‘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
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The PhD and side quests

A while ago I read a tweet http://researchblog.iclon.nl/phd-side-quests-teaching/  likening various distractions (like teaching) to a side quest in a multiplayer online game. Even though I’m part time on my PhD and full time teaching, I find this tweet still resonated with me. At present I feel very stretched- full time academic teaching load, additional (short term) administrative role, part time PhD student, and Mum- it’s always busy and every minute is precious in each role. When I do have blocked time for my PhD analysis and writing I feel like if I am not writing actual words into a chapter that somehow I am not working effectively enough, then I realised I had to change my personal PhD narrative if I was going to do this to the best of my ability. Let me explain…

A few weeks ago I was up to day 5 of what would be a 2 week lack of motivation for my studies. I felt tired, overwhelmed and frustrated that this sacred writing time was being wasted while I looked up new references, read over old data and tried to re-envision my literature review while writing a data chapter. I was thinking about changing the chapter structure of the thesis to follow themes rather than data sets, this was going to be a huge shift. There was textas, A3 paper, muttering and scribbling. Mendeley was getting a workout as I uploaded and annotated more articles. I was busy, but didn’t feel like I was making progress visible to anyone else. I briefly considered walking away from the PhD- but am so close to being finished I know I would regret it. By day 5 I realised the truth- I was caught up in a side quest! As my thesis links to games, learning and aspects of motivation, I realised I was living the kinds of scenarios I had been researching for the last few years; what motivates a person to push past this point, where it all seems too hard to manage? I looked to my data, and my own personal side quests- my craft and other blogs. If you follow these blogs : one mad tatter and My WISE Dolls, you may notice that my whole life in recent years is chipping away at various goals over a longer period of time. It isn’t about being motivated to complete a project in one day, and my thesis is another such project.  I realised that I needed to be my own advocate, and so I gave myself permission to just be- to leave the actual writing of my chapter for a few days and go on a side quest of reading and thinking. This took me another week or so, but after this time I felt again in a position to edit and write some more. Last week I sent the finished chapter to my advisory group for feedback- and it felt like an epic win!

The side quest was an important part of the journey, of narrowing down the new articles to those that could be used to support my data and the unfolding story in my thesis. The ‘re-envisioning’ of the thesis was also deemed a side quest, confirming that the chapter structure I have drafted over the last 2 years will work better for my thesis than the one in my clouded mind a few weeks ago. While these two processes didn’t make a visible difference to my writing and work so far, they have helped me to think through my options and make firm choices on the direction of my thesis, and so this clarity of mind makes the side quest worthwhile in my opinion. The PhD is as much about the thinking, pondering and analysing as it is about the written submission. I need to wander down some of the pathways to realise they are dead ends. And, even if I don’t feel like writing, there are lots of tasks to to that will contribute in different ways to the completed submission.

Some side quests might be setting up fonts, highlighting relevant data, creating images and labelling figures- they are important small tasks that support the end goal. These are what help build the thesis from the ground up, and no one else can do it for me; I have to own the whole quest, not just the fun bits 🙂 I need to remind myself of the work I have been doing towards this since 2011, for all intents and purposes I have done the hard yards; the planning, considering methodological protocols, completing ethics for university and education departments, approaching schools, and building relationships with principals, teachers and students in order to generate data on site. I have the conceptual framework in place and have identified the gaps in the research my study seeks to contribute to. I have come a long way in my writing and thinking, been supported by a fabulous team of family, friends and colleagues and really love my topic. With less than a year to go until submission, I need to remind myself “I’ve got this!” 🙂

I still need to recognise that some side quests are time sinks, and wont be helpful in the bigger scheme of things for the PhD goal. For example, my WISE Dolls site is exciting and will be great, but it doesn’t need to be the focus of my energy this year, it will be waiting for me to pick it up again next year. The same with some of my tatting design ideas and goals, these too will wait until I am on the other side of thesis submission. In recognising these as alternate side quests I can more easily make a clear decision to refocus my precious PhD time to the side quests really need my focus here and now.

So, it seems the side quest metaphor works for me, here is a link to a paper about such metaphors for PhD work (McCulloch, 2013)  http://w3.unisa.edu.au/researcheducation/contact/documents/mcculloch-2013.pdf
or perhaps the Map for the PhD student graphic (MGSE, 2012) http://education.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/621929/Map_for_the_PhD_Student.pdf might resonate with you. Whichever you decide, make sure you can identify for yourself what will be a productive use of your time, and keep your eye on the prize- that PhD 🙂
Until next time, happy questing
Fiona T
NB: It was also confirmed by my Wonderful Husband that this post is ironic- it was a side quest too. Now I have blogged it, it is completed [Achievement unlocked: 1084 words posted on PhD Blog] and I guess it’s back to the data for me 🙂

Tinker tailor: up-cycling, problem solving and learning

This past week I was lucky enough to be able to run a ‘maker movement’ workshop with my students (who are adults training to be teachers 🙂 ). My inspiration came from the following sources, as indicated below in my blurb for the workshop:

The maker movement is gathering traction in the US and internationally: https://www.techopedia.com/definition/28408/maker-movement. It recognises the need to have young people explore technology by taking it apart, finding out how it works and redesigning the technology to make some thing new. There are strong Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) links here that we can harness in schools, either as part of formal curriculum, or as an extension/engagement opportunity. We will be deconstructing McDonalds toys (which can’t go to landfill) and up-cycling them to make artistic posters OR redesigning them to make a new toy/item- It is up to you. Examples: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/7675915/Artist-builds-sculptures-from-circuit-boards.htmlhttp://www.sodapopgirl.net/art/disassembly/ and http://www.toddmclellan.com/commercial#5 .

The purpose of the workshop was for them to experience first hand the wide educational potential of an open ended invitation to up-cycle some old McDonald’s toys. Why McDonald’s toys? When my son, Little Tacker (LT) was younger we would have McDonald’s as a semi-regular treat, and very quickly accrued a pile of plastic single purpose toys. When he was about 5 I cleared out his room and found we had heaps, and the problem became how to dispose of them. The toys are plastic and often have batteries in them, meaning we can’t put them into the plastic recycling bins or landfill. So I finally had an opportunity to use them with a class and see how creative we could be.

Unfortunately many of these toys have (what I now know to be) Security screws that need a specialist triangular bit to undo them….and I had bought a few sets of small Phillip’s head and flat head screw drivers for my students to use- Whoops! Fortunately this was only a hiccup for a short time in the workshop and my students were able to problem solve and figure out different ways of opening the toys and re-purposing them. Below are some pictures of the ‘end products’.

Inside a clock work smurfThis was a clockwork Smurf toy- it ‘laid down’ and rotated on a ball attached to it’s feet and would intermittently turn to balance on it’s elbows, then go back to rotating on the ball. After much perseverance the student with this toy was able to break away part of the body and remove the cogs that performed the motion.  The two cogs had different arrangements of teeth which gave rise to the ‘intermittent’ movements we observed int he working toy. This lead to a small group discussion about one of the earliest forms of programming being the Jacquard Loom. A very interesting discussion that created curiosity and a few email discussions after the session too. Inside a pop up toy smurf

This student had a ‘pop-up’ present Smurf, and was able to reassemble her toy as a 3D item to display the inner workings.

Up cycled mobile

This student made a ‘superhero mobile’ – pictured flying over Melbourne 🙂 Upcycled ringA couple of students up-cycled their toys into Jewellery- Ninja Turtle rings anyone?

This workshop was great fun and highlighted an opportunity to engage students in a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) experience. It also created a high level of cognitive engagement and curiosity in the group- me included! I have now found the screw drivers we need on ebay – so will source some before I run this workshop again next year. I would like to thank my students for agreeing to let me use photos of their creations and share their stories here too.

Until next time- happy tinkering.

Fiona T

 

 

 

 

 

Healing blade- a biology card game.

This story started in 2011, when I first read about the “Healing blade card game” From Nerdcore in this blog: https://drottematic.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/review-healing-blade-the-infectious-disease-card-battle/.    I began to search for this game, knowing it would probably be too advanced for the VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education- Year 12) course I wanted to use it for. Healing blade was developed for Medical students to use as a learning tool- and this is what intrigued me the most, the information within this game wouldn’t be “dumbed down” or incorrect. To me, accuracy is a very important aspect of any game I would want to use as a learning tool.

Unfortunately, the game had a small initial print run and it took me quite a while to find out about the kickstarter movement and track down the print and play version. Late last year I received the newest version of the downloadable file. I was impressed with the quality of the card fronts and really wanted to print these out on card stock for my classes to work with. The months flew by, and the printing of the cards was pushed on down the priority list. Then the sudden realisation that I need the cards for my class this week hit me! So, I have compromised and printed out my card set on a normal photocopy paper. I spent a couple of hours yesterday cutting up the paper cards and backs and sliding them into plastic card holders (Thanks MindGames on Swanston St for your help in sizing the right ones).

Sometimes the work of teaching is ‘making’ the resources 🙂

Healing blade pic for blog

Now the game is ready to play.

Along with 6 other Biology based games, Healing blade will be considered by my students this week, and critiqued as a possible classroom tool.

I hope, in the coming weeks, that I will blog about our impressions of each of the 7 games we will critique, so stay tuned 🙂 (or link the RSS feed to your email, so you don’t miss out!)

Until next time,

Fiona T

 

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 6) Review of Goldiblox and the spinning machine

Hi to all my followers- I’m sorry to say that I have neglected this blog for a little while. It has taken one of my new students this year to prompt me to write again, so I will try to write fortnightly posts about ICT study tools, games, toys and learning. Welcome back 🙂

Here is part 6 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.

This week I am looking at “Goldi Blox” story/game that can support creativity and thinking through play. I had seen this in the stores a few times and wondered if it would be a suitable present. In a recent discussion with a colleague, I found that she had the story/game and used it as part of her teaching- so I asked to borrow it.

image

It comes with a story that takes you and your child through building the spinning machine- and is an introduction to belt drives, as an engineering concept. The aim is to make a machine that will spin all of the characters in the book- they are figurines in the box. There are also extra challenges in the book, to continue playing with.The book uses funny rhymes to engage the imagination too.

2015-03-20 16.48.07For the age range stated it is appropriate as a learning object.  I feel that adding just a few cogs and wheels as extra pieces here would serve as a strong extension to the belt drive ideas. This would open up a range of open ended play opportunities and begin to explore gear ratios to get the character figurines to spin at different speeds. I would probably purchase this for a 4 to 5 year old as a present.

There are other a few other games, like ‘mouse trap’ where machines are set up as part of the game, but this is the first one I have seen for a younger age group and with a story to accompany it. I wonder if you have seen any other such items available. If you have, please share them below in the comments 🙂

Until next time

Fiona T

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic and have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

Digital tools- Rocking my world

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a post-graduate research conference run by my Graduate School. It ran over 2 days, and I attended one of them. The day was fabulous and inspiring. We started with my fellow ‘shut up and writer’ and I running a modified ‘Shut up and Write’ session, so those who can’t normally make our weekday sessions could get a feel for how this works. We also hoped that they would perhaps join us during semester, or begin using this method on their own. I got to make a good start on a conference paper, so I was very happy 🙂 The feel from the others was very positive too. We also had some discussion groups based around our stage of study, and workshops on what examiners are looking for and publications for different audiences. All interesting and insightful.

The session that rocked my little world was the ‘taming your thesis with technology’ session. I have been looking for this session for the last few years.  The workshop leader was inspirational, and showed us a glimpse of the true power of the word-processing tools we have as standard installations on our computers. Setting up styles within documents, and using these to easily format tables of contents, figures and tables…let me just say it was an enthralling 2 hours. I have been generating small scale reports for my key stakeholders, and I know that even with these small documents, the tips from this workshop will save me much time and angst…I can only imagine how much time and angst will be saved when I put the sections of my thesis together 🙂  I still recall the nightmare of pulling my Masters’ Thesis together – reprinting and formatting to make sure the table of contents matched the actual headings and page locations, not to mention when I had to move a figure or section eeek…. I am very much looking forward to NOT having to do that again 🙂

By Renee and sourced from: http://kpc.am/11bBpds

By Renee and sourced from: http://kpc.am/11bBpds

Along with Mendeley, Evernote and dropbox, it seems my word processor will be another reliable digital tool for my studies.

