Can videos make you teacher of the year? Paul Andersen’s Montana science videos

November 25, 2012

There’s a great story here — maybe more than one.

For “Origin of Species Day,” November 24, the anniversary of the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s most famous book, Paul Andersen sent out this Tweet:

Who is Paul Andersen?  He’s Montana’s Teacher of the Year (for what year, I don’t know).  He teaches science in Bozeman, at Bozeman High.

Plus, he’s produced 224 videos, most of them on science issues.  They’re short, they’re informative, and they work.  Salman Khan, not yet — but here’s one more piece of the great big puzzle, how do we marry education and technology.

Where does he offer continuing education for teachers on how to produce videos?  Why isn’t Texas paying big money to him to get him to do that, to teach Texans how to use YouTube to teach?

Andersen’s on the right path, and he’s running hard.  Teachers, are you paying attention?

(By the way, I’d quibble a bit on his history — I think Darwin did a fair deal of experimentation on evolution, breeding pigeons for a decade, among other things.  But Andersen’s use of stickleback evolution is very good; the little fishies have been observed to speciate in the wild, and then to duplicate that speciation in captivity, thereby confirming what was observed out in the lakes.  Thank you sticklebacks!)

Very quickly this gets into serious territory.

Look, I’m an out of the loop teacher in Dallas, Texas — and for all its money and size and importance, Texas is mostly a cultural and educational backwater.   It’s not that there aren’t great people in education here, or no great resources — we are shackled to an ancient political system that puts more value on fealty to not-quite-superordinate ideas than on cutting edge education, or mass educational attainment.  There is a powerful anti-intellectual stream in Texas politics that believes a hobbled education system will not threaten the political, social or cultural order.  Too many Texans take great solace in that, covertly or overtly.

As a nation, we are engaged in a series of great education experiments, using our children as testing subjects, as guinea pigs.  How does video fit into making education work better?

Here we’ve got Paul Andersen and his science videos.

Despite my grousing about his not being in Texas, he is active in national circles where the serious questions get asked about how to use video, and other technologies.

A YouTube Education Summit on October 18 and 19 got Andersen out of Montana, where Andersen ran into C. G. P. Grey, another guy who uses video.

Grey responded with this ode to a “digital Aristotle“:

Links and other information Grey offered:

Some thoughts on teachers, students and the Future of Education.
The book kid me is holding in the video is The Way Things Work. If there’s a bookish child in your life, you should get them a copy:

Also I don’t think that the idea of Digital Aristotle is sci-fi, but if you *do* want to read the sci-fi version, I highly recommend The Diamond Age:

Thanks to YouTube EDU for bringing me out:

And Angela for arranging the whole show:

And Jessica for her amazing note artwork:

Full credits and more info at:…

CGPGrey T-Shirts available from DFTBA:




Andersen replied, questioning how well a digital Aristotle can work, since it takes Aristotle out of the equation:

Links Andersen promised:

Paul Andersen reflects on Digital Aristotle, his trip to the YouTube Edu summit, and the future of education

Digital Aristotle: Thoughts on the Future of Education:

60 Minutes episode on Sal Khan:

Classroom Game Design at TEDxBozeman:

Blended Learning Cycle:

Game on, ladies and gentlemen.  Which one is closer to being right? 

There you go, from evolution, to evolution of teaching and education.  What’s the selection tool for quality education?  Which species of learning will survive to reproduce?

Your thoughts in comments, please.


Happy Origin of Species Day! (November 24)

November 23, 2012

Tomorrow, November 24, 2012, marks the 153rd anniversary of a day that quietly changed all of science, should have changed much of theology, and brought much of the world into the future, though many people don’t know it yet.

It’s a Saturday this year — so let’s be a day early, to get informed and involved the people who don’t check their calendars on the weekends.

On November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s book was published, On the Origin of Species.

Title page, 1859 edition of Darwin's Origin of Species - University of Sydney/Wikimedia image

Title page, 1859 edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species – image from the University of Sydney via Wikimedia image

How to celebrate?  You could read a summary of Ernst Mayr’s shorthand version of Darwin’s theory, and understand it really for the first time  (I hope not the first time, but there are a lot of people who really don’t understand what Darwin said — especially among critics of evolution):

Darwin’s theory of evolution is based on key facts and the inferences drawn from them, which biologist Ernst Mayr summarised as follows:[3]

  • Every species is fertile enough that if all offspring survived to reproduce the population would grow (fact).
  • Despite periodic fluctuations, populations remain roughly the same size (fact).
  • Resources such as food are limited and are relatively stable over time (fact).
  • A struggle for survival ensues (inference).
  • Individuals in a population vary significantly from one another (fact).
  • Much of this variation is inheritable (fact).
  • Individuals less suited to the environment are less likely to survive and less likely to reproduce; individuals more suited to the environment are more likely to survive and more likely to reproduce and leave their inheritable traits to future generations, which produces the process of natural selection (inference).
  • This slowly effected process results in populations changing to adapt to their environments, and ultimately, these variations accumulate over time to form new species (inference).
Darwin's original sketch of a "tree of life," from Darwin's journals

Charles Darwin’s 1837 sketch, his first diagram of an evolutionary tree from his First Notebook on Transmutation of Species (1837) on view at the the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Interpretation of handwriting: “I think case must be that one generation should have as many living as now. To do this and to have as many species in same genus (as is) requires extinction . Thus between A + B the immense gap of relation. C + B the finest gradation. B+D rather greater distinction. Thus genera would be formed. Bearing relation” (next page begins) “to ancient types with several extinct forms.”  Wikimedia image

This is mostly an encore post — hey, it’s a history blog — with tips of the old scrub brush justified to Larry Moran and P. Z. Myers, and especially Eugenie Scott and the National Center for Science Education.



