An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

August 19, 2012

Thoughts on Impromptu Pedagogy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Radical Scientist @ 11:13 am

I went into grad school not especially looking forward to teaching. I’d worked my way through undergrad in an assortment of paid-student-tech jobs, and was feeling the Call of Research, by which I mean I wanted to be left alone in a lab to play for a living. I’d convinced myself that┬áthe┬átenure-track race was not for me (it’s still not! It’s a ludicrous system!), and hey: federal research jobs, those are pretty sweet. As much as I have a hard time picturing myself in the same job for 40 years like a real grown-up (or like how being a grownup worked for my parents, but that’s another story), I sure as hell like the idea of being paid decently, getting actual benefits, and having a job I wouldn’t have to leave unless I chose to. I imagine that federal employees spend all day thinking about how awesome their health insurance is (my buddy Ted graciously verified that he sure does).


But, shit, i really really enjoy teaching science. To adults. I’ve spent a while arguing with myself over whether my aversion to teaching high school is rooted in class/pretension issues (maybe!) but there’s the unavoidable fact that I’m not patient with kids, never want to step into a classroom without FERPA shielding me from angry parents, and have a much easier time connecting with young adults who are working their way through school, because of personal experience.


So here we go. I’ve TA’d a couple upper level electives, one of which was a field course (more on that later). This week will be my first go at teaching freshmen and non-science students, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the similarities and differences between providing professional training vs background for being a competent adult who does something else. The course I’m doing this semester is an intro to environmental issues that’s basically designed as an environmental Media Literacy & Bullshit Detection 101. The content centers around providing a base-level understanding of the science behind a few big-name issues–climate change, extinction, natural resource depletion, pollution in its various forms–and a basic understanding of what the fuck science is about–what to look for in reading news articles, how conclusions are drawn, how to judge whether someone’s conclusions match their data. Fun stuff. More to follow.



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