One Truth For All
It was Starfish Day at the beach yesterday. Lots of them all over the tide pools. Dozens, as opposed to the usual four or five. Lots of pink ones in addition to the usual orange. That's technical starfish language, there, folks.
There was one starfish lying on the bottom of a tide pool, and Noel picked it up to look at it (starfish can do OK out of the water for some considerable amount of time). The dogs were very interested.
He let them sniff it, and as you can see, both of them decided to see how the starfish tasted (just little exploratory nibbles, but still). That's us, feeding the wildlife to the dogs. They both got scolds and the starfish was put back in the water.
The pink ones are very pretty. I don't know why we haven't seen them before.
We stayed until just after sunset, with the fog rolling in fast over Morro Rock. The beach is really pretty in the winter.
I would post scans of my latest drawings, but I upgraded my OS this weekend and absolutely none of my peripherals are working. Oh, well.
I have quite a bit of teaching experience. A couple of semesters of composition, a long period of literacy work, and a couple of years of teaching non-technical people computer programming basics. It's true that teaching gets easier with practise, but I am here to tell you that nothing, absolutely nothing, is as good at teaching you how to be a good teacher as being a student with teaching experience.
It's really simple. You get to see somebody else make all the mistakes. You get to compare their style to yours and notice things you never noticed before. Just like the realization when you first stand up in front of the classroom: Oh my god, the teacher really can see and hear everything that happens in here. But in reverse.
So I decided to start keeping track of some of the mistakes I see my teachers make, and some notes for myself on being a better teacher. Bear in mind, this is not a criticism of my professors. All my teachers are great, the state certainly doesn't pay them very well, they have to try to cram lots of material into the typical ten-week quarter system, and the outdated equipment and materials available are embarrassing when you consider that this is the world's fifth largest economy running this place. But they are mostly not teachers by vocation: most of my teachers are engineers or architects or construction managers or what have you, first and foremost, and they give up no small number of billable hours to come give us the latest, greatest, and most relevant information. So there's a lot they can learn about teaching.
Know what is on your overheads
The biggest mistake I see is that the teacher just grabs the Powerpoint presentation the textbook company provided and uses it. Without reading through it, first. Or they copy something out of a book onto transparencies, but don't read it through. Sometimes, I see a teacher get visibly surprised by something on a transparency they just put on the projector face. That should just not be happening. It just makes you look like you don't know what you're doing, which makes students tune out and stop learning. I see this all the time. It is always really bad. Go through the slides before class and do us all a favour.
Reward students for attending class
This is somewhat self-serving because I pretty much never skip class, but it has a point. Of course there is a value to learning the subject from a teacher, or we would not attend college, so make that value tangible. Give students some information in class that they can't get anywhere else. Give them access to your professional skills, to your knowledge of the field, to things that really do not come on books or web sites.
If you have a real attendance problem, have pop quizzes. One of those the second week of class and then irregularly thereafter fixes habitual class-cutting quite nicely.
Come to class on time and start on time
It's not just about returning the respect the class attenders have given you by showing up. Let us imagine a theoretical 50-minute class. That's pretty typical for a lecture class in the other colleges at Cal Poly. If you don't get started on time, you've wasted a large percentage of your class time, and you're already squeezed for time to present the material in a quarter. Teachers get way behind by starting a little late every day. For one class, we ended up leaving out two weeks of planned lessons (from eleven weeks of classes) because we got so behind. So if we had to continue to the next level, we'd have to make up that missed information. As it was, I just studied the stuff on my own, because I was done with that series of classes but I needed the information.
Have a point
Know what you want to teach in a given class session beforehand. Plan it out for the quarter or semester so you can fit the curriculum requirements in, and check to make sure you're on track every week. If you start to get off on a tangent because of good questions, pull yourself back. Maybe you have only three things you really need to hammer home one day, but don't settle for only getting to two of them. Drop details and embellishments if you have to. Having a point will also keep you from wandering off, mentally.
Work out technical details outside of class
It's a sad reality that most of the work of teaching goes on outside of the classroom. You need to work out lesson plans, grade homework and make notes about what your students have generally gotten wrong, and most of all, you need to know that you can walk into the classroom and work the projector or make the screen come down, or whatever. There's some leeway for this on the first day, but you should not spend class time setting up your gear.
Don't turn all the lights out when students need to take notes
It is impossible to see enough to take legible notes in pitch dark. Yeah, your gorgeous slides will look washed out with a couple of lights on, and not all rooms are conducive to mere dimming or turning off half the lights. But there are solutions. If it's daytime, you can leave a blind partially open. At night you can bring in a lamp to provide dim light. You can get assigned to a better classroom. But don't leave your students totally in the dark, because you're being unfair to them by making it harder for them to learn.
