Friday 31 December 2010

F&%@ 2010, Roll On 2011

One of the best hashtags I've seen on Twitter recently has been #fuck2010. I'll go with that. What a shitter of a year, eh? On the domestic front, our landlord has seemingly tried to kill us twice, tried to evict us once, and been an absolute arse 365 times by virtue of waking up each morning. Paul was made redundant in February, and has only recently managed to find employment (working at the same college as me - yay!).

We have lost three geckos that we had hoped to have for a good 10 years at least. As I type, Paul is building a new vivarium (the "jab-itat") for Jabba, and hoping that we will reach the end of 2011 with the same gecko we started with.

In October, our friend and neighbour Kel died. The world is quieter and less liberal, and Man Utd has lost its most ardent fan. We are just two of many who will miss him terribly.

On a more positive note, I continue to adore lecturing (but loathe the admin - especially some stuff I simply will not talk about publicly). My students mean the world to me, but if I ever told them that it'd go to their heads. One student is now at Portsmouth University studying palaeobiology, and he wouldn't have been there if I hadn't been his teacher. One of my tutees knows another of my old A2 students, and he apparently says I'm the best teacher he ever had. So maybe I have some talent for this after all.

What does 2011 hold? I will finish my PGCE in June, and then the world (of FE) is my oyster. My second A2 class will leave for university, and the BTEC students I've taught for two years will head on too. Don't tell them, but I will cry like a baby when they go.

Apart from a long weekend in Norfolk, I have not had a holiday in nearly two years. And we have not been abroad since October 2008. With the financial constraints of the past year, even travelling in the UK has been difficult, and we've barely been more than 20 miles from home all year. So this photo is my new year's resolution:

This is where I want to be at some point in 2011. Here's to a better year next year.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Snowbound In Isleworth

The timing of the British weather is impeccable. We couldn't have had a snow day earlier in the week to give us all an early Christmas holiday, oh no. It started snowing mid-morning on the last day of term, just in time for us to struggle to get to our end-of-year departmental lunch, and then to make trying to enjoy the first day of the holidays a treacherous activity. The little darlings out shopping on Hounslow High Street had successfully turned said pedestrianised road into an impromptu ice rink, and I certainly would not have appreciated a broken wrist or ankle to last me the holidays...

It does look pretty though, and out where we live it was lovely crunchy snow, and perfect for trudging down to the local café for a Full English. And I was able to capture a multi-species trackway in the back garden:

That's (from left to right) Turdus merula, Vulpes vulpes and Homo sapiens, with a bicycle thrown in for good measure.

Heathrow Airport is absolutely fubared at the moment. Makes for a quiet time for us but a rubbish time for everyone trying to get home for Christmas.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Farewell To Another Professor

Today I received my copy of GeoCam, the alumni magazine for the Dept of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge. And my heart sank when I read that on 16th September of this year Professor Tjeerd Van Andel died. He was one of my lecturers for the module on climatology I studied in my third year at Cambridge, and taught the first year sedimentology course.

He told us about the North Atlantic Conveyor, about ocean currents and thermohaline circulation. We learned about CCDs and ACDs, and I got to take out my frustrations on a LOT of foraminifera. But most memorable was the lecture he gave at the end of Lent term in our first year. It was a slide show of his work aboard Alvin, the deep-sea submersible. Professor Van Andel was the first person to ever see the weird and wonderful animals living around the deep-sea hydrothermal vents.

Hydrothermal vents are on the GCSE biology specification, in the context of adaptations to extreme environments. It has been, and is still, a delight to pass on some of what I learned from Professor Van Andel to a generation of eager (in theory) science students. And I am so proud to be able to tell them that I was taught by the first person to see the tube worms, crabs and snails that make their homes there.

It is an irony that, on the day I learn of this great man's death it is also announced that Alvin is to receive an upgrade for the next 50-odd years of research.

There is an obituary from the University of Cambridge, and a longer one from Standford University, along with some delightful memories of his earlier years.

In geological terms, 87 years was no time at all.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Kiwi Fruit DNA

I haven't really talked much on here about the actual subjects I teach, so it's time to remedy this. Tuesday afternoons are good times for me to do practicals with my AS Biology students (their penultimate year of high school study), and I thought it would be good fun to do a DNA extraction.

The students used kiwi fruit, but it can be done with pretty much anything living (I did caution the students against blending up their little brothers and sisters). The main hazard was giving a bunch of teenagers kitchen knives, not least because the poor darlings are so inept at food preparation that it took them ages to cut the sodding kiwis. I had a student teacher with me and remarked to him that they were all going to starve at university if this was how they cut up food. He said "No, they'll survive okay on Pot Noodles"...

We largely followed the protocol from Practical Biology, and got some pretty cool results. The bubbles in the image above are trapped in the strands of DNA, and the rather margarita-coloured substance underneath is the pulverised salty-kiwi-and-washing-up-liquid goo.

Isn't science brilliant? That's DNA, that is! In front of our very eyes.

Friday 3 December 2010

How To Medicate A Gecko

Jabba has pinworms. It's a hazard of feeding him crickets, as not all livefood suppliers ensure their crickets are parasite-free. He had a visit to the vet last week, and didn't disgrace himself as Dooya was wont to do, and is in rude health other than the worms and a little bit of junk in the trunk to shift.

The favoured treatment for pinworms is 0.2ml of Panacur once a day for three days. So this is how to go about giving meds to a 120g bruiser such as Jabba.
  1. Assemble syringe and medicine.
  2. Open vivarium and place hand in for gecko to crawl onto.
  3. Remove escaping locust from arm.
  4. Try to grab gecko as he sprints past hand to the warm hide.
  5. Lift up warm hide to extract gecko.
  6. Retrieve gecko from behind the cold hide.
  7. Sit down on sofa with gecko on lap.
  8. Take up medicine in syringe.
  9. Retrieve gecko from between your shoulder blades.
  10. Hold gecko gently but firmly in right hand.
  11. Mop up urine from t-shirt.
  12. Gently stroke gecko's mouth to encourage him to open it.
  13. Gently stroke gecko's mouth to encourage him to let go of your finger.
  14. Gently stroke gecko's mouth again.
  15. Slide syringe with catheter into mouth.
  16. Retrieve syringe from the other side of the living room and gecko from down the side of the sofa.
  17. Hold gecko gently but firmly in right hand.
  18. Mop up further urine all over jeans.
  19. Gently stroke gecko's mouth to encourage him to open it.
  20. Persuade spouse to slide syringe in.
  21. Inject medication.
  22. Gently stroke gecko's mouth to encourage him to let go of the catheter.
  23. Retrieve gecko from underneath cushion.
  24. Return gecko to vivarium.
  25. Chase escapee locusts around living room.
  26. Nurse wounds.
He's ace though. And currently sulking spectacularly, with the look of annoyance that only a medicated pet can give.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Things I Learned From My Students #9: Snow

The UK is currently the laughing stock of the best part of Europe and North America, as we've had some snow and ground to a halt. In fairness to us, snow like this is the sort of thing for which we're about as prepared as Toronto is for a plague of frogs, due to its rarity. On the other hand, you'd think if you got a plague of frogs three years running around about the time that plagues of frogs were most likely, that you might start planning for the increased chances of being plagued by frogs.

Anyway, London only just got the snow today, and it's not bad enough to close the college. So it was on with the hiking boots to brave the treacherous two-minute walk along the ungritted road to work. And on with a few more revelations.

  1. It takes a special sort of teacher to leave the windows open in the biology lab over the weekend, rendering the internal climate positively Siberian (this was NOT me).
  2. No matter how cold the students are, they are never cold enough to take you up on the offer to put a lab coat on as another layer.
  3. Edexcel doesn't think it's worth teaching students about competitive and non-competitive inhibition anymore.
  4. Despite nearly 30 years of public outreach and education on this matter, students still think that HIV came from people having sex with monkeys.
  5. None of them had ever heard of a dental dam.
  6. Yet one of them has a fleshlight called Mirabel.
  7. They think that Coxsackieviruses are the best thing ever.
  8. Until they hear about Cummingtonite, that is.
  9. People who named towns in New England were well kinky.
  10. You never want to spot a student googling for "reason for late period".
  11. The fake foam rock stress toy I got from Blackwell Scientific a few years ago as a promo gift is more realistic than I had ever realised...
  12. The little bugger who threw the snowball through the staffroom window (open 3") to hit my desk this morning should be automatically presented with an A* in mechanics as they have an absolute mastery of projectiles.
There's a very definite "inappropriate" theme to this one. I put it down to covering disease transmission in A2 biology, physiology of the endocrine system in BTEC and the presence of a large student union-run awareness campaign around World AIDS Day. It's just been condoms a-go-go all week.
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