Stories tagged education


Enrolled trilobite: The trilobite's strategy of rolling itself up into a ball for protection dates back to some of its earliest known ancestors in the fossil record. This fossil trilobite (Isotelus?) was found in Late Ordovician shale in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Enrolled trilobite: The trilobite's strategy of rolling itself up into a ball for protection dates back to some of its earliest known ancestors in the fossil record. This fossil trilobite (Isotelus?) was found in Late Ordovician shale in St. Paul, Minnesota.Courtesy Mark Ryan
A new study appearing in Biology Letters shows that trilobites - everyone's favorite prehistoric water bug - developed an effective survival strategy much earlier than previously thought.

Trilobite fossils from Early Cambrian rock formations in the Canadian Rockies and elsewhere lend evidence that some of the earliest trilobites used enrollment (i.e rolling themselves up into a ball like an armadillo) to protect themselves from predators or the environment. Trilobite fossils found here in Minnesota are several million years younger dating back to the Late Cambrian through Late Ordovician Periods (500 - 430 mya) and are often found enrolled. It was an effective survival strategy.

Trilobites were arthropods, which meant they possessed exoskeletons, segmented bodies and jointed appendages. Their closest extant relative is the horseshoe crab. Trilobite bodies - for the most part - were comprised of a head (cephalon) positioned on a body (thorax) that was divided into three lobes: essentially an axial dividing a left and right pleura, and a tail (pygidium). The mouth (hypostome) was located on the underside. It's thought that most early trilobites were predators and/or scavengers who spent their lives roaming the sea floors looking carcasses, detritus or living prey to feed upon. Most trilobites possessed complex eyes (although some were eyeless). Like other arthropods (e.g. today's lobsters), trilobites would outgrow their exoskeletons, discarding them (molting) as they grew in size or changed shape. Their newly exposed soft skin soon hardened into a new, tough, outer casing. Once hardened, their segmented exoskeletons (composed of calcium carbonate) were ventrally flexible, giving them the ability to roll up into a ball should they need sudden protection from whatever threatened them.

Some early trilobite forms from Middle Cambrian-aged fossils had been viewed as incapable of enrolling but the new research based on much older fossils found in mudstones in the Canadian Rockies in Jasper Park pushes back the origins of the strategy to some of the earliest trilobites to appear in the fossil record (Suborder Olenellus). These appeared 10-20 million years earlier at the very beginnings of the Cambrian Period and show evidence of having already developed the ability to enroll.

Trilobites in some form or another existed across a span of more than 270 million years, a very successful run by any measure. The enrollment strategy certainly contributed to their longevity. Although trilobites were already in decline, the last of their kind were wiped out in the great extinction event that marked the end of the Permian Period and the start of the Triassic. They weren't the only casualty of the extinction: nearly 90 percent of Earth's species were terminated along with them.

Even though trilobites are extinct (they died out in the Permian Mass Extinction along with around 90 percent of Earth's species) they were an extremely successful and adaptable life form. No wonder they remain today a favorite among fossil collectors.

Paper at Biology Letters
Major Trilobite features
A Guide to the Orders of Trilobites

The National Research Council’s conceptual framework which will guide the development of next generation standards for science education has just been released (today) for public comment.

Here is the link-

It's the eve of the big event – March Madness kicks off tomorrow and hoops junkies like myself will be in heaven for three weeks. But what about academics junkies? For the fifth straight year, a college organization has run the NCAA men's basketball brackets through the academic wringer, advancing schools through the brackets based on a formula of classroom success for each school. The school with the more success advances through each round of the brackets. Past editions of the challenge have produced academic champions such as Bucknell, Holy Cross and Davidson. Last year, however, the academic and hoops championship teams were one and the same: North Carolina. Who wins this year's academic bracket challenge? You have to click here to find out. I will tell you that it's not my alma mater, Mankato State.


Good, good: Kiss some of the other babies... and then threaten them. It'll be a landslide.
Good, good: Kiss some of the other babies... and then threaten them. It'll be a landslide.Courtesy
Here at Science Buzz we try to provide solid scientific information that Internet enthusiasts young and old might use to enhance their lives and their understanding of the world. Ding.

I’m sorry to admit, however, that we rarely offer advice directly to politicians. Sure, bloggers here might make their political leanings obvious from time to time, but we generally don’t give politicians pointers on how to enhance their careers.

Well there’s finally a Buzzer (me) with the courage (plenty) to stand up for the little guy (politicians) and hand out some advice (very valuable).

And here it is: If you want to manipulate people, make them afraid.

What? You sort of already knew that? Well no one sort of likes a smarty-pants, so zip it.

Besides, what you knew before was anecdotal. This is scientific. (Political science, but still, it was published, and that’s pretty good. Right?)

What’s more, it’s not quite so simple as the above statement. The real trick is to get your fear-mongering manipulation in when you’re dealing with a subject that people don’t understand very well. If the plebeians have solid mental footing, they’re much more likely to see through your crumby policies and deceptive statements. But if they’re uncertain about something, start up your scare engine and manipulate away.

Let’s do some practice runs:

“Your cats are unwholesome, and will eat your children. Kill them, and donate all money saved on cat food to my campaign.”

No, I know that isn’t true. If anything, the cats are in danger of being eaten by me. Plus I don’t own children. So I’m keeping that money, junior.

“Cloning research is unwholesome. It will de-value human life. I am against cloning, so vote for me.”

Say… I saw The Matrix. That was scary. I don’t know how cloning works, but it is scary. I am against cloning too. And I’m for you, junior.

“My opponent’s economic policies are going to ruin you. Check it.”

Hey… I’ll probably only live about 2 and a half billion seconds in my life. Economics involves trillions of dollars… that’s incomprehensible to me. I’m yours, junior.

See how easy and fun that was?

Science and scientific stuff is a good place to start, of course, because a lot of people don’t know a lot of stuff about science.

(On the offhand chance that you’re a non-politician reading this, I suppose you could get yerself educated about some science, etc, and have a better idea of when someone is trying to make you afraid and control you. But that’s not very nice to the politicians, is it?)


Information and communications technology
Information and communications technologyCourtesy edans

Tech trio wants to change what is tested

Three tech giants, Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco, have banded together to develop new ways of measuring skills and competencies that current and future generation of students will need for successful and prosperous lives in the 21st century.

Changing global educational systems

Based on extensive research, they concluded that most education systems have not kept pace with the skill sets that are required for students to succeed.

Barry McGaw will serve as executive director over leading experts and innovators from both academia and government.

“Reforming assessment is essential to enabling any systemic change in education. And change on a global scale is required to equip students of today with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce of tomorrow,” he says.

McGaw and his team of researchers, especially John Bransford and his working group on learning environments, will look into innovative classroom practices globally and identify those practices that support 21st-century skills.

"In many classrooms, the teachers teach what is measured," said Gupta. "By influencing international assessments, and working with countries to influence their policy and approaches to national assessment, we believe this project will have a direct and large-scale impact on what is taught and how it is taught in schools across the [world]. In this way, it is our hope that this project will help schools move to the style of learning environment that engages the current and future generation of students and delivers to students the skills and competencies they need for successful and prosperous lives in the 21st century."

Skills tech leaders recommend

  • to think critically and creatively
  • to work cooperatively
  • to adapt to the evolving use of information and communications technology (ICT)

Learn more

Tech giants vow to change global assessments
Measuring 21st-century skills


Crime Scene: That elephant seems strangely out of place...suspicious...
Crime Scene: That elephant seems strangely out of place...suspicious...Courtesy matt coats
Imagine a crime scene that has hundreds of crime scene investigators. All of the students at Arlington High School in St. Paul, MN are working together to crack the case! As part of the school’s BioSMART program, intended to expose students sciences, engineering, business, etc., this school-wide lesson is drawing on a variety of different disciplines. Art students have become sketch artists, English language learners are questioning “persons of interest”, other students are working to determine the angles of blood spatter. I think this lesson is really a neat way to highlight how crime scene investigation draws on many different subjects and specialists. It is also a cool way to get students interested in subjects that maybe they would not have thought about before. What do you think?

USA Today has an interesting story today about the role museums can play in increasing science literacy in the country. You can read it right here.


Biological research resource

A great biology teaching resource can be found at Both the Biology Browser home page and their search engine are subdivided into:

  • organism (animals, plants, viruses)
  • subjects (biodiversity, botany, genetics)
  • geography (Africa, Asia, North America)

To experiment, I entered the term "turtle" in the search box which resulted in 369 hits (the MN DNR web page entry, Turtles of Minnesota was #6).

Biological database gains several hundred links per day

A fourth column lists the latest additions to the BiologyBrowser database gleaned from the Biology News Net site. This week averaged about 300 new additions per day!

Access top papers and interviews with top scientists

Biology Browser
Biology BrowserCourtesy Art Oglesby
Another feature is the "Hot Topics" box inserted top and center of the page. Todays hot topic was "stem cells". The link took me to an Essential Science Indicators page listing the top 20 papers, authors, institutions, and journals.
An editorial section features, interviews, first-person essays, profiles, and other features about people in the stem cell field. Three scientists are featured, the first being Dr. Outi Hovatta discussing her highly cited paper, "A culture system using human foreskin fibroblasts as feeder cells allows production of human embryonic stem cells"
Check it out
If you wish to keep up with advances in the biological sciences, I recommend exploring BiologyBrowser and learn to use the tools they provide.

Girls rule!

by Gene on Dec. 06th, 2007

For the first time in its nine-year history, the prestigious Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology for US high schoolers awarded both of its grand prizes to girls.


Ball together now: More schools are getting rid of desk chairs and using exercise balls for students to sit on to help improve their health and help them learn better. (Photo courtesy of WittFitt)
It’s a classic scene from NBC’s “The Office” that’s being played out more and more in classrooms across the country.

You may have seen that “The Office” episode that starts out with nerdy Dwight Shrute bobbing up and down at his desk, sitting on a huge inflatable ball, extolling all the health wonders to be had from it, including increased dexterity, and he then proceeds bump his coffee cup on the desk next to him. His workmate, Jim, proceeds to drive a scissors into the ball.

What’s funny on TV is becoming reality in more classrooms around the country today. Desk chairs are being taken out of classrooms and being replaced with exercise balls. The balls are most common in elementary classrooms, where high-energy students can wiggle while they work.

The initial idea was to provide a new alternative to the decreasing amount of school time devoted to physical education. Having kids bouncing on a ball all day is good at developing leg and torso muscles along with draining excess energy that can make kids fidgety in classrooms.

A company based in Hudson, Wisc. – WittFitt – is one of the top suppliers of classroom sitting balls. According to it’s website, it lists these positive benefits to using the balls instead of chairs:

• Assists in improving posture
• Allows for "active" sitting
• Enhances attention and concentration
• Promotes learning through movement
• Improves blood flow
• Improves balance and coordination
• Strengthens core (postural) muscles
• Adjusts for a customized fit

In many of the classroom, students have an option between using a ball or a chair. Invariably, balls are more popular than chairs. One second-grade student is quoted in a recent newspaper story as saying wiggling around helps her think better.

So what do you think? Is this a wave of the future for education and health or a flash in the pan? Do you have experience as a teacher or student using exercise balls in the classroom? Share your opinions here with other Science Buzz readers.