Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cell Pun Box

Gruntled Son made a cell model for his high school biology class, as thousands of students had before him. But he had a wonderful, terrible idea of how to do it.

I particularly like the two George Clooneys.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Just-In-Time Teaching

One of the things that I enjoy the most about teaching at Centre College is being part of a community of teachers who really care about teaching. Yesterday we had the first in our annual series of "pedagogy lunches." About a quarter of the faculty assembled for lunch, and (partly) paid for the privilege, to hear our colleague, Jason Neiser, talk about his success with "just-in-time teaching."

Before each class, Neiser sends the 60 students in his two sections of introductory physics two "warm up questions" to help them think through the concepts covered in the reading for that day's class. He also has an open-ended question that lets them raise further points they were curious about. These are low-pressure assignments - if they do a bunch over the term, they get a discount on the final. The grading is on a simple scale, and is based not on the correctness of the response but on how well they engaged the material. The J-I-T element comes in the hard part for the professor: he reads all of these responses before each class, and adjusts his teaching accordingly. The students' responses let him know if there are common misconceptions or pressing questions.

The real benefit, he reports, comes in the high level of conversation in the class. The students come in talking. They drive the discussion. He said he does not actually lose any time in teaching content, because they really learned most of the content from the reading and warm ups. And at the end of the term, when students take a concept mastery test that physics professor across the country use, his students show much larger gains than students in traditional lecture classes do.

The best part of the lunch workshop for me was the way that most of the professors there immediately started thinking of how they could apply this in their own classes. I had a thought about how I could adapt a journal assignment I am having my social theory students do this term. Other colleagues in a range of disciplines engaged the details and imagined the possibilities. Many of us will, no doubt, decide that this particular approach does not quite fit what we are doing.

But it is great to be part of a learning community.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Air Force Women Divorce More

The Air Force are more married and less divorced than the general population is - for men. Air Force women are more divorced than the general population - 12.5% vs. 11.6% of American women in general.

Deployments are a big factor in military divorces, for men and women. This has long been known. The surprising finding a new study is that flight nurses - the most female part of the Air Force, and among the most likely to be deployed overseas - have the highest divorce rate, at 11.6%. Combat doctors, who are overwhelmingly men, are only 3.3% divorced. (Officers in general have a much lower divorce rate than the enlisted, at 4.4% overall).

I think I know what this means. Men are most jealous of the possibility that their wives would be sexually unfaithful. Military nurses in combat would be subject to more pressure, and temptation, to sexual infidelity than those same women would be at home, and more pressure and temptation than deployed men would be. Even if deployed female nurses are not, in fact, less faithful than they would be at home, it is reasonable to expect that some of their husbands would suspect that they were. Since another effect of deployment is to make communication much harder, dealing with those suspicions would be hard in that situation. Adding to the problem is the fact, also reported in this study, that non-military husbands at home are much less likely to use the Air Force's marriage support program than non-military wives are, the home husbands of deployed wives are more likely to do things that lead to divorce.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Michelle Obama Decided To Make the Adjustment

An excerpt from Barack and Michelle: Portrait of An American Marriage by Christopher Andersen has been published in the New York Post As he was building his political career and she had the main responsibility for raising their two daughters, while working herself, Michelle Obama came close to walking away. She wanted more sharing of family responsibilities. He said he was building for all of their futures.

The turning point is described here:
But there was no question that they were a couple and a team. In time, Michelle made the conscious decision that, in fact, she would be the one to adjust to the circumstances he created - and not vice versa.

"This was the epiphany," she said. "What I figured out was that I was pushing to make Barack be something I wanted him to be for me. ... I was depending on him to make me happy. Except it didn't have anything to do with him. I needed support. I didn't necessarily need it from Barack."

Michelle decided to approach the problems in her marriage the way she would approach the problems she faced daily at work. "I had to change," she said. "So how do I stop being mad at him and start problem-solving, and cobble together the resources? I also had to admit that I needed space and I needed time. And the more time that I could get to myself, the less stress I felt."
Michelle Obama made the decision that many women make. The situation is complicated by the fact that they both thought he could change the world in important ways. Still, in most of the cases that I know of, she is the one to make the adjustments to make the family work. There are a few cases that I know of of very high achieving women whose careers depended on husbands who made big career sacrifices. The Thatchers are the best case I can think of.

What happens if one of them doesn't make the adjustment? I think in 99 cases out a 100, neither of them reaches the heights in public life that one of them might have reached. Most parents will judge this worth it. But I think that is a real choice that couples with the potential for stratospheric achievement have to make - one of them has to be the main family makers. And, in my estimate, in at least 8 couples out of 10, she will be the one who chooses to make the adjustment. Not forced. But chooses, all things considered.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Civil Union Commission Rejects Civil Unions, Wimps Out On the Hard Part

The Special Committee to Study Civil Unions and Issues of Marriage of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has just issued its draft report. They spend 30 pages reviewing the issues of marriage and homosexuality familiar to anyone who has been involved with this issue.

In the end, they come to two conclusions:

First, we should stay in covenant relationship with one another in the church despite our disagreements [my paraphrase]. Second, quoting the report,

We find that the compromise suggestion of civil unions/domestic partnerships offers no true solution to the struggle around same-gendered partnerships. Civil unions/domestic partnerships provide neither the state-sanctioned benefits nor the societal acceptance that marriage (expanded or not) offers.
The review of the debate that the committee offers is not bad. The conclusion that we should stay and work with one another, rather than call each other names and leave, is worth saying again. The conclusion that civil unions will not work is a substantive conclusion.

BUT what the committee leaves the church with is this:
You have two hard painful options.
We reject the compromise that is on the table.
We do not choose either option.
We offer no other compromises.
Good luck.