RSS

Tag Archives: teaching

A Farewell to Teaching?

Possibly.keep4

I’m taking time away from teaching – at least for the Fall Semester –  to pursue new opportunities closer to Kansas City. (to which we recently moved house).

Teaching has been something enjoyable that I always wanted to explore, and when we moved from Philadelphia to Paola, Kansas in 2009, a terrific opportunity presented itself. Over the past several years I’ve taught:

  • General Biology
    • My bread and butter course. The more I taught it, the more I liked it and felt good about the story arc I had with it
    • First half of semester: The Cell and its workings
    • Second half: Reproduction, Genetics, and Cancer
  • Microbiology
    • I always thought that I disliked this class, but I think I enjoyed it, I just never felt great about pacing and felt like I was doing the helminths a disservice.
    • I approached this class for a molecular angle through the survey of life, then from an immunologist’s perspective to finish off
    • One of my favorite elements of this class was following an epidemiology sketch that put my students in charge of running a good analysis and containment of outbreak. I would love to include more about John Snow and the origins of epidemiology if I could
  • Medical Terminology
    • This class was a bust. I used it every day just to crank up for Patho, but it’s hard to generate a narrative about what is essentially a semester long vocabulary list
    • I think I would have liked this if I ever got a good handle on how to make it interesting; I love language, and etymology, but how do you fill an hour and a half with it?
  • Population Genetics
    • This was the smallest, most undefined course I’ve taught. We covered a number of topics including:
      • making relationship maps from DNA sequences
      • exploring allelic frequencies
      • looking at survival strategies

      This was a lot of fun and probably the most low-pressure class I’ve ever taught. It was more like a graduate seminar.

  • Pathophysiology
    • This is the core class that my nursing students needed.
    • I was leery of teaching it because it is not where my background was strongest, but it is interesting and I found myself spending hours filling in background for myself.I would be willing to bet that after a few more semesters it would be my favorite class to teach.

The big question now is: ‘What next?’

If anyone knows anyone who would hire an Immunologist / Molecular Biologist / Educator  / With interest in developing coding skills, please point them in my direction.

americangods

 
3 Comments

Posted by on August 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Bell Ringers

liberty-bell_14540_lgToday, my wife and I toured a school that we are considering for our (present) fourth grader to move into when he starts sixth grade. It was a great little school with a motivated, engaged staff from whom I stole an idea or two that I think I can apply to my own teaching and am eager to start in with.

The first was the idea of starting every class with ‘Bell Ringers’, short worksheets that joggle students’ memories with concepts and simple questions that review prior work and provide a glimpse into future study. I’m not sure exactly how he operates these assignments, i.e. cooperative work vs single-person exercises and whether they are actually graded for a score or not. Regardless, I think they represent a fun way to get into the proper state of mind at the beginning of each class.

An article about these kind of exercises can be found at the Edutopia website.

In the same article, I found another activity that is used to open classes that I may consider using to finish each day. That idea, roundtable review, has students compile a list of idea-statements discussed in that class. I was thinking that this might be a good way to collaboratively compile a list of study notes. Maybe the best, or best-stated, idea can receive extra credit (??).

Both of these techniques echo ideas that I have been trying to come up with a way to actualize for some time. Perhaps this is just the right nudge I need to get started.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , ,

strutting and fretting

ImageI just signed up to take the Praxis exams on Biology and Chemistry. These are content knowledge exams for those who are interested in teaching these subjects at the High School level. I’ve been teaching biology for several years and have been immersed in it for about fifteen years before that, so I’m not terribly worried about that one (although I may need to read up on some botany, as I largely ignore it in my classes – my apologies to any botanists out there.) Despite some low-level understanding of chemistry and familiarity with organic chemistry, it does worry me. There’s a lot of potential information to cover and I have about three weeks to get re-acquainted with the subject.

Why am I doing this? A good question. Because adjunct teaching is neither fulfilling (you never feel a part of something, but merely an add-on), nor rewarding (financially).

-Whoa! Wait a minute, doc. You’re not seriously thinking of teaching in a High School as a way to get paid well, are you?

No. Just paid.

 

Kansas has what it calls an ‘alternative pathway’  to a ‘restricted’ teaching certification. It’s designed for professionals with strong backgrounds in math and science, and are interested in a career change to teaching.

It’s heavily advertised on the radio here (at least on NPR, the non-profit, public radio station). However, most school administrators I’ve spoken with are unaware of the program.

