I do have a favorite demonstration that all students enjoy:
It involves a reenactment of the Rutherford Gold foil experiment. I use a bowling ball as a model of the gold nucleus and have it up on a table in the front of the room near some students. I talk about the “new” technology that had just been discovered in radioactivity and the characterization of the positively charged alpha particles. I mention that shooting the alpha particles gave an unexpected result. At this point I bring out my “Ack-Ack” gun that shoots ping pong balls from a a clear barrel with a little pump action. It holds ten balls and I say that these balls are actually about the right size relative to the gold bowling ball. I even have one ping-pong ball penned into fourths for the 2 protons and the 2 neutrons. Well, I start shooting away from about 8 feet at the bowling ball! Most just miss, but a few bounce out and a few come back. This is what Rutherford found also. Most miss but a few come back…. Then I ask what distance they think is the next gold nucleus from this one? 10 feet, 20 feet,,,100 feet? Then I tell them that it is 3 miles away…..Everyone is amazed. Anyone who wants to gets to shoot the atom with the balls… It’s worth the $25 for the burp gun (made in KZoo) and available from intothewind.com in Boullder, Co.
Greg Schmidt, Ph.D.
Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn From the Code of the West by James P Owen
I found this book at a bookstore in Ennis Montana. The man who wrote it had watched numerous western movies. It also includes many beautiful photographs of the west by David Stoecklein one of the leading western photographers today. The real use for the book are the ten sayings that the author gleaned from watching the western movies. I include these in my syllabus:
- Live each day with courage
- Take Pride in your work
- Always finish what you start
- Do what has to be done when it has to be done
- Be tough, but fair
- When you make a promise keep it
- Ride for the brand
- Talk less say more
- Remember that some things aren’t for sale
- Know where to draw the line
- Never leave a man down
I take the time to explain these to the class. I also tell them how I’ve implemented them in my life.
Relationships are central to my understanding of what makes education work. The book that probably inspired me the most towards this idea is “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In the book, the lives of several generations of the Buendia family is recounted through the stories of a distinguished family of political and military leaders, strong maternal characters, characters who accomplish great physical feats, and characters who possess great physical beauty: all in all, a family who should have produced a long lasting legacy and done much good in the world. However, in the end , the last of the family members is actually transfigured into the sky, never to be seen again. The family is completely wiped off the face of the earth. The final line of this book explains why; the family members were completely isolated from each other themselves, each other and the world around them. As a family and as individuals, they lived in “One Hundred Years of Solitude”.
The final line is the book is devastating in its clarity about the price we pay as individuals when we isolate ourselves from one another…..
“Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men…..because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”
What I learned from this book is that the power of education:
- Is the learning of ideas that inspire in a life changing way when we find our “calling”: a calling which unfailing compels us to engage with the world.
- A process through which we come to make relationships with friends, colleagues and perhaps most importantly, students, who save us from the devastation of self-isolation.
My focus as an educator and colleague is completely centered around helping students find their calling and encouraging that by being a person who never isolates, but strives to connect both professionally and personally with all those with whom I come in contact.
Stephen Barton Ph.D.
Strategy: In an effort to help improve student performance on their first lecture test, during the first week of class I assign my anatomy & physiology students a paper to write entitled “My Learning Style and Study Plan”. First, they go to a website called www.vark-learn.com to complete a short questionnaire that not only assesses their learning style but also suggests what study techniques will work best for them. Then, I have them read a paper I wrote – which is posted on my website – entitled “Ten Study Skills for Succeeding in Anatomy & Physiology”. Lastly, they complete a 1 – 2 page paper summarizing the results of the learning style assessment and creating their own personalized study plan for the course.
Problem: Anatomy & physiology is a difficult course that demands a lot of regular study time. Initially, students are overwhelmed by both the volume of information and the complexity of the physiological mechanisms they need to master. Like learning a foreign language, learning anatomical terms based in Latin demands lots of practice and repetition. To make matters more challenging, the physiology demands understanding and applying functional concepts based in applied chemistry – another difficult task. As a result, the national failure rate in these courses is quite high. If success is defined as a passing grade of an A, B, or C, the failure rate averages roughly 40%.
In the past, when I did not assign this paper, many students would typically fail the first exam and then rush to my office hours to ask me how they should study. Suddenly it dawned on me that instead of waiting for them to fail the first exam, giving them an assignment that offered them a road map for success would be much more beneficial.
Results: After completing this assignment, I surveyed my students to determine if they found if useful. Roughly 90% of the students stated that it was beneficial in some way, so I keep giving the assignment. It offers the following benefits:
- Sets a positive tone – it delivers the clear message of “I want to see you succeed”
- Expectations – it clearly informs students what is expected of them.
- Personal responsibility – it serves as a first step in informing students about the active learning techniques they need to use in order to become self-actualized learners.
Below are the comments Mursalata Muhammad shared:
“Notes from the Battlefield” is the title of a chapter someone suggested I read. I took the suggestion and put it in a pile with all the other “you should read this” suggestions I get.
Then one day, about a year and a half ago, as I sat waiting for a meeting to start, I did what I usually do when in someone’s office — checkout their bookshelves. When I saw the title Radical Reflections, I wasn’t surprised that the two words spoke clearly to me.
At the conclusion of the meeting, I asked if I could borrow Radical Reflections by Mem Fox. The first chapter of her book is called “Notes from the Battlefield” — go figure.
By the time I reached page three of chapter one, I knew this was going to be a great reading and learning experience as I consider what I do as a teacher.
Here is what I read that lead me to feel so strongly about the reaffirming and learning potential within Fox’s book:
“[A]sk yourself when you or your students last ached with caring over what you were writing, or wrote because it mattered, or wrote because you had a huge investment in your writing” (3).
Here is another way to consider the quote:
“[A]sk yourself when you or your students last ached with caring over what you were [learning], or [learned] because it mattered, or [learned] because you had a huge investment in your [learning]” (3).
The other 170 pages are quite worth a read too!
This semester I am exploring the idea of creating groups within Discussion Board for my online classes. I am doing this to try to help students in the class connect with at least 3-4 other students in a meaningful way throughout the semester. By having to post and reply to one another’s posts within the same group, my goal is that students will a) feel a responsibility to the group (to complete posts on time), and b) feel a sense of community within the online environment.
Kate Byerwalter Ph.D.