Quote of the moment: Charles Darwin and the tangled bank

March 20, 2010

A tangled bank, near Sandwalk, Darwin's walking path near his home at Downe House - image by GrrlScientist

A tangled bank, near Sandwalk, Darwin's walking path near his home at Downe House - image by GrrlScientist

The final paragraph of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection:

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

150 years ago, a book that changed history: Charles Darwin, Origin of Species

November 25, 2009

150 years ago today Charles Darwin’s “big book,” On the Origin of Species, was first published.  The entire publication run of more than a thousand copies sold out within a few days, making it a certified best-seller of its day.

A rare copy of the first edition, found in the loo of an old house, sold at auction at Christie’s for US$172,000.

Olivia Judson’s already got her day-after blog post up at the New York Times site, talking about a key issue in evolution:  Extinction.  She already blogged on the importance of the Big Book.

And the “Origin” changed everything. Before the “Origin,” the diversity of life could only be catalogued and described; afterwards, it could be explained and understood. Before the “Origin,” species were generally seen as fixed entities, the special creations of a deity; afterwards, they became connected together on a great family tree that stretches back, across billions of years, to the dawn of life. Perhaps most importantly, the “Origin” changed our view of ourselves. It made us as much a part of nature as hummingbirds and bumblebees (or humble-bees, as Darwin called them); we, too, acquired a family tree with a host of remarkable and distinguished ancestors.

The reason the “Origin” was so powerful, compelling and persuasive, the reason Darwin succeeded while his predecessors failed, is that in it he does not just describe how evolution by natural selection works. He presents an enormous body of evidence culled from every field of biology then known. He discusses subjects as diverse as pigeon breeding in Ancient Egypt, the rudimentary eyes of cave fish, the nest-building instincts of honeybees, the evolving size of gooseberries (they’ve been getting bigger), wingless beetles on the island of Madeira and algae in New Zealand. One moment, he’s considering fossil animals like brachiopods (which had hinged shells like clams, but with a different axis of symmetry); the next, he’s discussing the accessibility of nectar in clover flowers to different species of bee.

At the same time, he uses every form of evidence at his disposal: he observes, argues, compares, infers and describes the results of experiments he has read about, or in many cases, personally conducted. For example, one of Darwin’s observations is that the inhabitants of islands resemble — but differ subtly from — those of the nearest continents. So: birds and bushes on islands off the coast of South America resemble South American birds and bushes; islands near Africa are populated by recognizably African forms.

Of course you –you cognescenti, you — know Judson is the wit behind Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, a thoroughly delightful, funny and scientifically accurate book.  Which brings to my mind this question:  Why are scientists, and especially evolutionary scientists, so funny and charming, in stark contrast to the dull proles of creationism?

And, were he not ill at the time, can you imagine what a fantastic dinner guest Charles Darwin himself would be?

Darwin's hand-drawn "tree of life"

Darwin's hand-drawn "tree of life"

Meanwhile, at PBS, NOVA already featured “Darwin’s Darkest Hour” earlier this year.  NOVA research Gaia Remerowski alerts us to a coming production, “What Darwin Never Knew,” featuring progress made in evolutionary development, “evo-devo.”   Science marches on.

Remerowski illustrated her post with Darwin’s quick, hand drawing of a “tree of life,” a drawing that has become iconic in biology circles — like the one to your right.  This one comes from the website of “Speaking of Faith,” another PBS production that featured Darwin earlier this year.  SOF offered an online tour of some of the work of Darwin, too — other drawings from Darwin’s own hand.  Nice exhibit.

Our country’s advocates for good science education, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) carried Origin Day greetings and a rundown of a dozen projects commemorating the 150th year of the book, and the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

Happy Origin Day, indeed.

Anniversary of evolution

December 2, 2008

Almost let one slip by — Larry Moran at Sandwalk remembered it, though, and probably better than I could here.

November 24 was the 149th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s “big book,” On the Origin of Species. If history studies turning points, that’s one date that needs to be remembered.

Even better, David Quammen published a copy of Darwin’s first edition, supplemented with historic illustrations – the layout of the Beagle, some of the plants and animals Darwin saw, the people who went along, and more.  See Moran’s post, check out the book.

David Quammens new version of Darwins Origin of Species, illustrated

David Quammen's new version of Darwin's Origin of Species, illustrated


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