On overcoming writer’s block

This is a cinder block.

This is a cinder block.

The setting is your office. You’re bathed in the dull glow of your computer screen, staring at a blank page in Word, trying to write a paper.



The cursor is watching you, mocking you, laughing at your inability to get words out.



Your mind locks up as you wonder “what do I have to say?” The more you try to force out words, the harder it becomes, and eventually the frustration leads to you sitting there, at your desk with your head in your hands, wondering how you’ll ever finish.


You then Google “how to overcome writers block” and end up on this post.

The official name for this is the "? block"

The official name for this is the “? block”

Writer’s block is a tough thing to deal with, but one we’ll all have to tackle at some point – either at the start of our training while we’re writing outlines and proposals, at the end when we’re writing up manuscripts and theses, or afterwards, as we’re working on papers and other documents. As science communicators, the toughest part is often figuring out exactly how to begin, and how to frame the core message that we want to get across – a process that can be incredibly frustrating. So the question becomes, how do you deal with it?

Now, I’m going to state the obvious here, but it’s a necessary point: The hardest part of writing is starting to write. Once you start though, it becomes infinitely easier to get content out onto the page. To help you kick start your writing process, I’m going to give you a few tips, and as always, I’d love to hear what you do to overcome writers block when it hits in the comments.

1) Isolate yourself. Remove all distractions – phone, coworkers, cats, get rid of it all. You want to be able to focus exclusively on writing. The fact is that if you have an easy out, you’re more likely to take it, i.e. “I’m stuck, I wonder if anything has changed on Facebook in the past 3 minutes? And this Buzzfeed article seems great, and look at what this cat is doing…” It’s tough to start writing, and removing distractions means you’ll struggle through those tough parts rather than put it off and do something else. You need to power through this part.

2) Talk it out. This one sounds strange, but is one of my favourites and has been hugely effective for me. Occasionally, I’ll close my office door, stand up, and pretend I’m giving a talk about whatever it is I’m writing about. Now only does this get you thinking about the topic at hand, but without the intimidation of the cursor and blank word document staring at you, it is easier to just get your ideas out. Be organic: stand up, pace back and forth, talk like you normally would, and don’t focus on the minutia of your project. Talk about the broad strokes and the flow of your arguments, and see if they helps you over the initial hurdle.

Alternative: Grab a coworker, go for coffee, and outline your paper/idea to them. Tell them their job is not to have a conversation with you – their job is to ask questions and prod you when you get stuck, and help you jump start your writing. Obviously, you owe them coffee/donut(s) for listening to you :)


Tupac Shakur released a song called “My Block” (click to listen)

3) Write an outline. For those who don’t like talking things out, this is an effective alternative. Sketch down the key points you want to make in each paragraph, and write as much information about each paragraph as you can without losing momentum. Even if you do talk it out, this is a good way to conceptualize your work. By the end, you should have something like this:

Paragraph 1: Open with a scene about writers block
Paragraph 2: Describe writers block, transition into list
Paragraph 3: Start outlining key points

This is an engine block.

This is an engine block.

4) Start writing. Don’t think about grammar, phrasing, punctuation or language rules. Just get words out. Ignore word choices, ignore making things sound “professional.” Just get those ideas out and onto the page. At this point you want to have something out there to look at and critique, and hopefully, if you followed steps 1 through 3, you’ve got a few ideas up your sleeve now. Remember: the ideas don’t have to flow. You can write two distinct paragraphs, making two very different points, and that’s fine. You can go back later and fine tune things. Again, all you’re trying to do here is get something out onto the page that you can work with.

5) Do something else. Up until this point, I’ve talked about isolating yourself and focusing on writing. Here, I’m going to suggest leaving it, but with one caveat. Go and do something else that gets you moving, but not something that engages you entirely – something like cooking, cleaning, going for a run, lifting weights etc. Something that allows you to get yourself up, but without taking your full attention. There’s a reason why we have our best ideas in the shower, and turns out it’s because of the combination of 1) the release of dopamine, 2) being relaxed, and 3) being distracted enough that your subconscious can engage and work on a problem, results in you being more creative (science here)


Dikembe Mutumbo was famous for his ability to block

Before you know it, you’ve got an outline, some body text and a fleshed out idea of what you want to say, and that’s half the battle right there. After you’ve got a skeleton to work with, it becomes a lot easier to start writing, and begin building your arguments.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

This post originally appeared on MrEpidemiology.com

Category: Higher Ed, Informal Science Education, Public understanding of science, Science communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Snakes in a Classroom

snakes in a classroom


“Mr. Romano, I finished my work can I go get a snake?”

This often asked question by my students is the reason I became a teacher. More so, I have discovered that snakes can be an unbelievable teaching tool in the classroom. Lessons from Mendelian genetics to evolutionary adaptations reside in the cylindrical body of one of the most misunderstood animals on the planet.  I have been keeping snakes in my classroom for well over a decade. I keep a variety of species from my first boa I got at the age of 16 to an Eastern Indigo, a fascinating and protected species of snake.

The biggest reason I keep snakes in the classroom is not just for my enjoyment. I keep many at home as well. The reason is that snakes have the ability to instill confidence. Snakes, like bugs, come with a stigma. A fear that is so deeply rooted in some it is believed to be innate. I have had many students complain about the snakes in my classroom when they first enter my class. The complaints are generally about the inability to focus because they are nervous, but my favorite snake complaint so far in my teaching career was when a student raised his hand and said “Mr. Romano, that snakes keeps looking at me.”

The students may enter the year uncomfortable with the room, but daily exposure to snakes  in a controlled environment soon turns that fear into comfort, and comfort soon becomes curiosity.  Watching the body language of a student change as they hold a snake for the first time is what teaching is all about. Timid, stiff, and shaky when its first put into their hand. Then as the snake calmly moves around and they realize they are actually holding a snake they fight an urge to smile, stand a little taller, and in today’s current age of technology say “Can you take a picture with my phone”.

This is the real essence of teaching science, to develop curiosity and confidence in the student.  This combination provides the foundation for education, especially science education. The drive for inquiry is only as strong as the person’s ability to deal with setbacks. Students are going to face obstacles in both their education and their life. I know my students will face adversity in their pursuit of science in higher education. I may not be able to bring  equality to the world, but I can bring out the confidence in a teenager so they can overcome the inequalities and succeed.

Enter the serpent.

