Search Results for "friday sprog blogging"

Jun 22 2012

Friday Sprog Blogging: You've made it clear "it's a girl thing," but is "it" science?

If your Tweeps have been hashtagging about the same things mine have today, there's a good chance you've already seen this video from the European Union:

Ummm ... yeah. As science outreach, this would never have worked on a younger time-slice of me. But maybe I'm not the target audience.

In the interest of generating empirical data from the two possible members of the actual target audience to whom I have access, I showed the video to each of the Free-Ride offspring (both daughters, as related in my newly-published story at Story Collider) separately, then asked for their reactions, which I've transcribed below:

From the elder Free-Ride offspring, almost 13 years old:

I didn't really see those women doing science. Plus, they were trying to act too sexy. Yuck.

Me: Did you find any of the visuals engaging?

Some of the sprays of orbs were cool.

Me: How about the glassware?

Sort of. But we don't actually see how any of it is used to do science.

Based on this teaser, I would not watch the full music video.

Me: Um, I think it's supposed to be a teaser for an outreach campaign rather than a music video, although it's interesting that it read to you as "music video."

Or whatever. I feel like I've seen enough of this.

Me: Did you feel like it conveyed any information about science?


Me: Did you feel like it conveyed any information about what kind of people do science?

The only clear scientist in that video was the man. The women in that video didn't come across as scientists. They were more like giggly models with scientific props.

Me: If it were you, what kind of strategy would you use to get girls interested in science?

Don't show me make-up, lipstick, and high heels. Show me an actual scientist at work.

* * * * *

From the younger Free-Ride offspring, 11 years old and no stranger to feminine accoutrements:

Why the high heels?

It was bad. I didn't like it. And science isn't just a girl thing.

Me: What didn't you like about it?

How the guy was all seduced by the girls. And the girls were acting too girly -- abnormally girly.

I didn't feel like anything in the video had anything to do with science. It was just lipstick and stuff -- that's not science.

Me: Well, there's science that goes into making cosmetics.

We didn't see that in the video. We saw make-up exploding on the ground and women giggling.

I don't think this is a good science outreach strategy except to girls who want to have exactly that image.

* * * * *

It appears the sprogs aren't the target audience either -- or, if they are, that this video is 53 seconds of highly produced FAIL.

UPDATE: While the original video was reset to "private", there is a mirror of it:

Because you want to know what the fuss is about, right?

15 responses so far

Apr 27 2012

Friday Sprog Blogging: paleozoic poetry

A little early this year, the elder Free-Ride offspring wrote these "sci-kus" for science class. They're like haikus, except with a few more syllables per line (7-9-7* rather than 5-7-5), because the names of geological periods require more syllables.

* * * * *

Cambrian oceans were full
Of sponges, trilobites, and snails
Invertebrate paradise

Ordovician fishes
Were the first, and coexisted with
Crinoids and cephalopods

Silurian plants survive
On land, and in the seas, fish with jaws
Have made themselves known to us

Devonian forests
Made up of ferns and conifers
Situated on land

Tree ferns, amphibians,
And insects in Carboniferous
Became the coal of today

At the end of Permian
Mass extinction of the sea's creatures
Farewell, sweet amphibians

*Two of these are actually 7-8-7. I'm guessing poetic license (or perhaps poetic learner's permit).

Wouldn't it be cool if they had the equivalent of driver's ed for poetry? What would they show instead of Red Asphalt to scare the kids off reckless poetry?

6 responses so far

Feb 03 2012

Friday Sprog Blogging: You call this living?

As I mentioned on the Twitters, when, upon my return from ScienceOnline 2012, my family members hit me with the question, "What did you get me?" they were thrilled that the answer included science-y watercolors by Michele Banks (who, by the way, has a show ongoing).

Science watercolors by Michele Banks

My favorite is this cute phage, not least because it prompted a conversation between the Free-Ride offspring.

Phage watercolor by Michele Banks

Dr. Free-Ride: Isn't this cool?

Younger offspring: It looks like a bug with a balloon on its butt.

Elder offspring: No, it's a phage.

Younger offspring: What's a phage?

Elder offspring: It's a virus that eats bacteria.

Younger offspring: Aren't viruses and bacteria the same thing? Don't they both make you sick?

