Tag Archives: teaching

The statistics of pesto

Image: This is what 1300 g (2.8 lb) of basil looks like. 

Yesterday (as I write) I bought some basil at my local farmer’s market.  Quite a lot of basil, actually – almost 3 pounds of it – because it was my annual pesto-making day*.  My favourite vendor sells basil by the stem (at 50¢ each), and I started pulling stems from a large tub.  Some stems were quite small, and some were huge, with at least a five-fold difference in size between smallest and largest (and no, I didn’t get to just pick out the huge ones).  So how many stems did I need?  Or to put it the other way around, given that I bought 49 stems, how many batches of pesto would I be making, and how many cups of walnuts would I need?

My undergrad students – like a lot of biology students – don’t like statistics.  Continue reading

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How to write a terrible teaching statement

Over the last 20 years I’ve served on at least a dozen faculty search committees, and that means I’ve seen approximately six wheelbarrowloads of job applications.  I’ve seen some terrific applications and some terrible ones (and I now understand that my own applications, at least early in my career, shared some features with the terrible ones).  But one standard piece of the faculty job application almost always makes me roll my eyes: the teaching statement.

Most faculty job ads request a “statement of teaching philosophy”; some search committees even pay attention to it*.  I’ve seen them anywhere from a couple of sentences to several pages long.  And actually, there’s no need for a post titled “How to write a terrible teaching statement”, because believe me, this skill is already widespread.  So instead, let me suggest an important way in which you can write one that isn’t terrible.  Continue reading

Sign: "No texting while learning"

How do we make students into professional learners?

Photo: Original by Whispertome via wikimedia.org; released to public domain; clumsy modification by yours truly.

Last fall I was 1/3 of a “teaching triangle”.  This meant I teamed up with two other instructors for reciprocal classroom visits – not for assessment, but as an opportunity for observation and then discussion of different personalities and different teaching approaches working with different students in different classrooms.  I picked up some useful ideas from seeing differences among my colleagues in how they approach teaching.  But much more importantly, the experience crystallized for me something I now realize I’ve been seeing for years: the astonishing differences among students in how they approach learning. Continue reading

Four famous introverts

Blogging as an introvert

Photo: Four introverts in far more public eye than I’ll ever be.  Clockwise from top left: Marlon Brando, photo Carl Van Vechten, public domain; Lady Gaga, photo Gabrisagacre14 via wikimedia.org, CC BY-SA 4.0;  Jimi Hendrix, photo A. Vente via Beeld en Geluidwiki, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL; Greta Garbo, photo MGM (work for hire), public domain.

Warning: navel-gazing.

I told the story, a while back, of how I survive conferences, given that I’m an introvert and don’t particularly like putting myself out there.  Quite a few people told me they were surprised to learn I consider myself introverted.  In part, this reflects decades of practice at pretending otherwise, at least when professionally and socially necessary.  But it occurs to me that there’s another reason people might be surprised: I blog (obviously), and that means every week, I put myself out there by posting an opinion for all to read.  Why, one might quite reasonably ask, would an introvert do that? Continue reading

Three things a university might be for

Thoughts on “A Critique of Universities” – Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts inspired by reading a little book full of very big ideas: Páll Skúlason’s A Critique of Universities (University of Iceland Press, 2015). Skúlason was a philosopher who served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and for 8 years as Rector, of the University of Iceland. A Critique of Universities (his last English-language book*) collects some essays and thoughts on the nature, aims, and organization of universities. The book is thought-provoking and extraordinarily lucid. In the series I’ll share a few points from the book, with my own thoughts, but these in no way substitute for reading the book yourself (links below the post).

Three things a university might be for

Universities are odd places. Despite the fact that an increasing large fraction of the public has spent at least some time attending one, I’d guess that very few people could enunciate concisely what they’re for – and among those who could enunciate something, there would be little agreement. Perhaps more surprisingly, I’d have the same problem. Continue reading

Why do we make statistics so hard for our students?

(Warning: long and slightly wonkish)

If you’re like me, you’re continually frustrated by the fact that undergraduate students struggle to understand statistics. Actually, that’s putting it mildly: a large fraction of undergraduates simply refuse to understand statistics; mention a requirement for statistical data analysis in your course and you’ll get eye-rolling, groans, or (if it’s early enough in the semester) a rash of course-dropping.

This bothers me, because we can’t do inference in science without statistics*. Why are students so unreceptive to something so important? Continue reading

I have the best job on the entire planet

An opinion column in the Toronto Star got me riled up the other day. It wasn’t the topic of the piece (TA and sessional labour strife at an Ontario university). It was that the columnist seemed to completely misunderstand, and thus misrepresent, the nature of the job I do as a tenured academic. This is, depressingly, utterly routine in the lay media: university professors are “a coddled elite…among the best-paid on the planet… teaching fewer courses than ever, and sloughing off research duties” (Ha!), and we “enjoy paid summer breaks from May through August” (double Ha!). Continue reading