Switching Course: Remote teaching tools inspire innovation, enhancements to course delivery

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

In large, complex organizations, change can sometimes take a lot of time, planning, paperwork, and meetings. But things could not have moved more quickly than they did the week of March 9 when Penn State made the decision to extend remote teaching and learning through the end of the spring semester to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus on University campuses.

Faculty members had a little more than one week to transition their classes to a fully remote teaching format and get up to speed on the digital tools they and their students would need to meet virtually. It was understandably challenging and stressful. But, for some, being required to learn new ways to teach was eye opening and led to revelations that will enhance course delivery when students return to campus in the future.

Dr. Jay Amicangelo, professor of chemistry, has been teaching in a traditional face-to-face manner since he started at Behrend in 2002 and said he was not fully aware of all the features available in Canvas, the online course management platform utilized by Penn State, until he had to move his classes to a remote teaching format.

“One part that I actually like is the idea of pre-recording my lectures ahead of time and then using class time to go over assigned problems, answer questions, and so forth,” he said.

It’s a new tool he plans to use when he returns to the classroom this fall to teach CHEM450 Physical Chemistry Thermodynamics, an upper-level course.

“In this class, I have always used the chalkboard to present material for the class because it is a highly mathematical class,” Amicangelo said. “I would often feel rushed in a given class to get to a certain point in my lecture notes, but now I’m thinking if I record my lectures over the summer using a camera in one of the classrooms, I can have them watch the lecture in advance, then I can use the face-to-face class session to emphasize important points of the material, go over assigned problems, and field questions.”

Amicangelo said this approach to teaching, called a “flipped” classroom, is a concept he had heard about but had never had the motivation to try himself.

“So, in a weird way, the current crisis opened my eyes to this possibility,” he said. “And, now that I’ve explored it, I like it, and plan to use it in the future,” he said. “I think students will really benefit from the extra opportunity to understand and explore the material in class rather than just listening to me lecture.”

STEAM ideas to keep kids learning, engaged

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

With schools closed across the country, parents have found themselves suddenly thrust into the role of teacher and activities director. It’s no easy task.

The experts in Penn State Behrend’s Youth Education Outreach (YEO) program are here to help you. They have plenty of experience holding kids’ attention while teaching them about Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM). They have put together a few fun activities/resources that you can use.

Sweet Chemistry Experiment

In light of the number of students now learning remotely, The American Chemical Society has made the American Association of Chemistry Teachers website more available to the public. Tracy Halmi, associate teaching professor of chemistry, said the site offers high-quality information and activities for students of all ages, including elementary students.

Halmi shared one activity that caught her eye as an experiment that kids would find fun: Analyzing root beer floats is suggested for students in grades 1-5, but we’re guessing “kids” of any age would enjoy it.

root beere

You can see a full list of unlocked activities on the website.

Easter/Spring STEAM Fun

Robyn Taylor, K-12 program educator for YEO, said the website littlebinsforlittlehands.com offers several STEAM activities with eggs that are easy and fun to do at home. Here are a few of her favorites:

Easter Egg Catapults. Experiment with motion, design, and basic engineering and physics principals by designing a simple machine to launch plastic eggs into the air.

catapult

Photo credit: Little Bins for Little Hands

Egg Crystals: With just a few simple materials, your young learners will be ready to start growing cool crystals in the shape of eggs in this hands-on chemistry experiment disguised as a fun holiday craft.

egg crystals

Photo credit: Little Bins for Little Hands

Suncatchers: Bring some sun and color into your home by making suncatchers that incorporate a little science into the art, especially if you choose to make the crystal or slime suncatchers.

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Photo credit: Babbledabbledo.com

Lego Maze Challenge. If you have a bin full of building bricks, kids will have a blast making their own Lego mazes while also learning about engineering, design, and physics. There is no limit to how elaborate or creative the mazes can be – students can incorporate buildings and figures into their mazes and then compete with siblings to see who can race the marble through fastest!

marble maze

Photo credit: Mammapappabubba.com

Take a tour!

Send the kids on an adventure from the comfort and safety of your own home. You can tour a whole host of museums and zoos virtually, including the National History Museum in London and the The National Museum of Computing, where you can take a 3-D virtual tour.

computer musuem

Photo credit: The National Museum of Computing

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eye on Medical Careers: Behrend’s Pre-Health Program Seniors Stand Out

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

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Ashley Price

You may have heard that the eyes are the window to your soul, but did you know they also offer a pretty clear view of your overall health?

“The eye is really interesting because it can reveal a lot of health problems,” said Ashley Price, a senior Biology major and Chemistry minor in the Pre-Optometry program at Penn State Behrend. “Many people learn they have diabetes from their eye doctor because the disease affects the small capillaries in the retina.”