Dr. Free-Ride: Well, viruses and bacteria both fit in the category of "germs".

Younger offspring: Don't they both make you sick? Isn't bacteria the same level of bad as viruses? And why would a virus eat a bacteria? Wouldn't that make the virus sick?

Dr. Free-Ride: There are some bacteria that are totally benign that are probably living in your intestine right now, without which you would have a hard time getting all the vitamins you need, for example. So, there are some bacteria that actually do good work for you.

Younger offspring: Oh.

Dr. Free-Ride: But there are definitely other bacteria that can make you sick.

Elder offspring: Like E. coli for bladder infections.

Dr. Free-Ride: Yeah.

Younger offspring: TMI.*

Dr. Free-Ride: To be fair, some of the bacteria that are in you, doing fine without making your life miserable, are E. coli. It's particular strains of E. coli that can make you sick.

Younger offspring: Isn't it bacterium?

Dr. Free-Ride: Yes, bacterium is the singular, bacteria is the plural. So ... what's the difference between a bacterium and a virus?

Elder offspring: A virus isn't really living. The only thing that it does that is similar to living things is reproduce, and it doesn't do that by itself -- it needs a bacterium to reproduce.

Dr. Free-Ride: Say more about that. Is it like a photocopier, which reproduces but needs someone to push the button?

Younger offspring: Wait, if bacteria can help viruses reproduce, isn't that another way for bacteria to hurt us?

Elder offspring: It's not like the bacteria are doing it by choice!

Dr. Free-Ride: They are sort of being commandeered by the viruses, aren't they?

Elder offspring: Yeah. The viruses just attach on and then insert their genetic material.

Dr. Free-Ride: And say, "Hey, bacterium ..."

Elder offspring: "... do THIS instead of your normal life functions!"

Dr. Free-Ride: So, instead of your normal life functions, make more of the stuff that I've shot into you, which is basically virus-stuff?

Elder offspring: Yeah. And then when the bacterium gets too full of viruses? It goes BOOM! and all the viruses go find new homes.

Dr. Free-Ride: It explodes like an overheated spaghetti squash.**

Younger offspring: That wasn't really needed.

Dr. Free-Ride: Well, you know, sometimes it's good to have a mental image. OK, back to your claims that viruses aren't alive. Strictly speaking, we humans need other stuff in our environment to conduct our life functions. I'm always curious about how we decide where to draw the line between what counts as being a living thing and what doesn't. And I'll bet there are probably some people who think that viruses ought to be on the "living" side of the line rather than the "non-living" side. What's the justification for keeping viruses out of the club?

Elder offspring: They can't produce energy by themselves.

Dr. Free-Ride: Whereas you can? Didn't you recently have a conversation with an organelle that pointed out your shortcomings in this area?

Elder offspring: They can't produce energy by way of mitochondria or whatnot.

Dr. Free-Ride: Ohhh, so because we have mitochondria, we can lord it over the viruses? You think having mitochondria is a requirement for being alive?

Elder offspring: No, you just need to produce energy from something to be alive. Just reproducing yourself isn't enough. I'm pretty sure viruses don't get energy, they just reproduce.

Dr. Free-Ride: Wouldn't that suggest that they're even more advanced than us "living things" in that they don't need energy? I mean, they don't have to stop to eat. They're very nose to the grindstone, achieving the task at hand of making more of them.

Younger offspring: Except that viruses don't have noses.

Dr. Free-Ride: Think of how much more you could get done if you didn't have to stop to eat.

Elder offspring: But then I'd miss all the prettiful flavors.***

Dr. Free-Ride: For that matter, think of how many more of you there could be running around if you displayed the virus' seriousness of purpose about making more of you.

Elder offspring: Ewwww. No.

Dr. Free-Ride: No, not in one of those bizarre animal kingdom kind of reproduction methods. We're talking about you harnessing bacteria to multiply your genetic material.

Elder offspring: Yeah ... still no. One of me is enough.

Younger offspring: Yes it is.

Glaring ensued. As it does.
*Let the record reflect that the younger Free-Ride offspring was objecting to the general information that bladders can be infected, not objecting to an overshare of personal information (and indeed, it was general, not personal, information the elder Free-Ride offspring was sharing here).

