Saturday, October 25, 2014

Living a creative life

Does a creative person wake up every morning feeling productive? A possible answer is yes, to varying degrees. I feel grateful to have a job where I could be creative every day. Some days I follow a prescribed plan, but other days I introduce a bit of uncertainty and see where that leads us.

Creativity can happen spontaneously (like weeds in an abandoned plot of land) or it can be curated (like an English garden). I think both types of creativity should be encouraged. Sometimes unexpected ideas can grow into something amazing, other times they need to be rooted out to make room for the more disciplined tasks that are known to grow into something productive and beautiful.

Creativity takes time. Reading "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron was a life-changer for me. She encourages artists to leave room in their schedule for events that replenish creative energy such as watching a film, visiting a museum, or hearing the symphony. Lately we have been taking long bike rides, which I think might accomplish a similar effect.

She also suggests taking a week long break from listening to outside influences. Imagine a week without reading the paper, browsing the Internet, or turning on the TV or radio.  This allows your own inner voice of creativity begin to whisper ideas to your conscious mind.  At that point, it's up to you to write those ideas down or get out your sketchbook and start drawing outlines.

As a blogger, I don't write every day. I do think that regular writing eases my mind and removes self-doubt so that when I do need ideas to flow from my brain to my fingertips to a manuscript on a computer screen, that process is not hindered by a lack of practice. I've implemented some fun activities in my classroom lately that worked well and I feel my confidence growing in that arena.

Sometimes you have to try ideas that will fail several times before you get something working. The fear of failure can prevent implementation, but the joy of success can only be reached if one has the courage to understand that many ideas are good and can only grow if they are allowed to be tested and optimized.

For example, this week we did candy chromatography in honor of National Chemistry Week.  I had an idea that it would be pretty and we had to try a couple iterations of how to achieve separation of the food dyes, but in the end it was a learning experience for the students who attended our first Chem Club meeting of the year.  Now we can use this activity as a hands-on demonstration for schoolchildren at some of our outreach events this year.

In closing, I will say HAPPY NATIONAL CHEMISTRY WEEK! I'm off to a study jam and afterwards I will drop by the chem club rock candy making event. I hope you find yourself free to be creative, even if it is making a crazy Halloween costume or testing a new recipe for dinner tonight.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ride Report: R2R California Challenge, Day 7

There are bike rides and then there are Ride 2 Recovery rides.  One is pure fun and leisure, while the other is a testament to all things orderly, businesslike, safe, and efficient.  There is no "i" in teamwork and I felt that I was a part of something greater by participating in this ride.

79 miles, 6 hours 30 min, 12 mph, 4360 Calories
We had been wanting to try taking the train out to Ventura and riding either North or South from there and this organized ride gave us an opportunity to go for it.  Leaving work at 4pm on a Friday, we visited CycleWorld in Northridge for some last-minute adjustments to our bikes.  Then we hopped the Metrolink train to East Ventura station, arriving at almost 7pm.  We forgot our directions to the hotel, but Ventura has plenty of marked bicycle routes, and we followed the sunset West until we arrived at our destination.

A short walk to The Habit provided a Santa Barbara burger, Cesar salad, pastrami sandwich, and sweet potato fries.  We could see the meeting place from there, so we went to bed knowing we were very near the start of the next day's ride.  In the morning, we ate continental breakfast in the hotel: oatmeal, yogurt, eggs, potatoes, and sausage.  Also, the coffee was strong.  We headed over to the Crowne Plaza hotel and found a congregation of riders and support vehicles waiting.  Just before we left, we used the restroom and snagged a banana.

Most everyone there had been riding all week and were outfitted in the R2R jersey.  We did our best to fit in.  Mike had the R2R bibs and I had an R2R hat, but it was clear that we were "day riders" just joining for the last day of the challenge.  The ride briefing was informative and there was a speech from the city of Ventura.  At this point, we had no idea yet of the coordination that must have gone into planning a ride of this scale.  The riders were organized into groups: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Delta.  We opted to ride with Delta group (12 mph), thanks to the guidance of our friend who originally exposed us to R2R via a facebook event last year.

We rolled out to the sound of bagpipes and rode 2 by 2 alongside the Naval CBC Port Hueneme.  Folks came out and cheered us along.  We entered CA-1 (East Pacific Coast Highway) at Hueneme Rd.  Until this point, I did not realize how amazing the support was for the ride.  We didn't stop after this.  There were escort vehicles including motorcycles, police cars, fire engines, ambulances, and boats along the water.  They would sound their sirens and flash their lights and even blow a stream of water out to salute as we passed.  It was incredibly moving.  And we were literally moving!

