Videos as a powerful educational tool - July 30th

Videos have been in our lives for a few decades already. But it wasn't until the explosion of electronics and the low pricing of video cameras that the regular citizen was able to really grab this technology. Even better, the internet has offered a global distribution platform without limits, literally. Anyone that has access to the internet is able to search, upload, or download videos 24/7/365. But that's not all, videos are a powerful tool in the classroom too. My Science classes would be empty without videos. My video search is a constant in my weekly duties. I'm sure my students appreciate videos too, although sometimes they don't show it. You know, things are never cool enough for them. I was born with cable tv and computers in my adolescent years, they were born with broadband connection, Youtube and web 2.0.

The following video is the presentation that Professor Michael Wesch recently did at the US Library of Congress. An interesting compilation and testimony about the use of videos and its transcendence in our daily life. Enjoy!


iKids - July 26th, 2008

As a teacher, have you ever asked your students how they want to be taught? i certainly have not in the purest sense. Even though i try to mold a little bit my class to what the kids like by using interactive resources, it is difficult to hear from the student that they have no interest in this or that. I just read a publication from the magazine Edutopia, where an article opens eyes and ideas. It was interesting to be reprimanded that the schools and teachers don't investigate what their students want, as it says there: "Unlike in the corporate world, where businesses spend tens of millions researching what their consumers really want, when it comes to how we structure and organize our kids' education, we generally don't make the slightest attempt to listen to, or even care, what students think about how they are taught." Tough punch.

My best approach has been to offer them options and exercising democracy and having them vote for the options that sometimes they come up with.

Should we bring our articulate students to our board meetings to share their ideas and perceptions of their own education?

Animal Power to reduce GHG - July 26th, 2008

Greenhouse gases (GHG) are causing our planet to warm to temperatures that are melting the icebergs at damaging rates already. Reducing car emissions, lowering the burning of fossil fuels, and searching for alternative sources of energy are the current trends in government actions around the world. Capturing the CO2 underwater is also an option that has been explored for some years already, but that is part of the plant kingdom function, as long as we take care of that kingdom we'll be securing our future too. Unfortunately there many fronts to work on, lots of people to educate and a tons of work to be done. Some is done, but it appears that is not enough.

For those of us who love to eat meat, there will be a better way to contribute to the environment. Converting livestock manure into biogas is something that isproved to be benefitial in many ways. Leaving manure to biodegrade takes time and contaminates a lot.

Did you know that the gases emitted by decomposing manure, methane and nitrous oxide warm up our atmosphere 21 and 320 times more than carbon dioxide. Yes, astounding right?

A group of researches have published a study in the Environmental Research Letters confirming that working on manure to obtain energy and decreasing the detrimental effect of warming our atmosphere is feasible and convenient.

Considering that most nations have a large consumption of livestock products this is a great initiative.


Bat the fat! - July 25th, 2008

Trans fat is a type of modified fat, vegetable oil (liquid) is transformed into solid fat. But, why is it done? Simply because it has neutral flavor, it's good for frying and makes foods last longer, as it is mentioned by the BBC news update. This update tells us that California is the first US state to ban trans fat in their foods, following previous initiatives from some cities like New York and Philadelphia.

Trans fats are linked to increasing levels of the LDL or bad cholesterol, the type of cholesterol that makes our cell membranes less fluid, and our arteries harder than necessary, finally connected with heart conditions, of course that happens after years of daily trans fat consumption.

Cis fat in turn, is a good type of fat, because it is what our cells regularly use. And as polyunsaturated fats, they are considered heart-friendly.

So the California initiative is a very good one, shame it will be fully implemented starting January 1, 2010 and not before.


Spinal Cord Injuries - July 23rd, 2008

I just read about some exciting news. Investigation has been conducted on spinal cord injuries and found that stem cells within the spinal cord could help injured patients if they are properly stimulated to cause less scarring and more and more healing cells.

We hear about stem cells practically on a daily basis, something hard to believe considering that it still raises so many so-called ethical issues.

Regardless of politics or ethics, stem cells will probably the weapon against major diseases that are killing millions around the world nowadays.

We only need to remember that stem cells aren't only obtained from frozen embryos from fertility clinics, they can also be obtained by more mature cells in the body.

You can obtain the open access report by visiting the PLoS Biology website.


Fertility - July 7th, 2008

Fertility has been an issue since the beginning of human societies. According to its definiton, it is the capacity to conceive and generate offspring. In many ways, fertility is one of nature's selective methods to allow only the fittest to continue the life journey along time.

Plants have great resources for reproduction: wind, water, animal-assistance, etc. Some animals also use some of those resources. However, the more complex the animal, the more complex the reproductive method, and the least successful. Sexual reproduction in complex animals such as humans has been a major advance, but also a major restriction. Why? Humans as animals, cannot survive purely by themselves until late infancy. Which means that humans need a lot of support, energy and guidance. And who is going to provide that but the mother.

Humans need extra energy and time, because they need to mature a series of complex structures (organs and systems) that will help accomplish life's exigencies.

Most of these requirements are guided toward the maturation of the nervous system, mainly the growth of the brain and its annex structures. That is human's trade off. It has been a sacrifice to invest in a longer period of gestation and rearing to obtain a highly-complex, multi-tasking animal capable of interacting with its envioronment not only sensorially but also at a very important level, socioculturally.

So fertility problems, or difficulties to conceive or produce an offspring is just another way nature has used to select us as living things.

But as any other problem, we gçfound a way around to solve it. Infertility treatments started decades ago with trial and error as the main technique, and it wasn't until the late 60's that artificial insemination really started working. And only in 1978, Louise Joy Browne, the first baby conceived by InVitro Fertilization was born in England after Robert Edwards, PhD and Patrick Steptoe, MD performed hundreds of experimental procedures trying to overcome the blocking of fallopian tubes. Decades have past since that first success, and many other procedures have been implemented in the fertility lab, such as: GIFT and ZIFT, SUZI, ICSI, Oocyte maturation, sperm-retrieval procedures and lately, PGD, and lately IMSI.

The question here is, what is the limit? I just read a news report that indicates that a 70 year old woman has delivered twins. Even though I support the assisted reproductive techniques, I think it must be limited to people under a certain range of age. Because, as a father, I can testify that raising kids takes a lot of physical and mental effort, but overall the main ingredient nowadays, is to be able to give them our TIME.
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