Category Archives: education

It’s not such a small world after all

[I’d prefer if you listened to “The green grass grew all around” as you read this.]

First: Above you see a picture of miner’s lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata. I’ve always thought of the flower as white, so I was surprised to see how inattentive I’ve been to the little one! I’ve been working on a research project for my Biochemistry class, and it’s a lot of work for 4 credits, let me tell you. I’ve spent the past few weeks chipping away at journal articles on the nature of a tritrophic interaction between a virus, a fungus, and a plant (grass) in geothermally heated soil. It got me thinking about a song which I learned as a child, “The green grass grew all around.” The nature of the song is repetitive, and the value of this, besides driving in how much one thing is inherently connected to another is the memory mnemonic. When we are children it seems to be a common pattern to learn repetitive songs. And I am willing to guess this is because it instills a framework for learning within us. If we repeat something many many times and even have fun with it,  we will better be able to recall it.  So I was thinking what’s another song that might get pounded into your head if you’ve been raised on Disney? The lyrics as follows have a nice sentiment, but the only way I can agree with the statement that “it’s a small world” is by looking so intensely at the things around me and acknowledging how they are large compilations of particulates that are individually smaller than my naked eye could detect…but that really just makes me think that the world is larger than I could EVER comprehend.

“It’s a world of laughter, a world or tears its a world of hopes, its a world of fear there’s so much that we share that its time we’re aware its a small world after all its a small world after all … There is just one moon and one golden sun And a smile means friendship to everyone. Though the mountains divide And the oceans are wide It’s a small small world”

I believe that we as people have some basic shared emotions. I don’t think we all experience or deal with them in the same way. The idea that there is just one moon is a small world mindset which no one should believe. It’s like saying the earth is flat. There are MANY moons, they are just not so close to earth. When we smile in response to another smile it is a reflexive imitation of the smile that we just saw. This is a way that we can try on another persons skin and then make a decision on whether or not the face that was just flashed at us was legitimate or a cover up for some other emotion.

Are there any songs you’ve learned in childhood that have just stuck with you?

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Considering Learning

At times, when I play witness to something beautiful, I simply want to spend time knowing the individual components of it. The wicked truth of the matter is that this can not be done without divorcing the intimately entwined parts. Shortly after snapping this photo montage on the microscope I took a razor blade and sliced through the ovary, gaining new perspective on the prismatic fibers of  that which is unknown to me. I am not the first to come this way, nor will I be the last. Any one have any pointers on histology technique?

I’ve been thinking a little about this; the taking apart and how it might work in learning. In my intro to statistics class, the assignments take no more than an hour for me to complete.The professor is wary about discussing theory in class, but his mechanical introductions are (overly) patient and methodical. The value of the course is in gaining confidence and growing vocabulary for clearly reporting data.  The confidence from standing firm in an answer as you are quadruple challenged feels good, but shallow. The unfortunate side to this method is that there is no exploration into why we are doing what we do. It would be as if mathematics were truly discrete and all the rules already written. If we stopped to ask; if we were challenged to make our own formulas; we may be humbled in new ways.

On the opposite side, in Organic Chemistry and Biology, I skipped the expected prerequisites for the courses that I have been taking for the past year so that I could graduate with a study Depth that approximates “Biochemistry”…one gets easily side tracked at this school. Infiltrating the class as a writer has been challenging, but I’m a chameleon, so it’s worked out more or less to the extent I’ve expected. I don’t know a lot of things that other people do who have had let’s say 1-50 years of experience on me, but I’m mixing into the average. It takes me a long time to do my work, and often I have no driving force to really do it. This is because I need to make up for vast knowledge gaps which are not readily apparent. Here, when I am challenged, I am often quite happy to yield to opposing suggestions. I am still, after many months, afraid to speak up because I might reveal how unprepared I truly am. Here is an xkcd comic for the occasion.

How Mathematics Became Beautiful

This is a window to one year ago and beyond.

I was in a class, which I shall affectionately call “Algebra to Alcohol” because that spring coincided with my roommate and I stocking the fridge with 24 packs of beer.

There was a lot of cognitive science involved in this course. A lot of “Why is our culture math-phobic” being asked. Most students in the class were in the “Mathematics is amazing” camp and couldn’t see the other side of the fence. I was the lone student voicing a differentiated state of mind. I still remember the tears falling down my cheeks as the protist blob of a math teacher I had in 8th grade scolded me, branding me the laziest girl she knew. I probably took algebra 3 out of 4 years in high school each time being uniquely told that I was lazy and stupid for not catching on…and yes it was boring and repetitive. My first college adviser (who held all say in registration) one upped it all, and just plain didn’t allow me to sign up for any mathematics, because it would be “too difficult” for me. Besides, everyone I knew told me that I was damn good at writing, and that’s what I needed to be focusing on.

I was having issues with sleep, as well as issues caring about the work I did. I desperately wanted to understand what it meant when someone talked of the beauty in mathematics, but I could not. “Fake it ’till you make it,” my professor advised.

Due to seminar readings, I met a proof that changed my mind about math: Euclid’s proof of infinite prime numbers. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Three people in seminar patiently spent 20 minutes explaining it to me, we played with it. Things started clicking. As the class regrouped my mind assumed a low hum. Ideas from readings about linguistics collided with the primes. Patterns snapped and popped, and I started scribbling furiously into my notebook, ignoring everything else around me. The class ended. I made it home that night, but I could not say how.

The next day, I asked my professor, “If they believe prime numbers occur randomly, how do they have prime number generators?” “Look it up,” he said. “Start with the sieve of Eratosthenes.” The next week he threw the sieve into a programming workshop with a mischievous grin. Over the next few days I witnessed myself buying color coded pens, writing every prime number down well past 1,987 and calculating the difference between them along with a few other variables. It was suddenly no longer foreign to get out of a bath, pen down some calculations and then wake up a few hours later slightly confused, my face in a puddle of numbers. I did a decent amount of research on primes and started building a rudimentary program to aid me in calculating my thoughts, but all too quickly, the quarter ended.

My first ever (organic) chemistry course kicked in. The ball was rolling, and I was going to fall off if I didn’t drop everything else.

I haven’t forgotten how that project made me feel, and I would still love to throw hours at it, but I have a lot of excuses and obstacles. I’ve begun learning statistics, which are important to number theory, scientific experimentation, & informed decisions.

Statistics is a small step to understanding infinity.

Sabotage and Science

Today, being a snow day, was spent in a combination of studying and slacking. In the process of looking for free e-books to read on fungi, I found a short manuscript called “Simple Sabotage Field Manuel”. This was published by the US Office of Strategic Services back in 1944 and discusses simple ideas for citizen subversion in enemy territory.

This, I may not have found noteworthy to blog about by itself, but alas, my professor found time to share with the class some memes which have root in the history of the 40’s and relevancy to today’s latest news on copyright law. Imagine, all this while setting us up for laboratory practice in molecular biology!

The above video is a scene from Downfall, a 2004 film, which I probably have never seen. In the memes which my professor shared, the subtitles are amusingly rewritten with relevancy to class content. Watching the original, however, took me back to high school. I was in a class called “Facing History and Ourselves” a year long survey of the Holocaust. We watched numerous films full of Nazi propaganda, and annalyzed them, read books such as Night andInto That Darkness, and integrated current events into our curriculum to examine the phenomenon of “bystanderism”, the act of standing aside and allowing an event which we oppose to occur while we watch.

It’s Funnyhow these neurons fire together, isn’t it?