Riding to our first rest stop, we chatted freely.  People started to wonder where we were stopping when a bathroom break was needed, but we all made it to Sycamore Canyon (Pt. Mugu) without much difficulty.  There were water bottles, Gatorade, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, and port-a-potties for us to use.  Everyone was stretching and talking, making sure that all riders were doing OK.  There was a person making rounds with "second skin" spray for those who had spills on previous rides and had open sores that would have been painful if sweat dripped across them.  Torn shorts and jerseys were further evidence of difficulty on previous days' rides.

We rolled through Malibu (the "boo") and it was gorgeous.  The most striking thing about the ride was that we didn't have to fight traffic at all.  I would say the organizers did a fantastic job of streamlining our trip.  There were a few climbs, but nothing too grueling.  It was particularly exciting passing Neptune's Net and Moonshadows, two restaurants that I had always accessed by car.  We had a regroup stage at a parking lot in Topanga, just past Pepperdine University.  We were handed Gatorade chews and water bottles, much needed for the final climb to LA.

After joining all groups together we stepped up the pace to 16-19 mph.We arrived at the West LA VA Hospital just after 2pm.  A food truck from In-N-Out Burger provided us cheeseburgers and Lay's potato chips and we drank Gatorade and Coke Zero.  There were speeches and live music.  We stayed about an hour, then used the port-a-potties and headed out to Wilshire.  The ride home was uneventful (in a good way).  We took a "Copenhagen" left onto La Cienega to get up to Fountain Ave.  We rested at the top of the hill and then hurried across Fountain to the McDonalds before turning to Hyperion.  I had many moments along Fountain where I thought I couldn't make it all the way home, but we did it!

Our trip was epic.  We brought with us 6 Gu packets, one packet of Clif Blocks, one package of electrolyte Jelly Beans, a camera, two phones, our ID and health insurance cards, our train passes, one change of clothes, flip flops, 2 bike pumps, 2 spare tires, tools (Allen wrenches, patch kit, tire irons), sunscreen, chap stick, helmets, gloves, and bikes.  Traveling so light was liberating and we learned to trust our instincts and the power of riding with a large group.  We are looking forward to riding with R2R in the future, both for training rides and challenges.  It was humbling to be among so many motivated and inspiring leaders in cycling rehabilitation.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Body Positive

There's something about a beat that can shake off the blues.  Although I don't like lyrics that are degrading.  Instead of "in the backseat of your car" how about "groove is in the heart" and let it shine.  I like body-positive songs and I don't think there's anything wrong with Meghan Trainor's new song and video "All about that bass."  I don't like how Young MC calls someone "Fatso" but I do like the call to dance "just bust a move."

One of the most fun dance videos "Fire Burning" [on the dance floor] used to be the ultimate (last) song on my 8 hour playlist.  I would listen to it on my .mp3 player while working late in the lab and know that after 8 hours of pipeting, it was time to go home (or at least take a break for dinner).  Lab accidents happen when you're tired.

I love Beyonce and will never forget the anthem "Bootylicious" which celebrates the power of curves.  Another SUPER-FAVORITE is Mika's "Big Girl (You are beautiful)" which has a great message and a fun video concept.  The colorful dancers of all sizes remind me of "Sweatin' to the Oldies" with Richard Simmons, a staple of my teenage body issue years.

I always idolized Hollywood and Los Angeles, and now that I live here I have a different concept of what it means to pursue fame.  I like Niki Minaj and Iggy Azalea but sometimes their music (lyrics) degrade women rather than empowering.

I commend JLo for her acknowledgement of the body she has been given.  Even though Shakira isn't as classically well endowed, she is also known for her style of dance.  I used to hate skinny girls so much because they had something I thought I could never have.  I embraced my curves yet I felt I didn't fit society's mold for what a desirable woman should look like.

Artists like Beyonce are working to start a conversation about #WHATISPRETTY which I think is a good idea.  I'm as guilty as the next person at focusing on the negative.  I recently watched myself on video, teaching a lesson entitled "How to start a blog."  My first though was "Wow my hips are so wide."  What kind of academic conclusion is that?

I would say that pretty is skin deep.  Compassion is much deeper.  Lecturing is disseminating knowledge.  Teaching and learning are more holistic.  Beauty is the sum of behavior.  What you wear is not as important as how you carry yourself and how you feel about yourself and others.  I'm not afraid to have fun and let loose when I'm among my friends.  I hope this post encourages you to stay positive regardless of your size and let go of hate.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

going green

With the UN Climate Summit 2014 going on this coming week, I was inspired to write about all the small things that we do for the good of Planet Earth.  Everyone was complaining about the record heat wave we had last week.  We closed the blinds in my classroom to reduce cooling cost.  We dried our laundry on a clothesline.  We ate our food raw.