**We did this accidentally not too long ago. It blew the door of the microwave oven open in spectacular fashion. It was still pretty tasty, and no one was hurt.

***In case you were wondering, this is a discussion that happened at the dinner table during dinner.

2 responses so far

Jan 20 2012

Friday Sprog Blogging: I hugged ... hey, that's not Bora!

An image from the elder Free-Ride offspring:

Hug a Tarantula. They Appreciate it Too.

So far at ScienceOnline 2012 I have not noticed any tarantulas, let alone sized them up for hugging. Should you encounter a tarantula in your immediate environment, use your own judgment on the hugs.

One response so far

Jan 13 2012

Friday Sprog Blogging: Interview with a Chloroplast.

Yes, it's been a while. This week, I was able to have enough of a conversation with the elder Free-Ride offspring to discover a homework assignment that looked ... a lot like a conversation about science.

In this case, it's a conversation between the elder Free-Ride offspring ("Me") and a chloroplast ("Chloroplast"). Big ups to my child's science teacher for giving assignments that can generate content for this blog (and for letting kids type their homework so I can copy the file rather than having to transcribe).

Me: So, what exactly are you?

Chloroplast: I am an organelle found in the cytoplasm of plant cells and a few kinds of bacteria.

Me: How many of you are there per cell?

Chloroplast: It depends on the organism. There are about thirty to forty of me per leaf cell, but in a certain type of single-celled alga, there is only one of me.

Me: What do you do for the organisms you are a part of?

Chloroplast: I capture the energy of the sun and use that energy, along with some carbon dioxide and water, to make glucose for the cell.

Me: Wow, that's amazing! Is that the process that plants use to make their own food?

Chloroplast: Yes, it is. That process is called photosynthesis.

Me: Is it anything like making a sandwich?

Chloroplast: What!? No! Of course not!!!

Me: Did I offend you? Or do you just not care for a nice, delicious BLT?

Chloroplast: Of COURSE you offended me! We chloroplasts don't use other organisms to make food! And especially not organisms that contain other chloroplasts!

Me: Okay, I'm sorry. How do you cook up some glucose in place of a sandwich?

Chloroplast: It's more like engineering than cooking, you know. First, I store energy from the sun and obtain six molecules each of carbon dioxide and water.

Me: How do you get the water?

Chloroplast: It's carried up to the leaves, where I live with my fellow chloroplasts, by the roots. Now, as I was saying, once I get those compounds, I use the light energy to remove their bonds. Then, I rearrange the elements and make them into a glucose molecules and six O² molecules. The glucose is used by the cell for its daily functions, and the oxygen is expelled from the plant by the leaf's stomata.

Me: Whoa! I didn't know that plants did chemistry!

Chloroplast: Believe it. Bask in our autotrophic glory, you inferior heterotroph.

Me: By the way, you do know that cooking is just a form of chemistry-

Chloroplast: Shut up.

Me: Okay, another question. Are all organelles as rude as the chloroplasts, or is it a unique feature?

Chloroplast: It's not at all unique. You should hear the nucleus sometime.

Me: Now then, I've been wondering about this. How do you absorb the light energy?

Chloroplast: I have a green pigment inside me called chlorophyll. It absorbs red and blue light. Chlorophyll is what turns plants a lovely shade of green, and not your ugly human skin tone.

Me: I have something else to do now. Thank you for your time.

Chloroplast: Wait! I'm not done gloating about my other superior features!

Me: Too bad. Good bye, you jerkwad of an organelle.

7 responses so far

Apr 22 2011

Friday Sprog Blogging: How Well Does Mold Form in Different Conditions? (A science fair project)

The science fair happened, and the younger Free-Ride offspring's project board is now home. (The teachers are still judging and grading the sixth grade projects, which means that the elder Free-Ride offspring's project board is still at school.)

Here, in pictures, are the highlights of the younger Free-Ride offspring's project:

A straightforward descriptive title. (The kid may have a future writing scientific journal articles.)

Gotta have hypotheses to test.

The equipment was not terribly fancy. Then again, except for the bread, it was stuff we already had on hand, which is a plus.

