Sunday, November 2, 2008

Mom and Dad

This weekend my Mom and Dad went for some bike rides; they rode together on Coronado and Mom hit her first rain ride as she rode up and back to Carlsbad. They basically rock when it comes to parents who have recovered from being parents of kids who are now parents of married kids. I guess "recovered" is a good word since I have done a decent job of putting them through interesting situations even after I left the nest!

On Friday I called my Mom to get a first hand account of what it's like to get a colonoscopy. I have started teaching my Biotech students my cancer unit and we got caught up in a discussion about colon cancer. We watched Katie Couric's Colonoscopy (which she did after her husband died of colon cancer) and the kids wanted to know what it felt like. I said, "Well, I've never had one but I know someone who has. Let's call my parents." Dad was out on a lunchtime bike ride (you rock, dad!) but Mom answered as she was standing in line at the grocery store (you rock, too, mom!). I held my cell phone up to the class and put her on speaker phone. She described a bit and my students gave the best oooohs and aaaaahs (not in the excited way, but in the grossed out way) that a teacher could ask for.

Yet again, I never know what to expect from a day "at the office".

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rosalind Franklin

She's the woman behind the x-ray crystallography images that led James Watson and Francis Crick to decipher the structure of DNA.

I had a little rant for my students about inequality in the sciences; women weren't always welcome in the research world and I may have made a few of my students feel uncomfortable when I said that for a long time science in the United States has been dominated by the white man. True, isn't it? Watch this movie: Something the Lord Made.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Lil' Wayne

Today my Biology students started presentations of their Cell Analogy Projects. Most students did decent posters on which they drew diagrams of a typical cell and something they considered to be analogous: the classroom (complete with a drawing of me as the 'nucleus', with rather broad shoulders but a nice small waist and funky shoes); a stadium; a car (and they did a darn good job of matching the parts of a car to similar parts in a cell); a house and so on. We set up classroom norms for doing presentations and everyone was polite and well-mannered so kids had little problem getting up in front of the class - nice!
The piece de resistance (French, please) happened 5th period when the most unsuspecting of the lot got up in front of the room, put on a CD of Lil' Wayne (A Milli) and performed a rap about how a cell is like a football stadium complete with details about stadium gates and security guards, trash disposal, and the aisles between the seats likened to the Endoplasmic Reticulum. This was not the thrown-down phat pharm or crunk hyphie kid who is always beat boxing - just the short, skinny kid in braces who decided he could rap about cells.

Needless to say I was so proud of him and of the class. They gave him the best round of applause and were genuinely impressed.
So, for all those nay-sayers of sex-drug-gang-laden rap it's given this "F" student a huge boost to his confidence and his grade! Thanks, Lil' Wayne!

Today's Homework: Find a new song to re-write to the theme of human genetics

Saturday, October 4, 2008

I need another fish

Last spring David and I ventured out to a hidden warehouse at SFO on a typical foggy morning. We took a few wrong turns into empty parking lots and when we finally entered the appropriate building I presented my badge. We were allowed into a cool, dusty room with scavengers trolling about. We were in an exclusive garage sale for science teachers - and everything was free!

Biotech companies from the Bay Area donate their excess stuff and it makes for a veritable scene of Science Teachers Gone Wild!

I got an incubator, hundreds of micropipette tips, petri dishes, tubing, and a giant Erlenmeyer flask. When we got home David set about to make a fish tank out of the flask. He bought 3 fish and 2 of them promptly died. He fashioned a dead-fish-removal device out of a plastic knife, plastic fork and some masking tape. The lone fish lived with the fish tank rocks and circled about mindlessly. It lived in our kitchen, and during our honeymoon it lived in Katie and Tim's kitchen. Now it lives in Room 37 at RCHS. Marco feeds the fish everyday during 6th period and Luiza looks at it with disdain because she can't imagine a fish surviving with no friends. She has even offered to give me $5 to go buy another fish (specifically a plecostomus so that it will eat the algae - I think Luiza may be grossed out by the algae too since she sits right next to the increasingly green "tank"). I told her to write me a message on the board to remind me to get a new fish.

I was out of class for two days for a training seminar this week. When I returned to my classroom on Friday there was a sizeable note on the board that read, "Please buy a new fish. Love you."

Today's homework: go to PetCo and get a proper fish tank and a few proper fish for Luiza to see and Marco to feed

Sunday, September 21, 2008

5 years, 5000 miles

5 years ago I found out I had a few naughty cells in my body growing out of control.

5000 miles ago I bought my road bike and took it for its first ride.

I'm not sure which of those events has had more of an impact on my life.

Each year I teach a unit on Cell Biology and Cancer. I tell my students that, since 1 out of 3 of them will likely have cancer or care for a loved one with cancer, it is absolutely necessary that they learn about it and become aware of prevention and care that is available. Last year my students made magazine advertisements for skin cancer prevention and I sprayed them with sunblock as they left my class on the last day before summer break!

Each year I go through my own "cycling season". This year I am going to try to break out of my fairweather riding habit and ride even when it's not perfect outside. I love commuting to work with Mrs. Mach (even though we must sacrifice Starbuck's on those days) and my honeymoon up the coast of California with The Coyote was entirely unforgettable. In a couple of weeks Mom and Dad and a handful of friends are bringing their bikes to Davis to ride Foxy's Fall Century. I'm so excited - mostly for drafting off of big groups of people, for the great food stops and for the drinks afterwards!

I hope to cycle more and more and more and to teach many more students how to be advocates for their own good health.

Today's homework: go 5 more years sans cancer and ride 5000 more miles!

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Grandma and Grandpa were my nextdoor neighbors for most of my life. At dinner time, Tony and Grandma would build an imaginary garage, adding practical features (from Grandma) and extravagent, motor-driven, laser emitting features (from Tony). Their garage was always a work in progress. I never added anything to the garage but instead sat quietly listening to their plans, imagining the colors of the walls, the size of the doors and windows, and wondered when they would actually start building it in the back yard. I still think that one day it really will be built.

Grandma, Grandpa and Tony are three people in my life I have always believed. Tony told me that if I was making a face and he hit me on the back, the face would stick. He also told me that if I ripped the edges off of 1980s dot matrix printer paper that I would get cancer (I don't think he really intended that to come true). Grandpa told me that he had met the inventor of soil fertilizer.

Grandma never told me anything that I shouldn't believe. She is wise.

Today's homework: Listen to Grandma

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bad Socks, Flat Tire

Today I rode my bike to school with Mrs. Mach. It's a 15 mile ride each way and we've done it dozens of times. In all those trips I've had only one flat tire on a 105-degree afternoon just as we got off the causeway heading into Davis. We got off to the change the flat and many minutes later, after a trucker gave us water, two people asked us for help, and I realized that my spare tube was for David's giant road tires, we called David to the rescue. I was covered in grease while Mrs. Mach had rolled up her shorts, donned her flip flops and further increased the golden of her tan.
Today I wore ugly neon green cycling socks so maybe I deserved my flat tire, earned in the same exact location where I got the first. I got the tire off, pulled the tube out and put in another. Pumped it up with the help of a CO2 cartridge (so fun to use it's almost worth the flat tire) and then...hsssssssss...this tube had a leak in it, too. Grease, flip flops and a phone call later, our bikes were back in the bed of David's truck.
We had a fun first leg of the ride nevertheless. We had stopped at Starbucks just a few miles before the tire incident and relaxed to some latte love, knowing that we'd make good use of the caffeine and calories to get us over the causeway.
So, tomorrow we ride in a car in hopes that the tires are a bit more durable. And we'll stop at Starbucks again, of course.

Today's homework: wash grease off body and give husband a back rub for being there to save me


Today I taught my English Learners about the role of lysosomes in eukaryotic cells. I drew a great picture of a toilet and told them that lysosomes were the crap master of the cell because they clean out toxins and waste products. Maybe they'll remember that.

We went through slide after slide of organelles and pronounced the names, which turned into a jumble of Russian, Spanish and Japanese-speakers with a new excuse for yelling in class.
I'm not sure there is a great way to teach students about organelles. I realized last year that I had made it to 27 years and didn't really know the role of the endoplasmic reticulum and the golgi apparatus. Of course, it's not that the students know everything, but that they learn the process of learning and filtering through masses of information.

Today's homework: tell someone at home the role of lysosomes in eukaryotic cells.