Ok Life is still all happening at once (or more to the point NOT happening.. more on all this later) so I figure it's time to get back to blogging a bit. Since I don't have any students to bitch about (classes start jan 7th) what better to do than a fossil. Hallucigenia (which gets my vote for coolest name for any fossil ever) from the famous Precambrian Burgess shale in British Columbia.
It's basically a little wormey looking thing with spikes on one side and noodley appendages on the other. The question is which does it walk on the spikes of the noodley things? When it was first discovered it was reconstructed like this.
Walking on the spikes. Now I ask you, does ANYTHING walk on spikes??..... It's ok I'll wait...... Yeah I didn't think so. So eventually cooler heads prevailed and now.
Ahhh much better. At some point another species was found with substantially smaller spikes that could not possibly have been used as legs. So, it got flipped. Isn't Paleontology just too dang much fun?
Grades are in and I'm decompressing. It's been a pretty good semester Archaeogirl and I are closing in on something that is going to be a BIG chance but I think a good one. So of course my thoughts have turned to next semester.
I was more organized this semester than in the past (those of you who know me know it's a BIG struggle of mine) but the wife's idea of a big accordion folder that I just take with me everywhere and put everything in works GREAT so that hurdle is overcome.
I need to spend more time teaching my students how to be successful in college. I'm at a community college and I really think some of them could use the extra help. I give them a lot of supplemental material and I think it's overwhelming to them. I need to help guide them not only in my class but I college in general. Some will always be successful, some will never be successful but there are enough in the middle that I feel I need to address them.
I need to be clearer and stricter about my policies. In particular my makeup policy. I simply can NOT have students coming in in the last week of class to make up tests. I don't have the time to deal with that at the end of the semester.
I think I need to diversify my class. Right now it's just based on testing. I'm thinking about adding some hands on work it'll give them a chance to pull their grades up and it'll help them to understand some of the concepts better.
Ok this is NOT fun. I went into this finals week with such high hopes. I went in COMPLETELY caught up on my grading and attendance (we're required to do that here) Heck I even had the spreadsheet written to calculate their grade all I have to do is enter their scores for the scantron and the essay and BINGO there's their grade. I wrote what I thought was a thorough and thoughtful final exam. And... Despair. Apparently I killed them. The average so far is somewhere around a 60 and only one person has made an A. Oh I'll curve it. but I'm not real comfortable blaming all this on them. There's going to need to be some changes made in my approach to this.
Ok just in case any of my students are reading this (they're not): "I missed that day of class" is NOT a valid excuse for not knowing the material and will NOT get me to just cough up answers on the final.
This week we have the Devonian brachiopod Paraspirifer. Look carefully and you'll notice that the shell looks like it's made of gold. It's not some Tiffany's on acid concoction, the calcite that normally makes up the shell has been replaced by pyrite (fool's gold). Not as rare as you might think but very cool nevertheless.
There is a movement in this country called Intelligent Design. It is a political movement who's goal is to allow, and in come cases mandate the teaching of the Judeo-Christian Creation myth in science classrooms. This is NOT a scientific movement. The basic premise behind ID is that there are certain structures and systems in nature that are too complicated to have formed from evolutionary processes as we currently understand them, therefore these things had to be formed by a "creator". The ID people are very careful to not say God because that would give them away, but with a wink and a nod everyone knows they're talking about. So the root of ID is:
"if we don't understand it God did it"
The obvious problem here is that to totally shuts down science. If we haven't figured something out by now then God did it and we might as well give up. I won't go into how nonsensical this is, there are plenty of people out there doing a fine job of that and they don't need my help.
What I would instead like to look at is the polar opposite view. There are a lot of scientists out there who are also atheists. Furthermore, they feel that anyone who is not an atheist cannot be an effective scientist. (Time for disclosure I'm a perfectly normal mainstream scientist who is NOT an atheist, and there are quite a few of us out there.) The view of the atheists seems to be that since there is no scientific evidence for God then God doesn't exist. So let's generalize that:
"If there is no scientific evidence for something then it doesn't exist."
Now, if you put it like that it also shuts down science. Since what they're essentially saying is that anything we don't have evidence for right now doesn't exist. So why exactly then do we continue to do science? The "bar" for scientific evidence is pretty darn high. Scientific evidence needs to have a host of qualities that ensure that it is valid and any conclusions we draw from that evidence have a pretty good shot a being close to reality. So it stands to reason that there are a lot of things out there that we don't have scientific evidence for that, nevertheless, exist. Think of all the things 100 years ago that we didn't have scientific evidence for that we simply take for granted today just because of advances in technology.
So in the end, I don't think that either model works particularly well and I'll just stick to my middle road.
... and if you're wondering what exactly that middle road is... join the club so am I.
No students are dead and only a little beer was drank and I feel much better. This time of the semester by the end of the week I really am just had. I have plans upon plans for the next semester and I'm starting to look past the work that has to be done this semester. I'm not so sure that's a good thing but I'm gonna roll with it for now.
1) Miss my test (do we see a pattern?) 2) Tell me you'll be in my office in a couple of days for a makeup 3) Miss the makeup 4) Come to me in class and tell me all of this then stare at me as if I'm supposed to ...... do.... something.
I swear it was all I could do to not break the meter stick over her head.
Found a better name, that Friday thing was just too much pressure. So here we have the gastropod Turitella. Turitella is a very handy gastropod. First under the right circumstances they align themsleves, telling you the direction the current they were living in was moving. (these don't seem to be aligned but there might be something subtle that would need to be pulled out using some advanced techniques.) Second they're frequently eaten by crabs which leaves a characteristic pattern of both successful and unsuccessful attacks that can be easily recognized. It's not often you know exactly what killed your critter but with these sometimes you can tell. Also note the internal mold in the lower left where the shell has filled with sediment and that sediment has turned to rock. These are often all that's left since the shell is very prone to dissolution.
