Today I spent nearly the entire day preparing food.  Specifically, buying and preparing food for preservation.  The beginning of August is the time for sweet corn and peaches here in Northwestern Iowa.  I bought a 25 lbs box of MO peaches and 6 dozen cobs of Iowa sweet corn.  Here is the end product of nearly 6 hours of work:

What you see here (from left to right) are 12 quarts of peaches in light syrup, 4 dozen ears of corn cut off the cob (the cut cobs are behind the bags of corn for later use in soup stock) and 2 dozen cobs to be frozen on the cob.  As you can likely tell by the fact that I kept, and will freeze, the spent cobs, I like to use all part of food.  All of the husks are now in my compost heap for use later in the garden.

As I was husking the corn I was thinking about how I do these things mostly as a hobby.  I enjoy food…growing, preparing it, eating it.  But all of the things that I do are not necessary in today’s food economy.  I could spend much less time and just buy this stuff from the grocery store.  But instead I will spend months of work and worry on growing vegetables and hours of time preserving food FOR FUN!  Not that long ago, people had to do this to feed themselves during the winter months.  I have other hobbies that were once a necessity as well including knitting and crocheting.  I started to wonder if there would be any activities today that are living necessities that would become the hobby of some person in the future.  Perhaps driving your own car?  Cleaning your own home?  Writing using a pen and paper?  I’m really not sure.  We have so many conveniences today that it is hard to think of things that are living necessities that one would only do as a hobby in the future.

Doing that activities of canning and freezing today also had me thinking about what those people  of the past would think about a person who chooses to engage in this time consuming activity?  The reasons that I do it are partially for the enjoyment of the process…but let’s be honest, that process gets old quickly.  The bigger reasons are a satisfaction of making something myself from nearly nothing (in the case of gardening), and being able to enjoy something that I made months after the garden has been put to bed.  I find a much closer connection to my food because of this.  I have spent so much time and effort that I take the time to use the preserved food in the beat meals and I take the time to really taste the food that I have made.  I think that this focus on food has waned in our country.  Instead we tend to focus more on what is quickest to heat up and shove in our mouth.  Much of this commercially prepared food I find less tasty and fulfilling (note I did not say filling!).

So any thoughts on which of today’s necessary activities will become a hobby of a future person?

Rhythm of the Seasons

August 1, 2011

No this is not a Sam Adams commercial…though I do like the philosophy of the breweries with seasonal beers (ones that are truly seasonal and have beers that are simply not available out of season).  My husband and I are avid gardeners and anyone who has had a vegetable garden knows that this is the time of year that the real harvests begin.  Zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, onion, you name it – it is probably coming ready soon.  What this also means for the avid gardener is that you have much more fresh veggies ready that you could possibly eat right now.  Some people like to simply give away their crop, I have to admit I’m actually rather selfish with my produce.  It is this time of year that I spend hours canning and freezing the veggies that my little family will eat through the rest of the year.

Currently I have canned several quarts of peaches, frozen many cups of shredded zucchini, and just completed 5 quarts of dill pickles.  This is just the beginning.  Later this week I will be canning tomatoes (not sure yet if simply canned tomatoes or if I will make salsa), and freezing corn.  So my rhythm during this time of year is focused on food.  Honestly, it’s fun for a while…then it can become a bit of a pain.  But the real satisfaction comes in mid January or February when we can still enjoy our own fresh tomatoes!  Totally worth the time and energy that it takes to preserve your own food!

Soon enough our garden will be spent, we’ll tear out the old plants and put it to sleep.  By that time we will be ready to be done with our garden for the year – it takes a lot of time and energy to weed, garden, tend, worry, etc.  But sometime during the winter, Caleb and I will begin dreaming again about what we will plant, when we will start, what we need to do to prep the garden soil.  Then spring will come and we’ll have the excitement of buying our plants and seeds and then planting everything and watching it grow and waiting for the fruit.

I just ran into this blog through WiredEducator on Twitter – http://tinyurl.com/5wqr9w3.  As I’ve mentioned before I really do had all intentions of actually being consistent in my blogging, but I often find that I have a good 2-3 week run and then have no posts for 4-5 months.  This blog gives 7 pretty good reasons why all educators should blog.

I especially like items 1 (Practice what you Teach) and 4 (Expand your Classroom).  Practicing what you teach is the quality of a good instructor.  I have the same philosophy about leadership as I do about teaching…I do not expect my students to do things that I myself will not do.  If I believe that writing is an important skill for my students, then I should also write.  Not just once in a while, but often and using different modalities.  At Morningside we will begin having our freshman class create e-portfolios of their written work.  I plan to integrate this into my General Psychology class.  I have not yet thought what all I want my students to place in their writing portfolio – certainly the process of their major project in the class – but possibly other things like a personal blog that has them look for psychology concepts in their daily lives.

Item 4 – Expanding your Classroom –  shows in reality a 2-way street.  Not only can my students read my own blog and see what interests me and what I am up to outside of the confines of the classroom, but it also allows for others to read about and contact me in a form of professional development.  This is a way to share what I am doing with anyone else that might actually read this.

So with that said, perhaps these 7 reasons to blog will remind me to use this forum in more different ways.  Not only when I feel the urge to write, but also to give shorter posts about interesting articles, research, shows to share with others, to use as a way to catalog some accomplishments and small goals reached, and of course to learn more.  Knowing that I have a blog to maintain should give me some more incentive to pay attention to the new things I am learning and run across.

So, I write this post sitting on my back deck, smelling the perfume of the petunias that grace my backyard and listening to the cooing of a lone mourning dove and the chatter of various other song birds.  It is late June and it is one of the first ‘real’ summer days (80 degrees and a bit humid).  I LOVE summer, I practically live outside during this season sipping coffee on my deck in the morning, tending my flower and vegetable gardens, and generally just ‘putzing’ around.  For me it is strange to be inside, when I was a child I was the same way.  Thanks Ma for forcing us out of your hair to play in the yard!

Many people see teachers (college professors included) as having the luxury of not having to work in the summer, and indeed this may be way some people go into these occupations.  However, I would like to perhaps dispel a myth…not because I have been recently challenged by it, but I think it might be interesting for some folks.  In reality, us teachers do work, and often quite hard, in the summer time.  I will be focusing on the life of a college professor for this post, but I am sure this is true for my K-12 counterparts.

I have thought about this issue quite a bit recently.  I have had time to relax and to enjoy my pleasures during the summer, but when I think on my day, I am often surprised at how much I am actually doing.  The thing is, my busyness takes on a different composition during the summer than it does during the regular school year.  Here is a typical school-year day: Go to office, check e-mails and other forms of electronic communication (sigh…yes FB and Twitter), respond to e-mails, begin prep for that day’s classes (do I have my notes in order, materials for any activities – copies of handouts, worksheets, tests, etc.), student drops in with questions,  teach said classes, continue working on prepping for a new course I have not yet taught of some other course I am overhauling (really a never ending job), student comes in to chat, check e-mail, respond to e-mail, work on committee work, student drops in to ask question and to chat, grade assignments, think about the research/writing I should be working on while grading assignments, CRAP! I forgot to re-read the article I’ll be discussing tomorrow, search office fervently for article I’ll be discussing in tomorrow’s class, read article, meet with student for their research, committee meeting, go home, make dinner, grade, watch Daily Show and Colbert, go to bed intending to go to sleep but mind continues to keep racing about all of the stuff to do tomorrow.  Repeat.

Please keep in mind this is a typical day, a hectic/crazy day is much more busy!

Here is my summer busyness: Check e-mail and other forms of electronic communication (yes…again FB and Twitter) see the 30 e-mails telling me that I have assignments to grade for my online course, respond to student problems and issues concerning technology for online course, grade worksheets/assignments/etc for online course (average 2-3 hours a day), deal with the home ‘project-of-the-day (repairs, yardwork, gardening, upkeep, etc), read several journal articles/book chapters for research project, THINK about what I have just read and what that means for my research, force myself into my writing for my various professional interests (book revision, article outlines, articles, etc) and THINKING takes a lot of time, get exercise in because I know I’ll slip again during the school year, prep for fall courses (new preps or course overhauls…remember I said this was never ending), THINK and make plans for committee work to be done during the next school year, READ FOR FUN!

