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Image of the Week: The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 28, 2015 by telescoper

telescoper:

I just came across this post from the Wellcome institute blog and thought I would share it here. It’s linked to a (free) exhibition that opened this week in London which I must try to see.There’s a short video about it here. It includes some disturbing but fascinating photographs of the “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death” a collection of eighteen miniature crime scene models that were built in the 1940’s and 50’s by a progressive criminologist by the name of Frances Glessner Lee. The models, which were based on actual homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths, were created to train detectives to assess visual evidence.You can see a complete set of the photographs here.

Originally posted on Wellcome Trust Blog:

Dark Bathroom (Tub), Corinne May Botz, 2004. Image courtesy of the artist Dark Bathroom (Tub), Corinne May Botz, 2004. Image courtesy of Corinne Botz and Benrubi Gallery.

This unsettling image of a doll meeting her untimely end, carries a deadly serious purpose. It is a close up portrait of one the twenty miniature crime scenes created by American heiress and criminologist Frances Glessner Lee in the 1940s and 50s. Termed ‘The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death’, each of these macabre dollhouse scenes was based on a composite of actual crimes. Their purpose was to train police investigators in a more methodical approach when observing and collecting evidence, while encouraging better interaction between law enforcement and the medical community. The Nutshells are still used for police training in Baltimore today.

Our featured image this week was created by artist and author Corinne May Botz, who spent several years photographing the Nutshells and researching the work and life of Glessner Lee. She was particularly fascinated by…

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The Lost Art of Taking Notes..

Posted in Uncategorized on February 8, 2015 by telescoper

Taking a short break from this weekend’s task of preparing notes and problem sets for the Theoretical Physics module I’m teaching this term. In  the course of putting this stuff together I remembered an old post I did some time ago about  lecture notes.

I won’t repeat the entire content of my earlier discussion, but one of the main points I made in that was about how inefficient many students are at taking notes during lectures, so much so that the effort of copying things onto paper must surely prevent them absorbing the intellectual content of the lecture (assuming that there is any).

I dealt with this problem when I was an undergraduate by learning to write very quickly without looking at the paper as I did so. That way I didn’t waste time moving my head to and fro between paper and screen or blackboard. Of course, the notes I produced using this method weren’t exactly aesthetically pleasing, but my handwriting is awful at the best of times so that didn’t make much difference to me. I always wrote my notes up more neatly after the lecture anyway. But the great advantage was that I could write down everything in real time without this interfering with my ability to listen to what the lecturer was saying.

An alternative to this approach is to learn shorthand, or invent your own form of abbreviated language. This approach is, however, unlikely to help you take down mathematical equations quickly.

My experience nowadays is that students simply aren’t used to taking notes like this – I suppose because they get given so many powerpoint presentations or other kinds of handout –  so they struggle to cope with the old-fashioned chalk-and-talk style of teaching that some lecturers still prefer. That’s probably because they get much less practice at school than my generation. Most of my school education was done via the blackboard..

Nowadays,  most lecturers use more “modern” methods than this. Many lecturers using powerpoint, and often they give copies of the slides to students. Others give out complete sets of printed notes before, during, or after lectures. That’s all very well, I think, but what are the students supposed to be doing during the lecture if you do that? Listen, of course, but if there is to be a long-term benefit they should take notes too.

Even if I hand out copies of slides or other notes, I always encourage my students to make their own independent set of notes, as complete as possible. I don’t mean copying down what they see on the screen and what they may have on paper already, but trying to write down what I say as I say it. I don’t think many take that advice, which means much of the spoken illustrations and explanations I give don’t find their way into any long term record of the lecture.

And if the lecturer just reads out the printed notes, adding nothing by way of illustration or explanation, then the audience is bound to get bored very quickly.

My argument, then, is that regardless of what technology the lecturer uses, whether he/she gives out printed notes or not, then if the students can’t take notes accurately and efficiently then lecturing is a complete waste of time. In fact for the Theoretical Physics module I’m doing now I don’t hand out lecture notes at all during the lectures, although I do post lecture summaries and answers to the exercises online after they’ve been done.

As a further study aid, most lectures at Sussex University are recorded and made available to students to view shortly after the event. In most cases this is video as well as audio but in some smaller rooms only audio capture is available. I checked the attendance at my lecture last week (the third week of Term) and found over 95% of those enrolled were at the lectures. There’s no evidence that availability of recorded lectures has lowered the attendance. It appears that students use the recordings for revision and/or to clarify points raised in the notes they have taken.

I would actually like to put my lectures online, e.g. on YouTube, so they could be viewed freely by anyone who wanted but I am told this is against University policy as the campus trade union, UCU, had objected to the suggestion. I don’t know why.

I do like lecturing, because I like talking about physics and astronomy, but as I’ve got older I’ve become less convinced that lectures play a useful role in actually teaching anything. I think we should use lectures more sparingly, relying more on problem-based learning to instil proper understanding. When we do give lectures, they should focus much more on stimulating interest by being entertaining and thought-provoking. They should not be for the routine transmission of information, which is far too often the default.