Further, I’ve also heard that taking on educators with restricted licenses means that these teachers cannot qualify as

In order to get into the program (in addition to the classes you’ve taken in the subject’s content), you have to:

  • pass these Praxis exams to prove you actually do know the content and not just a dusty piece of paper from University.
  • Find a school that needs you
  • Get that school to provisionally hire you
  • Enroll in a program to earn your certification while you teach.

So far, I’ve signed up to take the exams and found a school that is willing to entertain the idea of taking me on so long as I can teach both biology and chemistry.

 

What is not entirely clear to me is whether these restricted licenses are considered ‘full’ licensure. The ‘No Child Left Behind’ Law requires all teachers to be ‘Highly Qualified’ and then defines that as:

Highly Qualified Teachers: To be deemed highly qualified, teachers must have: 1) a bachelor’s degree, 2) full state certification or licensure, and 3) prove that they know each subject they teach.

ImageCurrently, I am proceeding under the understanding that these programs do talk to one another and that the restricted licensure will not leave someone unable to meet federal demands.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on June 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Another Semester Ends .. A quick note

Suddenly, the end of every semester rushes in surprising me with how little time is left to finish the material I wanted to cover. As with any semester, I could have used more time. Despite reaching the end of my syllabi, I could easily have used another week or more to fully cover that material for each class.

But done is done. All in all, I’d call it a good semester.

But what’s next?

My next semester brings a return of Microbiology, where I will again try to sit material from the front end of the course in order to have more time to cover immunology at the end.

I will also be teaching Ecology. This will be a first time for me doing this class, so I expect it to be interesting. My ideal is a discussion-based class where we do a bunch of reading, maybe watch a film or two and then talk through the big ideas. Because I expect us to spend a good amount of time talking about evolution, we will be reading Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True, and follow his blog for some spontaneous talk about evolution and related topics (like cats).

Image

HHMI’s Earth Viewer complements readings from Shubbin’s Your Inner Fish

In the meantime, I’ve been invited to speak on the use of technology in the classroom- featuring my use of the iPad to present an interactive handbook, apps that go along with course material, games (and/ or gamification) as learning tools and other online resources like HHMI, NobelPrize.org or iTunes Course Manager.

I look forward to the opportunity to find out what others are doing in this area and maybe even find collaborators to help put together even better materials.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on December 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

My Semester starts tomorrow

Image

Click this image to go to the CDC’s flu-tracker website

This has not been a good weekend. I started feeling ill on Friday evening and have been getting progressively worse since then. I was unconsoled by my first exposure to free HBO and Cinemax as I watched ‘Contagion’ while my wife and son were out shopping. It took me a while to realize that I didn’t want to watch hundreds of people fall prey to a wildfire infection, but when I did, I was greeted with a post from the CDC’s FluView app sating that flu has reached epidemic proportions. 

Immediately upon receiving that post I developed generalized body-aches (which I’ll be damned if I can tell are psycho-symatic or not.) To be fair, I have had the flu once before… in about 1999… and there’s no question what it’s like. I couldn’t get off the couch for a week – quite literally. Luckily, I couldn’t eat or drink, so the sequelae to those processes sort of shut down too. So, no, I don’t think I have the flu this year.

What I do have is a semester starting tomorrow  with one class I am taking (introduction to C++ algorithms, or some such nonsense) and an in-service meeting where I teach. Then, on Tuesday I start teaching Microbiology and General Biology. What I need to do is get over this cold as soon as possible and get myself a flu shot, so I don’t have to stand in front of a class promoting the efficacy of these vaccines when I have not gotten one myself.

I admit it, I’m whining and I have no real purpose for this post other than to seek sympathy. This thing must be affecting my mind as well…

 
2 Comments

Posted by on January 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Brainstorming a new class

I’m not certain whether I can push this through or not where I teach, but I’m interested in designing and teaching a course on the nature of science and addressing some of the philosophical questions around science. I brought this up with my wife on the way to the airport yesterday to discuss it and we identified two central problems: What is the appropriate scope of a class like this? i.e. Should it address just a few central questions or cover more of the reach of science? Secondly, how much can I really expect students to read in a semester? Many of my students are part time and have full-time jobs and children they are managing around their academic schedules.

Let me be honest, I really want to do this course because I want to read or re-read a lot of these books and do a much better job when I have to discuss it in front of a class.

