Teaching: the perfect two minute lesson

December 7, 2011

1Veritasium pulls it off in this little video,  asking “how far apart are the moon and the earth?”. Along the way he sends a message about some pretty complicated subjects–the concept of scale, the size of the universe, and why it is difficult to use images alone to capture the reality of distance.

The recipe starts with “man on the street” interviews. These set up the misconception and in the process send the viewer the empathic message, “hey, you’re not the only one.”  This is followed by a simple demonstration, using the long focus of the camera as an ally. Then simple graphics expand the idea and its implications. Finally, a 10 s summary: “The universe is truly bigger than we can imagine, and certainly bigger than we can draw to scale”.

Imagine a similar suite of videos on any difficult subject: enzymes, global warming, evolution. Imagine producing a suite of five or so on a science topic that interests you, posting them on your own Youtube channel. With your smiling face introducing each one. That’s one way to get noticed and to do a real service.  As a debunker of myths. As teacher of science.

Any great, short, science videos out there you want to bring to a wider audience?



Ernst Haeckel: high on biodiversity

December 3, 2011

Ernst Haeckel was a seminal biologist and one of the first theoreticians in evolutionary biology. He was also a crazy good artist, and his 100 plates highlighting invertebrate diversity are available for download. The files are big enough to turn into small posters. Three of my favorites below the fold.  Read the rest of this entry »

Presentations: Steve Jobs vs Bill Gates

December 3, 2011

A cold and rainy Saturday here in the heartland, and I’m plowing through my notes, compiling websites I think are particularly useful for the beginning academic, broken down by category (e.g., GTD techniques, technology, writing…).

If you have any such sites that you find indispensable, by all means leave a comment.

In the process, I stumbled upon this oldie but goodie from Garr Reynolds at Presentation Zen. Reynolds advocates the Zen approach to presentations:

The Zen aesthetic values include (but are not limited to):

  • Simplicity
  • Subtlety
  • Elegance
  • Suggestive rather than the descriptive or obvious
  • Naturalness (i.e., nothing artificial or forced),
  • Empty space (or negative space)
  • Stillness, Tranquility
  • Eliminating the non-essential

But, in an inspired bit of teaching, he advances his thesis by comparing the style of Bill Gates

with the late Steve Jobs.

Now, I am not advocating that you present your work backed up a dark screen (though I suspect you’d learn a lot by trying). However, anyone interested in communicating science can learn from  Steve Jobs and Garr Reynolds.

Know your brain: how to debunk a myth

December 1, 2011

Nowadays, scientists increasingly recognize the need to step up as teachers in the public sphere. However, many scientists labor under the delusion that if we make a good argument–airtight, logical, full of verified facts–then our job is done. If the recipient of our spiel doesn’t get it, then it’s on them (poor ignorant fool) we’ve done our part.

But convincing someone, especially when it means dissuading them of what they think they know, is far more complicated. The folks at Skeptical Science have a great resource–a downloadable PDF called the Debunking Handbook–that lays out the science and sociology of debunking myths. A bit of summary below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »