‘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

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


“Successful Science Education Practices” a step in my PhD journey.

Successful Science Education Practices: Exploring What, Why and How They Worked.

2013 has been a big year for me and publishing book chapters 🙂

The above book was published at the beginning of this year. I am excited that the price has become more realistic, for both educators and students to purchase. This is a science focused, peer reviewed text that looks at current practices in classrooms across the world.

Here is the blurb from the Nova Site:

Book Description:
This book has been designed to provide a conduit for the pre-service and beginning teacher of science to access contemporary educational research. The chapters offer researched forms of classroom practices that are also easy to transfer into classrooms. The teaching of chemistry, biology, astronomy and physics, and Primary Science teaching, are discussed with a focus on new technology tools, as well as important topics for the new teacher of science. This includes providing different types of feedback; the value of developing a supportive network of colleagues; planning for science teaching effectively; the types and contribution of models in science teaching and how they contribute to thinking, great ways to utilize demonstrations; and challenging the learners’ alternative conceptions. New technologies are pervasive in many chapters, and are used to enrich and deepen the learning experiences possible for learners. (Imprint: Nova)”

The chapter I contributed: “Chapter 15. Teachers’ Secret Stories: Using Conversations to Disclose Individual and Team Stories of Planning”, was written when I was contemplating returning to study my PhD. Writing it reminded me how much I enjoy working with teachers and re-telling their stories. It was also one of the early personal ‘tests’ of my organisation, as I was figuring out the logisitics of finding time to write amongst part time work and volunteering my time in schools too. So, on a few different levels this chapter was a step building towards my confidence to undertake my current PhD Journey. As always, thanks to BB for this opportunity and supporting my development in this aspect of my writing.

I wonder what you enjoy about research? Please share in the comments below.

Until next time,

Fiona T


Ideas coming together: neuroplasticity and learning!

As I read more widely around my PhD topic I am finding many connections forming in my mind as to how a range of ideas and theories can mesh together to make a supporting argument. My Son, LT (6yo) would be exclaiming “I made a connection to text!”, and sometimes, when these ideas mesh in my mind I feel like shouting that too. Instead I tuck away the idea for a blog post. Here is one of  the most recent connections I have made.

As a teacher I know that ‘practise makes perfect’ (and if it still isn’t perfect, if you have been practising you will be better at something than when you started!). As a Mum introducing food to a toddler, I had been told that you need to present a new food at least 10 times before a child may even taste it. In my reading about becoming a ‘master’ at any activity requires 10,000 hours of practise (McGonigal, 2011).  As a constructivist teacher I consistently use activity based learning to support students in exploring and making connections with science and math concepts. It is now that I am reading about Neuroscience that I am finding support as to why this practise and immersion does improve learning. Here is a link to an Edutopia blog: Neuroplasticity: Learning Physically Changes the Brain | Edutopia.  This article states that the reason for this repetition working to improve learning is that the brain is ‘plastic’, through our lives our brains adapt to what we are doing, and makes new connections all the time. I recall reading about this in ‘The Brain that Changes itself’ (Doige, 2007), where people use physical therapy to help recover full mobility after strokes, by repeating the actions in physical therapy the body re-forms the neural connections needed to command movement.

By continuing to read, teach and think about learning I have linked my own experiences to emerging research on neuroplasticity. Learning needs to be an active process, for the learner as well as the teacher. Reading is only one form of experiencing information, but different people learn in different ways (not everyone enjoys reading either).  Thinking about how to support the diverse student needs in a classroom means that teachers need to consider the learners in their own class and how to assist each learner to make connections between themselves and the learning at hand. These connections will take time to discover and then need to be nurtured, teachers professional knowledge of pedagogy is central to identifying and then meeting the learning needs of students. Good teachers have known this for a long time, and I am pleased we now have research to support that activity based, cognitively challenging, real world tasks will help students to enjoy the experiences and see their learning more clearly. I can certainly see my learning more clearly!

Until next week

Fiona T.


Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. Viking Press.

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is Broken (2nd ed.). Penguin Books.

Blood typing game-learning can be fun!

I love using games as an approach to learning. Here is one that has won awards, is free to play and can help you learn about blood types and transfusions. By using a context of an emergency ward, you can read the tutorial and then you are straight into collecting and analysing blood samples and choosing the right blood types for a transfusion for the patient. There are two versions, one is a quick play and the other is a mission. The quick play is good, while once you sign in to the mission it builds you up more clearly, and with a variety of patients. In the mission you also unlock achievements as you continue through. I quite like this game, especially when you save a patient, they give a positive ‘whoop’! There are even some funny achievements to unlock to lighten the mood. I am eager to use it with my class.

Here is a link to the game: http://www.nobelprize.org/educational/medicine/bloodtypinggame/

Until next week, happy playing. I wonder what games you like to use in your teaching?

Fiona T

Graphic Novels: connecting to students

Back in August I happened across the Graphica exhibition at The University of Mebourne’s Giblin Eunson Library. Here is a link to the material in the exhibition: Graphica Exhibition – Celebrate Reading! Stories, Images & Text @ the Library – LibGuides at University of Melbourne.   One of my keen interests has always been the use of ‘story’ as a part of teaching, especially in science. This exhibition helped me to consider how this genre might be useful when working with teenagers.

