Is it Dedication or Delusion?

“Delusion is the seed of dreams.”
Lailah Gifty Akita

Educational reform is a never-ending process, which is, in many ways, good.  The purpose of educational institutions is to provide the best education possible.  The individual teacher learns from experience and improves over time.  Research into learning and cognition lead to better understandings of how people learn and therefor better ways to teach.

However, even with our continually improving knowledge, changes in education seem painfully slow or to not occur at all.  A consistent problem is classroom size.  While just about anyone that has studied education will agree that the best way to teach someone is with a dedicated teacher in a one on one environment (feel free to disagree I would love to hear your reasons). However, in a society that wants education especially higher education available to everyone one on one education is not possible.

Don’t believe me look at the numbers.  According to the US census bureau, there are 76.4 million students in school K through University.  That means we would need 76.4 million teachers if we paid them an average living wage including overhead each teacher would make $41,923 – $46,953 (still a little low if you ask me)  this works out to 3.2 – 3.5 trillion dollars or 17-19% of the US Gross National Product.  As a comparison, the budget for the US national government was 21% of the GDP in 2015.  Also, 76.4 million students are 24.7% of the US population, three and older, if we also had 24.7% of the US population working as teachers, then almost half of the US population would be students or teachers. Remember we would still need all the support staff, and these are with current numbers, not what we would need for everyone eligible for school.

I don’t think any country can afford to devote that much of their population and resources to one thing and survive.  As someone that loves education, I would love it if some economist out there proves me wrong.  So, class size is a compromise between what we can afford to do and the best environment for our students.

However, outside of issues that are constrained by shall we call it a reality.  We have all seen programs and projects that we think can help students get canceled.  We have all seen programs developed by grants get canceled the second the grant ends.  The loss of these programs is not only that future students will not benefit, but also the loss of resources, including time, commitment, and motivation of staff.

I have been asked after several of my programs have been canceled “how many times are you going to keep building programs that just get canceled?” It’s an interesting question and one that is not easy to answer.  I was at the University of Colorado Boulder when Carl Wieman won the 2001 Noble prize for Physics.  After winning the Nobel prize, Wieman went on to advocate for the improvement of science education.  To the extent that he was appointed the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy Associate Director of Science in 2010.  In 2013 I remembered reading an article Crusader for Better Science Teaching Finds Colleges Slow to Change that was about Dr. Weiman and his frustrations with the slow changes in higher education “… Mr. Wieman is out of the White House. Frustrated by university lobbying and distracted by a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, an aggressive cancer of the circulatory system, he resigned last summer. … “I’m not sure what I can do beyond what I’ve already done,” Mr. Wieman says.”

You can’t help but think if someone with the prestige and influence of Carl Weiman can’t encourage change what hope does anyone else have.  The truth of the matter is that how much someone can take and when they have had enough is a personal question.  When thinking about how much is enough, I can’t help but think of a humorous little fable Nasreddin and the Sultan’s Horse.  I have encountered versions of this fable many times.  I think the first time was in the science fiction book The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

Nasreddin and the Sultan’s Horse

One day, while Nasreddin was visiting the capital city, the Sultan took offense to a joke that was made at his expense. He had Nasreddin immediately arrested and imprisoned; accusing him of heresy and sedition. Nasreddin apologized to the Sultan for his joke and begged for his life; but the Sultan remained obstinate, and in his anger, sentenced Nasreddin to be beheaded the following day. When Nasreddin was brought out the next morning, he addressed the Sultan, saying “Oh Sultan, live forever! You know me to be a skilled teacher, the greatest in your kingdom. If you will but delay my sentence for one year, I will teach your favorite horse to sing.”

The Sultan did not believe that such a thing was possible, but his anger had cooled, and he was amused by the audacity of Nasreddin’s claim. “Very well,” replied the Sultan, “you will have a year. But if by the end of that year you have not taught my favorite horse to sing, then you will wish you had been beheaded today.”

That evening, Nasreddin’s friends could visit him in prison and found him in unexpected good spirits. “How can you be so happy?” they asked. “Do you really believe that you can teach the Sultan’s horse to sing?” “Of course not,” replied Nasreddin, “but I now have a year which I did not have yesterday, and much can happen in that time. The Sultan may come to repent of his anger and release me. He may die in battle or of illness, and it is traditional for a successor to pardon all prisoners upon taking office. He may be overthrown by another faction, and again, it is traditional for prisoners to be released at such a time. Or the horse may die, in which case the Sultan will be obliged to release me.”

