Tag Archives: education

#GenderedToys are awful

11 Feb

Okay. I know it has been a REALLY long time since my last post. It’s not because I have been lazy – in the past few months I have spent much of my energy founding Curiosity Collider, a non-profit focus on innovative and interdisciplinary ways to experience science. Plus, at some point my personal life needs to take priority 😀 Now that things are moving along quite nicely, maybe I will start writing a little more…

Anyways, today I want to share this video about gendered toys, which I discussed a few times previously. I love this segment from an Australian show called The Weekly with Charlie Pickering (I think it is very similar to the Daily Show in US). Here it is:

*Sigh* By the way, I do have a box of LEGO Research Institute which I keep in a box and don’t let anyone touch…

 

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How to expand your science outreach program? My slides from #IPSEC2014 conference

5 Mar

I had the opportunity to lead a session with Melissa Beattie Moss from Penn state on expanding outreach programs during the International Public Science Events Conference. I figure that I might as well share my slides and notes here 😀 I do warn you that the presentation is a bit dry only because I tried to cover a lot of the logistics and management stuff that one needs to think about when expanding a science outreach program. If you see anything interesting and would like me to elaborate, feel free to let me know. You can find my personal notes below the slides (only for those that are not self-explanatory). Enjoy!

First few slides: bragging about Vancouver, UBC, and our outreach program.

Slide 10 : First thing I did was to start a e-mail newsletter list. I used MailChimp to manage subscribers, make pretty newsletters, and track what our subscribers are interested in. It will send 12,000 emails to 2,000 subscribers for free. Impact: now have 450+ subscribers, camps get fully registered really quickly, we stop buying ads for paid events, which usually cost us about $1200. There are a few other similar services out there – I just decided that MailChimp fits our needs. Another option I often hear is Emma Inc., although they do charge a fee to start.

Slide 11 : I use survey monkey to collect feedback from activity participants. It is a good way to get qualitative feedback for funding or promotion purposes. Also good to let them know you are listening and looking for ways to improve. If you run your own server or have IT people to help you, you can consider LimeSurvey, which is free and open source.

Slide 12: I actually put together a list of all public event listings in Vancouver. You only need to do it once – can use the list over and over again for different events.

Slide 13: Social media. Won’t elaborate much here because it is another talk perhaps. If you want to tap into social media power, only use the relevant ones that will allow you to connect to your audience. This is only general. There are of course exceptions – ask me if you have questions about this.

Slide 14:  Having an event that you can all work on together is a good way to start a collaborative relationship.

Missed opportunity? On AAAS President’s Address

14 Feb

Note (Feb 15, 2014): The AAAS President’s Address is now available online via the AAAS website! Please do take a little bit of time to watch it. Opinions are mine but would love to know what you think. Also thanking AAAS for letting me know that the video is available.

In case you don’t know yet, I am currently in Chicago attending both the International Public Science Events Conference (just wrapped up today) and the AAAS annual meeting (American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, also the largest general science meeting in the world with more than 10,000 participants).

Maybe it is because I have been going to sessions on how to better communicate science and to reach a broader audience for the past 2 days, maybe it is because I am always pretty sensitive about the level of a talk when students and young scientists are part of the audience. But for me, the speech by Nobel Prize Laureate and AAAS President Phillip Sharp on the first night of the AAAS annual meeting, did not to inspire me.

IMG_20140213_185000698 (1)

Philip Sharp is a molecular biologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1993 with Richard Roberts, “for their discoveries of split genes.” If you studied biochemistry in the past (oh, wait, I did!), you would know that it is a pretty big deal (well, it is a huge deal). Back in the days, we didn’t know that the DNA code for a gene is not really just one continuous chain of information. What Sharp and Roberts found was that after the DNA code is translated into mRNA, parts of it called “introns”are removed. And it is based on this processed (spliced) mRNA that proteins, the building blocks of an organism, are actually made. The cool thing is that sometimes different ways to splice the DNA code could result in different proteins being produced. You can learn more about it from the slide show provided by the Nobel Prize website.

Like I said, I studied biochemistry for my undergrad degree, so this is really exciting for me.  I was truly looking forward to a talk in which he incorporate his experience and vision (or that of AAAS) for science, for future scientists, and for this AAAS meeting.

Instead, we were treated with “Discovery, Invention & Entrepreneurship need to be better linked for science to meet global challenges.” In my plain language, I think it means that 1. basic science research can significantly inform applied science, while applied science can mobilize basic science, and 2. scientists across disciplines, applied scientists, and the industry should collaborate better to solve the global challenges we will be facing in the next few decades, if not years: health care, food shortage, and I think the last one is poverty. The overall theme was actually quite good, especially considering the debate on funding rationale for basic science research nowadays. He concluded with the following question:

summary question

(If you are wondering, although you really shouldn’t, the expected answer was NO…)

Yet, the delivery just did not match up to the message. As technically the first talk for the day, it was rather stiff, scripted, and factual. Why should I feel motivated to do this? What’s the vision? What would be the significance? (see postscript) The more interesting part of the presentation though, was this quote from Susan Hockfield, the President of MIT from 2004-2012:

quote Susan Hockfield

(Ironically, none of the 5 opening talks this evening was by a female speaker – they are all white males above the age of 50. Nothing against them…but just want to point that out, and I was not the only one to notice that.)