I have been keeping a variety of snakes in my classroom for over a decade. Each student is exposed to the snakes within their own comfort level. Minimally they see the snakes in the cages in the room, and at the other end of the spectrum they will participate in holding and feeding the snakes.  Regardless of where they start, all the students end up shifting forward on the spectrum. Those that were only comfortable viewing them from across the room eventually view them from in front of the cage. Those who were comfortable watching someone hold them eventually end up holding one themselves.

The ultimate reward for me came when one of my students decided to start a reptile club for other students. Saniyyah is a senior and has worked with me for a few years. This year she has gained enough knowledge to work with the snakes unsupervised.

Saniyyah attended Science Online Teen and was in a session about Women in Science being moderated by Hilda Bastian. Hilda asked the students to write something positive someone has said to you on a notecard. I was not in this session, but through the power of twitter I was able to see her response.


There is grandeur in this style of teaching, that from so simple a form as a snake, endless lessons most inspiring and wonderful have been, and are being learned.

Oh, a snake’s ability to instill confidence is not limited to just students, it works on Phd possessing PLoS Sci-Ed bloggers as well.

Sci-Ed blogger Cristina Russo holds her first snake, A green tree python. Her smile says it all.

Sci-Ed blogger Cristina Russo holds her first snake, A green tree python. Her smile says it all.

Next week I will lay out the simple task of acquiring and caring for one of the most misunderstood animals on the planet.


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Kids ask, scientists answer!

When I was a child I suffered with this puzzling question: if my dreams feel so real, how do I know that life itself is real?

I was not a unique child – many others have the same question. It was only much later, when I was already in college that I came across some of Kant’s and Schopenhauer’s philosophical concepts of defining reality. Curious child Evie, however, already got her answer to this same question at 5 years of age:

“Often wdoes my goldfish know who I ame have dreams and they feel so real that we might wonder whether we’re dreaming right now too. It feels like you’re wide awake now, but doesn’t it feel like you’re wide awake in dreams too? How on Earth can you tell the difference? Maybe you’ll wake up in a moment and realize you weren’t reading this book — because it never existed!

 Well, at least you know you’re probably real. Because even if you were having a dream right now, there would have to be a you somewhere who was having that dream about yourself. But before your head starts spinning too fast, here’s the important thought. We only ever really know about the stuff we see and hear and feel, and that’s only a tiny part of what’s around us. (For example, you can’t see what’s happening in the next room, or in someone else’s head.) We can only guess at what’s real from the little bit we know about — and often we get it very wrong. … So even though you’re probably not dreaming, it’s worth remembering that you’re only aware of a small part of what’s real, too.”

That’s how invited guest Derren Brown answered to a kid’s question on the book Does my Goldfish Knows who I am? Big Questions and Instant Answers. Editor Gemma Elwin Harris compiled several kid questions and sought scientists, writers, philosophers and many others to answer them. Other questions include: why do we cry; how does our brain store so much information; whether the universe has an edge; or – my favorite –if animals have accents:

“Different breeds of dog may have different kinds of bark, and you may even be able to recognize an individual dog’s bark just as you can an individual person’s voice. But a dog’s bark does not depend on where it grew up and who its friends are or where it went to school — which are the main things that determine your accent or mine.”   

Answers like those are not just lovely, but a great way to enchant audiences – I’d even risk say they work for any age, not only for children. Going through the answers might help us – science educators and communicators – with our goal of communicating with clarity and ease.

Finally, I should thank wonderful cartoonist and illustrator Samanta Floor, who first pointed me to the book.  Along with the link, she sent me the comment:  “it reminds me of you answering science questions”.  You just made my day, Samanta, you just made my day.

Samanta Floor scientist and dog

Artist Samanta Floor also illustrates scientists and their dogs.

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Backyard Science: Promoting Curiosity and Enthusiasm for the Natural World

Today, Sci-Ed is happy to welcome Amanda Tracey to the blog to discuss how to promote the natural world to children. For more about Amanda, see the end of this post.

I know for a fact I was a self-proclaimed evolutionist before I turned 5. It seems like it gets harder and harder to find kids, teenagers, or even post-secondary students who are genuinely interested in and intrigued by science. It’s especially hard for me to process this because as a kid, I always loved science. My Dad studied geology in University and I’ll admit, that probably influenced my love of science. I was fortunate to grow up with a scientist parent, but many kids lack science mentors and therefore need to be shown how cool science is. The best way to do that (and the way that I was shown as a youngster) was in my very own backyard.

Most kids and young people probably love science – they just don’t know it yet. It’s not a secret that kids today, on average, get little exposure to nature and as a result, have little appreciation for nature as well. For many, science is just a subject that is taught in school and for the most part it is not made accessible to them. The connections between science and both the real world and their own lives are missing. If we could find a way to bridge this gap early on, by simply getting kids thinking about science, what they see and how it fits into their lives, it could really have an impact (albeit they won’t all be baby Darwins)!

So how does one fulfill this goal? I have a few of my own childhood experiences to share or activities I have tried with groups of kids while both teaching and volunteering over the years that might help us do just that.

1) Field guide books are a kid’s best friend. I remember learning what “pineapple weed” was as a child, a common weed that actually smells like pineapple. I think I showed that plant to every friend I ever had and I still show my friends today.These books not only help you appreciate the natural diversity of the earth, but also function like a game. You have a specimen in your hand, let’s say a plant perhaps. You have the book in front of you, and you know the specimen’s identity is in that book, you just have to deduce what it is. Using sight, touch and even sometimes smell, kids are able to assess the plants appearance critically, with strict attention to detail and classify it under certain categories. The keys in most basic field guides are easy to use, and forgiving if you take a wrong turn. These guides aren’t just for plants either. There are great field guides for fungi, birds, mammals, insects, rocks and lots of other things!

2) The way to a kid’s heart is through their stomach! Take them foraging- it’s a no-cost activity and it’s one of the neatest experiences for children and adults alike. Most libraries have copies of various books about foraging wild plants, take one out and go to town. I would personally recommend The Weeder’s Digest and Edible & Medicinal Plants of Canada.  Dig up some wild carrots and onions to cook a hearty stew. Rip off some dandelion and chicory leaves for a nice salad. Venture to the forest edge and pick some luscious wild blackberries and raspberries. Foraging teaches kids about plants, helps them understand why they are useful and appreciate their diversity.

3) Go lie on your lawn. This is something I did a lot as a kid. The neighbours might look at you funny, but it is well worth it. Just lie on your stomach, look closely and be patient. Within a few minutes you’ll see movement. Ants and other insects will start moving and working around you. Fungi and moss litter the soil below the grass. It’s a whole different world down there, one most kids don’t know about. Doing this gets kids thinking about life from the perspective of other organisms. The world doesn’t look the same to everyone!

4) Get a pair of binoculars. This is something I didn’t do until recently and can only imagine how it would have changed my life if I did it earlier. Birds are amazing. The diversity of birds in this world is unlike anything else. Watch and listen to them. Identify them, observe their behaviours, and watch them interact with other birds. Once a kid gets an appreciation for how incredible a bird really is it will get them thinking about how they fly, where they go in the winter, etc. I recently took a field trip and showed a 6-year old girl a duck flying through my binoculars. It landed pretty close to us and we looked at it for a while. Then she started asking about why there were “balls of water” on its feathers and whether or not it gets cold at night. Just simply showing her the bird got her thinking critically about the duck, being curious and asking questions she wouldn’t normally ask.

5) Plant a wildflower garden. At most nurseries you can get wildflower mixes. It’s always rewarding for kids to watch something grow from seed and to nourish it themselves along the way. This also gets kids familiar with the lifecycle of plants, how they grow and what the requirements for growth are. Once the plants are mature, use a trusty field guide to ID the species! I have done this project with a few groups of young kids and they all really loved and appreciated it. In fact, we ended up harvesting the seeds and creating our own wildflower packets for their friends!

The activities above promote curiosity and enthusiasm for scientific inquiry. It gets kids outside and moving in the fresh air. It shows them the importance of appreciating and respecting the earth. After all, there’s a lot more to it than they may have thought!

About Amanda

Follow @am_tracey on Twitter for more information!

Follow @am_tracey on Twitter for more information!

Amanda Tracey is a second year PhD student in the Department of Biology at Queen’s University. She is broadly interested in ecology, with specific interests in plant community ecology and evolutionary biology. Her current research addresses the implications of plant species body size for abundance, reproduction and recruitment. Amanda can be contacted at amanda.tracey@queensu.ca and on Twitter @am_tracey

Category: Guest Posts, Higher Ed, Informal Science Education, Open science, Public understanding of science, Science teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A medical drama in the classroom

Charlie Metcalf arrives at the emergency room suffering symptoms of cirrhosis. His prognosis quickly deteriorates and in less than one hour, Metcalf faces a procedure with very low chance of success. His best prospects, if surviving the procedure, would be to hope for a liver transplant. His doctor, however, warns: it is very unlikely for an alcoholic patient to receive a liver transplant.

The patient above is fictional, and is the focus of episode “Time of Death” of the medical drama ER. The story is emotional and powerful, and casts a strong impression on viewers. This is one of the reasons why Dr. Cynthia Wichelman, professor at Washington University in Saint Louis, shows this particular episode to the 1st year med students on her Emergency Medicine class.

ER episode "Time of Death" stars Ray Liotta as Charlie Metcalf. NBC Universal / USA Today.

ER episode “Time of Death” stars Ray Liotta as Charlie Metcalf. NBC Universal / USA Today.

Dr. Cynthia Wichelman has been teaching medicine for 17 years. Recently, she took on a new approach supported by multimedia components such as TV and online short films. I asked her on the phone what motivated her to pursue that approach: are students different now? “I do see a difference, I really do”, she says, “and it’s because back in the early 2000’s, students were not on the internet. Now, I would say that we compete for their time.” Unsurprisingly, taped lectures and powerpoint presentations won’t do it anymore. To capture the attention of a demographic with dwindling attention span, Dr. Wichelman uses storytelling, case presentation and drama.

Engage and Capture Attention

TV shows such as ER, Grey’s Anatomy, or House are clearly-labeled fictional shows created to entertain. Still, they have the power to influence many. One study found that over 80% of med and nursing students watch (and are influenced by) medical dramas; other study inferred that most patients are educated about CPR via medical shows; while another believed ER helped the public become more informed about teen obesity.

The TV shows, although relevant, are far from being a precise depiction of medicine. The storylines carry inaccuracies (for example, most patients treated with CPR are young and suffered an acute trauma, as opposed to elderly patients with chronic cardiac conditions), exaggeration (in fiction, 75% of those patients survive, in contrast to 40% in the medical literature), and even absurdities (such as lungs in a box –oh wait, that one was real).

So, shows are inaccurate and both the public and early med students are buying it. Should we be concerned?

Not really, says anesthesiologist and former professor Dr. Silvana Russo (disclaimer: sister of the author). Older students, she tells, are able to pinpoint inaccuracies once they have completed a certain amount of clinical hours. Dr. Russo believes that the TV shows are invaluable tools to reach younger, inexperienced (and perhaps more easily distracted) medical students.

When she taught 1st year medical students, Dr. Russo showed movie clips where characters suffered heart attack (and later were revived by CPR). She then paused the film mid-action, while asking the class to evaluate: what’s wrong with this scene? “Find the error” was the hook used to get students engaged with the material.

Depict memorable scenarios

Back to the Emergency Medicine class, Dr. Wichelman’s aim went beyond capturing the student’s attention. She believes using a patient story (real or fictional) is a memorable way to start a lecture. In that particular ER episode, Ray Liotta’s character Charlie Metcalf explains how he resorted to “pruno”, or prison wine (a concoction that involves fruit peels, a sock, and toilet water). By watching Metcalf’s drama unfold, the young medical students learn about addict’s desperate behaviors, which is an important part of treating such patients.

The point of showing TV clips is to capitalize on the drama. For Professor Deana Midmer, “many commercial videos have highly dramatic and graphic content and are often very powerful in their depiction of the behaviors and thought processes of the movie’s characters.”

Also, Dr. Wichelman’s goal was to expose students to the pacing of an emergency room, difficult patients, emotional complications, and ethical scenarios. It helps set the stage for the clinical realities the med students are about to face.

Finally, it exposes the students to other life circumstances that they never (and perhaps never will) face. For Kevin Goodman, “[medical] dramas allow medical students to engage at an intellectual and emotional level with other people’s experiences of socially significant health issues such as poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, and chronic and critical illness, to name a few. They mine social attitudes regarding race, class, sex, gender and ethnicity, as rich sources of dramatic conflict, and in doing so broaden the definition of health and illness to include its many social determinants.”