“Finally,” said Nasreddin, “even if none of those things come to pass, perhaps the horse can sing.”

In 2017 I read an article from Inside Higher Ed Smarter Approach to Teaching Science.  The article talks about a book (Improving How Universities Teach Science: Lessons from the Science Education Initiative) written by Carl Weiman that documents the research and methods to improve science teaching in higher education.  It seems that Dr. Weiman did not give up after all, and he is back and still pushing.  Perhaps the truth is that people that try and change the monolith must be a little bit crazy if crazy is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome. Then again, maybe the horse will learn to sing.

Thanks for Listing to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

How do our Students Identify Expertise?

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”
Charles Darwin

When can you use a title?  What makes someone an expert?  Over the years, I have built several pieces of furniture, tables, bookshelves, and chests does that make me a master carpenter?  I have met several master carpenters and seen their work; I am most definitely not a master carpenter.  Using the book Make Your Own Ukulele: The Essential Guide to Building, Tuning, and Learning to Play the Uke, I’ve built two ukuleles.  While the author of the books says once you’ve made “a professional-grade ukulele” you are a luthier I don’t think I will be calling myself a luthier anytime soon.

I have a lot of “hobbies,” I have made knives, braided whips, bound books, made hard cider, and cooked more things that I can remember.  The only one of my hobbies that I might be willing to use a title for is photography.  I have been practicing outdoor and nature photography for 30+ years, and if you caught me in the right mood, I might call myself a photographer.  What makes photography different? It’s not the time I have put into it, though I have long past the 10,000-hour mark.  I’ve had my work reviewed and excepted by people in the field, not every picture but enough to be comfortable with my skill.

I am selective when it comes to titles and proclaiming my expertise. However, there are people that are not selective about their expertise.  Believing your knowledge to be greater than it is, is common enough to have a name the Dunning–Kruger effect.  However, an even bigger problem than an individual mistaking their knowledge is when an individual mistakes their knowledge and present themselves as an expert.

The internet and self-publishing have increased our access to knowledge and different points of view.  Previously it was simply not possible, for multiple reasons, to publish everything, so editors and review boards had to decide what to publish.

While the benefits to open publications are significant, we must ask without “gatekeepers” how do we identify expertise?  Many people may ask, “why do we care?”  Well, we have issues like GMOs, STEM cell therapy, cloning, genetically engineered humans, and technology we have not even thought of yet.  How will people decide what to do with these technologies if they can’t identify expertise?

A great example of this is a recent study on GMO’s Those who oppose GMO’s know the least about them — but believe they know more than experts.  In the study, most people said that GMOs are unsafe to eat, which differs from scientist where the majority say GMOs are safe.  People’s views of GMOs are not a surprise news coverage of GMO clearly shows how people feel.  The interesting thing was the second point covered in the study.  The people that were most opposed to GMOs thought they knew the most about them.  However, when this group of self-identified experts had their scientific knowledge tested, they scored the lowest.

The difference between people’s beliefs and actual knowledge gets even more complicated when we move beyond GMOs.  While the consensus is that GMOs are safe and could be beneficial, their loss isn’t instantly deadly.  After all, we haven’t developed that GMO that will grow in any condition and solve world hunger or capture all the excess CO2 from the atmosphere.  However, what about the Anti-vaccination movement?  I’m not going to get into all the reasons people think they shouldn’t get vaccinated. However, let’s talk about how their action will affect you.

I know a lot of people say it’s just a small percentage and I’ve been vaccinated so ignore it.  You may even be one of them, let me ask you to have you heard about things like efficacy and herd immunity?  Additionally, do you remember or know that the measles can kill? Let’s look at the numbers, according to the CDC; the Measles vaccine is 93% effective.  Using the recommended two doses, 3 out of every 100 people that are vaccinated can get the measles.  Even if everyone in the US were vaccinated, there would be 9.8 million people still susceptible to measles.