Ok, so I’m probably less busy in the summer, but really it is a very different kind of busy.  My academic year is often scattered in its various busynesses, my attention gets pulled in 5 directions all at once which makes it extremely difficult to do work that requires intense focus (such as research ideas and writing).  Summer is my chance to get that focus.  I can generally work at my own time, and therefore can do this work during times of day that I am most productive (usually later mornings and evenings).

I also love that my job allows for a time to de-compress.  I have time to engage in the things I love – being outdoors and reading.  I think it is healthy and if I did not have a job that had this type of consistent ‘end date’ I may not enjoy my occupation as much.  It is nice to know that each semester will come to an end, each school year comes to an end.  You stop, recalibrate, and hopefully refocus.  This is my experience anyway.  I still come to the beginning of the school year excited, refreshed, and ready to start.  I wonder if I would feel the same if I did not have these ‘breaks.’

It has been a while since I have last written just on myself here.  The past few weeks have been busy and fulfilling for the most part.  Today was a day of putting out many fires, but everything coming out well in the end.  I also think today was a good day to sit back and reflect on what it is I often to day to day and I found that even though today was hectic and I often was a bit disorganized, it was a day that showed well why I truly love my job.

So let me count the ways (things that happened just this week):

  1. I get great ideas for new ways to highlight student scholarship from colleagues I don’t expect it from.
  2. Students when asked to take on a mighty task come through beautifully and professionally.
  3. Watching my students in experimental psych tackle their data, see how much work it is, the frustrations that come with easy mistakes that are made, and yet also feel the anticipation of knowing if their data mean anything (significant results).
  4. Also, having one of those ‘really good classes’ that is fun to teach and interact with the students.
  5. Listening to students in the library work together on constructing an argumentative paper and taking it really seriously.
  6. Seeing how much faculty care about their student’s work and fighting to be sure that their student’s work is presented in the appropriate manner.
  7. Reading a colleague’s manuscript draft on an area totally outside my own and being absolutely fascinated by the topic and the thesis.
  8. Critical discussion between faculty on issues of courses and student designed majors.  Items that, in the past, may have been passed due to  apathy were energetically debated.
  9. Watching students that were freshmen when I started here 4 years ago, prepare for graduation, receive departmental awards, and get ready to go to grad school or start their new jobs.
  10. Working with faculty who really care about student success, experience, development, mentorship, etc. etc.

I’m sure there are more instances….but honesty it is 4:10 on a Friday afternoon, I have no meetings or classes left.

Signing off!

This past year I have been a member of our college’s curriculum review task force.  For those of you who are not familiar with academia, curriculum is probably the most politically charged issue on college campuses.  Curriculum is not only tied to the heart of education but also tied to how resources are allocated.  But the item that I would like to discuss today is the idea of the liberal arts.

Morningside College is a traditional small private liberal arts college.  I used to think that I knew what that meant, but the more and more that I think about this idea, the less sure that I have a strong sense of what I think liberal art should be.  Let me explain why briefly.

I think that there might be two very general ways that the liberal arts is generally conceptualized: 1) as a broad base of knowledge in several different areas of study and 2) as having an interdisciplinary approach to the gaining and creation of knowledge.  On the surface it would appear that these two are basically the same.  But I would argue that indeed they are distinct yet related.

The first approach – having a broad base of knowledge, I consider to be one of the most common ways that colleges and universities think of their liberal arts programs.  This is usually shown by having some form of distribution form of a general education (take a class from several different fields).  My undergraduate college took this view.  I had to take classes in science, math, language, social science, art, writing, etc.  Morningside also takes this approach with requirements in categories called empirical, quantitative, global awareness, creative expression, ethics and personal values, religion, and service learning.

The second approach – an interdisciplinary approach to the creation and learning of knowledge – is probably more commonly found in colleges that have so-called ‘core’ general education requirements (a set of classes that all students take that are interdisciplinary in nature).

