Thursday, November 17, 2016

Half Big Ass-Thirsty.

Q: What Is Your Go-To Fail Safe Lecture / Lesson / Presentation / Thingie When the Semester Has Gotten Away From You And Yet You Find Yourself In Front of a Bunch of Students?


  1. Uhhh.. the next one?

    The physical science of basket weaving doesn't really permit drop-ins, so we have to keep plugging away. If things are badly off the rails, I'll cancel the class (something I've done maybe once or twice in eight years, usually due to illness of somekind).

  2. "History of Mullet Hairstyles from Mesopotamia to Joe Dirt" (Powerpoint)

  3. Torquemada in TrainingNovember 17, 2016 at 10:49 PM

    In the physical sciences, almost anything astronomy, especially the gee-whiz speculative stuff like dark energy, dark matter, gravitational waves, extrasolar planets. Nothing deep, just what I remember from keeping up with the popular science press, but to students who barely remember that it's the EARTH that revolves around the SUN, this can seem Cosmos-level entertainment. And there's always something in cosmology that relates to something they've learned in class - look, gravity applies to entire galaxies, not just baseballs and artillery shells.

  4. I'm old, so I've amassed quite a bag of tricks for the November/April doldrums - usually repurposed from subject-relevant sites with lesson plans for high school teachers. New York Times and PBS have stuff like this for many different fields. There's others more relevant for the kind of hamster fur weaving I teach. I can pull in concepts we are learning about in class. Interestingly, these are often some of my best class sessions of the semester.

  5. Yes! And these!

  6. Blogger ate my longer comment,so here's the bullet form:

    --apologize for being behind on grading/commenting (always how things get away from me), offer group feedback (possibly based more on past than present semester's work, but the common problems are nearly always the same), set them to work doing what we were scheduled to do (because complex, scaffolded assignments wait for no one, lest there be a train wreck at the end of the semester)

    --workshop (these require guidance to work, but, like most composition proffies, I've got plenty of existing workshop-guiding questions to mix and match)

    --analyze a published document for particular features (adaptation to audience, structure, citation/providing sources for ideas, sentence structure/variety, etc., etc.)

  7. Replies

    2. I remember reading that post - that's where I got the idea...

  8. Start a discussion on Big-Ass Metaphysical Problems. It's all new to them. :-)

  9. Assessment Support Activities are a good one - you don't cancel class, you actually can usefully review a lot of concepts, and prep is minimal - and you look terribly student supportive: I particularly like to do this when I only have half a class of stuff prepped, or just get the vibe that their brains are too full/they are too distracted by other stuff for the day's scheduled activity (in the UK, cohort system, so it's perfectly normal for everyone to have two killer assignments due in other modules one week, or to be dealing with a particularly tough week for whatever reason).

    "Rewrite the essay question"

    Take a nice boring essay question - Compare and contrast the merits of corn based and oat based diets for sporting hamsters.

    Have them rewrite it into the question that a student getting a D- actually answers - "Write some stuff about sporting hamsters" or "Write some random facts about rodent food"

    Then what would a C student be answering: "Write about oat and corn based diets for hamsters. Which one is better?"


    Until you get to the A+ who "outlines the dietary requirements of the sporting hamster, allowing for the needs of different sports. Describes a typical oat based and corn based diet. Assesses the extent to which each of these requirements can be provided by each of the diets (may include a table). Summarises, showing where the diets are comparable and where one performs better than the other in terms of supporting the sporting hamster, showing understanding of how the answer may vary depending on the sport or the gender or age of the hamster."

    Starting at the bottom seems to loosen them up better than 'how to do brilliantly'.

    "Setting questions"
    Have THEM set essay questions - list three or four common question types, e.g. compare and contrast, evaluate, to what extent..., critically assess. List the key topics you've covered so far. Have them make up questions in each type for each topic (this lends itself nicely to snowballing, working alone, then in pairs, etc.) - then collect their top choices for a type or a topic, and then have a class vote on which question they'd LEAST like to find on their next exam. Then talk about why - what don't they get, what's hard about that particular type of question.

  10. "Instant posters" (very popular for some reason).
    You need A3 paper or even better flip chart paper. Some cheap flip chart pens or white board pens, a few colours for each group. Let them get into small groups mostly of their own choice (keeps 'em happy). Assign them the task of making a visual summary of something relevant to the day's topic.
    Example briefs include:
    - tracing the history of an idea or technology (or character or historical movement or whatever, anything which lends itself to making a 'road map', or a 'family tree' sort of picture)
    - summarising a process or rule or Big Idea visually (set a target audience - "... for next year's class", "for a group of middle schoolers", "for the volunteers at the hamster shelter") - adding a word limit like "no more than 50 words" can really make them think and keep them busy
    - "top tips for someone planning X, with examples" (this can be stretched widely... "top tips for a new hamster trainer" is really dull but what about "top tips to make your kids look after their own hamsters" or "top tips for hamsters: how to worry your human" or "top tips for designing swim-wear using only hamster fur".

    I let them use all their devices for this activity too, which they like, and means if they didn't do the reading they'll kind of do it during the class, and often they'll learn all sorts of neat stuff by themselves. They seem to feel freed up by the big paper and coloured pens, somehow.

    And plan to end the class by displaying the posters for them to compare, then have each group agree on a top pick from one of the other groups, and justify it with both a presentation comment AND a content comment. Use that to identify a few "things you can use in future assessments" points, and voila, instant class, and you probably had time to sit down and grade a bit or just rest your feet whilst they squabbled over the pens.

    1. That is frickin' brilliant.
      It's great because it's easy, and it also has some pedagogical value, unlike my usual go-to of saying wildly inappropriate things in an impromptu lecture.

    2. Why thank you kind sir! Feel free to adopt!

  11. And what Cassandra said - print out some copies of a relevant article and have them analyse it in some way. That actually works REALLY well as a way of delivering content as long as I choose the paper well, in my science-which-has-connections-with-the-outside-world type classes.


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