Monday, November 25, 2013

Learning to learn. A couple of tips.

Don't you hate those boring bloggers’ explanations of why they have not posted anything recently? I do…. But it is so hard having exams every damn week!!!
… So, to avoid (or reduce) the chances of looking at your paper like this

I'd like to share two study techniques I learned a couple of weeks ago and at the same we give life to this blog again.

Dr. McGuire gave a talk on metacognition and how to teach undergrad students. The talk was, obviously, for teachers. I still don't know what I was doing there. But I did learn a couple of good techniques that I thought worth sharing.

Metacognition is the ability to think about your own thinking and judge your own learning. And by developing these skills you are able to determine at what level of learning you operate. Some classes, for example, it was said ‘high school classes’, operate at the lowest level of the blooms’ taxonomy (understanding, remembering).

Actually, one of the points of this talk was to discuss the effect of the way of learning in high school on the results of some first year college students in science classes. Most of the examples were of students failing terribly or with very poor performances. The idea was to teach college teachers how to teach students to study, using metacognition. This is, teaching them the differences between the levels of the pyramid. I hope you can read some of what each level is in the picture below. Everything was explained in the talk, here isjust a brief description. But there are tons of materials on the web about bloom’s taxonomy.

After reviewing each level, Dr. McGuire explained several techniques to move higher in this taxonomy. And the best was when she actually presented results of people who use them and improved. But not improve like, ‘oh a slightly improvement’. No!!! Some were serious cases of people who got to be the top after having been on the verge of leaving university. It was very impressive.  

I know, definitely our context is different, high school and college education doesn't work same for us. But still, I think it is not difficult to understand these levels and place ourselves, according to how we usually study and learn and then possibly we could also improve, be better learners, despite the differences between the education systems. So, let’s do it then.

The first technique was aimed to improve reading comprehension. Usually we have to read several chapters before one exam or review several papers for a particular assignment. It happens to me very often that I lose track of what I’m reading after two or three paragraphs and realize I was just wandering around. Then I have to read again from the beginning, and the cycle is repeated several times until I finish all the text, but often it is necessary (at least for me) to read more than once. Especially with scientific texts where there is always a new term or a concept to remember. It turns out this is very common, while reading something new you want to learn, it may take time, and one can get easily distracted. So, to deal whit this it was suggested to create a big picture of the text before starting to read. Like when you buy a new book, you usually look at the cover, the back cover, you read the description, and you see the pictures. It is advisable to do same thing for text books and scientific papers, at least when you are learning the topic for the first time. Then, while reading, it is recommended to read by paragraphs. This is, reading ‘one paragraph at a time’, stopping after every paragraph and writing down whatever you understand; it can be a sentence, a couple of words or a paraphrase of the content.

In the end, you will have a nice summary of the text. It seems that one will take longer to read in this way, but this is not true. Because by reading paragraph by paragraph, is no longer necessary to read again. Imagine that you move through the text as if you watch a movie for a few minutes, and then play it back and watch same part again, scene by scene. By the time you finish the movie you will remember everything more clearly. Hope this make sense for you. It did for me.  

I determined to try the technique. Two weeks ago I had to read four chapters on a fairly quite boring topic (for me) and it worked. And the best was that I read the whole thing only once!

The second and last technique was about mathematical thinking. Many people is not very good at math. Usually we learn by doing a lot of examples, a lot of problems. But this is a problem when something that is not similar to the examples comes. For this, it is necessary to actually read the theory behind, whatever the math book explains before going to the examples. I know, this sounds obvious but some students jump immediately to the examples. 

I tried this technique once, and it worked. But much of this was because the teacher in charge of my math class always gave us quite difficult tests, with problems requiring more than plugging numbers into formulas. Knowing how to solve the examples in the book wasn't of much help if you didn't have an idea, at least, of what was the purpose of each equation and how to interpret the results. 

Well, that’s it. A couple of tips. Hope someone out there find this post a bit useful. 

So, even if in your school it is not required to operate at the level of analyzing information and creating solutions/ideas in order to get good grades, it doesn't hurt to try to go higher on your own. Finally, get good grades is not the ultimate purpose, right?

Ok, having said that. I'll read you all on Saturday!

