[ASC-list] Fwd: A science communication challenge austscicomm13.bloodnok at recursor.net exclusive)

Phillip Arena P.Arena at murdoch.edu.au
Tue Dec 10 01:11:58 UTC 2013


As with all ‘simple’ questions, these have often baffled scientists for years/decades such as is light a particle or a wave!

Also, just like with all ‘science’ questions, it’s where you begin that can make all the difference. If I were to explain mirrors, I would begin by explaining (in simple terms) how that the eye/brain interprets what we see (eg. If we see a green tree, all the other colours of the rainbow (bang!…another question, this time for the child/student “can you name the colours of the rainbow?”) are absorbed. What we see is the colour that is ‘reflected’ (ie. Green).
Now….light travels in a straight line (fingers crossed, you’re not asked about what is light…and then you’re off talking about photons!…which isn’t such a bad thing…then you can related this to ‘photo’ if you so wish) until it hits something and bounces off.
If it bounces off at the same angle it hits the surface (eg. When it hits a REFLECTIVE surface) our eye then sees an exact (but ‘mirror image’) of that ‘bit of light’ (i.e. Photon!!). So, all the photons (i.e. Bits of light) that hit the mirror and bounce back at the same angle, together make up a mirror image.

Or something like that!

(depending on the level of students, you can recommend watching The Matrix and reading Eddington’s two tables!)

I too am a biologist (in fact, a herpetologist with a PhD on lizard digestive tracts!) and am more comfortable tangled in intestines and snakes than in physics. However, I was once asked to run a 20 week course in microscope use for TAFE and was handed a curriculum which I quickly flicked through and determined that 70 % of the content meant nothing to me – it was written by physicists who focussed solely on light wave radiation etc. I pictured my students,  shelved the curriculum, rewrote the course,  ran one week on light wave theory and then focused on microscope use! I know this was a successful course as every student said they enjoyed it so much they didn’t care what unit I was running next, they wanted to enrol in it.

Oh and I’m a firm believer in the absolute absence of correlation between qualifications and ability to teach anything. Yes, there are some exceptional highly qualified teachers who have the ability to relate science to students at all levels, but I have learnt much from folk with little or no formal qualifications, but with a real understand of the world around us.

..and I never stop learning from my students.


From: Marina Hurley <info at writingclearscience.com.au<mailto:info at writingclearscience.com.au>>
Date: Tuesday, 10 December 2013 6:58 am
To: "asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au<mailto:asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au>" <asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au<mailto:asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au>>
Subject: [ASC-list] Fwd: A science communication challenge austscicomm13.bloodnok at recursor.net<mailto:austscicomm13.bloodnok at recursor.net> exclusive)

Thanks for the comments and advice (both off and on list).

It is a good principle that if you can explain something to a four year old, you can explain it to anyone. Yes we need more school teachers! Would someone with a background in quantum electrodynamics be a good teacher of pre-school children? Different people can teach in different ways. Also a parent is always a teacher bringing different skills to the process. I worked as a research scientist for 20 years (zoology and ecology) and my son was eight while I was doing my PhD (on stinging trees) and I really enjoyed explaining how plants and animals work. However physics is not my background and I struggle with the concept of explaining how a mirror works to my grandson because I don't really know myself.

Over the weekend we chose some xmas tree baubles and talked about the difference between the shiny one and how it worked better as a mirror than the opaque red one and we also talked about how come mirrors dont work at night. He enjoyed the conversation but I felt that I hadn't answered his question sufficiently. My xmas holiday project perhaps.



---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: <austscicomm13.bloodnok at recursor.net<mailto:austscicomm13.bloodnok at recursor.net>>
Date: 10 December 2013 08:33
Subject: Re: [ASC-list] A science communication challenge austscicomm13.bloodnok at recursor.net<mailto:austscicomm13.bloodnok at recursor.net> exclusive)
To: marinahurley at gmail.com<mailto:marinahurley at gmail.com>

Apologies, Arran, but I don't think your response helps.

I'm not sure how to respond to someone who seemingly has little understanding of teaching/learning and developmental progression, or of communication fit for audience and purpose.

We are referring to a 4 yr-old in this instance but my comment holds good for other levels too. I've actually written such activities.

...and I'll refrain from responding to your generalised comment about teachers; I tend to be bit sensitive at this time of the morning!


Sent from my ASUS MeMO Pad

austscicomm13.bloodnok at recursor.net<mailto:austscicomm13.bloodnok at recursor.net> wrote:


I can't post to the list unfortunately.

I definitely agree with Anne that we need good science teachers; but explaining _how_ mirrors work is probably beyond the (technical and science communications) abilities of many physics graduates; it's unlikely a schoolteacher would have the background to explain it.

Most science teachers can probably give the (descriptive) laws of optics, but explaining why these laws hold requires a good knowledge of quantum electrodynamics (QED).

If I recall correctly, Feynman gives a good explanation of mirrors, using QED, in the Feynman Lectures on Physics.

Hope that helps.



On 8 December 2013 21:24, Anne - asemple at netspace.net.au<mailto:asemple at netspace.net.au> <austscicomm13.bloodnok.3403a58e7f.asemple#netspace.net.au at ob.0sg.net<mailto:austscicomm13.bloodnok.3403a58e7f.asemple#netspace.net.au at ob.0sg.net>> wrote:
...another good reason why we need good teachers who can teach science & of course hands on!

Sent from my ASUS MeMO Pad

Chris Forbes-EWan <forbes-ewan at tassie.net.au<mailto:forbes-ewan at tassie.net.au>> wrote:

Or you could take the angle of Star Trek technical adviser Michael Okuda when he was asked by Time magazine: ‘How does the Heisenberg compensator work?’

He responded: ‘It works very well, thank you’.

Chris Forbes-Ewan

19 Hedley St
Scottsdale Tas 7260

From: ASC-list [mailto:asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au<mailto:asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au>] On Behalf Of Justin Coleman
Sent: Sunday, 8 December 2013 12:46 AM
To: asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au<mailto:asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au>
Subject: Re: [ASC-list] A science communication challenge

Indeed, a tricky one to answer, Marina.

My angle for these incidents is usually self-reflection.


Dr Justin Coleman MBBS FRACGP MPH
President, Australasian Medical Writers Association
+61 433 824931<tel:%2B61%20433%20824931>
president at medicalwriters.org<mailto:president at medicalwriters.org>

Message: 1

Date: Sat, 7 Dec 2013 12:10:22 +1100

From: Marina Hurley <marinahurley at gmail.com<mailto:marinahurley at gmail.com>>

To: asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au<mailto:asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au>

Subject: [ASC-list] A science communication challenge

Message-ID: <EBB444D0-6F65-42EC-B8CD-889F63C75A2D at gmail.com<mailto:EBB444D0-6F65-42EC-B8CD-889F63C75A2D at gmail.com>>

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Hi there,

Yesterday my 4 year old grandson asked "how do mirrors work"? Any takers?



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Dr Marina Hurley
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Writing Clear Science
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