Hug a high school teacher today!

My morning was spent at the local high school today, talking to the biology classes about the evidence for evolution. This wasn’t in response to any specific worries—in fact, talking to the instructor, it’s clear that they’re doing a decent job of covering the basic concepts here already—but that my daughter is in the class, and she thought it would be fun to have her Dad join in the conversation. I will say that it was very obliging of the Chronicle of Higher Ed to publish this today:

In a packed IMAX theater in St. Louis last month, a middle-school teacher took the stage and lectured some of the leaders in the American scientific establishment. In a friendly but commanding style honed by three decades in the classroom, Linda K. Froschauer told scientists that it was time for them to get involved in elementary and secondary education.

“Go home. Identify science teachers in your own neighborhood. Offer to help them,” she said. “Go to the board of education and speak up.”

Excellent advice! It gives an overworked teacher a brief break, lets you see what’s going on in the classrooms, makes the students a little more familiar with college faculty, and maybe it makes a few of them think and gives them a tiny bit more background. It was generally a very positive experience, although it does make me appreciate the work our secondary ed teachers have to do.

I gave a very informal lecture in which I confronted the whole ‘controversy’ about humans evolving from apes. I brought along a few transparencies and a human skull, and gave them an overview of three lines of evidence: transitional fossils, similarities in genes and chromosome structure, and “plagiarized errors”. I kept it fairly simple, using little of the technical vocabulary and defining what little I had to use, but tried to introduce some important concepts, like the taxonomic hierarchy and diagnostic characters and repetitive DNA and pseudogenes. I was also impressed that the students asked good questions, so I think they were grasping what I was talking about.

Boy, but high school teachers have a very different burden than I do. Having to give the same talk 3 times in a row is challenging—I was getting bored with me! The students also range in ability and interest far more than I’m used to…there were many who were attentive and curious (more than I’d expected, which is a very good sign), and there were some who were bored and rather disruptive (but not as many as I’d feared.) I tried not to completely neglect the troublemakers and engaged them a few times with questions, but I had it fairly easy since the regular teacher was there to hover over them and keep them in line. There’s a bit of drill sergeant rigor required in high school teachers that I don’t need at the university as much, I think.

I’d do it again, gladly…as long as I’ve got a few weeks to recover between days at the high school. The grade schools are where we have the most need to get more science into play anyway, so it feels like a productive birthday for me when I can talk to a few 10th graders. And any high school teachers out there—you’re doing an important job, and those of us up in the ivory tower of the university really do care about what’s going on in our schools. Don’t be shy about asking your local college science departments if we’d be willing to contribute in your classroom, I think there is a fair number of us who’d be happy to share our perspective.

Happy Birthday to me!


Here it is, my 49th birthday, and it’s spring break. My wife’s at work, my daughter is at school, all the students are away, it’s dead quiet around here. How to celebrate? I know! I’m going to do some guest lectures at the local high school!

So that’s where I’ll be this morning, introducing high school kids to the subject of…evolution.



I feel a bit like a cat with a fat mouse between its paddy paws—although the temptation is there to bite its little head off and crunch on its itty-bitty bones, I think I’ll bat it around a bit and extrude a single needle-like claw and stick it in somewhere non-vital and twist, and maybe pluck out something pink and stringy and wet, and elicit a few squeaks for the sadistic fun of it all.

Yes, Fred Hutchison has replied to my challenge. We’ve swapped some email back and forth. I’ll see how long I can keep him on the hook—I’m hoping that he’ll try to turn this into another triumphal column. My email to him will appear here sometime after I’ve finished playing with him.

It’ll be rather like the cat who drops the bloody bits and pieces of his prey on his master’s carpet, thinking he’s done something so nice…but you won’t mind, will you?



What do you think of when someone mentions the word “Kansas”? Maybe what leaps to your mind is that it is a farming state that is flat as a pancake, or if you’ve been following current events, the recent kangaroo court/monkey trial, or perhaps it is the drab counterpart to marvelous Oz. It isn’t exactly first on the list of glamourous places. I admit that I tend to read different books than most people, so I have a somewhat skewed perspective on Kansas: the first thing I think of is a magic word.


[Read more…]

PZ Myers’ Own Original, Cosmic, and Eccentric Analogy for How the Genome Works -OR- High Geekology


I’m teaching my developmental biology course this afternoon, and I have a slightly peculiar approach to the teaching the subject. One of the difficulties with introducing undergraduates to an immense and complicated topic like development is that there is a continual war between making sure they’re introduced to the all-important details, and stepping back and giving them the big picture of the process. I do this explicitly by dividing my week; Mondays are lecture days where I stand up and talk about Molecule X interacting with Molecule Y in Tissue Z, and we go over textbook stuff. I’m probably going too fast, but I want students to come out of the class having at least heard of Sonic Hedgehog and β-catenin and fasciclins and induction and cis regulatory elements and so forth.

[Read more…]

Long, silky blonde hair…


…on a crustacean? Kiwa hirsuta is a new decapod crustacean discovered living near hydrothermal vents in the Pacific. It’s eyeless as well as hairy.

I’m sure there’s a dumb blonde joke in this somewhere, or since it was discovered by a French team, something about unshaven armpits. I wonder how low the comments are going to sink on this one; go ahead and vent and get it out of your system.

David Berlinski: très creepy

There’s a bizarre “interview” with David Berlinski at one of the ID blogs. What’s bizarre about it, and the reason I have to put “interview” in quotes, is that the interviewer and interviewee are both David Berlinski. It is nothing more than a pompous exercise in preening his ego; he arrogantly babbles on, saying nothing much except to sneer at anyone who has pricked that colossal ego.

I’m pleased to say that I’m one of them, and again find myself in good company.

[Read more…]