When slides or lectures are packed with detailed information, put it in a handout
Students learn best when they are taking notes, not dictation. If you want them to know verbatim word definitions or to have a table of data at hand, for heaven's sake don't waste time by having them copy it down by hand. Put the details in a handout and let them just take notes on the important stuff.
Don't take notes for your students
A lot of teachers will make their Powerpoints available to students. I generally think that is a bad idea. Sure, it takes time to distill the details down into a handout, but I think handouts and student-taken notes work best. A lot of my classmates think they can just skip lectures because "the notes are online."
Make decisions about deadlines outside of class
If you ask a class when they want their homework to be due, they will obviously tell you the date furthest in the future that it could possibly reasonably be. So take that as a given. If, during lecture, it is clear that you need more time to teach the homework subject, make a decision about when it should be due then, there, yourself, but otherwise, those lengthy "how about Tuesday?" negotiating sessions are a waste of time you could be spending teaching.
Use your authority
Also known as "no, you are not our friend." Teachers get in a great deal of trouble by seeming to be pushovers. You get students who decide it's perfectly fine to skip class, and talk during the lecture, and get up and walk out while you are talking, and they disrupt the other students and they can make it hard for you to concentrate. As the teacher, you lay the ground rules, and you're doing nobody any favours by making it seem like anything goes.
Don't talk to the blackboard
Known as Physics Professor's Syndrome, the tendency to keep looking at the blackboard after you've finished writing is strong. Avoid it at all possible costs, because nobody in the back can hear you. Personally, I always hated chalkboards and whiteboards, and I used to use overheads when lecturing. That let me keep an eye on students who are winking out in the back rows. But you don't always have that choice, so if you do use the boards, keep a mental process running to remember to turn around.
Don't yell in a small classroom
Students sitting in the front row should not need ear plugs to avoid hearing damage. It's hard to get the right vocal levels for a lecture hall, but once you've figured that out, remember you have a small-classroom voice, too.
Share not just the fact that you love your subject, but why
I love how my engineering teacher started this quarter. He stood up in front of us and told us how much he loved concrete. Not just by saying so (he did), but by showing us how much affection he had for it and how great concrete can be. You don't see that very often. I've had some teachers who seemed to actively dislike their subjects, and maybe they did. Or others who felt they were teaching a class below their abilities, or others who were ready for retirement and clearly half out the door. Classes like that are unbearable. You can't get excited, and if you do get interested the teacher kills it dead. And if the teacher says they love the topic and yet appears to teach only because they "have to," they are not even remotely credible.
And last, but not least, because to be honest you would hardly think it would happen more than once:
Cancel class when you are sick
Do not sneeze on your students. Seriously.
I'm on row 93 of the shawl, at 196 stitches across. It gets to 300 stitches across at row 146, before the fishtails start, so I have a way to go. I just started the third ball of yarn. The second ball of yarn is the big landmark for me; that's when I feel like I've made real progress. Now that the rows are so large, the shawl is growing much more slowly, but I'm OK with that.
I had one KWAI (knitting while ability impaired) incident last weekend, when I tried to knit when I was too tired to keep my eyes open and ended up putting the yarn overs at random all over a row in my sleep. Then I didn't notice it until I'd purled, then knit another row and held it up to look at it (the next day). What a pain to rip it out and redo. That will teach me not to fall asleep with needles in hand.
The yarn is interesting to work with: not as neat and tidy as other yarns I've worked with. Every now and then there's a slubby bit, and the occasional odd fiber. But it was a good value, and it is wonderfully soft all knit up. I love the floppiness of the loose knit; I usually tend to be overly tight in my knitting, choosing large yarn on small needles and making a nice firm fabric. I should try more stuff on oversized needles.
Here it is stretched out as much as possible on my work table. It's big enough now to not be able to open out all the way even on 40" needles (the cutting mat has 1" squares).
Here's a bit of a detail of the pattern. It's very simple, and it looks like hell unblocked.
It's hard to find time to work on it now that each row takes so much longer to knit. No more quick rows while walking between classes.
I didn't scan these two drawings last week before turning them in, because I didn't totally finish the shading until right before class. I really dislike drawing in pencil, but I'll tolerate it. In a week or so, we're supposed to transition to conte crayon, which I dislike even more. I hate messy drawing materials. I'd rather go to pen or marker.
A drawing of the front of the house, looking a lot better than the actual front of the house.
And Opus 27, our friend George's house organ.