Perhaps. AAAS is not an event for the general public. Yet with so many budding scientists in the audience, and the brightest high school students attending the conference via the American Junior Academy of Sciences, with attendees from all over the world, I feel frustrated and sad that this was a missed opportunity- that this speech did not make me feel like I should go home and think about how I could contribute to moving science and innovation forward. I just wanted to go back to my room and write this post.

It doesn’t mean that all scientists should be perfect science communicators. Not all of us can be Brian Cox or Neil deGrasse Tyson, and not all talks should be like their talks to the general public. Yet I believe that we can all find ways to improve ourselves, or talk to others (scientists, non-scientists, your parents, cousins, pretty much anyone you can find) to make sure the message is delivered to and understood by the audience.

Am I too critical? If you were at the talk, I would love to know what you think. Although this dampened my enthusiasm a little, I am still super excited about all the talks that I will get to attend at AAAS – now the question is, how to I pick which talk to go to…there are so many and all of them are so interesting…

PS. I hope that AAAS will post the video so that there is more context to this blog post. In the mean time, here is a photo I took of the transcription of the talk (via voice recognition I think, so might not be exact). I personally don’t like terms such as framework, model, convergence (which was used a lot), etc etc. I felt quite disconnected…

transcribed speech

When Our Toys Tell Kids Who They Should Be – on Gender Stereotypes and Gender-segregated Toys

15 Nov

I passed by these sticker books in Chapters some time in the summer, and the idea of them upset me. Check out the product description and photos of these sticker books (close the pop-up and scroll down).

sticker_books

If I had a child

I would rip these covers off

So that boys could write poetry, learn about fashion, and try out acting on stage

And girls could play with insects, go camping, and make their robots

And then I would tell my child

“You can play with anything you want

Because Mommy loves you no matter what”

(okay, perhaps I would also rip out the pages on fairies…)

It seems that I am not the only one uncomfortable with the gender stereotype that boys should play with insects and go camping, and girls should write poetry and act on stage. Check out this blog posts: This isn’t just any children’s sticker book…this is a sexist M&S sticker book by Meg Pickard.

Furthermore, it seems that “gender-segregated toys” sell much better. Lego Friends, meant to target girls, turned out to be one of the biggest success for the company.  Listen/Read Girls’ Legos Are A Hit, But Why Do Girls Need Special Legos? by NPR. And note that Kinder Surprise is also going for it. I, for one, was personally offended by the following commercial:

(“For showing off”?? And, not that I don’t enjoy dressing up – I actually do read fashion magazines – but is that a girl only thing? What if I want to build robots? Which I certainly did when I was little.)

Read Melissa Carr’s post Why New Pink Kinder Surprise Pisses Me Off, and also the post Why do parents buy into gender segregated toys? by Reel Girl.

And that is why while I know that something like Goldieblox, engineering toys for girls, would be popular, and that a swarm of parents would go for it, something doesn’t sit right with me. In one of the workshops that I was involved in running, girls had so much fun playing with circuit boards and wires and lasers (they were building a laser detector) – none of the parts were coloured pink and made with ribbons. They were the exact same electronic parts that we used for workshops with boys. Read Spydergrrl’s post Why I Won’t Be Buying Gender-Segregating Toys Like Goldieblox and Lego Friends. (Updated Nov 18, 2013) And definitely read about Jamie Davis Smith’s personal experience in Getting Over Goldie Blox.

I should mention that I grew up loving both Lego bricks and Barbie dolls. My parents never told me to play with one or the other.

And my Lego bricks were not in pink.

Pokemon + Biodiversity = the Phylo Card Game

25 Jul

For someone whose blog name was inspired by a Pokemon catchphrase, I am attracted to all things science & Pokemon. It therefore feels like my duty to talk about the Phylo card game. Even more importantly, there is a little back story here.

When I was still a graduate student, I spent a lot of time doing science outreach. One time, I attended an outreach workshop organized by the UBC Let’s Talk Science Partnership Program. This particularly workshop was led by David Ng, Director and Senior Instructor of the UBC  Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much from that workshop (sorry Dave!). But, one thing he talked about did stick with me. He mentioned a letter by Andrew Balmford and colleagues (you can read the excerpt here), who found that kids in UK could identify Pokemons (which are really just artificial “species”) better than identifying common wild life organisms. So – can we learn from this and come up with something that would help them discover real species and learn their names?

Little did I know back then, that this would soon be a new initiative led by David, and became a real game: Phylo, the trading card game. The game is much like the typical Pokemon trading card game you see kids play. The main difference? All the organisms on the cards are real. This is also an interesting artistic collaboration – there are some amazing art works done for the cards by many artists. Each card comes with the organism’s common name and Latin name, evolutionary tree info, key words, and more. If you browse the cards online, you can also read a bit more about each species.

speciescardimage

What a Phylo card looks like. For more info visit: http://phylogame.org/game-play/

The Phylo game is an open access project – you can download the card deck online for free (!!) and print the cards on card stock. There are also special decks put together by the London’s Natural History Museum and the 2012 World Science Festival. If you are in Vancouver, the UBC Beaty Biodiversity Museum now produces  professionally printed starter deck with organisms featured at the museum, for sale at the Museum Gift Shop for $12.99. Proceeds from the sale will go to outreach and education activities at the museum. Online sale is currently not available, but you can sign up online to receive an email when online sale begins. Or, you can just download this starter deck here.

This touches on something else about science communication – how many other mainstream, unconventional ideas haven’t we tapped into for science communication and education? Something to think about…

Salal

Sockeye Salmon

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