MK 354 Spring 2010

April 26, 2010

The Science of Teaching, Perceiving and Learning

Filed under: blog #10 — ElizabethOstebo @ 10:12 am

Last semester, I took a science class to fulfill my general education requirements. I chose a course about meteorology and global climate even though I was a bit skeptical about how well I would do in the class.  My skepticism stemmed from the science classes I took in high school; I thought the topics were interesting, but I struggled with understanding the material.

In his articles for the Huffington Post, Dr. Larry Dossey, author and former Chief of Staff of Medical City Dallas Hospital, presents the idea of how the way science is taught in schools affects how well students perform and learn. Dossey cites Jeremy Rifkin, founder and president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C., who writes about “the scientific method,” which is an approach to learning in a scientific environment. Rifkin says:

The scientific method is at odds with virtually everything we know about our own nature and the nature of the world. It denies the relational aspect of reality, prohibits participation and makes no room for empathic imagination. Students in effect are asked to become aliens in the world.

Rifkin seems to believe that the way students are taught to do science contradicts with how the students view the world. In a world of constant online social interaction, Dossey says kids tend perceive science as “an individual, solitary endeavor,” which is not a completely accurate representation of science. This distorted image of science, in combination with how the subject matter is taught and how students prefer to learn, is problematic.

Dossey also cites Jacquelynne Eccles, a senior research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and the University of Michigan Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Eccles claims that “Girls steer away from careers in math, science and engineering because they view science as a solitary rather than a social occupation.” In addition, Eccles describes how there is a need to alter the stereotypical and often inaccurate image of what scientists are like and what they do.

In essence, Dossey, Rifkin and Eccles recognize the need for science to be more appealing and relevant to students. I ended up enjoying the science class I took last semester just for that reason. Not only did I get good grades in the class, but I found the material relevant and useful to my everyday life.

Dr. Larry Dossey’s articles in the Huffington Post:

The Scientific Method: An Education Train Wreck?

Is Technology Making Children More Empathic?

Why Are Children Rejecting Science


April 12, 2010

How Computer Engineering Can Become Glamorous

Filed under: blog #9 — ElizabethOstebo @ 7:00 am

I never expected to see my beloved childhood toy on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, but then I remembered that Barbie can do anything—a trait her numerous careers can attest to. In January, Mattel Inc. let people vote on Barbie’s newest occupation and gave the public five career options for the doll: an architect, an anchorwoman, a computer engineer, an environmentalist or a surgeon. Who knew that Barbie’s future co-workers would choose her 126th career?

According to Ann Zimmerman’s article, Revenge of the Nerds: How Barbie Got Her Geek On, female computer engineers created a viral online movement on the blog to make sure that the doll would become a computer engineer. The computer engineers won the popular vote. Zimmerman points out how the viral campaign “speaks volumes both about the power of the iconic Barbie doll and the current state of women who work in computer and information sciences,” referring to how far more men than women work within computer engineering.

Although women voted for computer engineer Barbie and won the popular vote, girls around the world voted differently. The majority of young girls voted for Barbie to be a news anchor. Mattel plans to launch both an anchorwoman and a computer engineer Barbie in response to the girls’ and women’s demand. Meanwhile, when thinking about why girls chose the news anchor doll critical WSJ reader Mike Parise asks, “Is it any surprise that they chose the one who gets on TV? Like a celebrity?” Parise brings up a valid issue. Girls seem to desire what appears to be a glamorous lifestyle. If girls want glamour, should we portray computer engineering as glamorous? It looks as if Barbie is a means to do just that: to make young girls want to be computer engineers or at least give them the career option.

April 5, 2010

Girls in Science: Social Pressures and Stereotypes

Filed under: blog #8 — ElizabethOstebo @ 12:05 pm

Two weeks ago, Science Club for Girls and Microsoft put together an event for young girls to actually meet and talk with women in science, engineering and technology. To start the event, the women introduced themselves and their careers. Afterwards, the girls formed three discussion groups that also included two or three of the professional women. Although the organizations created the event to expose young girls to role-models and to let the girls ask the women about their science-related careers, the girls had some other questions for the women.

