Make science simple
February 9, 2007 9:42 AM   Subscribe

I was a high school dropout and didn't go to college, and now I'm trying to catch up, working towards a degree in a science/health field. This semester I'm taking Chemistry (an introductory level class) and Anatomy and Physiology. I'm doing OK in my classes, but certain concepts are coming pretty slowly.

I'm looking for learning aids that will help me get the overall concepts. My idea is that once I understand the larger concepts, the details that I'm studing in my textbooks and in class will make more sense to me. What I'm imagining as 'learning aids' are films or audio made for lay people about the topics I'm studying. NOVA specials, that kind of thing. For example, I think the chapter I just read on cells would have been easier to follow if I'd also seen some kind of simplified film on the topic, and then my textbook could have reinforced and filled in the specific vocabulary and detailed functions of each component of a cell. Does that make sense? Anyway, I'd love any recommendations for videos, audio documentaries, or even simple readings (although not too much reading, since I have all my friggen textbooks to read!). Thank you!
posted by serazin to Education (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The Teaching Company courses are great (but quite pricey) - see if you can get them from your library or cheap on eBay/Craigslist.
posted by matildaben at 9:54 AM on February 9, 2007

Best answer: I found this guy's cell biology animations through a metafilter post. They are absolutely great visualizations for cellular biology and biochemistry.

For biology, A&P, and less so for chemistry, one of the best study guides is something I made myself: a vocabulary list. In these science classes you will learn hundreds of new words. Writing down new words and definitions helped me to build a vocabulary and learn the bigger concepts without having to go back and to say "wait, what were they talking about...?"
posted by peeedro at 10:49 AM on February 9, 2007 is a good site for basic explanations. There are also links to more in-depth information. And let me just say kudos to you for trying to learn more about science. Best of luck.
posted by SBMike at 11:45 AM on February 9, 2007

Best answer: It sounds like you want more visual approaches to the material in these classes.
This site is a collection of chemistry demonstrations. Most demo sites aren't that useful unless you already know something about the chemistry, but if you are reading about a concept, say combustion, you can look at various demos on combustion (e.g., phosphorus, liquid O2 treactions). Or for thermodynamics, a demo on thermite reactions....

Another suggestion is to look into one of the inquiry-based curricula for your subjects. For chemistry, one you might look into is Living By Chemistry (full disclosure: I'm good friends with most fo the people who developed this). Also, here is another set of high school lesson plans.
posted by janell at 11:50 AM on February 9, 2007

Best answer: I used to suggest Isaac Asimov when I taught general biology. Try this one.
posted by sulaine at 12:01 PM on February 9, 2007

Best answer: The Anatomy Coloring Book is better than it has any right to be.
posted by painquale at 12:29 PM on February 9, 2007

Best answer: All my high-school level textbooks came with supplementary CD-ROMs, which had really basic animations. I could not have passed without the ones about ATP formation and stuff.
If yours don't have CDs, check the publisher's website for online stuff.
If not, here are some links that will hopefully help.
posted by crayolarabbit at 3:16 PM on February 9, 2007

seconding the anatomy coloring book. Also, I found that a study group was essential to the physiology aspect of A & P. We would explain mechanisms to each other, and then we would try to troubleshoot our explanations. It worked well. It might be hard, though, depending on the level of physiology you are trying to take, to understand a good chunk of it without having already completed a comprehensive chemistry course.
posted by nursegracer at 3:30 PM on February 9, 2007

Best answer: Three things:
  1. Don't just read it and think about it, do something. When you read your textbook, write an outline. Put boxes or colored starbursts around important stuff, redraw the diagrams, work the (already step-by-step worked) example problems. This might seem like it would take forever, but you only have to do it once, and then you've got it. If it's a pathway or any multi-step process, make a model. I used coins to model the various parts of the ribosome because the concept of translocation was giving me fits. I used a deck of cards for homologous recombination. I used flash cards with one enzyme or intermediate written on each, shuffled them and laid them out in order to memorize metabolic pathways. If you can't make a model, make an analogy. The endoplasmic reticulum is like the post office -- hmmm, no, the ER packages some things but it has all those ribosomes making proteins, and the post office doesn't really make things. The Golgi is more like the post office, because... The process of trying to come up with a good analogy will force you to think about the basic nature of the thing in ordinary terms. Explain stuff to somebody else. They don't have to know about bio, or even be interested -- just tolerant. Just tell them that it helps you understand things when you try to explain them, so would they be willing to hear about Darwin's auxin experiments? They will say sure, and look bemused. You start talking, and as you try to explain, you'll see where the holes in your own understanding are.
  2. Don't study with people who don't intend to get an A. If you don't intend to get an A, you aren't giving it enough to benefit from studying with other people. If you do, you don't want people bellyaching about how hard stuff is when your time would be better spent learning it. Besides, it's demoralizing. Go have a beer and bellyache if you want; just don't pretend you're studying.
  3. If all else fails, remember that you don't have to understand it, you just have to know it. If you don't get it, can't picture it, just can't seem to reconcile whatever it is with the rest of your knowledge, remember that 95% of the time, all you really have to do is memorize what it says in the book and be able to spit that back on an exam. In some future class, or one night in a dream, it will all become clear. Trust that, and don't stress yourself out.
Good luck!
posted by Methylviolet at 4:33 PM on February 9, 2007

Response by poster: You folks fucking rule! A diverse, yet uniformly helpful list of suggestions. Thank you all!
posted by serazin at 4:49 PM on February 9, 2007

And oh yeah -- lose the I was a high school dropout thing. I dropped out of high school, too. So what? There are two ways people can take that info.

Serazin: I am a high school dropout.
Other person: (Mmmkay. What a retard. And he thinks he can hack it in science?)

Serazin: I dropped out of high school.
Other person: (Wow! And he's so smart. He must be one of those people who drop out because high school is not challenging enough.)

You pretty much get to pick their reaction ahead of time.
posted by Methylviolet at 4:54 PM on February 9, 2007

Methyviolet is right on. But about NOVA and other popularizations:

Some parts of science are pretty clear, simple, and attractive.
Other parts are damned hard.

The NOVAistas always pick from the first set, and gloss over the second. It makes things seem easier than they really are. The satisfaction you get from the NOVA explanation is fake satisfaction. The pain you get from textbooks is the real thing.

Do the problems. At least, do some of them. At least, try.

Us goons with letters after our names--we're confused too.
posted by hexatron at 6:21 PM on February 9, 2007

« Older Why is my ConEd bill so high?   |   How to tame a growing collection of RSS feeds? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.