Here’s the rough draft outline of what I would love to teach in a perfect world. I’d love to get comments and suggestions about how to shape this course. More readings, key chapters of books to excerpt from the books I identified or others, etc. Also, if you’ve taught or taken a course like this, what was the reading load like?

imageLV1

The Nature of Biology: A Reading Course

A Proposal for a one credit course in biology focusing on reading, discussion and writing assignments.  Student grades come entirely from written and oral discussion – no tests

Format: Meet once or twice a week for one and a half  hours to discuss readings, organize schedules and discuss writing assignments

Assignments: Ongoing discussion groups online – every student must write at least one post with a significant contribution AND at least one reply to another student’s post for each book read.

Objective: To consider the physical and chemical laws of the universe and assess how these come together to ‘create’ biological life. Also, to discuss what we know of the origins of the universe, the earth and life itself. How does science teach us to think about these things? How do we know what is real and what is not?

Structure

Unit I: The Nature of Science

  1. What makes us think that we can believe what our senses tell us? What is reason and how can we make rational decisions in this world?
    1. Something on the nature and philosophy of science
    2. How can we tell the real from the make believe?
      1. Show the scene for 2001 when Dave Bowman is running around the inside of the Discovery.

i.     “What are we seeing?”

ii.     “How is it possible that he can run continuously and keep going around in circles?”

iii.     Why do we need an explanation at all. Can’t we just accept what we see?

  1. Dawkins, The Magic of Reality
  2. Massimo Pigliucci, Nonsense on Stilts

Unit II: Physical Origins

  1. What do we know about the universe?
  2. How did it begin and how will it end?
  3. We are all star-stuff: Basic Physical and Chemical Laws
    1. a.     ____________, Carl Sagan
    2. Origin of Earth
      1. a.     The Earth, the Moon and the Solar system – some video…. What if we had no moon?

Unit III: Biology

  1. What is Biology?
    1. What makes Biology Special, Ernst Mayr
    2. Life is United
      1. Something on Evolution??? Mayr again? –or- Why Evolution is True, Coyne
      2. Craig Venter on creating synthetic life in the lab
 
6 Comments

Posted by on December 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Stuck at 98%

I’ve been procrastinating – with a lot of things really.

The one that brought me to writing this is that I am 98% finished the codecademy Javascript course with only the Blackjack game remaining. And I’ve already put a lot into that as well. I just need to get off my lazy ass and finish it. Instead, I’ve allowed myself to get distracted by the new courses in python and ruby. I think I’m going to have to set aside a night and get this finished though.

The problem has been that I put javascript aside for long enough that I’m starting to forget the syntax. I think tonight I’ll print out a couple of my old syntax guides (perhaps update them and post them here) and get back in the saddle.

I also have an ePublishing workshop coming up this Thursday. My (biology) class has been given the day off and I’ve hired a babysitter so that I can go. In my mind it is a good way to network with some people who are interested in ePublishing but not comfortable enough to jump in and hopefully learn some things too.

I’ll be taking the iPad with The Thirteenth Labor of Heracles as a demonstration of a finished product and I’m hoping to have The Curse of Sisyphus far enough along that it can be demonstrated as well. I like the way The Curse is coming along – it incorporates more self-testing opportunities than the Thirteenth Labor. I’m also looking into how to develop my own widgets (another project! Great!), but realistically, I recognize that this is probably a long way off for me. I would love to be able to develop a more versatile version of the interactive image widget to use with mathematical equations.

Oh right, I’m also supposed to preparing for an exam! I’ve written all of about ten questions so far and haven’t even looked at my Jeopardy – review yet. And then the lab… damn. I did make that promise didn’t I?

Well, let’s just see how things go one day at a time.

One last thing: My wife is away for what amounts to two weeks. Day one – two minutes after she left: Dingleberry on the dog. I don’t think the cat has realized what’s up yet because I haven’t found any surprises.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bummed

I just found out that I can’t teach an intro to physical sciences course next semester. It turns out the college has standards. To be honest, I don’t have a background that demonstrates that I could teach the class (my degree is in Immunology, not physics), but I thought it might slide.

I’m way more bummed about this than I should be, which definitely communicates something. Perhaps I’ll use my newfound free time to spend some more time on monster.com…

In the mean time, here’s a video demonstrating the fact that gravity works on all objects the same even if one is a bullet fired parallel to the ground (perpendicular to the force of g) and the other is a bullet casing dropped down without any velocity perpendicular to g.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Your Inner Fish

Tomorrow we start talking about Neil Shubin’s book, ‘Your Inner Fish.’ We’re going through this book at a pace of about a chapter a week from now until almost the end of the semester. I’ve already gotten a few essays from my students about their thoughts after reading chapter 1. (The assignment is to just write anything – a quick statement indicating what the chapter covered and then opinion, thoughts, reflections, anything.)

Most people wrote that they really enjoyed chapter one and that it opened their eyes to the world around them. Sometime’s I’m a little jealous that they get to see the world of science unfold before them. I remember that feeling when I first started studying science seriously and it was amazing. I still get it once in a while when I read someone’s work that opens a new door, but less often than the first year of intro biology and reading ‘The Selfish Gene’ for the first time. At that time I was struck with how amazing the world was. Everything made sense – not to say that I understood it, but that it became apparent to me for the first time that the world does make sense and that if you look carefully, then you could see it too.

I do have some students that feel that this class treads a bit too close to sacred ground for them though. I just read one student’s essays about chapters 1 and 2 and I can see that we will be having a lot of conversations through this semester. As always, I try to be cautious about what I might say. I don’t like to tread on anyone’s religious beliefs, but I am also paid to show what is known about biology – and one major tenet of that is evolution by natural selection. The trouble is not that I go out of my way to say anything at all about religion, it’s that people bring it into my classroom and I have to choose how to deal with it.

I know what some of my mentors would do, but it’s simply not my style.

I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes though.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Intro Bio -Day 1

The first class of Intro Biology was yesterday and perhaps I was a bit too … familiar.

I’ve been teaching this class for a number of semesters now and my preparation time has gone down to a minimum – not to say that I don’t prepare, in fact, I prepare quite a lot. That said, I think more about what major concepts I want to get across during a class and don’t worry as much about the small stuff. Because the first day doesn’t have that much to it anyway, I know I could have structured my day a little better.

Instead, I may have come on fairly strong – piping at full steam under the power of a towering cup of cafe americano.

Here’s the structure of Day 1:

Sign in, pick up packets and go through the syllabus.

I also spend some time showing off the iBook I put together as a student handbook and explain how these will all be available as interactive software on the school’s iPads (oooohhh. – I think I was the only one impressed)

That is biology?  – The study of life.

What is it to be alive? – Harder to put into words than you would guess.

But it can be estimated by a series of characteristics and something called Cell Theory.

And Cell Theory, by the way, is one of the central concepts of biology.

What are the others?

Germ theory – some micro-organisms cause some diseases (a direct derivative of cell theory) Can be demonstrated by following Koch’s Postulates. Discuss some examples and then shelf – Germ Theory is the focus of my entire microbiology class, we don’t discuss it much in general bio after the first couple days.

The Central Dogma – DNA –> RNA –> Protein

Information –> molecules that carry out work

Inheritance and Evolution – How is information passed from one generation to the next. How do the mechanics of this work and what does that demonstrate about the history of life.

Follow up with how science is actually nothing but a systematized way of asking questions of nature  – play an excerpt from the Mischel’s Marshmallow’s episode of the RadioLab podcast (http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2009/mar/09/mischels-marshmallows/). I cut off right after Jonah Lehrer cuts in saying that the difference in SAT scores is 200 pts+ for kids who can exhibit self control at an early age. Then we talk about what the question was, what the data was, how it was interpreted and what subsequent hypotheses can be suggested.

Actually, it all sounds quite reasonable here, but I might have just presented it a bit too frenetically. I actually get so excited about teaching that I have trouble containing myself. Especially after a whole summer of having no ‘audience’ – I need my stage-time!

So that was day 1. I’m only teaching one section this semester and I’m realizing that it’s not enough! Damn. They offered me more and I refused it. Ughhh. Well, the life of an adjunct. If they’d offer me a fulltime position it would be different.

An aside:  There is a part of me that agrees with my former mentor’s philosophy that if you come down on them and make the class a challenge right out of the gate, then you never have to deal with the chaff at all and you get nothing but the best students coming back.

There’s another part of me that thinks (perhaps unjustly) that, “yes -but you’re teaching ivy league students taking advanced immunology. I’m teaching a intro biology to a jr. college class.”

 
4 Comments

Posted by on August 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,