Monday, January 2, 2017

Keeping track of learning

Here is the first thing my students in lab will grapple with in a few weeks. Using these instructions it is the students who will be adding to this blog several times a week. 

Each group picks one of the topics below as the focus for the semester's work. The primary focus of the questions is lab work. Each group is expected to report on lab work at the end of lab each week, with a focus on their topic. The secondary focus is lecture. Each group should report on highlights of lecture each week, as appropriate, as they pertain to the group's question. Writing about lab should be submitted at the end of lab each week. Writing about lecture should be prepared during the week and submitted at the end of lab the following week as part of the lab write-up. 

Some weeks people will have more to say about lecture. Other weeks lab may seem more prominent in your thinking. Don't worry about getting it "right." It's about exploring scientific ideas in a new way. As you read the topics and questions below, and add questions of your own, you'll also see that it's about exploring the way we learn, model, and communicate natural systems. Also, while I would like you to focus on the topic you choose, please feel free to reflect and write about any aspect of lab/lecture and the learning process that you see fit. 

One or two people at each table will be responsible for submitting the group's work to the blog each week by the end of lab. These people should be responsible for collecting, assembling, and articulating everyone's ideas at the lab table. 

The blog entry should summarize and discuss the work of the group in a few short paragraphs. Reference to the sub-questions may be made as appropriate, as well as other questions, thoughts, and reflections that arise from the group. The blog should also include photos and sketches made by group members, as well as tweets. 

I expect that you will do some informal, independent outside research to enhance your discussions. For example, googling concepts like "biological shape," "biological surfaces," "molecular behavior" or "uneven planar surfaces" will yield a host of ideas that you can connect to your writing. Even random-seeming terms like "Bioinspiration" will yield great results. I know because I've googled these myself. I strongly suggest you look up these and other topics as appropriate during lab. Instead of starting with articles, find images that interest you and go from there. This can yield amazing, inspiring ideas that you will want to share in your posts. Formal citations are not necessary but ALL images and writing that you suit MUST be your original work.  

Three times a week (after each lab) I will post the blog on Twitter for the perusal of the whole class. This way we will share a running log of our activities, reflections, and inspirations. 


1. Shapes and patterns in nature

What patterns do you notice?

How do patterns emerge?

How do patterns interact?

How do patterns inform? 

How does nature build patterns?

How do we mimic natural patterns? Can we?

How do models of nature and natural systems reflect patterns?

How do patterns in nature reflect evolution?

How do patterns reflect evolutionary processes of inheritance and innovation? 

How do patterns reflect nature's way of dealing with physical constraints?

What is a pattern?

How do we detect patterns of surface, shape, line, volume, color and texture in the natural systems we study?

How do physical patterns lead to functional patterns or vice versa?

How do the patterns we find surprise and inspire us?

2. The power of play

How do people play?

What do people discover when they play?

What surprises happen?

What happens to the brain when you play?

What happens to your learning process?

What happens to your process of discovery?

What happens in the group when you play?

Do people like playing together or do they prefer individual "parallel" play?

Does playing preclude work?

Does playing make work happen in a better or different way?

What do we accomplish with play? 

How does nature "play" to solve problems?

How did you play at your lab table today to solve problems?

How does play produce models that communicate about nature?

How can we interpret play within an evolutionary perspective?

How does play allow us to deal with"bigger questions" that are "serious" and not directly play-related?

3. Constraints and innovations

How are natural "constraints" to be interpreted? Only as a bad thing?

How is the model constrained by the materials? For example think back to when we built termite mounds with legos. How do those kinds of constraints affect the work we do each week in lab?

How do we (or how does nature) get around the constraints or use the constraints to its advantage to get the job done?

How do constraints inform the work in progress?

How do they inform the final product?

In evolution is there ever a final product?

How does evolution reflect nature's way of dealing with constraints? 

Are constraints necessarily visible? What about constraints of molecular electrostatic charge, surface characteristics, and shape?

How does nature innovate and/or adjust to physical and molecular constraints in order to carry out its functions?

What innovations did you discover today? This week?

How are constraint and innovation balanced in the evolutionary process? 

What use is innovation?

How can we innovate to learn better?

4. Molecular behaviors

How do different molecules behave? 

How do molecular behaviors influence biological systems?

How are molecular behaviors reflected in biological systems?

How does the shape of a molecule inform us about its characteristics?

How does the shape of a molecule inform its behavior and/or functionality?

How do molecules join to form a surface?

How do molecules join to form a cellular compartment?

How do molecules join to get a particular job done?

How are molecular behaviors reflected in cellular evolution? 

How do molecular behaviors constrain or direct cellular evolution?

How do molecules behave among themselves?

How do molecular interactions determine cellular features?

How do binds and electrostatic interactions affect molecular behavior?

Can we model molecular behavior in a macroscopic study environment?

5. Origins and continuities 

Can we trace a "basis" for the way biological systems behave?

What underlying principles/ behaviors/structures make biological systems similar to one another? 

How do biological systems behave? 

How can we model continuities in biological systems? 

How can biological systems inform human cultural or economic systems?

How is continuity of process reflected in evolutionary outcomes? 

How is evolution part of a continuum?

How do cellular and molecular evolution reflect biological origins?

Are there certain things all biological systems have in common?

Are there certain things all cells have in common?

How are responses to molecular constraints inherited?

How are molecular constraints and behaviors reflected in the cellular environment?

6. Bioinspiration 

How do biological systems give us clues/tools that we can use to build better human systems?

What beauty can we find in biological systems/structures and how do we interpret and communicate that beauty in an effective way?

How do biological systems differ from human systems and what can we learn from these differences?

How do biological systems differ from human systems and what is the significance of these differences? 

What cues and clues can we pick up from nature to inform our perceptions?

How can humans design better systems that are inspired by natural systems?

How can humans design systems that better reflect the constraints and patterns in nature? 

What insights do we gain as we attempt to model nature?

At what levels can we get bioinspiration, cellular? Organismal? How do these differ? How are they the same?

How can bioinspiration inform the future work you'd like to do? How can you apply it to your major outside of this course?

7. Making the invisible visible 

What makes something "hidden" or invisible?

What happens when something hidden becomes "seen"?

Does visibility or invisibility depend on size?

Does visibility or invisibility depend on our perceptions? How? 

How do you know what you're trying to make "visible" when you start an inquiry?

What happens when something is "hidden in plain sight"? How do you find it? 

Can something be hidden behind "visible" signals? 

How does something become visible that wasn't visible before?

What emerges when something previously invisible becomes visible?
If something is "invisible" what is it hidden behind? 

Can a process (like a biological process or a learning process) be "invisible" yet very much present? If so, how do we amplify or communicate that process so that it builds our understanding?

How is molecular and cellular evolution a kind of "invisible hand" and how do we detect that "hand" in our investigations?

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