I'm on row 54 of the shawl, at 116 stitches per row, so progress is slowing down (the shawl is worked from the neck down). Here's a photo of it at 45 rows, before I spent some time knitting between law and housing classes this evening.
The pattern is coming together nicely. And I like how the large needles lead to a looser knit. Stockinette knit tightly can look too perfect and machine-made; knit loosely like this, it looks lacy and gets a nice drape.
I'm up to row 31 on the Flower Petal Shawl (no images because I don't have that kind of time right now) and the needles are being more tolerable. For one thing, as the shawl grows, it weighs down the springy bit of the circular that kept boinging around and causing chaos -- this is a 40-inch circular, so there is a lot of extra needle.
Also, I discovered that the needles work very well if you are covered in a fine layer of spray glue after working in the studio for a few hours. The glue has since rubbed off, so I will have to re-apply it tomorrow. Maybe other people have stickier fingers than I do and naturally have more grip on their needles.
I can only knit a couple of rows at a time before being called off to class or having to glue something to something else, so I'm enjoying the pattern, which is simple and kind of mindless (though with the occasional abbreviation I've never seen before: k0? Knit no stitches? Do I honestly need to be told that? I guess so, if I assume that I knit one after every yarn over). I generally don't care for overly fussy things, which means easy knitting, but while puttering around today I found a couple more lace shawls that are quite nice and slightly more complicated than stockinette with a few yarn overs. Maybe I will try one of those during a vacation. Lord knows what I will do with several lace shawls, but I'm sure they will find good homes, if not with me.
Oh, and the yarn? Wonderful. I am definitely not allergic to alpaca like I am to wool, which makes me very happy.
I bought myself a pair of Addi Turbos for my birthday. Everybody tells me they are the best needles they have ever used, they love them, they make knitting so easy.
I hate them. They are slippery. They seem to drop stitches of them own volition. Yes, they are warmer than the usual metal needles, but whatever. I hate them so much that I'm considering sending them back and buying a couple of pairs of bamboo needles just because they don't seem to want to slide out of my hands all the time. I cannot sympathize with people who love that feeling at all. Though it does explain why so many of my knitting friends complain about always dropping stitches. Hey, if you used less slippery needles, that might be less of a problem, you know?
Of course, in the mean time I have started knitting a shawl on them, so I am sort of stuck if I don't buy a set of needles right now to replace them.
I've got my school schedule all worked out now: 19 credits, which sounds like a lot but is actually a pretty workable load. Almost all my classes are Tuesday and Thursday, which sounds great until I tell you that they start at 7 in the morning and go until 9 at night. I get some decent breaks in there, but still.
My studio is doing a neat project this quarter: years ago the College of Architecture and Environmental Design put together a proposal for a Renewable Energy/Sustainable Design Research Center, but what with our budget being slashed into tiny pieces and the students even having to vote ourselves a special fee to ensure that there were enough classes that current students could graduate, it's been shelved. So we're going to use the proposal and the proposed site (on campus) and design it. This will allow me to develop an idea I have for modular plumbing (so you can easily switch out, say, experimental toilet designs). We got a glimpse of the program today, and we are starting our first exercise in the process.
Also this quarter I'm taking my last engineering class: Large Scale Structures. So far class has been a fascinating series of lectures on the properties of concrete (OK, you may not think it is fascinating, but I do). The only real problem I have with that class is that the teacher's handouts use some of the densest, most confusing layouts I've ever seen. You really have to study them to make sure you didn't miss anything, because there is no hierarchy or organization.
On the technical side of things, we have Environmental Control Systems II, in which we have spent three lectures learning about light bulbs. Then we go on to electrical plans, mechanical systems, HVAC. I think I'm the only one really enjoying that lecture, too. In the lab for that class, we've done an energy audit, where we listed all the lights in an apartment and wrote a report on how much energy they were using. Was OK. Not as interesting as it might have been if I had never done that sort of thing before or even thought about electrical consumption.
Then I have Construction Contracts, about which all I can say is that I am really appreciating the Business Law class I took at College of Alameda two summers ago. Because if I had to try to make sense of what the teacher is saying without having a nice solid grounding in contracts, I would be so completely lost.
And then a fun class: Housing Design and Development. A lecture class about various forms that multi-family housing comes in, how it gets designed, how the development is financed, and how it can be used to build communities as well as basically warehousing people. We did a little design exercise the other day, where we were given a site (mine was a duplex on a 25-ft lot, so the inside space was 21-ft wide) and a list of rooms and minimum room sizes, and we had to design a building in 20 minutes. This is mine:
It's 2015 square feet (the average new house now is 6000, can you believe that? Our house in Alameda is about 2000) and has four bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms. One of the bedrooms has an en-suite ADA-compliant bathroom. And somehow, even though I HATE master bedroom suites, I managed to work one into there (we were required to or I would have just left it out). Overall, I'm pretty happy with it.
