The Cave of the Crystal Maiden

“You’re young enough to be my grandson,” Phyllis confides to me in the bumpy van ride through verdant waves of palm, ceiba and tiger bush.  Our driver plows through muddied water of the washed out dirt road.  Phyllis frowns.  “I don’t like caves, and I’m not a good swimmer.”

Did the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave poster, complete with whip scorpions, skeletons of the sacrificed, and photos of tourists swimming into a murky mausoleum not deter her?  Nevertheless, I promise to stay close.  In my ignorance excitement boils over, blind to the path ahead that will harm both body and spirit.

In the potholed parking lot, rain pelts us as we don our plastic hardhats.  I am the lone Canadian in a group of older Americans.  A two-minute trail takes us to Roaring River.  Swift riffles heaving from the cloudburst betray a deadly undercurrent.  There is no bridge.

Forgotten Forest

our Sri Lankan driver peers ahead
through a windshield wet with rainforest
each dip and potholed turn
throws my stomach to the butterflies
I scan the sleepy morning mist
a veil for verdant wisdom

my heart opens
to a wild, untamed touch
on foot, the terra cotta trail caresses
lined by leeches waving suckers
seeking the offspring of my marrow
our guide pulls from a magic pouch
salt to mask palpitating flesh

Student-inspired Presentations in Biology

Golgi guys

Students dress up as a Golgi apparatus for their biology presentation.

In the cell biology lab, I decided to scrap the pre-lab quiz one week and have students do brief presentations. Each partnership chose one electron micrograph to present. I gave some basic guidelines and encouraged them to be creative.

That day, our class awaited the arrival of two students. Their tardiness was quickly forgotten as they came through the door, dressed in full lab coats and covered in twisting balloons (the ones used to make balloon animals).  Collectively, they embodied a living, walking Golgi apparatus.

Meanwhile in the genetics lab, students were presenting meiosis.  

Nature and Learning

I recently took a large group of university students in first-year biology for a forest field trip. At the outset, I inquired as to how often they walked along a wooded path.  A few liked to take their dogs on the trails, yet the vast majority (over 90%) had never, in their life, gone into the forest.  I was astonished.

As a child, I made regular sojourns into the neighborhood wilderness.  Whether it be the park or ocean down the road, the local trails by the stream, or simply the small wooded area of our backyard, I lost myself in adventures of the imagination fuelled by being outside.  I found it hard to fathom that these young adults had abandoned the great gift of hiking.  Or perhaps, more precisely, that their upbringing had never exposed them to this experience.

Engaged and Embodied Learning: Ideas for a Philosophy of Teaching

In my experience, students arrive for their first biology lab simmering with nervous energy, whispering excitements and elusory dreads—if they speak at all.  Their pulsating uncertainty awaits the rules of the game and the freedoms the instructor allows within the confines of the classroom.  Being mindful of your power, set the stage for the semester in five key ways:

1. A foundation of patience and approachability
2. Engage in multiple creative approaches
3. Strive to inspire and involve
4. Employ movement and flexibility
5. Genuine and unabashed enthusiasm

How can we accomplish this?

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Building Community From the Ground Up

It begins with boxes.  Hundreds and hundreds of cardboard boxes snatched from Safeway, Camp Kwomais, and overflowing recycle bins.  We stretch them out, yank off the tape, and cover the rectangle of grass that is to become Alexandra Community Gardens.

Next the donated sawdust—in fact, everything is donated—is wheel-barrelled out, and then the wooden garden boxes placed in their rows.  Eight hours and thousands of shovelfuls later, and thirty raised beds are ready for seeds to reach their verdant heights.

Of course, this did not really begin with boxes.  It began with an idea, which came from the people, that germinated at a community gathering.