Wednesday 23 February 2011

Microteaches #1: February Half-Term

Bloody typical. I spend all this time putting together a post on GCSE Biology teaching specifications, and they all go and change it! Well, actually I did know about this, but at the time, and until the end of this academic year, there will be students examined under the old specification. The good news for you and me is that the specifications have not changed very much at all - I'll get up a revised post sometime soon. Anyway, here are some mini-bits that don't quite make up a full blog post, for your reading pleasure.

Mike Keesey has launched Phylopic, a resource with silhouette images for anyone who might need them in their phylogenies. It's wonderful to see these, and I hope many more people contribute. Best of all, from my perspective, is that they are on a clear rather than white background, so I can put them into my teaching slides without having to edit the backgrounds out. Not every organism is so easily converted to silhouette though (amoebas and bacteria...):


In reference to last week's highlight of AQA GCSE Fail, there have been some follow-ups. My post hit the Bad Science forum, probably as a result of being included on Ed Yong's Missing Links post. I've since seen that the New Humanist picked up on this, and managed to extract from AQA confirmation that future exams will not contain anything on creationism or intelligent design. I should bloody well hope so.

But AQA aren't off the hook yet: the bar-stewards discovered a marking error in some of their A-Level exams on 17 September 2010, but didn't think to notify Ofqual or UCAS until 30 September 2010. UCAS Clearing ended on 20 September 2010. Over 600 scripts were incorrectly marked, for GCSE, AS and A2, and this resulted in 13 A2 students not being able to get their first choice of university due to missing the grades (which they subsequently received), and not being able to do anything about it because UCAS didn't know until 10 days after places were no longer available for the 2010-2011 year.

In more palaeontological news, there is a new species of sauropod dinosaur, Brontomerus mcintoshi[*]. Now that we have "Thunder Thighs", I wonder if there'll be any more dinosaurs springing up with the other cruel nicknames I had as a child... They're currently getting a good deal of publicity, although as Dave Hone predicts, there'll no doubt be a load of inaccurate references to Brontosaurus.

Currently not getting any publicity at the moment is a paper linking sex, climate change and dinosaur extinction[*]. You'd think the redtops would be all over this like a rash. I have only skimmed the paper so far, but I am intrigued by a possible issue regarding genetic sex determination (GSD) and temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD). For this to be a plausible mechanism, I would presume it would have to be shown that most, if not all, GSD species survived (not simply birds and mammals), and that most, if not all, TSD species died at the end of the Cretaceous. Rising global temperatures could have a rather major effect on TSD species, but one wonders if perhaps parthenogenesis as demonstrated in a number of reptiles could have countered this in the past.

Right, students - consider this your homework (in addition to the rest of it) - go read Silber's paper and come back and report on your views of its plausibility.

Finally, this has been amusing and appalling the kids in equal measure this week:

Following the theme I shall be attending the NHM After Hours event this Friday, visiting the Sexual Nature exhibit and the Let's Talk About Sex talk. I'm contemplating taking the AS Biologists to the Sexual Nature exhibit, so I'm off to scout it out to see if the little buggers are mature enough to deal with the contents...

[*]Silber, Sherman J. 2011. Human male infertility, the Y chromosome, and dinosaur extinction. Middle East Fertility Society Journal, [In Press], Corrected Proof, Available online 17 February 2011, ISSN 1110-5690, DOI: 10.1016/j.mefs.2011.01.001
[*]Taylor, Michael P., Mathew J. Wedel and Richard L. Cifelli. 2011. Brontomerus mcintoshi, a new sauropod dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Cedar Mountain Formation, Utah, USA. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 56(1):75-98. doi: 10.4202/app.2010.0073


  1. They should be fine as long as you keep them as far away from the comments wall as possible.

    Actually scratch that. Don't take them. It'll be a disaster. ;)

  2. As I suspected...! I have reason to believe some of my A2 students will be independently visiting on Friday, and in theory they're more mature than the AS lot. So if there are lots of CDCs on the comments wall after tonight, you know who's responsible.


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