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MSPnet Blog: “Teacher blog: Colin Purrington”

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posted May 17, 2016 – by Brian Drayton

Time to take a break from the heavy issues, and get back to another teacher voice. The blog I have been captivated by this week is by Colin Purrington, an evolutionary biologist who left academia some years ago to pursue free-lance work of various kinds (the story of his decision to go on permanent leave from Swarthmore was told here in Nature in 2012

The thing that brought me to this blog was a link (from the website of a conference  for which I’m preparing a poster) to Purrington’s very helpful essay on “designing a conference poster.”  This was so helpful and cheery that I started poking around the site, and came across his entry on laboratory notebooks, a literary genre I find endlessly fascinating.  While he was perhaps writing primarily for undergraduates, the discussion is well worth reading no matter what your experience.

There are several other thoughtful “geek tips,” based clearly on Purrington’s experience as a working scientist+teacher+preparer of interpretive materials of various kinds.

There is also a very extensive essay (with references) on preventing plagiarism.  He considers this topic from the point of view of various people who are in strategic positions to address this issue, starting with public school teachers:

If you teach first grade, your potential contribution dwarfs everyone else’s. The reason is that you teach the nation’s children how to cut and paste from the Internet, so you are in a position on that very day to give guidance on whether it’s OK to steal words and thoughts from others. If you opt not to give this moral guidance, they will assume that plagiarism is OK.

The dozen suggestions that follow are cogent and include inventive activities to build up a culture of attribution in the classroom.  He then goes on to consider the matter as it might be addressed by principals, parents, college professors and students, librarians, web-page owners and “internet dudes/dudettes” among others.  Educative and more lively than a simple list of Dos and Don’ts.

The site includes also a photo gallery (my favorite title is “courting slugs being watched by a millipede”) including natural and nonnatural scenes, and of course the blog itself.  The entries include a lot of great photography, and some interesting reflections on science (sweet potatoes, for example, or jackal flies, a new one on me) or science and society ( for example, the understanding of antibiotics).  This a curious, participative, playful, reflective voice.  I encourage you to check it out!