Now the big difference I see is that if you believe that liberal arts is a broad base of knowledge in several areas, this does not necessarily assume that those areas are viewed in an integrated context.  I know in my undergraduate college there was not a whole lot of overlap between my general ed. classes nor did I see any attempt at this.  This is fine, and I can see the value in this.  But the more that I get involved in curricular issues and within my own teaching I find myself valuing more how I might be able to integrate all of these knowledge areas.

If we value a liberal arts that assumes an interdisciplinary approach (which I find myself leaning more and more toward), how can a curriculum do something like this?  Do you go to a core?  These have difficulties in scheduling, staffing, and less flexibility in course choice?  How could you make a general ed with a distribution format more integrative?  You need to know what other professors do in their courses in departments that you are not a member of.

Because I am currently on a committee looking to revise our general education curriculum this has become both a value issue and a practical issue for me.  Do we impose interdisciplinary approaches in our core through special core classes, or can people trust each other enough to build on each others work and to communicate accurately exactly what knowledge and skills we do in our general education classes?

I do not know the answer, but I tend to currently lean more toward the latter at this point in time.  Time, evidence, and constraints may change my mind, but regardless I will continue to fight for the liberal arts as an interdisciplinary approach to learning, teaching, knowledge, and skills.

Buon Giorno!

January 28, 2011

Ciao!  This is about the extent of my Italian currently, but I think I will be expanding a bit this semester.  I am currently a participant in a pilot project at my college to see how we might use Rosetta Stone in our school.  I’m not sure what the future holds so I am hesitant to make any guesses, but in any case I hopped on the chance to learn the language for free.

At this point I can name some simple objects, bambina/o, donna, uomo, mela, uovo, penne, cavallo, etc.  I’ve learned mangia, cucina, corre, etc for verbs.  I have attempted to use Rosetta Stone before for Spanish and it is the same progression as I had before.  I am hopeful that I will be able to become conversational with a computer-based language program.  At least we have supplemented the program with monthly meetings of the group, but also I am close with several of the people, so I may begin saying random phrases in Italian to them…at least until I get to the point of being able to have a meaningful sentence beyond ‘the girl swims, and the women eat.’  In time it will come.

Right now the one complaint I have is that I am learning phrases to describe other people, not myself.  So I cannot even say “I am learning Italian.”  I’m sure the program gets there.  I also cannot ask questions of others “what do you have?” because I have not been introduced to that conjugation yet.  But again I’m sure it will come.

I think that this could serve as an interesting model for one of our college’s outcomes, which is lifelong learning.  There are several faculty and staff members who have chosen to do this out of pure interest (of course the incentive of a free language class helps).  Perhaps students will begin to see faculty practicing their Italian with each other.  What a cool thing to see…faculty and students working together to learn something new!

It’s an interesting model that does not come without its criticism.  Certainly you do not get a taste of the actual culture where the language is used, which can be important for language comprehension, but perhaps for beginning learners it is a good start.   For now I will practice and try not to let it interfere too much with my need to do real work.  Perhaps at some point in the future I will attempt to write a short blog in Italian!

Arrivederci!

I am just 30 minutes out of my Tuesday/Thursday developmental psychology class and I am starting to think that I might have found that perfect project for this course.  Before I explain why I am actually a bit giddy today, let me give just a bit of background.

First, I teach developmental psychology quite often.  Usually a few times per academic year.  Though it is my most taught class (and probably best prepped in terms of actually having coherent lecture material and activities) it is a class that I have personally struggled with.  The reason for my struggle is partially the course content and partially my own need to keep things fresh as to not become bored with the material myself.

I have tried several ways to re-create the course.  First, I moved from a chronological to a topical approach so that I wasn’t always talking about one age period but rather all of the age periods throughout the semester.  Second, I tried to include more hands-on activities (an hour 40 is a LONG time in class!) that I thought would be engaging and question provoking for the students.  Then I played around with the course project, making it first an autobiography and then splitting up the autobiography into 5 parts.

