Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Luxmas to All!

It has been quite a year, rich with ups and downs.  I'm not alone in that evaluation, I realize.

The death of my father in April gave me quite a bit to think about. Having my promotion file to full professor tabled early on was disappointing, but I think I need to be philosophical:  I will always have a, um, nonlinear path in academia.  

I'm a bit unconventional.  Okay, I'm an oddball and don't fit in very well.  But at least I'm true to myself!  And I truly do care about science and my students.  Besides, lots of great people in the microbiology community have been very supportive and helpful. It'll be okay; tenure is a wonderful thing.  

Lots of good things happened, too.  First and foremost, that fabulous family of mine:  my lovely and brilliant wife Jennifer Quinn, and my musical and smart and happy F1s, Anson and Zach. They remain the center of my universe.

I was elected to be Chair-elect for the American Society for Microbiology's Division W on Education, attended four microbiology meetings, ran a session on Art and Microbiology at the ASM General Meeting, ran a luminous art session at ASMCUE, published three book reviews and an essay.  I visited the American Museum of Natural History (and got a personal tour of the Microbiome exhibit!) and traveled to Amsterdam to see the microbiology museum Micropia and the home of microbiology, Delft.  I continue to have fun with students in my classes and my undergraduate research laboratory.  

But for all kinds of reasons, it's nice to see 2016 start to fade into the distance.

As always, some #Luxmas fun.

First, I have always adored tardigrades.  So I had a number of small 3D printed models made, and my wife and created a #TardiMas tree!

I played a bit with Serratia and GFP expressing E. coli.

Then it was, as usual, time for words on Petri dishes, painting with luminous Photobacterium leignothi.

That last really made me sad; I had wanted to write a parody of "White Christmas" on Petri dishes, and I just can't work finely enough to write:

I'm dreaming of a bright Luxmas 
Just like microbes that used to glow 
Where Euprymna glisten and quorums listen
To homoserine lactones in the crypt

I'm dreaming of a bright Luxmas 
With every Luxmas plate I swab 
May your genes be autoinduced, and bright
And may all your Luxmases make light!  
 Maybe next year.

Even a decent #LuxSelfie, reminding everyone (and myself) to look for light, even in dark places, during 2017.

And as always, my wife's beautiful #Luxmas tree video.

Enjoy friends and family this evening, and to the New Year.

Thanks for reading, and I can't wait to share more thoughts about microbiology, education, and life in 2017!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Microbiology, Student Learning, and Creative Extra Credit

For a number of years now, I have been interested in exploring unusual strategies to promote ownership from my students in the classes I teach.  I find that lists of facts, conceptual maps, frequent assessment, group work...all of these have positives and negatives. But the real spark, I believe, is getting the students to become engaged in topics because of the choices they make---to "own" their work.

One approach I have tried is via the time-honored inducement of "extra credit." Students always pay attention to those words as well they should. But I add to it "creative projects."  

Thus, for that precious precious extra credit, I tell students to come up with a creative form of extra credit that is relevant to the concepts we have been discussing in lecture and laboratory.  

I scaffold the assignment in the following fashion.  First, the students need to get my verbal approval of an idea for their project. In this way, I can keep the project reasonable, topical to class, and not a "time-sink" that will take away from their other classroom responsibilities.  After two weeks, I have them turn in a one page description of their project, and justify it in terms of topics we have covered in lecture.  Again, this helps me make certain the projects are reasonable, topical, and helpful to the students.  The students also think more deeply about their projects.  Finally, at the end of the semester,  students turn in the projects.

And the results are gratifying.  

Here is Juniper's artistic interpretation of Carl Woese's greatest discovery.  I turned the pages she wrote and illustrated into a video, and added some jazz music in honor of Brother Carl.

Erin created a Bacterial Phylogeny of Many Colors.

Mara created a mobile depicting the human microbiome.

Carly and Anne made #MicrobialCookies (and wrote a long "key" to explain each choice).  Always a crowd pleaser.

Makenzie created a knit phage that fit inside a knit bacterium.

Renee created a flip book that shows how the Type 3 Secretory System is assembled.

Emily created a paper mache mobile of microbial wonders.  A phage wearing a Santa hat can never, ever be wrong.

Kyle adapted "My Shot" from the play "Hamilton" to the armament wielded by Vibrio cholera's Type 6 Secretory System.

Austin made very intricate shadow boxes displaying the different parts of the bacterial cell wall.

Josh painted an epic bacteriophage.

Cooper wrote a short-short story, in the style of Edgar Allan Poe (or as he put it, "Poe-karyote"), about the endosymbiotic model of eukaryotic cell evolution.

Jesse created a plush Euprymna scolopes, complete with remote controlled LED lighting to represent Vibrio fischeri in that wondrous symbiotic relationship.

Trini drew various microbes as "Micro-Avengers."

Anna decided to adapt Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" to "Plate It Out."  Complete with, yes,  backup dancers.

Molly cross stitched one of my favorite sayings that reminds me of Pasteur's famous line:  "In the end, the microbes will have the last word."


I have found that some educators shrug at this approach, or think it is trivial.  I respectfully disagree.  There are many roads to learning, and teaching, effectively; we spend a great deal of time judging and less time listening, in my opinion.

What I do know is that my students---my micronauts---enjoy this kind of assignment, and learn a great deal from it.

One further thing, something that may be the most important point of all.  Year after year, a quiet student will tell me that she or he lacks any kind of talent.  Then, I discover that they can sing well, dance, draw, paint, write poetry....and the look on their faces when fellow students (and I) applaud their project is worth it all.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Coolest Thing Bio350 Micronauts Learned in Fall 2016

Well, it is the last day of my beloved microbiology course, Biology 350, here at the University of Puget Sound.

Because there is just so much #OMG (overwhelming microbial greatness) to share, I always remain conflicted at the end of each Fall semester.  Did I give good coverage of the material?  Did I leave out anything important?  What can I do better next time? What new concepts MUST be in the next iteration of my course?

Truly a moving target.

So on the last day,  I try to have my brave micronauts tell me the single "coolest" thing that they have learned in my class.  Here is a video with the thoughts of my wonderful micronauts from this semester.

What can I say?  You might say that they now "see" through "microbe colored glasses."  Or that they all drank "the microbial Kool-ade" (as I have been accused to microbially propagandizing students more than once).  

I often talk about the #OneTrueMicrobialFaith.  We do need to promote what I have long called "Microbial Supremacy."

Artwork by the great Kaitlin Reiss
Yes, I think that there needs to be MUCH more microbiology, MUCH earlier in EVERY biology curriculum.  But that gets me called names.  Still, as the saying goes, I didn't choose the bug life; the bug life chose me.  

I remain a proud and unrepentant #MicrobialSupremacist.

My students this semester? I like to think that they now have a new perspective of the primacy of the microbial world, from the bottom of the ocean (and beneath the crust) to high in the atmosphere (and perhaps beyond).  

First evolved, and last extinct, indeed.  

So my micronauts have a whole new way of perceiving not just biology, but the world around them.  I hope that they can take that knowledge and perspective into other classes, and after graduation into their next venture.

It's a privilege working with students here in Tacoma.  It's an honor to watching budding micronauts develop!

No semester is perfect, and there were some real challenges for me outside the classroom and laboratory this semester. But I think I got the #MicrobialPoint across!