Sunday, 28 January 2007

S204: Book 1 - Introduction to diversity

Book 1 of the S204 course is all about diversity. It covers quite a lot of taxonomy, the science of categorising living things. Now if there is one thing that taxonomists agree on, its that almost every part of the taxonomic tree is subject to disagreement.

The next part is about protoctists, what probably use to be called protozoa. Its those organisms that aren't bacteria, plants, animals or fungi. So its a bit of a mixture.

Finally the last part of the book looks at common laboratory organisms, such as rats, C. Elegans, zebra fish etc.

Its not the most exciting of books for me, though it is luckily fairly short at 138 pages or so.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

S103: Block 6 - Our world and its atoms, TMA-5

Block 6, and its firmly into chemistry, with a small detour into physics at the end.
In this block we start looking in much more detail about atoms and elements. There is a fair bit of history of the way things were discovered, how to balance chemical equations, molecular weights and stuff like that. I knew quite a lot of this already, but some of the details were quite fascinating.

How they worked out chemical formulas for compounds for instance, and molecular weights. There are also some nice videos showing chemical reactions. Everyone loves the alkali metals interaction with water - especially my children!

The TMA is solely about this block this time.
First question is all about hydrogen selenide, a compound not covered in the block. Using the rules and knowledge gained from the block though you can work out all the details. You also have to draw a set of chemical apparatus to produce a sample of the gas.

The next question is about chemical calculations on arsenic and some of its compounds. Molar calculations come into the fray here.

The final question is about the element Uuh - one that hasn't quite been discovered properly yet, though there is a placeholder for it in the periodic table. We have to extrapolate from knowledge of other elements what it would probably be like.

This is my best TMA in the whole course, and I scored 99 out of a possible 100 for it.
Its quite interesting how the whole marking thing goes. When you get to close to the maximum, its almost down to luck how you score. It is incredibly easy to miss off a unit, forget the right number of significant figures or something somewhere in the 4-5 pages of answer. I lost a mark in this one for not labelling a connecting tube in one of my drawings of chemical apparatus.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

S204 starting

I signed up for S204, and my materials duly came through.

Wow - its a bit of a jump from the S103 course. There are only 6 books for this course, but they are all in the several hundred page range. I opened book 1 "Introduction to diversity", at only 138 pages it is by far the smallest of the books (book 3 is so big its in two volumes!).

I thought I'd read the first chapter - expecting it to be of the "Welcome to the course and here are some general things you should know" type of thing. But no, page 1 and the facts are already coming thick and fast. I wonder what I've let myself in for!

The mailing includes
  • A pack of two DVDs containing course material, some programs, some videos etc.
  • Book 1 and 2 of the course
  • Assignments 1 & 2 - tutor marked assignments (TMAs)
  • A calendar of study - showing what you should be studying when
  • A computer guide
  • An introductory note
  • The investigative week 1 instructions (where you do an experiment)
  • Study notes for book 1 & 2
  • The TMA cover sheets for submitting by mail.
  • Some standard OU computer software for online bulletin boards and stuff
  • A ring binder for your notes.
It doesn't look too bad -however glancing at the first TMA, shows a 1000 word essay is required. I have to grit my teeth at this point - I don't really care for essays. Its not that I can't do them, I suppose, but I do struggle with them. Its also very difficult to know what to include to get the marks. Obviously they are looking for certain points, but its not always obvious what. If you happen to go off at a tangent to the main theme, then marks are thin on the ground.

Oh well, I have about a month before it needs to be in, and I have got the materials about 2 weeks early, so I'm a little bit ahead. As long as I can keep it up there is a chance.

Friday, 12 January 2007

S103: A slight hiccup

I had managed to complete TMA-4 just before Christmas which was well ahead of the early January deadline. I had an ulterior motive for this, and it wasn't just so that I could enjoy the festive season. I had wanted to see how well I got on with S103 and if I wasn't finding it too taxing, then I might be able to start a new course in the new year. So I was working on getting up a good head of steam so I could make some time for a 2nd level course, the biology one - S204.

So - I had handed in my TMA before Christmas, and started work on block 6, which was chemistry. However after Christmas, we had a slight break in proceedings. I turned up at the first tutorial of the new year, and the building it took place in was even more disorganised than before. They had a lot of building work going on fitting out new classrooms and things, and this time it was even darker and more eerie than the first tutorial. It appeared they were improving security and were going into a keycard system of access.

I checked at the reception and a security guard showed me to the tutorial room, which was in a slightly different place to some of the previous ones. Instead of an organised room with a circle of tables laid out as normal, with a smiling tutor, the room was dark, and empty. The guard switched on the lights and left, and I sat down and unpacked a few things. Another tutee turned up shortly, and we arranged the desks into our customary circle and chatted about things.

After about 30-40 minutes, we decided there must be a problem, and either we were in the wrong place, or maybe there was a tutorial going on elsewhere. Anyhow it looked like there wasn't going to be much happening tonight. We packed our things up, and put the tables back, and then made our way out.

Then, we found a problem. We managed to find our way back nearly to the entrance, before coming up against one of those keycard doors. We couldn't open it. We looked around for a button to open it, but there didn't seem to be one. We then tried to find another way out, and found a few other rooms and various places. Eventually we found an outside fire exit door, which said it was alarmed. However we decided after a bit of discussion to try this. We pressed the release button, and nothing happened. We tried a few other things, but it wasn't going to open.

So, we turned back and made our way to as near as reception as we could get, and tried banging on the door, but in vain. Finally my colleague had a mobile phone, so she phoned directory enquiries, and after a few attempts managed to get them to put us through to the college, and got through to reception where she asked them to come and let us out!

The next day I tried to contact my tutor to see if we'd got the wrong place or the wrong day or something, but I didn't get a reply. So later in the week I contacted the regional center, who moved swiftly to sort things out. It seems my tutor had been taken into hospital and with Christmas and the new year things had got a little confused.

Anyway, the centre found us a new substitute tutor, and arranged for our TMAs to picked up and marked by alternate tutors, and everything was soon back on track.