Other health issues that can be spotted in the eyes include hypertension, autoimmune disorders, high cholesterol, thyroid disease and even some types of cancer and tumors.

Price had planned to be a family physician but switched to optometry after shadowing an eye doctor in high school. “I just thought it was so cool,” Price said. “You’re always looking at something different. And I like the personal aspect of optometry. You see the same patients year after year and can form relationships with them.”

Like her career choice, Price’s college plan changed course after a first-hand experience.

“I was totally set on going to Pitt, but then a friend talked me into touring Behrend, and as soon as I set foot on campus, it felt like home,” she said.

For the last four years, Behrend has been her home. Price, who will graduate in May, has been a Resident Assistant for three years. She’s currently an R.A. in Ohio Hall, but this fall, she’ll move to another Ohio—Ohio State University—where she will attend optometry school.

She had a lot of options. She applied to and was accepted at six different schools that offered four scholarships, with two at the highest amount the schools offered.

Price is well prepared for the next step in her career, something she credits, in part, to several School of Science faculty members who kept her on the right path and moving forward.

“The professors at Behrend make sure you get to where you want to go,” she said. “They are always behind you and, at the same time, offering to show you the way.”

Price had one recognized adviser, Dr. Beth Potter, associate professor of microbiology. But, she also gathered several more unofficial advisers related to her course of study—Dr. Todd Cook, assistant professor of biology and chair of Pre-Health Programs, and Dr. Jason Bennett, associate professor of chemistry. “I could, and did, go to any of them with any questions I had or if I just wanted advice.”  

Behrend’s Pre-Health Professions Programs in dentistry, medicine, optometry, pharmacy, physician assistant, physical or occupational therapy, and veterinary medicine, require more precise planning than most other majors.  

 “In my first year at Behrend, I went to a pre-health program in which Dr. Mike Campbell (distinguished professor of biology) talked about how to put together the ‘perfect package’ for medical school, and basically gave us a list of things we could do and accomplish during our undergraduate years that would make us attractive to medical schools later.”

Price, who is also a Scheyer Honors College scholar, took Campbell’s suggestions as a to-do list, assuming leadership opportunities, gaining experience in her field through internships and job shadowing, and working on research projects with her professors.

It’s turned out to be a formula for success, not only for Price, but for several pre-health program participants who will be graduating in May and starting the next chapter in their careers, including: Jessie Kibbe and Taylor Hibbard, who have been accepted into physician assistant programs; Dillon Patel, who was offered admission to four dentistry schools; Aldyn Poston, who will attend optometry school, and Zainab Kareen, who was accepted to osteopathic medical school but has decided to attend graduate studies at Penn State College of Medicine.”

Price, who is also the vice president of the college’s Scrubs Club and a Lion Ambassador, said she will miss Behrend, but she’s looking forward to taking the next step toward her career goal.

“Optometrists are literally improving people’s outlooks,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to do that for patients.”  

About Behrend’s Pre-Health Programs

As they navigate the application process for admission into health professional schools, students enrolled in Behrend’s Pre-Health Programs are guided by the Pre-Health Advisory Committee, comprising of faculty members from the School of Science and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, This includes continuous advising and the composition of a committee letter that highlights the student’s academic and extracurricular accomplishments and readiness for the rigors of health professional school. Over the last three application cycles, more than forty Penn State Behrend students have successfully been to various health professional schools and medical-related graduate programs.

To learn more about Behrend’s pre-health programs, visit behrend.psu.edu/prehealth.  

Darwin, Sharks, and Cake (Oh, my!)

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February 12 event at Penn State Behrend celebrates Darwin and his Theory of Evolution

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

One of nature’s greatest success stories is one of its most fearsome creatures. Look no further than the top of the oceanic food chain– sharks—for the ultimate lesson in evolutionary survival.

“Sharks have a fossil record that extends back more than 420 million years,” said Dr. Todd Cook, assistant professor of biology at Penn State Behrend, who has done extensive research work on sharks and rays from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras. “As a group, they have been able to survive several mass extinctions and events that have wiped out countless terrestrial and marine species.”

Learn how these predators have adapted and evolved on Wed., Feb. 12 when Penn State Behrend’s School of Science hosts Darwin Day, an international celebration of the life and work of Charles Darwin.

“Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by means of natural selection is the central tenet that unites all areas of biology,” Cook said. “This day recognizes his immeasurable contribution to science, but especially to the natural sciences.”

Don’t be fooled by the word “theory,” Cook cautions.

“Common everyday use of the word ‘theory’ would imply that it’s simply an idea or a guess,” Cook said. “But Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is a well-substantiated explanation for natural phenomena that is supported by vast amounts of evidence. It has been, and continues to be, extensively scrutinized, and it holds up as a solid scientific theory.” 

