Category Archives: pondering

On writing my teaching portfolio

About a year ago, I started writing a teaching portfolio to apply for LTH’s “pedagogical academy”, which, when successful, comes with the title of “excellent teaching practitioner” (ETP). During the process, I took teaching portfolio writing courses both at UiB and at LTH, both with a focus on writing portfolios specifically for the application to ETP; I talked with many unofficial and three official critical friends, and I finally submitted a portfolio in January. And then, about a week ago, I was notified that I had been awarded an ETP, so something went right! Here are some reflections on the process and on what I think is especially important in writing a teaching portfolio.

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Rambling a bit about why I am blogging, and about why I love watching Latte (#kitchenoceanography, of course!)

So, for anyone coming to this blog post because of the nice stratification you see at the bottom of the latte in the picture above — do you know the process causing the layers is very similar to the one that caused the awesome fingers and rings in my tea the other day? You should check out this blog post for what’s going on there exactly!

And now that you are here, let me tell you a little about why I am blogging, since I’ve been asked about this a lot recently.

First and foremost, I blog because I need some way to archive my thoughts and materials on mainly #kitchenoceanography and #wavewatching, but also on relevant literature in STEM teaching and outreach, and some other things I find interesting. Short, anything that relates to my “Adventures in teaching and oceanography” (which is actually the name of my blog, even though my website admittedly doesn’t make that very clear right now). As you can probably imagine, I take tons and tons of pictures of waves (that never end up on the blog, which I should probably just delete, but it seems easier to mark the ones I like and upload them rather than deleting all the stuff that isn’t quite right) or of drinks (coffee or tea, doesn’t matter) or all kinds of other stuff that is vaguely oceanography-related. I take them because I just find them fascinating (FASCINATING! FASCINATING!!!), but also because I will want to maybe use them some day for either teaching, or science communication, or maybe for a new edition of my book. Or something else, who knows? But anyway, I am taking them for myself, and publishing them on my blog, where I can tag them and put them in categories and search for them easily seems to be the easiest way to do so.

But even though organising my stuff for myself is my main motivation day to day to take and upload pictures, I know that there are surprisingly many people following this blog, and also I believe that science communication and sharing fascination is super important. And while my blog started out with readers being mainly colleagues-that-were-also-close-friends, by now it’s also a lot of people that I have never met personally. And for you — anyone who is fascinated by water and all its forms and all its processes, or for you who stumbled on this blog and has no idea what’s going on but is kinda intrigued by it — I try to put more than tags and key words on the posts, and I add posts like the one on Pierre and my not-so-recent-anymore article on how to teach about the Coriolis force. Because I hope that people might either find something that is interesting to themselves and makes them want to learn more about the ocean, or because they are looking for teaching resources and then find pictures they can use to illustrate phenomena with, or ideas, or explanations, that will hopefully inspire others. And that’s what I am doing on those Saturdays on my sofa: making my blog accessible to people other than myself in the hope of spreading the fascination with the ocean :-)

Ok, that’s it for today. I’ll leave you with the picture below that I took the same day and that I really liked because of the colors and the way the building is peeking in on the right edge of the picture (did I mention I NEVER use filters and I hardly ever even crop my pictures? Yep, that’s how lazy I am). Looking at the picture below, we could of course talk about how we can see the wind on the water, or the reflection of the sun, but the picture isn’t really suited for that, there are better ones on my blog already to show that stuff. It’s just a pretty picture, and because it’s my blog, it may stay ;-)

Blogging hiatus. Or: If there was a law against blogging about oceanography, would you protest it?

Some of you have noticed that during January and February, I did not write a single blog post. The reason for that is that I was sick. Sick enough to not even want to take pictures of water for a while, and then still sick enough to take the pictures, but to only upload them to draft posts and not write the actual texts to go with that (even though in many cases that would only mean writing “look! how awesome!” or something like that).