In a group of two girls and two women in science, one curious middle-school girl asked the women “How did you meet your husband?” and “How will you manage your family and professional life?” Although the women weren’t expecting the questions, both of them shared their stories about meeting their significant others and thoughts about juggling a family and a career.

Evidently, some girls begin to think about the roles of women at an early age. It also seems like they think about whether a science-related career is going to interfere with their personal and social lives. So how does that relate to girls’ interest in science?

In 2007, Sean Cavanagh wrote the article “Science Camp: Just for the Girls,” which touches on the topic of how peers pressure girls to stay away from science and math through suggesting that if you like those subjects, you lack a social life. Girls may still be interested in science, but choose to avoid science-related subjects as a result of peer pressure. Other girls may resist the influence their peers have. However, more reasons other than peer pressure explain why some girls lose interest or simply avoid science-related subjects.

A recent article in the Salt Lake City Tribune, “Girls really do have an appetite for math and science,” agrees with Cavanagh and says that occasionally, “girls become distracted by clothes and hairstyles and how they appear to others.” But Salt Lake City Tribune writer Paul Beebe also emphasizes that “there are lots of theories to explain the withering of interest, such as the perception that work involving science and math is men’s work.” The stereotype that science, engineering and technology fields are masculine can prevent girls from studying those subjects.

When schools and other organizations expose young girls to women in science it helps to emphasize that science-related fields are not just for guys or masculine women. In addition, it shows that women can work within science, technology and engineering fields while they also have families and social lives. Although after-school science clubs create a science-friendly environment, the after-school programs also need to address the social pressures that face girls in other social settings.

The full Education Week article “Science Camp: Just for the Girls” by Sean Cavanagh can be found through the Academic Search Premier database.

March 29, 2010

Report on Women in Science: “Why So Few?”

Filed under: blog #7 — ElizabethOstebo @ 12:14 pm

Yes, boys perform better than girls in math and science—but only when girls of equal math and science abilities think that boys do better than them. A recent report on how women are still outnumbered, despite the increase of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, shows that stereotypes and biases can negatively affect the performance and achievement of women. Several publications, such as the New York Times, Boston Globe and Washington Post, featured the significant findings of the report, “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” by the American Association of University Women.

The New York Times article by Tamar Lewin and the Washington Post education blog by Valerie Strauss touch on the key points of the AAUW report. One of the primary ideas of the report is that acknowledging the stereotype of boys being better than girls in science and math can be detrimental to the confidence of girls in their performance. The research showed that girls would also critique themselves more harshly when they thought boys were going to perform better. Lewin mentions that Catherine Hill, the report’s lead author, and her co-workers found solutions to these problems, such as “a course in spatial skills for women going into engineering, or teaching children that math ability is not fixed, but grows with effort,” which can change how the stereotypes and biases affect women negatively. These problems and solutions highlight the main concern about the underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

According to Globe Columnist Jeff Jacoby, people shouldn’t be more worried about how engineering is a male-dominated field than about how there are more female veterinarians. Jacoby goes on to say that “the links between gender and vocation are interesting,” but gender differences in the workplace do not signify biases or injustices. The AAUW research findings indicate the opposite of Jacoby’s opinion and emphasize that stereotypic biases exist and affect women who enter science-related fields.

The AAUW report offers advice on how to avoid stereotypes and biases: expose girls to more successful women in science and engineering. Science Club for Girls has been doing just that for years. The nonprofit organization increases the confidence and science skills of young girls with after-school programs and female scientist-mentors.

March 22, 2010

Stories: Opplysningen 1881

Filed under: blog #6 — ElizabethOstebo @ 11:59 am

Stories, like the people who tell them, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some stories are short, while others seem never-ending. Some stories are boring, whereas other stories are wildly entertaining. And some stories have underlying teachings that can guide the audience in certain situations. According to Heath and Heath, a story that instructs the audience is essentially a simulation of a particular setting (206). The simulation is a guide for actions before actually being in the real-life situation.