This exhibition was great, and I was lucky to have Kat and Rachel as my Guides, showing me the coolest books for Science. Graphic novels are not a genre I am really familiar with. In my reading about literacy I know they can be powerful texts for many students, who seek a different writing style. I was aware that these graphic novels have been produced for a long time (one of my Nephews loves them) and that many of the ‘English’ texts are available in this form. I was amazed at the number of books available that relate to other subjects, including science and wider real world issues.  I borrowed a ‘1 World Manga’ book to read myself and think about how I could integrate these into my own classes.

Three books that stood out for me are:

Charles Darwin’s on the Origin of Species : a Graphic Adaptation – Michael Keller Which wasn’t available to borrow, but will be now.

The Manga Guide to Physics – Hideo Nitta Which wasn’t available to borrow, but will be now.

1 World Manga – Annette Roman and Leandro Ng which I have borrowed and plan to use in a class in the next couple of weeks.

Even though this is a genre I am not entirely familiar with, I feel that is is important to explore how these resources can be used to help my students make connections with the content and life. In reading the 1 World Manga book, it took me a while to find the voice this was written in and connect with the text.  I can imagine this is how many teenage students feel when faced with a text book or similar in class (this is a big ‘blocker’ for many students, so using a format they are comfortable with will help).  After a couple of ‘read throughs’ I was able to make some great links to sustainability issues and how these books may be a vehicle for supporting students to make these connections in more meaningful and powerful ways.  Another idea that intrigues me is to combine the study of a text in an English class and support this with Science classes to have a cross curricular topic, allowing multiple, deep links to be supported. At Secondary school level I know this can, and does, happen in some schools, but it would be great to see this approach in more schools. In saying this, I realise that graphic novels may not be the answer for all students to be engaged in reading, however I think that in trying to incorporate these types of texts and other approaches into our classrooms, students can see that learning and teaching can take many different forms. It may even help some students to discover a new text that can support them in their learning. There is such a wide range of topics available in ‘graphic novel’ form I encourage teachers  to hunt some of these titles down and explore if these may be of benefit to your students, and help them make connections for their learning.

I wonder if you have been involved in cross curricular units of work, perhaps using different topics and materials? I would love to hear your story!

Until next week

Fiona T


Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas!  All the best for the New Year ahead. It promises to hold much adventure, and I hope you enjoy sharing the official beginning of my PhD journey with me.

Here is a recipe for a quick and fun cake to make on the holidays with kids…chat about what might be making this rise with your kids when you make it as it has no eggs or dairy in this chocolate wacky cake.  It is believed to have been created during the depression/war when eggs and dairy items were rationed.

Prep Time: 5 minutes


  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup cold water


In a large mixing bowl, mix flour, sugar, cocoa, soda and salt. Make three wells in the flour mixture. In one put vanilla; in another the vinegar, and in the third the oil. Pour the cold water over the mixture and stir until moistened. Pour into 8 x 8-inch pan. Bake at 350°F (200 degrees C should do it) oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it springs back when touched lightly.


sourced from: http://southernfood.about.com/od/chocolatecakes/r/bl01018c.htm

I first read about this cake in ‘Apple turnover murder’ , by Joanne Fluke., I quite enjoy reading these mystery books…have a look for then at your local library for some light (and yummy) holiday reading.

All the best

Fiona T


Opportunities In Education

My reflections this week have been around providing opportunities to students and children, opportunities to experience things they may not encounter otherwise. The links below all highlight a slightly different angle of this idea.

First a link to a clip from Ted Talks, about the ‘hole in the wall’ study by Sugatra Mitra. His study began with providing a computer in a wall of slums in India. What the children (who would not have had this experience otherwise) learned was amazing, and then they taught others too. How this study has grown is also very interesting and the end use of Skype to form the ‘granny cloud’ is such a great way to give the children new and different learning opportunities.


Second is more of a science example, but also highlights how things like You-Tube can be used to really expose children to complex educational experiences. This is really well scripted and enables each option t be explored by kids and repeated as necessary for them to test their developing understanding. When I showed this to my son, LT, he wanted to then go and test other things in our house. So we set up a big pyrex bowl and tested lots of things, he even developed a table and drew pictures to record his hypothesis. Another bonus was that he now can use the word ‘hypothesis’ confidently and correctly, all because he has had this experience that was tied to language.  http://johnp.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/sesame-street-science-sink-or-float-an-interactive-youtube-experience/

And third is one I read this morning, from i-mum, talking about how our children take up technology around them: http://www.theimum.com/2011/09/article-raising-the-igeneration/#comment-106. I am a great believer in allowing our children a range of opportunities and encouraging them to do what they enjoy. Technology part of a broad life landscape that we can’t ignore. There is a lot of rubbish out there too, but finding the best and most valuable games, apps and clips can actually be used to our (and our children’s) advantage.

Whether it is having access to some sort of technology they wouldn’t have had, access to ideas they may not have experienced, or having a guided experience with an adult to learn how to use something new, there are many educational opportunities we, as parents and teachers, can provide for our children.  What are some of your favourite educational clips, apps or games?

Until next week

Happy Learning!


Past Posts

May 2021
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