The public is invited to celebrate Darwin at Behrend from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., beginning with “Life: A Cosmic Story” at 6:00 p.m. in Yahn Planetarium, followed by a presentation “The Evolutionary History of Sharks” by Cook in Room 101 of Otto Behrend Science Building.

The event is free, open to the public, and geared toward those of all ages. After Cook’s lecture, attendees are invited to stay for a celebratory piece of cake.

TV Game Show Appearance Fulfills Lifelong Dream of Alumnus

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager at Penn State Behrend

Answer: This 2008 Penn State Behrend alumnus appeared on Jeopardy a decade after earning dual degrees in Physics and Mathematics.

Question: Who is Jeffrey Machusko?

Though he didn’t win, Manchusko walked away with $1,000 and lifelong memories of a dream come true.

Manchusko grew up near Pittsburgh watching Jeopardy, the classic answer-and-question quiz show, with his family.

“I used to keep track on my fingers of how many I could get right,” he said. “I considered it a good night when I made it to my toes.  When my wife and I started dating, we learned early on that we were both big Jeopardy fans.  Watching the show was a great cheap date for us broke college students.”

Fortunately, Machusko, 33, a data engineer for a tech consulting firm in Colorado, is no longer broke, but he and his wife still enjoy the nightly quiz show. Last year, he had the opportunity to appear on the show and meet show host Alex Trebek.

Machusko - Jeopardy

We caught up with Machusko to ask him a few questions about his experience:

When did you appear on the show?

I filmed on November 1, 2017, and the episode aired January 25, 2018. It was a crazy time in my life. In the span of a week, I got married, went to Mexico for our honeymoon and flew from the honeymoon directly to LA to film.

How did you end up on the show?

There is an online pre-screening where participants face fifty rapid-fire clues. If you pass through that screening, you can sign up to be on the show. People who do very well on the screening are invited to live auditions that are held across the country.  The auditions feature another round of testing, then there is some live play where you get to use the buzzers from the show.

How did you do?
Not well! All three of us did poorly.  It was an unusually difficult game.  I did get a True Daily Double though, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Did anything surprise you about the experience?
I was caught off guard by how warm and friendly everyone who works there was.  It eased everyone’s jitters about being on TV.  I expected a show that’s been running for more than thirty years to be a bit of a cold, business-as-usual experience.  I enjoyed spending the day with the show employees and the other contestants.

Did any questions stump you?
Unfortunately, too many! I was never much of a fiction reader, and there were a lot of literature clues as well as other things I just don’t know much about, like trains and Will Rogers.

What makes a good Jeopardy player?
I think the best thing you can possess is a skin-deep knowledge of a broad variety of topics. It also helps to be very fast on the buzzer. And, one thing I think has been overlooked until James Holtzhauer’s recent 32-game-winning streak is a willingness to take risks.

Are you just naturally curious about a variety of things?
Almost to a fault. I tend to get distracted easily.  My dad always had documentaries on when I was a child, and I think it helped foster my curiosity about the world.

What advice do you have for others who want to be on Jeopardy?
Just go for it!  I had to audition three times over ten years to get on the show. The first time I auditioned, I was a student at Behrend and I tried out for the college tournament.  In general, I’d suggest those who want to be contestants watch the show and try to understand the game. There’s a lot more to winning than just knowing the questions.

Were you involved in any clubs, sports, or activities while you were at Behrend?

My peers and I revived the Physics Club and put together a few events and a trip to Fermilab in Chicago.  I was also one of the founding members of the Rugby Club and its first president.

What is one of your fondest memories of Behrend?
Playing rugby.  It was a huge part of helping me find confidence outside of the classroom.  I also really enjoyed the astronomy nights.  Seeing Saturn through the campus observatory was breathtaking.  Overall, being in an environment where I was able to grow and learn was so important and it set me up for success in my career.

Machusko and wife rebecca at skypond

Jeffrey Machusko and his wife Rebecca at Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Art of Science: Student/faculty artwork enhances science building

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager at Penn State Behrend

Science and the arts might seem to be very different disciplines, but the scientific method and the creative process are quite similar; inquiry is at the heart of each.

“People sometimes think science is about memorizing facts, but it’s really about making discoveries and wringing answers out of nature,” said Dr. Pam Silver, associate dean for academic affairs and distinguished professor of biology. “When you have a scientific question, it takes a lot of creativity to find the answer to it.”

Scientists are, by nature, creative individuals and the School of Science has recently added two works of art that visibly illustrate that.

Ties that bind

A colorful quilt, titled “A Way of Knowing,” was created by Silver and hangs in Hammermill Hall. Each color in the quilt represents a scientific discipline taught at Behrend—biology, chemistry, environmental science, nursing, physics, and mathematics and mathematics education. A spiral in the quilt represents the net movement of scientific discovery from observation to hypothesis to testing to understanding.