A lot of people don’t believe this; after all, we don’t see millions of measles cases every year.  Herd immunity (community immunity) is the reason we don’t see millions of cases.  The idea is if enough people in a community are immunized, illness can’t spread through the community. So even if you are one of the individuals were the vaccine was ineffective, you don’t catch the disease because the individuals around you have an effective immunization.

What percentage of vaccination against measles grants herd immunity?   According to a presentation by Dr. Sebastian Funk Critical immunity thresholds for measles elimination for herd immunity to work for measles, the population needs an immunization level of 93-95%.  According to the CDC, the percentage of individuals 19-35 months is 91.1% while the percentage of individuals 13-17 years old is 90.2%. That is below the level needed for herd immunity.  Therefore, individuals choosing not to get vaccinated are endangering, not just themselves but others.

Fortunately, we know individuals can learn earlier this year Ethan Lindenberger, an 18-year-old teen that got himself vaccinated against his anti-vaccination mother’s wishes testified before congress about how he made the decision. A lot of what he talked about was reading information from credible sources and real experts.

So how do we teach students to identify credible experts and valid information?  I have heard a lot of faculty say identifying reliable experts is easy. You look at who they are and where they work.  Well, it’s not quite that easy; for example, Andrew Wakefield was a gastroenterologist and a member of the UK medical register and published researcher.  He claimed that the MMR vaccine was causing bowel disease and autism.  After his research was shown to be irreproducible and likely biased and fraudulent, the general medical council removed him from the UK medical register.  However, he continues to promote anti-vaccine ideas.

We need a better approach than where they work.  Dr. David Murphy suggests we interrogate potential experts using the tools of the legal system interrogation and confrontation. Gary Klein suggests a list of seven criteria;

  1. Successful performance—measurable track record of making good decisions in the past.
  2. Peer respect.
  3. Career—number of years performing the task.
  4. Quality of tacit knowledge, such as mental models.
  5. Reliability.
  6. Credentials—licensing or certification of achieving professional standards.
  7. Reflection.

While none of these criteria are guarantees individually taken as a whole, they can give a functional assessment of expertise.  However, we don’t often interview every individual we encounter in research. A third and likely most applicable approach involves reading critically and fact-checking.  To quote a phrase, “we need to teach students to question everything.”

One approach is the CRAAP test (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose) developed by Sarah Blakeslee of California State University, Chico.  The CRAAP Test is a list of questions that the reader can apply to a source of information to help determine if the information is valid and accurate.  The questions for Currency are:

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • Are the links functional?

The currency questions address the age of the information.  Each section of the CRAAP test has 4 – 6 questions. The idea behind the CRAAP test is that once the researcher/student answers all the questions, they will be able to determine if the information is good or bad.

As an alternative or perhaps compliment, we should be teaching our student to think and behave like fact-checkers.  One of the most compelling arguments about fact-checkers comes from the book Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone)by Sam Wineburg.  In chapter 7: Why Google Can’t Save Us, the author talks about a study where Historians (average age 47) from several four-year institutions were asked to compare information about bullying on two sites. A long-standing professional medical organization maintains one site. While a small splinter group maintains the other (the issues that caused the split was adoption by same-sex couples).  A group of professional fact-checkers also examined the two sites.

Many of the professional histories decided that the splinter group was the more reliable source of information.  In contrast, the fact-checkers decided that the original organization was the most reliable.  The difference between the two groups is what the author calls vertical (historians) versus lateral (fact-checkers) reading.  The historians tend to read down the page and look at internal information.  The fact-checkers jump around and leave the page to check additional information like where these two organizations came from, what others write about them, and what other groups and individuals say about the same questions.

The way information is published and disseminated has changed and will likely continue to change as the tools become easier to use and cheaper.  Education needs to change how we teach our student to evaluate information.  I think I will argue for a bit of lateral thinking.

Thanks for Listing to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

Writing, Chances Are You Are Doing It Wrong

“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
Jodi Picoult

Writing is a central component of education.  We could argue that writing is the ultimate goal of higher education.  After all, the final project of an academic student is the writing and acceptance of the dissertation.  Even during undergraduate education, there is a lot of focus on writing.  Most undergraduate classes have at least one or two multipage writing assignments.  With all this focus on writing the US should be turning out the greatest writers in the world.

