Monday 4 June 2012

Setting Summer Homework

I have the onerous task of setting summer work for my AS students, who return to College for two weeks of A2 study on Wednesday. As we have literally no money, the possibility of taking them on fieldwork has been ruled out. So they can't get their coursework written over the summer. Arsebiscuits. So I've been trying to think of something productive that they could do, that would be helpful to them for their A2 studies. I've copied my proposed handout, and would be grateful for feedback. Some of you who are alumni of the Cambridge Earth Sciences Department will recognise the final question as one of Simon Conway Morris' favourites for the Part II essay question. If any of you have some suggested amendments or replacements, please let me know.

This is your summer homework. It is non-negotiable. If you wish to do A2 Biology in September then you must complete the assignment. You are going to set up and maintain a blog over the summer. You will be expected to keep this blog going throughout your A2 year, using it for short assignments, revision notes and requests for help.

Over the next two months, you will choose at least four of the six topics listed, and write a blog post on each. You should be able to write 400-600 words for each topic. Some of these topics you will think are pointless and dull, but several specification points on Topic 5 examine the role of scientists in the communication of science, how scientists arrive at consensus, what consensus means in the context of science, and the nature of science itself. At A2 you are also expected to understand the criteria listed in the How Science Works document. You should be reading scientific articles more frequently, reflecting on your own learning, consolidating your thoughts and getting ideas from your peers. Contrary to this being a pointless exercise, this could be the most important thing you have ever done in science.

  1. Introduce yourself (to the extent that you are willing to be identified). Write about your earliest memories of science. How have these influenced you to study the sciences? Do you wish to continue to study sciences at university? If so, what made you choose this subject? If not, what has captured your mind more than science?
  2. Research the ways in which scientists can communicate with other scientists and with the general public. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each method? What are the benefits and drawbacks of the existing peer-review method for academic publications? How do you feel peer-review could be improved?
  3. Summarise the ecological practical work you carried out on campus. Describe the factors affecting the distribution of the organism studied. Apply what you have learned about competition, niches and abiotic factors to this distribution.
  4. Is there any point trying to save the Earth? Describe arguments for and against environmentalism, and offer your conclusions on the fate of the human race.
  5. What, for you, has been the most exciting scientific discovery of the past decade? How has it influenced your life or your studies? Why do you consider it to be so exciting?
  6. Imagine you could ask Slartibartfast (look him up!) any question about the Earth. What would you ask him, and why?
You should set up your blog in the final lesson of the Introduction to A2 course, and submit the URL to me. Ensure that there is an RSS feed available for the blog. I will collate all the blogs and put a group feed up on Moodle, so all blogs can be subscribed to at once.

You should write four blog posts at least, between now and 16th August. Since all work can be checked throughout the holiday, it will not be necessary to submit any written work in August. A checklist will be provided at Enrolment listing those who have successfully completed the work.

I will comment on each blog post to give you feedback, and I will encourage other teachers and scientists I know to do the same. I highly advise you to comment on a few blog posts too, to give your own feedback to your classmates.


  1. I would like to volunteer to read these excellent blogs!

    1. Awesome! That would be great. I want a lot of scientists reading and commenting - Topic 1 might even elicit a few #iamscience stories that could be published. I'm going to make sure there is a common URL for all of them. All being well, there'll be 38 of them!

  2. This is absolutely brilliant! I will leave comments on the blog posts too!



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