Bloom’s and Blooms

How to teach about flowers… or anything else.

I’m currently enrolled in the online course Online Teaching Certificate, which is about (you guessed it) how to teach… online courses. Ironically relevant repetition aside, it’s being superbly useful to me as an instructor with only ~4 years of formal teaching experience under my belt, because it’s serving as a thorough introduction to the principles underlying good teaching and effective course design.

My day consisted of 1-2 hours of grading before a scheduled phone interview this morning, 5 hours of teaching, at least 3 more hours of grading and prepwork for the remaining 1.5 weeks in the summer semester, and then ~2 hours of work for the online course. In the midst of all of this we’re trying to close on a house by the beginning of July. Oh, and I wrote this blog entry. 🙂

The focus of this week’s lesson was course design, with most of the discussion centered around the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning to design, teach, and evaluate successfully. It’s useful for students to think about these concepts as well, as it’s a helpful way to structure your studying.

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Bloom’s Taxonomy

  • The first level of learning is simply to remember the relevant information (e.g. vocabulary words).
  • Then, you should be able to understand the information in context and apply it to scenarios (e.g. use it in an example).
  • Analysis adds your ability to compare and contrast related topics, and how they are organized so that you can troubleshoot (e.g. look for flaws or connections).
  • In truth, evaluation will require an even more thorough explanation of that analysis, with your added judgement and interpretation (e.g. choose the best of several methods).
  • Once you’ve those levels under your philosophical belt, you understand a topic well enough that you should be able to effectively create new content (e.g. a study guide).

What next?
You should find yourself constantly returning to those earlier levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy to analyze and evaluate your own work!

  • Are there errors?
  • Does it logically make sense?
  • Do you still remember the details?
  • Does the new material integrate ideas from each of the various parts of the issue?
  • Can you distill the topic to its core elements so that a 5th grader would understand you?

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

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The Value of “I don’t know.”

Can you ever answer an unasked question?

Allow yourself to admit that you need more time to answer, instead of stopping questions in their tracks.

Although it might seem most valuable (and good for your ego) to have a ready answer to every question, it’s basically impossible to know everything. By giving an answer that isn’t well-grounded in reality or is blatantly wrong, you actually risk others losing more confidence in your ability to teach, learn, lead, or follow, than if you simply admitted your ignorance. Same principle follows regarding admitting when you’re wrong.

MoreIKnow

Consider this: What do you risk by assuming you know?

  • Does a bad decision have potentially harmful consequences?
  • Are you excluding better options?
  • How do your actions affect others’ perception of you?
  • Is someone else relying on your statement’s accuracy?

Ignorance is a much simpler trait to alter than arrogance. 

We live in a golden age of information, with thousands – nay, millions – of free resources at our literal fingertips. As a professor, I would rather you learn the skills to find reliable answers than have you blindly follow the swift and volatile statements of the masses. Consider these questions below, along with applying basic principles of information literacy and pseudoscience analysis. (‘Cause I’m a student, that’s why.)

  • Is the answer you hear one that makes logical sense?
  • Does your source have an ulterior motive for providing the information?
  • Would this answer be likely to change if one aspect of it were actually false?
  • Are there many widely varying versions of this “correct answer?”

featured image: gold-tipped bottlebrush (Melaleuca polandii) in Armstrong’s International Garden (Feb 2017)

It’s smart to admit when you’re wrong.

An article by Business Insider recently highlighted the “five most fundamental differences between smart and stupid people,” and it doesn’t read like the success self-help book you’d expect.

“In a situation of conflict, smart people have an easier time empathizing with the other person and understanding their arguments. They are also able to integrate these arguments into their own chain of thought and to reconsider their opinions accordingly.”
-Lisa Schonhaar, Gisela Wolf: Business Insider 

My mom and I have recently been discussing the sticker (and t-shirt) she gave to me as a birthday gift, both of which include this exasperated saying: I Can Teach It To You, But I Can’t Understand It For You. She shared this article with me, which highlights empathy, cooperation, critical thinking, and honesty as some of the most telling characteristics of smart people.

How smart is your attitude?

New Semester, New Technique?

Humans love stories, but get bogged down by information.

“Shrimp wisely divide their time between eating, hiding from predators, and finding mates.”

“Shrimp respond to variable changes in their environment in order to optimize their caloric intake while minimizing predation risk and maximizing reproduction.”

Let’s be honest – it’s much simpler to understand the first sentence, but as scientists we’re expected to write the second sentence. The content is basically the same, although the details are variable.

Why do readers relate to the first version?
1 – less jargon (technical language)
2 – intuitive phrasing that connects the main ideas

Why is the first version problematic?
1 – less information, fewer details
2 – teleological (the shrimp has goals)

In teaching, can we reconcile the two? Can we use stories to help our students build mental models of the topics?

In an attempt to utilize one of the ideas that we discussed in our faculty reading round-table last semester, I am incorporating the idea of narrative sensemaking, or storied truths, into my biology lectures. The idea is to use sensible, intuitive stories to understand realistic, complex, patterns in the real world.

Good stories don’t just have to come from fantastical imaginings, rooted in the mythos of our ancestors. Scientific facts don’t have to be clinical and hyper-accurate in order to be useful. Just like a good teaching model, we can incorporate the best parts of both.

Why am I doing this?