However, there are a lot of essays saying college graduates can’t write.  In $100K, You Would At Least Think That College Grads Could Write from the Forbes website, the author states “They (students) take lots of courses and study lots of stuff (or at least seem to), but don’t even learn how to use the English language well.”  Many others agree that students don’t learn to write.  “I didn’t say the ugly truth: that her bright boy might not graduate as a solid writer, no matter how good the college.” (Maguire)

In the book Academically Adrift Limited Learning on College Campuses the authors state “At least 45 percent of students in our sample did not demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in CLA performance during the first two years of college.” (Arum and Roksa 2011, 204) The CLA uses open-ended questions to test critical thinking, analytic reasoning, problem-solving, and written communication.  According to this study, almost half of all students show no improvement in writing ability after two years.

Outside of higher education, we see similar views.  George Leef starts his post on writing by saying, “One of the loudest complaints about college graduates once they enter the workforce is that they can’t write well.” (Leef, George. “Why So Few College Students Can Write Well.” National Review. retrieved August 24, 2019, from https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/college-students-cant-write-well/) In his essay for education week, Marc Trucker states, “My organization decided a few weeks back that we needed to hire a new professional staff person.  We had close to 500 applicants. Since the task was to help us communicate information related to the work we do, we gave each of the candidates one of the reports we published last year and asked them to produce a one-page summary.  All were college graduates.  Only one could produce a satisfactory summary.  That person got the job.” (Trucker, 2017)

How did we get to this point were college graduates can’t write?  There are multiple issues that impact a student’s ability to write.  I have demonstrated one of the problems in paragraphs 2-4 of this blog post.  Can you identify it?  I will give you a hint.  In her article for Inside Higher Ed, Jennie Young talks about the problems that face the mostly adjunct Instructors (or graduate students) that teach the writing courses.  Based on the course load, these instructors carry, it is almost imposable to address all the problems in all the essays they need to grade. As she says, “Naturally, you begin looking for the easiest way to whittle down your load — some way to count some papers “in” and move others out of the way. And now imagine that just within your reach is the low-hanging fruit of MLA format (or APA, or Chicago or whatever).”  The title of the article is The Weaponization of Academic Citation.

Grading on style is easy, quick, and unambiguous.  The style manuals create the rubric. You can point to the rule or rules and say you didn’t follow the rules, and they are the base requirement.  Well, I followed the rules in paragraphs 2-4 of my blog; what do you think?  Actually, I followed five sets of rules (I will let you figure out which styles I used). 

I have written more than 54,000 words on my blog to this point.  I often conduct research when writing my posts.  However, I don’t follow a rigged citation or writing style. I use what feels right.  I want my readers to be able to find the works I’m referencing if they wish to, but my focus is on the thoughts and arguments I’m writing.  Would it improve my writing and arguments if I rigidly followed a style?  I guess you will have to tell me.  I do know that no style no matter how rigidly followed will correct incoherence.

Another issue with students writing abilities is the field of study.  I have had the opportunity to work with students, faculty, and administrators in many different disciplines.  What I have discovered over the years is how varied fields can be.  After all, a written critique of a new painting in the modernist style is not going to be like a research report describing a new and improved method to synthesize an organic compound.

Even within a single discipline thing can get confusing.  If you are in a field were publication is primarily through Journals articles well it seems each journal has its own rules and style guides.  If your field publishes books, it seems each publishing house has different requirements.

With all these differences between fields, publishers, and even writing styles the truth of the matter is that no matter how you write from someone’s point of view your essay, manuscript, or journal article is miswritten.  It’s a lot like the answer to the question Is hell Exothermic or Endothermic, “Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all people and all souls go to Hell.”  Concerning writing, we could say, since every group or field has a correct way of writing, and the author can only write in one method, all writing is incorrect.

While the previous statement is an exaggeration, it is not entirely incorrect.  But I think it leads to a more critical question. At the undergraduate level, what are we trying to teach the students when it comes to writing?  What’s more important in an introductory writing class learning to construct well thought out and coherent sentences or committing to memory the proper position of every comma and period for your citations in the MLA, APA, and Chicago styles.

To reference Einstein, “why would I waste my time memorizing something I can look up in a book.”   At least for the undergraduates writing should focus on good writing, not styles.  There are tools like Zotero that will format citations and create bibliography correctly in whatever style your publisher wants.  Additionally, citation software can keep your citation style up to date without you having to thoroughly read through each new addition of a style guide looking for changes.