We bought our groceries from the Farmer's Market. We brought them home on our bicycles. We conserved water, allowing water-loving plants to die, but the basil and peppers are still trapping carbon dioxide. We have a variety of CAM (high temperature/low water availability) plants in our garden.

We think twice before printing, all my teaching materials are available electronically.  We take the train and our bicycles to work.  We use reusable coffee cups and a large thermos.  When paper cups are purchased, they are saved and repurposed for starting seedlings.  For the first time in 3 years, I am eliminating miles that would have been spent in a car.  I bike instead more miles than I drive.  I even biked to my office hours yesterday.  When I drive, sometimes I carpool with my husband.  When we go out for frozen yogurt, we walk.

I got to ride my road bike this weekend.  Cowabunga!

CicLAvia is in 13 days.  We practiced riding with our malti-poo (dog, Edna Jo) in the basket of my bicycle.  We even took her to the pet store for her haircut on the bike.  We live about 7.5 miles from the Echo Park hub, so we'll ride to the ride, which starts at 9am.  Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

personal style

Thinking back to my earliest attempts at personal style, I remember the grunge era. I had a couple of flannel shirts and a few pairs of Dickies and one sweet pair of Airwalk shoes.  I always felt like a tomboy and these were the first clothes that I picked for myself.  After grunge gave way to the Spice Girls, I identified with Mel C and styled myself "sporty spice" which didn't make much sense since I didn't play any sport.

In college, I didn't give much thought at all to my clothing. Partly because I went to school in a rural area where the shopping options included Wal-Mart and a really expensive department store. In graduate school, I started teaching. I lived in the Sonoran, Mojave and Chihuahua desert regions therefore my clothing consisted mostly of culottes and a pair of white eyelet capri pants.  My tops were not given much thought either, but I started wearing bright colors more.

My first year of teaching in the community college, I wore slacks (or jean-like pants that were not blue denim).  I loved plants with spandex on the first day after washing, but after wearing them for awhile, they tended to be effected by the gravitational pull, exposing the top of my underpants.  Or my belly.  Either way, totally unacceptable.  I found a large set of polo shirts to be perfect tops.  Some were short sleeved, some were elbow-length, and some were three-quarter sleeved.  They were in a variety of pastel and non-threatening single colors (absolutely no horizontal stripes).  I liked things without prints.

When I started graduate school (again) I survived mostly on the same outfits that I had used for teaching but my dress got even more casual with days of working in the lab and no longer teaching.  I dressed up a bit more if we were hosting an invited speaker, but nothing like a business suit and certainly no skirts or dresses (with the exception of my wedding!).  I amassed a great collection of 'nerd shirts' which are given away at conferences and have slogans printed on them like "lab rat," and "give precise details of sample preparation."

After school, I landed a fantastic job at a private liberal arts college.  My friend's mom had been a teacher and offered me two gigantic bags of her "teaching wardrobe" for my new work environment.  She liked prints (flowers mostly) and the color purple.  She gave me lots of dresses!  I found a store called "It's A Wrap" that sells second hand clothing from television and movies.  Each semester I spent at least $200 on work clothes.  Somehow that doesn't sound like a lot, but it was a time that I felt free to express my personal style and invest in myself.  I was conscious about my appearance and I wanted to highlight my femininity since I was teaching at a women's college (in the Spring semesters, at least).

For the fall semesters, I got a bunch of brightly colored skinny jeans from Express and a new pair of glasses à la hipster.  I like to make fun of LA hipsters and their fixed gear bikes, but maybe I'm closer to one of them.  I am artistic, but not pretentious, and I do incorporate vintage (read: thrift store) pieces into my wardrobe.  When I left that school, I got a faux-hawk and my department chair told me they were losing the most unconventional dresser in the department.  I still can't decide if that is a compliment or something that I should have considered during my appointment as a direction to tone down my wardrobe.

I moved to the school I'm at now and my style has evolved (or devolved).  I backtracked to Old Navy for a half-dress, half-business casual wardrobe at the beginning of working there.  Now I am sporting a $40 wardrobe from Goodwill.  I do think it's a shame to wear brand new clothing that was probably sewn by child laborers in Bangladesh.  That's why I prefer second-hand.  I'm teaching labs again so I need all natural fibers and clothing that won't suffer sticker-shock if it is ruined by acid or dissolves in a solvent.  I don't take the liberty to consider myself a fashion icon, but that doesn't mean I don't have a personal style.

I would like to think that I dress age-appropriate and work-appropriate.  One lifestyle consideration is that I get to work by bicycle, which is why skinny jeans are so great.  No excess fabric to get caught in your chain.  I do enjoy biking in skirts, with bloomers or bike shorts underneath of course.  It's fun to have a dress flapping in the breeze, but pencil skirts don't work so well.  Neither do the trend of longer skirts.  There are certain colors I like, such as turquoise.  I think it brings out my hazel eyes.  
I have a few pairs of shoes that I like but they're starting to wear out.  One pair of red Pumas I got in Switzerland brings back good memories.  Another pair of hot pink Nikes I bought for the Color Run makes me smile.  I also love my tennis-ball fluorescent yellow shoes I found at Old Navy.  When I completed the statement "I need more _________ in my life," one of the words that came to mind was "shoes."  I would probably get this pair of Toms if they weren't $54.  Another thought I had was "I need more flowers in my life."  I still wear lots of solid colors, but I'm more open to prints, especially ones involving flowers.  I won't say women in science have it easy, but we do have choices.  What we choose to wear under our labcoats makes us unique.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What is learning?

Reflecting on great moments in my life, I realize that painful lessons are the most indelible.  Therefore when my students cry out "this is too hard," I think of the phrase "no pain, no gain."  I'm not a weightlifting coach, I'm a chemistry teacher.

I have my own experience as a learner and at least 9 solid years of experience teaching dance and chemistry.  Tell me you've taken a dance class that was pain-free.  You're training your body to move in new ways that are unfamiliar.  You may get your foot stepped on (in a ballroom dance class) or reach for your toes (in a ballet class).  These painful experiences create muscle memory and your body will attempt to avoid this pain by either correcting your steps or limbering up your hamstrings.

In science, these pains are invisible but no less real.  As the mind stretches to comprehend new paradigms of atomic theory and reactivity patterns of elements, it will balk at the complexity and abstraction associated with this mode of thought.  This is like your tight hamstrings that have trouble loosening up to accommodate your port-de-bras.  When the mouth articulates a name like "Avogadro" or a phrase such as "Kinetic Molecular Theory," the tongue and lips may fumble at the new words.  These experiences are no different than forgetting to break-on-two.

I wanted to do some reading about "learning" to see what other people thought about it.  After all, I am of the "educational variety" and want to know the professional buzzwords that are currently being tossed around.  But when I hear the word "pedagogy" it's like my brain turns to jell-o.

Plant a a teacher!

I can understand the definition of "pedagogy" is the art and science of teaching.  This is how my students must feel when they first enounter the word "stoichiometry."  It's a strange-sounding word with a lot of consonants and vowels that represents a pretty complex idea.  My approach to pedagogy is to challenge students, kind of like punching a bop bag, and then let them recover before challenging them again.  I don't know if this is supported by neuroscience, I've just found that students can take only so much pain before they give up.

Besides the "how" of teaching, there are students' learning styles to consider.  After all, it's not so important to talk at students (lecture) but more important to focus on how students acquire new skills and ideas.  This depends on individual's learning styles.  Since each individual is a hybrid of all these styles, it's important to be a dynamic teacher that can cater to all of these styles.  Cognative psychologist Daniel Willingham argues that this theory pigeonholes students unnecessarily and that the content you are trying to cover should determine the mode of delivery. Either way, I try to be mindful of employing all of these styles in the course of a semester.  I have also read that when students are more aware of their learning preferences, they can employ metacognition to enhance their success in any course.

Why study STEM?  Quantitative science is essential to understanding the world around you!


Competencies / Learning Objectives
Learning Styles
Lesson Planning
Buzzwords in Pedagogy

Monday, August 18, 2014

248th ACS National Meeting Digest

Whew! What a conference experience~!

Sunday, August 10, 2014 *Improv Day
9:00am "From transient to persistent propargyl radicals: Exploiting a steric factor" Gadik Melikyan
10:20am "Total synthesis of polycarcin V and exploration of its DNA-binding properties" Tom Minehan
Lunch = ACS Board of Directors "The wonders of the periodic table" Sam Kean
1:30pm "Improvisation Training for Chemists" Lydia Franco-Hodges
6:00pm "Asymmetric bis(terpyridine) ruthenium dimers as ketone transfer hydrogenation catalysts" Eric Kelson

Monday, August 11, 2014 *SciMix Day
7:00am ACS Member Insurance/Younger Chemists Committee 5k FUN RUN!!!!!!!!!!! Loved running by Keith Haring, "Untitled" (Three Dancing Figures), Version A, Edition 2/3, 1989, painted aluminum.
10am-2pm Naptime... zzzzzzzzzzzzzz! I was wiped out from traveling and doing the fun run...
8:00pm SciMix poster session
"Metabolic profiling of the rat gut microbiome" Cynthia Larive
"Preparation of asymmetric bis(terpyridine) ruthenium dimers: Ligand substituent effects on ketone transfer hydrogenation energy" Eric Kelson
"Assessment of three dairy waste management practices in the removal of common vetenary antibiotics" and "Chemical and biological assessment of the change in endocrine disrupting chemicals through a pasturization-digestion treatment of dairy manure" Diana Aga

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 *Communication Day
Slept in... zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Lunch = hot dog
1:00pm "Communicating Science to the Public" Introduction byTom Barton (ACS President)
1:10pm "Engaging different audiences" Panel: Susan Morrisey (Assistant Managing Editor, C&EN), Christopher Avery (AAAS Policy Fellow, DOE), Darcy Gentleman (ACS Office of Public Affairs), Terri Taylor (K-12 Education at ACS), Amanda Yarrnell (Assistant Managing Editor, C&EN) and breakout sessions
Video reporting of discussion breakouts
3:00pm "Laugh, share, and demo: Chemunicator advice" Rudy Baum (C&EN), Peter Ludovice (Georgia Tech), Matthew Hartings (American U, @sciencegeist), Diane M. Bunce (The Catholic University of America)
4:10pm "Effective videomaking" Adam Dylewski (@ACSReactions)
SWAM IN THE BAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 *Conference Hookey Day
BICYCLE ADVENTURE!!!!!!!! Rode from Pacifica State Beach along Half Moon Bay.
We biked a 16.77 mi route through Devil's Slide and along Hwy 1 (scary) to a bike trail along Half Moon Bay. The route had a total ascent of 828.63 ft.  This route burned 966 Cal even though we decided to take Bus Route 17 back to our car.

Thursday, August 14, 2014 *Global Stewardship Day
Slept in... zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
10:15am Monitoring and Evaluating Environmental Exposures: Case Studies Incorporating Statistical Approaches to Evaluate and Predict from Large and Fuzzy Datasets
Lunch = hotdog
12:40pm "IUPAC: Emerging Issues and Challenges Global Food Production and Food Security"
"Global Food Challenges and trade policy considerations" Tim Josling (Food Research Institute at Stanford University)
1:00pm "Sustainable improvement of agricultural yields through the application of modern biotechnology" Bruce Chassy (Food Safety and Nutritional Sciences, U of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)
Poster session "Synthetic elicitor, CMP442, increases innate plant resistance to pathogens" Thomas Eulgem
2:00pm "Enhancing global food security through sustainable pest and disease management"
Terrance M. Hurley (Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota)
Panel Discussion = very interesting!
Made risotto for dinner = YUM!
ZYDECO DANCING at Yoshi's Oakland, Jeffery Broussard & the Creole Cowboys!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, August 15, 2014 *Dharma Day in Marin County
Friday Morning Meditation and Yoga Class with Dana DePalma and Ashley Sharp (yoga) at Spirit Rock
Pt. Reyes BIKE RIDE!!!!!!!!!!! We biked 17.88 mi. The route has a total ascent of 1626.54 ft. We saw a herd of Tule Elk.  This ride burned 965 Cal.

Saturday, August 16, 2014 *Thank a Farmer Day
We rode our bikes to the Alemany Farmer's Market. It was HUGE. Immense. Sprawling. Diverse. Our route was 4.91 mi. The route has a total ascent of 316.8 ft and has a maximum elevation of 242.16 ft. After we got home, we headed over to Walnut Creek for "An Afternoon of Rumi" which was spiritually fullfilling. We had an All-American summer family farewell dinner with hamburgers, corn on the cob, and watermelon.

The greener meeting challenge was a no-brainer since I biked to and from the conference center, staying with a family member negated the need for changing sheets and a maid service.  I biked a total of 40 miles that week via Route 47 and 50 in San Francisco.  I walked to and from Union Square and Moscone many times on Sunday, August 10th.  I enjoyed the Fun Run with City Running Tours as a way to see the city in a running group.  I had the water bottle from my bicycle, which I refilled at the bottle station in Moscone North.  The conference theme was inspiring!  Thanks ACS.