Category Archives: Teaching

I can haz perspective?

Photo: Paul Reynolds

Photo: Paul Reynolds

As a writer and college instructor, I can easily sink into my own world. Yet this past week, I’ve had the chance to see that world from the other side.

The writing sphere usually involves lightly stalking my subjects, asking questions, rejoicing when they respond, then writing and revising. Rinse and repeat.

For teaching, the routine is mostly to come up with activities and explorations that hopefully lead to learning and/or thinking. Rinse. Repeat. The rest of the time I make up assignments and criteria, hope students follow said criteria, and then check assignments and find that they sometimes do and sometimes don’t follow it. The success of that last item determines whether my hair remains intact or not.

So my trip to the point-of-view equivalent of Australia started last week when I discovered a student has quoted me in an article about farmers markets. I loved the experience of sitting in the interviewee chair, and then seeing what the interviewer chose to use.  It’s like one of those lolcats  suddenly faced with her own reflection.

Zowee! I can haz perspective? Continue reading

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Celebrating Earth Day where I want to be

plants and planters by a rainy window

With my office smelling like wet soil and a motley crew of plants and planters straggling across my desk, I’m in a good place to celebrate Earth Day.  It doesn’t hurt that the plants came from a campus clean-up project that one of my classes planned last week, and the egg carton planters came into being thanks to another class activity yesterday. I’ll spend another few minutes with these signs of spring, then head to a board meeting for the Crossroads Community Food Network. We’ll be talking about that organization’s fragrant, colorful farmers market, which opens in just six weeks.

I hope you’re celebrating where you want to be this Earth Day, or that you’re on the way.

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Filed under Gardening, Sustainability, Teaching

Alternatives to Black Friday

A crowd shuffles into Target at the DCUSA mall in Columbia Heights. Photo by Gridprop on Wikimedia.

A crowd shuffles into Target at the DCUSA mall in Columbia Heights. Photo by Gridprop on Wikimedia.

Last week, an international student in my class declared that Thanksgiving is a terrible holiday — a time when people are killed.  “What do you mean?” I asked, madly searching for some explanation. I recalled that suicide rates spike during the winter holidays, but I didn’t think that was it.

The student then explained that she’d learned about the origins of Thanksgiving and how it arrived amidst a virtual genocide of indigenous Americans. The other students and I had to admit that was true. This mortality-Thanksgiving connection is, indeed, part of U.S. history. Then, as the discussion continued, another student helpfully pointed out that it wasn’t just a dark spot in our past.  In very recent memory, post-turkey shopping turned deadly.  It happened again last year. The international student wasn’t at all surprised.

“Will you have a chance to experience a Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S.?” we asked the foreigner. Perhaps. She’d been invited to one, but said she feared to venture out of her dorm room that day. The international student was only half kidding. Continue reading

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Filed under DC, Events, International, Sustainability, Teaching

What we talk about when we talk about 9/11

Where were you front page

This week, I asked my first-year college students where they were on September 11, 2001. I found myself in some good and varied discussions. One of the discussions got me thinking about communication, then and now. An interpreter (stepping out of her role at the request of curious students) recalled a friend who interpreted the live TV news for deaf employees where she worked when the closed captions went garbled. That was a memorable job. The front page of the September 12 Washington Post featured tweets with the hashtag #wherewereyou, a combination of smooshedtogether punctuation and phrasing that would have meant little to anyone 12 years ago.* Now half a billion Twitter users around the world could recognize it and regularly share their thoughts using that convention.

The Post introduced its lead story with the reminder: “First-graders on Sept. 11, 2001, are college freshmen now.” Yes, indeed. But it turns out six-year-olds see and remember more than I would have guessed, and 18-year-olds’ thoughts run deeper than the next kegger. Continue reading

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Twitter in the classroom

Astute readers may have noticed something different about the tweets displayed on the right side of my home page. My short transmissions about food, always frequent, have now taken over the feed. New names appear in my mentions, and the mysterious hashtag #GSR150 accompanies most of my posts.

Well, I’d like to share what I’m doing and some reflections on the project.

In a nutshell, I have worked Twitter into the curriculum of my General Studies 150 class. The course is entitled “La Vida Local: Examining Local Food and Farmers Markets in D.C.,” and is my take on the wonderfully flexible requirements for this course, namely that I use the theme “City as Text” and that I help students develop a foundation of academic research and writing skills.

Better than mucking through dry scholarly articles from an academic database to learn about our topic, I  decided the students would build their knowledge through the Twitterverse. In addition to weekly readings and classroom activities, I gave them a Twitter to-do list. It included setting up an account, adding a bio and photo, and following a list of food markets and organizations focused on sustainable edibles. Most of my iPhone-wielding, Instagram-loving undergrads mastered this handily. But then came the requirement that would prove contentious and sometimes downright loathed: Tweet every day. Continue reading

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Filed under Teaching, Writing and technology

Common Core and the 70 percent

Yesterday, news of the Common Core State Standards exploded. A front page feature in The Washington Post brought them to my attention, and I guess a few others’, too. By 9:30 a.m., more than 300 comments trailed the piece.  The standards in question were adopted by states as early as 2010, sprawl across a 66-page document (PDF), and raise some questions about genres and communication.

This effort toward K-12 education reform is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

What was the deal with these standards, and why would I—a college instructor and non-parent—really care? Well, the goal, according to the document, is “to help ensure that all students are college and career ready in literacy no later than the end of high school.” So yeah, I do care about students’ readiness to tackle my course material and do well in their professions. But I also have to make a confession: I learned from a crazy, mixed up set of genres and I liked it.

My confession

I was the kid who read Flatland: A romance of many dimensions for extra credit in ninth grade math class. My Civil War bookshelf comprised the fiction of Toni Morrison and Margaret Mitchell alongside the documentation of Howard Zinn, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs. I saw some high school classmates grok their longing through Whitman, while others soaked up our health class textbook with fascination. Later, I would understand nonfiction by John Hersey and Maxine Hong Kingston as deeply literary work. So when I saw something about required amounts of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry on reading lists, I perked up. Continue reading

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The dark side of color

Like most college instructors, I use the Blackboard online learning system. And like some of those (possibly misguided) instructors, I believe I can keep students’ attention by adding color to the software’s dour design.

It’s easy to do. You just go into an assignment, click “Edit,” and in a few seconds you can make the title of the assignment a pretty color.

Oh boy! Color! Can you feel the excitement?

For a few semesters now, I have been noticing two things about the color choices for such titles. First: Each option on the color wheel that pops up has a formal name. Second: Those names, without exception, make me want to slit my wrists.

Want to turn that project title a grassy green? You’ll have to slime it with Obscure Dull Spring.

Would you like to soften the headline for the test by applying an “It’s a Boy!” azure? It’s Medium Faded Blue for you. (Thank goodness Evite doesn’t use the same color system as Blackboard. Planning your little fellow’s baby shower could get depressing real quick). Continue reading

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