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.  

Re-evaluating My Role as Educator

Something wonderful happened in the biology lab this past semester.  Stressed students began to laugh.  The shy felt comfortable asking questions.  They sometimes challenged my explanations.  This spurred curious debate and conversation, and a willingness for us both to explore beyond the lesson plan.  I shifted from a teacher of content to a facilitator of learning.

Post-secondary teachers are trained to be experts in their field.  Yet how do we provide a suitable framework for learning?  Many instructors, including myself, are put before students with scant preparation, our only model the example by which we were taught.  Knowing the photosynthetic chloroplast mechanism in intimate detail may be important; understanding the best method for engaging students with this complex organelle is vital.

Students complain that their classes are boring, that teachers teach from the book, that they are overwhelmed by essays and exams.  They complain because they are not inspired.   The central role of the educator is to provide an enriching—and perhaps transformative—learning experience.

My Journey Across CMS Platforms: From Blogger to Drupal, Radiant to WordPress

Over the last several months I bought my first Mac, dived into Drupal, toyed with the Mac OS Terminal, wrestled with Radiant, coded my first CSS, and tried not to pull out my hair (good thing I have a lot).

The PC-to-Mac switch proved relatively easy, and sensible.  Simple, intuitive, more stable, nearly virus-free, with quality hardware and design.

Now I want a new website.  For me, web design began a long time ago in a program far, far away called Microsoft Frontpage (easy to use but impossible to follow web standards).  Then I jumped ship for Adobe Dreamweaver (steeper learning curve but better-looking results).  I also threw the odd blog onto Blogger (straightforward but limited in scope, and often excruciating to implement the basics).

This time around, I want my CMS (content management system) to be powerful and open-sourced. 

How to Declutter and Find New Homes for Your Old Stuff

We live in a culture of excess. Clothes, food, books, and floss are necessities. Files, gadgets, decor, bobbleheads, Windex, hello kitty false fingernails—not so much. We are compelled to buy more, when we should spend less.

The past two years, my wife and I have sorted through every closet, box, and storage area. The result? Half our possessions set free. The experience is a cathartic—if arduous—process: choice after choice that ends in exhaustive relief. I kept certain items for decades in hopes of using them in the future. Instead, they became stale relics of my old self.

The five steps below, spoken from experience, help ensure each item in our house holds purpose.

I Do

I commit
   to buy us a house
      with a magnificent mortgage

I shall work
   seven days a week
      to help pay the cleaning lady

I will take
   bank loans
      so we can holiday
         in the hill towns of Tuscany

I will earn
   the money we need
      to put the kids in daycare
         before their first birthday

I guarantee
   that 6:45 to 7 pm
      every second Sunday
         will be reserved for our time

I will hire
   a secretary
      so I never forget
         our anniversary

I sincerely vow
   in richness and in wealth
      to secure us
         a divorce

Old Lady Lee

We arrive at the height of raspberry season.  Great Aunt Helen beams at us from the front stoop, her toothy smile at once knowing and mischievous.  A feisty five-foot-three, hers was a force to be reckoned with.  Our family’s annual expedition to Penticton—six long hours on the windy, river-hugging road—promised water slides, lakeside fireworks and long, lazy days under the radiant Okanagan sun.  And yet, my fondest memories belong to Aunt Helen’s charming turquoise home and garden of towering sunflowers and immaculate rosebushes.