How to “Do well in class”

Students ask this question often, especially when they are taking a class in an unfamiliar subject, or when they have existing anxiety about the topic from previous experiences (of their own or from classmates).

It isn’t a bad question to ask! It shows that you are thinking about making a Plan for Success. In response, expect to hear 1st: some of the tried-and-true recommendations that you might already know, and 2nd: advice specific to that class/professor/subject.

Tried-and-True

  1. Have a growth mindset! Dedicate yourself to improvement and success, instead of reinforcing old prejudices about your skills. Positive thinking + Positive actions = Positive results.
  2. Take notes in class. Write down more than what is written on the slide instead of thinking that you can look back at the slides and remember everything the professor said.
  3. Come by office hours with your questions or set up a meeting with your professor. [See video below]
  4. Be engaged in class. Not everyone is outspoken, but you should all be willing to challenge your classmates’ comments, guess, or give your opinion when the professor opens the floor during class. You’ll remember more by being engaged with the material instead of passively listening.
  5. Do the review/practice exercises in the book. Think about them, and don’t just look up the answer online.

Science Focused

  1. Use your critical thinking skills! Many science courses are not about memorizing a lot of facts, even though you will be learning a lot of new terminology as well. The most challenging questions on exams will often require you to demonstrate that you can apply what you have learned.
  2. Find out how/why we know. Science is a process of understanding the world, so successful science students need to understand this methodology for inquiring about processes over the course of scientific investigations. Sometimes these answers will be the focus of more advanced courses than you are currently in, but asking the questions puts you in the right frame of mind.
  3. Make connections between old and new facts, as well as the processes linking them together. Few things occur in a vacuum, which means that interactions and changes are a normal part of our dynamic environment. Everything is connected!
  4. Be open-minded about new ideas. You don’t learn anything by refusing to consider facts that contradict your current beliefs & ideas about the world. Every single idea was new at one time.
  5. Understand the value of “I don’t know.” Why do we conduct experiments? Because we don’t know what results we will get. So why would you think that admitting you don’t know is a problem?

featured image: a giant bee in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, Socorro, NM (July 2016)

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Idiotic Intelligence

This year I’ve been part of a faculty Reading Round Table that is studying a book by digital education guru James Paul Gee – The Anti-education Era.

One epic quote in the preface grabbed my attention immediately, and I knew that this was going to be an interesting book.

After many years of studying people I have become intrigued, as have many others, by how a species named for its intelligence (Homo sapiens: wise or knowing man) can sometimes be so stupid. Depending on how you look at it, humans are either marvelously intelligent or amazingly stupid.
– Preface, pg I

Gee’s point here is about the ways in which people can use fabulously helpful information and incredibly sophisticated tools in ways that are ultimately destructive.

Knowledge in itself is neither good nor bad – it is the way in which we use our knowledge that is consequential.


featured image: The Rocky Mountains near Denver, CO (July 2016)

Exercise your mind – Criticise!

Use your mental muscles every time you consider a decision or read an article.

Impress your friends, professors, and supervisors with your ability to analyze a situation instead of simply reacting and/or following someone else’s directions.

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Go to the Source: National Geographic Press


featured image: Autumn in Georgia, Armstrong State University (Fall 2016)

The Professor

Biology Instructor: Brigette Brinton

I’ve always figured that I’d be part of academia, and it is no surprise to me that Armstrong State University is now my second post as a college-level instructor. The courses that I teach are primarily introductory biology and ecology, although I have also previously taught a course on environmental issues and would gladly do so again. My experience with the National Science Foundation’s K-12 Fellowship program placed me in a good position for teaching first-generation and non-science students, which has served me well at both Armstrong and at Savannah State University. I draw on my diverse interests to engage all of the varied types of students in these classes, encouraging them to connect to the process of scientific inquiry from their own perspectives.

Anyone is welcome in my office, pretty much any time.

Ratings & Feedback

Reality Check: College professors have many responsibilities, often teach several different classes during a single semester, and are working hard at doing a good job at all of these tasks. Students often are taking many courses and have other responsibilities as well, and we understand that. I always do my best to help students who are struggling, and accommodate busy non-traditional students as much as is feasible.

  • Positive thinking + Positive actions = Positive Results
  • I am willing to help, and typically offer some form of extra credit in every class. This does not mean that everyone in class deserves a passing grade. It means that you will get the grade that you earn.
  • Grading and assignments are often “tough,” requiring critical thinking and demonstration of comprehension – not simply rote memorization. Translation: Know how to “put the pieces together,” or you often will follow the wrong path when trying to answer questions.

I read student feedback (on websites and on Course Evaluations), and at try to understand why a student would have made a particular comment – even if I truly believe that their frustration is the result of overwork, false expectations, or simply lack of effort.

Some insightful positive and negative comments that I’ve received over the past 2 years.

“The course was great!! Professor Brinton taught me a lot and I enjoyed her style of teaching. She encouraged group communication which I found to be effective. She also assigned a group project on a topic we found interesting which helped me learn about the topic a lot. She was a great professor. I would take her again!”
-Diversity of Life

“Panel discussions and hot topics helped with real world information from current events tie into our lectures.”
-Diversity of Life

This class was great! Every assignment was clearly explained and very helping to learning the material. Class participation was required but for good reason. Professor Brinton was always available for questions or any other additional help. Extra credit always helps your grade. Assignment were always helpful for retaining information for tests.”
– Environmental Issues

“The lab activities were directly connected to the previous lecture, so the information was presented quite thoroughly.”
-ISCI Earth and Life Science for Early Childhood Educators

“The daily “Kid Questions” helped me to think about how I would explain the content to a student.”
-ISCI Earth and Life Science for Early Childhood Educators

“Nothing was unexpected the Professor laid everything out and that was what was to be on the test. It was up to you, of course, to study and retain the material taught.”
-ISCI Earth and Life Science for Early Childhood Educators

“I understand that sometimes we have to work in large groups but I feel like having more than four people in a group was very difficult, especially when we had to come to an agreement on our experimental variable. It made the experiment less of a learning experience, though I still enjoyed it by the end.”
-ISCI Earth and Life Science for Early Childhood Educators

“Prof.B. I personally believe was the best teacher out of all the ones who teach this course. I think the course is meant to be very challenging on the students which a lot of students have misunderstood and in turn blamed the teacher as a poor teacher. I always felt Prof.B. wanted to help the students succeed and put a lot of effort into her class.”
-Principles of Biology I

“A quiz every single class…”
-Principles of Biology I

“I had her for Bio Lab 1107, and she was awesome. She really cares about your success in the class. One thing I will say is she does grade hard. She gives guidelines, but sometimes that still isn’t enough. Just ask questions and participate in discussion, and you’ll be fine. Her practicals don’t require a lot of studying, just look over the material.”
-Principles of Biology I Laboratory

“Professor Brinton goes very fast and does not explain concepts as they are on the test. You must take notes on the powerpoint before class and take notes on what she says during class. She is very willing to meet with you and explain things during her office hours or after class. She also does not care if you interject during her lecture.”
-Principles of Biology I

“The practical was too specific. I studied a lot and did not feel like the questions were a fair comprehension of the knowledge, but rather very tedious. Other than that, I found the professor to be very accessible and helpful answering questions throughout the course.”
-Principles of Biology II Laboratory

“I took her for the BIO1103 Lab course. Biology isn’t my subject but she makes the labs interesting. The class isn’t super hard, but you have to put in the effort. Attendance is mandatory and buy the lab manual because you are going to need it. You work for your grade, but she is a great teacher for people aren’t science people.”
-Concepts of Biology


featured image: Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides, which is neither Spanish nor a moss – it is a bromeliad) and Oriental arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis

“A Chemist Looks at Parasitology”

Featuring: A pair of bioillustration pieces that I’m fairly proud of.
Looking back, I wish that I had already had the phenomemal photos that we later took of the parasites, so that I could have rendered them in more detail – perhaps someday I’ll go back and make an updated version of these.
Probopyrus pandalicola and Palaemonetes pugio

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Meet the love of my M.S. in Marine Sciences life…


 

I was introduced to the quirky poem “A Chemist Looks at Parasitology” at the 2015 meeting of the American Society of Parasitologists in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Yes, these micro-sized monsters seem like science fiction – Why? – Because these are the real creatures that inspired amazing science fiction stories in the first place!

A Chemist Looks at Parasitology

Parasitology! Parasitology!
One part of science to two of mythology,
Oodles of doodles that you will insist
Are micro-sized monsters that just can’t exist,
Papers replete with long names in italics
Describing in jargon the fanciful antics
Of creatures who live on the fat of the land
In host after host without lifting a hand.
Parasitology! Queen of biology!
One part of science to two of mythology.
Don’t you owe nature a humble apology?

The Journal of Parasitology, Vol. 58, No. 4, August 1972, p. 698
-Composed by A. E. R. Westman, and read at a dinner honoring the retirement of Dr. A. M. Fallis, on 31 May 1972, Toronto, Canada.


featured image: A grass shrimp (Palaemonetes pugio)

Nature at Work

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Small shrine to nature on my desk at work. Rock salt lamp, conifer cones, oak bark, sycamore seed heads, camellia petals, cedar branch, grass seed heads, unidentified seed cluster. Ceramic container with Brighid on it.

The Druid

Welcome in the spring time, on this blessed day of Imbolc – Brighid’s Day. Everyone in the northern hemisphere is seeing the seasons turn warmer, and the rebirth of life in a new year. It isn’t always pretty (snow slush and mud…), but it’s a promise that the world will indeed go on. We often forget about this cycle of death and rebirth, and we try to ignore that humans are part of the natural world, but nature never forgets. Why? Because it works. Surviving the cold dark winter nights, we are rewarded by the promise of abundance that spring always brings.

That is what celebrating this season is about, in any form. We rejoice in our ability to go on, to grow, and to find happiness for one more year. For many, this is represented by the ascension of Christ – forgiveness and rebirth. Children end up with eggs and rabbits to celebrate because they represent reproduction and plentiful food – new life and survival. Brighid (as goddess or saint) is a literal mother figure, protecting home and hearth – family and healing.



Let this season inspire you – think on what you will do with this year that the earth has entrusted to us. All of us rely on the earth for absolutely everything.

Awen

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Awen, a druidic symbol of inspiration

Where does creativity come from? Why does inspiration often come in bursts? How does a simple song touch the soul? What is my ‘creative side’?

There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that you do not understand a thing – in no way does this invalidate its existence or value.

When we seek inspiration and try to connect with the emotions of other people, we are in truth reaching for the omnipresent force that holds all of us together. Something that is beyond a simple physical connection, that pushes our hearts and minds to leap forward to find new worlds, crossing imagined boundaries. For myself and many others, this fire is often found in seeking the myriad threads tying us to the environment. The elegance of a leaf, the cleansing feeling of a summer rain shower, the infinite blackness in a raven feather, the brutality of a predator’s attack – each of these sparks draws us from the anthropocentric world.

See me as the Sun on the mountaintop,
Feel me in the power of the seas.
Hear me in the laughter of the stream,
Power of nature, power of the trees.
– Damh the Bard, Song of Awen 

We aren’t always particularly good at listening for the call of Awen though, despite our frequent desire for that elusive “Fire in the Head.” Anxiety, uncertainty, time, preconceptions, isolation…there are many distractions that we often need to overcome before finding our own true paths to contentment. How do we do this in today’s world of plastic, politics, ambition, and consumerism? I don’t have the answers for you. Am I committed to continually trying? Absolutely.

Can you find a bit of Awen in your life today?

Today is not the beginning of my path – but it is a beginning.


featured image: Awen, a druidic symbol of inspiration (2016)