Sunday, January 31, 2016

My Favorite Things, 2nd Edition

Each month, I share a favorite website, book, and podcast that I’ve found useful for teaching science. This article is shared in the MnSTA Newsletter and cross-posted here.

Website: “PhET Interactive Simulations.”
Many science teachers are probably already familiar with PhET simulations, but I was introduced only a few short years ago, so I’m guessing there are still some of you out there who have yet to be acquainted with this multi-layered resource. At its basic level, the PhET website provides a variety of science simulations from different disciplines, including physics, chemistry, and biology. As a Biology teacher, I’m hoping the designers will continue to bolster the choices in this particular area, but I’ve used the Membrane Channels and Lac Operon simulations nearly every year. Beyond the simulations themselves, there are also activities submitted by teachers linked to each simulation. I was inspired one of these activities to create an inquiry-based “stop-motion” lac operon lesson in my College Biology class. The simulations run best on a PC or laptop, but PhET is in the process of making HTML5 versions of some of their more popular simulations so they are usable on iPads as well.

Book: Remarkable Creatures by Sean Carroll.
Not only is Sean Carroll a Biology rockstar based on the genetics research originating in his lab, but he’s also an engaging popular science author. In Remarkable Creatures, he tells the stories of a handful of individuals whose scientific work has been important in advancing the theory of evolution. Each chapter is dedicated to a different historical figure, from more familiar characters such as Darwin and the Leakey team, to those I had never heard about, like Roy Chapman, whose group discovered the first fossilized “nest” of dinosaur eggs. Research on Neanderthal mtDNA and Neil Shubin’s famous tiktaalik round out the more modern scientific advances at the end of the book. Because each chapter is a stand-alone story, a section of Remarkable Creatures could be easily used in the classroom to supplement a genetics or evolution unit.

Podcast: Big Picture Science from the SETI Institute.

Are you looking for a way to keep up with the newest advances in science, but don’t have enough time to read all the journals? Big Picture Science will provide this for you on a weekly basis, and also manages to translate the research into a cohesive show that is easy to understand, accompanied with splashes of humor. There is a “theme” every week, and each of the science stories in the episode relate to that theme. “Look Who’s Not Talking” was the title of the show I last listened to, with information about the impact of social media on members of the armed services, an interview with one of the programmers for Hello Barbie, and a discussion about various ways people can “disconnect” from devices. If you don’t already use an app to listen to podcasts, you can also download Big Picture Science episodes online at