The commercial for Opplysningen 1881, a Norwegian information service, acts as a quick simulation for how to use the service. Instead of instructing the audience to (1) dial 1881, (2) ask a question about anything you need to know and (3) wait for one of the 1881 employees to provide the answer, the commercial shows how a tattoo artist might use the information service. The tattoo artist calls the information service and asks how to spell “Death Metal,” which illustrates that you can call 1881 not just to get numbers and addresses, but also to ask other questions. Instead of having the commercial tell the audience, the commercial shows the audience that they can call to get help for most concerns.

Similar to the story in chapter six of Made to Stick about one teacher’s experience rather than the instructions on how to deal with problem students, the 1881 commercial is “Putting knowledge into framework that is more lifelike” (214). The audience is provided with a vivid example of how action guiding knowledge can be concrete.

March 1, 2010

Emotional: ThinkB4YouSpeak PSA

Filed under: blog #5 — ElizabethOstebo @ 7:37 am

The primary idea that resonated with me in chapter five of Made to Stick is that “Feelings inspire people to act” (Heath 169). Chip and Dan Heath emphasize that emotional messages compel people to care, and eventually take action, more so than messages that merely make the audience think.

In 2008 the Ad Council and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network launched a public service advertisement campaign that urges people, especially teens, to stop using the phrase “that’s so gay” to describe something as bad, dumb or stupid. Besides the Web site, print ads and radio spots, the ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign has three television commercials. One of the commercials features actress Hilary Duff. claims that “A little star power never hurt,” but to what extent does Hilary Duff’s celebrity status make the “think before you speak” message stick in the minds of teenage viewers? And how does the PSA use an emotional call to action?

Well, it doesn’t. Although the commercial uses an authority figure to give the message some credibility, an emotional appeal doesn’t seem to be present. Similar to the Philip Morris antismoking ads, ThinkB4YouSpeak asks the audience to put on the “Analytical Hat” to think about the issue and make a logical choice. In general, the ThinkB4YouSpeak ads ask us to think about what it feels like when other people use a part of our identity as an insult, rather than actually make us feel what it’s like.

Sure, the celebrity component of the PSA garners attention and the message “When you say, ‘that’s so gay’ do you realize what you say?” makes us think. But the prompt to care enough about the issue to act is vague and borderline nonexistent.

ThinkB4YouSpeak Web site:

Ad Council – Think Before You Speak overview:

February 22, 2010

Establishing Credibility: 5-Hour Energy

Filed under: blog #4 — ElizabethOstebo @ 12:42 pm

In the text Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath describe three sources that can establish credibility: external sources, internal sources and the audience. External sources of credibility include authority and antiauthority figures, while internal sources of credibility rely on statistics and detailed examples. Audience credibility, on the other hand, provides “testable credentials” in order to heighten credibility—consumers test claims in order to determine how credible something is (Heath 157).

5-Hour Energy—a sugar-free, low calorie, caffeinated, 2 ounce energy drink—mainly relies on external and internal sources of credibility in its commercials. However, 5-Hour Energy’s newer commercial uses testable credentials, instead of solely featuring the testimonials of relatively well-known race car drivers or unknown business owners from California.

This commercial, for example, makes use of the audience and consumer as sources of credibility as it urges them to “Take one 5-Hour Energy, then, see what the rest of your day feels like.” Although the claims in the commercial may not be immediately viewed as credible, the confident suggestion to test the product and determine if it works is an attempt to establish credibility.

On another note, does the smug-looking narrator help or hurt the cause? It kind of seems like it could go either way. In an attempt to prove him wrong, 5-Hour Energy consumers might actually enjoy the energy drink—which seems absurd because how can you truly enjoy a shot or “two quick gulps” of anything?

