How much can my bookcase tell you about my life?
Berry gave a wonderful, witty after-dinner talk tonight. My tweets (@trappedinlab) didn’t capture this wonder or wit very well, but here they are (in reverse chronological order, as usual).
Wallace’s reaction to “On the Origin of Species”: admiration. Wallace didn’t think he (Wallace) could have produced something similar.
Berry on teaching: If you can’t interest people in how they evolved, perhaps you should get another job.
Berry is one of the “small-print authors” of the book “How Life Works” by James Morris, Daniel Hartl et al. Evolution is the theme.
Berry’s solutions: (2) Tell stories to engage and inspire.
Berry’s solutions: (1) Thematic Content Management. e.g., Wallace organized The Malay Archipelago thematically, not chronologically.
The challenge (according to Berry):
* So much STUFF to communicate.
* Students who are disengaged, distracted.
And now for Berry’s Wallace-inspired thoughts on teaching biology.
Wallace was also quite modest. He titled his major work on evolution “Darwinism.” He contributed to his own obscurity, Berry says.
Wallace became a spiritualist, and disavowed the role of natural selection in human evolution.
After the co-publication: Darwin knuckled down and published books on evolution.
Wallace was happy to co-publish with Darwin, whom he regarded as a great scholar. He felt happy to have hit the big time, in a sense.
He was rescued after 10 days at sea.
Returning from 4 years of specimen collections in the Amazon, Wallace lost most of his specimens when his boat caught fire!
Wallace, on the other hand, was very interested on “the species problem” from a young age.
For Darwin, the voyage of the Beagle was simply an adventure — a chance to study more natural history.
July 1, 1858: Darwin and Wallace co-present their theory of natural selection at a Linnean Society meeting.
Speaker Andrew Berry went to Darwin’s high school, Shrewsberry School … which Darwin hated.
Why were both discovers of evolution British? In part, the expanse of the British empire allowed both to travel and study extensively.
At Cambridge, Darwin found William Paley’s arguments on Natural Theology (e.g., the watchmaker analogy) compelling.
Berry: Why is Darwin so much better known than Wallace even though they co-discovered evolution?
More on NWBIO 2013 speaker Andrew Berry: http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k5526&pageid=icb.page264537
Pre-talk activity: the sperm whale tooth for hosting NWBIO is passed from Everett C.C. to this year’s host, Columbia Basin College.
(NWBIO = Northwest Biology Instructors’ Organization = http://nwbio.net )
I was told that Berry’s visit is sponsored by the publisher @WH_Freeman. Thanks, W.H.!
The speaker is Andrew Berry of Harvard, here to help us commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of A.R. Wallace (1823-1913).
Tonight’s post-dinner talk at NWBIO 2013: “100 years on: Alfred Russel Wallace and a few Wallace-inspired thoughts on teaching biology.”
While on the road with Phil last summer, I made up a couple of stories about a police dog named Lucky and a ne’er-do-well known as Upton O. Good.
At the time, Phil challenged me to create a third story about Lucky that included the following elements: a train full of police dogs, an invisibility potion, and donuts for everyone at the end.
For some reason, those elements didn’t initially coalesce into a coherent story. But this week, faced with a deadline to produce something for Phil’s probable future cousins, Phil and I went back to my previous notes and we cranked out the tale below.
The Case of the Disappearing Donuts
for Karen, Melanie, and Parker
by Greg and Phil
The town of Pendleton, Oregon is protected by a police force of smart, brave humans and dogs. They are really good at solving mysteries and catching bad guys. Last year, however, they had lots of trouble protecting their donuts! They might still be hungry today if not for Lucky, the German Shepherd who leads the Pendleton K9 unit.
The first time the donuts disappeared, it was actually kind of funny. The chief was talking about road repairs and traffic changes when someone noticed that the donut plate was empty.
“Hey, Peabody, why didn’t you save some for the rest of us?” quipped Officer Fernandez.
“It wasn’t me,” protested Officer Peabody. “I didn’t eat a single one!”
“Then what’s that white stuff on your shirt?” asked Fernandez suspiciously.
Peabody looked down. “Um … I think that’s whipped cream from my hot chocolate,” he said sheepishly. Everyone else laughed.
At the all-squad meeting the following week, people watched the donut plate a bit more closely. As the chief began to talk, the donuts seemed to float right out of the room, as if a ghost were carrying them! This time nobody was laughing. In fact, the entire squad was too startled to say or do anything until all the donuts were gone.
“What –- what just happened?” said Officer Yamada at last.
“It has to be some sort of practical joke,” said the chief. “Let’s not worry about it right now. Besides, you guys have been eating too many donuts lately. Maybe this is God’s way of putting you on a diet.”
“But what if somebody is using an invisibility cloak or something?” Officer Costa wondered. “They could use it to steal things that are much more valuable than donuts!”
“You mean like whole cakes?” asked Peabody uncertainly.
“Jewels! Money! Computers! Paintings! Cars!” Costa replied harshly. “Things like that, you nitwit!”
* * * * * *
As it turned out, Officer Costa was almost right about the invisibility cloak. Pendleton’s most notorious thief, Upton O. Good, had discovered an invisibility potion, which he could pour on anything he wanted to make invisible. Himself, for example.
Good decided that, before stealing anything big, he would try to understand the potion better by using it on some different objects. One day he made an entire train car of police dogs vanish as they returned from a training session in the mountains. Fortunately, as the dogs got off the train, a rainstorm seemed to wash away the potion’s effects. Another time Good dumped the potion on Lucky, who remained invisible for three days until, unable to do his regular police work, he went for a swim in the Umatilla River.
