“Ancient chalk beds”

That was the phrase (from some science book of my youth) that came to mind the first time I stepped into a college lecture room with seating for some 200 students. The room was a broad wedge shape, filled with stadium seating of fixed chairs with small right-handed desktops. Down at the bottom was the instructor’s desk, a series of chalkboards, and a pull-down projection screen. Something was written on the chalkboard, but most discouragingly, I couldn’t read it from the back of the room. That meant I would also likely have trouble understanding the speaker, so I advanced down to the front row. Even moving to the front of the room was awkward (if not physically discouraging) because the terrace effect of the seating meant walking two paces forwards and stepping one down, an unnatural rhythm.

In such rooms, some professors would do a lot of writing on the board (usually still lecturing, which meant that they were talking to the board and were even less intelligible), and some profs would just stand there and lecture at us for the entire 50-80 minutes, sometimes writing a few things on the board. Some used slide presentations or overhead projectors, and only a few had moved to PowerPoint to merge the illustrations and text.

These were not classes from the 20th century — this was just a couple years ago.

The students around me were often visibly bored. Well, those that came. Some of them engaged in napping, with varying levels of discreetness. A few sat in the back and chatted with or texted friends. A lot of students took notes, or appeared to be doing something on paper. Few students volunteered questions, and fewer profs actually elicited dialog with and between students — most who asked questions of the students were just doing so to see if anyone had done the assigned reading.

The “sage on a stage” backed by those ancient chalk beds is a teaching style that’s over a century-old. Here’s a very interesting YouTube video,

… summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. Created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University.

It’s not just a very thought-provoking video — due to it’s text-driven style, it’s totally “open-captioned” as well! (Don’t worry — the video is much clearer than the frozen shot you see before clicking the Play button.)

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Rare sightings

A few weeks ago I was teaching one of my gardening classes when a student came up to me during break and identified herself to me again. I’d already taken roll at the beginning of class by way of having the students tell me their names, as no one ever mispronounces their own name. Despite having heard her say her name and also seeing in print where I’d checked it on my roster, I hadn’t made that connection.

I know her. Or, knew her — we’d had a class together about eight years ago. Once she pointed that out, I recognised the name as being familiar, and excused myself by way of saying that I’m really bad at remembering faces. Read the rest of this entry »

Movers and Fakers

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any insect photos. But it’s autumn, which means that the Monarchs Are On The Move. A couple of weeks ago I came home and was walking up to the front door when I passed the pair of butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii) and noticed a rather runty-looking Monarch nectaring.

Then I did a double-take, and thought to myself, “That’s not a Monarch — THAT’S A VICEROY!” (This was one of those odd times when I mentally caption dialog, even the all-caps.) I dashed back to my car to grab my camera, as I didn’t have a photograph of this particular butterfly yet.

The Viceroy (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae Basilarchia archippus) looks very similar to the Monarch: it’s an orange butterfly with a black body, black margins the wings, and a few white spots in the margins. However, its wingspan is smaller (about 3 inches / 80 mm), and the hindwings have a thin stripe running parallel to the outer margin.

For comparison, here’s a photo Read the rest of this entry »