In that class we also get guest speakers to talk about various housing issues. It's really interesting to see what people think of as being important in housing, especially established architects. The guest last night was showing us a development he designed and he asked how many people in the room would want to live there (it was Modern Architecture, so maybe not everybody's cup of tea). I knew I wouldn't because none of the units had yards, so no garden, and no place for the dogs. But that never even occurred to him as a drawback. In fact, one of the things he touted was the lack of fenced in yards with dogs in them. Well, to each his own.
Anyway: this quarter looks to be interesting. Lots of making things, I think.
The studio I'm in this quarter requires weekly sketches, so I guess I'll be posting more sketches here for the next ten weeks. This week there was no real assignment, per se, except to do two sketches in pencil. I did a little theme pair, both fountains.
This one is the fountain in the rose garden. It's one of those brutalist things so popular on this campus, but it has aged and mellowed and I think it's an interesting geometry.
This one I did from a photo I took last summer, because I couldn't find another fountain anywhere that was functioning (I found a lot of broken or drained-for-the-winter fountains, but I wanted water). I'm not sure I like the drawing, but I do like the fountain.
Last night before bed I finished this crocheted square. I don't know why the author calls it "Pineapple Granny 12” Pillow-ghan Square", apart from the obvious parts of that (it's crocheted, it works out to roughly 12" across, and the pattern is the classic pineapple), but mine is not to question.
It was fun to make, a pattern that doesn't call for too much thinking, so I could listen to radio shows while crocheting it. I think I will make more, and make a blanket.
I had this small skein of Magic Ball hanging around the apartment, and I wanted a new hat. It wasn't really enough for a good winter hat, but it was enough for a kind of fun little hat. So I made a pill box.
It's exactly not something I could see Jackie O wearing. Hence the nickname.
The yarn was a bit of a bear to work with. "Magic Ball" is a series of knotted-together fun yarns, so it was sort of like trying out a sampler. I liked how ribbon crocheted into a really stiff fabric. Fancy fur was just unmanageable. And if you ever hear me suggest that crocheting something out of mohair boucle might be a good idea, just hit me. My consolation is that at least mohair fuzz hides a lot of sins, because this mohair has plenty to hide. At one point I was just sort of stabbing at it and hoping the resulting knot looked reasonably crocheted.
I've been sick for the last week. Don't I make a nice hat model?
I had given up on my fern project in despair, then this morning I opened the container and what did I see but the mossy green growth of developing prothalli! I've had prothalli death already, so I'm not too hopeful, but this is more mossy than previous events, so maybe this is The One.
I decided I hate the crochet piece I've been working on, so I've dumped it. I made the same square three times over, basically, what with all the restarting and so forth, and it never got as fun as the sheep. Maybe it's too complex for me, or maybe I just find all those chains and treble crochets boring. At any rate, it was giving me a headache to work on it or think about it, so I am raveling it and making something else, I guess. Not sure what. Maybe a different afghan. I'll have to look through my book of squares and see what appeals to me.
On the other hand, dropping the afghan frees me up for another project. I've seen a couple of people making shawls lately, of the knitted from the back of the neck type, and I decided that sounded fun. The only challenge was finding a pattern I didn't find too boring, but also something not so challenging that I could not work on it while
in a dazed stupour school is in session. I finally found the Flower Petal Shawl at Elann.com, which has a very simple pattern and a fancy, pretty edge.
So last night I ordered some yarn for it (eggplant, #1800) and needles (because the pattern calls for 40" #9 circulars and I don't have that length, though I do have the right size). Strike while the iron is hot, as they say, or at least get started on massive unrelated projects while the homework is light.
We came back from vacation to see that the plants I've had growing in the back window are really taking off. My sword fern, which is technically an invasive species (but a pretty one and easy to get rid of) is trying to grow out of the sides of the pot.
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I have two Mother Ferns, which sprout little fernlets on their leaves when they are mature. You can pinch off those little fernlets and plant them, which is in fact how I got my two Mother Fern babies. They are doing very well: they've doubled in size over the last few months, since I changed the soil they were planted in. They do seem to prefer a rich mixture to a seed-starting medium.
And here's the callistemon I've been rooting; of the three cuttings, two have taken, although they are sort of slow to grow right now (not surprising; it is winter). I have no idea where I will plant them, but I'm sure somewhere will turn up.
(You can see these plants several months ago here.)