After climbing out of the river and shaking himself dry, Lucky noticed that he was back to normal again. Why had the river reversed the potion’s effects, just as the rainstorm had done? Suddenly Lucky had the answer: the potion was counteracted by WATER! Now, how could he get the humans to realize this?
Meanwhile, Good had had so much fun making Lucky disappear that he decided to do it again. The next day, Good first used the potion on himself, then snuck up on Lucky at the police station and sprinkled him with the potion.
This time Lucky knew exactly what to do. He went to his water dish, waited until some officers were in the room, barked to get their attention, and dipped his left front paw in the water dish. It appeared again, like magic! Then he dipped his right front paw, and then his rear paws, and then as much of his belly as he could fit into the dish. Gradually Lucky’s whole body came back into view.
“Holy donuts!” exclaimed an officer. “It’s as if the water makes invisible things visible again!” Lucky barked to tell the officer that she was right.
Now that the human police knew about the water trick, it was time to set a trap for the donut thief.
At the next meeting, a large plate of donuts was set out as usual, and the chief started talking in his usual way. But just as the first donut started to move, the officers drew squirt guns and fired them toward the plate. The dogs provided reinforcement by lifting their legs and spraying.
In a moment their old nemesis appeared in front of them, soggy and grumpy.
“It’s Good!” yelled one officer while another raced forward to handcuff him and escort him to a jail cell.
To celebrate the capture, the chief bought a fresh batch of donuts. There were enough for everybody -– even the dogs.
“Hey, where are the Boston creams?” asked Fernandez. He sounded upset, but was smiling.
“You’d better ask Lucky,” answered Peabody. “He’s the best detective we’ve got!”
In Search of Santa (2004) appears to be a movie for young children. It’s a G-rated cartoon lasting 75 minutes and featuring an abundance of cuddly penguin characters like the protagonists — twin sister princesses voiced by Hilary and Haylie Duff. Yet beneath the crude CGI animation, cliched moral lessons, and preposterous plot twists is a seething, searing indictment of the academic world and its self-important, soulless inhabitants.
The movie’s villains are Agonysla, Derridommis, and Mortmottimes, a trio of royal advisers collectively known as the Terribly Deep Thinkers. As they explain in their theme song, “We’re the Terribly Deep Thinkers/We’re walking almanacs/Our bones are old and brittle/But our minds are sharp as tacks. We’re overeducated/We’re snooty brainiacs/ We possess an excess/Of many useless facts.”
Early in the film the triumverate puts Princess Crystal on trial for the crime of believing in Santa Claus. Later they trap her and her sister, Princess Lucinda, in the Cave of Profundity while publicly declaring the sisters “lost at sea,” thus clearing their own path to the throne in the event of the king and queen’s demise. “You just use big words to hide small thoughts,” Crystal admonishes the trio, yet she and Lucinda appear doomed until — spoiler alert — a precocious baby leopard seal leads the other penguins to the imprisoned sisters, exposing the Terribly Deep Thinkers’ avarice and egotism.
So masterful is director William R. Kowalchuk’s disguise of his anti-intellectualist parable as kiddie entertainment that reviewers have called it “a cheap Saturday morning cartoon slapped together to cash in on the Hilary Duff wave” and “forgettable fare that may only satisfy the youngest and most undiscerning viewers.” Such opinions aside, the sisters’ improbable triumph over the Terribly Deep Thinkers is not simply an instance of Duff-mania gone awry, but rather a wit-seeking missile strike against ivory towers everywhere.
Aside from the algebra issue, my kindergartener’s MAP test also made me wonder what he was learning in the area of “Statistics & Probability” (another MAP math sub-score). But here’s a recent homework assignment overseen by his mom — a bona fide histogram of the frequency of red, white, and blue cars parked on the street. Note the expert color coding of the data.
In January, the parents in Phil’s kindergarten class got an email from a fellow parent. She told us that a standardized test called MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) would be administered soon, but that we had the right to opt out. She included links to a couple of anti-MAP blog entries.
Not knowing anything about the MAP beyond this one parent’s views, and not being big boat-rockers in general, Phil’s mom and I ignored the opt-out option and promptly forgot about the test until this week, when his scores came back.
According to the MAP, Phil is about average in reading and well above average in math. That’s what I would have guessed, but it’s nice to have an independent confirmation.
The results came with reading sub-scores for Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Concepts of Print, Vocabulary & Word Structure, Comprehension, and Writing. Phil’s Comprehension score was “LoAvg” (21st to 40th percentile), so it was suggested that we ask more questions when reading with him — certainly a reasonable suggestion.
The math sub-scores were for Problem Solving, Number Sense, Computation, Measurement & Geometry, Statistics & Probability … and Algebra.
Algebra? The class I took in 8th grade?
Phil was rated “High” in all of the math subcategories, including Algebra, so I decided to explore the validity of the test by giving Phil my best approximation of a kindergarten-level Algebra problem.
“I’m thinking of a number,” I said. “You don’t know what that number is, so we’ll call it X. But what if I told you that X plus 2 equaled 3? Would you know what X was then?”
Phil thought for a moment, then correctly answered that X was 1.
He struggled with “X minus 6 equals 2,” but eventually solved that one too.
Maybe Algebra really IS taught in kindergarten these days!