ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Alex, Staten Island Academy student

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Alex from Miss Baker’s Biology class at Staten Island Academy to answer a few questions. You can read about Alex’s experience at ScienceOnline2010 here.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you from?
Thank you! I’m Alex and I’m a freshman at Staten Island Academy in New York. I’ve lived in New York all my life and dream of living in Paris (though learning French might be necessary for that…). I’m completely invested in literature and music (I’ve played violin all my life), but now I am really embarrassingly involved in the online current events world. I’m beginning to become more reliable than Anderson Cooper.
As a freshman, I am really looking forward to taking Psych as soon as it’s available. I really just find perception, brain functioning, and behavior fascinating. But right now, I’m really enjoying biology where we’re doing a lab about genetics.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
I’ve always been really into writing, but I’ve lately been looking more into journalism over creative writing. Science journalism for the New York Times or Scientific American would be amazing. My main passion has always been and will probably always remain music, art and theater, but I’ve started to spread my horizons after Science Online. I was completely taken by Michael Specter’s speech. He really made science seem more personal, instead of a scary and distant compilation of numbers and statistics.
What particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
Being perhaps the world’s biggest YouTube fanatic, I really enjoy the Ecogeek.com by Hank Green of the VlogBrothers. I’m also of course always on Ms. Baker’s site Extremebiology.net for updates and notes. Curiocity.ca has a lot of cool sections for kids who wouldn’t expect to like science (aka me pre-9th grade when science was just math with a different name). They have some sports related articles, but my personal favorite is 3D Makes a Comeback where they look into the engineering of 3D hits like “Avatar”. A site that merges science and breathtaking photography is my newest addiction Birdbook.org. There are some truly beautiful images on that site.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work and school? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do and want to accomplish?
I really think that online education is the new frontier. There are still a lot of people that need convincing, but I find it hard to believe that with all of the great innovations popping up every day that education would stay restricted to a piece of white chalk and a blackboard. A lot of kids aren’t into Twitter in my class (as some visitors to the Extreme Biology session at Sci Online may remember, 14-16 year-olds don’t see the importance), but I believe it’s mainly because Facebook seems to have all of the factors of Twitter along with a better layout. But I think it is most important to remember that kids like what other kids like. If these sites are introduced to students, it’s only a matter of time before FriendFeed is the new Facebook.
As Miss Baker, when teaching the Biology class, gives you a lot of creative freedom, how does that affect your own interest in the subject? Do you think you learn better this way? What would you suggest to do differently to make it even better? What are some of your own projects you did for the class?
Definitely! As someone who considers myself as a bit of a “free spirit”, I really think the entire class in general is really flourishing with this teaching style. This generation has a lower tolerance for traditional teaching methods. I think giving us freedom within the curriculum is liberating and effective. When the 9th grade went on a trip to London, we took 50 science related photos each and did descriptions and recorded our information. And then, of course, is the infamous blog project. After picking out topic, we wrote blog posts, and now most of them are on the website now. Instead of just writing and handing in an essay, it was so different from anything I’ve ever done in school. We got to comment on each other’s post and get involved in conversations/ debates about the topic at hand.
Do you read science blogs? If so, when and how did you first discover them? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool ones?
I’m guilty of being unimpressed by blogs. There are a lot of truly fascinating blogs, but I can’t find a way to get invested. I can’t help but feeling that answer was a cop out, so I feel I should mention my involvement in the world of podcasts! I’m trying to recruit some people for my own, but until then I love listening! ITunesU has some great podcasts from Universities like Cornell and MIT if you’re interested in those. Those are more recorded lectures, but are still really informative. Science Magazine Podcast is probably one of my favorites, but Science Podcast is also cool. As I mentioned before, Ecogeek is amazing for new green technology and has the best science podcast I’ve found so far. But my all time favorite is SmartMouths podcast. Although mostly political, they do venture into science sometimes. Plus, it’s guaranteed fun and information filled. They do some amazing debates too.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
My favorite part was definitely presenting! The only suggestion I have for next year (besides an irrelevant request to bring back the same burger truck) is maybe to have a few more sample lectures. There were a few where instead of focusing on one general topic, there were about 3 presenters. I preferred this format, but overall it was such an incredible experience! And as I think I mentioned, my scientific enlightenment was Michael Specter’s speech, and the scientific journalism session. I can definitely see scientific journalism as a genre in its own right, and not just a boring collection of facts.
It was so nice to meet you in person and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.
Alex pic.jpg

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