Furthermore, the underlying geometric design “symbolizes that the building blocks of science are not individual disciplines, but rather the discoveries to be made by merging diverse ideas, points of view, and approaches to form a strong and unified way of knowing with the goals of wisdom and the power to enact that wisdom,” Silver said.

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“A Way of Knowing,” by Dr. Pam Silver, associate dean for academic affairs and distinguished professor of biology, hangs near the stairwell in Hammermill Hall. 

Math in flight

High overhead at the entrance of Roche Hall, is another work of art—a stage-5 Sierpinski tetrahedron that models a fractal with infinite triangles—created by the School of Science Math Club under the direction of club president Thomas Galvin  and Dr. Joe Previte, associate professor of mathematics.

“A fractal is a self-similar structure with recurring patterns at progressively smaller scales,” Previte said. “Fractals are useful in modeling natural structures such as plants, coastlines, or snowflakes.”

Some natural objects appear to be completely random in shape, but there is an underlying pattern that determines how these shapes are formed and what they will look like, according to Previte. Mathematics can help us to better understand the shapes of natural objects, which has applications in medicine, biology, geology, and meteorology.

Students built the fractal using Zometool construction parts. It consists of 2,050 white balls and 6,144 red and blue struts. Learn more about fractals at www.mathigon.org/world/Fractals

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A stage-5 Sierpinski tetrahedron created by the School of Science Math Club hangs above the entrance to Roche Hall. 

briefs - artwork - fractals (2)

 

Student garden interns spend summer sowing seeds of sustainability

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager at Penn State Behrend

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Cuddling chickens is not an activity you would expect at Erie’s Blues & Jazz Festival, an annual weekend-long summer music concert in Frontier Park. But two Penn State Behrend students, Jessie Johnson and Pearl Patterson, knew that a handful of hens at this popular event would be a great way to draw attention to their efforts to overturn a law against keeping chickens in the City of Erie.

Johnson and Patterson are spearheading the operation through Chicks4Erie, an online community they formed through Instagram and Facebook to spread the word about urban poultry-keeping.

“Allowing Erie residents to legally keep chickens will bring numerous positive benefits, including improving the environment through the reduction of pests like ticks and providing organic soil amendments for gardeners,” according to the Chicks4Erie mission statement written by Johnson and Patterson, both Student Garden interns at Behrend. “It will also increase self-sufficiency and food security through the production of eggs and contribute to the city’s encouraging overall trend toward urban agriculture.”

The Chicks4Erie initiative is just one of several projects that three Behrend students—Johnson, Patterson and Aydin Mitchell— have been hard at work on this summer as interns for the University’s Sustainable Food Systems Program.

The program, which launched at University Park three years ago, was expanded to Penn State Behrend in 2018 because of food systems already in place on campus. Among these is the student garden, started by the Greener Behrend student organization in 2016. Greener Behrend president, Celeste Makay, a senior Environmental Science major, has continued to help with the garden for the last two years.

Student Garden interns are responsible for the gardens on Behrend’s campus, but their work reaches far beyond weeding and watering.

“They run the campus CSA (community supported agriculture) program that we started, including generating a newsletter and recipes for members, supporting the Erie schools by serving as coordinators of the Jefferson Elementary School garden, and doing outreach programs throughout the district,” said Katie Chriest, sustainable food systems program coordinator for Commonwealth campuses.  “They also are active members of Erie’s Food Policy Advisory Council, and they are finetuning plans for a new campus club that will debut this fall,”

But, that’s not all. The student interns also host educational activities at Behrend for students from Bethesda Trinity Center and the Neighborhood Art House, staff an informational table at the Little Italy Farmers’ Market in Erie, and research expansion efforts for campus garden space and other sustainable food systems initiatives.

Mitchell, a senior Environmental Science major, didn’t have much gardening experience before this summer, but said he has learned a lot along the way. Not all of it is rooted in the ground, but in other vital connections.

“I thought I’d just be taking care of the gardens, but it turned out to be so much more than that,” said Mitchell, who oversees the Jefferson gardens and serves as the manager of education and outreach for the Student Garden intern program. “It’s really about making connections with people in the community and helping them see how vital sustainable food systems are and how and why they should care.”

Which brings us back to the Erie Blues & Jazz Festival’s Sustainability Village where Patterson and Johnson were so successful at making a case for raising poultry in the city that they quickly ran of petition pages to sign.

“At one point, I asked Jessie, who is just going into her sophomore year, what it feels like to be gaining so much support and enthusiasm for their initiative from residents and community leaders,” Chriest said. “She said she was just amazed that, at such a young age, she could have such an impact on the community around her. I’m not sure there’s a more powerful message we could hope to send to our students than that their work matters and that they can make the world a better, and more sustainable, place.”

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