I still found myself not totally satisfied with the class.  The content seemed too easy (at least for me) and the course simply not offering the appropriate amount of rigor that a 200-level course should, the students did not seem to be as engaged as I would like, and I just haven’t felt quite ‘right’ about the class.  I cannot describe it better than that, and if you, reader, have ever been a teacher I think you know what it is I am trying to convey.

I’ve toyed with the idea of incorporating a service learning element into my class, but this never came to fruition, mostly because I did not have the resources or the time to find good community locations for a small scale service learning project.  I know it can be done, I just have not done this.  But just recently and honestly just the week before classes begun, I had another idea for a course project.  Have the students develop a public website.

This idea came about for a few reasons: 1) I wanted to try to reduce the amount of writing grading in this course.  In the past I have had massive amounts of writing to grade.  This is not to say I do not value writing, I just needed to bring the amount down a bit (Thirty-two 15 page papers is a lot!). 2) I wanted to have students write for a different kind of audience.  I have thought more and more about ‘authentic tasks’ and in all of my other courses students write a typical college paper or psychology APA paper – not very authentic, unless they are going to be an academic.  I wanted to practice a different form of writing and a form that they are more likely to use in the future. 3) I wanted to encourage my students learn some things on their own.  There are so many topics that I cannot cover in this course simply because it is too large.  I wanted students to choose some topics that they could dive into deeper on their own.

So here is the project, for each new unit (there are five in the course), seven groups of 3-4 students work together on some selected topic in developmental psychology and create a web page to describe and teach that topic.  The caveat is, they need a narrow topic so they can do one thing really well and that the web page must look professional, be organized, be informative, and be creative.  My students just developed their assigned topics a couple of days ago and I (hope) I am feeling the effects that this project now has on the course in general.  Let me explain.

Today is usually a day that is mostly me lecturing with a couple of activities that the students do not really get too engaged in: Theory.  Often it is a yawner of a class as we cover quite a bit (Freud, Skinner, Bandura, Brofenbrenner).  Today I had a different experience.  Today the students were REALLY engaged and ASKED A BUNCH OF QUESTIONS!  I was surprised at first!  Usually there might be one or two question, but I had at least 6 different students ask questions through the lecture.

Now this is simply anecdotal and it may just be today, but if a THEORY lecture can engage students….what will the more interesting topics bring?  Many of the questions were about Freud’s Psychosexual Theory and as I looked back, most of the students asking the questions had chosen that as their group’s topic.  I am hopeful that this is indicative of students having more ‘buy-in’ to some of the content.  They know what their topic will be and will want to know more when we actually come to that topic.  I am also hopeful that for later lectures during each unit, group members will offer information that they have found for the class.

These are extremely preliminary observations…it has only been one class…but I remain optimistic.  I had a GREAT time during this lecture, more enjoyment than usual and I know it is because I saw the students being interested and engaged in this topic.  I will continue to see if this pattern continues…who knows, perhaps there is a study in here somewhere for the future.  For now, I am at least partially reinforced for my choice of course project.  We will see how everything comes together, but for now it is a good start.

I may be a convert…

January 14, 2011

Ok, so forever I have been a pretty strong supporters of non-apple/Mac platforms. It’s a pc world right?!? Tonight I write to you, fair reader, from a loaned iPad whist sitting in the hotel bar with my complimentary glass of cabernet. Though I still do not think that I can justify actually buying an iPad my myself personally, I do believe that I will. Be checking one out rather often, especially while traveling for business.

I find writing this blog entry vey easy with the ‘full-sized’ keyboard of this device and I found it really easy to transfer from typing with a regular keyboard to this touch-based keyboard. I have also found a fee free apps that would be useful for everyday (such as the news apps) but also a few for education and other productivity. I still have to play with some of the more educationally based apps, but I believe they will be useful.

Additionally, as I play around with this device I find myself liking the interface of the apple style product. We now have a choice at out college of choosing either a pc or Mac platform for out work computers. I have thought semi-seriously about trying a Mac for my new computer. Tonight I find myself even more drawn to trying one out. The two platforms are becoming more and more combatible and with the fact at nearly half of my students have a Mac, it is necessary for me to use software and other appications that can cross platforms easily.

