‘Fold it’- protein puzzles for everyone.

This blog post is a re-blog of the “‘Fold it’- protein puzzles for everyone” which was originally posted during 2013 on another blog site, which is no longer operational. 

Fold it is an invitation to participate in science everyday. You don’t need to be a biologist or even a scientist to participate in this ground breaking research. All you need is to enjoy puzzles and games.
What started as a way for researchers from the University of Washington to access the hard drive of home computers to help generate more time solving the possible protein folding configurations, has now developed into a very successful, crowd sourced science research project. You can read more about the history of the project here: http://fold.it/portal/info/about, and about some of it’s successes here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/citizen-science/project.cfm?id=foldit-protein-exploration-puzzle,
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=foldit-gamers-solve-riddle and in a journal here: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v466/n7307/full/nature09304.html.
If you happen to be a biologist, you will be aware that proteins are one of the foundation molecules that make basic cell function possible. Peptides (sub units of proteins) are joined in various ways, following the instructions from RNA. There are many combinations of peptides which lead to different proteins and a range of different functions within cells and organisms. Now, if you happen to be a Biology teacher, Unit 3 and 4 of VCE Biology require students to develop a working knowledge of proteins, their structure and function. One approach to teaching such ‘abstract’ concepts is to use modelling.
There are many modelling tools available to help students conceptualise the structure and function of proteins, these include Toobers: http://www.umass.edu/molvis/toobers/, Cn3D:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Structure/CN3D/cn3d.shtml, bio-molecular 3D explorer: http://www.umass.edu/molvis/bme3d/materials/explore.html, and many resources at the Protein Data Bank (PDB) including the archive of molecule of the month: http://www.pdb.org/pdb/motm.do;jsessionid=D608F408EC87F4494ED671924DD998B8. Fold-it is another tool we can tap into.
Fold-it provides an opportunity for students (and teachers) to be directly involved in ground breaking research. In addition this game may help to develop a better understanding of the rules and nature of protein folding. It is a wonderful example of promoting the use of real life applications within, and beyond, the classroom. It is also a great way of promoting skills like problem solving and collaboration. So, will you and your students come and play?
Until next time,
Fiona T

Experiential Learning

This week had me lecturing and also in the audience of a colleagues lecture and for student teacher reflections. One resounding point that I came back to over the course of these opportunities was: Students can’t be expected to learn that which they haven’t experienced.

Children are learning all the time, both in and out of school. They learn from teachers, friends, parents and the new technologies and media they are surrounded by. Even the shows presented to children these days have changed, they are no longer limited to colourful and fanciful stories, they almost all contain puzzles and games and invite children to a participant in the story. For example “Sesame Street” and “Guess with Jess” all have a variety of elements that challenge children to think about the world around them and how to solve problems within their own world.  Have a look at the sites linked and the videos and games provided, there are quite a variety of games at these sites that challenge children to think about the world around them.

In my Colleagues lecture she reflected upon her grandson, now two, who since 6 months of age has been pressing buttons. Anything round  and ‘button’ like, he will press to see what it does, he is often rewarded with lights, music, or some other effect. Sometimes nothing happens, like when he presses a knot in a paling of wood. Still he is aware that, more often than not, buttons do great things, and by pressing them, he can control the world around him. He is actively experiencing the world around him. Given an I-phone he is able to find and play games too. He reminds me of my son, LT who from the time he was approx 18 months he could type on a keyboard to get his favourite game sites up, including Pocoyo, nick jnr and Starfall. He could also operate our DVD player and the three remotes needed to get it to play his DVDs…but that’s a sideline. My point remains, if these children had been told “no” and “don’t touch that” they would not be able to do any of these things, as we had not allowed them the opportunity.  Children can only learn about the worlds in so far as they are allowed to experience it.

I remember sitting with another parent when our children were barely one year old. We were chatting and showing the toddlers books. I invited the toddlers to feel the page of the book (it was fuzzy) and the other mum was surprised when LT immediately reached to stroke the page, then sat back again. Her child didn’t move. The mum said that she had never thought to do that, she had assumed her child might rip or wreck the book. I replied that we had lots of ripped, chewed and well loved books at home, but they were all those belonging to my son. He no longer chewed books, he had passed this stage, and now touching books was a part of his book experience. In reflecting on this now I can see that sometimes our fear of what our children may experience (hurt, illness, failure) might stop us from encouraging them to try new things. I really don’t want my child to fear failure, or the world around him. So I try to keep in mind how I can help him rather than wrap him up in cotton wool. He needs experiences to develop as a learner and a person.

As a teacher and a parent I am constantly trying to scaffold and provide opportunities for students and my child to experience new things and master new ways of thinking about the world.  I am aware that many children today are entering preschool with an understanding of new technologies and how to manipulate them. There are a large number of these children who will be ‘digital natives’, using technology easily in many aspects of their lives (LT is currently playing words with friends, he also knows to google things he is not sure of, or look on you-tube to help solve levels of the video games he plays).

If someone doesn’t know something, or how to do something, then it is obviously because they haven’t experienced it yet. How might you help them experience this new thing?

Until next week

Fiona T

 

 

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