Before I got really sick, I watched a couple of videos by one of my biggest and most awesome mentors, Marie Forleo. I always like her stuff and look forward to new videos every Tuesday, but this old one really hit a nerve with me. It’s about “burnout vs. time for a change”. Do yourself a favour and check it out!

In the video, Marie describes four “tests” that you can do to figure out whether you are burnt out (and urgently need a break from it all!) or whether it’s just time to move on and try something new. And two of those really resonated with me, and I’ll discuss them in my context:

1. The law test. The law test is what motivated the title of this blog post. Marie suggests I ask myself: If there was a law against blogging, would I protest it? And in the beginning, when I was very sick, my response was that I would actually be hugely relieved if there was a law against science blogs because it would take such a weight off my shoulders if I never had to write about oceanography ever again, and nobody else was allowed to, either. This really scared me, because even though that was what I thought at the time, I knew that it was completely unlike me to think that thought. Because I love blogging, and even if I didn’t, I would totally protest because I believe that blogging has an important role in science communication. But I realised that I really urgently needed to take some time off of blogging and social media and scicomm in order to find back to “real me”.

2. Time off. This second rule is about asking yourself when you last had taken substantial time off from whatever you are doing. And I realised: Never. I’ve been blogging for almost four years, and doing all kinds of other scicomm, and it’s something that I’ve really enjoyed all this time. But every time I walk outside and see a puddle or a lake, a river or the ocean, I want to take pictures and write about what I am seeing. But at some point, without realising it, wanting to take pictures and write about them had become having to do it, and having to do it became a burden that killed all the joy that I have always felt doing it. And that that meant that I really urgently needed to take some time off of blogging and social media and scicomm in order to find back to “real me”.

Are you seeing the pattern here? I did, so I took some time off. First I planned to just be gone over New Year’s, but then I got sick and it turned into two months away from the blog. And I am glad I did take that time off, even though I started to feel the itch to come back a lot earlier, because now I am back, and I am rested and full of new energy and new ideas, and I am excited to be back! :-)

P.S.: There are two more tests, the “80/20 rule” on how 20% of work cause 80% of stress, and “Natural strength” on whether we spend most of our time doing what we are good at and what comes easily. But the first two had given me all I needed to know already, so I am just mentioning the other two for reasons of completeness. You should go check out the video!

P.P.S.: I wasn’t sure whether I was going to write about being sick, and about being sick of blogging, but when I was looking through my saved drafts earlier today and thought about whether I should post them back-dated to fill the gap in my blogging record, I decided that no, I would not. I will leave that gap to remind myself that sometimes it is absolutely necessary to take a break, and that a break is not failure, but an opportunity to come back relaxed and stronger and more joyful than ever before. And that next time I should take the break a lot earlier, long before I feel like there should be a law against doing things that I love doing!

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning – torn between the scholars and the teachers

On finding my role in my new job.

As many of you know, I’ve changed jobs a couple of months ago, and I am now in a position where I advise university teachers on their teaching while also trying to do research on how to improve students’ learning. And sometimes I feel like I am caught between a rock and a hard place*, and I have been discussing this with many people at my job.

On the one hand, my scientific self, training and background (as well all my scientist friends!) hold me to the highest standards of science.

On the other hand, I have those people that I am consulting, that want an answer from me right here and now.

How do you reconcile those two demands? Yes, I want to do science right. I want to have a large population to draw from, I want control groups, I want statistics. I want to only change one parameter at a time in order to know exactly what is influencing what, and how. And I want to give advise based on science, not gut feeling. On the other hand, I do want to help the people I am advising to improve their teaching as quickly as possible. Which sometimes means relying on my gut, changing more than one thing at a time, not having control groups, and giving in to all the other practical demands of teaching and university life.

Given the description of the position that I hold, helping the teachers is more important than doing the research. Yet I believe that what we develop as “quick fixes” can and should be made available to a wider audience. Even though it is only a report of what we did and not a scientifically sound result.