I’m not saying we should scrap lectures altogether. At the very least they have the advantage of giving the students a shared experience, which is good for networking and building a group identity. Some students probably get a lot out of lectures anyway, perhaps more than I did when I was their age. But different people benefit from different styles of teaching, so we need to move away from lecturing as the default option and ensure that a range of teaching methods is available.

I don’t think I ever learned very much about physics from lectures – I found problem-based learning far more effective – but I’m nevertheless glad I learned out how to take notes the way I did because I find it useful in all kinds of situations. Effective note-taking is definitely a transferable skill, but it’s also in danger of becoming a dying art. If we’re going to carry on using lectures, we old fogeys need to stop assuming that students learnt it the way we did and start teaching it as a skill.

Mistaken Identity

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 29, 2015 by telescoper

 

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Warmer and wetter. But not as wet as I thought.

Posted in Uncategorized on January 22, 2015 by telescoper

telescoper:

I reblogged the original article, so I should also reblog the correction and clarifications…

Originally posted on Protons for Breakfast Blog:

The Global Mean Temperature Anomaly compared to the average during the years 1951 to 1980. The data shows that 2014 was the hottest year on record. A link to the data source is shown at the end of this post. The Global Mean Temperature Anomaly compared to the average during the years 1951 to 1980. The data shows that 2014 was the hottest year on record. A link to the data source is shown at the end of this post.

Last week I wrote about how 2014 was warmest year in UK history.

This week two US labs have confirmed that 2014 also appeared to be the warmest year on Earth for many generations.

And looking at the graph above, it’s not hard to see why people – myself included – are alarmed by the trend. Hiatus? What Hiatus?

But on last week’s blog I also got something wrong. I said that

Roughly speaking, every 1 ºC causes…

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Achilles and the Tortoise(s)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 16, 2015 by telescoper

The inestimable Dorothy Lamb has yet again been doing her bit for our outreach effort here in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. Charged with the task of coming up with some props to explain Zeno’s Paradox to schoolchildren. One famous version of this paradox features in the form of a story about Achilles and the Tortoise:

Achilles, the fleet-footed hero of the Trojan War, is engaged in a race with a lowly tortoise, which has been granted a head start. Achilles’ task initially seems easy, but he has a problem. Before he can overtake the tortoise, he must first catch up with it. While Achilles is covering the gap between himself and the tortoise that existed at the start of the race, however, the tortoise creates a new gap. The new gap is smaller than the first, but it is still a finite distance that Achilles must cover to catch up with the animal. Achilles then races across the new gap. To Achilles’ frustration, while he was scampering across the second gap, the tortoise was establishing a third. The upshot is that Achilles can never overtake the tortoise. No matter how quickly Achilles closes each gap, the slow-but-steady tortoise will always open new, smaller ones and remain just ahead of the Greek hero.

Anyway, we now have a splendid knitted Achilles along with not one but three lovely tortoises…DSC_0035

Achilles is a bit short in the leg, although I suppose that doesn’t necessarily mean that he can’t be fleet of foot, and we had to prop him up against the wall lest he should heel over, but nevertheless I think these are great. Could this be the next big thing in toys for mathematically inclined students?

12 guidelines for surviving science…

Posted in Uncategorized on January 7, 2015 by telescoper

telescoper:

I’ve been very busy today, mainly travelling, so haven’t had timetable do a proper post, but I saw this earlier and thought I would pass it on to my avid readers. I don’t manage as many of these as I should, but hopefully you will do better!

Originally posted on Fear and Loathing in Academia:

I turn 40 in tomorrow and I’ve more or less been 100% devoted to physics since I was 20 (2nd year uni). It’s been a journey with some highs and a couple of very serious lows. Motivated by this recent excellent post on self-care & overwork in academia, I spent some time looking back and thinking about what would I go back and tell my 20 year old self (aside from get your B.Sc. and then go get a real job, one with good prospects & good money) or others at the same stage, e.g., the 2nd year lab students I taught this year. Some are things I’ve learned and managed to incorporate, some are things that I still fail at despite repeated attempts…

1. Put up walls: Despite having an excellent role model for this over much of my career, I still haven’t learned to put up walls to keep…

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Help Count the Stars

Posted in Uncategorized on January 4, 2015 by telescoper

telescoper:

Here’s an interesting and fun way to help quantify the effects of light pollution…

Originally posted on Orbiting Frog:

plough

Here’s a fun thing to do this January: help count the stars to see how dark the sky is near you. While you’re looking for Comet Lovejoy, take a moment to count some stars for a school project.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been helping A-Level student, and fellow Witney resident, Jesse Lawrence with a BSA Crest Award project. He opted to go for something with a local twist and has decided to map the quality of the dark skies around Witney. Now he’s embarked on the last phase of his project: crowdsourcing a dark sky map by recruiting volunteers (that’s you!).

It would be fantastic if you could add your own observations to the project. All you have to do is count the stars an fill in this form. For now, you need to be located in the Northern Hemisphere.

Although this began as a…

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