Tag Archives: publishing

Fighting Chemophobia

Bananas contain unpronounceable ingredients, too. Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana by James Kennedy

It’s been exactly three years since I uploaded the original banana poster.

In 2014, I soon followed up with podcasts, radio appearances, press interviews, a T-shirt Store and twelve more fruit ingredient labels. I’ve done six more customised fruit ingredients labels for private clients. The images have since appeared in textbooks, corporate promotional material, YouTube videos, T-shirts, mugs and aprons.

Momentum built in 2015. Parodies emerged online, and a copycat image appeared in one Chemistry textbook. I started writing about chemophobia and consulting with experts on how to address the issue. In short, it’s very, very complicated, and has deep evolutionary origins. I set a goal to understand chemophobia and provide a roadmap to tackle it effectively.

In 2016, my voluminous OneNote scribblings turned into a book. I have a first draft saved on OneDrive (thank you for keeping it safe, Microsoft) and I’ll be proofreading it on an long-haul intercontinental flight for you later today.

My next book, tentatively titled “Fighting Chemophobia”, will be published in late 2017.

I promise that my book “Fighting Chemophobia” will contain the following:

  • Stories you can share on a first date;
  • Maths – but just a little;
  • Chemistry – but not too much;
  • A deep exploration of chemophobia’s roots;
  • Tangible solutions to chemophobia;
  • More stories. Lots of true stories.

This “Fighting Chemophobia” book is for:

  • Educated people who are interested in a fascinating, growing social phenomenon;
  • People who want to settle the ‘natural’ vs ‘artificial’ debate;
  • Chemistry people;
  • People who love reading.

To get your hands on a copy, subscribe to this blog for email updates. Just click ‘Follow’ somewhere on this page (its location depends on which device you’re using).

I promise that throughout 2017, you’ll receive teasers, snippets and discarded book fragments via this blog to get you excited.

How to Make Great Notes (15 steps + video)

6431-taking-notes-with-pen-and-paper-is-powerful
Image: Shutterstock/isciencetimes.com

Look inside the notebooks of any student who gets excellent grades and in most cases, you’ll find that they have a pristine notebook, too.

Source: The Beauty Type Blog
Source: The Beauty Type Blog

Before you begin, make sure you’ve already started reading your textbook and have made gorgeous annotations inside it.

Learn more about how to use a textbook. See examples of more great notes here.

Now, follow these steps to transfer your notes to an A4 pad. This key learning exercise is suitable for Years 10-12 and undergraduate level.

Part A: Stationery Shopping!

  1. Get three colours of pens ready: black, blue and one other colour
    Always write in black or blue. Use the other colour to draw boxes, underline important words or make things stand out.
  2. Use a large, sturdy, lined A4 pad.
    Do not use notebooks smaller than A4, and do not use notebooks with cartoons or other distractions pre-printed on the pages.

Part B: Making notes

  1. If the teacher gives you notes for their PowerPoint lecture, don’t use them. Make your own notes instead. You learn by making notes!
  2. Always write the date, title and subject in the same places on the page.
    It’s a simple rule but many students (especially in middle school) still don’t do this!
  3. Use the same subheadings as the textbook.
    Organise your notes by writing titles and subtitles. Use the same subtitles that your textbook uses, and summarise the essence each section into your own words (see tip #8). Do not try to keep your notes to one page per section. This will become very restricting in future.
  4. Add textbook reference next to the title.
    Always write the textbook page number in your notebook. If the teacher doesn’t tell you, just ask them for it.
  5. Use at least two colours.
    Colours guide the eye around the page. Use them logically: one colour for headings, another for questions, and another for definitions, etc. Only use legible colours such as black, blue and one other colour. Write mostly in black or blue.
  6. Summarise the textbook’s content into your own words.
    Include: important words and definitions; diagrams; mnemonics and things you need to memorise. Exclude: chapters not on the course; things that won’t be tested; and those superfluous information boxes that don’t help you to remember the important stuff. Add things at you learn from examiners’ reports to your notes in future (see tip #13). Write very neatly in easy-to-read, lowercase letters.
  7. Draw diagrams large and clear.
    Every time you draw a diagram, you need to label it and explain what it means. Keep diagrams simple enough that you can reproduce them quickly and accurately during an examination if you need to. Don’t print ‘perfect’ diagrams and stick them into your notes.
  8. Write notes using “examination language”.
    The definitions and explanations in your notebook should be acceptable to use as answers in an end-of-year examination. The glossary in your textbook is the best source for definitions of scientific words. Make sure you can explain the concepts learned in both colloquial language and in exam-specific language.
  9. Leave plenty of white space on the page. Don’t try to save paper!
    White space is crucial to making the notes easy to re-read so don’t cram your text onto the page: leave some white spaces where necessary (e.g. between paragraphs and in the margin). You will probably need to come back to your notes and add tips, definitions and facts that you learn from examiners’ reports later on (see tip #13). Your goal should be to use up every page of your notebook – not to save paper.

Part C: Reading and sharing your notes

  1. Re-read your notes regularly
    Add to your notes using new knowledge you’ve learned from the textbook (and from class). This is why it’s important to keep your notes tidy and organised!
  2. Add comments from examiners’ reports.
    For example, “always write the ‘+’ symbol near the nitrogen atom on an amino acid in an acidic environment” would be a great comment to add (with a diagram) to the biomolecules section of your Chemistry notebook. This comment is paraphrased from a VCAA Examiners’ Report.
  3. Share your notes proudly with students who miss lessons.
    Email them or share them online.
  4. Re-make them into larger versions and put them onto your wall.
    This not only looks impressive but also reminds you to stay focussed as examinations draw closer.

There are dozens of great note-taking tutorials on YouTube. Here’s one you can refer to for Science classes. Remember that the specifics of note-taking vary from person to person but keeping your notes complete, neat and organised should be one of your most important learning goals as a student.

Any questions? Are you a student with note-taking tips? Leave a comment below!

How to use a Textbook: 6 Rules to Follow

VCE Chemistry annotated textbook Heinemann
My own Year 12 Chemistry textbook. Does yours look like this?

Anyone who’s spent time in a classroom knows that in any academic subject, the student who reads the textbook several times from cover to cover and makes colourful, organised notes all over it is going to excel in examinations. For this reason, I’ve been trying to get students reading their textbooks (and making great notes on them) almost as long as I’ve been teaching (since 2006). Glancing your eyes over the words in a textbook isn’t enough. How should you use a textbook properly, in any subject? There are six rules you need to follow.

1. Make notes all over your textbook

The signs of a well-used textbook are obvious: it should be inked heavily with a student’s own notes, the cover should be wrinkled and torn, and there should be at least three different brands of sticky tape holding the book together. It should flex open at 180 degrees with ease, exposing the sturdy threads of spine that prevent it from falling apart. Textbooks are designed to be used! A pristine textbook is the hallmark of a student who doesn’t study. Treat your textbook as your own, and prove that you’ve read it by plastering it with your own notes. Taking notes while you read has been proven to increase comprehension levels by up to 50%… and it makes revising much easier, too. (Just re-read your notes!) What do great textbook notes look like? In all the important sections (and that’s most sections), you should draw a horizontal line in the margin to separate each paragraph. Each paragraph should be summarised in eight words or fewer in the resulting spaces. (See next week’s post on How to Make Great Notes.)

2. Translate key words in your textbook

If you’re studying in a second language, or if you speak more than one language, it will help you to translate key terms into your first language in your textbook. Circle important new words and phrases in the textbook and write the words in your first language beside them.

3. Build vocabulary lists & concept lists based on what you read in the textbook

Vocabulary lists need to contain three things: the word in English, the definition in English and the word in your first language (if not English). Vocabulary lists relevant to the topic you’re studying need to be placed large in prominent places: your bedroom wall (if you’re a student) or on the classroom wall (if you’re a teacher). Build word lists and learn these vocabulary lists using spaced repetition software such as Pleco for iOS or ProVoc for Mac. These apps will quiz you on the vocabulary you’ve been reading at exactly the best time-intervals to ensure you beat the famous “Ebbinghaus forgetting curve”!

4. Highlight your textbook carefully

Highlight important concepts, but don’t go overboard. If you highlight everything, nothing stands out! Use your highlighter and your pen in approximately a 1:1 ratio: they should occupy approximately the same surface area on each page. The best use of a highlighter is to highlight not only key sentences in the book, but also to highlight important notes and summaries that you’ve made yourself. Key things to highlight in a Chemistry textbook, for example:

  • Formulae that need to be learned (lead-acid battery half-equations)
  • Ions (their names, formulae, charges and colours)
  • Acronyms and mnemonics that you’ve created from bullet lists
  • Phrases that examiners really care about (“carbon-carbon double bonds” and “alternative reaction pathway”, for example)

5. Make your own notes on paper using the textbook and external sources

Learning is consolidated further in your mind when you translate the notes you made in the textbook margins to make your own hand-written notes on paper. Make a first set of notes on A4 paper. Use a logical colour scheme and concise language and diagrams to consolidate the key information. Use the textbook as the basis for at least 90% for your notes, but also add information (no more than 10%) from other textbooks, news articles and examiners’ reports. Keep your notes safe, organised and visible. Hand-write your notes! Research has shown that people consolidate much more of the information they’ve read into their long-term memory when they hand-write their notes than when they use a computer to type them up. There are several theories that attempt to explain why: the most convincing of these are that computers can be distracting, that typing requires less hand-to-eye coordination than writing, and that typing is slower than writing (if we include colours, diagrams and large amounts of superscript, subscript and the special symbols required for Chemistry). Always hand-write your notes.

6. Always know the textbook references for your current topic of study

Not all teachers give textbook references for the topics they’re teaching in class. But knowing the textbook reference is crucial if students want to review what they’ve learned after the lesson. How can you make your own notes or do further reading if you don’t have a textbook reference? Even worse, many teachers provide students with their own notes, summaries or PowerPoint slides that accompany a lesson. I’m strongly against this. Learning happens in the act of taking great notes, and a teacher who gives their students pre-made notes is depriving their students of the opportunity to learn.

Learning happens in the act of taking notes, and a teacher who gives their students pre-made notes is depriving their students of the opportunity to learn.

If your teacher gives you notes or PowerPoint slides, don’t use them. Kindly ask your teacher for a textbook reference and make your own notes directly from the textbook instead. The textbook will always be more coherent, more comprehensive and more correct than any notes that your teacher distributes in class. For more information, watch this 10-minute clip from ThePenguinProf: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOlJiMKEjpY