BioliveChemEd reflections

Last week I was in Wellington for BioliveChemED. And it was rad. Amazingly awesome – although I was really tired going in so I did struggle a little with the motivation aspect.

I started writing this post wanting to think about my highlights. But reading through my notes, there were so many good sessions and ideas, I am just going to write a novel and recap them all

1) Peter Wothers – I learned some new Chemistry! When sodium reacts with water, and then ‘explodes’ it isn’t the hydrogen gas exploding. It is a Coulomb explosion – where the build up of positive sodium ions repel each other with enough ‘force’ to generate an explosion. It was reported in NATURE of January this year – and it is always awesome to see even ‘old science’ getting some new understanding.

Peter also had come cool explosions – including using a violet laser (I have ordered one….) which, as it is higher energy light, is able to set things off when red and green lasers can’t. My favourite was using his own blood for luminol to recreate the CSI scenes, and I am going to try to do this with my classes.

2) Laura Trout – POGIL

I really enjoyed this session – Not so much about POGIL, but about the use of data to transform your teaching.

pogil pic

I took a lot of notes in this session – including a reminder to blog about it 🙂

A couple of things really struck me – A) That OVER half of students were failing a course/dropping out before POGIL. Surely, it must have been a pretty tough or poorly designed course to have that sort of result attached to it. So while I am glad they changed and used POGIL, I wonder if the results did look a little skewed and there could have been other factors at play.

B) Students didn’t feel like they learned anything if the teacher didn’t say it. That the perception of ‘learning’ is that it has to come from the ‘teacher’. This is an important point for me to consider as I think about developing student agency – if all is takes is a 5 minute teacher discussion at some point during the lesson to lead a discussion for students to feel they have been taught what they have learned, then that is a good strategy. Not all students will need this, but I think it is a good middle step for me.

3) There was a talk from Primary Industries. Normally I would kind of switch off for these, but they were really well done, had excellent examples of real applications and clear pathways for study for students. This is an area of growth for NZ, and we need our students to be innovative, driven and doing Science.

4)Ian Shaw – Molecular Mimicry

When I grow up and get big, I want to present like Ian Shaw did. His presentation was amazing, informative, funny, he acknowledged his research team, acknowledged ideas that weren’t his and he maybe didn’t fully understand. It was really cool. And his message about soy and plastic products really hit home for me – it isn’t just one in a low dose in the environment. There are multiple mimics, all in low doses but if you take them together, there is a significant dosage with unknown consequences.

5) John Evans – Breakfast Seminar

I am so glad I went to this. The food was amazing, and once things got underway, it was very easy to pay attention despite the early hour. The talk discussed how physical forces also affected the way a body functions, and that this is often forgotten about when you are getting into biochem speak. But different forces can affect gene expression, or even other phenotypics differences – like finger prints. So how finger prints are formed is going to form a big part of my genotype/phenotype explanations for L1 Sci from now on.

And the food was AMAZING

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6) Roy Tasker

Like the POGIL presentation, I really enjoyed this session because of the pedogogy behind it. Roy talked about working memory, and how it can really only hold 7 +/- 2 ideas. So when we ask students to complete tasks with more than 7 steps, we are effectively ‘titrating’ out their capacity to succeed.

He also gave some good tips about using models effectively – it isn’t enough to just show them. Even pointing out that ions in a lattice are vibrating is important, and that water molecules don’t just swoop in and grab them, it is a tug of war situation as attractions are overcome. There are resources – including some great animations – at the website

7) There was a session on hot topics for Chem. My crazy wool obsession went into overdrive with a talk from Jim Johnson on how they are using gold nanoparticles to created ‘opulent’ ‘exclusive’ wool. Imagine a crochet baby blanket made of nothing but merino and gold. I went up after the talk and touched the wool. AMAZING!!! Even the carpet wool felt like heaven. So hopefully it becomes commercially available for all the crazy crafters out there

8) Rebecca Priestly – Communicating controversial Science

I really enjoyed this session, and did my best to corner Rebecca afterwards into promising to do a #scichatNZ on this topic. The best advice was ‘people remember 3 facts’ so if you are trying to undo a misconception, stick to the 3 most important facts. Mentioning the misconception can also be damaging – people will here there idea again and cling to that instead of the new information you are trying to give them.

We also did a great wee activity, we got split into 4 groups, and each given a topic. We were asked to talk about some perceptions and political views on that topic and note them done. Sadly we ran out of time, but the aim was for our piece of paper to go to the next group, so they could talk out some of the issues, and then on again so they could find some solutions. So hopefully watch this space 🙂

9) My FAVOURITE talk was Siouxsie Wiles – it was like being back at Uni again. She talked about using fluorscence to make animal models for studying disease more ethical by reducing the number and disease load of animals used. It was amazing. Having used so many animals in my thesis, I was really pleased to see progress in this area. She also stressed the importance of not relying on antimicrobials – our golden window of being able to ‘fix’ disease with them is almost over. Which will not just affect colds and coughs and ear infections, but surgery, cancer treatments and all sorts of things. We must be more selective when using them.

You can find out more about her work at this website

I also presented, one on using OneNote in the class room and the other celebrating #scichatNZ’s birthday!! The one on OneNote was harder than I expected – it is always so difficult when you have a room on completely unknown people in front of you – some of whom had used OneNote before, and some who hadn’t. I tried to show a range of things, and did my best to respond to questions. Because I was showing a live assessment, it was a little challenging as I couldn’t share this fully with the group. But I feel I help a few people out, and saw some people doing awesome things (especially a Yr 10 Science course from Rathkeale) so it was worth while. You can see my OneNote that I used for the presentation (and conference notes if you are interested) HERE. My presentation on #scichatnz was more of a general discussion around the benefits of getting out there and getting connected. So many willing educators to talk to and be inspired by. We talked about barriers to sharing, with people thinking they ‘aren’t good enough’ being a common idea, which is such a shame, because, as I am learning, there are plenty of people better and worse than me. But you can always help someone.

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As always though, the very best thing was talking to people face to face. Catching up with the Lovely and Amazing Paula Hay:) @AKeenReader came and meet us for drinks, and as always she was inspiring and measured, and so free with meaningful and useful advice. I got to meet Tony Cairns and find he is just as energetic and helpful in real life. I had time to catch up with some Dunedin people that I just sadly never see in Dunedin. And this being my 3rd Chemed, there were some familar faces around it was good to catch up with too. As much as I enjoy the ‘digital’ catch up sessions, nothing beats sitting down over a cuppa and yarning away.

I should also acknowledge that I was support by my school, the Otago Science Teachers Association and Education Perfect for the cost of getting my to the conference. Thanks guys 🙂 It was great conference that I got a lot out of.

Hopefully see you in 2 years…. 🙂

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