Monthly Archives: August 2011

How to get rid of students?

For tedious fire regulation reasons, we are not allowed more students in our class than there are seats for bums (100 in my case).  This means that absent bums keep out people who want in. I’ve been working hard to get the half-hearted out.

Strategy 1.  Opening class, a ballsy slide:

Erratic attendance will get you a fail.
Just coming to class will get you a C
Blogging well will lift that to a B
Critical thinking will lift that to an A
If you came to university to do something other than learn to think, go to another class: you’re taking someone’s place.

Strategy 2.  Nagging e-mails to those yet to establish the webspace needed to partake in the class blog: put up or withdraw.

I felt sure Strategy 1 would empty the class (I know I went to university for other reasons…).  But so far, only seven students left, and they were instantly replaced from the wait list.  So there are motivated students I can’t let in. I suppose it is too much to hope a place holder is reading this.  But if you are, get off my course NOW!  You’re a waste of a space.

Why not science?

It is clear from the introductory posts that most of the class of 2011 are doing my course because they are forced to get science credits.  The most common reason they don’t want to study science: their school experience. 

(the polls may take time to load – and you can go to full-screen mode by running your mouse over them)

Barely different from the class of 2010:

Oh the responsibility. I REALLY have to get the passion, beauty and joy across. School kicked it out of these students, and for many I will be their last exposure….

Introductory class 2011

Who’d have thought that we would have had technical problems today because of a 5.9 earthquake in Virginia.  It took out the wireless networks, so that was the end of Poll Everywhere fun.  If the networks go down when everyone is saying they’re ok, you wonder what will happen when a serious disaster strikes.

As an ice breaker, I asked the class to decide in groups what the most (i) important and (ii) interesting science questions are.  The answers:

The most important:
(1) curing disease (3 groups)
(2) energy sustainability (4)
(3) global warming and the environment (2)

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for alien.pngThe most interesting:
(4) Will California break off from America? (1)
(5) Is religion true? (1)
(6) Nanotechnology (1)
(7) How will we meet our energy needs? (1)
(8) Is there life out there? (3)
(9) How to stop disease transmission? (1)
(10) Will the robots take over? (1)

Mmmm.  Currently, I plan something on less than half of these (#1, 6, 8, 9).  Must ponder the others.  I wonder why climate change is such a minority interest.  But this settles it.  I must do aliens, abduction and all, just as Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Kathleen Postle strongly (and unexpectedly) advocated over lunch last winter.  It is not her contention that we can prove it occurs, just that it is in the category of things we cannot disprove. And fun to talk about!

It’s all very well for her: since then, I’ve been trying to finding a reliable source on alien abduction.

The failed objective

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for einsteinwiki.jpgI dumped one of the course objectives from last year. 

Norm Freed, the now retired Dean who assigned me this course, rightly argued that a course objective should be to explain to non-scientists why science so impassions scientists.
That it does impassion is clear.  But why?  I have no explanation that will work on an 18 yr-old non-scientist.
Answers on a post card.

The point of it all

Nine months later, and we’re off again. The second iteration of SC200 starts in two days. goal-target.jpg

I used to teach scientists science.  Now I find myself totally engrossed in teaching non-scientists science.  It is way more fun, but it also feels way more important.  I have been wondering why. Sure, the course has the totally worthy goal of making the citizens and leaders of the future better consumers of science by increasing scientific literacy.  But I think there is even more to it than that.
I learned last year that teaching non-science students how to think critically about science is a very, very good way of teaching critical thinking in general.  
On this course, there are no facts I have to get across, no vocational knowledge required. It’s all about thinking at its barest.
The very point of university.