Lecture 2 with Dr. Pauling

- Dr. Pauling notes in his introductory comments that the covalent bond, that simple line connecting two atoms in chemical formulas, is on of the greatest constructs, perhaps the greatest construct of the human mind… and  impactful statement from on such as Linus Pauling.  Is it perhaps the leap that was made in theorizing what must be at a physical level orders of magnitude smaller that that which the human eye can hope to see?  Fostering understanding of concepts that cannot be directly observed – also the intent of my exercise science courses.
– An insightful comment on Pauling’s famous ball-and-stick models: “I may mention that these ball and stick models are quite illuminating but they do not give a really correct idea of the shape of the molecule.” found in Part 1 of Lecture 2 (found here: http://scarc.library.oregonstate.edu/coll/pauling/bond/video/1957v.1-10.html
then he further points out the more accurate nature of the representation using a space-filling model, made of atoms with overlapping radii, representative of their true interaction distances, which also allows him to demonstrate interactions among differing element. If find myself, as the lecture attendee, slipping in attention during extended talk, but snapping back into focus on the topic at hand when Dr. Pauling begins to interact with physical structures (the models, the chalkboard, etc.)
– I like Dr. Paulings use of ‘teasers’, applications of chemicals elements or molecules that are not fully understoon. Both here in Parts 3 and 4 deal with biomechemistry and ‘strained’ bonds, or bonds that do not conform to the tetrahedral degree. The first deals with gases that produce general anesthesia in humans, the second a gas that ripens oranges! He doesn’t dwell, but draws the student in with his own fascination and curiosity.
– Perhaps a key element to learn from this lecture is the value of a fundamental, governing principle to which one always resturns – here that seems to be the tetrahedral structure of the carbon atom. What are my fundamental, governing principles in Biomechanics?

The Guest Lecture – a few minutes with Dr. Mary Jo Nye

-  Fast forward from 1957 to 2010, and a brief ‘guest lecture’ by science historian Dr. Mary Jo Nye on the Models of Linus Pauling.  My previous comments about the value of multiple representations of concepts and information and the value that brings to the student in the learning environment were obviously an extension of Linus Pauling’s own attempt to master complex, as yet undescribed phenomena.  In this short, 7 and one half minute conversation, one experiences the wealth of representational methods, many pioneered by Linus Pauling: stick-ball models from rudimentary (tinker toys) to that turned out in the machine shop, 3-d paper models reminiscent of a school craft project, to stacks of mini cannonballs, from graphic representation with letters and connecting symbols on the page to x-ray diffraction photos; from simple pencil sketches in the notebook to artist-rendered drawings in the textbook, not forgetting the line formula with letters, numbers, subscripts and superscripts.  The languages available to the chemist are one dimensional, two-dimensional and three-dimensional; when one dives into quantum mechanics and mathematical representations capturing the dynamic motion that Dr. Nye points out is not present in the static forms, a fourth dimension of time is added.  A comment from Dr. Nye which is perhaps enlightening for the educator, she notes that the stick-ball representations – the ball ‘molecules’ linked together by the stick ‘bonds’, “can’t be correct”, (noting minimally that it is a static representation of a dynamic situation), yet is an effective way to introduce that complex world of chemical structure to students.  My mind makes a connection to the description of learning by neuroscientist James Zull:  that initial stick-ball model turns the non-branching neuron of the student into one with branches and connections; further exposure to other forms of representation then allow the branched neuron to both branch with greater complexity, as well as connect with other neurons.  Dr. Nye is describing this process in one of the brightest minds of the past 100 years, when she so eloquently describes Linus Pauling’s incredible memory for complex chemical reactions and processes, and his mixing of physical, graphical and mathematical models to build, test, question, and revise the concept with which he was struggling.  Dr. Nye describes a trait of ‘not all chemists, but of model builders’, of connecting tactile awareness to that which is in the formula, in the x-ray diffraction, in the equation.  What our students so often miss out on is this tendency to tinker with things, with ideas, with movements.  They need a guidance to foster that tendency, and they need the time to tinker.

