Into the field

In a week, I head into the field to trap kangaroo rats for my dissertation study.  It’s about time I get back into it. I finished my comprehensive exams last semester, meaning no more classes are required.  Only dissertation credits and classes that I take for fun.  Thinking about my other field season in summer 2012, I dug up a few old pictures.

The kangaroo rats I study experience dangers in many forms.  Kit foxes are one.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sidewinders are another.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But human influence is another biggie.  Behold, desert kangaroo rat paste:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Despite all that, though, they survive.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And here we are to catch them, take pieces of their ears, and figure out what unseen changes human influences have on their genetics.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We set out the traps in the evenings, and then we go out to check them in the early mornings.  Of course, just because we work hard doesn’t mean the k-rats have to like what we’re doing. One of them kicked a trap full of sand.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And often we find an empty trap with a calling card on top. A gift from a kit fox.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Whatever the outcome, though, it’s a great place to be working. It can be hot, spiky, and uninviting, but it’s a beautiful landscape.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Landscape Conservation Initiative events at Colorado Plateau Conference

One of the things I like most about Northern Arizona University is that it has some great conservation-related working groups, lab groups and institutions.  One that I work with closely is the Landscape Conservation Initiative (LCI), which hosts the Lab of Landscape Ecology and Conservation Biology (LLECB).  The LCI was in the works for several years but is now in full swing.  What I particularly like about the LCI is that it has a primary goal of facilitating partnerships and approaches to landscape conservation that are powerful, effective, and uncommon in higher education.

LCI is sponsoring several events and numerous speakers at the Biennial Conference on Research and Management on the Colorado Plateau (co-sponsored by LCI and the Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research, another great NAU institute) is coming up on September 16-19.  See LCI’s free events here, and for a full list of talks and events at the Biennial Conference click here.  I’m really looking forward to hearing and discussing about management, wildlife biology, collaboration, and all things conservation!

I’ll be speaking on Wednesday, Sept 18 on a new environmental education initiative that I’m working on.  More on that later. If you can join us, please do!

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Cool maps

I’ve come across these websites in the last couple of weeks that have interesting maps of humans and the world.

40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World

Gorgeous Glimpses of Calamity

The Racial Dot Map: One Dot Per Person for the Entire U.S.

Regional Dialect Variation in the Continental U.S.

A Breathing Earth

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Evolution of my teaching

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I love working with kids – I taught science to teenage girls for almost 5 years at New Haven Residential Treatment Center before coming to Flagstaff for a PhD program.  My students went on field trips, did projects on genetic disorders, and shot off rockets.  I wanted them to have fun, but there was also regular life – when I tried to make them memorize the elements, calculate things that had no relevance to them, and copy down notes just because that’s what you do in school.

I wasn’t like the teacher in this film… (thanks to Brandon Arnold for the film. Great to have one amazing teacher play another – Hal Black as Merrill Webb)

… but I also didn’t know how to be better, either.

When I first left my teaching job, I felt a bit burned out and ready for something new.  As much as I liked teaching, I missed research and I honestly felt worn down by the daily grind.  As much as I liked teaching, I didn’t feel like I had the skills to do it as well as I wanted it to be done.  After all, I’d never planned on being a teacher, and kind of fell into the job in the first place.  As much as I liked it, I needed to broaden my experiences and move on.

After a couple years of my PhD program at NAU, I realized that I missed how kids bring you down to earth.  Adults, and academics in particular, are very selective in what they talk about.  I think it’s refreshing, though, to be with kids.  Kids do a better job than adults in saying what’s on their minds.   In addition, kids often haven’t had a chance to make the same assumptions that others have made, and I think that’s a big part of why they ask such amazing questions that push the boundaries of what we know.

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During my 3rd year at NAU, I got a chance to work with 4th and 5th graders in the GK-12 program at Sechrist Elementary, and also some 6th-8th graders at Jeddito School.  It was a positive experience to work with such a great set of students and teachers. The kids built and raced cars, dissected hearts, figured out electrical circuits, ran around like water molecules, and launched a balloon into space.  Good times.

sechrist

The GK-12 program also involved delving into radical ideas about teaching methods.  I learned a lot about recent education research and how to make the most of the teaching and learning experience.  I loved being challenged by radical ideas about teaching.  My own approaches to teaching began to change and incorporate ideas that do a better job of engaging students more.

One of the tools I found most helpful in improving my own teaching was using the RTOP as a self-assessment tool. It was required by the GK-12 program, but it made a big difference for me.

The most helpful idea that I began to incorporate into my teaching was engaging students in hypothesis-making.  The earlier and more frequently the learners develop expectations, the more their minds are working.  Of course it’s important to be clear and organized in the way you present ideas, but now I think that it’s just as important (or even more important) to invite learners to develop explicit expectations of the who, what, when, where, why, how of the lesson.  An awesome example is the Blakawton Bees.

I’m no longer in the GK-12 program, but I’ve got plans to keep involved in teaching.  More on the SCIFOR program later!

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Quote: F. Scott Fitzgerald

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” 

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ICOET 2013, Scottsdale, AZ

icoet 2013I went to the International Conference On Ecology and Transportation (ICOET) in Scottsdale, Arizona in June.  ICOET is a biennial conference held in the US, and alternates years with the Infra Eco Network Europe (IENE) conferences in Europe.  These sister organizations focus on alleviating the effects of roads on nature.  It’s a good place for me to go, since my PhD project deals with the effects of roads on genetic patterns in wildlife.

I’ve enjoyed going to ICOET and IENE, and I like the practical focus that people have on applying research to specific management issues.  There are also people involved in outreach, education, and citizen science.  ICOET and IENE get a fun mix of people from agencies, academia, for-profit, and non-profit organizations.  We see engineers, ecologists, managers, and policy people.  We get theoreticians, practitioners, and a full range of people in between.

Part of me gets annoyed that there aren’t more people that show up to these meetings, since they’re so good.  But in the end I’m glad they’re small conferences, because that’s part of what makes them so fun and useful.

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Book review: The Lady Tasting Tea

The_Lady_Tasting_Tea_-_David_Salsburg

I’ve been doing a lot of reading this summer to prepare for my comprehensive exams in the fall. I’m told that in order to become a doctor of philosophy, I ought to know the philosophy of science.  One of the books that I’ve most enjoyed reading that deals with the big ideas of science is The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century.  David Salsburg brings you through the events, ideas, and personalities behind the history of statistics.  It’s refreshing to have a book on statistics that’s written for a lay audience.

It’s essentially a series of intertwined biographies, and in the process it teaches about how statistics came to be, and how they have hugely changed how we think about science.

The title refers to an experience that Ronald Fisher had that got him thinking about the nature of inference.  If you haven’t heard about the story of the lady who said she could tell the difference between milk poured into tea and tea poured into milk, this retelling tells a bit about it.

It really was interesting for me to learn about the people that all the various tests, corrections, and procedures are named after.  Statistics classes are full of references to statisticians, but rarely do you learn what problems they were trying to address and what resources they had available to them.  I’m simultaneously impressed at how brilliant these people are, while also more willing to question some of the common methods that some of them developed.

If you’ve had stats classes before or work with stats, I’d recommend this book to get a better appreciation and feel for where the field came from.

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