The slides of Dr. McGuire are available online. I don’t own these two pictures of the blooms’ taxonomy, both are from Dr. McGuire slides. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Day of the death

I know day of the death were last week, but I don´t know... I wrote something about it and I still want to share with everyone. It's kinda corny and my grammar is not really good, but I tried! So any comment and correction is welcomed!

It was that time of the year again.

Sitting next to her mother, listening to the endless praying of her aunts and grandmother, the little girl is bored. It is no fun at all if the only thing she has to do is to sit in front of a tomb of a person she never met and hear the old stories from her relatives that she already knows, as they always tell the same ones year by year.

It is a hot day and the sun is barely tolerable at midday. The place where her great grandmother was buried is surrounded by old trees that cannot offer enough shadow for everyone.  “Why can’t it be colder?” she asks to herself with frustration, covering her eyes with both hands, “It is supposed to be autumn. And there’re no clouds in the sky. Stupid sun! ”

The pray ends and then one of her aunts kneels down in front of the tomb,  opens the can of soda she was carrying and buries the tip in the soil, just in front of the cross in which the name of great grandma is written. There is no white marble headstone; the tomb is just an elevation in the ground. Simple as it is, the girl still thinks the tomb is kind of pretty today with all the flowers, yellow and purple, covering it. She still wonders how her mother could dislike such cute flowers. Maybe it’s because they are ordinary. After all, mother loves beautiful and exotic things.

The offering is done and now all her family starts to chat. The first topic is, of course, the can of soda standing in front of the cross. According to his aunts, great grandma loved soda the most and in order to get her enjoy again her favorite drink, they bring the can and leave it in her tomb every year. It’s an old story and it always ends with one of her aunts laughing and asking permission to take a sip of soda before leaving the graveyard.

Since everyone is starting to tell jokes and share old memories, the girl realizes she has no longer the obligation of sitting quietly. All her relatives are distracted and she takes the opportunity of walk away. The graveyard is big and she always has the interest of explore it, but still, she doesn’t go too far from where her mother is. After all, she doesn’t want to get lost.

It is difficult to walk around, there are a lot of people and the tombs are too close to each other. She doesn’t want to step over one, mostly because she doesn’t want the people buried down there to get mad at her.
There is now a beautiful tomb in front of her, all white and covered with flowers. It belongs to a man. No… she corrects herself immediately, it is not a man but a boy. The dates engraved in the marble tell her that if that boy was alive, he would be her age. There is something else written above his name and birth and death dates.

“You’ll always live in your hearts”

Though it’s not the first time she comes to the graveyard and explores other tombs, she cannot help feeling sad at reading the epitaph. Death is never fair. Her own parents have said that so many times and she believes so. Despite her sudden sadness, there something that makes her feel relieved. The boy’s tomb is beautifully adorned, meaning her parents have come to visit him. Several years have passed since his death, but his parents still remember him. She believes that that boy, wherever he is now, would be happy to see his tomb covered in flowers.

“That’s what this day is about, isn’t?” She thinks, remembering the explanation of the teacher at school, “Today is not supposed to be a sad day”

Another tomb catches her attention. It’s even bigger that the boy’s but looks old and abandoned. There are no flowers on its vases and there is a big layer of dust covering it. She has seen many tombs like that in the previous years, some of them with their headstones broken. But this one is not broken and, after getting closer to look at the dates, it is not that old, either.

Now, that is really sad. Where are the relatives of this woman? Did they forget about her?

The girl looks around. The contrast between the tombs adorned and those that were forgotten is great. An idea comes to her, and before she evaluates it, she goes to the next tomb which has many flowers on its vases. She whisper apologies for the person that tomb belongs to, and takes three yellow flowers from one vase. She then places those three insignificant flowers over the tomb of the forgotten woman.

The tomb still looks miserable, but the girl feels somewhat satisfied.

Now someone remembers you,” mutters, thinking the woman can hear her and is pleased with her offering.
Now that she has done it once, the girl believes is now her task to look around for more flowers for the abandoned tombs. It’s kind of difficult because the tombs that can donate some of their flowers are still being visited. And surely, people wouldn’t like to see her stealing their flowers to give them to someone else. Still, she manages to put two or three flowers on four more tombs.

She now has taken flowers from the boy’s tomb, that one who would have been her age if he was alive, and she puts over a tomb of a man who died fifty years ago. The headstone is close to break but she still can read the epitaph.

“From his wife and sons who will never forget him”

The voice of her mother calling for her startles her. Her family is leaving the graveyard now.

“What where you doing over there?” her mother asks her as soon as the girl comes to her side.

“Nothing,” the girl answer, taking the hand of her mother as they start to walk to the exit, trying not to step over the tombs.

Her mother doesn’t seem really interested in her daughter affairs, so she no longer asks questions.

Just once, the girl looks back to the place great grandma is. While is true she never met her, as well as the other people she offered flowers, she feels now glad to be able to visit her, and the others, on this day. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Prokaryotic Satur... ok ok... just for today

Hello everyone!

This is one of those days I got several things to do... we are so close to the second midterms L and I’m feeling the panic of the PhD application deadlines. I do not think I'll make it for 2014 L 
So I was thinking to skip this Saturday. But I decided that it won't be nice, and I tried to rush and as you can see it is now Sunday 12:22 AM (damn!). Forgive me for that. Anyway, whatever you will read today it is not much. So, feel free to stop reading………………………………………………………

If you are still here, well, let me give you a couple of good and interesting resources I use to spend a bit of time when there is no much to do.

In youtube there is a channel called “GenomeTV”, where you can find great lectures. Personally I strongly recommend that one of the next generation sequencing technologies, by Elaine Mardis. But I warn you, lectures are more than one hour long. Now, if you don't have that much time, then you can visit the channels minutephysics  and ASAPscience. Videos are short and highly interesting.  

Also, another nice youtube channel, which is kind of the style of those two, is “Ted-Ed”, it is not the well known TED-talks, which was previously recommended by another post here in this blog. In TED-Ed you will find short animations explaining simple things, one example:

Since I discovered this channel, I decided that at some point I will have to learn how to animate. Maybe next semester I’ll have more time, I'm planning to take only one class. And talking about classes, there are a couple of online free courses. One that recently started for second time is “Useful genetics”. This course is taught by Dr. Redfield. If you haven’t read the post written by Emilio about Dr. Redfield's most famous work, check it out here.

Actually, Dr. Redfield’s blog, RRResearch  is another excellent site; there you can follow Dr. Redfield's experiments with great detail. This blog is part of the recent tendency of “lab notes published in real time”. Same thing has been done by Dr. Siouxsie Wiles, this is her blog. She works with bioluminescent microbes, there is no much openness as in Dr. Redfield page, but still you will find a couple of interesting posts. Another really nice blog is The Tree of Life, by Dr. Jonathan Eisen, from UC Davis. 

But if you are more of the social networks then you can follow them all, Dr. Redfield, Dr. Eisen and Dr. Wiles in twitter, @RosieRefield, @phylogenomics and @SiouxsieW, who along with Dr. David Shiffman (@WhySharksMatter), Dr. Moore (@moorejh) and Dr. West (@westr) are really cool and always posting very interesting news, they are all scientific-tweetstars. You will learn and have a chance to interact with them sometimes in a while if you follow them.

And now, for you, who stayed until the very end. I have something else for you, a present. I've got some books that I can't carry home when I’m back. So, if you are the very first to give an answer (in the comments section below this post) to the next trivia , you will receive one of these books for FREE
Reduction of sulfur is what I do, therefore at the bottom of the column I will be. That column Segei did. Don't get confuse, don't get confuse. I'm not purple I'm not green; these two are always above me. And I can tell you why this is, because light I don't need. Who am I?

Ok, now, terms and conditions. First, the answer should be the one I am expecting (it's my post, it's my trivia, therefore these are my rules). Second, you must have to be the FIRST to answer correctly, answers can be either in English or Spanish. Third, I am sending the book by regular post, so the arrival time depends on your location. Fourth, all books are in English, none is new, but they are all in very good condition. Finally, if you win you will  be able to choose between these titles:

-The fault in our stars(by John Green, by the way, his youtube channel is also great)- this book is one of my favorites of this year. 
-The perks of being a wallflower (by Stephen Chbosky, I really enjoyed the writing style)
-The New York regional mormon singles halloween dance (by Elna Baker, I laughed a lot with this one).

So. Good luck. May the odds be ever in your favor. 
See you next week.