Archive for the ‘student’ tag

Know your numbers

By January 14th, 2013 at 7:44 am | Comment

Do you know your numbers?

Do you just “get” numbers? Or have they always left you a little baffled? Now you can test this observation and quantify your number sense.

Number sense is our “gut knowledge” of numbers’ magnitude, their relationships, and even basic arithmetic. Number sense is thought to be innate, potently present as early as infancy. But while we all have it, we are not made equal. Individuals vary in the accuracy of their number sense. In other words, some people are better at guessing than others. Scientists think that such differences could relate to an individual’s mathematical aptitude.

To explore this further, researchers at John Hopkins University developed a number discrimination test, available for free online. The 10 minute test is straightforward. Yellow and blue dots flash onto a screen and you have to guess if there were more yellow or blue dots. After, the program provides a report of your performance and a comparison to others in your demographic.

Already researchers around the world have used this tool to explore different aspects of and factors relating to number sense. The John Hopkins developers have also created a package for educators that includes instructions for administering the test and guides for data analysis.

Curious to learn more? Test yourself!

Photo: USAF

Citizen Paleontologists Are Making History

By July 28th, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Comment 1

This year's Snowmastodon Project got citizen scientists and researchers working together to uncover a wealth of fossils near Aspen, CO.

This year’s Snowmastodon Project got citizen scientists and researchers working together to uncover a wealth of fossils near Aspen, CO.

During the last Ice Age, mammoths and mastodons roamed Florida. Today, fossil hunters like James Kennedy of Vero Beach, Florida find their bones.

“I’m not a scientist,” said James in a recent interview for National Public Radio. “I just go out and dig up bones good. I’m good at finding them.”

But I’d contend that James is a scientist – a citizen scientist.

Many people collect fossils. I like to think of these fossil hunters as “citizen paleontologists” and they can play important roles in scientific discovery.

For example, one of the bones James collected is more than just a fossil. It’s also prehistoric art. An image of a mammoth is engraved on the bone. Scientists estimate that the engraving was made at least 13,000 years ago. It’s an important clue to how humans lived at the time.

Several research projects are combining the skills and interests of citizen paleontologists with those of scientists in order to help us understand more about earth’s history and evolution.  Here are a few examples of projects that are getting citizens and researchers working together and leading to scientific discoveries.

The Snowmastodon Project:

This summer, high in the Rocky Mountains, not far from the town of Aspen, Colorado, local teachers and college students worked side-by-side dozens of scientists and museum staff to uncover a multitude of fossils of Ice Age animals like mastodons out of the rock. The project scientists got much needed help with the dig. The volunteers got real‐world experience with the science happening right in their own backyard.

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The first class of Citizen Scientists: Student perspective

By April 5th, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Comment

Dr. Stephanie Stockwell helps a student learn about the structure of viruses (i.e., their protein coat) through an origami activity.

Dr. Stephanie Stockwell helps a student learn about the structure of viruses (i.e., their protein coat) through an origami activity.

A few weeks back, I had an opportunity to speak with faculty at Bard College about the school’s new Citizen Science program. This week, I’ve got the inside scoop from the freshmen who took part in the intensive three-week course.

Four students in Dr. Kate Seip’s section of the course were kind enough to share some of their experiences via email. These students cited the professors’ emphasis on practical, real-world application of science knowledge, and their ability to foster in-class discussion as being instrumental for helping them understand the importance of these issues.

Cindy, a budding psychology/neuroscience major, said that Seip and the Citizen Science course have solidified her interest in neuroscience. Though she initially had reservations about spending three more weeks at Bard College during the winter, Cindy maintained an open mind. Indeed, the lack of specific course credit (or grades) seemed to “foster students’ independent quest for knowledge regarding infectious disease and science as a whole.” Her favorite aspect of the course was the laboratory rotation in which students extracted DNA, collected and grew bacteria, and learned about bacteria resistance. Getting up at 8:30am wasn’t even so bad (icy pathways and skin-cracking wind notwithstanding!).

Johannah, a psychology major and cognitive science minor, particularly enjoyed hearing about Seip’s background and why she chose to pursue scientific study. Along with other students, Johannah participated in outreach efforts in local elementary schools as part of the civic engagement portion of the course. In one outreach event, she and others made oobleck with the students.

James, a biology major, thought that the Citizen Science program included “an appropriate balance of lab work, computer modeling, and lectures/information sessions.” He felt that he “lucked out” by being assigned to Seip’s class, as she was “dedicated to the subject material and the program, while being relatively laid back.”

Though James felt that the Citizen Science course could have challenged the students a bit more, he found the lab work was particularly exiting because it was “the most interactive and hands-on part of the program, and it was just an all around fun experience.”

“[Dr. Seip] was dedicated to and passionate about her field, [which] inspired the rest of us to dedicate ourselves to the program. None of the material we studied was dry or boring, and it was easy to see the real-world significance in what we read,” James said.

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