Tony soprano sees a psychiatrist. HBO / ABC news

Bringing clips to your med class

Start by choosing your clips. The literature is packed with examples. In one psychiatry class, instructors used clips from ER that portray patients symptomatic of histrionic, antisocial, borderline, and narcissistic personality disorders. They also used ER clips to illustrate how to break bad news to patients (in this case the instructors used portrayals of a terminal geriatric patients, young patients with cancer, or HIV-positive young adult male). Prof. Timothy Hall (pdf), in his mental health law seminar, uses clips from TV shows such as The Sopranos (where mob boss Tony Soprano seeks psychiatry treatment for panic attacks) and a long list of films. Prof. Midmer has another list of films, as well as a few guidelines: make that clip short, and follow up with a group discussion. In the non-fiction realm, Dr. Wichelman also uses procedure videos and patient testimonials that she finds on Youtube or other sources (one example of a source is Medtube).

Above all, the use of film and TV clips in class creates a memorable, lasting impression on the future of doctors. “It is a classic teaching method in medicine”, Dr. Russo says, “the student doesn’t forget a case they see actually portrayed, as opposed to just reading about the case in a textbook.”


  • Matthew J. Czarny, Ruth R. Faden, Marie T. Nolan, Edwin Bodensiek, and Jeremy Sugarman. Medical and Nursing Students’ Television Viewing Habits: Potential Implications for Bioethics. Am J Bioeth. 2008 December; 8(12): 1–8. doi:  10.1080/15265160802559153
  • Diem SJ, Lantos JD, Tulsky JA. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation on television. Miracles and misinformation. N Engl J Med.1996;334:1578-1582.

  • Goodman, Kevin. Imagining doctors: medical students and the TV medical drama. Virtual Mentor – American Medical Association Journal of Ethics. March 2007, Volume 9, Number 3:182-187.

  • McNeilly DP, Wengel SP. The “ER” seminar: teaching psychotherapeutic techniques to medical students. Acad Psychiatry. 2001;25:193-200.


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Strategies for Hearing Impaired Students, Educators, and Colleagues and The Bigger Picture

Today, Sci-Ed is happy to welcome Rachel Wayne to the blog to discuss hearing impairment in higher education, and this is her third post on the topic (for the first post, click here, and her second post is available here). For more about Rachel, see the end of this post.

One of the biggest frustrations facing students with disability (or those with disability in general), I think, concerns our lack of familiarity within society as a whole with respect to the needs of individuals with disability. This isn’t taught in schools and some of us just simply are never exposed to the experiences that require us to educate ourselves about disabilities. Even worse, the general sentiment often seems that we may be afraid to even approach such individuals for fear of not knowing how to conduct ourselves or for fear of offending someone. The recommendations and suggestions below for communicating with hearing impaired individuals are by no means comprehensive, but they are a good place to start. Although they are written specifically with the educational system in mind, they are by no means circumscribed to a single context (I also encourage you to read Parts I and II before moving on).

Advice to Other Students and Colleagues
Remember that hearing impaired individuals need to see your lips. Always face them when you are speaking and ensure your lips are visible. Do not shout. Do not over enunciate. Be prepared to have to repeat yourself here and there. Remember that saying “Oh, don’t worry, it’s not important” can be considered rude or offensive; if it was important enough to say the first time, then it’s important enough to repeat. Not doing so may unintentionally make the individual feel left out or excluded. When possible, get the individual’s attention first; it’s the polite thing to do. In public, choose a place with adequate lighting and minimal background noise. In large groups, ask the individual where they would prefer to sit; I usually like to sit in the middle of a large table where possible so that I can see everyone. Please don’t ask us to turn up our hearing aids or suggest that we turn up the volume (reading Part I will help you understand why this may appear offensive). When going to the movies, be flexible to theatres and movies for which personalized closed captioning (e.g., CaptiView) is available (Atif Note: This information is often listed on their website). Most importantly, be curious and don’t hesitate to seek feedback on how you’re doing!


This is an example of CaptiView, which plugs into your cup holder, and provides subtitles (click link to learn more)

Advice to Hearing-Impaired Students
Accommodations are useful, but individual needs will vary. Some of these accommodations will be self-driven, such as sitting in the front of the classroom, or familiarization with the material beforehand where possible in order to facilitate comprehension. However, other accommodations require registration with campus disability services, and I do strongly recommend that individuals register as soon as possible to ensure that services can be supplied as soon as they are needed). Such accommodations might include note-takers, assistive listening devices (such as an FM system- the professor wears a microphone that transmits the sound directly to the student’s hearing aid, or transcriptions. I also recommend that students introduce themselves to the professors during the first week of class so that they know who you are, and be specific in telling them exactly what you need from them. It might help to write this down in a list or by email to ensure you’ve covered all of your bases. If you are shy, this medium can be helpful too, but remember that it is the responsibility of Disability Services to ensure that your needs are met.

The lady on the right is wearing an FM system and the one on the left is wearing “boots” on her hearing aid

The lady on the right is wearing an FM system and the one on the left is wearing “boots” on her hearing aid | Click link to go to Phonak website

One strategy I have used in the clinic is to mention my hearing impairment to clients as soon as I meet them. I let them know that I need to see their lips when they speak and that I may ask them to repeat themselves, and that this doesn’t mean I wasn’t paying attention. I will then give them the opportunity to have questions, if needed. This is a good educational opportunity for others, and it also gets any confusion out of the way. Excerpts from this also lend themselves easily to other professional (and even colloquial) introductions.

Advice to Professors or Teaching Assistants of Hearing Impaired Students
Ensure that you are facing the student wherever possible. If you write on the board, minimize the amount of information that you speak while your back is to the class. Avoid walking around the room where the student cannot see you. Repeat questions spoken by other individuals in the class, especially in large classrooms. Ensure that you provide subtitles or transcriptions for all videos shown in the classroom (even if they are non-essential!). The student may ask you to wear an FM system, so you may need to wear a microphone or a small device around your neck. Online lectures or Skype calls will require additional support, likely through real-time transcription.

If you are a conference organizer, please consider providing an audiovisual projection of the speaker onto a large screen if you are using a big room. This is helpful to everyone, especially when you have various accents in the room!

Advice to Educators and Clinical supervisors
You will need to discuss with the student what kind of accommodations they need. However, you need to be aware that the student may not necessarily know what they need, or in my case, how much help they actually do need. Use a recorder to verify a client’s responses on an assessment. Importantly, remember that this may be a touchy issue for your student. He or she will appreciate sensitivity and compassion in your approach (as I certainly did).

The Burden of Advocacy, and the Bigger Picture
Everyone has different ways of dealing with their disability. But the good news is that people are generally receptive to feedback and input. In one example, my Master’s defense involved all four faculty members on my committee being as spread out in the large boardroom as could be, and I knew that this wasn’t going to work for me when I was faced with a similar situation for my oral comprehensive examination. This time, I asked all the faculty members and evaluators to sit closer so that I could read their lips, which was a seemingly terrifying thing to do since they were all there to evaluate me. Not only did this relieve a lot of the added intellectual challenges (and eye strain from trying to lip-read at a distance), in their feedback the evaluators actually expressed that they were impressed about my self-awareness. I still struggle with self-advocacy, however, such as when I ask the clinical department to keep the lights on during a PowerPoint presentation so I can see the speaker’s lips, but I’m getting better at it.

Nevertheless, advocacy is a social and moral issue. The unfortunate reality is that post-secondary education is generally not kind to individuals with disabilities. Such individuals often have to work harder than their peers to compensate for their added difficulties and achieve the same level of performance. As I have discussed, the process of obtaining accommodations may not be seamless, and challenges can act as both physical and psychological barriers to education. I hope that my experiences resonate and I hope that they will contribute to making post-secondary education more accessible to all.

But let’s be clear here: the problem is bigger than this; the challenges don’t stop once students leave the post-secondary institution and enter the workforce. I’ve been transparent in discussing the ways that my personal beliefs about my disability may have perpetuated my social and educational exclusion. However, I’ve begun to think more critically about the ways in which society shapes and reinforces implicit beliefs and stereotypes about individuals with disabilities. In turn, these promote an unspoken culture of shame and personal narratives of exclusion. Thus, the issue isn’t necessarily what is said about disabilities, but rather, what remains unsaid.

Generally speaking, individuals with disabilities have to speak up on their own behalf for accommodations and resources for integration. Consequently, this places the onus squarely on the shoulders of those who are most vulnerable. Social pressures and the desire for conformity often take precedence over individual needs, especially when individuals may have difficulty articulating them in the first place owing to shyness or fear of discrimination.

As educators and students, and as members of society in general, we will feel a diffused sense of responsibility. However, each of us needs to contribute our share to help fill in these gaps of silence. We must open ourselves to these difficult conversations about disability. We must negotiate an equitable place for disabled individuals within our society, and by extension, within the educational system.

Often, the amount of concern we have for an issue is directly proportional to the degree to which it affects us personally. However, I implore you to consider impact of the growing prevalence of age-related hearing loss in a society in which we are living longer than ever. Take a look at your parents or your grandparents, and you will see that this is an issue from which no one is immune.

I don’t know what the solution is, but every instance that we don’t speak up perpetuates the silence. Until disability awareness is taught in schools, until it becomes part of a wider discussion, then we must step up, one student, one individual at a time. For if we don’t, then who will?

About Rachel

Rachel Wayne is a PhD student in the Clinical Psychology program at Queen’s University. Her research focuses on understanding ways in which we use environmental cues, context, and lip-reading to support conversational speech, particularly in noisy environments. The goal of this research is to provide a foundational basis for empirically supported rehabilitative programs for hearing-impaired individuals. Rachel can be contacted at 8rw16[at]queensu.ca

Category: Equity in science education, Higher Ed, Public understanding of science, Science communication, Science teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Biggest Sci-Ed Stories of 2013

As 2013 comes to an end, it’s a time for reflection and thought about the last year, and look towards to the future. 2013 was quite the year in science, with impressive discoveries and wide reaching events. I’ve selected my five favourite science stories below, but I welcome your thoughts and would love to hear your thoughts on the top science stories of 2013.

GoldieBlox and Diversity in Science
This isn’t a new issue by any stretch, but it is one of the most important issues facing science (and higher education in general). Diversity in science is essential for a number of reasons, but perhaps most importantly, it gives us different perspectives on problems, and thus, new and novel solutions. Within the scientific establishment, there have been many stories about discrimination and inappropriate conduct (see SciCurious’ excellent series of posts on the matter, including posts by friends of the blog @RimRK and @AmasianV), and, unfortunately there are no easy solutions.

Perhaps the biggest diversity-related story this year was GoldieBlox. While initially this started as a media darling (who didn’t love the video?), further examination revealed deep-set problems in how they chose to approach the issue of gender representation in STEM disciplines.

There is a lot of change required to reach equality in science careers and to ensure that people are judged and given opportunities based on their work, not their privilege. Lets hope that in 2014 we can start the ball rolling on that change.

Fracking and Energy
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” is a way by which natural gas is extracted from shale or coal beds deep in the ground. This is done by pumping millions of gallons of pressurized, chemically-treated water into the ground, which breaks up the rocks and allows the gas to escape and be collected at the surface. There are large deposits of gas stored in this manner throughout the Northeastern United States and Easten/Atlantic Canada, and, as you can imagine, the economic incentives to extract this gas are huge. In fact, the Hon. Craig Leonard, Minister of Energy and Mines in New Brunswick said:

Based on U.S. Department of Energy statistics, 15 trillion cubic feet of gas is enough to heat every home in New Brunswick for the next 630 years.

Or if used to generate electricity, it could supply all of New Brunswick’s residential, commercial and industrial needs for over 100 years.

In other words, it has the potential to provide a significant competitive advantage to our province.

These economic benefits, however, have to be considered along with potential risks that come along with pumping gallons of water into the ground. The most apparent is how fracking requires an excessive amount of water, which could negatively impact other industries. In addition, this treated water could potentially open cracks into underground water supplies, contaminating our drinking water supply. Finally, what do we do with this water once it’s been used – how do we dispose of it safely and efficiently? These are all concerns that need to be addressed, along with other environmental issues that may arise. There’s no doubt that we need to plan for energy independence, and a way to revitalize your economy is a benefit no politician (or citizen) would like to pass up. However, we have to think long term and plan for the future.

Typhoon Haiyan and Global Warming
Typhoon Haiyan was one of the most powerful tropical storms on record, killing an estimated 6,111 people in the Philippines alone and doing over USD$1.5 billion in damage. Currently, over 4.4 million are homeless – which is almost the population of the Phoenix metro area (4.3 million from their 2010 Census), or the entire population of New Zealand (4.2 million from their 2013 Census). While the immediate threat has passed, there are now other problems arising. Many of the victims remain unburied, and sanitation remains an important concern to prevent outbreaks of cholera, dysentery and other communicable diseases.

Typhoon Haiyan highlights what we can expect with global warming. While the general understanding is that global warming will simply lead to warmer temperatures, that is not entirely true. A “side effect” suggests that we are more likely to see extreme weather events, which include typhoons and tropical storms.

Politics impacting Science and the US Sequester
The US sequester had long reaching implications for federal scientists. For those who rely on seasonal fieldwork, this could have eliminated a full year of research, while those who were reliant on grants being submitted for this season had to reschedule research priorities. However, the effects aren’t limited to this calendar year. From this article in The Atlantic:

It’s not yet clear how much funding the National Labs will lose, but it will total tens of millions of dollars. Interrupting — or worse, halting — basic research in the physical, biological, and computational sciences would be devastating, both for science and for the many U.S. industries that rely on our national laboratory system to power their research and development efforts.

Instead, this drop in funding will force us to cancel all new programs and research initiatives, probably for at least two years. This sudden halt on new starts will freeze American science in place while the rest of the world races forward, and it will knock a generation of young scientists off their stride, ultimately costing billions in missed future opportunities.

It remains to be seen how the effects of the sequester play out. How long the effects last, and whether the US research industry simply stumbles or falls down, are still up in the air.

Commander Chris Hadfield and Science Communication
It’s no secret that I think Chris Hadfield is an amazing science communicator. His videos in space, the way he engaged with youth, and his approach to science in a “this is awesome” sense captured the imagination of the world while he was up in the International Space Station. His personality and enthusiasm for science continued once he landed back on Earth, and he recently released his first book. When it comes to issues around communicating science, one that I feel quite strongly about is that we need more science communicators. We have a few – Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and such. But we need others, and Chris Hadfield helps show the breadth of scientific discovery, and his personality and enthusiasm for science make him a great ambassador for science to young and old alike.


Finally, us at PLOS Sci-Ed are now celebrating our first birthday. Since we launched last year, we’ve had over 180,000 visits and hope to continue growing in the future. A sincere thank you to the PLOS blogs community manager Victoria Costello for her constant support, and finally, a heart felt thank you to all our readers. We hope you continue to comment and share our work with your networks.

So these are my choices for the biggest science stories of 2013. What are yours?

Finally, if you enjoyed this post, consider reading The Biggest Public Health Stories of 2013, over on PLOS Public Health Perspectives!

Category: Equity in science education, Higher Ed, Informal Science Education, Public understanding of science, Science communication, Science teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

X-Mas Men: When Science Teachers Host A Holiday Assembly

Many schools have holiday assemblies that involve singing, historical portrayals, plays, which are usually run by the drama department. But what happens when the science department takes over? Or specifically when two high school science teachers run the show?

X-Mas Men!

Our school is a private boarding school that grants scholarships to students from a limited means background. We have a Lower School (1st – 6th) and an Upper School (7th-12th). The assembly began a few years ago when we were trying to to make sure our students would have a good holiday. Because of the nature of our school’s admissions policy, we have  a lot of families that cannot provide financially for their children.

Our assistant academic dean suggested a Make A Wish idea.The students decorate an ornament with their wish on it and hang it on a tree. The wishes are then collected and the faculty comes together to make them happen. Granting 150-180 wishes with only about 20 educators is no easy task. In fact, our Make A Wish assembly gained recognition by various news groups when a student wished to hug the people of Newtown.

Organizing and granting the wishes are tedious tasks. Our assistant academic dean approached me and another science teacher about running the show. We are both young, enthusiastic, and childless – perfect for the long hours needed to pull this off. As most of you know, science teachers never do anything the easy way. Many became science teachers for the simple reason that we get to blow up, dissect, and infect students with our irrepressible love of science (often times doubling ingredients to reactions to get a bigger result). So how about infusing that spirit into our Holiday assembly?

It took my colleague and I .004 seconds before deciding to don our alter egos and bring some science fiction to a holiday that is severely lacking it. Some fiction is there though, and overlaps with sci-fi: an individual that can bend space-time, defies the laws of physics, and brings gifts to all deserving girls and boys. Seems like Christmas Beast and Wolverine Claus could potentially be plausible hosts for our Holiday Assembly.

Science teachers Scott Sowers (L) and John Romano don their alter egos for the X-Mas Men Assembly.

Science teachers Scott Sowers (L) and John Romano don their alter egos for the X-Mas Men Assembly.


The Holiday Assembly was the perfect time to highlight these teachers for the heros they are. I assembled the faculty and laid out the plan: we would film a video introduction called X-Mas Men. I would shoot and edit the video, play it at the beginning of the ceremony, and set the tone of a Holiday assembly straight out of the pages of a Marvel comic. With furried and clawed hands my colleague and I passed out baseball gloves, sketchbooks, breakfast sandwiches, candy, shoes, and a bicycle. 160 gifts in all were delivered to the students by two holiday mutants, backed up by a room full of everyday superheroes.

Teachers aim to bring a better educational experience to their students. They know that they cannot bring  their bad day, personal problems, exhaustion, sickness or anger into the classroom.  Storm may have been talking about teachers when she said “There’s more to it than simply possessing super powers. To be an X-Man means possessing a strength of will – of self identity – that nothing can subvert. For better or worse, being an X-Man means not merely being born a mutant….but a hero.”

Science teachers do not have an off button, we don’t just love our content, we live it. This passion is infectious. The students see grown men and women dressing as their favorite science fiction characters and living out childhood fantasies with genuine enthusiasm. These experiences are important to the development of the student scientist. They discover that science is not something to fear, but something to enjoy.


Category: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Insights into Coping with Hearing Impairment within Post-Secondary Education

Today, Sci-Ed is happy to welcome Rachel Wayne back to the blog to discuss hearing impairment in higher education for her second post (for the first post, click here). For more about Rachel, see the end of this post.

Previously, I discussed five principles for communicating with hearing-impaired individuals. Now that you are acquainted with some of the communication challenges that hearing impaired individuals face, I want to discuss my experiences as a hearing impaired individual within the context of post-secondary education. I should stress that my experiences might not be reflective of others with hearing loss, as the level of support required will vary considerably between individuals.

My experience in the Classroom and at Conferences
As an undergraduate student, I managed to duck many of the issues that hearing-impaired students face in the classroom. I was lucky in that my level of speech understanding allowed me to get by without formal accommodation so long as I arrived at class early enough to get a seat front and center. However, this is problematic if you have a professor who likes to wander around, or when students ask a question from somewhere in the back row in a large classroom. Occasionally, I would have to ask a friend or a neighbour to fill me in on something. However, because there was a lot of redundancy between the material taught in class and the contents of the textbook, I managed to get by for the most part without any major problems (although there was one exception, which I will get to shortly).

Given my relative ease in coping with hearing loss in the undergraduate classroom, I managed to convince myself that I could make up for all the added challenges of having a hearing impairment without much substantial outside help. Then I started graduate school. Although the classes in graduate school were smaller, I found myself struggling even more because the material was more difficult. As I mentioned previously, the process of compensating for hearing impairment often involves using context and experience (or even the PowerPoint slides) to fill in the missing gaps, but when the material is also challenging, it is difficult to concentrate on both at the same time. Quite simply, I had reached my limit of compensation. To add to this, most of my classes and meetings involved group discussion, so it became essential for me to pay attention to what my peers were saying, which is difficult when everyone is spread out in a large boardroom.

In graduate school, I wasn’t always able to show up early to get the best seat. While most people in undergrad shy away from sitting in the front, it seems that most graduate students prefer to sit at the center of the conference room table (or at least that seems like the natural thing to do when you are one of the first people to arrive in the room). I was extremely shy about asking my peers if I could switch seats with them in the boardroom so I could be in a better position to see everyone. I often did not even bother asking, which compromised my ability to participate in discussion. I eventually recognized that these obstacles were easily surmised once I worked up the courage to ask my peers to trade seats with me, which they were more than willing to do.

Another issue I faced is that listening to someone with an accent is challenging for most people. However, whereas the average person can adapt pretty quickly, this is more difficult for someone with hearing loss, especially if there is noise in the background. In two cases during my undergraduate career, this required me to seek note-taking services for these particular classes. But in the academic or working world, this isn’t always an option. For example, conferences bring researchers together from around the globe, and it can be frustrating for individuals to carry out a conversation with someone you cannot understand. Not only is it also frustrating for them, but they often become self-conscious about their English ability and their accent, which adds awkwardness to a conversation. Secondly, when listening to a speaker with an accent, it is more difficult to follow along, especially when they are talking about a very dense and difficult subject. This is also a problem I’ve encountered in working with ESL clients.

Conference Calls or Online Lectures, or Videos
This domain has really been a test of my advocacy because most of the challenges I encountered here involved the process of obtaining supports for these mediums. I can recall two situations with two different professors over the course of my graduate career. The first one involved my assignment partner and I having to critique a lengthy video we had recorded of us practicing therapeutic techniques in a simulated environment. This required us to record our session using a stationary camera, which made it difficult to see anyone’s lips, and the audio quality wasn’t particularly great either. I asked the professor for video transcription, but this never materialized, which meant that it took my partner and I at least twice as long to critique our video as it should have, since she had to translate everything for me. In hindsight, I felt that I didn’t advocate for myself as much as I should have; if faced with the same situation again, I like to think I’d have acted differently. I didn’t talk about having the transcription as being necessity rather than convenience. Although the professor undoubtedly had good intentions, I walked away feeling that an extension on the assignment wasn’t a fair solution for my partner and myself.

In a second situation, we had an online conference call during one of our classes for a guest lecturer. I had assumed that since we’d be able to see the speaker’s face, it wouldn’t be an issue (and again, I was shy about advocating for myself at the time), but unfortunately, there was too much of a time delay between the audio and the video for it to be effective. Between shifting my attention back and forth between the speaker and the dense slides, I essentially got very little out of it. Thus, the professor and I agreed that we would need to recruit help for the second online guest lecture. In the end, this worked out really well. We moved the class to a classroom that was better equipped to support video, and I received an online transcription in real-time, which was very helpful to me (although not perfect, as they rarely are). However, I must confess that obtaining these supports felt like both a hassle and a struggle for all involved. I was also left with the impression that (at least at first), my professor didn’t appreciate the true extent of my disability and my needs, but in the end I certainly appreciated the efforts that the professor and disability services extended in order to make the lecture accessible to me.

My experiences in the clinic
Clinical or psychoeducational assessments rely on an accurate assessment of a client’s cognitive abilities or achievement. This frequently requires administration of a test where clients have to read out pseudowords (these are not real words but sound like they could be). Differences between syllables and mistakes in pronunciation are very difficult for me to hear (since even a mild hearing loss affects the frequencies in which speech sounds like “s” or “th” are produced). My strategy was to record my client and have someone else check it over at a later time, which usually worked well, and concerns were rarely raised. But this wasn’t always the case.

There is a memory test that requires the individual to repeat back words that he or she was asked to remember. Clients being assessed for dementia or cognitive impairment may make articulation errors that are indicative of a neurological condition, or they may falsely recall a word, instead naming a similar but incorrect word than the one they were asked to remember (for example, in a list containing several animals, they might remember “leopard” instead of “lion”). This case is problematic for someone with a hearing impairment like myself because I often rely on contextual cues for speech understanding. In this case, if I wasn’t sure what I heard, but I knew it was something that started with an ‘l’, based on contextual information, I would deduce that it would be more likely that the client would have said “lion” than another animal that begins with the same letter. But this isn’t always the case. Moreover, certain populations of patients with neurodegenerative disease will mispronounce words in ways that are subtle to even a hearing person, and such mispronunciations are important diagnostic clues. No one questioned the accuracy of my clinical notes and administration until my sixth and final practicum supervisor carefully reviewed the audio tapes that I had always been keeping and noticed that I had made an error in my scoring, even though I was so absolutely sure that I had heard the words correctly.

The apparently infallibility of my hearing ability was upsetting to me. Not only did it force me to think back on how many other errors I might have made in previous assessments, it really challenged my notion of feeling that I could be self-sufficient and minimize any indications that I might be “different”. Although this is a revelation that had been insidiously creeping up on me since I started graduate school (if not much earlier), its full impact didn’t fully manifest until I was forced to confront it directly. The notions of disability and shame that I had quietly developed quickly became disentangled for me.

As difficult as it was for me to hear, the conversation I had with my clinical supervisor dislocated me from my conditioned state of denial. The less I resisted, the more I began to appreciate the extent to which I minimized the physical barriers to my education. I started to see how some of the barriers were self-imposed and the impact of them on my actions; for example, my fear how my peers would react to switching seats with me actually perpetuated feelings of exclusion within a classroom environment because I was too afraid to ask for what I needed. At the time I thought this was okay. A 20-year history of coping without additional supports enabled a false sense of self-sufficiency, one that not only made me even more reluctant to not only seek help, but also to accept it.

Now, I only wonder how many others there who feel similarly. Or worse, I wonder how many people feel ashamed of their disability and don’t even know it.

About Rachel

Rachel Wayne is a PhD candidate in the Clinical Psychology program at Queen’s University. Her research focuses on understanding ways in which we use environmental cues, context, and lip-reading to support conversational speech, particularly in noisy environments. The goal of this research is to provide a foundational basis for empirically supported rehabilitative programs for hearing-impaired individuals. Rachel can be contacted at 8rw16[at]queensu.ca

Category: Equity in science education, Higher Ed, Public understanding of science, Science communication, Science teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Teaching entomology in a world afraid of bugs

Perched on a cantaloupe slice, the palm-sized animal – with its glossy chitinous surface and half dozen legs – sat motionless. The black-green bug looked more like a statuesque chess piece and less like a creepy insect. It was probably the reason why Dan Babbit chose the Atlas Beetle as his companion and ice breaker. Babbit is the manager of Smithsonian’s Insect zoo, and that day he was addressing a new group of museum volunteers and he started with the blunt question: “Is anyone afraid of bugs?”

Never before had I’d seen a science discussion start with a disclaimer.

Dan was being careful before bringing the live specimen for the volunteer’s closer inspection. Who can blame him – in the US alone there are 19 million entomophobes. How can we teach entomology to such a crowd? Can we break the bug phobia stereotype?

Here at Sci-Ed we started investigating reasons that may explain the fear of bugs. We mentioned repulsion, disease-carrying potential, cultural aversion, and even deeper philosophical issues. Now, we list suggestions to encourage the general public to value insects:

  1. Changing our perception of the bug. Phillip Weinstein recommends we “put insects in a more positive light, and to remove such fears as may be passed on from parents, zoos and museums can play an integral educational role.” At the Smithsonian’s Insect Zoo, Dan Babbit creates a safe and fun environment for visitors to learn more about insects and arachnids. Which brings me to the next topic…

    Students and volunteers prep butterflies at Florida Museum of Natural History. The lab is open to visitors during special events. Photo by the author.

    Students and volunteers prep butterflies at Florida Museum of Natural History. The lab is open to visitors during special events. Photo by the author.

  2. Creating mesmerizing museum exhibits.  At the Smithsonian’s insect zoo, visitors can face their fears by watching the daily tarantula feedings. Children sit on the floor in expectation, and adults toughen up to touch a cockroach atop a researcher’s hand. At the Florida Museum of Natural History, visitors can watch students and volunteers pin butterflies for the museum’s lepidoptera collection. (An epic collection, housed in a three story building, library-style: each book-sized spot contains one box of butterflies or moths). If you catch curator Andy Warren, you may even get a behind the scenes tour of oddities in the moth and butterfly world.

    Lepidoptera curator Andy Warren gives visitors a backstage look at the butterfly collection. Florida Museum of Natural History. Photo by the author.

    Lepidoptera curator Andy Warren gives visitors a backstage look at the butterfly collection. Florida Museum of Natural History. Photo by the author.

  3. Fostering cool class projects, like spidernauts. Babbitt, who keeps a space spider in his freezer, has talked to Sci-Ed earlier about engaging the public and raising their interest in arthropods. Stories like the space spiders brought a lot of attention to those invertebrates. Jumping spiders were sent to the space station and broadcast to thousands of classrooms on Earth. Kids accompanied the arachnid’s journey by observing their own hand-caught spiders. After the experiment was over, one of the spiders, Nefertiti, was flown back to Earth and housed in the Insect Zoo. Visitors who may walk right past a spider exhibit felt compelled to stop and ask about the space spider.

  4. Exploring resources. Websites have resources for kids, such as a bug identification chart (pdf) and “mini-beast” mansion tutorial.   Bloggers such as Alex Wilde and Bug Girl are popularizing the insect topic.

  5. Taking advantage of outreach programs. According to entomologist turned psychologist Jeffrey Lockwood, “About 20 percent of children fearful of spider and insects report learning their aversion from parents”. Kids are not innately afraid. During a visit to the University of Florida Entomology Department, I asked resident expert Stephanie Stocks if she observes the parent effect during school visits. Much like Dan Babbit, Stocks brings zoo bugs in tow. She reported that, up to second grade, children are unanimously curious. Some older kids, however, learned from their parents that they should step back. Arachnologist Chris Buddle visits kids in their classrooms and describes the experience in his blog – along with a powerful call to arms. Buddle states that spending time teaching kids about entomology is always worth it.

    Entomologist Stephanie Stocks shows visitors a live vinegaroon in a University of Florida classroom.

    Entomologist Stephanie Stocks shows visitors a live vinegaroon in a University of Florida classroom.

  6. Participating in pop culture.  Like we said before in Sci-Ed, using storytelling and heroes to teach science won’t hurt. One study (pdf) found, unsurprisingly, that children did much better at identifying Pokémon types as opposed to animal or bug species. Films such as A Bug’s Life and Antz took the anthropomorphic route. In the words of Lockwood, “If turning humans into insects countenances hate, then turning insects into humans has the opposite effect. Artists humanize insect heroes by transforming their alien features into eyes, mouths, heads, and appendages more like our own.”

    A Bug's Life. Photo credit:  Walt Disney Pictures.

    Anthropomorphized insects in A Bug’s Life. Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures.

  7. Keeping a pet bug.  Curator Andy Warren told me he was once afraid of spiders, which sounds like a peculiar setback for an entomologist. Warren conquered his fear after caring for a pet tarantula. One study tracks thousands of children to look into the effects of  keeping an invertebrate pet. The authors observed several benefits from keeping a pet insect that go way beyond loosing fear of bugs and contribute to an expanded view of ecology and science.

I might get a pet beetle myself. And hope that one day we won’t need to start classes by asking if anyone’s afraid of bugs.

Owl butterfly at Florida Museum of Natural History. Photo by the author.

Owl butterfly at Florida Museum of Natural History. Photo by the author.

References and further reading

  • Balmford et al. Why conservationists should heed Pokemon. Science 295 (5564): 2367b, 2002.

  • Prokop et al. Effects of keeping animals as pets on children’s concepts of vertebrates and invertebrates. International Journal of Science Education, Vol 30, No 4, 431-449, 2008.

  • Snaddon et al. Children’s Perceptions of Rainforest Biodiversity: Which Animals Have the Lion’s Share of Environmental Awareness? PLOS One DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002579 , 2008.

Category: Informal Science Education, Public understanding of science, Science communication, Science education research, Science Museums, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments