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Living Sketches

The Olathe East biotech program engages in authentic research, and it is challenging work. We’ve gone through many revisions over the last several years in almost all aspects of our work. In our attempts to confirm the presence of methanotrophic bacteria in our local water sources we’ve developed multiple media recipes, apparatus builds, and protocols. Even just this year we’ve had several proposals for a new methanogen growth system we’d like to pair with our methanotroph cultures.

Mk 1 - It's okay to make mistakes.

Mk 1 – It’s okay to make mistakes.

What I’ve found really helpful as we brainstorm and troubleshoot is that I’ve been keeping a personal notebook of our work this year. Many professional researchers maintain personal research journals or notebooks where they record their thoughts, ideas, iterations, and analysis. A personal space to put thoughts on paper is great, and it’s more valuable because I’m not afraid to make mistakes. There are plenty of half-baked ideas and just bad ideas in the journal, and as you flip the pages there are visible changes in the sketches.

Mk 2 - Interesting improvements... but still problems.

Mk 2 – Interesting improvements… but still problems.

An interesting thought occurred to me as I was reviewing this year’s work:  there is a lot of value in a personal journal to teachers as well as scientists. I’ve started to include lesson ideas and experiment thoughts in the journal as well. A neutral place to reflect on ideas, record iterations and improvements, and crystallize ideas for inquiry experiments that I can eventually use with my students.

Mk 3 - The current generation. It will probably not be the last.

Mk 3 – The current generation. It will probably not be the last.

It doesn’t have to be an actual leather-bound journal, either. A legal pad, spiral notebook, online blog, or any other place can be used to record your candid thoughts and brainstorm sessions. It is encouraging to see your ideas improve over time, and it sometimes makes problems or ideas visible that you may otherwise not consider. There is a reason notebooks have been valuable tools for so many successful researchers, so leverage this tool to make your own work better!

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