Teaching Science

In Our Time: Echolocation

In Our Time is a wonderful series on BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how some bats, dolphins and other animals emit sounds at high frequencies to explore their environments, rather than sight. This was such an unlikely possibility, to natural historians from C18th onwards, that discoveries were met with disbelief even into the C20th; it was assumed that bats found their way in the dark by touch. Not all bats use echolocation, but those that do have a range of frequencies for different purposes and techniques for preventing themselves becoming deafened by their own sounds. Some prey have evolved ways of detecting when bats are emitting high frequencies in their direction, and some fish have adapted to detect the sounds dolphins use to find them.

Linked in the grade 11 physics and grade 11 biology pages.

In Our Time: The Proton

In Our Time is a wonderful series on BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the discovery and growing understanding of the Proton, formed from three quarks close to the Big Bang and found in the nuclei of all elements. The positive charges they emit means they attract the fundamental particles of negatively charged electrons, an attraction that leads to the creation of atoms which in turn leads to chemistry, biology and life itself. The Sun (in common with other stars) is a fusion engine that turn protons by a series of processes into helium, emitting energy in the process, with about half of the Sun's protons captured so far. Hydrogen atoms, stripped of electrons, are single protons which can be accelerated to smash other nuclei and have applications in proton therapy. Many questions remain, such as why are electrical charges for protons and electrons so perfectly balanced?

Linked in the grade 12 modern physics unit.

Mirror Ray Diagram Workbook (2nd edition)

Drawing ray diagrams is a skill used in many branches of optics. As with any skill, practice makes perfect. Rather than force students to draw the mirror and so on, this ready-to-copy booklet is a short workbook, letting them practice drawing just the rays and image (which is, after all, the key skill we want them to learn).

The newly updated 70-page workbook has 60 diagrams to label and draw, with solutions at the back so students can practice on their own.

Also available as a set of six 14-page workbooks with 10 diagrams each, for those who want to give students a smaller selection of diagrams.

Linked on the grade 10 physics page.

Ecosystem Computer Game

Grow and modify an ecosystem, with simulated evolution by natural selection creating the lifeforms that inhabit it. Ecosystem is a game about life and its interactions. At its heart are evolving virtual lifeforms, who grow from synthetic DNA and live in a physically-simulated ocean.

This synthetic DNA encodes everything about a creature, from skeletal structure to skin, from joint-types to mental processes. The genetic code of a creature can mutate, combine, be spliced with other species, and be directly modified by the player.

To swim, creatures don't just play an animation. They move like real sea-life, applying torque at their joints to push against the water in a way coordinated to propel themselves forward. Working within this physical simulation, evolution can produce an enormous variety of body shapes and swimming styles.

Creature brains are also encoded in DNA and subject to evolution. The neurology of a virtual lifeform is a pipeline computer where, every moment, data from sense organs is passed through a network of neurons and finally contracts a muscle in a specific body part.

A wide variety of different creature populations share a single environment, where they swim, graze, prey on each other, and have children. The fittest creatures pass their genes along to their children, and over time a world of strange and unique creatures is born.

This is another Kickstarter project that I’m backing. It looks interesting, and at $15 for the digital game tier it’s eminently affordable.

Linked in the grade 11 biology page.

In Our Time: Fungi

In Our Time is a wonderful series on BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss fungi. These organisms are not plants or animals but a kingdom of their own. Millions of species of fungi live on the Earth and they play a crucial role in ecosystems, enabling plants to obtain nutrients and causing material to decay. Without fungi, life as we know it simply would not exist. They are also a significant part of our daily life, making possible the production of bread, wine and certain antibiotics. Although fungi brought about the colonisation of the planet by plants about 450 million years ago, some species can kill humans and devastate trees.

Linked in the grade 11 biology page.