Maybe it's just me, but I always like it when science fair results depart from initial expectations. It makes it feel more like real science, I guess.

The science fair instructions from the school were emphatic that kids should not bring in potentially biohazardous specimens with their projects (and mold was among the things specifically mentioned in the "NO!" list), so the younger Free-Ride offspring took pictures. It may have been smelly, but the range of colors of mold that grew is actually kind of impressive.

My favorite part of the younger Free-Ride offspring's project is the data visualization. For each of the specimens that grew mold in each set of experimental conditions, the kid measured the mold spots (in square centimeters) and added up the total molded area on each data-collection day. Data was collected until each bread sample was totally molded over.

To generate these graphs, the younger Free-Ride offspring calculated the mean mold area for each given type of bread in a particular set of conditions on a particular day. Since each of the bread samples was 4 x 5 centimeters, the younger Free-Ride offspring drew a 4 x 5 rectangle to represent the bread sample and then plotted the average mold growth by filling in the appropriate number of squares. You can see as you go across the plots from left to right that ady by more and more squares get filled in until all 20 are filled, representing complete mold coverage.

10 responses so far

Apr 15 2011

Friday Sprog Blogging: you slay me.

As a fund-raiser for the youth soccer league to which we belong, the younger Free-Ride offspring's soccer team has been selling chocolate bars. Among other things, this means that each morning the younger Free-Ride offspring has packed up a selection of chocolate bars to bring into school, and each afternoon has returned with a stack of dollar bills. (Honestly, it makes me feel a little like Nancy Botwin. But I'll work through it.)

Anyway, in connection with this candy-peddling, the younger Free-Ride offspring mentioned a customer who bought an extra bar for an older sibling "so he wouldn't get killed." I suggested that this was exaggerating the danger of a sibling's displeasure, or that the younger Free-Ride was not using the standard definition of the verb "to kill".

The younger Free-Ride offspring's full reply to this is transcribed below.

Well, my sibling kills me all the time -- [the elder Free-Ride offspring] actually does.

See, [the elder Free-Ride offspring] eats all my body except my soul, which is saved.

Then [the elder Free-Ride offspring] gets this ghost-like material that can be shaped like any human, and shapes it like me.

And then [the elder Free-Ride offspring] got this, like, plaster that can move, so I don't feel like a ghost. And then [the elder Free-Ride offspring] got this paint called "[The Younger Free-Ride Offspring] In a Can" and just sprayed over the plaster, sprayed all over me.

And [the elder Free-Ride offspring] saved the soul so you wouldn't get suspicious and [the elder Free-Ride offspring] wouldn't get busted. Because the soul is what makes this plastered painted ghost sound and behave like [the younger Free-Ride offspring].

This all raises some interesting questions, of course, among them:

1. What kind of thing is this "soul"? The younger Free-Ride offspring, upon further question, identified it as being material stuff, and also as essential to reproducing consciousness and personality, yet it seems, in this telling, not to be exactly equivalent to the brain. (Is it possible that the "soul" in question is some manner of artificial intelligence, an uploaded consciousness? Is my elder offspring making Cylons?!)

2. More disturbingly, how is it that the elder Free-Ride offspring, who has been raised vegetarian, has now apparently turned to cannibalism?

3. Where can I get me some flexible plaster? What kinds of materials have such properties?

4. Finally, if I were selling "The Younger Free-Ride Offspring In a Can," you'd totally line up to buy it, right?

3 responses so far

Apr 08 2011

Friday Sprog Blogging: science fair research in progress.

We're less than two weeks out from our elementary school science fair, which means that both Free-Ride offspring are in serious data collection mode. As they look ahead to having enough data to present and "analyze" (you lose points if there's not some kind of computing of a mean, preferably accompanied by bar graphs -- heaven help the child exploring a question which yields qualitative results), I figured we should check in with some notes from the experimental trenches.

The younger Free-Ride offspring has been studying mold-growth on a selection of breads under various conditions (including exposure to light, air flow, moisture, and temperature).

Mold has grown (and on some but not all of the samples -- so there will be differences to explain). Quantifying the amount of mold that has grown on a sample (either by counting wee spots or by using a ruler to measure moldy regions) and recording those data in the lab notebook takes rather longer than the younger Free-Ride offspring had anticipated. Also, while the younger Free-Ride offspring digs wearing the powdered latex gloves to handle the bread samples, the fact that the moldy bread has a distinctive (and unpleasant) odor was a complete surprise.