Assuming for a moment that we should publish, there is the question of where to publish. The “real” scientists won’t want my kind of studies in their “real” journals, even if we do evaluations, but the teachers wouldn’t read those kind of journals anyway.

From this blog I’ve learned that a lot of people (who wouldn’t necessarily read scientific papers on teaching oceanography) are following and enjoying this. And every week I get feedback from people who “spent at least an hour on your blog yesterday” (thanks Joke), “stalk my blog for inspiration and ideas” (thanks Jonathan), who have to tell me their experiences with one of the experiments right away and are typing with fingers red and blue from food coloring (thanks Kristin), who “aspire to be as creative as [me]” (thanks Fitz) who ask when I’ll be publishing my book or youtube channel (thanks Torge), who advertise my blog through various media (thanks Geli!!! And Kim and others), who tell me that after reading my blog they need to go and buy corn starch right away (thanks Ingrid). And this is just a random collection of feedback I found browsing my inbox.

This is amazing feedback and it means a lot to me that people find reading about my teaching helpful for their own. And that makes me think that maybe publishing results of my research on teaching and learning in this or some other blog would be so much better than trying to get it into journals where it doesn’t really fit and isn’t even really wanted. And where it would most likely not be found by those people who would use it as inspiration for their own teaching**. On the other hand that means that it would never be used by people who do research on teaching and learning, and that those two worlds – the scientific and the applied one – will continue to exist on parallel trajectories, next to each other but never intersecting.

So what to do? I’ll leave you to ponder this dilemma while I travel to Bergen to do some “real” science and meet some friends. Talk to you soon!

*neither the rock nor the hard place are too bad, though – this is still my dream job! ;-)

** “inspiration” means here that they consider it and either take it as is, or modify it, or reject it and come up with better ideas themselves. For me this blog is about inspiring thinking about teaching, not about me telling people what the solution is…

Happy half Birthday!

Adventures in Teaching and Oceanography has been around for a full 6 months today!

Adventures in Teaching and Oceanography has been around for a full 6 months today! Can you believe this? On the one hand it feels like I have had this blog for a very long time, because writing this blog is not actually that different from doing experiments for fun, and I have been doing that for a very long time (plus SO MUCH happened over the last 6 months!).

On the other hand, this is the one-hundred-and-fourth post published on this blog. You can easily assume that more than one hour per post went into doing the experiments and writing the posts. For some posts, it was substantially more, but for some maybe a little less. But let’s stick with one hour for simplicity. This means that I’ve put about 120 hours in over 6 months – that is the typical amount of work in a student help’s contract. I can’t decide whether that is a lot of time (about one work day per week!) or not (hey – if we hired a student help, we could do a lot of outreach for not a lot of money!), so I’m not going to comment any further. In any case, while some of this time happened on the job (and isn’t it awesome when people pay you to develop and conduct experiments with students? And some of the experiments I couldn’t have conducted at home for lack of appropriate tanks), all of the picture prepping and writing and planning happened on my own time for fun. And it is so much fun! Happy half Birthday, dear blog! :-)

Help! Equation of State?

Is there an equation of state for hypersaline water at very cold temperatures?

A friend of mine is looking to calculate changes in density of a hypersaline Antarctic lake from summer to winter. Apparently, this lake is about 10 times saltier than the ocean and often cools down to -17C at the bottom.

My own spontaneous answer was that I am not aware of such an equation of state, and that I doubt that there is a lot of empirical data in that property range. Plus from talking to Dead Sea researchers while working on double diffusion, I know that measuring salinities that are that high is not at all easy – the constancy of composition of sea water breaks down (at least in the Dead Sea) which has consequences for the measurement methods that can be used, and in any case CTDs aren’t calibrated for those salinities. But I am hoping that the collective wisdom of my readers will come up with a better answer.

So, dear readers. Do you know of an equation of state that applies to that range of properties, or do you have any other comments on the issue? Please leave a comment below or get in touch with me! That would a) really help my friend, and b) help satisfy my curiosity :-)

Oceanographer at heart.

Happy Valentine’s day!

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you. […]

I originally wrote this post to announce me starting my new job. I didn’t post it then, because it was quite a big transition and in the end I wasn’t prepared to deal with it in public. I didn’t really have any time at all to adjust – I sat in my office in Norway until late one Friday night, grading the exams my students had just written, and then the next Monday I started at another job in another country, just like that.

Now I have already been in this job for 2.5 months, and I am really happy. I am in the job that I have been describing to people even though I didn’t know it existed until 8 months ago when I found it advertised, applied, got the offer, accepted the offer and all this time couldn’t believe my luck. And it is not in oceanography.

It is not all completely new, and it is in fact closely related to the things that I enjoyed most at my old job and that I spent plenty of my evenings and weekends on: Thinking about how to improve teaching, developing materials to support student learning, and evaluating if that goal has been met. And if it hasn’t been met – back to square one and start from scratch!

I am not doing this in the context of oceanography, instead I am responsible for mechanical engineering, ship building and related subjects. But I don’t feel like that is taking me too far away from oceanography – after all, I studied ship building and marine technology as a minor subject when doing my Master’s in oceanography. And the physical basis is the same anyway. So if anything, it is complementary to oceanography.

Nevertheless, it is all new and rather than a “postdoctoral fellow in physical oceanography”, I am now a “coordinator of teaching innovation” (doesn’t sound too bad either, does it?). But being an oceanographer, going on awesome cruises every year, showing experiments to my nerdy friends and their nerdy friends at every opportunity has for the last 12 years been such a big part of who I am, so even though this new job is my dream job, I am sad to be closing this awesome chapter of my life.

But even though in the future I might not have the opportunity to go on cruises as regularly as I would like (but pssst – there is something in the planning there!), and even though some posts on this blog might change topic ever so slightly (from playing with water towards playing with water and ships, but I’ll also spend 10 days in August just doing the kind of tank experiments you know and love from my blog, and you bet I’ll be blogging about that!), I can’t imagine any of the rest will ever change.

Because I am, and will always be, an oceanographer at heart. <3


Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou’d be you.

Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1784)

Oceanographic concepts and language (part 4)

On how it always helps to speak the same mother tongue as your teacher.

As you might have realized from previous discussion on the topic of oceanography and language (part 1, 2, and 3), I have been thinking a lot about how me teaching in a foreign language to both me and most of my students affects my teaching, our interactions and their learning. I thought I was very aware of the difficulties that arise due to the second (or third or fourth) language issue, and that that awareness was helping me deal with it in a good way.

Recently though, I was supervising students writing the exam for the course I had taught. I was walking around, talking to individual students, and a german student asked me a question to clarify what I wanted them to do. Specifically, the student repeated the question back to me in German and asked me to confirm that their understanding was correct, which it was. And that was when I realized that even though I have always been teaching in English, and always tried to respond to students in one-on-one situations in whichever language they approached me in, german students really have an advantage in my class.

Similarly, when correcting exams, I understand the false friends that german students might use, or their weird choice of words. And while I always try to separate language problems from problems with the oceanographic concepts, I might not be doing such a good job for students whose languages I am not familiar with. Actually, not “I might not be doing such a good job” – there is no way I would do a good job if I was not familiar with the language and the false friends or weird sayings or typical mistakes that come with that language.

I don’t know how to resolve this. I don’t even know whether it is possible. I am sure that the effect is small in my courses and grades because I am aware and actively trying to make sure this isn’t unfairly helping or hindering students. But this is the first time that I think of being back in a primarily german-speaking environment as an advantage – at least I am not introducing unfair circumstances due to different languages.

What do you guys think? Have you come across these problems? How did you deal with them?

Letter tubes and hydrostatic pressure

How less than 25% of the tested students give consistent answers to these problems.

This is already the third blog post talking about the paper “Identifying and addressing student difficulties with hydrostatic pressure” by Loverude, Heron and Kautz (the first two posts here and here). But I am still a bit in shock by what I read in that paper.

Consider the figure below. A N-shaped tube filled with water.


The N-tube problem.

Students are asked to rank the pressure at points G, X, Y, Z.

Because I hate reading electronics papers where they give you the questions and the students’ misconceptions, but don’t tell you what the correct answer would be (how would I know?) I am going to give you the answer, but I’ll assume that you know it anyway. Clearly, points X, Y and Z have the same pressure, whereas the pressure at point G is less.

So what do students say?


The N-tube problem and the typical WRONG student answer.

A very prominent answer, according to the authors of the study, is that students confuse pressure with weight. Since there is more water above X than above any of the other points, the pressure here seems to have to be highest. And following this logic, the pressure at Z is the smallest (for a sketch of the wrong “h”s that go into this answer, see the figure above).

Using a different-shaped tube, and asked again to rank pressures, students find different results (rather than giving the correct answer, which would be that the pressure at X and Y is the same, the one at W is higher and the one at Z is lower):


The U-tube problem.

Here, many students conclude that the pressure must be increasing from X through W through Y through Z, hence perceiving pressure as varying along the curvature of the letter.

When students in that study were shown both letters together, this is what the typical answers look like:


Comparing the N-tube and the U-tube.

The authors find that less than 25% of the students answer these two problems (even when shown side-by-side) consistently. And consistently means just that: They either answer both correctly, OR they answer both of them based on the misconception described for the N-tube, OR they answer both of them based on the misconception described for the U-tube.

This means that 75% of the students in the study didn’t even have a mental model that they consistently used. And those were students who had gone through the standard instruction in hydrostatics. This makes me wonder how this translates to my own students. I have never explicitly talked about these kinds of problems, assuming that students had a full grasp of the material. But clearly this is an assumption that should not be made. But where do we have to start teaching if this is still so fraught with difficulties? Do you have any ideas? Then please let me know.

Cartesian divers – theoretical considerations

 A bit more reflection on cartesian divers.

When I wrote the two previous posts, I had known cartesian divers for a very long time in many contexts, for example as something that is routinely used in primary school teaching. While I was aware that developing a correct physical description of such a diver is challenging, I assumed that everybody had an intuitive understanding of how a diver would react when pressure was applied on the bottle. To me, this is an experiment that I would use to demonstrate the different compressibilities of air and water, assuming that everybody can imagine what happens if the density of a floating body changes.
Turns out my assumption of what people intuitively understand was way off. In the paper Helping students develop an understanding of Archimedes’ principle. I. Research on student understanding”, Loverude, Kautz and Heron talk about difficulties university science majors have with hydrostatics. Of seven volunteers who were interviewed, who had all completed their instruction in hydrostatics and all reported course grades at or above the mean, all but two predicted that the diver would rise as pressure was applied to the bottle. And none of the students could account for the observation that the diver sank!
Now I’m wondering at which point the students’ difficulties arise. Is it that they don’t know about different compressibilities or is it at a much more basic level? From the study mentioned above it seems that students don’t appreciate the tiny density range (where calling it a range might already be over-stating it) in which a body can float in (non-stratified) water without swimming at the surface or sinking to the ground. In a way this makes sense – most of the time that we look at water in a way comparable to how we look at a cartesian diver (i.e. through side walls so we are looking at a depth section of a non-stratified fluid), we are actually looking at aquaria where fish float in very similar ways to the cartesian divers. But we never stop to think about how floating and adjusting depth in a fluid is actually quite an achievement. Which we see when the fish die and first float at the surface and then sink to the bottom…
In any case. If it is the case that students don’t appreciate how rare it is for something to float in a fluid, then showing a cartesian diver might even be working against us by reinforcing a perception that is harmful to the students’ future understanding of hydrostatics. Or we can use the divers in a different way – have students build them themselves, so that they need to fiddle with them to adjust their initial density until it is just right, before they start working in the way shown in the previous posts. I think this is a thought I want to develop further… So stay tuned!