“No one should come to New York…unless he is willing to be lucky.”
Here is New York by EB White
This is the first time I have been to New York never having travelled in the USA previously and already I feel very lucky. This visit is courtesy of a much-appreciated scholarship and it is wonderful to have the opportunity to meet with American people in diverse fields – including evolutionary biologists, teachers, administrators, principals, curators, historians, CEOs and geneticists – interested in educational outreach, technology and citizen science.
Among other things, my study tour focuses on how the latest learning about new and emerging technologies, such as non-medical DNA analysis, can be shared effectively and ethically by teachers across the curriculum and state, using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in an effort to genuinely personalise learning for students.
Since arriving I have struck gold.
The opportunities for educators wishing to pursue citizen science and big history are excellent with new, incredibly rich veins to explore and our system has a unique opportunity to support learning in these areas if we are agile and futures-focused. The level of intellectual stimulation has made me feel mentally ‘on fire’. I made the featured image* above for fun after visiting one New York institution using Adobe Lightroom and a couple of Topaz plugins.
Let me tell you more.
Mike Hickerson, an Associate Professor of Evolutionary Biology, was particularly generous with sharing his time and knowledge. I learnt about Mike’s class in cultural anthropology at the City College of New York via The Genographic Project website. Two hundred of Mike’s students took cheek swabs and what their data revealed about New York’s diversity was presented at the American Natural History Museum.
Our conversation ranged over many topics and I found myself feeling quietly pleased that Mike was my first port of call in New York City. If I’d been taking notes rather than relying on my memory I would have listed Professor Alan Cooper in Adelaide (Australian Centre for DNA) as a person to make contact with in my own country and I would have jotted down Yaniv Erlich‘s name. By now, twenty minutes into the conversation, I was to become even more stimulated by what Mike had to tell me about the mobile DNA sequencing projects that are underway. I found Yaniv online and his tweetstream soon revealed how much potential these portable DNA sequencers have for citizen scientists, especially when Moore’s Law fully kicks in. His work on the complex relationships between privacy, ethics and genetics is of particular interest.
Oxford Nanopore Technologies is the British company developing the MinION mobile DNA sequencer (pronounced “min-eye-on”) which will soon be available to educators and their students in mainstream classrooms. They are very small, the size of a small phone or chocolate bar. Yaniv, who answers his emails quickly, was very receptive and a meeting organised on incredibly short notice at the New York Genome Centre with Sophie Zaaijer, a postdoctoral researcher focused on using mobile sequencers with students and educational outreach. She has started working with secondary school students to develop curriculum. This is a deeply exciting development.
“The mission of the DNA Learning Center is to prepare students and families to thrive in the gene age.”
Amanda McBrien, Assistant Director at the Dolan DNA Learning Center in Cold Spring Harbor, was very generous with her time and advice. Eight Nobel laureates in the field of genetics have worked here and the facilities provide students with the opportunity to do sophisticated “hands’-on” learning. It is an impressive place to visit and the students I saw were deeply engaged with learning. The resources and case studies at the website are excellent. There’s a studio for broadcasting seminars and having online classes. It certainly is fulfilling its mission of helping us “thrive in the gene age”.
Mitch Bickman is the very switched-on Director of Social Studies at Oceanside High School on Long Island. He has been an advocate for teaching Big History at the school and has a great team of teachers. Todd Nusson and Jason Manning kindly permitted me to attend their classes and chat with students about big history. The ‘claim testers’ displayed prominently suggest the epistemological underpinnings of the course are a focus at Oceanside.
Oceanside is 1:1 and all students had devices in class. The teachers use technology in a relaxed and profitable manner with Edmodo and GAFE in the five or so lessons I attended. It was very rewarding to have my tweetstream inundated with pleasant messages from the students in response to our lessons together. Twitter and YouTube really must be “unblocked” at state schools for students in stages 3-6. It is just too ridiculous for this level of filtering to occur preventing teachers from access MOOCs and experts outside of the classroom, often in real-time. Of all the students who sent me messages, I did not notice even one error of punctuation, spelling or grammar. They certainly understand hashtags.
I have been incredibly lucky so far on this trip to New York. The educators and scientists I have met have been friendly, motivated, enthusiastic people who, without sometimes knowing it, are making a huge difference.
I have more time in NYC before travelling on to Washington and Dallas. Stay tuned.
Featured image: Flickr photo by Darcy Moore https://flickr.com/photos/darcymoore/26683600496 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license
*The source image was photographed by me at the City College of New York which reminded of my time exploring York Minster last year.