Saturday 2 June 2012

Microteaches #8: Eye Of The Hurricane

This coming week is, for schools, half-term. For those of us brave souls who have decided to work in FE, there is no half-term, only a weird week of no exams, between the AS and A2 period. I've just caught my breath from the AS exams, only to go full-pelt into A2 in just over a week's time. And then it's all over for another year.

Like the eye of the hurricane, this is the oddly calm area sandwiched between two violent storms. So while I can, here are some links and thoughts.


The video "The story of a single heartbeat", available from Understanding Life, should be required viewing for all A-level students looking at the heart.

If that's not enough, then just when they thought they were beginning to understand genetics, they should read this press release on gene modifications. And on the subject of genetics, they should look at Alby's post on Consanguinuity and the coefficient of relationship, which has relevance to much of Edexcel's Unit 2.

There was excitement in the entomology world a few months ago, when giant stick insects, thought to be extinct, were rediscovered on an isolated island. Students of mine who can't cope with the millipedes in the lab may not wish to look at the photos in this link. This is a great example of the role of zoos in captive breeding and reintroduction programmes.

Any students (or teachers for that matter) looking for cell biology images, would be advised to check out The Cell: An Image Library. That said, much of what I teach them at A-level and BTEC is a massive simplification, or a model, of what is actually happening in the cell. For example, mitosis is way more complicated than my A-level students think. And I genuinely had no idea that cells shut down during cell division.

There's a sweet illustrated guide to the evolution of different skin colours, which is a little simplified for A-level, but a nice introduction nevertheless. On our evolution, there's another hypothesis on why we walk upright.


It's one of the most stressful times of the year for teachers, and certainly for their students, so it is good to be reminded of the physiology and treatment of stress, by Informed Education.

Putting into perspective my own success and progression rates, it is a timely reminder that, according to this DfE report on progression, in FE colleges, only 55% of AS biology students progress to A2.

For my students who are feeling demotivated, and worried that they are going to be outperformed by independent school students, there is research indicating that state school students actually do better in their university exams. Your time will come, my darlings.

I'll be trying to shake off the image of Cambridge as a toff's playground when I take four of my finest to the Cambridge open day in July. Nothing will make me prouder than being able to show off my students at my alma mater. I've even found my CAM Card...

Finally, I'm reassured by this post on being the "right kind of science role model" by Marie-Claire Shanahan. As a teacher I have a worrying amount of influence on my students. None of them want to be FE biology lecturers any time soon, but occasionally I get a breakthrough. It is a comfort that I am helping by engaging with them, discussing careers and being open about gender differences in the sciences. I'm probably helping more than my (male) physics lecturer colleague who declares that "biology is for women".


  1. MischievousBastard3 June 2012 at 18:05

    Biology is for women? Tell it to Joseph Banks! Now where did he live again...?

    1. Yes, the supreme irony of where we are did not escape me...

    2. MischievousBastard4 June 2012 at 18:07

      Or Darwin! Jesus H Christ, we put Charles Darwin on the Tenner! Then there's Calvin and Krebs. Hell, Medicine is practical Biology (much as Engineering is practical Physics), and how many doctors are Men? My Mam told the careers woman at school that she wanted to be a doctor and got told off for it - "men become doctors, women become nurses". Dude, seriously! For that matter, what of the women in physics? Curie, Meitner, Franklin, and all the other women who glowed in the dark and ended up getting cancer for the furtherance of our understanding of the world?

      19th Century =/= 21st Century


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