Good teaching moment

After class today, my best student confides to me that the most recent assignment was the toughest thing he’s had to do in college so far. I take that as a tremendous compliment.

Why? The students had to get out into nature and observe at least four -ology features. Then they had to succinctly describe the features in 300 words or less.

I like the assignment because it does two things: (1) makes students apply what they’ve been learning in class to a real-world environment; and (2) learn to write more clearly and concisely. These are the two things that I think college first-years struggle with the most, and they’re two of the skills students are most going to need when they graduate.

So I’m glad to know that my student discovered that the observations took some attention to detail and that the writing took a surprising amount of time. That means he’s learning something real. And that means I’m doing my job.

And that will make grading those 60+ essays a little more palatable.


  1. #1 Tim
    November 20, 2007

    Couldn’t agree more. When I did environmental chemistry at uni our prof took us down to the harbour, made us dredge up samples from the bottom, and take them back to the lab to analyze: real-world.

    At the same university – which was known as a bit of a football school – there was a single essay test common to everyone, in every program. You could sit it in any year, and all you had to do was write a single, roughly two-page essay on one of a list of everyday, non-technical topics. You got a Pass or Fail only, and you had to pass it before you could graduate. It was a simple demonstration that no matter whether you were there for Engineering, Geology, Religion, or Psych, you could write a couple of pages that were clear, coherent and grammatically-reasonable.

  2. #2 Field Notes
    November 20, 2007

    Mr. Field Notes, who is an editor, has told me a story numerous times about a reporter who needed to turn in a story on deadline. The story was 25 inches long (journalists don’t measure by the word after all). He asked why the story wound up being so long. The reporter said “I didn’t have time.”

    It is much harder to “write short.”

    Have fun reading those 180,000 words =}

  3. #3 Richard Simons
    November 20, 2007

    ‘It is much harder to “write short.” ‘

    True. I’ve had students write a 100-150 word abstract of a scientific paper. They find it very difficult to pick out (what I consider to be) the main points and to get rid of extra words.

  4. #4 pelf
    November 21, 2007

    I love my undergrad says when we all had the opportunities to do what “real marine biologists” do 🙂 We spent a week on an island, and conducted various assignments — fish trawling, squid jigging, sieving benthic organisms, identify various species of fish, assessed coral and seagrass cover, etc.

    The generations of Marine Biology students all agree that the one-week spent sampling in the South China Sea is the best week of the three-year course, all thanks to lecturers who understood the importance of field work.

    But of course, we too had to write a full report on the excursion.. Can’t really escape that, can we? 🙂

  5. #5 Kim
    November 21, 2007

    Congratulations on the compliment. 🙂 And that sounds like a fantastic assignment. (Well, the grading sounds like it’s going to be a lot of work. Good luck with that part of it.)

  6. #6 another female -ologist
    November 28, 2007

    I am totally stealing that idea for next semester. That’s fantastic!

New comments have been disabled.