30 March 2010

Maui: ISEE, Inquiry and Exoplanets

I spent the last week in Maui (poor me) at a workshop for science and engineering educators.  Most of the participants were STEM graduate students or post-docs from UCSC or University of Hawaii, but with a little bit of astrophysics research experience under my belt I fit right in, despite my newly minted social scientist identity.  

The workshop focused on "inquiry," a word abused by curriculum developers, politicians and school organizations alike.  Inquiry is often confused with descriptives like "hands-on," or "using the scientific method," or described as some kind of unstructured free play.  Barry Kluger-Bell, drawing on his experience with the Institute for Inquiry at the Exploratorium in San Fransisco, led us in an inquiry about light and shadow that was illuminating even to participants with PhDs in physics.  My group presented our discoveries to the group on the poster to the left.

The Exploratorium's Institute for Inquiry, where my advisor Doris Ash spent many years, has developed the following description of a "true" inquiry activity: 

"an approach to learning that involves a process of exploring the natural or material world, and that leads to asking questions, making discoveries, and testing those discoveries in the search for new understanding."

15 March 2010

A visit to TLC: a real ranch, with real pigs, and real pig sex

Today Carolina and I took a trip out to Aromas to visit TLC Ranch (Tastes Like Chicken), where I get eggs at the farmers market every Wednesday.  It was an unbelievably perfect day (a common California phenomenon) and the ranch was overrun by hundreds of new piglets.  And here's the best part: the piglets were running, playing and suckling, like real piglets.

A running piglet looks a lot like a puppy, with wildly flopping ears and a clumsy stop, sometimes tumbling into piles of other piglets.  Unlike most pigs in the country, who are raised exclusively inside and whose tails are cropped so that other pigs don't chew them off after they go insane (true story), these pigs looked like, well, pigs.  It warmed my heart.  And the chickens?  They looked like chickens!