Thursday, June 26, 2014

Going Halvsies

Next week is Independence Day, which marks our nation's birthday and the traditional "halfway" point of summer.  I could count out days and check out how accurate this tradition is, but let's face it, that would take time and brain cells (not much of either, but still more than I have to spare at the moment).  I know the trope about teachers and summers off, but I'm still waiting for when in my teaching career I'll have a summer off.  I had a decent portion of the month of May off while my son still had classes and I had some time after exams and final grades had been turned in for the spring semester.  Of course, that time was spent preparing a manuscript for publication and preparing my summer class materials.

Once the boy is out of school every summer, I start the fun of splitting time between parenting and teaching without any down time.  It's less effective this way, with the thousand and one questions, requests, and interruptions that come with a child, but as an adjunct it's not as if I have big bucks to spend on camps, day care, and babysitters so we make do.  On the positive side, he gets to be involved with my class preparations so we try out fun things for lab- making a model of a muscle filament, doing exercises and naming the actions, muscles, and joints involved, and testing reflexes for a few ideas.  He's also involved with my students and I on our summer research projects, which you can check out over here.  We're having a great time with that, chaotic and topsy-turvy as it is.

One thing that is for-sure at the halfway point is my summer classes.  I did manage to secure a handful of weeks of inexpensive but good day camp stuff for Kenny thanks to the Kent Parks and Recreation department and a gift from my mom, so that's helping to give me some time to deal with class prep, grading, and starting to think about autumn classes (not to mention the perpetual job hunt for a full time teaching job).

I'd love to be half way through my summer break.  Heck, I'd love to have half of a summer break.  But I guess I went into the wrong profession, or at least at the wrong time.

Whatever.  I love my job, I love my students, I love our research.  Maybe someday soon the US will again love education even a tiny bit.  Until then, us teachers will just keep toiling on over summer break to do the best that we can this and every day of the year.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Balancing Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

I have a second grader at home- almost a third grader, as the school year draws to a close- and a smart one at that.  Anyone reading this who also happens to have a second grader, or had one in the past, can probably attest to how humbling an experience this is.  The questions are endless, and they're starting to get pretty interesting.  No longer are we hearing the simple "Why is the sky blue?" type questions that can be answered with a fairly vague generalization like "It's because of the way light bounces off of molecules in our air."  Instead, he now wants to know what molecules, how are they "bouncing," what about rainbows, what if the molecules go away, what if there were even more molecules, what would we have to do for the sky to be green, and what about sunrise and sunset when the sky is a color other than blue? 

Then he stops listening about halfway through the answer, comes back with "But what if you're wrong?", and my head explodes.

I appreciate skepticism, and I am thrilled that he's willing to challenge authority, but it also gets old when all that skepticism and challenge are aimed at me incessantly. I'm not going to lie, I don't have the highest self-confidence in the world, but I'm working on it.  Being a woman in science and an adjunct in higher ed does not exactly help, although my experience has not been as bad as some of them described by Deirdre Redmond and commenters in The Chronicle of Higher Education's "A Black Female Professor Struggles with 'Going Mean.'" 

My own issues aside, this seems a recurring theme in our culture right now, unfortunately.  We take the word of a pastor as infallible, but the findings of the vast majority of climatologists can be dismissed without thought.  Discredited and falsified studies get more public attention and "buy-in" than the current data that is contradictory to the falsified findings.  Non-profit organizations with misogynist leanings can persuade people that crucial health and safety studies are "cruel and unusual" and ignore the numbers of people saved by those "cruel and unusual" studies every year, including some people very dear to me.  The idea that skepticism means one person's ignorance is weighted and valued the same as another person or group's research is not what skepticism is supposed to mean, but today we've gotten to point (thank you, Fox News) where this is exactly what people mean when they say "skeptical" or "balanced reporting." It's frustrating, it's anti-science and anti-education, and we need to stop acting like everything is subjective (not that everything is objective, either; the world's too complex for binaries).  Preferably before my head explodes.

So what I've been talking with Kenny on this matter is this- How about simply considering why you're challenging someone before doing so?  Think to yourself "Who am I challenging and why am I challenging them?"  If you wouldn't be challenging them if they looked differently, then maybe you need to re-evaluate your skepticism.  If you have problems believing them because of your history with them (lying, exaggeration, etc.) maybe you need to reconsider your association with them.  If you're challenging them because they're stating something that goes against your prior experience or knowledge, point that out to the person.  If none of these are true, maybe you're not being skeptical, but a contrary a-hole.

It won't save the world, but maybe thinking and talking about these things will get us a step in the right direction.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Joining the Crowd

It's no secret that I love a good pedagogy discussion or idea, something new to try in my classroom, so it should be no surprise that when there was some discussion on SciFund Challenge and other spaces about crowd-funding as a novel source for filling the gap that's so often left between what we have in the class and what we need in the class that I would jump on board.  The possibility of challenging my students to engage in original research and integrate their own learning alongside science communication?

Hot d*mn, that sounds like fun!

And more importantly, that sounds like a recipe for an extraordinarily awesome experience for this semester's class, and a chance to improve the available materials for classes to come.

So I took the chance.

I'm still taking that chance, really.  I have a crowd-funding proposal going on for the next few days (until 26th March), to raise some funds for my students' project.  And when I say "I," I mean my students.  They wrote it.  They made the budget.  They've been working on the protocols.  With my help, sure, but they're the primary content drivers in this project, I just gave them the assignment and the support to do what they're doing.

And what they're doing, quite frankly, is pretty freaking cool.  We're surveying the biological diversity (or how many and what type of organisms) on KSU Trumbull campus.  This has been done at the KSU Stark campus by Matthew Lehnert and some of his students, and I might be expanding this work to the main campus with an Upward Bound class this summer (depends on whether or not I get that job). 

Some other stuff my students are working on can be seen on our Digital Research Symposium website.  Right now, it's last semester's work that is up, but I'll be adding this semester's batch this weekend.  If you appreciate quality education, if you believe in students as capable and creative thinkers able to take agency in their own research endeavors, if you think that research can act as a catalyst to solid learning, then go check out what we're doing, and maybe make a contribution.