More 5-Hour Energy Commercials:

February 16, 2010

Big Laundry

Filed under: blog #3 — ElizabethOstebo @ 1:52 pm

Recently, LG launched an innovative larger capacity washing machine that can hold up to 11 kilos of laundry. But exactly what is 11 kilos equivalent to? According to, 11kilos, or 24 pounds, is about the average weight of a 15 month old child. Somehow I doubt housewives across America are using their toddlers to get an estimate of how heavy the laundry loads are.

In the “Big Laundry” commercial, LG doesn’t concretely describe what a 24 pound laundry load looks like. Granted, the viewer sees oversized clothes hanging from buildings and bridges, but how does that relate to the amount that can be placed in an actual washing machine? It doesn’t have to relate because it’s not important in this context. The key point of the LG ad is the revolution of larger laundry load capacity in a standard sized machine. The main abstract concept LG explores here is innovation.

LG’s challenge is the depiction of an innovative product that is more efficient, but doesn’t look any different. In response to this predicament, the commercial makes the semi-abstract idea of a large laundry load into concrete and outrageously large articles of clothing spread around a city. The captivated passersby exemplify a reaction to something you didn’t think was possible, like the new larger laundry load capacity of washing machines.

According to Chip and Dan Heath, “If you can examine something with your senses, it’s concrete” (p.104). You can’t specifically hear, smell or taste revolutionizing washing machines. Nevertheless, we know what large laundry looks like and are now familiar with the machine that can wash your hefty amount of laundry without ruining your clothes or washing apparatus. Life sure seems good when you don’t have to worry about the hazards of overstuffing your washing machine.

February 8, 2010

Lend a Hand

Filed under: blog #2 — ElizabethOstebo @ 1:12 pm

How unexpected can anything be anymore? Haven’t we all been told, at some point in our lives, to expect the unexpected? We’re cautious, alert and prepared for unforeseen situations. It’s safe to say that insurance companies thrive off of our expectation of the unexpected. However, in reality, most of us get used to patterns and routines that allow for the unplanned, the unintended and the unexpected.

In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath explain that unexpected ideas contradict our schemas. Based on our schemas or preconceived notions or “guessing machines” we can easily guess how a situation will pan out and what the best course of action will be (Heath 67). The Heath brothers also highlight that “When our guessing machines fail, surprise grabs our attention so that we can repair them for the future” (67). Australian Unifem takes advantage of this idea in its 60 second PSA about domestic violence as the public awareness message surprises with a twist plot ending and then redefines our schema of what it means to “lend a hand.”

Unifem’s “Lend a Hand” PSA begins. We listen to an intensifying argument between a man and a woman, but we can’t see them. Instead, we watch their neighbors, an older couple, eat a meal. We watch the pair eat as though they can’t hear what’s going on next door, until a loud thump against the conjoining wall interrupts their indifference. The older man gets out of his chair, reaches for a baseball bat and walks into the hallway.

As he knocks on his neighbor’s door, we instantly think we know that the older man will intervene in the situation and lend a hand to the woman being verbally and physically abused. Actually, we thought that the older man was going to intervene as soon as he got out of his chair. However, a turning point occurs as the door opens and the older man hands the baseball bat over to his abusive neighbor while saying, “Thought you could use this.” After the man leaves, the copy “Do nothing and you may as well lend a hand” appears. Meaning, a neutral and passive stance on domestic violence does not exist.

Our expectation of what a person should do when he or she is able to help someone being abused is not met. What we expected would happen was replaced by the complete opposite. Unifem’s PSA is an example of an idea that goes against the “commonsensical.” The main message is that we should help stop domestic violence, but the bolder message is that doing nothing has a consequence. Being indifferent to domestic violence is redefined as actively helping the abusive person sustain violence.

Based on the principles explored in Made to Stick, the public awareness message was unexpected and sticky. The PSA doesn’t break our schema in vain because the unexpected messages relate to Unifem’s core message. No sense of gimmickry is elicited as the unexpected makes sense with the main idea. Although we haven’t viewed indifference equal to helping hurt somebody, now it’s second nature.

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