The Yeti Song

There's a lovely little snippet of information in the Introduction to one of Mr. Gaiman's books (whose name I can't remember right now) about how the word "Yeti" means something along the lines of over there. Or something. I, obviously, can't remember things I've read. Probably another reason why I'm still dissertating and not already done with it all since I keep thinking of brilliant things I could put in my writings and, yet, when the time comes to write up those things, I end up with the same boring stuff that all of us have read before. If my dissertation ever becomes a book, you'll be reading all that all over again.

But, enough of that. Here's the bit of the Yeti Song that leads me to use it as today's post title:

"The author looms above his page
and thinks it strange that at his age
he can not find the proper words
to describe his only world.
One would think that in a life
where no two snowflakes are alike
one would have a brilliant rhyme
for each and every bit of time."

No, I'm not leading yous down the path of whimsy and, no, I've not been dipping into the flask I've taken to carrying about* but it's a comment on today's class. Oh, why today, yous ask, since you have been diligently following my schedule and know I teach kids only on Mondays and Thursdays? Well, I was helping out** GS and took over her class for the day.

What worked: The kids were such a pleasure to teach. All the kids, except two, are second years (which is where they are supposed to be when taking this class); all are rather keen on answering questions and debating; most are keen to ask for clarification and, on the whole, they are far more responsive than my lot has been so far. They also interacted with each other a lot more than my kids do. My kids have little groups of 3-4 they talk to and they seem to prefer to think the rest of the class doesn't exist. Now, don't get me wrong--I very much like my lot. I just wish there were as few of them as GS has or that they were at the proper time period (second year) where I could grab them by their clever enough brains and instill research skills into them. Instead, half of my class (out of about 30 students) is 4th years, and the rest 3rd years with two second years--pretty much like teaching a Nepali village school.

The classroom structure also worked very well. No, there was no computer equipment (Note to GS: Yes, you forgot to tell me that) but the physical layout of the room itself worked in that it facilitated a to-and-fro style of teaching with the kids asking questions and me doing my best to answer them. Because my own classroom is huge (though it has lovely windows through which my students daydream away), it's more difficult to do that. Also, most of the students had recently had their statistics class (first year) so remembered how things were supposed to work for "dualist causation" (GS's topic of the day). They were also a lot more confident about speaking up in class-- a couple of them congratulated me on "a job well done" (or something like that--read the first paragraph about my lack of recall skill) as we finished up, which rather amused me.

What didn't work: the lack of prep time. I had quickly looked through GS's notes but not knowing what the kids had done before or what exactly they were supposed to know for this class didn't help. Since my own class is organised differently (and, I realised, it's on a glumly practical level compared to GS's), it was difficult for me to get into the habit of talking about underlying rationales behind stuff rather than just talking about how stuff works (and then, maybe, getting to rationales). This class, for me, was too abstract. My class talked of "scientific" research going from observation to puzzle (question) to hypothesis (guess/explanation) to testing (Mill's methods/statistics) to generalisation. GS's worked on things like necessary and sufficient causation and stuff about essence and falsification. It was also rather amusing (though I should have paid more attention to GS's syllabus) to find that we were doing Mill's methods but the class had not actually read Mill!

Overall, a good class but, if the Yeti Song is right (and, being the Yeti song, of course it is) then the many ways of teaching a (the same) class are what makes this whole teaching thing fun. Maybe by the time I'm fifty, I'll have nostalgic feelings about all this. At least it's been entertaining. So far.

* It's filled with water.

** Which is a euphemism for "complying with a last-minute request and fully expecting numerous beer(s) or a free place to sleep for RegionalConference in return". I know you read this, GS, so be warned.


At 10/04/2006 9:30 AM, Anonymous Weberman said...

No one reads Mill when they teach Mill's Methods. I have yet to ascertain whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

At 10/04/2006 11:42 AM, Blogger Genealogy Spice said...

I'm glad you blogged about it :-). Some quick thoughts:

1. Yeah my bad about the computer bit. Since I remember cribbing about it to you in the past I totally forgot to remind you. Isn't it a pain?

2. If I have to try and impose a pattern on this I think we (as in when I teach the class) end up going from observation of a puzzle or a question to how it fits in with the broader methodological rationale to the nuts and bolts. Why is that? That's kind of how doing research makes sense to me.

3. The lecture slides cover the broad strokes. Hope you didn't feel like you had to stick to that to a T. I know I meant to send you an e-mail clarifying that those were the general bases I'd like covered but didn't want to impose on your teaching style either...did I? Been a bit scattered since last week :-(

4. They really are a great batch of kids and the experience has been great so far. I agree with you re: they talk to each other and are quite confident. The research workshop we did recently also helped alleviate some of their anxieties and I think the class as a whole has found its groove. Also, being part of the Honors program might have something to do with the dynamics you experienced because they take a lot of classes together + extra-curricular stuff/activities.

5. Like the song.

6. Like Weberman, am also not sure as yet whether reading Mill would be a good thing or a bad thing. The one opinion I have so far is that I think this class would be much more helpful to the kids if they'd actually worked on a research paper before....from our conversations it seems like this might be somewhat alien territory.

7. Yuppers: re the renumeration agreement :-)

Again thanks for filling in for me. Wish I'd been able to give you a little more notice but given the circumstances... you know how it goes :-).

At 10/04/2006 2:36 PM, Blogger Priya said...

Hey--my kids did read Mill (thanks to my nicking off Peter's syllabus!). Though, considering Mill is quite involved and only to be ingested along with a stiff W&S, I'm not sure how much they got it. I really think it helped with the class though since GS's kids kept on saying "Oh, we have no idea what Mill did/is for", which threw me off since I thought you'd have talked of Mill's context beforehand. Ah well...live and learn (or not).

GS: Am v envious of your class's cohesion and comfort in talking to each other (and to me). And of the small size. And their sharpness.

Though I have been very pleasantly surprised by my kids' first assignment (literature review) as most of them have gotten it down pat. I wish I could claim credit but I don't think it's got much to do with my teaching style and more to do with the fact that they are clever little buggers but just prefer to sit stoically and gaze unblinkingly at me OR talk to each other in little groups :-)

At 10/04/2006 3:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I figured we'd talk about Mill, context and all, when we actually got to that session :-).

I'd be envious of the small size too - and not just because it means fewer papers to grade. Yup they're sharp....it took about 2-3 sessions (which by my schedule actually means 3 weeks since we meet once a week...that's where I'd be envious of your schedule :-)!!) though of me insisting that they talk, including group exercises I inserted in during the second half, to get them to talking this easily not to mention a lot of awkward silences.

Btw, this is kind of related but am probably going to end up crashing at a friend's place in Providence for ISA-NE since the hotel is sold out so I guess beers it will have to be.



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