I wonder, what tip, trick or tool is saving you time and angst? Please feel free to share in the comments below, or on the facebook page 🙂

Until next time

Fiona T

 

Paperless progress

A belated ‘Happy New Year’ to you all. Those who are regular followers will have noticed ‘My Paperless PhD’ has been very quiet since September least year. This is for a number of reasons, including actual progress in my PhD, working full time and working on conference papers too.

Today I had a ‘free’ half hour, so I thought it best used to give you a quick paperless update.

Since my confirmation of candidature in March last year, data gathering has been constant. I am using a range of data gathering tools, including interviews (recorded on my smartphone and backed up to a password protected cloud file) before being transcribed (using a program devised by Wonderful Husband- WH), and then also stored in a password protected file. Some parts of my data collection require paper, like the participants constructing Personal Meaning Making Maps (PMMM – based on Falk et al, 1997) which are drawn on A3 paper. These are then scanned and stored – you guessed it-  in a password protected file. I am finding it easier over time to correct my writing on the screen, though I do still print hard copies for final reading and editing. While not completely paperless I do feel like I am not using a forest to draft my work, and paper is used sparingly.

In terms of writing, I still find the ‘shut up and write’ pomodoro sessions very helpful, with our little group meeting on Friday morning for most of the year. These will start again soon, when semester gets back into swing.

In other news, 2 teacher friends of mine invited me to be a part of a review blog, aimed at Australian Parents  to find apps that will support their children in fun and learning too. Many apps reviewed so far are free, though the original idea was to assist parents in making informed choices in spending i-Tunes and similar cards. The blog is here: http://appsforaussiekids.blogspot.com.au  and the facebook page has a healthy following for being active for just under 10 days now. If this interests you, please follow along and support us – you may also want to suggest apps or write a guest post – email contact is available through the apps for aussie kids blog (on the right of the page).

I hope to be more active on this blog this year. I have many posts in mind…I just need time to write them!

Until next time

Fiona T

Reference:

Falk, J. H., Moussouri, T., & Coulson, D. (1997). The effect of Visotors’ agendas on Museum Learning. Curator, 41(2), 107–120.

New Traditional Games for Learning: A Case Book

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog to bring you this breaking news…..New Book Published 🙂 Enjoy

New Traditional Games for Learning: A Case Book Paperback – Taylor & Francis.

Edited by Alex Moseley and Nicola Whitton, this book presents a number of case studies of traditional game use in Educational settings across the world.

Chapter 3: Three boys and a chess set is a case study written by myself and Liz Hinds about a traditional game and the 18 month passion based learning project that developed for three boys in a primary school setting. We are very excited to have this story documented and published. I can’t wait to receive my copy of this book, and be able to review the other chapters also.

From the publisher:

“A growing interest in the use of games-based approaches for learning has been tempered in many sectors by budget or time constraints associated with the design and development of detailed digital simulations and other high-end approaches. However, a number of practitioners and small creative groups have used low-cost, traditional approaches to games in learning effectively – involving simple card, board or indoor/outdoor activity games. New Traditional Games for Learning brings together examples of this approach, which span continents (UK, western and eastern Europe, the US, and Australia), sectors (education, training, and business) and learner styles or ages (primary through to adult and work-based learning or training). Together, the chapters provide a wealth of evidence-based ideas for the teacher, tutor, or trainer interested in using games for learning, but turned off by visible high-end examples.

An editors’ introduction pulls the collection together, identifying shared themes and drawing on the editors’ own research in the use of games for learning. The book concludes with a chapter by a professional board game designer, incorporating themes prevalent in the preceding chapters and reflecting on game design, development and marketing in the commercial sector, providing valuable practical advice for those who want to take their own creations further.”

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 4)

Here is part 4 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.