Yes, teaching students to write well is hard.  Much harder than taking the easy way out and quickly grading papers on incorrect styles, page lengths, and formatting.  However, no amount of style and proper formatting will save an essay from incoherent sentences and poorly constructed paragraphs. At the undergraduate level, the bulk of the focus should be on good writing.  Sometimes I think we forget that undergraduate majors don’t follow a single path.  I know students that have earned a BA in Spanish language that have gone on to pursue cares in Law, International Business, Medicine, or Professorships.  I often think the push towards specialization in undergraduate education has come at the cost of general education.

Ask yourself when you are developing an undergraduate writing assignment is that assignment helping the students learn to write? Or is it teaching them structure without substance? In the meantime, I think I will continue “citing” information in my blog based on what feels right.

Thanks for Listing to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

Reference

Arum, Richard, and Josipa Roksa. 2011. Academically adrift: limited learning on college campuses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Maguire, John. “Why Many College Students Never Learn How to Write Sentences.” The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, 1 APR 2016, https://www.jamesgmartin.center/2016/04/why-many-college-students-never-learn-how-to-write-sentences/

Trucker, M. (2017). Our Students Can’t Write Very Well—It’s No Mystery Why Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/top_performers/2017/01/our_students_cant_write_very_wellits_no_mystery_why.html 

Teaching Sciences: Where Should We Start

“Chemistry ought to be not for chemists alone.”
Miguel de Unamuno

Recently a video showed up on LinkedIn.  The video was a demonstration of an Augmented Reality (AR) app The Atom Visualizer made by Machine HaloThe Atom Visualizer is the first ARCore app.  In the LinkedIn demo video, the app functions with chemistry flash cards.  The demo is not the first AR flashcards several already exist, like AR Flashcards and AR Talking Cards, to name a couple.  The Atom Visualizer is the first app to use Google’s AR framework ARCore.

While there is a lot to discuss with respects to AR and education, one person compared it to televisions and said it therefor would never work.  Another talked about problems with implementation.  However, I might talk about these issues another time.  What stood out to me as I looked over the comments were comments about chemistry and education.

S., A.
“I am glad to see something like this, but unfortunately this is sending a wrong note. For ex: Oxygen is never O, it is O2 & 2 atoms of Hydrogen combine with 1 O2 atom to form H2O Sodium as Na doesn’t react with Chlorine directly, it instead reacts with HCL (Hydrochloric acid) to form H20 & NaCl.
It would be wonderful if we teach them right things right & help humanity learn faster!!” (retrieved Aug 12, 2019, from https://www.linkedin.com/posts/ajjames_augmentedreality-ar-innovation-activity-6562906886130241536-wNCY/)

A., I.
“I would like to note that electrons are not volumetric particles (spheres) that orbit the atom nucleus, indeed they are present around the nucleus in the form of electron cloud, this is the probability of finding the electron at a certain point with respect to the atom. Additionally, the electron is a volume less particle. I would be amazed if really the correct model is shown and not some old classical physics incorrect info. This old model caused a lot of students to confuse chemistry as they go a little deeper into the subject.” (retrieved Aug 12, 2019, from https://www.linkedin.com/posts/ajjames_augmentedreality-ar-innovation-activity-6562906886130241536-wNCY/)

M., C.
“Interesting idea, but the shape of the water molecule is wrong. There are some cool (free) apps that display correct geometries though :)” (retrieved Aug 12, 2019, from https://www.linkedin.com/posts/ajjames_augmentedreality-ar-innovation-activity-6562906886130241536-wNCY/)

I would say these comments are both correct and incorrect at the same time.  After all, since the demonstration video only shows a few cool looking animations, we don’t know what the educational objective the creator of the cards was trying to achieve.  The video itself would have been much more effective presented as a 1 – 2-minute teaching lesson.  After all, perhaps the creator was trying to help people connect molecular formulas to materials H2O (water) NaCl (table salt).  In that case, the cards are not that bad.

If they are trying to teach chemical reactions, then the cards have several problems.  However, even if they are trying to explain chemical reactions should the electrons be displayed as clouds or discrete bodies.  Anyone that has a chemistry degree knows that electron clouds are the correct representation.  However, to understand electron clouds, you need to get into quantum mechanics. Leaving aside the question of whether the students have the math skills to truly delve into quantum mechanics are they ready to learn quantum mechanics.

Anyone that teaches knows we can’t learn everything all at once.  Also, successful education requires a framework to build on.  Students incorporate new information into existing knowledge.  That information needs a starting point.  One of the problems with chemistry is that we can’t directly observe a lot of the things we teach.  In cases like this, models and cartoons are a good starting point. 

Using representations, we can start building up knowledge.  The dotes make it easier for students to understand that covalent bonds are a sharing of electrons and that two atoms bound together share electrons.  Does that come across to early student if we use two or three different shaped clouds?  While an understand stoichiometry and what form elements take in the environment, they need to understand chemical bonds and the role electrons play. 

The important thing about teaching tools and models is to use them where they are appropriate. Representations like dot structure are not intended to teach students the physical structure and form of electrons. Educations is not merely the process of moving from simple to complex but also building up a framework and helping student incorporate new and more complex information. The introduction of misconceptions in STEM education is rarely because teachers present the wrong information but because the tools are misused.  

Still I wonder when and how we should start teaching quantum mechanics?

Thanks for Listing to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

Your Student Can Find Supernova

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”
Stephen Hawking

Fifty years ago, humans first set foot on the moon.  In recognition of this, I thought I would discuss how astronomy classes can conduct real astronomy research.  As I have said in many of my posts, most current best practices in STEAM education recommend that students perform real science.

One of the arguments I have repeatedly encountered is that real science requires equipment that is too expensive for student labs.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While scientific equipment on the cutting edge of science can be costly general improvements in technology, mean that students can use hobby grade instruments for scientific observations.

As an example, digital SLR cameras can be used to find supernova.  As a step up a simple telescope and digital camera like many schools already have can also be used.  Having the equipment fixed in a dedicated spot in a shed or dome that opens is helpful but also not necessary.  Students can also set up the equipment each night to make observations.

The basic technique to find supernova is to take lots of pictures of night sky night after night.  Then compare the images and look for a star (you’re looking at galaxies, not individual stars) that gets brighter or appears where there was not a visible star.  The biggest drawback to the discovery of supernova is simply the amount of data that the students will need.  On the website for BOSS Backyard Observatory Supernova Search under the setting up a search page they list supernova discoveries from several individuals

  • Tim Puckett (one of the largest in the world) ~1 SN every 8000 images (300+ SN)
  • Robert Evens ~ 1 SN every 4000 observations (47 SN)
  • Peter Marples ~ 1 SN per 5000 images (8 SN)
  • Me ~ 1 SN every 2800 images (57 SN)

Using these numbers as a baseline, we would find one supernova on average every 4950 images. If we assume a 15-week semester, the class would have to take 330 pictures per week.  Assuming students take one image every minute, 330 images would take 5.5 hours over one night or 2.75 hours over two nights.   With a class of 25 students, each student would need to examine 198 images or 13-14 images per week.  A better approach would be to have two students review 396 images so that two students separately review each 198-image set. All these numbers seem reasonable for a semester-long class.

Once students capture the images, students analyze the images in one of three methods.  In all methods, you compare the new images you take with a set of reference images.  You can either make your reference images.  Or download reference images from the Digitized Sky Survey (DSS). You then compare your new images to the reference images and look for differences.  The first way to do this is to compare the two images side by side and look for differences.  The second method is to blink the images. The new image is aligned and laid on top of the reference image, and the computer rapidly clicks between them. A free tool to do this is Starblinker.  The third method is automated software, but that can be expensive and is only suitable for projects that collect 1000s or more images a night (there are problems and drawbacks to automated software I will not get into). 

When your students discover a new Supernova (we will assume that if you review enough images, you will be successful.), the students can learn about submitting their discovery to Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. A new supernova report will require the students to take additional images and measurements.

Any scientific research can be used to teach students the basics of research and observation.  The search for and discovery of supernova can be included in everything from a class for nonmajors to a dedicated research seminar.  Additionally, the students that conduct this type of research can be in almost any age group.  When we teach scientific research, it is essential to remember that science is a process and method of looking at the world, not the equipment we use.  So, get out there and find some stars that blew up.

Thanks for Listing to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg