O'Really?

February 4, 2013

On becoming a STEMnet ambassador: What, why and how?

A piece of raspberry pie

Creative Commons licensed picture of a DayGlo Raspberry Pi by @kevinv033 on Flickr

STEMNet is an organisation in the UK which creates opportunities to inspire young people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Recently, along with about 15 PhD students from the CDT in Manchester, I became an STEM Ambassador. This post briefly describes what STEMNet is all about, why you would want to get involved and how you can do so.

What is STEMNet?

STEMnet is a network of volunteers (STEM ambassadors) who help schools and teachers by providing extra support in the classroom to teach topics in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Teachers can ask the network for all kinds of help, it might be, for example:

  • role models to do a Day in the Life of… session (e.g. Astronaut, Star Gazer, Genetic Engineer, Roboticist etc)
  • help with a Raspberry Pi workshop
  • support running a Science club
  • demonstrations of interesting technology that might not normally be available in school
  • et cetera

Ambassadors (who have been vetted by the DBS) respond to teacher requests or propose their own ideas. Ambassadors commit to doing at least one education or outreach event per year, and often end of doing more. Interesting and varied learning experiences usually follow.

Why you should get involved

There are plenty of reasons to get involved in STEMnet:

  • It can be great fun working with young people.
  • The world would probably be a BetterPlace™ if we had more scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. STEMNet is working towards achieving this important goal.
  • Schools and teachers need all the help they can get in the classroom, teaching is a challenging but important job.
  • If you think you’re a nifty communicator, there’s nothing quite like a classroom full of teenagers (or younger) for testing your theory.
  • Join an active and diverse network of around 30,000 ambassadors across the UK

How to get involved

Contact your friendly local STEMnet co-ordinator if you would like to become a STEM Ambassador. For Greater Manchester, that’s the good folk based at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI): Daniel O’Connell and Donna Johnson (featured in the video below).

We’ve got some exciting new projects planned via STEMNet, in addition to what’s already going on at cs.manchester.ac.uk/schools. Watch this space!

January 11, 2013

A joke about teaching and learning via Jason Bangbala

The MOOC

What, if anything, can stop the MOOC? Creative Commons licensed picture via Giulia Forsythe on Flickr.

The debate about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is making lots of people think harder about education and how people learn. Are we witnessing Higher Education’s Napster moment, where online services replace physical ones [1] ? Is undergraduate education over-priced [2]? How can education be improved [3]? What is the point of Education anyway? These are all interesting and mostly unanswered questions.

You might hear it said that secondary education is often delivered by excellent teachers, with questionable subject knowledge, whereas higher education is delivered by experts with excellent subject knowledge, but poorer teaching skills.

Jason Bangbala, an educational consultant, puts it another way.

What is the difference between primary, secondary and higher education?

  • In primary education, the teachers love their students.
  • In secondary education, the teachers love their subject.
  • In higher education, the teachers love themselves.

True? Hmmm, I don’t know. But it is funny…

References

  1. Moshe Vardi (2012). Will MOOCs destroy academia? Communications of the ACM, 55 (11), 5-5 DOI: 10.1145/2366316.2366317
  2. Salman Khan (2013). What college could be like Communications of the ACM, 56 (1) DOI: 10.1145/2398356.2398370
  3. Fred Martin (2012). Will massive open online courses change how we teach? Communications of the ACM, 55 (8) DOI: 10.1145/2240236.2240246

November 30, 2012

The University of Mo-chester, UK: Scientific Movember Team

Movember is now in its tenth year but like many men, I’ve resisted the urge to grow a Mo because of

  1. an inability to grow a decent moustache
  2. a reluctance to look like a p0rn star / seventies pervert / gay cowboy [delete as appropriate]
  3. a fear of scaring off potential collaborators, customers, undergraduates, postgraduates, friends etc
  4. a long history of fine facial foliage from Errol Flynn to Tom Selleck, Henry Wellcome to Freddie Mercury, Charlie Chaplin to Lemmy from Motörhead. How can you compete with distinguished facial hair like that?

Then I looked around me and thought, what the heck,  that’s not stopping anyone else. So with a few colleagues we got together and created the University of Mo-chester, CSMCR team. So far we’ve raised over £1000 for prostate and testicular cancer and you can still sponsor us. There’s a group photo of us below – you can’t actually see my moustache in that picture because it is blonde. Honest guv’.

csmcr mobros

CSMCR Mo Bros, from left to right: Bijan Parsia, Sean Bechhofer, Alan Stokes, Nicolas Matentzoglu, Dimitri Tsarkov, Kristian Garza (cheating with a beard!), Matthew Makin, Simon Harper, Jim Miles, Yours Truly, Michele Filannino and Toby Howard.

There’s an interesting back story to Movember, told here by its Aussie founder, Adam Garone:

Movember isn’t just about raising money, it’s about raising awareness too. If you’re a bloke, have you felt your balls lately, for testicular cancer (obviously)? Do you know about prostate cancer? With a few caveats [1], Movember is having a generally positive effect on human health [2] – and its a lot of fun too!

References

  1. McCartney, M. (2012). Is Movember misleading men? BMJ, 345 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e8046
  2. Jeffcott, M., Cagiannos, I., & Zorn, K. (2012). Movember update: The Canadian perspective Canadian Urological Association Journal, 6 (3) DOI: 10.5489/cuaj.12037

July 13, 2012

Animation 2012: Computer Science for Schools

Animation 2012 at the University of Manchester

Computer Science as a subject in mainstream UK secondary education is in a pretty sorry state [1,2,3] but it’s not all doom and gloom. While many long suffering school children are being force-fed a nauseating diet of Excel, PowerPoint and Access others are enjoying a nutritious platter of Raspberry Pi, Hack to the Future and Animated fun.

Here’s a brief report on one of these tasty appetisers: Animation 2012, a UK schools animation competition now in its fifth year.

The day kicked off with prizes being awarded for the animation competition. To get a flavour of the creativity and skill involved, you can see winning examples online.

Following the prize giving there was a carousel of activities which included:

Animation 2012 was great fun for all involved, congratulations to all this years winners, hope to see you again next year. There were 526 Schools involved from across the UK, with 914 entries. 58 students were involved in the 35 winning entries from 31 different schools. Thanks to Toby Howard, all the organisers, supporters (Google, Electronic Arts and NESTA) and associates (Computing at School, CS4FN and BAFTA young game designers) for putting on an impressive show.

References

  1. Steve Furber et al (2012). Computing in Schools: Shut down or restart? Royal Society Report
  2. James Robinson (2011). Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, condemns British education system: criticising division between science and arts, The Guardian
  3. Keith Stuart (2011). Michael Gove admits schools should teach computer science: education secretary recognises the failings of ICT courses, The Guardian

September 8, 2011

UK Riots: Blame it on the Baby Boomers

What caused the summer riots of 2011 in the UK? Many reasons have been suggested and a long list of possible causes has been drawn up over the summer.  The baby boomer generation should be added to the list of suspects. It is the baby boomers, those born roughly between 1945-1965, that caused the riots – it’s mostly their fault [1].

Riot police looks on as fire rages through a building in Tottenham, north London Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011. A demonstration against the death of a local man turned violent and cars and shops were set ablaze. (AP Photo/PA, Lewis Whyld)

Arson and rioting in Tottenham, August 2011 (AP Photo/PA, Lewis Whyld)

UK riots: a long list of suspects

Who or what can we blame for the UK riots? It’s complicated but we could

It is hard to conclusively prove that any of these suspects are guilty as charged because the causes of rioting are complex. However, it seems likely that the unequal wealth and influence of baby boomers was a contributing factor in the UK riots. You can read all about it in Mr Willett’s intriguing book [1,2].

References

  1. David Willetts (2010) The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future – And Why They Should Give it Back ISBN: 1848872313. See full book reviews in The Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, The Economist, The Daily Mail and New Statesman

April 1, 2011

Circular logic is the best type of logic, because it’s circular

Me Fish!One of the great things about logic is there are so many different flavours to choose from. If you thought that logic came in just one flavour (vanilla), then think again. Now, I Am Not A Logician, but I can’t help marvelling at the bewildering array of  logical flavours on offer including, but not limited to:

So if you’ve ever wondered which logic was the “best” kind of logic, then maybe Antonio Cangiano can provide an answer. Antonio recently stated that:

Easy, you see? Circular logic, is logically the best…

References

  1. Lucas Laursen (2009). Computational biology: Biological logic Nature, 462 (7272), 408-410 DOI: 10.1038/462408a
  2. Critical Reasoning for Beginners, Oxford University iTunesU

[Creative Commons licensed circular shot by Hamed Saber]

January 19, 2011

Animated speeches at the RSA

Filed under: education — Duncan Hull @ 7:51 am
Tags: , , ,

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (RSA) has an interesting series of video lectures from “the world’s most inspiring thinkers”. If you haven’t seen them already, they’re worth watching not just for their stimulating content but for the beautifully produced hand-drawn animations. The one below is from Ken Robinson on the purpose of education:

There are a whole series of these along the same lines on the RSA’s YouTube channel. The illustrations are really good (but it doesn’t seem to say anywhere who the artist behind the work is?)

December 22, 2010

Happy Christmas Lectures 2010

Mark Miodownik by Joe Dunckley, on FlickrAs Tom Lehrer once sang on his christmas carol:

“Christmas time is here, by golly,
Disapproval would be folly,
Deck the halls with hunks of holly,
Fill the cup and don’t say ‘when.’
Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens,
Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens,
Even though the prospect sickens,
Brother, here we go again…”

Which must mean it’s also time for another seasonal tradition: the Royal Institution Christmas lectures. This year they are being given by the materials scientist and engineer Mark Miodownik with the title “Size Matters“. After nearly a decade in the wilderness of More4 and Channel 5 and elsewhere, this year the lectures will be back with the BBC broadcast on the 28th, 29th and 30th December at 8.00pm (also subsequently on iPlayer). Topics this year include:

  1. Why elephants can’t dance (but hamsters can skydive) see “crash test pets” video below.
  2. Why chocolate melts and jet planes don’t – chocolate is “one of the most sophisticated and highly engineered materials on the planet”!
  3. Why mountains are so small (Yes, small) – how rocks behave like liquid.

Mark has a reputation for being an entertaining and passionate [1] speaker, who unlike some previous lecturers – likes to improvise without a script which will probably make for lively and educational viewing.

Where ever you are this winterval, have a happy holiday.

References

  1. Mark Miodownik (2005). Facts not opinions? Developing both the physical and aesthetic properties of materials Nature Materials, 4 (7), 506-508 DOI: 10.1038/nmat1416

[Creative commons licensed picture of Mark Miodownik at the Science is Vital rally earlier this year in London by Joe Dunckley]

December 8, 2010

Science Careers: The Good, the Bad and the Starry

Filed under: education,web of science — Duncan Hull @ 6:03 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Mauna Kea SunsetOf all the things you can do with a Science degree, being paid money to stargaze from the top of a volcano in Hawaiʻi has to be one of the more interesting.

Tom Kerr is one such lucky astronomer who has been managing operations at UKIRT (UK infrared telescope) – currently the world’s largest telescope dedicated solely to infrared astronomy [1]. So what is it like working more than 4000 metres* above sea level, near the summit of Mauna Kea on the big Island of Hawaiʻi? Can you imagine filling your days and nights  observing the glorious majesty of the night sky, amazing sunsets and sunrises interspersed with surfing sessions on the beach?

Tom’s blog A Pacific View documents what Hawaiian life can be like. A recent post things I’ll miss (and others I won’t) describes the good, bad and starry parts of astronomy in an exotic location. There is also an accompanying set of rather stunning pictures on Flickr. So if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be involved in stargazing for a living, Tom’s blog and photostream tells you more.

References

  1. Song, I., McCombie, J., Kerr, T., & Sarre, P. (2007). The 3.3-μm PAH emission band of the Red Rectangle Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 380 (3), 979-985 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2966.2007.12197.x and arXiv:0707.0541
  2. The interwebs is full of blogging astronomers

[Creative Commons image of Mauna Kea Sunset by therefromhere, on Flickr]
*4000 metres is about 14,000 feet in real money…

November 2, 2010

Standing on the shoulders of tyrants

Newton (after Blake), by Eduardo Paolozzi, British Library Piazza by chrisjohnbeckett on Flickr.There are at least two ways of looking at the history of Science:

  1. If we have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
  2. If we have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of tyrants.

Take Isaac Newton for example, a giant whose shoulders we all stand on today. During his scientific career he employed plenty of tyranny to get ahead. While devising his calculus Newton had a bitter rivalry with his contemporary Leibniz where he exploited his position of power and influence at the Royal Society [1] to discredit his opponents work. Newton was evidently no gentle giant.

Over at the BBC, Marcus du Sautoy charts some of this murky political territory in the first episode of his entertaining Brief History of Mathematics series. The rest of the programmes introduce some of the other colourful personalities involved in the history of “the queen of the sciences”.

So if Newton is anything to go by, many of the giants shoulders we stand on were (and are) terrible tyrants. While friendly and open collaboration is important in Science, cut-throat competition clearly has a place too.

References

  1. Isaac Newton (1671). A Letter of Mr. Isaac Newton, Professor of the Mathematicks in the University of Cambridge; Containing His New Theory about Light and Colors: Sent by the Author to the Publisher from Cambridge, Febr. 6. 1671/72; In Order to be Communicated to the R. Socie Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 6 (69-80), 3075-3087 DOI: 10.1098/rstl.1671.0072

[Creative Commons licensed picture of Isaac Newton (after William Blake), by Eduardo Paolozzi, British Library Piazza by Chris John Beckett on Flickr]

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