In the Lecture Hall with Dr. Pauling – Day 3

- Dr. Pauling uses drawings to illustrate and discuss relationships among element adjacent to each other on the periodic table, with particular emphasis on electron orbital shells presented earlier.  Once again, a methodology most likely not possible today is used – the ‘drawings’ are on approx. 24 x 23in cards, with hangers to fit over the top of the chalkboard, with the concluding full row of the periodic table encompassing the breadth of two full chalkboards, and the entire front of the classroom behind the podium.  We hope students make connections – connections may perhaps be made more readily when the information as presented, is still present (Dr. Pauling then moves on to using a large stick-and-ball model, but the previously presented orbital shell comparison remains in place).
– The previously noted approach also lends itself to inherently fostering one of the most important components for learning - processing time.  I have always felt this was one advantage of writing key notes on the board, as opposed to pre-preparing them in a powerpoint slide.  I often reference my Calculus teacher from my freshman year at Linfield – Dr. Roger Dell, who was an exceptional artist with a piece of chalk and the blackboard.  The time that the student was allowed to process new information and concepts while two and three dimensional shapes emerged from Dr. Dell’s stick of chalk; the dynamic emergence of the drawing itself, is a mental processing step that is too often missed in the rapid fire slideshow employed by so many of us today.  I also fondly recall my second semester Calculus instructor, Dr. Win Dolan.  We knew Dr. Dolan was retired, but it was only much later that I learned he was 72 or 73 at the time.  Perhaps I am reminded of Dr. Dolan’s approach, as I listen to Dr. Pauling’s steady, slow, measured pace of lecturing.  Dr. Dolan was also an elegant lecture, with a speaking demeanor that once again fostered time for reflection and mental processing.  To see what I mean, have a listen to Dr. Dolan’s LInfield College commencement speech, delivered at age 99 in 2008.

In the Lecture Hall with Dr. Pauling – Day 2

More observations from my notebook, as I learn learn about valence…

– Uni-, bi-, and multivalent structures presented three ways:
a.  Chemical Formula  b. Graphic notation (structural formula) on chalkboard  c. Ball-and-stick models on hand.  Simple, but effective way to reinforce and build brain connections associated with concept.

– Approx 650 words in 6 minutes (108 words per minute). More of a comment on the presentation of these lectures by the Archive, perhaps something learned for the ‘flipped class’ format: keep the ‘lecture’ clip to 5-6 minutes, and provide a transcription.  No need to repeat often, as I tend to do in standard lectures – but rather state clearly, prehaps reinforce with multiple modalities, and move on.  Capture greater learning by letting the concept stand in greater contast to that prior and after.

– The tools with which Dr. Pauling presents are so simple, yet have a variation not present in the powerpoint age:  1. A periodic chart   2. Models on the podium  3. Voice   4.  Chalkboard  I’ve learned that capturing multiple sensory input with a memory strengthens that memory, and aids in its recall (it is LEARNED better).  Even the tap of chalk on the chalkboard, or the whish of an erasure, is a sensory input that has been lost.

– Up goes the chalkboard, not yet for the need to write on a second, but simple to write on the bottom of the board where the viewer can see!  The standard new ‘smart classroom’ layout is one whiteboard, BEHIND the drop-down powerpoint screen.

-But maybe the obvious orientation is to begin at the bottom of the chalkboard (Dr. Pauling is now discussing successive orbital shells, getting increasingly complex with each new level), so he begins a the raised bottom of a second board, and slides it down as he moves up the board.  Once again, simple tools, but presentation building on inherent connections or orientations of information.

In the Lecture Hall with Dr. Pauling (1957)

So what better way to begin to understand Linus Pauling’s use of models and demonstration along with a captivating lecture style than to take a class from him… this afternoon found me enrolled in ‘Valence and Molecular Structure’, for which I’m certain I am lacking the prerequisites.  You too can sit in on any of the three-lecture series, conveniently presented in 5-10minute increments for those of us needing to rest our braincells more frequently than the majors in the class.  Have a look here: http://scarc.library.oregonstate.edu/coll/pauling/bond/video/index.html

Some transcriptions from MY notebook during the first part of the first lecture:

– In Dr. Pauling’s initial lecture, he begins by masterfully setting up the complex material to come with examples most likely familiar to all (eg. diamond and graphite – both ONLY carbon atoms, but very different due to arrangement of those atoms, etc.)