My grad school advisor will probably say ‘I told you so!’ he had a few conversations debating the merits of both platforms (he being a pro-Mac guy, me pro-pc). I will need to think about this long and hard, but i think it may be time to make the move. However, I still do not think that I can justify actually getting an iPad. We’ll see what the next generations (likely due out early this year) will bring in terms of updates and pricing.

I apologize for any typos, I cannot seem to be able to scroll up in my text box on this…something this think about apple!

Oh the glory of travel books

October 14, 2010

I am a person who absolutely loves to travel.  Whether it be regional travel to a new city or worldwide travel to a new country, I love experiencing a new place.  Ever since my first travel experience to the Black Hills with my family as a young child, I caught the bug.  I admittedly did not have much travel exposure growing up.  I grew up on a farm in southeastern Minnesota and the summers were often busy with fieldwork…very difficult to get away.  However we did go on a few family trips, usually to see aunts and uncles who lived in exotic locations like Bozeman, Montana or Spokane and Seattle Washington.

I did my first ‘real’ traveling (by real I mean leaving the comfortable boarders the the U.S.) when I was in college.  My first international travel experience was not Mexico or Canada, but halfway around the globe to Australia.  I was lucky enough to have been in the concert band for this trip.  I had never had such a long flight, nor been to a foreign country before and I LOVED IT!  I have longed to go back, but have not had the opportunity.

I have since been to many different countries (The United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Mexico, Canada) and other various locations on the globe.  I can claim that I have been in 3 of the 4 quadraspheres (I just need to get to South America now!).

But this post is not really about the travel that I have experienced myself.  One of my favorite book genres is the travel memoir.  My favorite author being Bill Bryson.  I am currently re-reading his book “A Sunburned Country” about his travels in Australia.  I enjoy this book because I am reminded of all of the little differences and the interesting sites that I saw during my visit to that country.  I am also amazed at the things I did not know and should have known before going to that country (the dangerous tides, the multitude of organisms that could kill you, etc.).  I have learned now that I appreciate my travels more when I do a bit of research beforehand – I did not do this as a college student, I wish I had.  I think I would have gotten more out of my Australia trip had I done so.

Bryson has also written several books about travel within the US.  His book “A Walk in the Woods” has made me eager to attempt a long hike somewhere and to at least experience part of the Appalachian Trail.  What I enjoy most about his books is the humor he uses and the tone he sets.  He is certainly not what one might call a ‘travel snob.’  He approaches his travels as a typical person might – attempting to find the best pubs, chatting with locals, complaining about the traffic, etc.  I find it very easy to identify with him as a traveler.  He tries to find the sites to be seen and actually attempts to learn more about the location rather than just attempting a photo shoot  to prove he was there.  He enjoys the little differences in the places he visits and would probably not comment “well back in America its not like this” though he’s not past complaining about bad food – especially in the hotels that cater to tourists.  He also does his research and conveys this to the reader so that if one were to visit the same sites as he does, one will have more of an appreciation of the context.

Other books by Bryson to check out: The Lost Continent, I’m a Stranger Here Myself, Neither Here Nor There.  Trust me you will laugh out loud at times reading his books, and likely even more so if you have actually been to the locations he writes about.

I also enjoy other authors.  One that I read recently about his extensive travel in China was J. Maarten Troost’s “Lost on Planet China” an interesting look at one Westerner’s perspective on the diverse country of China.  I learned quite a lot about China from this book (at least Maartin’s perspective  of China).  I was quite surprised by many of the things I read that appears to be unique to the Chinese culture.   It made me wonder if I would ever want to attempt to visit this country or not. I must admit that traveling to China was certainly stretch my comfort level, but not beyond what I would be willing to do.

I see reading travel books as a great way to vicariously experience another place from a person who is a good story teller and a knowledgeable traveler.  I have sometimes wondered how I could have students read these books before May Term travels.  I think they would get more out of the travel by having read the books.  If anyone knows of a good travel memoir to any location, please let me know.  I am always looking for an inexpensive way to ‘get away!’