Dr. Free-Ride's better half is concerned that this is evidence that we have sheltered our kids from the normal operations of the natural world.

The elder Free-Ride offspring's study of whether a rabbit (this rabbit) relies more on sight or smell to locate treats hit a little bit of a snag. The original experiment involved putting treats (or non-treats) in hard plastic vessels --some of them clear, others not, some with slots in them (making it possible to smell what's inside the container), others completely sealed up -- and to observe and record Snowflake's reaction.

From those early trials, we learned that Snowflake was pretty quick in her assessment that she couldn't get inside those containers herself. Secure in that knowledge, she would give up and start munching the timothy hay in her run. Moreover, she discovered that within about 15 minutes of her giving up, the elder Free-Ride offspring would also give up and remove those annoyingly impossible containers from the run -- often giving the rabbit one of the treats when the containers were extracted.

Clearly, the rabbit was too smart for the original experimental design.

However, within the last week the elder Free-Ride offspring has been constructing mini bales of timothy hay, some with treats in them and some not, and has observed Snowflake's differential reaction to them. Ultimately, the data analysis here may require coming up with a scale of smelliness (i.e., of how easy or hard particular treats are to smell). We'll see how that goes.

Meanwhile, I'm making sure both Free-Ride offspring consult literature relevant to the systems they are studying. And I'm getting a new can of spray adhesive so that the display-board assembly proceed without incident.

One response so far

Mar 25 2011

Friday Sprog Blogging: the perils of a kid who's listening.

The younger Free-Ride offspring and Dr. Free-Ride's better half have been studying aikido for some years now, at the same dojo, although not in the same class. This means that the younger Free-Ride offspring's class is getting off the mat as Dr. Free-Ride's better half's class is getting onto it, which frequently leads to playful sparring and verbal provocations between the dogi-clad Free-Rides, shenanigans in which their Sensei occasionally takes part.

Recently, Dr. Free-Ride's better half had a birthday. Indeed, it was on an aikido night. However, while the younger Free-Ride offspring went to the dojo that night, Dr. Free-Ride's better half pleaded "too much work" and stayed home. Jokingly, I wondered if this might be an attempt to dodge the traditional "birthday beat-down" and, that night at the dojo, I suggested that the younger Free-Ride offspring ask Sensei to reschedule this beat-down.

"I'm not going to do that!" said the younger Free-Ride offspring.

This week, as the kids were clearing the mat and the adults were filing in, Sensei grappled Dr. Free-Ride's better half, grunted "Birthday boy, eh?" and gave him a perfunctory thumping. Dr. Free-Ride's better half then turned and gave the younger Free-Ride offspring the hairy eyeball.

"It's not fair," said the younger Free-Ride offspring in exasperation. "I didn't tell Sensei to give [Dr. Free-Ride's better half] a birthday beatdown -- I even said not to! But Sensei did anyway!"

"Oh well," I said.

"And even though [Dr. Free-Ride's better half] knows that it was your idea, Sensei thinks it was my idea!"

I allowed as how my good reputation with Sensei meant that he tended not to suspect me of masterminding such plots (and I should point out that all I did was mention to my offspring the possibility of asking Sensei to reschedule the birthday beatdown -- my offspring and Sensei did the rest on their own). "I guess the fact that people don't suspect that of me is what makes me such an effective super-villain," I said.

"But you are not a super-villain," my offspring said to me. "You are a good person. That means you have to tell the truth, like to Sensei, right now."

Sigh. This is why I'll never get anywhere as a super-villain.

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Mar 18 2011

Friday Sprog Blogging: ecological concepts in pictures.

It's been another busy week, but I managed to intercept (on their path from backpack to recycling bin) a couple pages of what looks to be school work in which the elder Free-Ride offspring has illustrated various concepts from ecology in drawings.

The elder offspring represents ecological concepts in pictures

The elder offspring represents more ecological concepts in pictures

A closer look at the concepts (with a wee bit of commentary) below.
Continue Reading »

10 responses so far

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