We were discussing a recent blog on Farnam Street titled 'Our Genes and Our Behavior'. The author, through an interview or discussion with renowned psychologist Robert Plomin, makes some interesting conjectures regarding educators and the use of genetics in education. It was suggested that it might be possible in the future to “sequence a baby’s genome and predict to a certain extent their reading level, facility with math, facility with social interaction”. He makes this assertion based on the “general recognition that genes do indeed influence behavior and do have predictive power as far as how children perform.” But he says “So far, the track record on getting educators to see that it’s all quite real is pretty bad.” He laments the fact that “teachers get no training in genetics” and he goes on to say “Education is the last backwater of anti-genetic thinking. I want to get people in education talking about genetics because the evidence for genetic influence is overwhelming. You go to educational conferences and it’s as if genetics does not exist.”
Now that the summer is here, we will have a lot more time for enjoying the outdoors, and public gardens are of especial interest to many of us. Even though it is a very short season in Alberta, we have many superb gardens that enhance our enjoyment and our education.
If I were to ask you where in the world you would expect to find a museum dedicated to microorganisms, you would probably guess Holland since that is the country of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. He is known to most every school student as the Dutch lens grinder who discovered what he called animalcules, and is considered the ‘father of microbiology’ in introductory biology texts.
Arriving at Schiphol airport, I made my way to the baggage hall and there on the wall was a massive advertising poster beckoning me to visit the new museum showing the invisible, Micropia. As I awaited my luggage, I quickly connected to the WiFi and visited their website. “That’s where I’m going to spend my day in Amsterdam” I declared.
In April 1966 as I was writing exams for my first year university courses, the excitement on campus was all about autonomy. On April 29, 1966 that autonomy meant my university suddenly became a new institution with a new name: “The University of Calgary”. I had no idea then that 50 years later I would still be learning as I attended #UCAlumniWeekend. Yes, I spent the weekend reliving my youth on campus. The program titled “This will GROW your mind!” was an exciting opportunity to attend lectures, visit displays and exchange ideas with 50 years of alumni.
At the recent Calgary Youth Science Fair, I spent some time wandering through the student displays and talking to the participants. I was very impressed with the increased number of high school students presenting this year. I challenged several students to send me their thoughts about science fairs. I gave them a broad brush to tell me about mentors, topics, what skills they have developed and where they think they will go next.
Lilian Zhang, grade 10 student at Sir Winston Churchill High School in Calgary, took me up on the challenge. Here is her guest blog. I know you will be as impressed with her positive outlook as I was.
My Experience at the 2016 Calgary Youth Science Fair
Calgary Youth Science Fair was always a passageway for my passions in the world of science. This year, I was able to attend again, and as usual, I learned many things from my experience of doing the project. My mentors, teachers, friends, and especially my parents, encouraged me, and taught and helped me so much throughout the process. However, most importantly, I was able to gain the most knowledge from my peers at the Science Fair. From hearing about the chemical structure of ascorbic acid in fruits, to microbial fuel cells, to the role of proteins in the cure for various diseases, I was constantly impressed by the level of ingenuity every student was able to show.
Science Fair season is almost over in Alberta. Now the finalists, announced at their regional fairs, are doing last minute touch-ups on their projects. The delegates are busy collecting the paperwork and I am part of the team that reads all the finalists’ 5-page summaries. We are all preparing for the Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF), which will be held this year in Montreal from May 15 to 20. This year it is turning into an entire ‘science festival’. Besides the science fair component, there will also be immersive hands-on science activities, many engaging speakers and new this year – a STEM Teachers’ conference. It will be an exciting time for ‘Team Alberta’ and we at Genome Alberta wish them well on this adventure.
Genome Alberta sponsors awards for all Alberta science fair regions. Many of the Genome Alberta award winners will be representing their region with competitive projects at this year’s CWSF. We support independent research project-based learning and we are very proud of the outstanding young scientists who are recipients of this year’s Genome Alberta Awards.
Here is a list of the 2016 Genome Alberta award winners.
As Alberta regional science fairs are held in this province, we are receiving names and photos of this year’s deserving winners. This past week, regional fairs were held in Medicine Hat, Peace River, Canmore and Priddis.
The number of genes in a human were once thought to number over 100,000 but after the human genome project was complete, that number was reduced to only about 20,000. Some recent research is even questioning that.
Prior to the previous Alberta provincial election, the way math is taught in the province was one of the political issues. One party advocated that kids ‘learn basics first’ while at the same time promoting parental ‘choice’. The late Joe Bower, in his blog Return of the Math Wars, tried to make sense of this incredibly complex discussion. He noted that “Maybe math and children haven't changed, but our understanding for how children learn math is more sophisticated than generations ago.” He goes on to say “As for right answers, there is only one right answer if we limit ourselves to asking questions that have only one right answer, such as 4 + 3.” Meanwhile, a newspaper editorial informs us that Alberta Education has "dumbed down" math curriculum: “The discovery approach has no place in arithmetic at the junior elementary level. There is nothing to discover.”
I saw a tweet from Hayley Todesco, a previous Genome Alberta award winner, informing me that today is #WomenInSTEM day. Genome Alberta has recognized a significant number of young women scientists over the past ten years.
In a blog from 2007, we recognized eventual Canada-Wide science fair winner Emily Cooley along with eight other young scientists. We provided a platform through the opportunity to submit guest blogs to our winners. Here are links to some of these:
The headline shouts: “Zika virus could be bigger global health threat than Ebola, say health experts”. The World Health Organization is meeting soon to determine whether the Zika virus should be declared an international emergency. While the recent news about Zika virus is disturbing, I am skeptical about some of the claims I am reading in the press. I have seen news which links the spread of Zika virus to climate change (1, 2) and even some claims that the “Zika outbreak Epicenter [is] In Same Area Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes Released In 2015”. Let’s examine the evidence and the risk factors so that we can decide for ourselves. Educators, consider using this example as a current model to discuss ‘reading the news’ with your students.
When I read a recent post on Science on Google+ which distinguished between science and technology, I thought educators need to consider societal issues as well.
Consider these three questions:
1. What is the effect of ionizing radiation on the rate of mutations in a bacterial population?
2. Can mutant strains of bacteria be created which are resistant to an antibiotic?
3. Should foods containing genetically mutated organisms be labelled?
I’m asking these three questions which may arise in a science class to illustrate that they cannot all be solved using the same type of thinking. Some recent postings on the internet reveal a frustration by science educators in taking on these problems with a rigid scientific method. No wonder: it doesn’t apply to all three. In Alberta over the past 30 years, we have looked on these three types of problems as being part of a three-pronged approach we called science-technology-society.