Unleashing the Inner Child

March 6th, 2008 by webmaster

Unleashing the Inner Child

Who doesn’t love kindergarten. Crafts, colouring, and learning new things makes for an enjoyable time, what’s not to love?
Now, replace “kindergarten” with “glycolysis”, and you have a conversation killer.
The process of cellular respiration - glycolysis, the Krebs cycle and oxidative phosphorylation - has been glazing eyes of stunned Biology students for decades. And yet, if approached carefully, it is quite straightforward - thare is just a lot of pieces to the puzzle. So in order to pull my senior Biology students away from the brink of the memorizing abyss, I decided to bring them back to kindergarten. I stopped in at the dollar store and purchased a set of bingo markers (also called daubers, dobbers or dabbers - tubes of brightly coloured ink with spongy tops), and a roll of paper from the art department. The students’ task was simply to draw cellular respiration. To draw it big, and draw it bold.
At first, the students began reproducing the diagrams from their text. When I suggested that perhaps fun and whimzy should play a part in their work - after all, we were using bingo markers - they became genuinely excited. Enzymes became hearts and hats and stars. Sugar molecules became faces with one hair for each carbon, and ATP became magical.
Instead of copying the diagrams from the text, they began interpreting them. Identifying what was important, why they were presented in a particular way, and how they related to each other.  A few of them made mistakes - drawing arrows or molecules where there were none - which forced them to observe the diagrams more carefully, and recognize why there wasn’t an arrow there. It also forced them to make decisions - how do I fix this?  In short, learning happened.
The lesson, of course, does not stop there. I will be posting images of the work, and will be asking the students to provide critique and feedback, which will force them to analyze the interpretations, and compare them with their understanding.
The class wasn’t entirely without incident. There was some misbehaviour with the markers, and there was one boy who decided (after doing some good work) that doing Art in Bio class was not worth his full attention.
But then, if I could have all but one student fully engaged in my class every day, I think I would be getting somewhere. 
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So close, and yet so far

March 2nd, 2008 by webmaster

I recently heard about Wubi - the windows installer for Ubuntu. This utility is listed as a beta release, but it seems fully functional. The very special thing about Wubi is that it allows one to install Ubuntu Linux onto an existing Windows partition. The end result is a dual-boot configuration, without the need for separate partitions. And, since Wubi is installed through windows, it can be uninstalled just as easily. This sounded like something I needed to try.

I have an old, but trusty Dell C800 laptop that I use for deep-space and planetary image aquisition and processing. Since there are many applications for these tasks under Linux, I though this machine would be the perfect platform for such an installation. I have long been an admirer of Linux - power, beauty, stability, and tons of free software. And I really REALLY want to be a convert. My Knoppix boot CD has saved my keester on a number of occasions, but I have never had full-time (or even dual-boot) Linux box. Wubi was the nudge I was waiting for.

Wubi downloaded and installed flawlessly. The Wubi installer is compact, but the full Ubuntu download is a full CD’s worth, so takes a while to download. But download it did. And then it installed itself, and then let me reboot into Ubuntu, where it went through the process of autoconfiguration, and finally launching a fully functional Ubuntu desktop.

But here’s the rub.

Ubuntu did not recognize my wireless card. This, in and of itself, should not have been a problem. Lord knows I have configured enough hardware and OS’s to sink a ship, how hard could it be? I have worked with CP/M, VAX, DOS, OS/2, and several flavours of Windows, and for each of them making configurations was a straightforward case of following the instructions.

Not so with Ubuntu, I’m afraid.

The help files, online forums (accessed from a different machine), and Ubuntu documentation Wiki were completely unhelpful, for a simple reason. All of these expected me to be completely familiar with Linux. The instructions were not written for someone unfamiliar with the particulars of Linux. Yes, Linux is a geek OS, but Ubuntu is targetted at a broader audience. Something straightforward and basic such as “here’s how you check hardwarde configuration, and here’s how you install drivers” would be nice. But following troubleshooting steps from a variety of sources usually lost me on the second step. Either they would suggest an action without any information on how to perform that action, or they would give very specific instructions for utilities that did not seem to exist on my install.

As far as I could tell, the correct driver was in fact installed, but beyond that I was lost. After a frustrating day of getting nowhere, I came to the conclusion that either I am not quite ready for Linux, or it is not quite ready for me. I still have great hopes that Dell’s move to sell new systems preloaded with Ubuntu will bolster this OS with manufacturers and users alike. Even though it has a strong base of command-line power-users, if this OS is going to break into the mainstream it has to be simple enough that my mother could use it. And then maybe Linux and I will get along. I really hope that time comes soon, because I really dislike Vista. 

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