2012: Inspirational talks at your fingertips
Last year I received an ipad for Christmas. It was the perfect gift; over the past year I have used it to check email, look up recipes, play music, Skype friends and family, and loads more. I have felt comfortable with my abilities to use my ipad effectively (it also helps that it doesn’t take a hundred years to boot up like my computer), but this past week I decided to delve further into the world of ‘apps’ – game apps, educational apps, workout apps and so many more. With gaming apps I got as far as Solitaire (a favorite, trusty old card game of mine) but I found a wealth of educational apps that were to my liking. For example, ‘3D Brain’ is a basic app that orientates you around different parts of the brain, providing information on the function and location of the most important regions. Although quite basic, I think it would be a great platform to use as a way on getting students to familiarize themselves with the locations of different parts of the brain in 3D. However, the most fascinating educational app for me has to be the official ‘TED’ app – it has opened my eyes to a world of intriguing and inspiring stories. I have listened to many TED talks in the past, in fact a friend of mine, Melissa Marshall, recently presented at TED on ‘effective presentations’ (which can be viewed here) but the great thing about the app is that you can download talks to your device and watch them later – on the train, on the plane, anywhere. I now have a selection of videos saved on my ipad for the next time I am waiting to board a plane and do not have access to the internet.
Over the past few days I have watched a multitude of videos that have inspired me and really got me thinking (not just about science!) but I just wanted to share this particular one with you. Beau Lotto is a neuroscientist who thinks that all people (including kids) should participate in science – and at his TED presentation below he shared the stage with one of the students he mentored, who became one of the youngest people ever to publish a peer-reviewed science paper (at just 10 years-old!). Take a look!
Beau Lotto and Amy O'Toole TED talk: Science is for everyone, kids included
Sunday 4th November, 2012: Teaching Reflections
As part of the course in college teaching through the Schreyer Institute, I got the chance to do a microteaching exercise last week. We were instructed to plan a 10 minute lesson on any topic of our choice for students who had no previous knowledge of our topic. We would get constructive feedback on our lesson (content and style) as well as give feedback to others in our group about their lesson. Afterwards, we would write a self-reflection paper on our strengths, weaknesses and any changes we would make given the feedback from others. The microteaching exercise was an extremely valuable experience. I have spent this morning writing my self-reflection paper and I wanted to share a few things I learned from the exercise.
Since my background is in animal behavior I decided to do my microteaching exercise on Pavlovian conditioning. To start of with I introduced the topic with some general descriptions about animal behavior and asked the students a few general questions. I continued with a mini-lecture on the concept of conditioning and the different terms that are used to describe the process (conditioned/unconditioned stimulus and conditioned/unconditioned response). I used diagrams and wrote important terms on the board. I finished up with a think-pair-share exercise in which I gave the students a couple of scenarios and they had to work out what the conditioned/unconditioned stimulus and conditioned/unconditioned response was.
The feedback I received from my peers was really positive; I connected new knowledge to students’ existing knowledge well by asking them questions (such as ‘can you give me a definition of learning?’ and ‘have you heard of Pavlovian conditioning?’). This allowed me to assess prior knowledge at the beginning of the exercise. I invited and welcomed questions and when I saw a raised hand I was effective at answering questions; I rephrased things to make it a little easier to understand and used the diagrams on the board to emphasis what I was saying. My peers thought the think-pair-share exercise was great! It really got to the important concepts and was a way for the students to apply what they had learnt at the end of the lesson. The one draw back, my peers said, was that I ran out of time. If I were to do this again though I would definitely be more aware of time management. Ten minutes is not a long time! I spent too long introducing the topic, which meant that the think-pair-share exercise was rushed at the end.
Reflecting on my performance and using the feedback from my peers has allowed me to evaluate myself as an educator and will help me grow and develop in my teaching. The fact that the lesson was so short allowed me to think about what the important concepts were that I should focus on and the limited resources really helped me to incorporate the students into more of an inquiry-based lesson. This is the first time I have used the think-pair-share active learning technique in my teaching and it worked! I will definitely be using that in the future!
Wednesday 24th October, 2012: How to be a scientist!
Today, myself and two other graduate students in my lab visited a local school, Miles Township Elementary, to give a talk about being scientists and give them a few hands-on scientific demonstrations. We had a great time interacting with the students (grade 4); they were keen to learn about science and get stuck in with the experiments. We tried to make the demonstrations quite diverse: there was one on surface tension, one on acids and bases and one on ecosystems and food webs. We created worksheets for the students to fill out and take home with them and at the end of the class we had a 'question and answer' session where we opened up the floor to the students, giving them the chance to ask those burning scientific questions (such as 'why is there is so much salt in the sea?'). Although I have done a few school visits like this one, as well as being involved with many outreach programs, the positive feedback from the teacher and the positive attitude of the students was so encouraging. The teacher was impressed with our abilities to engage the students (as we were impressed with their focus and attention). Watching students dabble with science and use the method of scientific thinking without knowing it, is really inspiring to me. I hope to be involved in more outreach projects like this one in the future.
We even made it into the local newspaper - take a look at this article in the Centre Daily Times for more information!
Sunday 21st October, 2012: Teamwork
Well, here is my first post! In keeping with the theme of my blog, today I took part in my 4th annual Tussey MountainBack race. This is a 50 mile trail race through some of the most beautiful forests here in central PA. It also happens to be some of the toughest trails to run (in my opinion!). Before you draw assumptions for those that don't know me, I did not run the full 50 miles myself (although there are some very amazing, and fit, people that do!). I was part of a 6 person team, participating under the team name 'The MountainBack Ruined My Relationship'. Again, for those that don't know me, I am happily engaged to my fiancé - but the team comprised 3 couples, all of which competed in previous years as 'the boys' versus 'the girls'. The MountainBack had not ruined our relationship...yet....
The 50 miles are broken down into 12 legs, so in a team of 6 we each had to run 2 legs. As a runner is on their leg, their team mates drive the team vehicle to the next transition zone to allow the next runner in line to get ready. In this way, those that are in the car are able to cheer on their team mate as they pass them on the course (as well as those from other teams). In previous years I have run legs 5 and 11, 1 and 7 (twice) and this year I got the chance to run 4 and 10. Legs 4 and 10 are the longest legs totaling 11.5 miles (not to mention some REALLY big hills). Our finishing time was 7 hours and 20 minutes at an average pace of 8.45 minute miles. Although not fast enough for a podium position we all had an amazing time, cheering on our better halves and encouraging them up the hills.
I will definitely have sore muscles tomorrow though. I am in awe at those athletes that do the full 50 miles. I am not sure an ultramarathon is on my to do list - I am quite happy to observe others pass the finish line for that one. And as for my relationship - no, the mountainback did not ruin it.
I am a self-confessed triathlon-junky, with a passion for the outdoors, and of course, all things sporty. I am in the final stages of my Ph.D. in behavioral ecology and I am planning my wedding which will take place next summer. Next year will be a BIG year: I will be Dr. Grassie AND I will say 'I do'.