One time, I suggested in a list-serve that science teachers make more use of primary scientific literature. Naturally, I learned all the reasons why teachers don't do this-lack of access being one of the biggies- but I also learned something surprising.
One teacher wrote that she re-writes a lot of research articles to make them easier for her students to read. I can understand that notion, in principle. My students struggle with scientific language, too, even those that have bachelor's degrees in biology.
What surprised me was thinking about the amount of time that activity would take! Yikes! When would you find time for teaching if you were busy re-writing articles?
Still, the idea of having students read articles that have been pre-chewed and digested a bit, plus summarized in easier language is attractive.
Well, now we're in luck. Researchblogging.org is there to help. This is a wonderful resource created by Dave Munger, and assisted by several others, and powered by technology donated from Seed Media Group.
How does this work?
Bloggers who write about scientific literature use a special icon to identify those posts. They also register at the Researchblogging web site with their credentials and favorite topics. When those bloggers write about a research paper, the information gets referenced in Researchblogging.
How would I use this in my class?
Send your students to Researchblogging.org. They can search for articles by keyword or by topic and get a set of links to blog articles on those topics. Each article will contain at least one link to a scientific paper.
Let's say you have a student who's interested in the genetics of Neanderthals. Your student could enter the phrase 'genetics of Neanderthals' in the search box, click the search link, and get a link to a very nice, informative, post on FOXP2 by Daniel Ocampo-Daza. Plus, you have all the links to the articles themselves (or at least abstracts) so the student can go look up the original work after they've used the blog post as a starting point.
In my classes, I used to assign Scientific American articles or the summaries from Nature or Science, as starting points, but I think students would probably prefer blog posts. I might be prejudiced, but I find bloggers are usually less stuffy and more fun to read.
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For me its definitely lack of access that kills me. I'm a K-12 teacher so I don't have access to most journals. Also, it's one thing for science research to be gated, but it's really hard to get a hold of educational research. Usually I end up trying to just email one of the authors and use the "I'm an 8th grade teacher and don't have access to/can't pay...." pity line. I'd say I have about a 40% success rate with that.
As an aside, there's a lot of really good science/math educational research going on in Israel and they're really helpful over there.
Oh wow, thanks for the mention and the nice compliment! I read your wonderful blog from time to time, and especially enjoy your posts on bioinformatics since I work with a lot of bioinformatics tools. Your opinion is valued.
One tiny wee thing. My surname/s is/are Ocampo-Daza. I'm gonna start hyphenating more. It can get confusing, even for me.
I'm a strong supporter of using all the beautiful resources that are available online. I pretty much selected the articles I was going to use for the FOXP2 seminar based on blog searches here on scienceblogs and elsewhere. Whenever I need to bone up on a subject before a conference or a seminar series the scientific blogosphere is my go-to place to get updated. Of course ResearchBlogging has made this a whole lot easier.
My career in teaching is only just beginning but I can only see myself using the blogosphere and the internet more and more. I'm thinking of using my own blog and the comments function as a way to get feedback and provide answers to questions that students might have after lectures/seminars/labs, but also to be able to expand on the subject of the lecture, maybe go off on fun tangents that don't fit in the context of the classroom, and give suggestions of further reading for those that are interested. It's going to be a fun experiment but only time will tell if it will give anything. It's worth a try in any case.
Daniel: Thanks for pointing that out! I've fixed it out now.
I think blogs are a great boon to teachers and students!