What are the holidays without embarrassing family stories. When my sister was in first grade she attended the same school at which my mom taught. Each class took turns doing the "morning program" where the class would crowd into the office and do a little "broadcast" over the PA system. Apparently my sister's class had the morning program sometime around Thanksgiving. My mom is in her classroom happily listening to her daughter's class doing the morning program when she hears the announcement that Elizabeth is going to sing a Thanksgiving song. At this point mom gets a little curious (actually I think horrified is a better word) because she knows darn well that my sister doesn't KNOW any Thanksgiving songs. Undeterred by this minor detail my sister grabs the mic and starts improvising a Thanksgiving song. Apparently, once she got on a roll she just went with it. Mom doesn't remember how it all ended but it had to be good. To this day my sister 1) still remembers the Thanksgiving song and 2) has taught it to her children. Writing this has helped me understand that there is a larger dynamic at work here. My mom, despite being a teacher, goes out of her way to avoid limelight. My sister seeks it out. The results are the stuff of family legend.
In honor of the season from the Jurassic we have Archaeopteryx, one of the earliest birds we know of. It is, however, a very "good" bird which means there are undoubtedly more "primitive" (hate that terminology) birds out there we haven't found yet. It gets a little tricky because at a point it gets a bit difficult to tell a bird from a dinosaur. Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago calls the dinosaurs the "non-avian" dinosaurs, implying that there are avian dinosaurs out there. Interesting.
1) Miss my test 2) E-mail me some vague "I have a family emergency" excuse 3) E-mail it from an account that, when I respond, just bounces the mail back to me 4) Act like it's my fault for not getting back to you.
Hey, it's my blog it can be any day I want. Seriously, I've got to start dong the Friday fossil on Friday. Problem is I'm not usually in my office on Friday. I could have the Monday fossil but that's not really the same is it. So without further ado: The trilobite Olenellus, index fossil for the lower Cambrian. If you find one of these bad boys you know you're in the Lower Cambrian (about 550 million years ago)
Stainless steel water bottles They'll last forever. And yes I know metals have to be mined and are still resource (in particular petroleum) intensive but it's (probably) better than a plastic bottle that you throw away. That and it's just cool man.
So here we have my nephew Ethan. He just turned 5 he's all about knights and pirates and vikings. Next, astronauts I figure I should start working on something he could actually be when he grows up. Tomorrow: the results (ya'll see this coming right?)
Today we have my niece Grace. At the ripe old age of two she is already expert at wrapping men around her finger. This includes her dad, both grandpa's and of course uncle Paleoprof. She is WAY smarter than me and fortunately looks more like her mom than her uncle. (I, on the other hand, look exactly like one of my uncles)
Stay tuned tomorrow we'll have part two of the cutest child in the world contest. (how EVER will we survive the wait)
Ok I'm a little sick and have a conference coming up. It's not a great conference it's ok I guess but it's not a set the world on fire sort of thing. Do I: a) work through it suck and up and go b) beg out now c) wait and see how I feel tomorrow
AND should I go ahead and get coverage for my classes and take a couple sick days if I don't go?
So why have I been obsessing about Plate Tectonics? I'm a paleontologist in particular I'm an invertebrate paleontologist/paleoecologist. This means that I straddle the fences between Geology and Biology and Ecology. That's a lot of fences but it means that I get to be something of a Natural Historian rather than just a Geologist or whatever. But all my degrees all came from Geology departments and I am at heart a Geologist. Plate Tectonics is the unifying theory of Geology it's what makes everything else make sense. Sort of like Evolution is the unifying theory for Biology and Paleontology, nothing makes sense without it. So I view it as vitally important that I teach PT and teach it well. The problem is that it's complex. It's not hard but it's BIG, and so students have problems with it. As I think about this I realize that while I view it as a unifying theory I don't teach it as such. Maybe I need to back up and think about how to show students how PT takes a bunch of isolated observations and makes sense of them. This would be really good reinforcement for the concepts we talk about when we discuss the method as well. Hmmmmmm
Apparently today is talk like Jar Jar Binks day. I taught a bit more before I cut them loose on the lab today. It seemed to help. They still didn't get it but it was better. We'll see if their quiz grades are any better. I'm considering breaking Plate tectonics down into two labs but I think that's a cop out, they should be able to get it in one.
Ok I worked long and hard on the lab got it done and they just did not get it. They didn't get it because they didn't actually bother to read it. I got lots of questions that were clearly covered in the paragraph above the question, but they didn't bother to read it. AARRGGGHHHH there's gonna be some changes made... (New sheriff.... go to the mattresses.... I'm not gonna hit you, like he** I'm not ..... choose your favorite catchphrase)
So I have been trying for three weeks now to write a lab on Plate Tectonics. PT is a very important concept around here but for some reason all the labs I've seen on it are just terrible. The problem is that there is not really that much you can do to understand it, you just sort or learn it and move on. But since I'm re writing all the labs for a class I'm teaching this semester PT is included. I've got some pretty good ideas about some activities for the students but I swear every time I sit down to do this, something comes up. Be it here or at home. I got here early this morning with the intention of working on it ... no dice, this afternoon a string of students with questions about a quiz they have tomorrow. (the drop date is past, the panic is setting in). So I'm going to go home and have one last stab at this. We'll see if it works.
Well, I got that all important first post out of the way so now on to bigger and better things. I've been thinking about blogging for a while now. I haven't, mostly because I didn't really think I had much to say. I still don't think that I have much to say but that doesn't seem to be stopping most people so here I am. I have to idea what to expect or where this is going but stay tuned it could get interesting.