– This classical lecture scene would be difficult to reproduce in my department; we have built little boxes of classrooms, and plug faculty into where-ever best fits the schedule, with little or no thought or concern for the individual teaching style, the access to materials, visual aids, etc.  I have it a bit better than most, in that I teach, at least at present, next door to where my gizmos are stored.  But those simple things – models that can be pulled out from behind the podium; a large podium in the first place to set up demonstrations!; a wall of chalkboards that can be moved up/down/right/left to have a record of the full day’s lecture;  those are all elements of the educational environment that many of us have lost, and a single power-point screen does a poor job of replacing.

– Ok – 4 minutes in to my first lecture on Valence, and Dr. Pauling picks up a sample of feldspar and writes KAlSi3O8 on the board. Then he shows various other samples, and rattles off: “…beryl, Be3Al2Si6O18, garnet, Mg3Al2Si3O12, tourmaline – I can’t remember the formula of tourmaline right at the moment…”  Looks like I’ve go some work to do.

– Model of the Element Copper – looks like a stack of 2-inch cannon balls; a tetrahedron six ‘atoms’ wide  at the base and six two-inch atoms tall.  Dr. Pauling points out that this way of arranging spheres in space, each sphere with six neighboring spheres, is the way nature packs atoms most closely in space -the center of each atom in the copper molecule 2.55 Angstrom units from the neighboring atom center (I’ll bet the balls are 2.55 inches!).  So I just learned something from watching this; even though the model on the podium in the live lecture is appearing in a three inch square window on my computer, there is something fundamentally different than reading the same information in a book, or seeing it in a flashy cartoon-based slide presentation.  IS this more effective, more engaging?  If so, why?

-OK, I feel like nobel prize material now; Dr. Pauling finished his discussion of the copper molecule by noting ‘this is sometimes the way in which cannonballs are piled in front of the courthouse, on the lawn….’

Seeing what you cannot see – appropriate place for technology in undergraduate Biomechanics

A year or so ago upon attending an open house event showcasing the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers and collections at Oregon State University, I learned of Linus Pauling’s (at the time somewhat novel) approach to helping himself understand the nature of the chemical bond through construction of physical models, and later using the same approach to help students understand the nature of chemistry at the molecular level.  Have  a look here to see what I mean: (Pauling lecturing amidst molecular models)  It struck me that something so basic, that we often take for granted because we see such things now in every science book and classroom, not to mention the education section of the toy store, was considered a ground-breaking approach to scientific understanding and to science education at the time.  It was also not lost on me that what Linus Pauling did was address an educational challenge that the student of Biomechanics also struggles with:  how to understand a concept that cannot be directly observed; or for the instructor of such things, how to present the concept to lead to that ‘aha’ moment.  Pauling’s protein structure is my Force; his DNA is my Angular Momentum.  As I am fond of pointing out to students, the human senses relative to mechanical phenomena are very limited, and overwhelming governed by visual input.  We are good at identifying object position and relative velocity (velocity relative to another stationary or moving object), and that’s about it!  Were we not so overwhelmed with our visual sense (that has a name: visual dominance), our vestibular system does send us acceleration cues, and various other proprioceptors do send us basic pressure information, but we so often do not knit those into an inherent understanding of that which we cannot directly observe.  Plus, those proprioceptors work for mechanical phenomena only experienced by the performer – not of an external body.  So the result is a plethora of misconceptions –  we say Power when we mean Force, we note Acceleration when there is only a high Velocity, or Torque when we are observing constant rate rotational motion.  So how would Linus Pauling take his ‘protein model’ approach to explaining an Eccentric Muscle Contraction to the undergraduate Exercise Science student?  How would he build into a lecture tools to help a student ‘see’ Force, that invisible push or pull that results in Acceleration of an object, that then results in a change in its velocity, and ultimately a change in its position?  That is, if no other force is resisting the first.  Lots of force but no movement?  Lots of movement but no new force?  A seemingly simply concept can get complicated in a hurry, for sure. Perhaps a blend of my low-tech carpentry skills, appropriate use of the wealth of gizmos available in our Exercise Science facilities, and the aspiration of a bit of old chalk-dust from a Cal Tech basement is the key.

‘You can’t learn it for them.’

Back in my collegiate field & track coaching days, I developed a little habit, actually more of an inside joke shared with John, Bernie, myself and others:  When an athlete performed well and we were congratulated, our response would of course reflect our expert coaching and preparation of the athlete.  When the athlete performed miserably, is was always something like ‘Well, you can’t throw it for them’, or jump it for them, or run the race for them, etc.  Tongue in cheek of course, there is perhaps an element of truth here that should not go unattended to, particularly when translating the same comment to the academic setting: ‘you can’t learn it for them’As has occurred to me on more than one occasion, upon completion of an exceptionally coherent set of powerpoint slides, used in the delivery of a flawless lecture (or in observation of a colleague hitting all those same high marks), there is in such instances a wealth of learning going on – namely mine!  I engaged in the struggle to translate thoughts and text to images and synthesizing statements; I strove to find the connection among disparate topics;  I developed the examples applicable to a broad base of applications.  In other words, the viewers of the lecture got to see the result of MY learning.  Entertaining as though it may be, do the students internalize what is now information in a way that constitutes true learning?  It is a balance for sure – and I’m convinced that the greatest learning occurs when students struggle with connecting their own dots; yet the constraints of a 10 week term, expected content coverage, and classes full with a large number of students often lead to the inevitable ‘get through the material’ approach.  So lot’s of musing (some might say rambling) to lead to my ‘great idea’ of the day (of late last night, actually):  I need to keep the title of this post in the forefront of my thinking, to use it as a filter for every learning activity that I develop or modify.  It is the brain of the student in which I am trying to effect change; a little guidance is ok, but I really can’t ‘learn it for them'; nor should I want to.

The Electronic World of Colored Chalk

My intention for a chunk of this term is to continue creating more ‘postable’ (eg to Moodle, to this Website, to whatever else I discover) elements of my courses, primarily Biomechanics, for students to watch. hear and metally process  prior to class – with more hands-on discovery time during scheduled class sessions.  As with most things in education, this practice,  elements of which I have incorporated for years, now has the catchy name of ‘flipping’ the classroom.  Whatever.  Anything to prompt the preparatory engagement of the student is a good thing.  What occurred to me (upon reading a report of research out of California linking the level of curiosity in as subject with more effective content retention in memory), is that I’m trying to replicate, with electronic means, the four blackboards in the old stadium classroom that was my home for my first 15+ years teaching at WOU.  My tendency was to fill every one of those boards with colored chalk drawings over the course of a class-period.  When chalkboards were replaced with whiteboards, the dust-free environment was a vast improvement, even though my color palate became limited to black, red, blue and green, and you never knew when the whiteboard pen would give out. (I could use that colored chalk down to the point where I was drawing with a popcorn kernel of chalk pressed between index finger and chalkboard – hey, that’s just like writing on an ipad – but with clean fingers!).  But when the powerpoint-enabled computers were installed, with projection capabilities, that’s when I first perceived an extreme reduction in the curiosity mentioned by the group of California researchers.

So in an attempt to restore some of that curiosity I perceived in students as facts, images, and concepts emerged on the chalkboard, I’m  learning about ipads, blue-tooth enabled, styli and a host of software apps to merge multimedia elements together into essentially an mp4 lecture.  Although I’m sure I could find a blackboard cheap, set up an old VHS camera, and perhaps accomplish much the same thing!

Initial Sabbatical Musings

Having a bit of freedom during the two weeks prior to Fall Term start of classes allowed me, for the first time since my arrival at WOU 21 years ago, to actually take advantage (with follow through) of the numerous workshops offered.  As WordPress for rookies like me has been on my list for quite some time, that’s where I chose to begin.  The result, however elementary it is, is this Website, though which I hope to serve as a repository of important communications for students, as well as a place for my random musings and thoughts. I tend to have lot’s of the latter – with many of my great ideas lost to the mental interference of the ‘daily routine’.  This Sabbatiblog is intended to be my external great idea repository!

Resources for Pre-Physical Therapy Students

I have developed a separate page with information for those interested in careers in Physical Therapy.  You can find a link in the menu bar of my webpage, or copy this link (share with your friends!):

http://www.wou.edu/wp/casterb/pre-physical-therapy-advising/

Currently found there:

  • Pre-Physical Therapy Advising Document, containing sample undergraduate program plans, PT Grad programs prerequistes, etc; everything you need to know to get started on preparing yourself for Physical Therapy graduate program admission.
  • Link to the Physical Therapy Centralized Application Service (PTCAS) – important not only for those readying their PT grad progam application, but also for those exploring program requirements, etc.
  • Links to regional Doctor of Physical Therapy programs.

Expect this page to grow as more resources are added!