Puzzles of any sort are a great challenge for young and old alike. There are puzzles available for any developmental age group. The one pictured above is a mind bending adult puzzle…allegedly (according to the box) it has a number of solutions, however in reality I am yet to find one 🙂 . The challenge is in trying to solve these puzzles, and pushing your mind into creative and strategic modes it may not use otherwise. I don’t think I will find a solution to this puzzle. However, not all puzzles are like this, many have challenging, though achievable solutions.

Jigsaw puzzles are one such type of challenge. The picture/solution is on the box and whether there are 7 pieces or 1000, you can work towards reassembling the picture. The creativity used here will be in the strategy you use to find patterns… Do you pick up one random piece and try and match it to every other piece? Or are you matching shapes, colours, patterns or a range of all three? Do you find all of the edge pieces first and assemble these, then sort other pieces according to colour? Strategy and perseverance are important skills to develop. Leveling up here for adults is easy…there are now a range of 3D puzzles, and also puzzles that contain mysteries to solve within them. I even recall seeing a puzzle with 3 extra pieces!

For younger children the Jigsaws are often smaller,  and there are block puzzles (with different pictures on each side of a cube to match), or puzzles can be cut out shapes on a wooden board. Again,these support the same thinking skills and give children an opportunity to match shapes, colours and find patterns too. They also offer opportunities for hand-eye co-ordination and development of fine motor skills. As children get older, books with jigsaws in them may be an option. There is also the ‘spot what’ range where the puzzle can then be used along side a book to give the child clues.

Then we have word puzzles, and things like sudoku too, yes, I can already hear you thinking…more opportunities to find patterns and develop personal strategies 🙂 . Find-a-words and crosswords use elements of language and cryptic clues for us to ‘puzzle’ over.

Matching and strategy puzzles are also abundant on devices. Since Nintendo ‘game and watch’ in the 1980’s we have been able to have electronic puzzles in our pocket to play and challenge us anytime we want. The Gameboy (and similar)  bought games like Tetris, one of the first electronic puzzle games I played for months on end (getting to the top of the challenge levels and having the little men come out and dance…well it made all those hours worth it somehow 🙂 ) Smartphones and electronic devices grant us access to Apps like Bejewelled, Angry Birds, Where’s My Perry, Quest for Atlantis and my nemesis candy crush, all use puzzles as their main game play option.

So, what puzzles do you like? Have I missed your favourite puzzle type in my blog above? How else might you incorporate puzzles to extend opportunities for develop thinking skills?

Until next time

Fiona T

 

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic and have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 3)

Here is part 3 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.I was a bit surprised by this ‘bop it’ toy. I had often walked past it in stores and dismissed it as a present option for my nephews, as I had no idea what it was or did. Then, LT was given one as a present and I found out it is actually quite a fun toy and can contribute to both learning and thinking. There are several modes for ‘bop it’ to be used in; individual, pass and play for two or more people, or a two person challenge where you stand one person on each side of the toy. The aim in all these modes is basically the same: the ‘bop it’ toy calls out instructions, and you need to follow them by interacting with the toy. Vocal instructions are accompanied by sounds: “bop it’, ‘twist it”, ‘pull it’, ‘spin it’, or ‘flick it’. Sounds simple, right….wrong!  Instructions are called in different orders, making the thinking and co-ordination required to react quickly surprisingly challenging. As you are able to continue the sequence (we have gotten up to 20 right in a row) it unlocks levels. The different levels include things like the  spoken instruction being removed, leaving the sound to respond to. The next level again will call out colours instead of sounds.  All of these require fast reflexes to be able to stay in the game.

From an educational viewpoint, ‘bop it’ could be classified as a brain training toy. It develops quick thinking and coordination skills, reminding me of the cross marching exercises we use with students.  In terms of creativity, there isn’t much scope for free play with ‘bop it’, however I think it helps make connections within the brain and so would help children to ‘limber up’ towards creativity and reflexive thinking in other areas.

I wonder what other toys are out there that promote creativity, learning and thinking…please add any you think of in the comments below.

Until next time,

Fiona T

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic and have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

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