Students are often frustrated by exam questions that require critical thinking skills, and say they are “too hard” or “not based on the lecture.” I am hypothesizing (Yep, I’m a scientist – I do this all the time.) that part of this problem is a mental disconnect from the material.  Many of the extra study materials that I direct my students to use are youtube videos (Hello, CrashCourse) or activities that have a clear, succinct, and entertaining story – they are more likely to mentally interact with the information more intuitively than if I were to simply remind them to “review section 7.3 in the textbook”.

Understanding connections is key to successfully studying increasingly complex topics in science, not simply rote memorization. Without the ability to think on their feet, analyze available information, and reach sound conclusions, they also are not productive, scientifically literate citizens. They can’t make connections if they don’t understand how the story works in the first place.

How am I going to do this?

I’m adding “What’s the story?” pieces to my existing lectures, in an effort to regularly remind students of the larger picture. My goal is to create 1-2 sentence story bits that aren’t just summary, but illustrate the narrative thread running through the past few topics for the section of material that we’ve just discussed.

For example, Chapter 1 of our Campbell Biology textbook discusses overall themes in biology. The first topic is the basic properties of life vs. non-life, moving on to where it is found. What’s the story? Life has adapted to deal with a wide variety of conditions.

What are the results?

I’ll let you know!


Featured image: Stalactites and stalagmites at Carlsbad Caverns (July 2016)

The Artist

Being an artist can mean many different things.

For me, being an artist means that I draw, paint, play several musical instruments, photograph weird things, and occasionally sculpt clay, wood, metal, and leather. Although I actually did take university courses in drawing and sculpture at Dartmouth and in high school, much of what I know comes from self-study and working in the Claflin Jewelry Studio while I was a student.

Am I a great artist? Nope, but I’m not bad. I enjoy spending a lot of time on a piece, so that dedication usually shows through in the final product. Short, quick things are a bane, though. Why? Because I don’t draw/paint/sculpt often enough. I don’t practice flute regularly, and haven’t set a regular schedule for learning harp yet.

Even though I may not produce much art in any form, part of what I enjoy most about being an artist is being able to truly appreciate and be inspired by the work of others. To be capable of looking at someone’s painting and work out how they might have planned and executed the work, or to understand how impressive a musical performance is (or isn’t). I’m often inspired by history (Hello, Society for Creative Anachronism!) and fictional characters and places, in addition to the constant inspiration that is provided by the natural world. When I do create something worth sharing, I usually post it on DeviantArt, but I don’t photo-dump on there like some people tend to. It takes a pretty impressive or well-planned shot for me to put it on DeviantArt.

harper_unfinished_by_myrddinderwydd

The Harper, Deth

Deth from Riddle of Stars by Patricia Mckillip
Drawn in high school, based on an illustration in the edition of the book that our library had. Never really finished.

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MacHuginn’s Feather Darts

A sketch during a Dungeons and Dragons session last year – my character MacHuginn (one of the characters in Divergent Paths) commissioned a smith in ?? to make him a few dozen metal-tipped darts out of his feathers. He also uses them for making his own quills!

leather_bracer_finished_by_myrddinderwydd-d9kx95v

My leather archery bracer, tooled leather.

Cameron taught me leatherworking last year, and I made a bracer so that I’d tear up my arm less while shooting. Since I have an Irish persona in the SCA and love Celtic knotwork, I ended up with this painstakingly time consuming piece!

claddagh_ring_by_myrddinderwydd

Claddagh ring, cast in silver. Terrible photo…

Much of my earlier work I don’t have photos of, since camera phones weren’t as common then and I wasn’t as interested in photography either. This Claddagh ring was carved in wax by hand, then molded and cast in silver in the Claflin Jewelry Studio at Dartmouth. Unfortunately, Cameron lost it several years ago… So no luck on taking a better photo.

I can take good photos though! These are from our road trip out west in July 2016. We had the Nikon 5300 with us, and had a great time visiting family and roaming around in parks, reservations, and fishing.


featured image: Raven ring, another Dungeons and Dragons sketch for MacHuginn (2016)

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)

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.

Image not showing?
Go to the Source: National Geographic Press


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

The Artist

For starters, all of the images you see on this site are mine.
Photos, drawings, paintings, digital media etc. Take a look on my DeviantArt page for examples of most of these. I used to work in the Claflin Jewelry Studio at Dartmouth College, which is where I learned my metalworking skills, and I also took some of the studio art classes while I was a student there. There are very few photos of any of my work from then, and most of it I gave away to friends and family. Needless to say, I don’t have the tools to do too much metalworking or pottery anymore, though I plan to at some point.

Most of my (minimal) skills with a camera are actually from working on my M.S. in Marine Sciences at Savannah State University. Besides photographing trips out to sea on the RV Savannah, I also used photography to enhance my publications and to create an epic video of parasites being spewed out of a shrimp…I’ve never wondered why I mix science and art, that’s for sure.

Traditional Art
Pencil & Staedtler markers
Acrylics for most painting
Gouache & pencil for medieval scrolls
Calligraphy: Speedball inks & nibs on Bristol board
Leatherwork
Pyrography
Metalworking
Pottery & sculpture

Photography/Videography Tools
Nikon D5300 DSLR camera with various lenses for macrophotography
GIMP photo editing studio
Windows 10
Droid Turbo 2 cellphone
BLIPS Smart Micro Optics lenses

featured image: Standing Stones