Thursday 25 November 2010


Teachers and lecturers are by no means immune to the odd gaffe here and there, so here's a gem for you (the title of this post being reference to Colemanballs). I teach a BTEC Level 2 Applied Science class on "Biology and Our Environment", and was covering some basic heredity and genetics. I did the good old blue eyes-brown eyes Punnett square, writing in the genotypes before asking the students what the phenotypes would be. To make things extra visual for them, I drew the eyes...

See what the problem is? No? My students, being 50% teenage boys and 50% teenage girls, noticed immediately...


Saturday 13 November 2010

Changing The Guard

Friends on Twitter and Facebook will know that just over a month ago our leopard gecko Dooya suddenly died. I don't really want to go into details, suffice to say that the vets were as shocked as we were, and that they have absolutely no problems with our husbandry of geckos whatsoever.

I have to put that caveat in as it was implied by someone who should know better that we were in some way incompetent lizard owners. I also didn't bother writing about Dooya on here as some of the reactions I had on Facebook were of the "That sucks" variety (as though I was bemoaning a flat tyre on my car), and one particularly insensitive acquaintance used Dooya's death as a springboard for openly contemplating whether the carcasses of his own geckos were ready to be disinterred and mounted.

All of this was very painful. I know the vast majority of people in the world think that only dogs and cats are worthy of love, and the ensuing grief when they die, but Dooya was a very special gecko. She was our Beautiful Monster, and we were heartbroken. Irving Townsend put it well:
"We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle; easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we would still live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan."
So with that in mind we are setting off around the fragile circle again. Exactly 50 days after Dooya's death (and it seems already like a lifetime without her), we are adopting a new gecko. He is fully healthy, in possession of all his eyeballs, and (impossible though it sounds) even bigger than Dooya was.

"Koona t'chuta Waxworm?"

Meet Jabba. He is over 90g and possibly a giant breed. His owner is moving abroad. We are travelling to the Grim Industrialised North next weekend to collect him, via my parents' house. I will for the first time be outnumbered by the boys in the house, and I half expect to come home and see him sitting on the couch with my husband watching daytime television and scratching his cloacal pores.

The ironing will never get done now.

Monday 8 November 2010

Things I Learned From My Students #8: Teaching Evolution And Speciation

I feel quite fortunate. Out of my class of A2 Biology students about half believe in one or more deities, but there is only one student who has a real problem with evolution, and their beef is with macroevolution rather than microevolution (a classic issue, if one that I'm going to need to think about to combat). Although I love teaching evolution, it is a little awkward when said student (only semi-jokingly) accuses me of trying to convert him! I see them again on Wednesday to discuss "Evidence for evolution", and I have already taken the liberty of furnishing them with a copy of "15 Evolutionary Gems". I will always take some hints and tips though!

Still, it would appear that as always I have some things to learn from my students:
  1. The only reason they remember the Evolutionary Species Concept is because George Gaylord Simpson came up with it.
  2. As a result they would like all the scientists they encounter to have similarly "memorable" names (although they think Melvin Calvin's parents should be given a sound talking to).
  3. They want to petition the ICZN to change the genus of humans from Homo, as "well, the English language has changed, Miss". I cannot wait to read their submission.
  4. Thanks to Linnaean taxonomy, they cannot conceive of an instance when a paraphyletic taxon like "Reptilia" might be a problem.
  5. Teenagers appreciate being given a wadge of papers about speciation in cichlid fishes about as much as college seniors and grad students.
I've been getting a great deal of use out of the Understanding Evolution website, and especially their cute cartoons on fruit flies and reproductive barriers. Since I was telling a story, the students demanded that I put on a sing-song primary school teacher voice. I told them I would only do this if they came and sat cross-legged on the floor. Which the little buggers did. Damnit.
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